We talk about what is perhaps the most well known section of Revelation: chapter 21. In this chapter, we are given a glimpse of the new heavens and new earth. It shows us what is in store for believers, a detailed account of the age to come. God will dwell with men. Christ and his bride, the church, will come together. There will be no more evil, completing the final act of redemption and the restoration of God and his people.
New heaven and new earth
So we come to chapter 21 in Revelation. Chapter 21 is just amazing. It’s so good. And how we have gotten this so messed up, where in the world did we get that heaven is going to be a mindless Alzheimer clinic with bad hymns piped in where there’s nothing to do, floating on a cloud?
We’re going to look at what is here today, and it’s so exciting.
Revelation 21:1. Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.
Normally when we say something has passed away, it’s bad news. Usually that means we’ve lost a pet, or we’ve lost a friend or a family member.
But in this case, the earth we know has passed away. The heaven we know has passed away. And good riddance! This is a good thing. We’re going to get a new one.
No more sea
Also there was no more sea. Which is an odd statement.
So he saw a new heaven and a new earth, but it was remarkable to him that there’s no sea on this new earth. Now what does this mean?
Well, it doesn’t mean there’s no more water because if you just peak ahead to chapter 22, the very first verse, And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne—
One of the central elements of this new Jerusalem we’re going to be talking about is a wide river. So there’s certainly running water. Presumably that running water goes somewhere and pools up. Perhaps not. Perhaps there’s just a constant running in this new earth. But what seems to be the case is that there’s not a predominance of water on the earth.
Today’s earth is covered by water. Seventy percent water, thirty percent land. It’s not going to be that way in the new earth.
There’s also another element that we’ve seen, that the sea is used figuratively in Revelation and in Daniel. The beasts rose out of the sea, do you remember that? And the sea was something that the harlot was coming out of.
There’s definitely an idea here that the worldly system, this chaotic, unpredictable, destructive force is no longer a dominance in the new earth. And that is something we would expect.
First hand testimony from John
Then I, John, saw the holy city—So we’re emphasizing here, “I’m John, and I was here, and I saw this.” Perhaps it is that this is so remarkable that you’re going to have a hard time believing it if it’s hearsay. No, this is firsthand evidence. I saw this with my own eyes, and I’m telling you about it. I know it’s hard for you to believe but I saw it.
I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Isn’t this fascinating? Apparently there’s a prefab city that gets lowered down on this new earth. How long have they been building on this city? Maybe a thousand years. Maybe it’s under construction now. But this city is called a bride.
He says here prepared as a bride. But if we look over in verse 9, 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,
So it’s prepared as a bride, and it is a bride.
This is somewhat confusing because how can a city be a bride? I can understand how a city can be prepared as a bride.
You’ve all been involved in weddings to some extent, haven’t you? And on wedding day, where is all the focus? It’s all on primping the bride, isn’t it? You’ve got to have the dress just right. You’ve got to have the makeup just right. And you have to have something blue and borrowed just right so that when the doors fling open, all the women will cry. That’s the whole idea. And if you can get the groom to cry, all the better. Isn’t that the way that works?
So prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. This is something that Jesus says, “I’m going to make a city that’s going to make everybody cry when it comes through the aisle. And that city is my bride.”
Now does that set off alarms in your mind? Who’s the bride supposed to be? The church, right? Isn’t that what we’ve always heard? The church. Well how can it be the city and the church?
Well, let’s first go back to the famous church verse. Ephesians 5:32. And in light of what we’ve been talking about in Revelation, and particularly last episode, I think this is a fantastic connection. So 5:32, he says, This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
What he has said before is about Christ and the church. And what did he say before? Well, he said something that’s read at most Christian wedding ceremonies. Go back to verse 25. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her—
Why did Christ give himself for the church? Verse 26 answers that question: that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word—
Why would he want to give himself in order to just cleanse something? He answers that in the next verse, verse 27. —That he might present her—the church—to Himself—Jesus—a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives—
What Jesus wanted was a bride. What he did to get that bride is go and give himself for the church, for us. Not just so we could be born, but so that we could grow up to marrying age and be the bride that he had in mind.
Preparing the bride
He has spent his time on us and his focus on us giving us, what? What did we learn last episode that prepares us for him? Fiery trials. We get fiery trials in this life. To the extent we don’t have the fiery trials refine us pure enough, we get the judgment seat of Christ. Our part in the lake of fire. That’s Jesus’ face (possibly). The purpose is to burn away the wood and the hay and the stubble so that we’re ready to be this bride, shining and dazzling like jewels. He wants to cleanse us and not just with fire, but with the word. Washing us with the word.
I remember when I was a seventh grader, my mom—who was a real introverted lady. She didn’t talk much. She read a lot. She prayed a lot. She would answer if you talked to her. She would sit and read to you all day. She would listen to you all day, which was handy for me because I’m talkative.
I was getting into that rebellious teenager thing and being real sassy. And she only ever did this one time. And she said, “Sit down! You’re really getting out of order here!” And she picked up her Bible, and she started reading John 1. In the beginning was the Word. And it just felt like somebody shot me with an arrow. I never forgot that. Because she was washing me with the word. But it was also a fiery trial. The two can be the same.
Have you ever had that experience where your words pierce someone else? Maybe your children? Or maybe they pierced you.
The point is to get us ready for this moment when there’s a bride.
Well, how can the bride be a church and a city? It kind of makes sense when you think about it, doesn’t it? Because the bride is all of us. And if it’s going to be all of us, we have to have a place to have the kind of community it takes to have the kind of oneness that’s necessary to be a bride.
Structure determines behavior in our world. It apparently will in this world as well.
There’s going to be a city that is constructed for the purpose of bringing together the kind of unity and the kind of community that brings the kind of intimacy you get in marriage.
Perhaps you live in a really cool neighborhood, or you’ve been to one that you wish you could be in. That’s a little hint of what that experience might be.
I’ve spent some time in big cities, and it’s always interesting to me when you talk to someone about “Why do you like to live here?”
You’ll hear people say, “The commute’s awful. The pollution’s awful. The crime’s awful. The taxes are awful.” And you hear all this whole litany of things.
“Then why don’t you move somewhere else?”
“Oh! The city’s so fantastic! There are restaurants!”
“Do you ever go eat there?”
“No, no. But they’re there.” “There’s a sports team!”
“Do you ever go to those games?”
“Well, no, no. But they’re there!”
You just want to belong to something. You put up with all this misery to belong to something.
Then you go to someone who’s very wealthy, and they love the city; but they never go to it. They live in a gated community or an enclave, and they have their clubs. They actually live in a tiny, little town with people just like them.
At the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got the homeless people that have their little community under the bridge. But they love the city. But they’ve ghettoed themselves up. They don’t actually love the city, they love the idea of the city.
Well, this is going to be the real deal where it’s not going to be a ghettoized city where you have to put up with a bunch of junk. It’s going to be something that makes us a bride. Together. Togetherness and community.
Isn’t that exciting? We’re going to kind of get little hints of what it’s going to really be like as we unfurl here. But keep in mind, it’s a place where bridehood happens.
God will dwell with men
Verse 3. 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. God Himself will be with them and be their God.
This is the best news ever. This is the culmination of human history. This word dwell is the Greek word skenoo, and tabernacle is the Greek word skene, so it’s a noun and a verb form of the same basic word. A better translation would be, “Behold the dwelling of God is with men, and he will dwell with them.”
Let me just show you this. I think it’s worth emphasizing somewhat. This word tabernacle shows up in Luke 16:9. This is the parable of the unrighteous steward. And at the end of the parable it says, And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon—money—that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting skene, tabernacle, home, dwelling. Same word. It’s just a place to dwell.
The reason, I think, the translators chose the word tabernacle is that this particular application of dwelling is the dwelling of God. And, you say, well, that’s happened before, right? In the wilderness. No, no, not really.
Exodus 40:34 tells us what happened when they got the wilderness tabernacle prepared. Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
The same thing happened with the temple. The glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. The glory of the Lord filled the temple. And, in fact, they called it the Shekinah glory. That glory left the temple before the Babylonian destruction.
Why did the Lord himself not dwell there? Well, for one thing, if he had come down, everybody would have died, right? We couldn’t stand that presence. But, now, what’s happening is—we can.
Remember Jesus is going to have a face that melts the old heaven and the old earth. That’s going to be what his physical presence is like.
We’re going to see in the next chapter that his physical presence provides enough light to light up this whole place. Clearly if we were in our current bodies, that wouldn’t work. But we’re going to have new bodies. Paul calls them spiritual bodies.
Spiritual and physical are separate things in our world. That’s paradoxical. But somehow that paradox is going to go away. In some way, this light that perhaps in some segment of our life is going to be burning away wood, hay, and stubble is going to become an amazing sustenance for this beautiful bride that we become.
Because, remember, who is conformed to the image of Christ? Everyone who is called according to his purpose. It’s just a matter of how will you be conformed: through fiery trials on this earth or through having all this wood, hay, and stubble burned away?
And clearly, clearly, clearly what this book is urging us to do is embrace the former. It will happen, however, which is encouraging.
We talked about this last episode, that God is for us. We’re his bride. He just wants to get us ready. It’s very encouraging although a daunting prospect.
He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people.
Only love remains
So now God is with us. No more are we in a situation where we walk by faith. Three great things: faith, hope, and love. Only love remains. The love of the intimacy of a perfect marriage is still here. But not faith. You can’t believe what you see. We’re going to be living with God in his presence in this new city. You can’t hope for what you have. If you have it, you don’t hope for it. Those two things are gone. Love remains.
God will wipe away every tear
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. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. And good riddance, right? That’s a passing away that’s good riddance.
What sorrows will be gone? Maybe the scars that you took with you to heaven from your life on earth. Maybe it’s the regrets from the wood, hay, and stubble you burned. Maybe you look back and say, “I did not redeem my time on earth.”
That’s going to be bad. That’s going to hurt. That’s going to create a suffering of loss. It’s something we’re urged to avoid.
But do you know what? If we have it, that period’s going to come to an end. And it’s going to be wiped away. And then we’re going to pass into a new era where those pains become less and those disappointments become preparation. And we’re now a bride. And we move forward into a new existence.
I don’t think it’ll be a memory wipe. But, if you think about it, you can take a painful memory and turn it into an important lesson. You’ve had that happen to you, right? Something that was painful becomes, actually, a blessing. And I don’t think it’s that we lose the memory. It’s that we change the perspective of it. And God’s going to turn all those things into lessons.
My personal take is we’re going to say, “OK, I blew it. But, you know what? I learned from it, and now I’ve got this station, and I’m moving on.”
You know, you can do that in this life too. God does that in this life. If we will. What does Philippians tell us we’re supposed to give thanks for? All things. Except for our mess ups. If we screwed up, we’re not supposed to ever let that go. We’re supposed to always beat ourselves up with that so that we can remain in control that we were better than that, and that’s really where we are but—No! It’s give thanks in ALL things. Thank you for showing me I’m an idiot. Thank you for showing me that I’m arrogant. Thank you for showing me that I’m stupid to trust myself. Now I know that, and I can live a different life.
But the pain goes away in time. That’s what I’ve found.
When I’ve gone through my really difficult times, it usually takes sometimes years until the pain turns into thanks, feeling-wise. That’s the position we’re going to be in. And do you know what? It might take a thousand years for some people to get over it. It might take a thousand years.
We’ve got the new heaven and the new earth and a thousand years, and some people are not going to be reigning during this thousand years. It’s possible that some people aren’t reigning in this time too. It seems to me as though, since all tears are wiped away and so forth, if they’re not reigning, there’s at least part of the intimacy. It’s not real clear to me how this works.
But, again, God’s not telling us in this book here’s how it works so you can game the system. He’s telling us be a faithful witness and don’t fear death, and it’s going to be more than worth your while. I think that’s the point.
It may be that during this thousand years, or some period of a thousand years, that we actually get a chance to relive our life with Jesus standing by our side pointing things out, including the thoughts that we’re having. I don’t know about you, but it was terrifying when I first thought about that.
I’ve gotten to the point where that’s going to be like a film day back in sports, you know? I knew I took that play off. But you learn from it. And it’s just part of the process. And then that becomes experiential. And we get to the point where we say, I got what I deserved. Everything worked out. Now we have a new life.
Interestingly enough, I think this is actually the third earth. We get indications that the first earth was destroyed by Satan or some angelic war that happened. And the earth that we’re on was recreated, it seems like the language says, because there was already stuff there. It was just formless and void. Remember? And then it was redone.
This is like the third earth, which kind of makes sense. Everything tends to come in threes when its completion.
This is fun for me because I’m a big Lord of the Rings fan. That means we’re living in Middle Earth, right in the middle between the two. Isn’t that cool?
What is said from the throne
Verse 5, Then He who sat on the throne said—Now, remember throne shows up 41 times in Revelation. This is the fortieth occurrence of throne. And all this time as we’ve gone through Revelation, the speakers have been angels or messengers. Sometimes Jesus. Sometimes Jesus speaks. But I haven’t found a place where the message is actually coming from the person sitting on the throne. So this is a signal I think.
It says, I, John saw the holy city—And now he says, “The person sitting on the throne said.” So our ears should perk up, don’t you think?
A new beginning
Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” So this is really startling. Because what has been taking place since the sixth day of creation? Jesus has rested. God has rested from creation. In the beginning was God and then he made the heavens and the earth and then he rested. And now all that has fled away from his face. And he’s going to make everything new again.