A New Heaven and a New Earth (Rev. 21:1-8)

We have seen that the book of Revelation is a multifaceted book that is partly epistle, partly apocalypse, and partly prophesy.  We’ve seen that there is definite structure to this book, and part of this is seen in the cycles that have kept reoccurring in this book that bring us again and again to the end of history as we know it and into the eternal state.

A kind of broad division of the book of Revelation is to see it divided into four visions.  The first vision encompasses chapters 1-3, and in them we see our Lord revealed to John and giving him detailed and personalized messages to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia.  What we see is that these churches are encouraged by Christ in areas where they are faithful and warned by him in areas where they have sinned.  Overall, they are encouraged to be overcomers, and this gives us a clue as to the purpose of the remaining chapters of the book.

The rest of the book, the prophetic part, is meant to help these believers to be overcomers in the faith and not to give in to the world that is pressing them to turn from Jesus and serve the world.  And they are encouraged to faithfulness is by being reminded of the end of the wicked and the glory of the righteous when our Lord returns and makes all things new. In other words, they are pointed to future glory to encourage them to present faithfulness.

The second vision is contained in chapters 4-16, in which we have three cycles of seven judgments: the seals, the trumpets, and the bowls.  The first cycle describes life in a fallen world between the first and second comings of our Lord, but the final two cycles of judgments are only on the wicked and remind us that though the wicked triumph now, it will not always be that way.  During this vision, we are also introduced to the persecutors of God’s people: the devil (dragon), the beast and false prophet who represent the political and religious aspects of the final antichrist, and Babylon, the seat of the beast’s power and influence in the world.  

The third vision runs from chapter 17 to 21:8.  In this vision, we see the culmination of history as the enemies of God and his people fall and are destroyed, first Babylon, then the beast and false prophet, and finally the devil.  We are then introduced in the first part of chapter 21 to the new order of things that will come about in a new heaven and new earth.

The final vision, to which we will turn (Lord-willing) in the coming weeks, runs from 21:9 to the end of the book.  

So here we are at the end of the third vision.  We want to consider the first eight verses of chapter 21.  These are glorious verses and worthy of our full attention.  In particular, there are three things here in this text that demand our attention.  First, there is something to be perceived; second, there is something to be believed; third, there is something to be received.

Something to perceive (1-4)

First, there is something we must see.  How you see your life and the world around you will determine how you live.  The devil wants nothing more than for you to see this world in terms of a godless or anti-god mentality.  He wants you to look at the world around you and make you thoughtless when it comes to the things of God, or he wants you to look at the world around you and make you think less of God.  

So, for example, to tempt Eve into disobeying God and eating the forbidden fruit, Satan cast doubts in her mind: “And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” (Gen. 3:1).  Then he outright contradicted what God said: “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (4-5).  It was then that the woman began to look at the fruit differently: “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (6).  It was seeing the fruit through the lens of Satanic deception that led to the fall of man into sin and all the evils that has come from that.

Here's another example.  In Psalm 73, Asaph confesses, “But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (2-3).  Asaph saw the prosperity of the wicked, and when he compared it with his own life – which was not so prosperous (14) – it caused him to stumble in his faith.  But his seeing the wicked in this way was not correct; he was not looking at them through the right lens, the lens of God’s truth.  He was interpreting what he saw through the lens of deceit and falsehood.  It was only when he went to the Temple of the Lord, where God’s truth was proclaimed, that this changed: “When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end” (16-17).  It was the truth about the end of the wicked that made their present prosperity less appealing and less a stumbling block for his faith.

That is one of the reasons we need the book of Revelation.  It helps us to see things rightly.  And the way it does this is the way Asaph was helped: by helping us to see the end of the wicked and the end of the righteous, and to show us that the former is terrifyingly bitter  while the latter is tremendously blessed.  So you see how John begins: “I saw a new heavens and a new earth. . . . And I John saw the holy city” (Rev. 21:1-2).  We too need to see these things.  We too need to have our imagination fired by the prospect of the future unending blessedness of God’s people.  

Last time we saw the hope that is offered the Christian in the defeat of Satan.  We also saw the clarity that is given in the vision of the final judgment of the wicked.  But here we turn to the hope that is given in the positive happiness of the righteous.  Not only will their enemies be defeated, not only will God take away the troublers of God’s people, but God himself will grant them joy beyond their wildest dreams.  

My friends, if you are tempted to doubt God’s goodness toward you, remember what we are reading here.  God has promised unimaginable happiness for all who trust and have put their hope in Jesus Christ.  And he has let you know it; indeed, he wants you to know it.  He wants you to know that whatever suffering he is leading you through – which is for your good (Rom. 8:28) – on the other side of that is unending, ever-increasing joy and peace and happiness and rest.  

What is it that is promised?  Well, there are three things to be seen here.  The first is a new heaven and a new earth: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea” (1).  Now by “passed away” is either meant that God will totally dispose of the present material creation and start over, or it means that God will renew the present material creation.  I tend toward the latter, that this is describing God’s cleansing and purging the present order of all the vestiges of sin and restoring it to a sinless and good state.  

And the reason why I think this is talking about a renewing instead of a do-over is what Paul says in Romans 8.  Here is what he says: “For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Rom. 8:20-22).  The creature there is the physical creation, and Paul says that it too (along with the people of God) “shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”  It is groaning to be delivered.  Now being delivered and groaning and travailing in path like a woman in childbirth are not good metaphors for a world awaiting to be annihilated, but they are good metaphors for a world that is waiting to be remade and restored.

Now I know that Peter says that the world will be burned up and dissolved (2 Pet. 3:10-12). However, it is possible to read this, especially in light of what Paul says, to means that God will with fire purge all the discordant elements of this universe and remake it into a new heavens and new earth (13).  In other words, what is dissolved is not the physical creation itself, but the evil elements of it, so that what is left is a “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (13).  

Either way, what will emerge will be a new universe without sin and without the possibility of sin and death.  Scholars have puzzled over the fact that “there was no more sea” in verse 1, but most recognize that in the ancient world the sea was associated with chaos and disorder, and it is possible that the Lord is telling us by this that there will never again be the chaos which comes of evil in the new heavens and new earth.  It was from the sea that the beast came (13:1).  There being no sea means there will never again be a beast who must first rise from the sea.  So I’m not sure it’s saying there won’t be any large bodies of water in the new world; it is at least saying that in the new world there will no longer be any possibility of disorder and chaos and sin and antichristian opposers of God and his people.

Before we move onto the next thing to be seen, I think it is important for us to grasp the significance of the fact that the eternal state is situated in a physical universe.  And it is called a new heaven and a new earth, which means there will be continuity between the present heaven and earth and the new heaven and earth.  It would, after all, be pointless to call it a new earth if it wasn’t anything like this earth.  The reason why this is important is that it helps us visualize – even if faintly – what life will be like in the age to come.  It will not be some kind of unimaginable ethereal exitance, but it will be a real, physical existence in a real, physical world – but without sin and its effects.  I don’t hesitate to imagine that many (though not all) of the things we enjoy in this world we will enjoy in the next, but without the interference and disruption of sin.  Being able to visualize our hope in this way I think makes our hope more robust precisely because it is something we can imagine and visualize. 

The next thing John sees is a new city: “And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (2).  Tom Schreiner asks the question whether this is place or a people, and he settles for both.  I think he is probably right.  In chapter 19, we saw that God’s people were likened to a bride.  The church is the bride of Christ.  However, God’s people need a place to dwell.  Indeed, we are longing for a city, as Abraham and the patriarchs were: “By faith he [Abraham] sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:9-10).  It is this city that I think John is seeing.  It is appropriate that it is also called the bride, the Lamb’s wife (9), since it is the place where God’s people will dwell.

We will see more details about this city in the following verses (9,ff).  But for now I just want to make the observation that this is just heaven coming to earth.  Here is what Paul says to the Galatians: “But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all” (Gal. 4:26).  The Jerusalem above (heaven) to which God’s people belong will come to earth.  Any attempt to turn this world into heaven always ends in disaster.  It cannot be done.  But it will be done by God himself when the end comes.  

Then John sees a new temple.  Now I know that in verse 22 we are told that “I saw no temple therein.”  But the reason for this is that “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.”  In other words, there will not be a need for a physical structure in the New Jerusalem like a temple that only symbolizes the presence of God.  And the reason there will be no need for it is that God himself will actually dwell there.  The very last verse of Ezekiel, in which the prophet sees the new world in terms of a new temple, says this: “And the name of the city from that day shall be, The Lord is there” (Ezek. 48:35).  So John is seeing a new temple, not in the sense of a separate structure, but in the sense that God has made the new city into a temple by dwelling there.  

Here again is what John saw: “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (3-4).  My friends, this is a wonderful thing to imagine and see.  The fulfillment of all God’s promises to his people are summarized in the statement that “God himself shall be with them, and be their God.”  God is the summit and pinnacle of all blessings.  Indeed, he is the blessing to which all other blessings faintly point.  To have God, to be in his presence, the presence not of his wrath but of his blessing, is to have the purest joy, free from all taint of impurity, free from any hint of worry, free from any hint of anxiety and stress, free from all sin and iniquity.  This is what God promises.  This is the place of lasting peace and comfort.  

Here is how this will play out in the new world: no more weeping, for there will be no cause to weep.  Sometimes folks ask if God wiping our tears away means that we will cry, but this is to misinterpret the symbolism here.  It just means that God himself will guarantee that we will never again have a reason to be upset, stressed, worried, angry, depressed, or sad.  No more tears!  No more longing for something we do not have because we have everything we need.  Our cups are full to the brim.  

There will be no more death.  No more funerals because there is no more sin.  Death is the fruit of sin, but sin has been vanquished once and forever by Christ.  At this point, death and hell will have been in fact cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14).  There is finality in that.  So there will be nothing tending toward death, which is why he goes on to say that there will be “neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.”  

I know that some of you live with sorrow in your hearts day in and day out.  It makes your heart heavy and life wearisome.  But my friend, hold on, for God has promised an end to your sorrow.  I know that some of you live with pain everyday of your life.  But my friend there is coming a day when you will wake up and you will no longer be in pain.  And you will never be in danger of pain again.  In time it will become a faint memory and you will perhaps have trouble even remembering it.  There is an end to pain.  That is the promise of God!

“For the former things are passed away.”  Anything associated with disease and death and depravity will be gone forever.  

So, brothers and sisters, let’s see these three things: a new world, a new city, and a new temple.  And let these realities change the way you see the world around you.  Don’t let false thinking creep in and make you think that God has given you a raw deal, or that he doesn’t love you, or that he doesn’t care for you.  Surely, these realties ought to convince us otherwise.  Whatever our suffering now, it is incomparable with the glory to come.

Something to believe (5)

Second, there is something we must believe.  John goes on to write: “And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful” (5).  I think even a Christian could hear all the wonderful things about a new world, and a new city, and a new temple, and yet if they are suffering enough still wonder if it could really be true.  I mean, if God is allowing me to suffer now, why would I think that he will glorify me later?

The answer to that question goes back to God’s promises.  In his word God has promised two things to those who are united by faith to his Son and his redemptive work: that we will suffer now and that we will be glorified later.  If you never suffer, that is actually a problem.  Suffering is good for us, and God knows that.  If we didn’t suffer, we would sin heedlessly and endlessly.  As the psalmist put it, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes” (Ps. 119:71).  Suffering is the way that sin gets strained out of our lives. But suffering is not the whole story for the same God who promised suffering has also promised glory.

How can we know that is true?  Well, for two reasons.  First, because God is sovereign.  He is the one who sits on the throne.  This is not just any throne.  It is the throne of the God of heaven and earth, the throne of the one who does whatever he pleases anywhere he pleases whenever he pleases.  God is not someone who is well-meaning and yet just can’t get it done.  The presence of suffering is no indicator that he is not in control, because as we’ve been arguing suffering is a part of God’s plan for, just as it was a part of his plan for his Son.

Second, we can know that God will keep his promise because of his character.  The one who makes all things new is the one who is faithful and true.  And again we know he is true and faithful because he has demonstrated it once and for all in the sending of his Son.  Christ came in fulfillment of the promises of God, and he will come again in fulfillment of the promises of God.  You can bank on it.

So, brothers and sisters, believe what you are reading here about the new heaven and new earth.  Anticipate it, long for it, look for it and hasten unto it.  We need to do this, not just because this is something to believe in order to be orthodox.  This is something to believe in order to be holy.  I will tell you that one of the best ways to battle the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh and the pride of life is to battle it by seeing what John saw.  If your heart is longing for this new heaven and new earth, if you are longing for being in the very presence of God, you are not going to want to view pornography on your phone – and you are going to be willing to do whatever it takes to keep yourself from viewing porn on your phone.  You are not going to want to dwell on how someone has wronged you.  You are not going to want to hurt someone else and take revenge for yourself.  You are not going to want to make much of yourself.  You are not going to want to put the things of this world in the place of God.  Rather, you are going to want to please the God whom you love and long for.  You are going to be a holy person.  This is practical stuff, folks!

Something to receive (6-8)

Third, we see here that there is something to be received.  John writes, “And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (6-8).

The question these verses answer is this: “For whom is this blessing?  Who can expect to be glorified in the end?”  And this question is answered both positively and negatively.  In other words, we are shown who will and who will not inherit the new heaven and the new earth.  

Positively, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, God himself promises, “I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely” (6).  Here the blessings of the future age are pictured in terms of “the fountain of the water of life.”  In the prophesy of Ezekiel (chapter 47), we are told of waters which issue from the very throne of God, and which become a river on either side of which grow trees with fruit that brings healing to the nations.  You see the same thing here in Revelation, in chapter 22, and it is called the water of life there in verse 1.  So this is just another metaphor for eternal life in the age to come.

This is promised to “him that is athirst.”  What does that mean?  Who are the thirsty ones?  These are the ones who realize that they don’t have it in themselves to save themselves.  They understand that the water of life is not found by looking within themselves.  In themselves they are a desert.  They are a dried-up tree.  They have looked to the world to get fulfillment and they have come up dry again and again.  These are people who know that they are sinners before God almighty and who know that because of their sin they don’t deserve eternal life.  In fact, they know they deserve God’s judgment.  And yet, these are also the people who realize that they need it, they want it.  They may not even think it is possible for them to receive this water of life and to be reconciled to God, but they know that they need it.

And what the word of God says to them is this: this water is not for buying or selling.  It is free.  It is a gift of grace.  You can have it for nothing.  It’s just like the prophet Isaiah put it: “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David” (Isa. 55:1-3).

The reason why we can have it for free is because it has already been paid for.  Jesus paid for it when he died on the cross to bear the punishment for our sins.  It’s why he tells us, as he told the woman at the well in Samaria, “Whosoever drinketh of this water [from the wells of the world] shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (Jn. 4:13-14).  It’s the reason why he said, “he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (Jn. 6:35).

My friend, if this morning you see yourself as condemned before God and utterly and hopelessly lost, I have good news for you.  The good news is that the water of life is being offered here.  And it is offered without money and without cost to you.  You can have it for free.  You simply receive it by faith, the empty hand of faith that receives the free gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

And this faith is itself a gift of God, a faith that not only receives the free gift but endures and overcomes.  That’s why we go on to read, “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son” (7).  

But then we are shown who will not inherit the kingdom of God and eternal life.  Let this be a warning to us.  Just as we should believe God’s promises, we should also believe his warning.  Well, here is a definite warning: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (8).

Don’t skip over the things in this list.  Of course, this list is not saying that if you’ve ever committed one of these sins, you will end up in the lake of fire.  But it is saying that if you don’t embrace the water of life in Christ and overcome the world through faith in him, you will.  In particular, the “fearful” here are the cowardly, cowardly not in a general sense but in the sense that they were not willing to be persecuted for Christ and instead chose to serve the beast and the false prophet in order to avoid the pain and the ostracism resulting from being identified with Jesus.  These are the unbelieving ones who do not believe the gospel, who chose to drink from the muddy and poisonous wells of this world over the fountain of the water of life.  The “abominable” remind us that all sin is detestable to God.  “Murderers” are those who take life instead of protecting it, whether it is killing someone out of vengeance, or it is killing someone because they are an inconvenience to us.  “Whoremongers” is just a reference to all who reject God’s plan for sexuality, and this would include all homosexual acts as well as all sexual acts outside of marriage between one man and one woman.  “Sorcerers” are those who think they can by magic manipulate the universe instead of submitting to the God who rules over all.  “Idolators” are all who worship anyone or anything in the place of the God who is revealed to us in the pages of Scripture.  Finally, “all liars.”  I think this is particularly a reference to those who lie about God and the gospel, who chose to believe such lies and to propagate such lies.  But of course it is surely also a reference to all who choose to live lives of deceit.  God, who is a God truth and faithfulness, hates all lies and lying.

All such “shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”  There is nothing really more fearful and terrible than this.  It is horrible in terms of the judgment itself, but even more so that there is not going back from this.  It is a second death.  There is nothing that can or will redeem a person from this death.  This is eternal separation from God’s blessing.  It is the antithesis of the blessings we read about in verses 1-4.

So we have an invitation and a warning: an invitation to those who are thirsty to take the water of life and a warning to those who are self-satisfied to flee from the wrath to come, to awaken from their blindness to God’s glory and their own sin.

My friends, here we see not just the end of the wicked, but more importantly, the blessedness of the righteous.  Meditate upon these things, and let them have the effect upon you that it did upon Asaph.  Let us remember that, on the one hand, when it comes to the wicked, “Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors. As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image” (Ps. 73:18-20).  On the other hand, let us remember that God’s people can always say this to God: “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever” (24-26).  Indeed, “it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works” (28).


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