Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Revelation 21, The New Heaven and the New Earth

In this chapter, John is ushered into eternity and given a glimpse of the glorious new heaven and new earth God has prepared for His people beyond this age.

v.1 "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea."

The word “new” means “new in respect to freshness”, rather than “new with respect to existence.” So it would be safe to interpret what John sees to be a “fresh heaven and fresh earth” that has undergone a cleansing and renewal, not one that has been totally annihilated and then recreated.

Peter describes the process as a virtual melt down of the very elements that make up the earth and heavens (2Pet.3:12); a fiery purging and cataclysmic renewal that produces new elements from the old elements. “Yes, all of them will grow old like a garment,” the Psalmist writes, “like a cloak You will change them, and they will be changed” (Ps.102:26). As a result, every thumbprint, footprint, stain, and foul odor brought upon this present world by Satan, death, and sin will be sanitized. The blood, tears, bones, fossils, and grave sites that have long infected the earth's surface, the defilement brought upon its core by the implant of Hades, and the pollution of contaminated materials and unholy sound and electronic impulses long thrust into its atmosphere will neither be found nor remembered again forever.

"Also there was no more sea." Some commentators interpret this passage to mean the absence of a literal sea, but it might be figurative. The Bible generally uses the term "sea" and "waters" to symbolize Gentile nations, multitudes, tongues, and ethnic groups (Dan.7; Rev.13; Rev.14). I believe it is figurative and take it to mean that there will be no more distinction between Jew and Gentile in the New World, and the divisive cross-hatching of borders, boundaries, cultures, languages, and national allegiances between men will be done away with.

v.2 "Then I, John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”

New Jerusalem is the eternal city and dwelling place of the saints; “Whose builder and maker is God” (Heb.11:10) and every believer since Abraham has waited to see. Therefore, as John actually does see it, you can almost hear the exclamation of joy when he says "Then I, John saw the holy city."

New Jerusalem is the city “prepared” by God in the heavens for His resurrected and raptured saints. This is the same word used by Jesus when He told His disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2), and elsewhere where it’s recorded “He has prepared a city for them” (Heb.11:16). And it's shown to John as a radiant bride ready for her husband because it personifies in virtue all of the saints residing therein.

v.3-5 “And I heard a loud voice from 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 will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’ Then He who sat on the throne said, 'Behold, I make all things new.' And He said to me, 'Write for these words are true and faithful.' "

The blessed presence of God with His people (us) is here proclaimed, and in heaven, it will not be interrupted as it is here on earth. He will dwell with us continually, and all relations between God and us will be filled up and perfected. Our souls shall be assimilated to Him in all love, honor, and delight; and His love shall be manifested to us, and His glory put upon us. It will be a blessed state free from the effects of all former and future trouble and sorrow. “For the former things have passed away” and all things will become “new.”

Moreover, dear ones, the certainty of this eventual state is so necessary for our perpetual memory and continual use that God ordered it to be written. “And He said to me,” John declares, “'Write for these words are true and faithful.' "

v.6-8 “And He said to me, 'It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and He shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.' "

Once Jesus puts all enemies under His feet and destroys death, He will deliver the kingdom to God the Father and become subject to the Father "that God may be all in all” (see—1Cor.15:24-28). Though the nature of this mysterious and wondrous eternal relationship between the Father and the Son isn’t explained, I believe it occurs right here, the moment Jesus proclaims “It is done!”

Sin is no more, death has been destroyed, the people of God have been delivered and enjoined unto Him, and the age has been consummated and all things have been made new. God the Son has completed the work and purposes of God the Father, and because it is done, therefore “God may be all in all.”

“He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and He shall be My son.” Believers, as citizens of New Jerusalem, will have unbridled access to the water of life flowing from the throne of God (Rev.22:1), shall “inherit all things” as “heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom.8:17), and shall have a sure and indefeasible relationship with God, as a son of God (see also—1John 3:2).

“But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” This vastly different state of the unbeliever helps to illustrate the glory and blessedness of the saints and clearly distinguishes the goodness of God towards us. The unbeliever will never see New Jerusalem. They will die another death after their natural death. They will be consigned to the terrors and agonies of eternal death, or as one commentator puts it, they will “die and always be dying.”

v.9-11 "Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, 'Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb's wife.' And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. And her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal."

What I find compelling about this passage is the implication that God is so delighted in His bride that He relocates John so he can behold her. Rather than leaving him in heaven to watch her descend toward earth, He has a significant angel usher John to an unobstructed place to watch her descend to earth. It’s like a bridegroom that would have you stand alongside him to behold in full view the beauty and majesty of his bride as she makes her descent down the aisle.

"And her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal." As one commentator suggests, if you can picture a diamond the size of the moon with a light as bright as the sun resonating inside of it, you get the idea of what John beheld. New Jerusalem not only resonates with the brilliant light of God Himself, but the light in turn is refracted through the precious metals of the massive structure into an array of dazzling colored beams of light.

v.12-14 "Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west. Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb."

The walls, gates, and foundations leave no doubt that New Jerusalem is a literal city made of solid materials. It’s not an apparition, a figment of ones imagination, backroom folklore, or taught simply because it sounds good. John is our witness, dear ones: New Jerusalem is a real city.

On each of the twelve gates are the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, and on each of the twelve foundations are the names of the twelve apostles (probably as a memorial to the work of God through man). The twelve tribes of Israel faithfully preserved and delivered His Law and His words through the prophets, and the twelve Apostles delivered the words and works of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The walls and the gates of New Jerusalem are symbolic, and meant only to signify the city's eternal security, safety, and well-being. There will be no need for fortification against any enemy in New Jerusalem (v.21).

v.15-21 "And he who talked with me had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates and its wall. And the city is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as its breath. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal. Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel. And the construction of its wall was as jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. And the foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eight beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass."

The dimensions and materials of the city are carefully recorded. Its length, breadth, and height are equally “twelve thousand furlongs” which some commentators estimate to be about 1378 miles cubed, others 1500 miles cubed, or as one put it, “about the size of our moon.” In any case, it’s clearly a vast cube.

The dimension of the wall is not as clear because it’s uncertain whether the angel is measuring the height or the width. As a result, some commentators regard the height of the wall to be about 216 feet while others consider it its thickness. As for the materials, they are all flawlessly precious and pure. Inlaid into its foundations and walls are varieties of brilliant stones, and each of its gates are solid pearl. The street of the city is made of pure gold.

In other words, the holy city of New Jerusalem is magnificent. It’s massive, perfectly uniform, flawlessly beautiful, and indescribably glorious. Once we see it in heavenly light, with its translucent whites, rainbow hues, and brilliant reflective colors, I believe we'll be surprised how much more it is than we imagined.
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1Cor.2:9)
v.22-23 "But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it, and the Lamb is its light."

The temple and the sun are each part of this present world meant to serve man in this present age. The temple provided a place where sinful man can meet with God, and the sun was instituted at the dawn of creation to provide light to the world.

In New Jerusalem, however, a temple-structure would serve no purpose. Sin will be gone, the sinful nature of man passed away, and God shall Himself dwell with man, directly and eternally approachable by His people. Moreover, there will be no requirement for a sun. Though the sun and the moon are established forever (Ps.148:1-6), God—Who is light (1John 1:5) and "the Father of lights" (Jas. 1:17)—will forever illuminate New Jerusalem with His eternal presence (see also—Isa.60:19-20).

v.24-27 "And the nations of those saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb's Book of Life."

This passage implies that some saints will inhabit the new earth as "the nations" beneath the city of New Jerusalem. They will walk in its light, bring their glory and honor into it, and have a perpetual open door to enter and exit as freely as they choose. So who are they?

I believe (although speculative) that these are the self-same mortals (along with their offspring) who inhabit the earth and subsequently receive Jesus Christ as Savior during the Millennium. Why, because they’re the only group of saints otherwise not accounted for.
  1. They did not take part in the first resurrection ending with the tribulation martyrs (Rev.20:4-5) otherwise they would not have been subjected to our Lord’s judgment of the nations (see notes—Rev.20:5-6).
  2. It’s clear that they resist the devil in his final rebellion against God, and thus are righteous, otherwise they would have been destroyed at Millennium’s end (Rev.20:9).
  3. They certainly did not resurrect with the dead (Rev.20:13) or they would have been cast into the lake of fire and had no part in the new heaven and new earth (Rev.20:15; 21:27).
Moreover, God’s judgment of sin and death has already taken place (Rev.20:14), therefore we must conclude that they're transformed from mortality to immortality and will inhabit the new earth. Undoubtedly in the same perfection found in Adam and Eve, but without a sin nature of the former world and instead eternally perfect.

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