Whereas the end of chapter 20 tells us about the fate of all those whose names are not written in the book of life, chapters 21 and 22 tell us about the fate of all those whose names are written in the book of life. When the Lord comes to judge everyone — the great and the small — those whose names are not written in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire, where the Devil and the Beast from the sea and the Beast from the earth and death and Hades have also been thrown. However, those who remain, those whose names are written in the book of life, will go on to enjoy the new heaven and the new earth which we read about in chapters 21 and 22. For one group, there will be everlasting punishment; for the other group, there will be everlasting life, for they will be allowed to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life; and they will be with the Lord for ever and for ever in this place of perfect peace and rest, where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain, no more sin and shame, no more curse, for the former things have passed away and all has been made new. The end of chapter 20 is very dark and foreboding; but chapters 21 and 22 are filled with light and peace and joy. And today, we’ll spend our time on verses 1 to 8 of chapter 21.
And in verse 1 John tells us what he saw next in these visions which he’s been receiving from the Lord. So, after seeing the great white throne, he then saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.
Right at the start of the Bible, we read how, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. In other words, in the beginning, he created the first heaven and the first earth, the universe we now live in. And when God made the heavens and the earth, everything he made was good, even very good. But, of course, Adam disobeyed the Lord, with the result that — from that moment on — everything was spoiled. Nothing was the way it was meant to be, because sin and death had come into the world, and the whole of creation was put under God’s curse and was subject to frustration. 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 us new and even to glorify us in his presence.
And here, in chapter 21, we see the result of his plan, because the first heaven and the first earth — which have been spoiled — will pass away; and a new heaven and a new earth will appear. Or perhaps we should say a renewed heaven and a renewed earth, because the word John uses for ‘new’ doesn’t mean another heaven and another 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, this old, fallen world will one day be transformed and made perfect.
John adds a detail at the end of the verse which is a little puzzling. He said that there was no longer any sea. What’s wrong with the sea? Well, the commentators make several suggestions to try to explain this little comment. One explanation is that one of the Beasts came from the sea, and so the sea was seen as the place where evil originated. In that case, all evil will be removed in the new heaven and earth. Another explanation is that the sea was considered dangerous, because hostile nations would cross the sea to attack other lands. In that case, there will be no more danger or fear in the new heaven and earth. Or another explanation is that since the sea is always in motion, with waves rising and falling, and since it cannot be controlled, then it’s a symbol of all the unrest and the conflict and the disorder of our present life. In that case, in the life to come, there will only be perfect peace and rest and tranquility.
So, in his vision, John sees that the heavens and the earth as we now know them — filled with sorrow and shame and trouble and trials — will be replaced by a renewed and perfected creation.
In verse 2 John tells us that he saw something else in his vision. He saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. You’ll remember that the word ‘holy’ means ‘separate’; and the holy city which John saw is completely separated from sin and from evil. And this city is called ‘the new Jerusalem’ to distinguish it from the old Jerusalem in the land of Israel.
But what is this holy city, this new Jerusalem? What does it symbolise? Well, John’s next words enable us to see that this holy city, this new Jerusalem, symbolises the church, because John describes it as ‘a bride beautifully dressed for her husband’. In different parts of the Old Testament, God’s people are pictured as a woman who is married to the Lord. And isn’t that the way the Apostle Paul pictured the church in Ephesians 5? In the middle of giving instructions to husbands on how they were to love their wives, Paul went on to say that Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish. So, in Ephesians, Paul pictures the church as a radiant and beautiful bride; and here in Revelation 21, John also pictures the church as a bride. And John pictures the church coming down out of heaven, because this is the church triumphant, the church in heaven. And John pictures the church triumphant, coming down from heaven to dwell in her new home, the new heaven and the new earth which has now appeared.
Verses 3 and 4
And after seeing the great white throne, and the new heaven and the new earth, and the church triumphant like a holy city, like a new Jerusalem, like a bride prepared for his husband, John hears a loud voice, coming from God’s throne. And the voice announces that now the dwelling of God is with men and he will live with them. The word John uses for ‘the dwelling of God’ is the word for tabernacle, which takes us right back to the book of Exodus and all the plans we read there about the construction of the Tabernacle in the wilderness. Just as the Israelites lived in tents, so in those days the Lord lived among his people in a special tent, the Tabernacle. And wherever they went, God was with them to provide for them and to protect them and to lead them. And now, here’s a loud voice announcing to John that when this vision is fulfilled at the end of time, the Lord will tabernacle with his people. So, he will live in their midst for ever and for ever.
So, the church triumphant has come down from heaven to live in her new home, the renewed heaven and the renewed earth. And she won’t live there on her own, for the Lord will be with her. And they will be his people; and he will be their God.
Well, you might remember the three Ps which I mentioned again and again when we were studying the books of Genesis and Exodus. The three Ps are: people; place; and presence. God promised to give Abraham many descendants and he would regard them as his people. That was the first P. And there would be so many of them that they would be like the stars in the sky and like the sand on the seashore, too many to count. And God promised to give his people a place to live. That’s the second P. And in that place, he promised that his people would enjoy his presence with them. And that’s the third P. Well, here’s the ultimate fulfilment of all of God’s promises, because here we find God’s people — the church of Jesus Christ — in the place God has prepared for them, which is the renewed heaven and earth. And whenever God’s people come into the place he has prepared, they will enjoy his presence with them for ever and for ever.
And look: their 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 have passed away. They will be gone for good.
Verses 5 to 8
And so, we read in verse 5 that he who was seated on the throne — and remember it’s the Lord God Almighty who is seated on the throne — said:
I am making everything new!
And there’s no doubt about what he says here, because his words — which he wants to be recorded and written down — are trustworthy and true. People don’t like their words to be recorded, because later on, if they break their promises, you can point out what they promised and you can point out how they have fallen short of doing what they said they would. But God is not afraid to have his words written down, because he will keep all his promises to us.
And in verse 5, John hears the Lord say:
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 carry out his plans and purposes, because he’s the Alpha and the Omega. Those are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet; and this name — together with the name ‘the Beginning and the End’ — signifies how God rules over all of history: he rules over the beginning of history and over the end of history 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.
And then, in this vision, John hears the Lord make two promises. First of all, there’s a promise to the thirsty. He promises to let them drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. In other words, he’ll give them eternal life. Whereas Adam and Eve were prevented from eating from the Tree of Life, all the redeemed will be invited to drink from this never-ending and life-giving spring, which the Lord makes available for free.
And then there’s a second promise, made to those who overcome. In the seven messages to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, the Lord warned the members of the churches about all kinds of persecution and all kinds of temptation they would face. And at the end of each message, the Lord made a promise to those who overcome: to those who overcome the persecution and to those who overcome the temptation and to those who overcome all the wicked schemes of the Evil One and remain faithful to the Lord. And now, in chapter 21, the Lord promises his faithful people who have overcome all the troubles and trials of this present age that they will inherit, not the first heaven and the first earth, with all its death and mourning and crying and pain, but the new heaven and the new earth, where all is perfect. The Lord will give them eternal life in the new creation; and he will be their God and they will be his sons. Some of the commentators interpret this to mean that the Lord is promising his people authority: the authority that belongs to a son. So, we’ll not be tenants in the new creation; we’ll not be slaves and servants; instead we’ll receive the rights that belong to a son, and we’ll rule over the new creation on behalf of our Heavenly Father.
So, the Lord has only good things in store for his people. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and liars, will be thrown into the lake of fire. We assume that John is describing unbelievers who have lived wickedly. However, it’s possible that this is a warning written for those who in this life professed faith in Christ and who were once regarded as members of the church, but who fall away from the faith because of persecution. And so, instead of standing up bravely for the faith, they have acted like cowards and given in to the threat of persecution. And instead of remaining faithful to the Lord, they have become liars by denying what they once professed. And what will happen to them? They too will be cast into the lake of fire like those who have never believed.
And so, having presented us with a picture of the glorious future which awaits all who love the Lord, John’s vision includes a warning to believers who are tempted to give up the faith because of persecution. Instead of giving in, we must hold on and persevere and keep going, so that we will at last come into the new heaven and the new earth, this renewed creation, which God is preparing for his people and where his faithful people will live for ever and ever in the presence of the Lord.