Friday, December 10, 2021

73. The Revelation: Heaven, Appearance, Capital, Supreme Reality (Revelation 21:1-8)



These first eight verses unfold six features of the new heaven and the new earth. We will cover the first three today and the final three in tomorrow's post:

1. Its Appearance

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea." (Rev. 21:1)

The phrase “I saw” is used throughout Revelation to indicate chronological progression. It has introduced each of the climactic events beginning with the return of Christ in 19:11. As this chapter opens, all the sinners of all the ages, as well as Satan and his demons, have been sentenced to the lake of fire (20:10–15). With all ungodly men and angels banished forever and the present universe destroyed (20:11), God will create a new realm for the redeemed and the holy angels to dwell in forever.

The phrase “a new heaven and a new earth” derives from two passages in Isaiah. In Isaiah 65:17 God declared, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.” In Isaiah 66:22 He added, “ ‘For just as the new heavens and the new earth which I make will endure before Me,’ declares the Lord, ‘so your offspring and your name will endure.’ ” What Isaiah predicted is now a reality in John’s vision.

“New” does not mean new in a chronological sense, but new in quality. The new heaven and the new earth will not merely succeed the present universe. They will be something brand-new and fresh. God must create a new heaven and a new earth because the first heaven and the first earth passed away.

The first hint of what the new heaven and new earth will be like comes in John’s observation that there will no longer be any sea. That will be a startling change from the present earth, nearly three-fourths of which is covered by water. The sea is emblematic of the present water-based environment. All life on earth is dependent on water for its survival. But believers’ glorified bodies will not require water (unlike our present human bodies, whose blood is 90 percent water). The new heaven and the new earth will be based on a completely different life principle. There will be a river in heaven, not of water, but of the “water of life” (22:1, 17). Without a sea, there can be no hydrological cycle, so that every feature of life and climate will be dramatically different.

2. Its Capital

"And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband." (Rev. 21:2)

Next John moves from a description of the new heaven and the new earth in general to a description of the capital city of the eternal state. Since the text plainly identifies it as such, there is no reason to doubt that the “new Jerusalem” is an actual city. The new Jerusalem is not heaven, but heaven’s capital. (It is not synonymous with heaven, because its dimensions are given in verse 16.) It will be the third city named Jerusalem in redemptive history. The first is the historic Jerusalem, the City of David, which currently exists in Palestine. The second Jerusalem will be the restored Jerusalem where Christ will rule during the millennial kingdom. But the new Jerusalem does not belong to the first creation, so it is neither the historic city nor the millennial city. It is the altogether new eternal city. The old Jerusalem, in ruins for twenty-five years when John received this vision, is too stained with sin to survive into the eternal state. The new Jerusalem is called the holy city because everyone in it is holy (20:6). The concept of a city includes relationships, activity, responsibility, unity, socialization, communion, and cooperation. Unlike the evil cities of the present earth, the people in the new Jerusalem will live together in perfect harmony.

In his vision, John saw the “new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God,” its “architect and builder” (Hebrews 11:10). The implication is that it already exists (Hebrews 12:22–23). All of heaven is currently contained in the new Jerusalem. It is separate from the present universe. Believers who die go to the “heavenly Jerusalem,” where Jesus has gone before them to prepare a place for them (John 14:1–3). But when God creates the new heaven and the new earth, the new Jerusalem will descend into the midst of that holy new universe (21:10) and serve as the dwelling place of the redeemed for all eternity.

John then notes that it was “made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.” The city is pictured as a bride because it contains the bride and takes on her character. The imagery is drawn from a Jewish wedding. John saw the bride adorned for her husband because it was time for the consummation—the eternal state for believers. By this point in Revelation, the bride concept expands to include not only the church, but also all the rest of the redeemed from all the ages who live forever in that eternal city.

3. Its Supreme Reality

"And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them..." (Rev. 21:3)

The supreme glory and joy of heaven is the Person of God (cf. Psalm 73:25). A loud voice (probably of an angel, as God speaks in verse 5) heralds an announcement of great importance: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men.” The Greek word translated “tabernacle” can also mean “tent” or “dwelling place.” God will pitch His tent among His people; no longer will God be far off and distant. No more will His presence be veiled in the human form of Jesus Christ, even in His millennial majesty, or in the cloud and pillar of fire, or inside the Holy of Holies.

To the mind-boggling reality that the tabernacle of God is among men he adds the statement that God will “dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them” (21:3–4). This will be a manifestation of God’s glorious presence to His people like no other in redemptive history and the culmination of all divine promise and human hope.

What will it be like to live in God’s glorious presence in heaven? First, believers will enjoy fellowship with Him—the sin-hindered fellowship that believers have with God in this life (1 John 1:3) will become full and unlimited. Second, believers will see God as He is (John 3:2)—an eternal and expanded vision of God manifest in His shining glory (21:11, 23; 22:5). They will see all that glorified beings are able to comprehend. Third, believers will worship God. Every glimpse of heaven in Revelation reveals the redeemed and the angels in worship (4:10; 5:14; 7:11; 11:1, 16; 19:4). Fourth, believers will serve God (22:3). It is said of the saints in heaven pictured in 7:15 that “they serve [God] day and night in His temple.” Believers’ capacity for heavenly service will reflect their faithfulness in this life.