Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 65:17-25
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.” (Isaiah 65:17–25, ESV)
New Testament Reading: Revelation 21:1-8
“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. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 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. 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.’ 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.’ 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. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 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” (Revelation 21:1–8, ESV).
The history of redemption can be compared to a rose which exists first in seed form, then, after springing up from the earth, develops until it finally buds and then fully blossoms. Here in Revelation chapter 21 we are given a glimpse of our redemption fully blossomed and mature.
After Christ returns to rescue his people and to judge all who are not his he will establish a new heaven and new earth. And do you see that the most important characteristic of this new heaven and earth is that in it “the dwelling place of God [will be] with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God”? This is the final state for all who belong to God through faith in Christ. This is the consummation. This is the telos, or the ultimate aim of our redemption in Christ Jesus – for God to dwell in the midst of his people in a most immediate, intimate and everlasting way. This is the end result of the redemption that is found in Christ Jesus – “the dwelling place of God [will be] with [us]. He will dwell with [us], and [we] will be his people, and God himself will be with [us] as [our] God.” Here is the fully blossomed rose of redemption.
Indeed, this was the kind of existence that was offered to our first parents in the garden of Eden. True, they, in their uprightness, enjoyed face to face communion with God. But remember, they were in a time of testing. Before them stood two trees: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of life. To eat of the one meant the curse of death and a broken relationship with God. To eat of the other meant that the couple would enjoy life – consummated, confirmed and unending life. The time of testing would then be over, their communion with God would grow even more intimate, and they would have been established in life, being never again threatened with the pains of death that would come by eating from the tree of testing, that is, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. To put it differently, the fully blossomed and mature rose of Revelation 21 was offered to the first couple in the command to eat of the tree of life and to abstain from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As you know, the rose was rejected. Instead the couple chose the thorns.
But God did not abandon Adam and Eve nor their posterity, but showed grace. This he had determined to do from before creation, for it was then that the book of life was written. God, by his grace, even before he created the first man and woman, determined to save a great multitude from every tongue, tribe and nation and to bring them safely home and to himself into that eternal inheritance that was offered to the first man and woman. This he would do, not through the obedience of man, for that way to the Celestial City had been closed off by Adam’s sin. No longer could man earn eternal life by law keeping, for all are now born in sin and are by nature children of wrath. That way to the tree of life is closed off to the children of Adam now that he has chosen the tree of the knowledge and good and evil.
How then would God save his elect from amongst the children of Adam? He would do it by sending a Savior – one born of the woman, and yet one who was more than mere man, being not of Adam’s physical and corrupt seed, but the virgin born Son of God. His name is Jesus the Christ. He is our redeemer.
But the Christ did not come immediately after man’s fall into sin. Indeed, many thousands of years passed between the time of the fall and the arrival of the Christ. Indeed, many hundreds of thousands of people lived and died before the Savior of the world appeared. But God’s grace was not unknown in those times. God’s grace was known in the world, for God promised, even to Adam and Eve, that he would send a Savior – one who would defeat the serpent who had deceived them, one who would atone for their sins through the shedding of blood. This they knew. And in this promise some of them trusted. The rose that Adam and Eve had rejected was present in the world, then, not fully mature and blossomed, but in seed form. The seed was the promise of God concerning the redemption that would be accomplished by the Christ.
From the time of Adam and Eve to the time of Christ this seed of promised slowly grew and matured. The promise that was first given to Adam (Genesis 3:15) was reiterated to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was then received, preserved and propagated under Moses and David.
Sometimes this promise was reiterated in the form of direct prophesy. For example, a repeated refrain that we find scattered throughout the prophets is this word from God, “I will be their God and they will be my people.” Indeed, this does sum up God’s plan of redemption. His purpose was and is to redeem a people for himself, people from all the nations of the earth. His purpose was and is to reconcile sinners to himself, sinners alienated from him by their sin would be brought back. His purpose was and is to rescue sinners out of the kingdom of darkness to bring them into his kingdom, where Christ is Lord. And so time and again we find these words of promise in the Old Testament, “I will be their God and they will be my people”. This has always been the end goal of redemption, to bring about the kind of life that was offered to Adam in the garden, but rejected – a life accentuated by an immediate, unbroken and never-ending communion bond between God and his people.
The promise of God found in the words, “I will be their God and they will be my people” was present in those days, not only in word, but also in the symbols or types of the Old Covenant. Consider, for example, the temple that was situated in Jerusalem where the glory of God did reside. What was that except an instance of God dwelling in the midst of his people? And so the promise, “I will be their God and they will be my people”, did found a kind of partial fulfillment in Old Covenant Israel. God was indeed their God. And they were indeed his people. But clearly Old Covenant ethnic Israel and their temple of stone was far from the end goal of God’s redemptive purposes. The Old Testament from beginning to end makes this clear. No, instead the the temple of God in Israel was a type that pointed forward to greater things yet to come. Indeed, the glory of God did truly reside there from time to time, but the prophets were clear that these things symbolized or prefigured greater things yet to come. They pointed forward to the Christ and all that he would accomplish. Certainly, God’s aim was to redeem, not one nation, but people from every tongue tribe and nation. This is what God said to Abraham when he first called him, saying, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3, ESV). Indeed, the prophets also spoke of a day when the temple of God would far exceed the glory of the Old one. Clearly, God’s plan was to make all things new. God spoke through the prophet Isaiah saying, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind” (Isaiah 65:17, ESV).
Under the Old Covenant God was accomplishing his purposes. The promise of God concerning the redemption that he would accomplish through the Christ grew in clarity and matured until “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons…’” (Galatians 4:4–6, ESV). It was here at the first coming of Christ that the rose of God’s redemption budded and began to blossom.
Think of it, brothers and sisters, it was at Christ’s first coming that the kingdom of God was said to be now at hand.
It was at Christ’s first coming that God did “tabernacle” amongst us in the flesh. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, ESV). Yes, under the Old Covenant the glory of God did fill the most holy place, but with coming of the Christ the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us…”
In Christ you are the temple of the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit of God is in you.
In Christ you are seated in the heavenly places, for God “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…” (Ephesians 2:6, ESV)
It was at the first coming of Christ that the new creation began. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV).
Brothers and sisters, you, the church, are the bride of Christ even now, and he is the bridegroom. You are betrothed to him! This why Paul said, “For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2, ESV).
Friends, all of these things have been inaugurated at Christ’s first coming, but they will be consummated when the Lord returns. This is why I have said that the rose did bud and begin to blossom when Christ first came.
When Christ returns, all of things that were begun at his first coming will be consummated. They will be finished and completed. The rose of redemption will fully blossom and mature. Indeed, it will be then all things will be made new. It will be then the marriage between Christ and his bride will be complete. It will be then God will dwell with his people in a most immediate, intimate and permanent way. It will be then that death, pain and suffering will be no more, nor the tears associated with these things. All will be made new. All will be finished.
This is what Revelation 21 described to us – the rose of redemption now fully blossomed and mature.
In verse 1 John says, “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” (Revelation 21:1, ESV).
Clearly, God wants us to remember Isaiah 65 which began with these words of promise from God, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” God is saying, that which I promised long ago through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah is here in this vision portrayed as finished. John, after seeing the dissolution of the first heavens and earth was shown the establishment of the new heavens and new earth.
Notice that John says, “and the sea was no more.” I’m not sure that this is meant to be taken literally as if there will be no ocean in the new heavens and earth.
Consider a few things: One, remember that we are in the book of Revelation which communicates truth via symbol. Two, consider that the oceans and seas were a part of the original creation. And I think we are to expect the new heavens and earth to correspond to the heavens and earth as we know them now. The new heavens and earth will not be altogether different from the current heavens and earth, but they will be renewed and made imperishable. This corresponds to what the scriptures say concerning the connection between our natural bodies and the bodies we will have after the resurrection. Our natural bodies will die and decay in the grave, but those same bodies will be raised. This is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:42: “So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power” (1 Corinthians 15:42–43, ESV). We should expect the same for the heavens and earth. The scriptures compel me to think of the new heavens and earth as corresponding somehow to the current heavens and earth, only greatly renewed and glorified. They will be rendered with fire and dissolved, but raised in glory, if you will. Three, consider the symbolism of the sea in the rest of the book of Revelation and also the rest of scripture. In Revelation 13 it was from the sea that the first beast did arise. Also, the sea was just mentioned in Revelation 20:13 along with death and Hades as being the place of the dead. Consider also the way that waters do in the scriptures symbolize that which threatens human existence. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1–2, ESV). The waters of Genesis 1:1-2 made life on this planet impossible. God then divided the land from the sea to make a place for man. When God judged the world in the days of Noah what happened? The waters again covered the earth after which God again brought forth dry land for Noah and his family. It was a kind of recreation. Think also of how Israel passed through the Red Sea, whereas Egypt was swallowed. And think of the way that the sea threatened the disciples of Christ when they were in the boat, but Christ calmed the sea with the word of his mouth. I suspect that this is the meaning here in Revelation 21:1. The absence of the sea signifies that all that is threatening to the life of the people of God will be absent in the new heavens and the new earth.
When we come to Revelation 21:22 and read the words, “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Revelation 21:22, ESV), I will argue that indeed there will be no temple in the new heavens and earth. Some might accuse me of being inconsistent at this point – no sea is to be taken as symbolic, whereas no temple is to be taken literally. But there is no inconsistency, for it is the testimony of the rest of scripture that point us in these directions. Remember that there was no temple of stone in the garden of Eden. In fact, we are to think of the whole of the original creation as being a temple with Adam as priest who enjoyed the immediate presence of God. And a temple of stone was not built for a long time after the fall of man. And when it was built it was clear that it pointed forward to greater realities yet to come. When Christ came he claimed to be the temple, he abolished the temple of stone pronouncing it to be be desolate, and he did say that the church was the temple of the Holy Spirit. The trajectory of the history of redemption is taking us, not towards the rebuilding of a temple of stone, but away from it. In fact the trajectory is taking us to towards the reestablishment of that which was enjoyed by Adam – God dwelling with his people immediately, not in a temple of stone, but filling all of creation.
Notice that is what is described to us in the following verses.
Verse 2: “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2, ESV). Who is the bride? The church is the bride. And who is the groom? Christ is the groom. The city of Jerusalem symbolizes the church.
This is nothing new. Remember what Christ said to the church of Philadelphia way back in Revelation 3:10: “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’” (Revelation 3:12–13, ESV). In the new heavens and new earth all will be the temple of God. Christians who conquer will be made pillars in this temple, metaphorically speaking. And do you see that Christians are also the new Jerusalem. In the new heavens and earth Christ will be wed, not to a city, but to his bride who is the church. And what do the temple and the city of Jerusalem signify except that place where God does dwell in the midst of his people. That is the point of it all! In the new heavens and earth God and Christ will dwell in the midst of his people.
Verse 3 proves that this is the point as God himself interprets the vision that we have just seen: “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’” (Revelation 21:3, ESV). This is the thing that makes the new heavens and earth heavenly. We will be with God and God will be with us. This was the aim of Christ’s redemption. To make us suitable for life with God.
And look at the tenderness of God! Verse 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” (Revelation 21:4, ESV).
The same God from whom “earth and sky fled away” in Revelation 20:11 – the same God who was seen siting on his great white throne to judge great and small according to their deeds – is here portrayed as a loving Father who wipes away the tears of his beloved children. Death and morning, crying and pain belong to this present evil age. They will have no place in the new heavens and earth.
Tell me brothers and sisters, have you thought much about the new heavens and earth? The final state is not merely spiritual, but it is physical. Heaven (that is, the place where God and his angels now dwell along with the souls of those who have died in Christ) and earth become one. How wonderful it will be to live on this earth as God offered it to Adam. We will enjoy this world as whole persons, body and soul, but without sin and suffering and death. All that does cause us to mourn and to cry will be abolished. God will dwell with us. And there will be no potential for us to fall. I, for one, look forward to it.
Verse 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’” (Revelation 21:5, ESV). This is the word of God. He himself does say, “these words are trustworthy and true.” The Christian is therefore to live for this world which is sure to come.
Verse 6: “And he said to me, ‘It is done!’” Though the thing described here is yet in our future, God says, it is as good as done. He guarantees it. And God knows, for he himself is the “Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” He is the Creator who stands at the beginning of history and the he is the one who will bring everything to it’s consummation. And here is his promise: “To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment” (Revelation 21:6, ESV). Here the free grace of God is emphasized. The one who is thirsty will drink from the spring of the water of life freely.
In Verse 7 a similar promise is given: “The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son” (Revelation 21:7, ESV). Here the purpose of the book of Revelation shines through – it is to encourage the reader to conquer in Christ Jesus. We are persevere in faith knowing that those who do persevere will by no means be turned away empty handed. They will drink from the spring of life freely, and they will have this heritage, that is, the heritage of the new heavens and the new earth. The greatest blessing is this: the over comer will be called God’s son.
Verse 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” (Revelation 21:8, ESV). It is probable that this list of sins is directed, not at those outside the church, but those within who compromised in the face of pressure and persecution. They are called cowardly and faithless. They are detestable. They are the ones who did murderously betray their brethren. They were more concerned with having the pleasures of this world than the pleasures of the world to come. Their religion was false. They committed idolatry and were proved to be liars, their profession of faith being untrue. The heritage of the faith is the new heavens and earth, but their portion is “the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8, ESV).
Friends, do you look forward to the new heavens and earth?
Do you believe that it is through Christ that the new heavens and earth are inherited? Adam forfeited them. Christ earned them for himself and all who believe upon him. Trust in Christ!
And let us persevere in Christ to the end.
“But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.” (2 Peter 3:13–14, ESV)