************ Sermon on Revelation 21:1-5 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 10, 2009
"I Am Making Everything New"
What is our future life going to be like? What does the Bible tell us? Does it speak of harps and fluffy white clouds? Does it speak of the 72 virgins promised to Muslims? Does it speak of a life where our every whim is satisfied?
Our Bible reading emphasizes the word "new." "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth" (Rev 21:1). God says, "I am making everything new!" (Rev 21:5). Our future life is "new." Our future life in the new heaven and new earth is "new." Which leads me to ask: In what way? In what way is it new?
I A New Creation
A "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth ..." (Rev 21:1). Notice how comprehensive it is: heaven and earth. Which means all of Creation, the entire universe, is going to be made new.
What happened to the old heaven and old earth? Chapter 20 told us that "Earth and sky fled from His presence, and there was no place for them" (Rev 20:11). Chapter 21 tells us "the first heaven and the first earth had passed away" (Rev 21:1). So, the new heaven and new earth take the place of the old heaven and old earth.
B However, and this is important, it is still a heaven and an earth. It is not new in terms of being alien and different from what we have now. There will still be water and air and gravity. There will still be atoms and cells and molecules. There will still be matter. We will not be floating somewhere in the clouds. It will not be an airy, immaterial sort of existence. Eternity will be tangible, physical, and real. It is an eternity that includes our physical bodies. Remember what happened at the end of Revelation 20? The sea, death, and Hades all gave up their dead and bodies were raised – including yours and mine. So, our future life is life lived in a body, a real body, a physical body. A body, says Paul, like Jesus' glorified body (Phil 3:20-21). A body that is the same as what we have now and, yet, a body that will also be different.
We see the same thing in Isaiah 65 which speaks of new heavens and a new earth. What is life like in the new heavens and new earth according to Isaiah? Isaiah tells us that people will build houses and dwell in them, they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit (Is 65:21), they will enjoy the works of their hands and their toil will not be vain (Is 65:22). At the same time, life will be better then in the old heaven and old earth because the wolf and the lamb will feed together and the lion will eat straw like the ox (Is 65:25).
A couple of years ago on a bike ride I saw 8 or 9 coyotes in field, just laying there, licking their chops. I looked across the road and I saw baby lambs. The coyotes could hardly wait for supper. In other words, coyotes and lambs or wolves and lambs do not feed together. But they do in the heaven and new earth.So, it will be a heaven and an earth that is the same as the present and, yet, also different than what we have now.
C Which reminds me, there are two words for "new" in the Greek language. The first word means "new in kind." The Prius, for instance, was a new kind of car when first introduced by Toyota. The second word means "new in quality." As in, Toyota is going to sell a new Prius, a third generation Prius, in May. John had a choice: "new in kind" or, "new in quality."
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth ..." (Rev 21:1). Not "new in kind" – not something altogether different and strange and alien. But "new in quality" – something similar to what we already have, but better.
The first heaven and first earth were "new in kind." They were altogether different. In the beginning, God made something new that He had never made before. By way of contrast, the new heaven and new earth will be "new in quality" – like the first heaven and first earth, but better.
So, what makes the new creation new? It is new because it is new in quality.
II No More Sin
A Did you notice what will be missing from the new heaven and new earth? Verse 1: "and there was no longer any sea" (Rev 21:1). This is the first of seven things mentioned by John that have no place in the new heaven and new earth. What else will not be in the new heaven and new earth? Look at verse 4: no longer will there be "death or mourning or crying or pain" (Rev 21:4). The next chapter: "no longer will there be any curse" (Rev 22:3) and "There will be no more night" (Rev 22:5).
B The last six are very straight forward and easy enough to understand. But, what does John mean when he says "there was no longer any sea" (Rev 22:1)? Is he saying there are no large bodies of water in the new heaven and new earth – no oceans, no lakes, no reservoirs? Is he saying there is no swimming? Is he speaking as a geologist? Remember, this is apocalyptic literature. Often, in the Old Testament, the sea symbolizes chaos and confusion and tumult and disturbance; or, as Paul puts it, "tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching" (Eph 4:14).
Remember who comes from the sea? Daniel's four beasts that rise to places of power and persecute God's people come from the sea. The beast of Revelation 13 comes from the sea. The sea is the place of sin and evil and wickedness. But, in the new heavens and new earth "there was no longer any sea" (Rev 21:1). In other words, there is no place for Satan and sin and anything or anyone that challenges God and His rule. Which is why the new heaven and new earth are new in quality, better than the old heaven and old earth.
C Also, don't forget how our passage starts. It starts with the word "Then" – to remind us of what came before. And, what came before? The devil was thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:10). The beast and the false prophet were thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 19:20). Babylon, the seducing harlot, has fallen (Rev 18:2). All of God's enemies – and ours – are gone. They have no place in the new heaven and new earth.
D Let's go back to what is missing. Can you imagine it? Are you anticipating it? No more. No more sin. No more death. No more mourning. No more crying. No more pain. No more curse. No more night. Let's add to this list: no more brain tumors, no more heart attacks, no more strokes, no more failing eyes, no more arthritis, no more ulcers, no more cancer. But there is more: no more tragic accidents, no more terrorist attacks, no more spiteful neighbors, no more wars. No more rebellion, no more defiance, no more gossip, no more lies, no more deceit. No more discouragement, no more disappointment, no more dissatisfaction, no more worries. No more of any kind whatsoever. Can you hardly wait for this to happen?
So, then, what makes the new creation new? It is new because it is purged of everything sinful.
III God Dwells with Men
A Verse 2 tells us another thing that makes the new creation new:
(Rev 21:2) I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.What is this new Jerusalem? Don't forget, this is apocalyptic literature. We need to see the new Jerusalem as the spiritual counterpart to Babylon, the city mentioned earlier in the Revelation.
Remember Babylon in the Revelation? Not a literal city, not a geographical location in the Middle East. Rather, Babylon symbolizes human culture and community in opposition to God. Likewise, the new Jerusalem is not a literal city, nor does it have a geographical location in the Middle East. Rather, the new Jerusalem represents a community living with God.
Let me emphasize that last point: the new Jerusalem represents a community. Nothing individualistic here. It is not a case of just me and Jesus. Rather, I am part of a multitude, a great multitude, a crowd beyond numbering, a crowd greater than the sands on the seashore. I am part of a community.
B Do you see the comparison in verse 2? The new Jerusalem is compared to a "bride beautifully dressed for her husband" (Rev 21:2). What should come to mind when you hear the word "bride"? You should think of the church – the bride of Christ. Remember the song of Revelation 19?
(Rev 19:6-7) Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: "Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. (7) Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready."The church, my brothers and sisters, is the bride of Christ.
Now, what is the first thing John notices about the new heaven and new earth? The first thing he notices is "the Holy City, the new Jerusalem ... prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband" (Rev 21:2).
We sing, "Jerusalem the Golden" and "By the Sea of Crystal." We hear talk of streets paved with gold and lined with precious stones. So, we would expect John to focus first on the glory and magnificence of the city. We would expect John to focus on streets of gold or the tree of life or the crystal fountain. Instead, instead, John first focuses on the church. This is so profound. The first thing John looks at when he looks at the new heaven and new earth is the church of Christ.
A number of people here – including Ruth and I – have built new homes. When people visit for the first time you show them the house: the piano room, the living room, the kitchen, the study, the yard, the trees and bushes and flowers. Don't you expect God to do the same? Instead, God ignores the house and points to the bride. This is His pride and joy. This is the apple of His eye. Of this He is most proud. The church. The bride.
How do you think this part of the Revelation made the early Christian feel? What was the reaction of John's audience to this? Don't forget, they were reviled, persecuted, hated, ignored. They felt unimportant, mocked, inferior, belittled, insignificant, unattractive. They were treated as dirt. They had no value or worth in the eyes of Rome. And now John reveals that on the last day, the church will share center stage with the Lamb. Every sense of inferiority and ugliness will be removed. Because she is the glorious bride of Christ.
If this is the way God thinks of the church, isn't this the way we should think of her too? If this is the way God loves the church, isn't this the way we should love her too? In fact, let me put it this way: there is something flawed with my faith if I do not love what God loves and if I do not prize what He prizes.
C So, the new heaven and new earth is compared to a city, a community. What is new about this? What makes this different from life today? Here is the difference:
(Rev 21:3) And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God."Did you hear the idea repeated three times? Life in the new heaven and new earth is life with God!
This is the fulfilment of the promise God first made to Abraham and Israel, "I will be your God and you will be my people" (Gen 17:7; Ex 6:7).
Think of Israel's life with God. He was in heaven and they were on earth and contact was occasional. Yes, the Ark of the Covenant and the Tent of Meeting spoke of God's presence with the people; however, only the high priest was allowed direct contact and only on the Day of Atonement. So, yes, God was present; but, He was also distant.
Today, God is present with His people in a different way: He is present in divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit. Yet, this is still not the same as being with God face-to-face. This is still not the same as actually living in the presence of God. However, in the new heaven and new earth, life is lived in the very presence of God Himself. Intimacy is promised.
I want you to also think about the life of the believing dead throughout the Revelation. What have we seen? They are with God – but the crystal sea keeps them at a distance (Rev 4). They form a singing, praising multitude no one can count (Rev 7). They are under heaven's altar and cry and pray for justice (Rev 6 & 8). They are disembodied souls (Rev 6) because their bodies are in the ground. Yet, according to Paul, this disembodied life is still better than life on this earth:
(2Cor 5:8) We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.We make a mistake, a big mistake, if we think this life after death is eternal life in all its fullness. If that is how you envision eternal life, then you have not grasped the fullness of all that Christ has done for you. Because God's plan for your future life includes a body. Because God's plan for your future life includes a life of intimacy with Him.
(Phil 1:23) I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far ...
So, then, what makes the new creation new? It is new because life is lived in the very presence of God Himself.
Our future life is "new." It is new in quality. It is "new" compared to what we have in the here and now. It is even "new" compared to what we have when we die.
What will our future life be like? It will be new in quality. Far better than anything today. Think of the best this life has to offer; now multiply that by ten and by a thousand and by a million – that is life in the new heaven and new earth. That is life without sin. That is life in the immediate presence of God.
Are you looking forward to this life? Are you praying for it? Or, are you content with the here and now? Listen to these words by Paul:
(Col 3:1) Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.Is that where your heart is?
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