A New Heaven and New Earth
February 12, 2023 Speaker: Bret Rogers Series: The Revelation of Jesus Christ
Topic: New Creation Passage: Revelation 21:1–8
Much of the passage you’ve heard during our service. But it’s well worth hearing these words again. Listen to God’s word from verse 1…
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, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.
A new heaven and new earth. Some of you are saying, “Finally!” You’ve been waiting for this passage. I don’t blame you; it’s a wonderful prophecy, one we all need to hear. At a distance, the war in Ukraine, the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria—these tragedies sadden us deeply. Closer to home, we face our own sorrows with lung cancer, leukemia, and lymphoma. Yesterday morning, after 40 years of marriage, Ann also lost Gene—we all did. Others battle relational difficulties at home that make nights long and mornings sad and months seem like forever. For others, it’s depression—you wish it would end, you’re doing what you can, but there’s still no reprieve. Or maybe the path of obedience has led to painful separation or suffering for you or someone you know.
Andrew Peterson has a song called, “Come Back Soon.” It’s about growing up and beginning to feel the brokenness of the world. One of the stanzas expresses it this way: We wake in the night in the womb of the world / We beat our fists on the door / We cannot breathe in this sea that swirls / So we groan in this great darkness / Are we alone in this great darkness? / If nature’s red in tooth and in claw / Then it seems to me that she’s an outlaw / ‘Cause every death is a question mark / At the end of the book of a beating heart / And the answer is scrawled in the silent dark / On the dome of the sky in a billion stars / But we cannot read these angel tongues / And we cannot stare at the burning sun / And we cannot sing with these broken lungs / So we kick in the womb and we beg to be born / Deliverance! / Deliverance, O Lord![i]
All Things New
That’s our cry in this present evil age—Deliverance! This vision is our final deliverance. The whole creation groans together in the pains of childbirth. But in this prophecy, God reveals that he’s making all things new.
That includes a new creation. Verse 1, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” That comes from Isaiah 65:17. Israel had returned from exile. They were back in the land, in Jerusalem. But things still weren’t right—sin remained, death lingered, enemies threatened. So why bother, why persevere? God then assures them: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.”
John’s prophecy comes to a church facing that same world—damaged by sin, haunted with death, threatened by enemies. But unlike Isaiah, John writes on this side of Jesus’ resurrection. He doesn’t just repeat Isaiah’s words. He witnesses their goal. God shows him the new world. Now, some debate whether that new world comes by purifying renewal or by total replacement. Acts 3:21 speaks of God restoring all things, while 2 Peter 3:10 speaks of heavenly bodies burning up. Hebrews 12:27 speaks of God removing only what’s shakable, while Revelation 20:11 has earth and sky fleeing away.
But when you consider these texts beside one another—accounting for their genre, context, and imagery—it seems best to say that the purification and renewal is so comprehensive that it’s truly a new world even if there’s continuity with the old, like with our bodies being raised (1 Cor 15:42) or with our good works enduring (1 Cor 3:14).[ii]
But the new creation is also far better. It’s not only unstained by sin—there’s not even potential for evil to rise again. Notice how he adds, “and the sea was no more.” There are multiple seas in Revelation—the bodies of water on earth, the sea of glass before God’s throne. But then there’s also the sea of 13:1, where the Beast rises from the sea. That’s the sea in view here: the sea that symbolizes the realm of God’s enemies. In the new creation, there will be no enemies lurking in the deep. No Dragon-like Serpent uttering lies. No chaotic darkness will ever rise again.
There’s also a new city—New Jerusalem. She’s holy, heavenly, and happy. She’s holy in that she’s free of all moral defilement. Babylon was full of abominations. New Jerusalem is wholly set apart for the Lord. She’s pure and spotless.
She’s also heavenly in that we see her “coming down out of heaven from God.” Galatians 4:26 says that Christians belong to the Jerusalem that is above—right now that’s our city. But here we see her coming down. The end is not us flying away into some mystical existence floating on clouds. God brings heaven down to earth; and part of that includes his people descending to inherit the earth in new, glorified bodies. Up to the return of Jesus, the earth-dwellers ran the show. Remember them? They think they will conquer the world by killing the church.[iii] But here we see the true conquerors. Those who gave their lives for Jesus descend from heaven to possess the earth.
New Jerusalem is also happy. It says she’s “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” Notice the passive: “being prepared.” God himself has made her beautiful. We’re not just talking about a place anymore. We’re also talking about a people, a people compared to a Bride. The whole story of Scripture has waited for this moment. “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her…so that he might present the church to himself in splendor;” and here she is, adorned for her husband. When Isaiah describes this moment, he includes New Jerusalem’s happiness. Isaiah 65:18, “…behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.” They wouldn’t just feel glad; their very nature becomes gladness.
Also notice the new covenant. Not a newer covenant that differs from the one Jesus ratified at the cross. I mean the same new covenant in Jesus’ blood. The end of that covenant said this in Jeremiah 31:33—“I will be their God and they shall be my people.” Why? “Because I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their lawless deeds no more.” In the new creation, we will experience the fullness of that covenant.
In verse 3, a loud voice from the throne explains: “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.” This language spans the whole of Scripture, reaching as far back as God’s covenant with Abraham.[iv] Such language doesn’t belong to everyone. Not everyone shares a special relationship with God. Only those in Christ. It’s the language of mutual belonging. Returning to the marriage analogy of verse 2, it’s God’s “I do” to his people, and their “I do” to God. But unlike human marriages, nothing will separate God from his people. Far better, he dwells with them.
The word behind “he will dwell” recalls imagery from Exodus. God tabernacled with Israel in the Most Holy Place. He manifested his glory in the tabernacle and then later in the temple. But here that dwelling isn’t limited to a temple inside the city; his dwelling is the whole city. All the people become his dwelling place. Please don’t miss this: the work of redemption in Jesus is so comprehensive, that God makes you his glory-tent. The saving work of Jesus’ blood is so thorough, that God chooses to dwell with you, to be close with you—as a husband to a bride even. Do you believe that for yourself? Do you believe that for each other? We know it in part now through the Spirit’s presence in our lives. But one day it will be face to face.
New creation, new city, new covenant—also new comforts. Verse 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.”
Again, we’re reminded of promises from Isaiah’s prophecy. In Isaiah 25:6-8, we get a picture of Mount Zion—which includes Jerusalem. After destroying rebel powers, God exalts his mountain above all. He alone is glorious. But amazingly, he shares this mountain with others, others he redeemed by the Suffering Servant. For them, God spreads a special feast and says, “On this mountain…[I] will swallow up the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. [God] will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.”
We can’t hardly imagine this. We’re just so used to death. We structure our lives around it. Entire careers exist to rescue people from death or bury them in death. We have doctors and medicine and diets to delay death. Some use make-up to cover up aging toward death. There’s life insurance and border control and labels to read and seat-belts to wear. Why? Because the grave is never satisfied—Proverbs 27:20. Death always wants more. But there’s coming a day when the curse of death will be altogether removed. Death will be no more. Our assurance of that now is Jesus Christ, risen from the dead! He has power over the grave. If you belong to Christ, death doesn’t get the final word. Christ does! Death will be swallowed up in victory for you—1 Corinthians 15.
That day will bring for you so many comforts. “The Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces.” He could’ve just said, God will take away your sorrow. But God chooses imagery that makes it far more personal: the Lord wipes the tears of each individual face. The same one who rules with absolute power—he draws near like a parent to wipe the tears from the face of each child.
What have you cried about this week? What afflictions or fears or pains have left you weeping in the night? What losses have filled you with sorrow? What aches have throbbed in your throat because you didn’t want others to see the pain? God sees. Psalm 56:8 says he hides your tears in his bottle. Here, he wipes them away. Mourning, crying, and pain will all be over and gone forever.
It’ll be like Samwise Gamgee after the ring was destroyed. Sam wakes up in Ithilien. He’s surprised to be alive. He’s surprised to see Gandalf. And he says, “‘Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?’ ‘A great Shadow has departed,’ says Gandalf, and then he laughed, and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land…[Sam] burst into tears. Then, as a sweet rain will pass down a wind of spring and the sun will shine out the clearer, his tears ceased, and his laughter welled up, and laughing he sprang from his bed. ‘How do I feel?’ he cried. ‘Well, I don’t know how to say it. I feel, I feel’—he waved his arms in the air—‘I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard!’” It’ll be like that, beloved, and more.
Assurance that New Creation Will Come
Now, given the way things are, it’s sometimes hard to believe these new things will come. Where’s our assurance? Verses 5 and 6 help. “Behold, I am making all things new.” Whose “I”? The God who said at the first creation, “Let there be light” and there was light. That same God who creates new life by a word—he has spoken here, and his word will not fail. He has the creative power to make it happen.
He also tells John, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” God’s not wishy-washy on things. You may have been lied to by children, a spouse, parents, a friend, pastors, employees, governments. But God never lies. He speaks truth because he is truth. You can take his words to the bank. Here is a word we can trust in every situation and find great comfort to press on.
We also know they will happen because God controls history. Verse 6, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” Other places in Revelation use, “the first and the last.” These are variations of a title in Isaiah 41:4, 44:6, and 48:12. God uses this title to distinguish himself from the nations and their idols. The nations and their idols lack any power to determine the future.[v] But God who is “the beginning and the end” not only knows the future before it takes place; he creates the future by his sovereign word.[vi] Because this word exists, it will happen. It’s spoken by the one who knows the end from the beginning. That’s been his pattern throughout history. Since creation, not a single word has failed.
God’s creative power, God’s trustworthy word, God’s control of history—all reassure us that the new heaven and new earth will come. Sometimes we’ll say things like, “Consider it done!” “It’s a done deal!” It’s our way of reassuring someone else that they can count on it. How much more certain it is when God says, “It is done!” He has already started the process in his Son, Jesus Christ—crucified and risen over sin, death, and the devil, unstoppable in his judgments and salvation.
Rewards for the Conquerors
So where does that leave you? If these things are so guaranteed, where does that leave you? At the end of verse 6 and into verse 8, the Lord sets before us rich rewards for those who endure, but also severe judgment for those who reject Jesus. He mentions the severe judgment in verse 8. “But as for the cowardly”—don’t think only afraid to stand firm for Jesus before others, but also afraid to admit your weakness and need of Jesus before others. “As for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” We discussed that imagery last week. The lake of fire symbolizes irreversible ruin and ongoing punishment. These things will have no place in the New Jerusalem.
Before that, though, he mentioned rewards for those who endure—which he calls the “thirsty” in verse 6 and the “conquerors” in verse 7. These aren’t different people. They’re the same people described two different ways. What makes the conquerors strong isn’t something in themselves, but that they keep relying on God for drink. To be thirsty means you’re desperate for God and come to him for life.
“To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. We’ll discuss the water of life more in 22:1. It’s enough to say here that it flows from God’s throne, and its life is of such a quality that it turns wastelands into an Eden-like paradise. The idea of drinking without payment, comes from Isaiah 55:1. Israel has nothing to buy salvation. But in mercy God pays the price for them and says, “You come and drink.” For those who come to the Lord as their drink, their sustenance, their life, God will satisfy them totally with his presence.
“The one who conquerors”—that’s the one who stays faithful till the end. They don’t give in to the Beast’s kingdom. The Lord says, “He will have his heritage [or he will inherit these things].” What things? All the new creation things of verses 1-6. “He will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” Earlier, the covenant union was compared to marriage. Here it’s compared to adoption. That’s huge, because everywhere else in Revelation God’s fatherhood describes how Jesus relates to him as Son. But here, he’s relating to us as sons. In union with Jesus, we become children of God, part of the family, joint heirs with Christ.
Enduring with the Hope of New Jerusalem
So again, where does that leave you? What will you do with this glorious vision of the new heaven and new earth? The first thing you should do is make sure that your confidence is in the Lamb. Revelation paints the world as two groups—the conquerors or the cowardly; those who clung to Jesus in their thirst and those who run after idols instead. Make sure you’re with Jesus. Where else are you going to turn for true and lasting deliverance? There’s nobody else who will change the world like this. There are people who pretend like they can. There are politicians who will promise a utopia. But no mere man has the power to make the world right. That belongs to Jesus alone.
There’s no other story that ends like the Bible’s either. No other worldview measures up. A worldview often answers life’s biggest questions—a couple big ones being, “Why are things so sad in the world?” and “Who will make it right?” Everybody must account for evil somehow and what will be done about it. The Christian story gives the most coherent and comprehensive answer. Christianity recognizes that sad things in the world exist. It explains why those sad things exist—because of sin. But it also gives a real hope—hope that’s not grounded in human ability or determined by human merit. It’s a hope that comes from outside, that’s grounded in a gracias and loving and just God. God makes all things right in his Son, Jesus Christ; and his goal is a world rid of all evil and full of joy in his presence. Set this vision against any other worldview and its goals for the world; and it becomes clear that God’s work in Jesus is the only way. No other worldview is this true to our present experience, this comprehensive in its outlook, this coherent in its storyline, this good for humanity, and this forever in its duration.
So put your confidence in Jesus. Jesus is the one who brings the new creation. He’s the one who healed the sick, cast out demons, opened the eyes of the blind, made the lame leap like the deer, raised the dead—we’ve been seeing this in Matthew. Jesus brings the new creation realities. So, trust in him and keep looking to him. And if you come back with, “Well, I’m more in the liar and the immoral person in verse 8.” Christ can change that too. 2 Corinthians 5:17 speaks of Jesus’ ability to make sinners into new creations. That old can pass away in him.
Second, encourage one another with this vision. Jesus gave this prophecy to John who was supposed to give it to the churches; and those churches were going through super crazy times. Suffering, imprisonment, false teaching, slander, weariness, death, economic uncertainty, rumors of war, political upheaval, poverty, famine—they were times full of sad things. John calls it tribulation. We’re still walking through the same tribulation. There are many sad things that we are facing. I mentioned some earlier. But nearest is Gene’s death and Ann’s sorrow. Ann will need the comfort of this vision; we all need the comfort of this vision. Remind each other of it. Sing about it together.
Read it to each other—that’s why God said, “Write this down!” God wrote it so you would read it. Some of you aren’t reading your Bible. God wrote comforts here for you. You won’t make it without them. Memorize these words. Meditate on the promises here. There’s a great scene in Pilgrim’s Progress. Christian and Hopeful are imprisoned in the dungeon of Doubting Castle. We’ve all been there: locked in the darkness of doubts. But suddenly it dawns on Christian that he had a key all along.
He says, “What a fool I have been, to lie like this in a stinking dungeon, when I could have just as well walked free. In my chest pocket I have a key called Promise that will, I am thoroughly persuaded, open any lock in Doubting-Castle.” “Then,” said Hopeful, “that is good news. My good brother, do immediately take it out of your chest pocket and try it.” Then Christian took the key from his chest and began to try the lock of the dungeon door; and as he turned the key, the bolt unlocked and the door flew open with ease, so that Christian and hopeful immediately came out.” Hide this promise in your chest pocket. Speak it to each other when you’re in doubting castle.
Third, endure the path of obedience with hope. As we’ve seen before, Revelation exists for a suffering church. It’s written to help the church endure whatever suffering they face in following Jesus. God doesn’t leave us guessing. In our suffering, he shows us the end before it comes. He shows us the victory and the glory as a way of saying, “Hang on! It’s coming! I will satisfy you forever!”
I have two examples. One is from a book I just finished called Everything Sad Is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri. Daniel had to flee Iran with his mom and sister. They settled as refugees in Oklahoma. The book is more like a patchwork story told from the vantage point of his middle school years when he first came to America. Sometimes it’s hilarious. Other times it’s heart-rending. Many of the heart-rending moments involve the hardships his mother faced in the path of obedience to Jesus. Her husband physically abused her. The authorities in Iran interrogated her. She had to face poverty.
Daniel then writes this about his mom: “The legend of my mom is that she can’t be stopped. Not when you hit her. Not when a whole country full of goons puts her in a cage. Not even if you make her poor and try to kill her slowly in the little-by-little poison of sadness. And the legend is true. I think because she’s fixed her eyes on something beyond the rivers of blood, to a beautiful place on the other side.” Beloved, Revelation has shown us the beautiful place on the other side.
Another example comes in our brother Brian. Brian is battling stage-four lung cancer. He hasn’t been able to speak for a while, or lift his voice in song like he used to. But a few Sundays ago, I looked across the way during one of our hymns. I watched him mouth the words with the strength he had: With every breath I long to follow Jesus / For He has said that He will bring me home / And day by day I know He will renew me /
Until I stand with joy before the throne.[vii] How is Brian holding on? He’s holding on because this vision has taken hold of him. God has revealed the final vision of you before his throne in New Jerusalem. Let it help you persevere to the end.
[i] Andrew Peterson, “Come Back Soon,” from Light for a Lost Boy (2012).
[ii] Koester, Revelation, 803. For an extended discussion, see Gale Z. Heide, “What Is New about the New Heaven and New Earth? A Theology of Creation from Revelation 21 and 2 Peter 3,” JETS 40.1 (March 1997): 37-56.
[iii] Rev 6:10; 11:10.
[iv] E.g., Gen 17:7-8; Exod 29:45; Lev 26:45; Jer 24:7; 32:38; Ezek 11:20; 34:24; Hos 2:23; Zech 8:8; 2 Cor 6:16.
[v] Isa 41:4; 44:6-28; 46:10; 48:11-16.
[vi] Isa 44:7-9, 18-19; 48:3, 6-8, 11-16; cf. 41:22-24; 42:9; 43:9b; 45:21; 46:10.
[vii] City Alight, Keith and Kristen Getty, “Yet Not I But through Christ in Me,” from Sing! Global (2021).
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