bible.gifA Semiotic Analysis of the "New Jerusalem" 
in the Book of Revelation
Dr. Markus Locker

 © 2003, M. Locker. All rights reserved contact.gif


Undeniably, especially the last book of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation, has been subjected to so many different treatments and interpretations, yet without any consensus in sight, that this most powerful writing has been rendered almost useless for the Christian believer. In the opinion of this author, this difficulty in interpreting the Book of Revelation is rooted in the very nature of its profoundly symbolic language, causing exegetes to disagree about the religious and historical origin of Revelation’s symbols[1] and interpreting them in fundamentally different ways.[2]

Semiotics,[3] the scientific study of signs as systematized by Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914)[4] shows that signs in a sign-system, like a biblical text or book, can be interpreted in three very different ways, depending on the relationship to the object they represent [5]

First, the exegete can assume that a sign has no physical relationship to the object it signifies,[6] like for example, a national flag symbolizes a country.  These signs, called symbols can only be understood by associating their meaning.[7] So can, for example, the woman clothed with the sun in Rev 12 obtain the symbolic meaning of the people of Israel, the Christian Church, or the entire People of God.[8]

Second, the exegete can treat a sign as an index. An index is in some way physically connected to the object it represents.[9] For example, smoke calls attention to the existence of fire. John himself makes use of indexical references as he describes Satan as great dragon and old serpent (Rev 12:3. 7ff), thus correlating Satan with the ferocious and evil nature of these creatures.

Third, the interpreter can believe that a sign is the icon of the object it describes. An icon almost fully represents the physical nature of the object it signifies.[10] For example, the merchants in Rev 18:3. 11. 15. 23 are icons of real tradesman in the Roman Empire during the time of John, and as early as the 4th century, the woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet was identified with Mary the mother of God.[11]

The difference in interpreting Revelation’s symbols, therefore, rests in the exegetes’ choice, whether the sign in study is regarded a symbol, an index or an icon. For example, assuming that Armageddon in Rev 16:16 is an index will necessitate the search for the geographical place Armageddon points to.[12]  Seeing it as a symbol will suggest to the exegete to prefer an interpretation that sees Armageddon as symbolic number riddle, or Zahlenrätsel. As such, it could signify the punishment of Gomorrah (Gen 19:24) and of Cain in Nod (Gen 4:16).[13]

In order to address and ultimately to prevent these difficulties of entering into the study of the “New Jerusalem,” the analysis proposed in this paper must be able to assert in what semiotic way (association, correlation, identification) the New Jerusalem obtains its meaning. Text based criteria must allow the exegete to decide whether this sign in Revelation should be interpreted as symbol, index or icon.

Ultimately, what appears to be the most promising method to study Revelation’s symbols is semiotic analysis.[14] This method studies signs from all their four major perspectives. First, it observes that signs are organized into codes that describe their position and selection in a given context.[15] For Revelation, these codes are the larger and smaller parts of the book, like the letters of the seven churches in Asia Minor (chs. 2 &3) and the visions of John. Consequently, the first step of this analysis is to locate and to describe the frequency of the use of the same sign in the specific code of its occurrence.

            The second step is syntagmatic analysis, which tries to describe the relationships of the symbol to other significant signs in the same code. It describes and delineates the semantic field within which the symbol is used revealing the rules and conventions underlying the production and interpretation of tests. Syntagmatic analysis studies the grammar or surface structure of texts.

The third step, paradigmatic analysis, studies the symbol according to its sense (Sinn) and reference (Bedeutung) as a sign,[16] already known and used in literature, earlier as well as contemporary to the text. Paradigmatic analysis makes use of lexica, encyclopedias and commentaries and attempts to work out a general meaning (Erklärung) of the sign. For the signs of Revelation that means the study of their use in the Hebrew Scripture and extra-biblical writings.

For this step, however, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s notion of obsolescence of old language-games must be kept in mind.[17] For Wittgenstein, language and its signs have meaning only because of their continuous contextual use.[18] Thus signs used in a new context, only partially draw upon their previous meaning.

Because of the above limitations of paradigmatic analysis, the most important step in semiotic analysis will be the study of the pragmatics of signs. Pragmatic analysis refers to the active relationship between the sign and its interpreter. According to Peirce, the most significant effect of a sign on the interpreter is its dynamical interpretant (4.536), which can be emotional, energetic, or logical (5.475). Whereas the emotional interpretant remains on the level of feelings, the energetic interpretant involves concrete actions that taken together form a habit that constitutes the dynamical interpretant (5.400). Habits form a belief that determines when and how we shall act.

The pragmatic interpretation of signs, therefore, asks two questions. First, whom do the signs of Revelation address and second, how and in what way do these symbols influence their interpreters, causing them to enact their belief?[19]



The New Jerusalem


The Sign in its Codes


The first reference to the New Jerusalem is found in the letter to the church of Philadelphia (Rev 3:7-13). Already this early in Revelation, Christians are introduced to the New Jerusalem as part of Christ’s promise for their endurance and perseverance against the temptations of the Synagogue of Satan.  Remaining victorious in this sense, Christians will become everlasting pillars of the temple of God (Rev 3:12) onto which the name of the city of Christ’s God is inscribed. The city itself is qualified as “which comes down from my God out of heaven” (Rev 3:12).


            Next to an indirect reference to the New Jerusalem as the wife of the Lamb in 19:7, the holy city is mentioned in the final vision-auditions of the Seer (Rev 21:1-22:5). In a new and final creation, John sees the holy city as the bride of the Lamb,[20] coming down from heaven, (Rev 21:2) and hears a voice from God’s throne saying that “the dwelling place of God is with men” (Rev 21:3).

            In this final vision of Revelation, John is brought by the Spirit to a high mountain where he is shown the holy city Jerusalem, now only called the wife of the lamb (Rev 21:9), coming down out of heaven to earth (Rev 21:10). John’s very detailed description of the city is followed by his observation that he does not see a temple in the city (Rev 21:22). Significantly, it is John himself and not an angel, who explains his observation: “for (gár) its temple is the Lord and the Lamb” (Rev 21:22). In vv. 23-27, the Seer further continues to describe his vision of the New Jerusalem. Finally the angel shows John how the throne of God gives life to the city (Rev 22:1-2), and, once more, the Seer continues to tell about the new city (Rev 22:3-5).



Syntagmatic/Paradigmatic Analysis


The reference to the New Jerusalem in the letter to Philadelphia (Rev 3:12) is not part of a vision, but an Überwinderspruch containing the promise of making the one who remains victorious in the tribulation a pillar in the temple of God. Becoming a permanent part of the temple, wholly dedicated to God whose name will be written upon him, the victorious Christian becomes a citizen of the New Jerusalem.[21] Indeed, since all Überwindersprüche allude to the New City[22], and in 21:7 the promise to conquer is once more related to it, the New Jerusalem must be seen as the unifying theme of the entire book.

Chapter 21 begins by asserting that Isaiah’s prophecy (“For behold I create new heavens and new earth…” in Isa 65:17), as well as the promise of the 6th Überwinderspruch have become true. A loud voice from the throne asserts that God’s dwelling place is with men (Rev 21:3). But unlike it has been prophesized in Isa 43:19, God does not declare that he is making new things, but that he is making all things new. This implies renovation, rather than new creation.”[23] Indeed, God himself declares that through the words of Revelation (Rev 21:5; 22:6) and Christ’s true and reliable witness (Rev 3:13; 19:9. 11) and final victory  “all has been transformed” (“gégonan” in Rev 21:6).[24] Like it was promised in Isa 55:1 and Rev 7:17, the thirsty will be given water of life, and the victorious shall inherit Jerusalem (Rev 21:6; 22:17).

            One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls shows John Jerusalem, “the bride and wife of the lamb” (Rev 21:9). The New City that has come out of heaven (Rev 21:2.10) symbolizes the glory and presence of God through her radiance like a jasper (Rev 21:11, cf. 4:3), her measurements (Rev 21:15-17) and her ornaments and jewelry (Rev 21:18-20). This description of the New Jerusalem, alluding to the Old Testament prophecies of Ezekiel 40-84 and Isaiah 60-62,[25] is inspired by the cities of Babylon and Rome.[26] Jerusalem is described by references to the description of Babylon based on Ezekiel.[27]

John’s explanation of his surprising observation that there is no temple in the city, 21:22, once more follows his Isaiah source (Isa 60:19-21), by saying that God, the Almighty and the Lamb, are its temple and therefore the city has no need for sun or moon. The Seer’s description of the nature of the city (Rev 21:24-27; 22:3-5) is interrupted as the angel shows him the river and the tree of life that are in the city (Rev 22:1-3). Finally the Seer concludes with the statement that the servants of God shall reign forever and ever (Rev 22:5). In conclusion, one can see John’s elaborate attempt to describe the New Jerusalem as a place that at one and the same time contrasts the cities of Babylon and Rome and alludes to paradise, the holy city and the temple.



Pragmatic Analysis


            Jerusalem comes from heaven down to earth. Therefore, it can be assumed that it is both, a symbol and an index. The heavenly Jerusalem, based on Isaiah’s prophecies (Isa 52 and 62) is the “symbol” for the assurance that the Christian’s final destiny rests with God.[28] At the same the city that John sees arriving on earth (Rev 21:10) must be seen as an “index” contrasting earthy cities, thus signifying the Christian community.[29] Being called out of Rome is being called into the holy city.  This call is partially accomplished by the strict ethical demand not to participate in the sins of Rome and the Roman Empire. Sin not only prevents one from entering the city by its gates (Rev 22:14), but condemns a person to the second and final death (Rev 20:12-15; 21:8). 

This call is too fulfilled by hypomonē| (Rev 1:9; 2:2. 3. 19; 3: 10; 14:12). In the time of Revelation, however, tribulation very seldom resulted in physical persecution and death. Thus, a true Christian life of endurance and witness could not merely have meant the passive acceptance of near death.  It is the active search for the realization of an alternative[30] that is the New Jerusalem.

The importance of the symbol/index of the New Jerusalem is its implicit quest for a new Christian community here and now, for now is the kairòs (Rev 1:3).[31] Understanding the New Jerusalem as present reality signifies that God’s dwelling on earth will truly be accomplished in a new and transformed world. In that sense, “amēn, érchou kúrie Iēsou” in 22:20 expresses a wish that can only become true if the words of Revelation’s prophecy have been fulfilled.



Intermediate Results


            A semiotic analysis of the New Jerusalem shows a symbolic dynamism, i.e., movement from heaven to earth, similar to the Seer’s analysis of the sign-world of evil, where he sees Satan’s defeat in heaven leading to his manifestation on earth (Rev 12: 7-18). Thus, the New Jerusalem coming from heaven onto earth must be interpreted as symbol and as index. The, in reference of the preexisting meaning of the New Jerusalem, new indexical interpretation of this sign as city-like community of Christians represents the Christian witness to Christ here on earth. Following Jesus, the Lamb to the New Jerusalem is the risk of faith resisting the seductive structure of evil here on earth, thus consequently incurring socio-economic exile that includes poverty and even the physical threat of death. However, John stresses that true Christian prophecy guarantees eternal life.

Witness to God and Christ is a path of righteous activities intending to unmask evil and its structures. Through prayer and living such witness seeks and pursues the actualization of the New Jerusalem as the basileia tou theou, i.e. the building of a new society.


The following paragraphs study the pragmatic significance (motivation of the sign) of the New Jerusalem as ‘index’ signifying a city- or community-like reality here and now.



“I saw a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1)


            After God’s final judgment of all evil, John sees a new heaven and a new earth. He explains that the first heaven and the first earth and the sea have passed away (Rev 21:1).  Exegetes make here two assertions. The first is that John introduces the theme of new creation, because the old creation is incomplete and the new one will be complete.[32] This ought to be supported by the observation that Rev 21:1 is an allusion to Isa 65:17 that reads: “there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and they will by no means remember the former.”[33]

            This paper contests both assertions by seeing in them a tautology based on the prejudice that the first creation, in fact, is incomplete. This belief, however, not only contradicts the teachings of the torah stating that all creation is good (cf. Gen 1:4. 10. 12. 18. 21. 25), but also discounts what Revelation says about the resurrection of Christ.  Christ, the first-borne of the death reigns over the kings of ‘this’ earth (Rev 1:5) and wants Christians to reign on ‘this’ earth (Rev 5:10).

Understanding the motif of the absence of death and the passing away of the former things as allusions to Isa 25:28 and Isa 65:17, equally does not prove that the new earth signifies paradise.[34] For Revelation death does not only refer to the universal human experience of dying (Rev 1:5), but to the moral death Christians experience through the presence of the beast (cf. Rev 11:8; 14:13).

            Rev 22:1 is the cornerstone of the semiotic analysis of the New Jerusalem. As shown above, John’s symbols must be understood by referring to their binary opposition. The old heaven was the heaven before Christ’s death and resurrection; the new heaven is what John sees now: Satan, the old serpent has been defeated and was cast out (cf. “àrchaios” Rev 12:9; 22;2 vis-à-vis “kainos” in Rev 21:1).

As the New Jerusalem comes down out of heaven God announces: “Behold, I make all [things] kainos, and”…”all has been become true” (Rev 21:5f; cf. 17:16). It is because of Christ’s death and resurrection that evil has been finally defeated. All Christians who truly give witness to God and Christ shall live in God’s presence here and now on a new earth.

            Apparently, John draws here parallels to Paul’s theology in 2 Cor 5:17: “Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; behold the old has passed away, the new has come,” as well as in Gal 6:15; Col 3:10. However, whereas the new heaven is indeed a symbol for Christ’s victory, the new earth has additionally an indexical and iconic signification of “earth’s real possibilities.”[35]



“katabáinō” and “anabáinō” (Rev 21:2. 10)


Two observations with respect of the motif of katabáinō indicate that John envisions the New Jerusalem as indexical reality that, though sent by God, will come down on earthy through the collaboration of human deeds. First, even though repeatedly stating that God threw Satan to earth, in Rev 12:12 the Seer uses the active aorist form of katabáinō, indicating that Satan himself took active part in coming down on earth to make war against the Church (Rev 12:12.17). On earth, it is Satan who gives the first beast his power and throne (“endōken” in Rev 13:2), while the second beast exercises the power of the first beast in his presence (“poei” in Rev 13:12). Both the power of the beast and the whore’s seduction to wealth and riches causes all who engage in trade and commerce with the minions of Satan to mark themselves (dōsin aútois) with the mark of the beast (Rev 13:16f). Ultimately, the reader of Revelation must conclude that Satan can fully establish his reign on earth only because of human support and collaboration.

            In a similar way, the same paradox is expressed through the active mode of anabáinō in Rev 4:1 and 11:12.[36] Though Christ’s death and resurrection save all Christians, they still have to actively seek and pursue through righteous deeds their entering into heaven (cf. Rev 20:12).

            Thus, when John, once more employs the active aorist form of thus important verb, describing the holy city coming down out of heaven, it has to be assumed that the Seer envisions that the city comes down to the plane of actual human history and human action.  Although sent by God, her becoming an earthly reality can only be fulfilled by way of human collaboration.

            This certainty does not mean that the earthly presence of the New Jerusalem can be accomplished through human endeavor alone. However, it stresses John’s theo-pragmatic view that good and evil are embedded in human participation.

            Another, though, indirect support for this interpretation is found in Rev 19:8. Though the cloth of fine, clean linen is given to the wife of the Lamb, she actively participates in putting it on, (peribálētai, middle voice).[37] The second part of this verse explaining the linen as the righteous deed of the saints[38], draws yet another parallel to Jerusalem’s contrast index, that is Babylon.[39] Fine linen (bussinon) is not only the cloth of the wife of the Lamb, but also one of the garments of Babylon (Rev 18:16).

In this sense righteous deeds and judgement (cf. “dikaiōmata” in Rev 15:4) are not only the required deeds for eternal life (cf. “èrga“in Rev 20:13) but the actions that will bring about the establishment of a true Christian society here on earth.



the dwelling of God is with men” (Rev 21:3)


            While the beast rising out of the sea opens its mouth to blaspheme the name and tent of God (Rev 13:6), in the vision of the new heaven and the new earth, God says; “Behold the tent of God is with men, and he shall dwell (skēnōsei) with them” (Rev 21:3). Again, any Old Testament allusion[40] to Rev 21:3 would support to see in the New Jerusalem a mere symbolic reality.  However also this time, John continues to introduce his new indexical use of the New Jerusalem. While Ezekiel 37:27 and Lev 26:11f address the Israelites (“oikos Israēl” in Eze 37:21 and “huioi Israēl” in Lev 25:55),[41] the Seer hears God speaking: “ìdou ē skēnē tou theou meata tōn anthrōpōn” (Rev 21:3).  John’s uses anthrōpos in no other place in Revelation to connote Christians in heaven. This suggests understanding anthrōpos as an icon that signifies human beings on earth.[42] In due course, if the New Jerusalem is God’s dwelling place among mortals, then John envisions an earthly reality.

The tent of God is the Jerusalem that has come down from the heaven onto earth. God’s tent is the index of an earthly reality. By way of a theological connection with Jn 1:14, “kai eskēnōsen én hēmin” and the revelation of Christ’s glory on earth (Rev 21:23, cf. Jn 2:11), this index points to an encounter every genuine Christian community has to seek (cf. Mt 18:20).



He who conquers shall have this heritage” (Rev 21:7)


The voice from the throne repeating the promise to those who remain victorious (cf. Rev 2:7. 11. 17. 26f; 3: 5. 12. 21) speaks about the heritage (klēronomeō) that is the New Jerusalem.  In the same way God has promised Abraham the fulfillment of the covenant through the prosperity of the nation of Israel, cf. “klēronomēsai” “klhronomh/sai” in Gen 15:7, and Moses the inheritance of the promised land (“klēronomēsēs tēn gēn” in Ex 23:20); both earthly realities.



“I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Rev 21:9)


            When John sees the New Jerusalem coming out of heaven, he describes her as the bride (“numphe” in 21:3) of the Lamb.  Later in the same chapter an angel invites John to see again the bride of the Lamb (Rev 21:9). But this time the angel also calls her the wife (gunē,) of the Lamb.

            In view of John’s contrasting sign worlds the reader can conclude toward the nature and significance of the sign of the New Jerusalem.  While in heaven, the holy city is the symbol for eternal life, on earth she is an index that contrasts the woman Babylon. Both are not only called gunē,, but like wives, are adorned with gold, jewels and pearls (Rev 17:4; 18:16 « 21:11. 18. 19. 21) and wear white linen (Rev 18:16 « 19:7). While the mystery of the woman Babylon is that she is the index of a city that manifests systemic evil (Rev 17:8), the mystery of the wife of the Lamb is her being the index that signifies a city-like earthly Christian community.



and they will reign (basileúsousin) forever and ever (Rev 22:5)

“and made us a kingdom (basileían), priests. . . for ever” (Rev 1:6)

“you have made them to be a kingdom (basileían) and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth (tēs gēs)” (Rev 5:10)


            Those who are meant to reign in the New Jerusalem are all who are sealed by God on their foreheads and thus reign as priests. In Rev 1:6 the hearers of the book are told that because of Christ’s death and resurrection Christians were made a kingdom and priests. Epoiēsen, the indicative aorist of poiéō, describes like the perfect historicum something being fulfilled or accomplished in the past.[43] Poiéō, therefore, followed by the double accusative (basileían, hiereis) stresses the fact that someone was actually made into something.[44]

            This observation stresses a present reading of basileúsousin in Rev 5:10. Both times in Rev 1:6 and in Rev 5:10, John describes an earthly reality (“ho archōv tōnbasiléōn tēs gēs” in Rev 1:6 and “épi tēs gēs” in Rev 5:10).[45] For this paper this evidence is convincing enough to dismiss any interpretation that sees in “kai basileúsousin eis tous aiōnas tōn aiōnōn” (Rev 25:5) the future- eschatological priesthood of eschatological priests.[46]



Form and Function of the New Jerusalem


            In the same way the above discussed themes suggest the New Jerusalem to be a reality of “here and now,” the vision-audition unit of Rev 21:1-22:5 offers some indications regarding the form and function of the New Jerusalem.



“the sea was no more”    (Rev 21:1)


            Satan, thrown onto earth, places himself on the sand, i.e., shore, of the sea (Rev 12:18), out of which the first beast rises (Rev 13:1). In this sense, the sea symbolizes the source out of which evil can manifest itself.[47] The absence of the sea in the new creation (Rev 21:1) must be interpreted in the way that in the New Jerusalem, Satan and his representatives will not find any systems of domination and exploitation that are able to give power to them.



“And he who talked to me had a measuring rod of gold” (Rev 21:15)


            The angel’s measure is an index for the standards of the city (cf. Rev 21:12-14; 18-21), which are exclusively based on God’s commands (Rev 11:1f). The square shape of the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:6) is likewise an index for “the grid street pattern found so often in Greek and Roman urban areas,”[48] signifying that this place ought to be “incomparably better than any Roman city.”[49] All that is imperfect in Rome shall be brought into “human perfection”[50] in the new dwelling place of the Lord.



I saw no temple in her [the city],” (Rev 21:22)


            The surprising[51] absence of the temple, and its direct replacement by God and the Lamb, illustrate the immediacy of the presence God in the new city. Although the New Jerusalem, like all human societies must have a “role for institutions,”[52] God and the Lamb are the only source of light and life in the city. There is no need for any other institution representing or acting in behalf of God (cf. Mt 18:20).

            With some difficulty, the absence of the temple can be explained as allusion to the Old Testament.[53] However it seem more likely that John, once more, creates here a contrast to his contemporary society.[54]  Whereas in Pergamum, Satan dwells on his throne (Rev 2:13),[55] in the new Christian society socio-religious institutions cannot be used as instruments of power that support and represent evil.[56] Although God’s/the Lamb’s throne is in the city (Rev 22:2f.), God/Lamb do not depend (cf. Rev 21:23) on any institutionalized intermediary.



“Its gates shall never be shut by day” (Rev 21:25)


            The motif of open doors is found in Isa 60:11a. While exegetes are puzzled over the fact that John might have wrongly cited the Old Testament[57], this paper believes that John deliberately changed this symbol into an index in order to contrast the system of the beast (cf. “ei mē ho échōn to charagma” in Rev 13:17). Accordingly, a contextual reading of Rev 21:25 sees in Jerusalem’s open doors an index that signifies an openness that contrasts the system of Rome’s domination (cf. “kai hina mē tis dunētai agorásin” in Rev 13:17).[58]



“I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment” (Rev 21:6; [22:1.17])


            A similar opposition of the New Jerusalem to the system of the whore of Babylon is found in the index of the water of life that flows from the throne of God in the New City.  The water of life symbolizes God’s gift[59] (“dōreán” in Rev 21:6) but too contrasts the false gifts of the beast (“hina dōsin autois cháragma” in Rev 13:16) that support Rome (Rev 18).

Alongside such interpretation is the invitation for all Christians in tribulation to heed the prophecy of the book (Rev 22:17). The present Christian community should be able to invite into a place where the water of life is not a luxury item available only for the wealthy (cf. Rev 18:12f), but for all who thirst.[60]



The Habit of Faith of the New Jerusalem


            In conclusion one can see that the indices within the index of the New Jerusalem signify and form a systematic theo-pragmatic outline or ‘symbolical blueprint’ of how the present earthly Christian community must be.[61]

            The basic tenor of Revelation’s chapters 2 and 3 is to exhort Christians neither to follow the teachings of the Nicolaitans (Rev 2:6. 15),[62] nor of the false prophets Balaam (Rev 2:14) and Jezebel (Rev 2:20).  They advertise idolatry and immorality, i.e., the participation in the imperial cult. John strongly opposes such position, being aware a refusal to join the worship of the pagan gods will, or has already, cause powerlessness (Rev 3:8) and poverty (Rev 2:9) and persecution of Christians.

Those churches, however, that already to some extent follow the false teachings of the Nicolaitans are urged to repent and to do the works they did at first (Rev 2:4).[63] They must remember what they received and heard (Rev 3:3).

            These references to what John suggest to be the proper Christian lifestyle could refer to the decree on the sacrifice of idols, at the Jerusalem council.[64] They too point to the wider ethical consequences of “einer ursprünglich guten Gottes und Christusbeziehung der Gemeinde.”[65] In this sense, the communities are admonished to return to their “’first agape.’ This is the brotherly and sisterly love or the solidarity that [held] the community together from the beginning.”[66]

            The answer to what caused some of the Christians to compromise their faith in Christ and their solidarity with the Christian community is given in chapters 13, 17 and 18 of Revelation.

            Christians sacrifice to idols and the pagan gods, not because they have lost their faith in Christ and returned to paganism, but because these sacrifices allow them to join the Roman economic associations and trade guilds,[67] and thus to become rich and wealthy citizens (cf. Rev 18:3. 9. 15. 19). For John this participation in the Roman socio-economic system constitutes a twofold evil.

            First, it compromises the sovereignty of God, who alone must be given honor and glory (Rev 4:8ff) and second, it tempts Christians to amass wealth and riches (Rev 18:11-13) for a life in luxury (Rev 18:9). Such a life will not only support grave social injustice (cf. Rev 18:13), but prevent knowledge and faith (Rev 3:18 and Jn 9:39).[68]

            Additionally, participating in the Roman patron-client system will make Christians guilty of the sins (cf. Mt 18:7) brought about by the systemic evil (Rev 18:4) of the Roman Empire. Although Rome’s sins have to do primarily with idol worship,[69] they are also a synonym for social sin. The New Jerusalem is a place where Christians, in contrast to a world of idolatry and economical domination,[70] can live in a society “in which everyone [because of the renunciation of riches and beauty] is able to enjoy the beauty of gold and gems that the rich had hoarded for themselves.”[71]





            The foregoing semiotic analysis of the New Jerusalem has shown that John operates with binary oppositions. Thus, the New Jerusalem, like all of Revelation’s signs are given meaning and significance not only by way of alluding to the Hebrew Scriptures, but foremost because of the contrast they describe.

            Second, John presents the New Jerusalem in heaven, where it is a symbol and has symbolic significance for the readers of Revelation. In heaven, Jerusalem, the bride of the Lamb (Rev 21:2. 9) signifies ‘eternal life,’ to which all who die for the word of God and whose name is written in the Book of Life are invited. But as John sees the city coming down on earth, the symbol of Jerusalem changes its significance becoming the index of an earthly city contrasting earthly cities like Rome and Babylon.





            The pragmatic analysis of Revelation’s symbol/index of the New Jerusalem shows that this image stimulates an interpretation on three literary levels of the book (heaven / descent / earth). Thus, the New Jerusalem has a threefold effect on its readers. On the heavenly level, it specifies the content and meaning of Christian faith and calls for firmness in the conviction that God/Christ alone is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. On the level of the descent, it connects the content of faith to the reality of Christian living, hereby motivating Christians to see how God and Satan dwell on earth. On the earthly level it concretizes and calls for Christian action.

            As a heavenly reality, Jerusalem signifies a final dwelling place that God has prepared and where all who gave true witness to his word will have a heavenly shelter (Rev 7:14ff). Jerusalem as a place of divine order is the bride of the Lamb who comes down onto earth in order to prepare for his arrival (Rev 21:2).

On earth the New Jerusalem has become the wife of the Lamb and the dwelling place of God (cf. Rev 19:7; 21:3.9). Consequently, in order to prepare for Christ’s final dwelling on earth, exploitation, domination and idolatry must be replaced by a transformation of the existing idolatrous order. Christians are called not only to distance themselves from the evil system, but also to actively seek its transformation into a living in equality that promotes social justice on the basis of faith and worship of the only true God (Rev 21:8).


[1]Whether the symbol of the Lamb derives its meaning from astrology (the ram), the book of Exodus (the Paschal Lamb), the prophet Isaiah (the Suffering Servant), or from yet another apocalyptic tradition, has become a debate without resolution in sight. Cf. Heinz Giesen, Die Offenbarung Johannes: Übersetzt und Erklärt von Heinz Giesen. RNT (Regensburg: Pustet, 1997), 164-166.

[2]A similar study on the symbol of the Lamb has been done by Markus E. Locker “The Lamb of Revelation in the Light of Peircean Semiotics,” Landas 16:1 (2002): 65-81.

[3]A summary of Peircean semiotics is presented in Winfried Nöth, Handbook of Semiotics (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), 39-47. Much lighter, but well illustrated, is the introduction to Peirce’s semiotics, presented by Paul Cobely and Litza Janz, Introducing Semiotics (Cambridge: Icon Books, 1998)m 18-37. Also very informative is the web page of Daniel Chandler, “Semiotics for Beginners,” /semitotics.html. 1997.

[4]Charles Sanders Peirce, Collected Papers, vols. I-VI, ed. By Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss (Cambridge; Belknap , 1960), especially 3.359 – 3.364. 

[5]Charles Sanders Peirce, the founder of the classical sign theory explains:

“If we are able to reason about the objects in the world we must be able to recognize similarities between one object and another. Such a process requires the use of ‘icons’. But an icon, which of itself is a potential sign, requires that there be an interpreter, who is able to take note of the features of similarity. It is only by reason of the later process that generality enters the sign process. But when generality enters, we have thirdness of law, so we are concerned with symbols. However, the icon and the ‘symbol’ of themselves are not sufficient, since neither of them indicates the subject of discourse. ‘Indices’ are needed to bring our attention to the objects to which the symbol and its accompanying icon apply.”

Quoted in John J. Fitzgerald, Peirce's Theory of Signs as Foundation of Pragmatism (The Hague/Paris: Mouton & Co, 1966), 40.

[6]“A sign is a shared relation to the thing denoted and to the mind. If this threefold relation is

not of a ‘degenerate species,’ the sign is related to its object only as a result of an intellectual association, depending upon a habit assumed by the interpreter. Such signs are always abstract and general, because habits are general rules for the interpreter that are, for the most part, conventional or arbitrary. These signs are called symbols . . .” (3.361).

[7]This is the predominant interpretation of images in Gregory Beal’s 1999 commentary on Revelation. The author says in the introduction of his work: “It is important to realize that in the Apocalypse some comparative figures of speech are intended as visual pictures needing interpretation, while others are meant only to be perceived on a more abstract level.” Gregory Beale, The Book of Revelation, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 57. This assessment is a reinforcement of Eugene Boring’s postulate, that “symbols are not to be decoded into propositional language that refers to objective realities, but are to be left as nonobjectifying pictorial language that only points to ultimate reality but cannot describe it, since it transcends our finite minds and cognitive categories of language.” M. Eugene Boring, Revelation. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary to the New Testament (Louisville: John Knox, 1989), 51-59.

[8]Heinz Giesen, Offenbarung, 274f.

[9]“An index is a thing or fact that is a sign of its object by virtue of being factually connected with it. This factual connection forcibly imposes itself upon the mind of the interpreter” (4.447).

[10]“An icon, . . . in ordinary speech extending to external objects, to a certain degree, represents the object itself” (4.447).

[11]Ibid., 272.

[12]Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation NICNT (Grand Rapds: Eerdmans, 1977), 301; Jürgen Roloff, The Revelation of John, A Continental Commentary (London: SPCK, 1994), 191.

[13]Michael Oberweis, “Erwägungen zur Apokalyptischen Ortsbezeichnung “Harmagedon,” Bib 76 (1995): 305-324.

[14]Chandler, Semiotics, 1-8.

[15]“In a text, signs are organized into meaningful systems according to conventions called codes, Codes are procedural systems of related conventions, operating in certain areas and transcending single texts. . . The meaning of a sign depends on the code within which it is situated. Codes provide a framework within which signs make sense,” Chandler, Semiotics, 4.

[16]This distinction was first introduced by Gottlob Frege, “Sinn und Bedeutung,” Zeitschrift für Philosophie und philosophische Kritik 100 (1892): 56-78. Cited by Arthur Gibson, Biblical Semantic Logic; A Preliminary Analysis (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1981), 47ff. Subsequently referred to as Gibson, Logic.

[17]Cf. M. E. Locker und C. Sedmak, „The Language-Game of Revelation, Interpreting the Book of Revelation through Wittgenstein’s Philosophy of Language“ Philosophy & Theology 13 (2/2002): 241-262.

[18]According to Wittgenstein (cf. PI 116), already established language that can obtain a new meaning in a new language-game (cf. Rev 1:3). Similarly, a sign that is found in a new language-game can have a new meaning that is not to be found by studying any previous use of this sign, but by describing its use in this new language-game .

[19]A. N. Whitehead, “Use of Symbolism,” in Rollo May, gen. ed., Symbolism in Religion and Literature (New York: George Braziller), 245.

[20]“Hier sind die beiden traditionellen Begriffe ‘Braut’ und ‘Weib’ zusammengefasst, um darauf hinzuweisen, dass in dieser Ehe sich beide erfüllen, Symbol und Weissagung.” Kraft, Offenbarung, 267.

[21]David Aune, Revelation 1-5, WBC, vol. 25. (Dallas: Word Books, 1997), 241f.

[22]Giesen, Offenbarung, 94.

[23]Wilfrid J. Harrington, Revelation, Sacra Pagina Series, vol. 16 (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1993), 208.

[24]“The seer was told, ”gégonan” (21:6), a term translated variously as “It is done,” “All is over,” or “These words are already fulfilled.” This term, however, also signifies transformation or metamorphosis.” Leonard L. Thompson, The Book of Revelation. Apocalypse and Empire (New York: Oxford University Press), 85.

[25]Martin Hasitschka, “Die Offenbarung des Johannes,“ University of Innsbruck, WS, 1998, 4.

[26]Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 131ff.

[27]Nelson J. Kraybill, Imperial Cult and Commerce in John’s Apocalypse. JSNTSupp 132 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), 207ff.   

[28]Beale, Revelation, 1044ff.

[29]For Schüssler Fiorenza the statements of Rev 21:2.10 are what ascertains that the New Jerusalem is an eschatological reality. “Das neue Jerusalem ist die Stadt, die von Gott selbst herabkommt. Es stammt aus dem Himmel. Der neue Ort der heiligen Stadt ist die neue Erde in einer neuen Welt, in der durch das Herabsteigen der Stadt die Trennung von Himmel und Erde für immer aufgehoben ist.” Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Priester für Gott; Studien zum Herrschafts- und Priestermotiv in der Apocalypse), 348f. Subsequently referred to as Schüssler Fiorenza, Priester. This thesis however stresses the fact that not God comes down from heaven, but the New Jerusalem. Even if “skēnōsei” in Rev 21:3 is an allusion to Jn 1:14, it does not mean that God’s incarnation in the New Jerusalem signifies the Second Coming of Christ taking away the separation of heaven and earth.  

[30]“Was bleibt einer Stadt wie Pergamum als Option noch übrig? Der Untergrund? Das Ghetto? Die Landkommune?” Hans-Josef Klauck, „Das Sendschreiben nach Pergamon und der Kaiserkult in der Johannesoffenbarung“ Biblica Roma 73 (1992), 181.

[31]“…there are reasons to believe John may have though of the New Jerusalem as being in part a present, tangible reality.” Kraybill, Cult and Commerce, 206.

[32]So Beale, Revelation, 1006.

[33]So Beale, Revelation, 1041.

[34]So Aune, Revelation 17-22, 1124f.

[35]“The marriage of heaven and earth…which the Book of Revelation depicts as a descent of the Heavenly Jerusalem to the earth from God (Rev 21-22), captures the sense of earth’s real possibilities and of ours with it.” Walter Wink, Naming the Powers; The Language of Power in the New Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984): 147. Subsequently referred to as Wink, Language of Power

[36]Once more, this shows John’s unique purpose in writing Revelation. Unnoticed by many exegetes, the LXX in general uses the passivum to describe the taking up of prophets into heaven (cf. “ánelēmphthē“ in 2 Kg 2:11, and „metetethē“ in Sir 44:16 [Giesen, Offenbarung, 257]).

[37]Beale, Revelation, 934.

[38]The term saints remains inconclusive for the analysis of this verse because John uses it to describe Christians in heaven (cf. Rev 5:8; 8:3. 4; 11:8) and on earth (Rev 13:7. 10; 14:12; 16.6; 17:6; 18:20. 21).

[39]Contrary to Aune, who speaks of the symbolic significance of the linen. Aune, Revelation 17-22, 1030.

[40]“But a more specific allusion than that to Ezekiel 43:7 is perceivable. The prophecies among which Ezek 37:27 and Lev 26:11-12 are foremost, predicted a final restoration in which God himself would “tabernacle in the midst” of Israel, and Israel would “be to him a people,” and he would “be their God”. Beale, Revelation, 1046.

[41]Schüssler Fiorenza, Priester, 351.

[42]The. NRSV’ translation reads “mortals” instead of the RSV’s “men”

[43]Leo Stock, Langenscheidts Kurzgrammatik Altgriechisch (Berlin: Langenscheidt, 1988), 96.

[44]Bauer, WSNT, 1352

[45]“Rev 21:1 speaks of the coming of “a new heaven and a new earth,” indicating a transformed reality, but Rev 5:10 makes it clear that this new reality will be actualized on our earth.” Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers; Discernment in a World of Domination (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 354. Subsequently referred to as Wink, Powers.

[46]So Schüssler Fiorenza, Priester, 375ff.

[47]“The motif of the disappearance of the sea reflects the ancient Israelite tradition of the opposition of Yahweh and the sea.” Aune, Revelation 17-22, 1119.

[48]Kraybill, Cult and Commerce, 211.

[49]Ibid., 211.  

[50]Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy. Studies on the Book of Revelation (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993), 218.

[51]“In Judaism, the eschatological expectation of a new Jerusalem implied a new temple.” Aune, Revelation 17-22, 1166.

[52]Wink, Language of Power, 110.

[53]“Rev 21:22-23 is based not on opposition to the temple but on the combination of two midrashic units, the second based on Ps 132:14, in which the phrase “I have prepared for a lamb for my Messiah” occurs, and the first on Isa 60:19, which refers to the Lord as the everlasting light of Jerusalem.” David Flusser, “No Temple in the City,” Judaism and the Origins of Christianity (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1988), 454-465 cited in Aune, Revelation 17-22, 1167.

[54]Mit der Tempellosigkeit (21,22)unterscheidet sich  das neue Jerusalem von den antike Städten, die einen das irdische Jerusalem) bzw. Mehrere Tempel (babylonische und griechisch-römische Städte) hatten. Unyong Sim, Das Himmlische Jerusalem in Apk 21,1-22,5 im Kontext Biblisch-Jüdischer Tradition und Antiken Städtebaus. BAC 25 (Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 1995), 139. Subsequently referred to as Sim, Jerusalem.

[55]Hans-Joseph Klauck, Die Religiöse Umwelt des Christentums II; Herrscher- und Kaiserkult, Philosophie, Gnosis, in Studienbücher Theologie, vol. 9,2 (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1996), 68f.

[56]Wink, Powers, 124.

[57]Heinrich Kraft, Die Offenbarung des Johannes. Handbuch zum Neuen Testament, vol 16a (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1974), 273.

[58]Kraybill, Cult and Commerce, 222.

[59]Beale, Revelation, 1057.

[60]Sim, Jerusalem, 139.

[61]An interesting parallel is here found in the dissertation of Hermann-Josef Meurer. The author concludes: “Denn indem der Mensch die im göttlichen Wort Jesu und näherin die in seinem Gleichniswort vermittelten Existenzentwürfe und Handlungsparadigmen…in seinem Handeln realisiert, kann die Welt…heilvoll verwandelt werden. So lassen sich die Gleichniserzählungen als Handlungsentwürfe oder “Königswege”” der eschatologischen Gottesherrschaft begreifen.” Hermann-Josef Meurer, Die Gleichnisse Jesu als Metaphern; Paul Ricoeurs Hermeneutic der Gleichniserzählung im Horizont des Symbols “Gottesherrschaft/Reich Gottes” Bonner Biblische Beiträge, vol. 111 (Bodenheim: Philo, 1997), 731f.

[62]“Die Nikolaiten sind Vertreter dieser ‘aufgeklärt-skeptischen’ Richtung, die sich auf die Position der Starken in den Paulinischen Gemeinden zurückverfolgen lässt. Umgekehrt dient offenbar die Abwehr der ‘Nikolaiten’ in den Gemeinden der Apk dem Versuch das

    Christentum von einer Nivellierung an eine pagane  Allerweltsmeinung und –philosophie zu schützen.” Roman  Heiligenthal, “Wer waren die ‘Nikolaiten’? Ein Beitrag zur Theologiegeschichte des frühen Christentums.” ZNW 82 (1991), p. 137.

[63]“Was in V. 4 ‘erste Liebe’ genannt wird, heißt in V. 5 ‘erste Werke.’ ‘Werke’ steht stehen in den Sendschreiben für die christliche Lebensführung (vgl. 2,2.19; 3,, die von der Liebe beseelt sein muß.” Giesen, Offenbarung, 99.

[64]“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: 29 that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and form blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well” (Acts 15:28-29).

[65]Giesen, Offenbarung, 99.

[66]Pablo Richard, Apocalypse. A People’s Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1995), 65.

[67]Ian Boxhall, “For ‘Paul’ of for ‘Cephas’? The Book of Revelation and Early Asian Christianity,” in Understanding, Studying and Reading; New Testament Essays in Honor of John Ashton, ed., Christopher Rowland and Crispin H. T. Fletcher-Louis, JSNTSup 153 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998), 206.

[68]Beale, Revelation, 306.

[69]Ibid., 898.

[70]Bauckham, Theology of Revelation, 135.

[71]Wink, Powers, 99.

Dr. Markus Locker studied theology at the University of Vienna, Maryhill School of Theology and Loyola School of Theology, and is an Assistant Prof. for New Testament at Loyola School of Theology, Quezon City, Philippines.