God’s Promise of a New Home

| Revelation 21:1-8

The Point:  A life in Christ means a life with Christ forever.

The New Heaven and the New Earth:  Revelation 21:1-8.

[1]  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. [2]  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. [3]  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. [4]  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." [5]  And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." [6]  And he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. [7]  The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. [8]  But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death."  [ESV]

Coming of New Heaven and New Earth [1-8].  In this section John introduces us to the basic vision, the arrival of the new heaven and new earth and the descent of the New Jerusalem [1-2], and then the voice from the throne tells us the significance of this, namely, the fulfillment of all the Old Testament hopes and the removal of all suffering of God’s people [3-4]. After this God speaks directly in six parts: (1) The time of newness has arrived [5a]; (2) the truthfulness of this teaching [5b]; (3) God has vanished His work [6a]; (4) God is still sovereign over history [6b]; (5) the thirsty are promised the water of life [6c]; and (6) the readers must decide whether to be overcomers or cowards [7-8].

1. Basic Vision [1-2].  Isaiah concludes his prophecy by promising that God would create new heavens and a new earth that shall remain [65:17; 66:22]. This was picked up in 2 Peter 3:13, where the fiery destruction of the old heaven and earth would lead to a new heavens and a new earth where righteousness dwells. If sin had not entered the world, the first creation would have sufficed. Since it was in bondage to corruption due to sin [Rom. 8:21], however, it had to be replaced. The primary themes in Isaiah 65:17-22 are joy (both God’s and His people’s) and the removal of sorrow and suffering. God’s joy is never mentioned in Genesis 1-3, so His joy over His new heaven and new earth is all the more remarkable. These themes of joy and newness dominate John’s portrayal as well. This is only the first of many allusions to Isaiah in this section. There is a major contrast between new and first in 21:1. New emphasizes more qualitative newness than temporal newness. There will be a whole new reality, a new kind of existence in which all the negatives of the first earth will be removed, all the discoloration by sin will be gone. God will create a new order and a new world. It is difficult to know whether there will be a type of physicality in the eternal order similar to this world. On the basis of the emphasis on a physical resurrection in Luke 24:39; Rom. 8:11; and Phil. 3:21 and on a new earth here, some degree of carryover may be indicated. At the same time, however, Paul speaks of being raised in glory and of a spiritual body [1 Cor. 15:43-44], so we know little of what form that will take. It is best to affirm some type of continuity within the wholly new order. Moreover, the idea of a new heaven and a new earth also hints that the old dichotomy between the first heaven and the first earth will be no more. God will now dwell in the New Jerusalem, and heaven will be brought down to earth. In Revelation 7:9-17 the saints will spend eternity in heaven, while in 21:9-22:5 they will spend eternity in the New Jerusalem and the final Eden. In other words, heaven and earth will be united into a larger reality unlike it was in the first creation. The sea is a symbol of evil which would explain why it is added here in verse 1: the sea was no more. In the new order, not only will the old creation be gone, but evil will be no more. When the new heaven and new earth are in place, then the holy city, new Jerusalem can descend. Isaiah prophesizes that God will create new heavens and a new earth and will create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness [65:17-18]. The coming down of the New Jerusalem frames [3:12; 21:2,10] the many “descents” by which God has brought history to a close in the book [10:1; 16:21; 18:1; 20:1,9]. When the divine power descends from heaven to earth, His sovereignty reigns over the affairs of humankind. Moreover, in this last descent, heaven and earth are finally united. After 21:2,10 there is never again any “from heaven to earth,” for in the new heaven and new earth they are one. Revelation places considerable emphasis on the heavenly temple [7:15; 11:19; 14:15,17; 15:5-6,8; 16:1,17]. Now the heavenly temple descends from heaven to earth in the form of a city and becomes the eternal home of the saints. In its beauty and joy, the city is prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. In 19:7-8 the church is the bride of the Lamb, and her adornment is her righteous deeds. There is a debate about the connection between the city and the saints. Is the New Jerusalem the place in which the saints reside, or is it a symbol of the saints themselves? It is a people in 21:9-10, when the angel shows John the New Jerusalem as the Bride, the wife of the Lamb, and in 21:13-14, when the twelve tribes and twelve apostles are the gates and the foundations of the city. But it is a place in 21:3 where God dwells with His people, in 21:7-8 where the readers will inherit it or face the lake of fire, and in 21:24,26 where the glory of the nations are brought into it. In short, it represents heaven as both the saints who inhabit it and their dwelling place.

2. The Voice from the Throne Confirms Its Significance [3-4].  An unidentified loud voice from the throne now interprets the significance of the heavenly city for the believers. Again, motifs drawn from the Old Testament predominate. Indeed, the covenant established in Sinai is now fulfilled, as seen in the Holiness Code of Leviticus 26:11-12: I will make my dwelling among you … I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. This promise was repeated often as a note of comfort for God’s beleaguered people. Behold is a call to pay especially close attention. As in 19:7-8, the verbs in 21:3-4 switch to future tenses, probably to draw attention to the prophetic overtones of these critical portions. God will no longer dwell high and lifted up above His people but will now ‘tabernacle’ in their midst. The rest of the verse expands this basic idea: and God himself will be with them as their God. It is only in the eternal reality that we will know this completely and finally. After the eternal covenant is presented, the benefits belonging to the saints who form and inhabit the new heaven and new earth are presented [4]. They center on the peace and joy God will give His people. First, God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, which reproduces 7:17. Second, God will remove the sources of sorrow: death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore. There will be everlasting joy and bliss, for the debilitating effects of sin and suffering have been taken away. Every reader of this commentary should think of all they have gone through, all the illness and suffering and loss and incredible sorrows that are always part of life in this sin-sick world. Not only does creation groan in the midst of its infirmities, but we also groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies [Rom. 8:22-23]. John is now describing that time when the redemption of our bodies will be accomplished. This is the universal hope that has comforted the saints down through the ages. The concluding thought ties it all together: this has occurred because the former things have passed away, a quotation of 21:1. All these things (death, mourning, crying, pain) were part of the first world and have no place in the new world. This also sums up all the promises given the overcomers in the seven letters [2:7,11,17,26-28; 3:5,12,21]. They all relate to promises that will come to pass when this world has ended and eternity has begun.

3. God Speaks and Describes New Heavenly Order [5-6].  In 21:3 a voice came from the throne, but now he who was seated on the throne speaks for the first time. As several commentators have noted, the Yahweh speech here has the effect of ratifying not only the content of 21:1-4 but perhaps all the visions of the book since they have pointed to this moment. There are five different elements in this divine speech to the church (six if one counts 21:7-8), and it is best to take them one at a time. (1) God’s message begins with a second (with 21:3) call for serious attention (Behold). His first comment sums up the primary theme of 21:1-4, I am making all things new. This statement is the centerpiece of 21:5-8 and both encourages the faithful regarding God’s power and trustworthiness, and warns the weak about spiritual failure. The switch to the present tense, after the aorists of 21:1-3a and the futures of 3b-4 is emphatic. It is a prophetic present guaranteeing for the reader God’s future re-creation of the heavens and earth. It is important to realize that the speech of 21:5-8 is not just God’s speaking in the future but His addressing the church in the present. Making is used often in Revelation for God’s activity in creation [14:7] and redemption [1:6; 3:12; 5:10]; here God is making a new creation. (2) Once more [1:11,19; 14:13; 19:9] John is told to write down a direct message for the church. This is the second of three statements regarding the truthfulness of the prophecies [19:9; 22:6]. The other two are said by an angel, this one by God Himself. The purpose is to help the reader understand the truthfulness and importance of the message. These words can be trusted because they are true, a term also used of Christ [3:7,14; 19:11] and God [6:10; 15:3; 16:7; 19:2]. In other words, the new creation is certain because the faithful and true God has guaranteed it. (3)  At the pouring of the seventh bowl [Rev. 16:17], a voice from the throne exclaimed, It is done!, pointing forward to this moment when God would finalize the events of the eschaton set in motion at the seventh bowl by repeating the message, It is done! The perfect tense stresses a state of affairs resulting from an action, so this means salvation history is at an end and the future age can begin. There are in a sense three stages. At the cross Jesus said, It is finished [John 19:30], meaning God’s redemptive plan for His sacrificial death. Then in Revelation 16:17 the voice from the throne said, It is done, meaning that the events of the eschaton ending this present evil order are finished. Finally, God says here, It is done, meaning that all the events of world history – including the world’s destruction and the inauguration of the final new age – are at an end. (4)  All of this is anchored in the character of God as sovereign over history. God’s title, the Alpha and the Omega, as interpreted in the beginning and the end, occurs also in 1:8, further interpreted as the first and the last in 1:17 and 2:8, and all three are applied by Christ to Himself in 22:13. The title is built on Isaiah 44:6 and 48:12, I am the first, and I am the last, which meant that Yahweh was sovereign at the beginning of the nation and would be in charge at the end as well. In keeping with this title, God began history at creation and ends it at the eschaton. But the title means He controls not only the beginning and the end but also everything in between; in other words, He is sovereign over history. (5)  God’s control over history is now applied to the future blessings of His faithful followers. To the thirsty refers to those who have persevered and remained faithful to Christ. As in John 7:37, the thirsty are those who turn to Christ rather than to the world, and if they do so, the Lord will give them living water [John 4:10]. Thus, as in the Gospel of John, this is an invitation to the spiritually thirsty to come and drink of the water of life without payment.

4.  Challenge to Overcome, Not Be a Coward [7-8].  This section concludes with a challenge to the readers to recognize the difference between those who are faithful and those who are not, that is, to decide whether to be a conqueror [7] or a coward [8]. The opening the one who conquers is drawn from the conclusion of each of the seven letters, where it contained the eschatological promises given to all those who were victorious over the world with its temptations and suffering. They are the thirsty who drank freely of the water of life. They have conquered by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony [12:11]. This inheritance sums up all the promises of the seven letters by telling the reader they will have this heritage [7]. Yet the greatest blessing of all is the incredible fact that I will be his God and he will be my son. We are adopted as God’s children, but now we have only a foretaste of the final state of joy when God’s family is complete and whole in the eternal state. In Revelation 21:3 the voice from the throne said, they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. Verse 7 states the same truth in the language of the Davidic covenant. In contrast to those who inherit the blessings, the sinners will be cast into the lake of fire [8]. The list of sins in this verse is a typical ‘vice code’ used frequently in the New Testament [Rom. 1:29-31; Eph. 4:25-32; 5:3-5; Col. 3:5-8; 1 Tim. 1:9-10; James 3:14-16; 1 Peter 2:1; 4:3,15]. Revelation has three such lists [9:21; 21:8; 22:15], the longest of which is here. The list here is not, however, a general enumeration of sins but instead a specific list that draws together the sins of the book. Its purpose is to sum up the depravity of the unbelievers, and each term reflects sins mentioned elsewhere in the book. The reader is being asked to make a choice whether to overcome the pressure of the world and refuse to succumb to it or to be a coward and surrender to sin. Those who do so will join the unbelieving world in eternal damnation.” [Osborne, pp. 728-744] 

Questions for Discussion:

1.         Describe the nature of the new creation. How is it similar to the first creation? How is it different? What is the key difference between the new earth and the first earth?

2.         On identification and intimacy with God. Reflect on the various images that are used here to speak of the closest possible relationship between God and His people. The church is prepared as a bride. Christians are given a new name. God dwells intimately with His people. If this is our destiny, how should we be preparing ourselves for it? How often is the subject of intimacy with God addressed among Christians? How can we cultivate intimacy with God in a society so devoted to pleasure, superficiality, and over-activity? God wants our true desire and joy to be in Him. What are we doing now to cultivate our desire for Him? Reading and meditating on God’s word leads to thinking God’s thoughts after Him, which increases our joy in Him. How much time and effort do you spend studying God’s Word?

3.         On the promises of God. How important it is to reflect on the fact that God is faithful to His promises and that it is not unspiritual or selfish to suppose He rewards those who seek and serve Him, since that is His will for us. God does want our best. How often do we list the promises He has already fulfilled for us and use that as an encouragement for the fulfillment of all that is yet to come? As you read and study God’s Word, make a list of all His promises to His people. Then turn to that list when you are suffering or discouraged and trust in His faithfulness.

References:

Revelation, G. K. Beale, Eerdmans.

Revelation, Simon Kistemaker, Baker.

Revelation, Grant Osborne, Baker.