Have you seen the news recently? I’m sure you have. I’m sure you’ve seen the sexual abuse and harassment scandals happening in all spheres of life. I’m sure you’ve read about the deteriorating relationships between nations of the world. I’m sure you’ve read about the wars and rumors of war.
But what about you and your life? Have you experienced hurt? Perhaps you’ve been neglected by your family and friends. Perhaps you’ve been mocked for your values and what you believe. Perhaps you’ve felt the effects of disease and a deteriorating body. Perhaps you’ve seen close friends and family pass away unexpectedly and experienced the deep wells of hurt.
Pain. Sickness. Weakness. Disease. Death. Sin. They seem to plague our lives sometimes from before the moment we are born to the day we take our last breath. Things are not the way they are supposed to be. However, there is hope – and I think that is what John is trying to communicate to his readers who were enduring persecution like he was. For in God’s kingdom, heaven and earth will be restored and God will dwell with his people (Revelation 21:1-8).
Initial Vision (v. 1)
New Heaven, New Earth
John begins the end of his revelation with his final vision (v. 1). He proclaims to his readers that he saw a new heaven and a new earth because the first heaven and the first earth passed away. John is calling his readers back to Genesis 1 – to creation. In Genesis 1:1 – Moses writes “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” And then from that day onward, God created everything that we know of today – plants, animals, weather, outer space, the sun, and even us. These things were good, there is absolutely no doubt about it, for after every day God created, God looked upon creation and beheld it and proclaimed that it was good. However, sin entered creation, and it was no longer good. God pronounced a curse on all of creation as the result of sin, and sin continues to plague this creation and us to this very day.
God could have left us to sin, and he could have let sin ultimately destroy his creation. However, he did not, by grace and mercy, leave creation and us in that state. We know this because all of Scripture is the narrative of God redeeming us from the curse and sin of the Fall. So, when John writes, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth,” he is instilling hope in his readers that a dramatic change will take place soon. Why?
Because this heaven and this earth are passing away. John was fond of using this language of “passing away.” To us, it conjures up an image of death, because we often break news of death in that way – “Johnny passed away last evening.” By that, we mean that Johnny has ceased in the condition of living on this earth. When John uses this term of “passing away,” I think that is what he has in mind. When he received this revelation of the new heaven and the new earth, he saw the first heaven and the first earth – this heaven and this earth – “passing away” – not ceasing in life, but ceasing to be in sin.
Isn’t that what God’s redemptive plan is all about? Isn’t it God setting things back to the way things are supposed to be? Death has to be involved. In order for us to be saved, Christ had to go to the cross and die to take away our sins so that when we die, we can enjoy our redemption perfectly and fully. In order for this heaven and earth to be redeemed, there has to be some sort of death involved for God to fully redeem creation from the effects and the curse of the Fall.
But what about this little comment about the sea being no more? It seems rather odd to incorporate, doesn’t it? Is John simply crushing some beach-lovers dreams about the shore? (Probably not). Certainly the sea would be impacted by the new heaven and new earth. However, the fact that John draws out that the sea is no more highlights that this is rather significant for his readers since the sea falls under the umbrella of new creation.
You see, Israel was (and still is) situated on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The Mediterranean is known for having sudden and violent storms rise up and sweep over Israel. Not only that, their coast was extremely rocky. That means you struggled to get out to sea because if you hit the wrong wave or rip tide, your boat would run aground upon the rocks, risking your life and your livelihood. However, that did not prevent would be marauders and invaders from coming by sea to attack, pillage, and invade Israel. If they got passed the rocky coast, you knew these guys meant business and were the strongest of the bunch.
This imagery is amplified in Scripture – notice in Revelation 13:1 – “And the dragon stood on the shore of the sea.” The same dragon that blasphemed the Lord our God and brought war and violence to the nations and he came by sea. This further bolsters the idea that for John’s Jewish readers, the sea was a symbol of violence and destruction.
The reason why John wrote that the sea would be no longer was to demonstrate the peace – the שָׁלוֹם (shalom) (if you have heard the Hebrew word before) – that is in the new heaven and the new earth.
The New Jerusalem (v. 2)
After initially seeing what this new heaven and earth would be like, John notices something else. He “saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (verse 2). What is being communicated here is that God will dwell with his people in his city for the church will be restored. This is the ultimate undoing of the fall. While the garden was taken away from man, a holy city is given to man after all things have been restored. However, this is not restricted to simply one geographic place. As we read later in this revelation, the city is so vast that the Jerusalem in this world pales in comparison. Wherever God’s people will be, God will be dwelling with them.
Have you ever noticed how popular the imagery of marriage is in Scripture? Often, it is used concerning the church and its’ relationship with God. By nature, marriage is covenantal. And there is no mistake that this imagery is used here. God’s kingdom in the new heaven and in the new earth will be marriage – as a bride adorned for her husband. For, when God’s kingdom condescends to us, God will dwell with his people and nothing can break that bond.
I could go more and more into what the New Jerusalem will be like, but this is for another sermon.
The Great Voice (vv. 3-4)
The one who is sitting on the throne boldly proclaims in verse 3 to John what will take place when the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, the new heaven and earth comes. Namely, the one boldly proclaiming, who is God, is proclaiming that he himself will dwell with his people.
In John’s context, Rome was imperialistic. They went and conquered territories and regions and islands to expand their power. There were many horrors and gruesome violence was not uncommon with their conquests. Sure, the privileges that came with being a Roman colony undid their horrible acts. However, Rome always stayed where it was, at Rome. The capital was never established in the new area, it stayed where it was.
This is not the case with God’s kingdom. When all things are made new, God’s kingdom will come to this new earth. They will be one. God’s kingdom will not remain at a distance and this new earth will not be his colony – for they will be one because God will dwell in the new heaven and the new earth.
This is what Israel was waiting and hoping for. Sure, God dwelled with them in their camp and in their city. However, he could only be approached in one place by one person. In the new heaven and the new earth, God will be everywhere and because of the work of Christ, we can boldly and confidently approach God as his children and citizens.
Notice what God will do in this new and united kingdom in verse 4. He will wipe every year from his citizen’s eyes. Also notice where death is in his kingdom. It isn’t in his kingdom. For death cannot be in the presence of eternal life.
But finally, notice what else will be absent from God’s kingdom – mourning, crying, and pain. Death causes so much pain and suffering in this life, I’m sure you know. When death, pain, sickness, disease, and sin come upon you and press and oppress you, there is a wailing and crying physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
The former things will pass away. This is true. The effects of the fall and the curse will be finally and completely undone. Instead of tears of pain, it will be joy. Rather than death, there will be eternal life. Rather than mourning, there will be happiness. Rather than pain, there will be peace. The former things, the things in this life, will be no more when God comes and dwells with his people.
He who is Seated (v. 5)
The One Sitting
Often, it is easy for us to pass over little phrases before extended quotes. However, I think we should take special notice of these phrases, especially this one in verse 5 – he who was seated on the throne. Do you understand what sitting signifies here? The work of God is finished. He has finally and fully completed the redemption that he promised to his people starting in Genesis. These are the final paragraphs of his redemptive narrative – when all things will be good and perfect forever. He will remain seated on his throne because he will be king over all things and nothing with ever threaten to thwart his kingship and bring about another work of redemption because his redemption is final because he is all powerful.
All Things New
However, this does not mean that God is not working. He is still very much active, even in this day. Notice in verse 5 – “I am making all things new.” This is not some action that will take place in the future. This restoration is happening now for God is redeeming the world currently through the Gospel of his Son. This also does not mean everything is going to be destroyed by some cosmic fire death. Rather, it means this world will be purified in all respects. That’s what we observe in Isaiah 65:17-25, Romans 8:21-23, and 1 Corinthians 15:35-37 and even demonstrated by Christ in his resurrection because he still had the same body that he had before the grave. This means that what you all do here and now matters because your works will not be destroyed, but purified and amplified. I think N.T. Wright puts it so simply and profoundly in his book Surprised by Hope:
… what you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are—strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped children to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, build up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world—all of this will find it ways, through the resurrection power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. … In fact, it will be enhanced there.
This is God making all things new because God is in the business of redemption. He will take our works done for him in Christ and redeem those to build his kingdom.
We can be sure of what God has said and will say in this revelation because these words are faithful and true (verse 5). God, by nature, is faithful and true. He is a God who will keep his covenants and he cannot lie. We can go through all the Scriptures and see that God is a God who keeps his promises for he has been redeeming this world through the Gospel and fulfilling everything he said and covenantally promised to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets.
It is Finished (vv. 6-8)
Even though this indicates the end of this heaven and this earth, God reassures all those who read this letter that he is eternal – he was before the beginning for he has no beginning and he will continue to exist as he is past the end for he has no end. Why is this?
For he is the Alpha and the Omega. In the Greek alphabet, these letters were the first and last letters of the alphabet. He also declares that he is the beginning and the end. What is God trying to communicate here?
That he possesses the beginning and the end of all things within him for he is all powerful and eternal.
Notice the relief he gives to the one who conquerors in verse 7. To the thirsty, he will give from the spring of the water of life freely. This imagery is not accidental. I think John had in mind part of his gospel when Jesus encounters the Samarian woman.
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.’’ (John 4:13-15, ESV)
What is being communicated here is if you are thirsty (or are not saved) come to God because he will give you the water which will save. And this precedes the condemnation towards those who do not repent in the final verse. Imagine this, you have been working hard out in the hot sun all day during the middle of August. It’s hot, you’re tired, and you’re thirsty. The minute your work is done, you go and get a glass of cold water – and it brings immediate refreshment to you. This is so with God and his salvation. Our souls and thirsty for redemption, but we either chose to ignore it or act against it, or we may have never been aware that our souls were thirsty. But when God, by the work of his Son, through the Holy Spirit, saves us, the refreshment it brings to our soul is unforgettable.
However, this is not the only reward for those who come to him. For the one who conquerors will receive his inheritance. This imagery may be a little more difficult, but in the first letter of John, he associates conquering with overcoming the Evil One. So what God is promising is if one is saved, he has overcome the Evil One because he continues in the faith and the Evil One does not want anyone to continue in the faith, much less be saved in the first place. The inheritance those who overcome receive is eternal fellowship with one another and with God in the new heaven and the new earth.
Finally, this is all culminated in the fact that God will be his people’s God. There is will be no hint of idolatry because they will be able to know him. Anything that could pose as an idol will be destroyed by God. The repeated saying in the Old Testament “I will be their God, and they will be my people” has finally been perfected because sin can no longer separate man and God.
But John does not leave his readers simply on a note of hope. He provides a note of warning from the Lord with the hope from the Lord. Notice in verse 8 the eight people that the Lord condemns. I think this is included for three reasons. One, the Lord is providing a warning to those who are in sin to repent and enjoy his kingdom which will last forever and ever.
Two, the Lord is providing more hope for those who will be in his kingdom. Think about it. Our whole life has been marred by sin and sinners. Those who claimed the name of Christ just to abuse the many privileges that came with it will not be in God’s kingdom to deceive and hurt others. Those who hate and murder will not be in God’s kingdom to bring about more death and destruction. Those who sexually assault and abuse others in so many heinous ways will not be there to commit their awful acts anymore. Those who deny God and bring about wicked things through their dark arts will not be able to lead others away from God’s kingdom. Simply put, those who do not confess and believe God will not be in his kingdom – only those who follow him will be in his kingdom. And for those who cannot come into his kingdom, they will die a second time – once in this life when they pass away from this life and into the next one and once in the next life. They and all their horrible works and all evil will be burned forever in hell. Although this may not seem like a positive message of hope, think about all the ways that sin has tormented you throughout your life. Does it not give encouragement to your soul that there will be complete and utter peace in God’s kingdom in the new heaven and the new earth?
Finally, I think we also see a message of grace in this verse. How? For we were at one time sinners. We ran from God. We refused to put our faith in God. We were detestable. We hated and murdered and marred the image of God. We committed sexual sins. We looked for a god other than God. And we continually deceived ourselves and others. We were destined for that lake of fire and sulfur.
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)
We are the proof that God saves sinners! And in the new heaven and in the new earth, no matter what sins we have committed, the guilt we may experience will finally be washed away and we will be restored because our faith is in Christ. Think about how amazing grace is. The priests who may have repented of their sexual sins may see the children they harmed in the new heaven and the new earth and they will enjoy a perfect relationship. The evangelists and preachers that have been reviled and persecuted and killed will see those whom they preached to in the new heaven and the new earth – a great reward. Aborted children will see their mothers and their fathers and their brothers and their sisters and enjoy a relationship that should have been. Miscarried children will enjoy the fullness of life with their families. Separated and abusive spouses will walk side-by-side and in peace. Racists and minorities will see each other and embrace one another as co-heirs in Christ (Romans 8:16-17).
Living as Exiles
Dear listeners, this is not the end of the beauty of the new heavens and the new earth. Far from it, for John doesn’t even begin to plum the depths of the New Jerusalem or what life will be like. But what we have learned is that this heaven and this earth will be redeemed so that peace can come in. God will dwell with his people finally and fully in the new creation. There will be no more pain, crying, mourning, or death for those things have ceased to exist in God’s kingdom. These things are true because God, who is eternal, possesses both the beginning and the end. Therefore, he will save his people to be their God, but those who never repent will have no part in his kingdom. Therefore, we can have a great confidence and hope that the work of redemption that God began from the fall to now will come to competition in the new heaven and the new earth and we will reside with our king forever. In the face of hardship and difficulty, rely on the Father, who knows all things, who possesses the beginning and the end, because he is concerned about your perseverance. Rely on the Son, for he has brought about the work of redemption in his death and resurrection and gives us the purpose to persevere. And rely on the Holy Spirit, as he will indwell you and give you the strength to carry on into the new creation in the face of hardship and difficulty.
This post was originally a sermon delivered at Quarryville Presbyterian Retirement Community on Sunday, October 7, 2018. It has been modified from its original version.