And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. Revelation 21:21 NASB
Gold – You’ve heard the advertisements, I’m sure. “In a volatile economy, gold is your only real safety net.” “Gold! It has never been worth nothing. Experts say it may even double in the next years.” “Gold is security in times of trouble.” “Buy now before it’s too late!” Whenever we think of gold, we think of value. We think of riches. We think like the people of this earth. But John’s vision paints a little different image.
First, we must notice that whatever kind of gold John has in mind, it’s like nothing we have ever seen. I know of no pure gold that is transparent like glass. In fact, I can’t even imagine such a substance. As far as I know, glass and gold don’t mix. So whatever John saw, it wasn’t like anything on this earth. That should tell us to pay attention to the fact that this is apocalyptic literature, a genre that uses many, many symbols to represent other things.
Secondly, before you get excited about tearing up this street and carrying home a piece of gold for yourself, notice what this gold is used to construct. This is the heavenly version of the Yellow Brick Road. And that’s exactly what gold is good for in heaven – making bricks for the road. In other words, heavenly gold has the same value as mud (what bricks were made of in the first century). In fact, it is so plentiful that even the streets are made of gold. If this is the case, what is the “street” value of gold? Not much. How much would you give for a piece of the sidewalk in front of your house? Anything?
Clearly what John saw isn’t anything like the gold that we so admire. The imagery is all symbolic. When you get to heaven, you may in fact find a street of transparent gold (whatever that is), but it won’t be valuable enough to take to the bank. What is of value in heaven is not reflected in what we consider valuable here on earth.
If John isn’t writing about any kind of gold we know, then what is this all about? Perhaps John’s imagery is simply to express the magnificence of this vision. Perhaps it’s only about how overwhelmingly beautiful the new Jerusalem will be. Who really knows? That’s the problem with apocalyptic literature. Its symbolic structure allows multiple interpretations which fit nearly any age. The purpose of apocalyptic literature is not to provide us with a timetable of the future or even the contents of some coming world. The purpose of apocalyptic literature is to offer hope. Things will be better. Things will be restored. Justice will prevail. And when hope is fulfilled, it will be like walking on streets of gold. Something unimaginable is coming. Something glorious. Something amazing. Just wait. You’ll see.
If you thought heaven was there to fill your bank account, you missed the point. Try reading John’s vision as the imagery of hope and resolution. And leave the bricks alone.
Topical Index: gold, street, apocalyptic, Revelation 21:21