The next paragraph about the New Earth gives a size and visual description of the New Jerusalem. Both a very detailed. This detail is the main reason I don’t think this is a metaphor for God’s people. As mentioned before, some regard the description of the New Jerusalem to be a metaphorical description of God’s people because it says that the New Jerusalem is the “bride” of the Lamb (Jesus). Both God’s people and Jerusalem are described as God’s bride in the Bible. Because of the complexity of the description given here it is hard for me to see this as a metaphor. Rather, I think this is John describing what he sees.
The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia (1,400 miles or 2,200 kilometers) in length, and as wide and high as it is long. He measured the wall and it was 144 cubits (200 feet or 65 meters) thick by man’s measurement.
This is one whopping big city–a giant cube or possible a square based pyramid. The distance from Chicago to Miami is slightly shorter than this. Consequently, the New Earth must be a massive planet, if it is a planet. A lump 1,400 miles high would cause a spinning sphere to wobble like a flat tire. Mount Everest is only 5.49 miles high. Why such a crazy thick wall? The number 144 is 12 squared and God is very mathematical. Is it symbolic of our protection? Maybe. It may also be a function of what it takes to move such a large object, possibly from another dimension.
Why measure it? I think this is to make the point that this is a real, tangible thing. It is not a fantasy, concept or metaphor.
The wall was made of jasper and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass.
This part of the passage is of interest if you are really into gems. It says that the foundation is decorated in layers of beautiful and recognizable gem stones. At least, this is what it looks like. This is also where we gate the idea of “pearly gates” and “streets of gold”. In popular culture these are attributes of Heaven. This reference is to the New Jerusalem, unless, as noted earlier, they are one and the same. Clearly gold is not clear. John is using the best words he has to describe what he sees.
Beauty will definitely be a big part of the New Earth. While much will be different as this is a “new order of things”, there seems to also be the familiar. Beautiful aspects of God’s first creation brought into the next.
God’s people will be a part of that beauty. The same, but also strikingly different.