That mind boggling
15 And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. 16 The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. 17 He also measured its wall, 44 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. 18 The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19 The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. 21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. (Revelation 21:15-21–ESV)
The angel has a measuring stick, one that is said to be a “human” measuring stick. With this measure, he begins to expound to John’s mind the size of the new Jerusalem. Is it big? Big is an understatement.
Let us bullet point out some of its specifications:
- It is a cube. (Think height is the same as width and length)
- One edge is very long. There is some interpretative latitude in the size of one stadia. For the sake of this lesson, we will take one side of this cube to be 1,400 MILES.
- 1.96 million square miles at its base.
- 1.3 billion acres at the base
- The lower 48 states in the U.S. comprise 1.9 billion acres
- Don’t forget that the city is a CUBE
- If we are very generous and make this a multi-storied city and give 1 mile to each story the new Jerusalem city will have 1.8 trillion acres
Let us now bullet point some of the earth’s specifications
- Atmospheric Layers
- Troposphere: surface to 5 to 9 miles
- Stratosphere: next layer out to 31 miles
- Mesosphere: 31 to 53 miles
- Thermosphere: 53 to 372 miles
- Exosphere: 372 to 6,200 miles
- How far away is the moon?
- 238,900 miles
- How high is the new Jerusalem: 1,400 miles
When I look at these details and try to fit them together much difficulty arises. Can a city really be all the way up into the exosphere? Could a descending city be more than half the size of the moon? (The diameter of the moon is 2,159 miles; new Jerusalem). The diagonal of the new Jerusalem is nearly 2,000 miles. The physics of this don’t work, according to human measurement. Remember the angel was using human measurement.
So at this stage in my understanding, a quandary develops. Literal? Figurative? If we accept the angel’s measurements at literal then something about the new heavens and the new earth must shift. Are physics going to be different in the eternal world? Maybe.
One day Peter’s mind was boggled
21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22–ESV)
When Jesus said this, did he mean seventy-seven times? Or if you like the NIV better 490 times1.
The answer in both cases is, “no.” In the economy of Jesus forgiveness was to be beyond limits. Another way of putting this is how Peter must have viewed this, “beyond comprehension.”
Connect 70 x 7 to the new Jerusalem
I do not know whether your mind rests easier changing physics, allowing for divine intervention in matters of planetary astronomy, or in considering certain passages as figurative. I am loathe to apply rigid rules to situations like these for rigid rules can be like windshields. When a rock hits them they may crack, or they may shatter.
So, whatever you believe along these lines God, too, will make clear to you. We must be careful to live up to that which we have believed. We each need to have atmospheres of grace around us so that we do not smash into each other’s planets. That only yields strife and discord in the house of God must be avoided if at all possible.
I have a perspective on these things. Hopefully, I have been able to lead you to one.