So, we’ve been studying passages from the Bible to help us understand why the Son of God came into the world; and what will happen when he comes again. And this evening we’re turning to the end of the Bible and to the apostle John’s vision of a new heaven and earth where all of God’s people will dwell with him forever. In the beginning, Adam and Eve enjoyed the presence of the Lord in the temple-garden of Eden. But, because of Adam’s disobedience, they were sent out of the garden and away from the presence of the Lord to suffer pain and frustration and death. But, because of Christ’s perfect obedience — even to the point of death on a cross — all of God’s people will once again be brought into the presence of the Lord; and we will be with the Lord for ever and for ever. As the Lord foretold in the Garden, the Devil will be destroyed. And as Isaiah foretold, there will be nothing to hurt or harm us in this new world; and all of God’s people will dwell peacefully and securely on God’s holy mountain. And so, what we read here in Revelation 21 and 22 is the fulfilment of God’s promises and is the consummation of God’s great plan for our redemption.
Well, the passage this evening can be divided into two parts: In verses 1 to 8 of chapter 20 we read about the new heaven and earth which will be the eternal home for God’s people. And then, from verse 9 of chapter 20 to verse 5 of chapter 22 we read about the new Jerusalem, which is the bride of Christ, or the church in glory. And God has revealed these things to us in order to encourage believers in every generation to look beyond our present trouble and trials to the glory that awaits us when Christ comes again. We’re to fix our thoughts on what is to come, because our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us in the life to come. And so, instead of turning away from Christ, we should stand firm in the faith and remain faithful to Christ our King, because he has something wonderful prepared for us in the life to come.
20:1 to 20:8
Now, chapter 20 of the book of Revelation tells us about the fate of all those who do not belong to Christ and who sided with the Devil. So, chapter 20 foretells how the Devil will gather an army for one last attack on Christ and his church. But as soon as he launches his attack, fire will come from the Lord to devour them. And the Devil will be thrown into the lake of fire where he will be tormented day and night forever. And a great white throne will be set up for the great day of judgment when everyone will stand before the Lord to be judged for what they have done. And anyone’s name which is not written in the Lamb’s book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire.
That’s in chapter 20 which tells us about the fate of those who did not belong to Christ and whose sins were not covered by his blood; they will be sent away to be punished forever. But then, chapters 20 and 21 tell us about the future glory of those who belong to Christ and whose sins have been covered by his blood: they will be brought into the presence of God in the new heaven and earth.
John tells us that he saw this new heaven and earth and that the first heaven and earth have passed away. Well, the first heaven and earth are the heaven and earth which God created in the beginning, but which became spoiled and corrupted and subject to frustration because of Adam’s sin. However, God was not finished with the world and he was not finished with Adam and his descendants, because he had a plan to put right what had gone wrong; and to remove the curse of sin; and to redeem his people from our sin and misery; and to make all things new. And perhaps, when we read here about the new heaven and earth we should make a mental note to say a renewed heaven and earth, because the word John uses for ‘new’ doesn’t mean another heaven and earth, but a renewed heaven and earth, a rejuvenated heaven and earth, a heaven and earth which has been put right, and made pristine and perfect, with nothing to spoil it or to mar it in any way. So, just as we look forward to the time when our bodies will be renewed and glorified when Christ comes again, so the heaven and earth will be renewed and glorified when Christ comes again.
John tells us that in his vision there was no longer any sea. What’s wrong with the sea? Well, the commentators offer a number of explanations, including that the sea was regarded as a dangerous and inhospitable place in the ancient world; but there will be nothing dangerous in the new world. Another explanation is that since the sea is always in motion, with tides rising and falling, and waves breaking, then the sea represents all the unrest and disorder and conflict of our present life; but in the new world, there will only be perfect peace and rest and tranquility. The sea was also regarded as a place of evil and wickedness; but nothing evil will be allowed in the new world.
And so, in his vision, John sees that the heavens and the earth as we now know them, will be replaced by a renewed and perfected creation.
And then, in his vision, he saw what he called the Holy City, the new Jerusalem. Now, John will describe the city in more detail later, but for now let me explain that this city is not really a city. This city is the church: all those who belong to Christ; and whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life; and who, in John’s vision, have been brought into the presence of the Lord to live with him in the new heaven and earth. How do we know that the city is not really a city, but it’s the church? Well, we know it because John also refers to the city as a bride. Do you see that as the end of verse 2? Now, in different parts of the Old Testament, God’s people are pictured as a woman who is married to the Lord. The apostle Paul also likens the church to a bride in Ephesians 5. The church is often depicted as a bride. So, in his vision, John is seeing the church, pictured as a bride. And John pictures the church coming down out of heaven, because this is the church triumphant, the church in heaven, which will be glorified in the presence of the Lord. And John pictures the church, coming down from heaven to dwell in her new home, the new heaven and the new earth which has now appeared. And, of course, John describes the church as being beautifully dressed for her husband, because all our sin and guilt and shame has been removed, and the church will appear before the Lord as a radiant bride, without stain or wrinkle or any other moral blemish.
And then John heard a voice, coming from God’s throne. And the voice announces:
Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.
The word for ‘the dwelling of God’ can also be translated as ‘tabernacle’. And that takes us back to the books of Exodus and Leviticus and Numbers which we’ve been studying recently; and to all the instructions for how the tabernacle should be set up, because the tabernacle was to be God’s dwelling place among his people in those days. God promised to go with his people and to help them on their way. And the tabernacle represented his presence with them. But, of course, we can go back even further to Eden, which was a kind of tabernacle or temple, because it was the place where Adam and Eve enjoyed the presence of the Lord before they sinned. Well, in Revelation 21 John hears a voice declaring that once again God will tabernacle with his people. He will live in their midst for ever and for ever.
And look: our life in this renewed heaven and earth is going to be transformed, because God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. So, right now, in this present life, our life is filled with sorrow and sadness, and with pain and loss. But in the life to come, God himself will remove our tears and he’ll remove all the causes of our tears, because they will be no more death; and there will be no more mourning; and there will be no more crying; and there will be no more pain. It’s hard to imagine a life with tears, because children come into the world, crying; and throughout our lives there are so many things which bring tears to our eyes and which break our hearts; and there are so many things which hurt us and harm us and which make us weep and sigh. But when the Lord comes again, and when this renewed heaven and earth appears, the old order of things, the way things are right now, will pass away. They will be gone for good.
And then John tells us in verse 5 what ‘he who was seated on the throne’ said. Well, the Lord Almighty is the one who is seated on the throne. And he wants his words written down and recorded, because his words are true. And he said:
I am making everything new!
We’ve seen that already, haven’t we?, because John has already seen the new heaven and earth. And then the Lord adds:
It is done.
So, the day is coming when the Lord will be able to say that it’s done: all of his promises and plans and purposes for his people will be complete. And he’s able to complete all his plans, because he’s the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. Alpha and the Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. We would say:
I’m the A and the Z.
And the expression means that he rules over the whole of history, from the beginning to the end and over everything in between. And since he rules over all of history, then he’s able to direct the course of history and all the events of the world to his intended goal. Our plans are often left undone, because we can’t control everything around us. But since God controls all things, then the day will come when his plans will be done.
And then there are two promises and a warning. To the thirsty, he promises that they will drink without cost from the water of life. So, he’s promising eternal life to those who long for it. Then, to those who overcome — and he’s referring to those who overcome all the troubles and trials of this life and who stand firm in the faith — he promises that they will inherit, not the first heaven and earth with all its sorrow and pain, but the new heaven and earth where all is perfect. The Lord will give them eternal life in the new creation, where they will live, not as tenants or servants, but as sons.
But what about the warning? Well, it is made to the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murders and so on. God warns them that they’ll be thrown into the lake of fire. This is the fate of the wicked, all those who did not repent of their wickedness and turn from their sins. Now, since it hasn’t happened yet, it’s a warning to sinners everywhere to repent and believe the good news, so that they won’t be thrown into the lake of fire, but will be allowed to drink from the water of life and live forever in the new heaven and earth. The Lord is very patient to sinners everywhere, giving them time to repent. And he also makes clear to them the fate that awaits them if they will not repent. And he’s very kind to sinners everywhere, because he’s willing to pardon us — if we repent and believe — and to let us drink from the water of life, which we do not deserve.
20:9 to 21:5
And so, in those first eight verses, John begins to describe for us the new heaven and earth which will appear when Christ our King comes again.
In the following verses, John tells us more about the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, which is the church in glory. And we should notice in verse 10 that John is taken to a high mountain. I explained in an earlier sermon that the temple-garden of Eden was set on a mountain. Then, in Isaiah 11, God foretold how his people will live peacefully and securely on God’s holy mountain. We should also remember that God dwelt on Mount Sinai in the days of Moses; and that the original city of Jerusalem was also set on a mountain: Mount Zion. In the Bible, mountains are the places where God meets with his people. And so, little wonder then that the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, which is the church in glory, is also set on a mountain.
Well, the first thing that strikes John about the city is the light which radiated from it. It shone, he says in verse 11, with the glory of God; and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper. So, the bright light which radiated from it did not come from the sun or the moon, but from the glory of God. This is one way of conveying how God will be with his people, and his glory will surround them in the new heaven and the new earth. Whereas we need the sun and the moon to give light to this creation, the new creation will be lit up by the presence of God.
John next describes the city’s wall which he says is a great and high wall. That conveys the idea of security: ancient cities needed a great and high wall in order to protect the people inside from their enemies. So, whereas the church is now weak and vulnerable and suffers persecution, in the new creation we will be safe for ever. The great and high wall also conveys the idea of the church’s eternal purity, because nothing unclean will be able to enter it because of the high wall which surrounds the church.
But the walls of this city have gates. In fact it has twelve gates; and twelve angels stood at the gates to guard them. And on the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. Well, back in chapter 7 John saw a vision concerning a great crowd of people from the twelve tribes of Israel. And that great crowd of people from the twelve tribes of Israel represented everyone — Jew and Gentile — who has been redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ. And so, it seems likely that the names of the twelve tribes — written on the gates of the city in John’s vision in chapter 21 — represent the names of every believer. These are the names of all those who are part of this great city.
The gates were arranged around the city — on the east side and the north side and the south side and the west side — perhaps to convey the idea that people from all parts of the world will come into the city and be part of it. However, it also resembles the way the camp of the Israelites was arranged when they were in the wilderness in the days of Moses. In those days, three tribes were camped on the east, three on the north, three on the south, and three on the west. Furthermore, in those days, the Israelite camp was in the shape of a square; and the middle of the camp, there was the Lord’s tabernacle. So, in the days of Moses, the people were arranged around the Lord to form a square. In John’s vision, the city was also laid out like a square. In fact, it was really a cube, for it was as tall as it was long. As in the days of Moses, so in the future, God’s people will gather around the Lord who will dwell in our midst.
And look at verse 14 now: the wall of the city had twelve foundations. And on the foundations were the names of the twelve apostles. Well, this symbolises how the church is built on the teaching of the apostles about Jesus Christ.
The actual measurements of this city are massive: 12,000 stadia is 1,365 miles. The wall, we’re told, was 144 cubits, which is about 216 feet. That probably refers to the thickness of the wall. Now, we’re not to take these measurements literally, because this city is not really a city, but it’s the church in glory. But these measurements tells us that the number of the redeemed who will enjoy everlasting life in the presence of the Lord will be a massive number. We worry that the church in our day is small and decreasing; and we get into a panic about it. But God has promised that in the end the number of the redeemed who make up the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, will be a massive number. God has promised it and he will do it. Meanwhile the thick walls once again speak to us of the church’s eternal strength and security. Right now, the church is weak and powerless and vulnerable; and it’s often persecuted and oppressed. But the time is coming when the church will be safe and secure, because all of the church’s enemies will be shut out; and there will be no one to oppose the Lord and his people.
And then, after describing the measurements of the city, John goes on to describe how the city and its walls and foundations were made of precious stones and gold. This recalls the temple-garden of Eden which — according to Ezekiel 28 — was also filled with precious stones. And, of course, just as everything in the Tabernacle was made of gold, so everything in this city is made of gold, because the Lord is dwelling here with his people, and it therefore reflects his glory and majesty.
John then goes on to tell us what was missing from this city. First of all, there was no temple. At least, there was no physical temple, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple, which means that their presence fills the city and God’s glory permeates everything.
Secondly, there’s no sun or moon, because the city will be lit up by the glory of God and the Lamb.
Thirdly, the gates will never be shut. So, the doors are always open so that no one who belongs in the city will ever be shut out; and people from every nation will come in to it.
Fourthly, there’s never any night. And so, you don’t have to worry about enemies sneaking it and attacking the city. The church triumphant is eternally secure.
Fifthly, nothing impure will ever enter the city, nor will anyone who does what is shameful and deceitful. The wicked will be kept out and prevented from destroying the glory and the beauty and the purity of the church triumphant. And the only ones who will be allowed into this Holy City are those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, because they have been redeemed by the Lamb of God who gave up his life for them that they might have everlasting life in the presence of the Lord.
And so, we come to the final verses this evening: verses 1 to 5 of chapter 21. And just as rivers flowed from the temple-garden of Eden, so a river will flow through this city. But this is a special river, because this is the river of the water of life, which flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flows from their throne to signify that everlasting life in God’s presence is God’s gift to the church. And the river is clear as crystal; so there’s nothing bitter in it, nothing to spoil it, or to make it unclean. And so, eternal life in the presence of God will be perfect, with nothing to spoil it.
And just as the Tree of Life was in the temple-garden of Eden, so the Tree of Life was in this city. John says it stood on each side of the river: how one tree can sit on both sides of a river is not clear, though some commentators suggest that there were many trees, a forest of trees. However, whether there was one or whether there were many, doesn’t really matter. The important thing is the fact that this tree is the Tree of Life, which yields it fruit continually through the year; and its fruit is for the healing of the nations. So, those from all the nations who make up the glorified church will be healed from all the sorrow and sadness, the heartache, the persecution and the pain of this life. The Lord will take it away from us so that we will be forever healed of these things.
And there will be no more curse. Do you see that in verse 3? Because of Adam’s sin in the beginning, God cursed the ground. And because of God’s curse, the life of Adam’s descendants is hard and difficult and frustrating and ends in death. But in the new creation, the curse is removed so that our life then will not be hard or difficult; and it will not end in death. No, our life then — in the new creation, as members of the glorified church — will be marvellous and it will be everlasting.
And look: the throne of God and of the Lamb was in the city. God will be with his people; and we will serve him; and we’ll even see his face. What a privilege! Not even Moses — who spoke to the Lord on Mount Sinai — was permitted to see his face, for no one now is able to see him and live. But in the new creation, we will be allowed into God’s presence; and we’ll be able to come so close to him that we will see his face. His name will be on our foreheads, to signify that we belong to him. And his glory will shine on us and his presence will light up our lives and we will reign with him. In the beginning, God appointed Adam to rule over the first creation: he was to fill the earth and subdue it; he was to rule over the other creatures. But because of Adam’s sin, we fell from our position as rulers over all. But in the new creation, God’s servants will reign over all once again.
And so God’s plan for the human race will be fulfilled at last; and it will be fulfilled because God, by his Son, has put right all that went wrong in the first creation. And in the new creation, we’ll not sin, like Adam did, and lose our right to rule over all; instead we’ll reign over the new creation for ever and for ever.
Well, it’s wonderful, isn’t it? All of God’s people will live peacefully and securely on God’s holy mountain for ever and for ever in the new heaven and earth. And this is not a dream which won’t come true, but it’s a vision which the Lord is determined to fulfil. And he’s able to fulfil it because between the creation of the first heaven and earth in the beginning and the appearing of the new heaven and earth at the end, Christ Jesus came into the world as one of us, to give up his life as the ransom to set us free from eternal condemnation which is what we deserve for our sins. And after he died and was buried, he was raised from the dead as the beginning and the firstborn of the new creation which will be consummated when he comes again. And whoever believes in him in this life is made new and is being renewed inwardly by his Spirit. And when Christ comes again, he will renew us completely in body and soul and bring us into the new heaven and earth to live with the Lord Almighty and with Christ our Saviour for ever and for ever.
And so, when we face troubles and trials because of our faith, when we experience the worries of this life, when we’re tempted by the deceitfulness of wealth and the desire for other things, we must stand firm in the faith and persevere, because whoever overcomes and perseveres to the end will inherit eternal life in the new creation with God our Father and Christ our Saviour.