An so to Revelation 1:1-8
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, m portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.” (ESV).
After some chapters mainly about judgement it is a relief to reflect on images of salvation and glory. Ch 20 ended with earth and sky fleeing from the majestic holiness of the one who sat upon the throne. Perhaps they felt their pollution from human sin. At any rate, Ch 21 begins with a new heavens and new earth where all that pollutes is absent.
all things new
‘Behold I make all things new’
According to one writer these are the first words God directly utters since 1:8. The God who created all things and controls history is recreating the universe. It. Is a mew beginning.
Chapter 21:1-22-5 provides the concluding vision of John’s Apocalypse. It is the final of a sequence of ‘and/then I saw‘ visions. It is also the concluding vision of biblical prophecy and of course of the Christian Bible. It would hardly be surprising if it were a description of the goal to which all of biblical history presses – a new creation where all traces of the old sin ravaged universe are obliterated for ever. An this it proves to be. John writes,
‘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.’
John tells us in v1 that he sees ‘a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away’ (Cf 20: ). The connection with the previous chapter where the heavens and earth flee away is clear (20:11). We are also thrown back, however, to the biblical story of creation and its subsequent history. In Genesis, the story of the first heaven and earth begins. It seemed to hold out such promise. God looked upon it and said it was ‘very good’ . Yet that first creation with its promise of human flourishing was soon deeply and fatally flawed.
The well-being of the first creation was contingent upon its head, Adam, for its development and he spectacularly failed (given but one sanction he defied it). Creation, ruled by humanity made from earth’s dust, proved disastrous. Since that moment God has been at work on a rescue mission. Perhaps we may call it ‘salvation‘. God was determined to salvage the disaster that Adam created and begin again; he would find a way to turn disaster to triumph and to bring from the unclean something clean. He would not rest until he was once again living among his people in an unspoiled creation. Salvation in the Bible embraces the whole of creation (Roms 8: 20,21). However, it is not simply creation restored or renovated; it is creation reconfigured…reconstituted… renewed… reimagined. In Isaiah 65, from which John draws in Ch 21 God says,
17 For behold, I create new heavens. and a new earth,and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. 18 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. (Cf. Isa 66:22).
The use of ‘create‘ for all three (heavens, earth and city) shows how radical and comprehensive salvation is; it is re-creation. Everything is ‘new’. God’s new creation is born out of the old and features of the original are found in the new, however, the new far exceeds it in glory and excellence. What was a initially a garden becomes a garden-city. What began with one human couple in a garden becomes a vast city populated by a people that no man can number. In the first creation God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden in the cool of the day, in the new creation he dwells continuously in and among his people irradiating all with his glory. Humanity formed from the dust of the ground now comes down out of heaven from God.
This latter point is most important.
The first creation’s thriving depended entirely on the obedience of Adam. He was the head of creation representing it to God. Creation’s well-being rested on a man made from the dust of the ground… from red earth… Adam was ‘of the earth’ (1 Cor 15). And therein lay creation’s weakness. Adam was tested and found wanting. The new creation, by contrast, is entirely dependant on God. The new Jerusalem is in all respects the work of God’s grace. The earthly Jerusalem apostatised ias all in Adam does. But God has a ‘new‘ Jerusalem. It is sourced in God. Its head, its firstborn, the Second Man, is God Incarnate. He is the Lord from heaven, the Lamb who conquered – God’s servant who did not fail. All is secure in him. This is why John sees the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It is a new kind of city, a heavenly city. The mighty arm of the Lord redeemed it. The breath of the divine Spirit enlivens and indwells it. It has life of a different kind – the life of God. It is salvation’s city populated by those born in a heavenly Zion, born of God. It is heavenly not earthly, spiritual not natural (1 Cor 15). Being from heaven it takes its identity and nature from heaven. Being on earth it brings heaven to earth. There is no more ‘above’ and ‘below’, heaven and earth are one.
To be sure there is continuity with the old… but it is not the old with a face-lift, rather it is the old, the fallen, so transformed that there is radical discontinuity. There is metamorphisis. Antithesis. Death has been swallowed up in life (Isa 25:8; 2 Cor 5:4; 1 Cor 15:54). The natural has given way to the spiritual (1 Cor 15:46). The passing has given place to the permanent (Isa 66:22). Rebirth belongs not only to believers but to the whole of creation (Matt 19:28). The NT describes this meta-change, in various ways, however, in Revelation the words of God simply but powerfully sum up what has transpired like this; behold I make all things new. And because this new creation is sourced in grace it is eternal. Nothing with potential to destroy holy joy and gladness will have any place here. That is the point of John’s rather dismaying observation ‘and the sea was no more’.
Many of us love the sea and the intersect of sea and land. The thought that there will be no sea in the world to come does not fill us with enthusiasm. We, however, are looking at the sea through C21 western eyes. For ancient Near Eastern eyes the sea was untamed and foreboding. It was chaotic and restless. Even in Genesis, in pristine creation, it is described as ‘the deep‘… dark and menacing. It became a biblical metaphor for restless raging evil (Isa 57:20; Ps 89:9, 25) often rising from hostile Gentile nations (Cf. Isa 17:12; Dan 7:2,3; Rev. 13:1, 17:1). So when John observes the sea is no more he is making a theological observation not a geographical one… he is saying that nothing chaotic and threatening will have a place in the new creation. All is concord. All is harmony. All that is destructive is consigned to eternal destruction (2:8) The new creation is home only for those who have resisted all that is opposed to God and overcome it (21:7)… those who have Jerusalem for their mother (Gals 4:26). Everything tainted by sin has gone… it fled from the presence of he who sits on the throne (20:).
Will there be a sea in the new creation? We don’t know (Cf. Ezek 47). John, let’s not forget, is not seeing the new creation as it is, he is seeing images that teach important truths about the new creation but are not necessarily literally true. Of course, it is not always easy to decide between what is symbolic and what is factual. For while we may say ‘no more sea’ has primarily a symbolic intent none would say that no more death, mourning, crying or pain is symbolic. And what are we to make of the absence of temple, sun, moon and night later in the chapter? Sensitivity to language and an understanding of biblical images is essential to navigate through these demanding apocalyptic and prophetic waters and both require the illumination of the Spirit and humility before the text. Yet the fundamental steering principle must not be lost; we are looking at symbols of ultimate realities not the realities themselves.
And so, we view the new creation and the new city conscious that the key to their perfections and permanence is that they rest on divine grace (Isa 66:22). The earthly Jerusalem apostatised as a merely earthly city built on merely human endeavour always will. But there is a ‘new Jerusalem’ We shall see this more clearly in a future post. Here we observe that in these opening eight verses God takes the initiative. It is he who makes all things new and cries ‘it is done’. The same cry comes from the throne in 16:7. There the focus is on judgement while here it is on salvation. Although it seems to be different language yet we are likely to hear an echo of Calvary whose accomplishments are now fully realised.
In one sense, of course, new creation has already begun. To be in Christ and have the first fruits of the Spirit is to be a new creation (2 Cor 5:7). God has begun a work that will be brought to completion in the day of Christ.
God himself shall be their God…
The great delight of new creation is that the dwelling of God is with man. They will be his people and God himself will be their God. This was God’s intention in creation and throughout history to varying degrees it was realised, however, it was a relationship always marred by sin (cf. Lev. 26:12; Ps. 2:7; 89:26–29; Jer. 3:19; Ezek. 11:20; Zech. 8:8). Now in new creation God’s desire is fully realised.
It is he, the eternal God, the One who encompasses all history, who was there at the beginning and is there at the end, who offers presently freely from the spring of the water of life, that flows continuously from his throne of at the heart of the city (21:6, 22:1. Cf. Isa 54,55, Ezek 47, Zech 14:8,9; Jn 4:14, 7:37-39). He promises those who conquer that he will be their God and they will be his son… Adam’s original status (as son) is enriched and raised by grace to a new level; they will enjoy the full Davidic covenantal blessing through Christ the Davidic son (2 Sam 7:14; Isa 55:3. Cf. Jn 20:17). It is a relationship begun now to be fully realised in the renewed creation (2 Cor 6:18; Roms 8:19). The desire of God’s heart in the first creation is finally achieved… the dwelling place of God is with man, and he will dwell with them (note the repetition) and they will be his people, or more accurately, ‘peoples‘, and he himself shall be their God. God’s will is finally done on earth as in heaven and the meek have inherited the earth. Humanity has become the divine sanctuary it ought to be. Even human rebellion did not wither the deep desire willed in the heart of God for human fellowship. Throughout history he constantly worked to create an ever closer union with rebellious human hearts (Lev 26:11,12, Ezek 37:27,28; Zech 2:10; Jn 1:14; Eph 2:20-22; 2 Cor 6:16). He never gave up on his goal… now that is unquenchable grace.
God is faithful and true. But the challenge is – are we faithful and true? The new creation is the heritage of those who conquer, who overcome – those who resist the pressure to deny Christ (v7)… the cowardly and unbelieving and all who are detestable will find their portion is the lake that burns with fire and sulphur which is the second death.