READ : Revelation 21 and 22:1-5
God’s people will live with him in a new heaven, on a new earth.
Today, friends, we glimpse the unspeakably wonderful future which God has prepared for
his people in the new heaven and the new earth. Listen to these opening words from
Revelation 21, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the
first earth had passed away.”
The New Creation
Now, how will the first heaven and the first earth pass away? Remember how Paul speaks
of the whole creation longing for the revealing of God’s children so that it can escape
bondage and futility and be made new? Peter speaks of a great conflagration in which
heaven and earth are engulfed in fire, leading to a new heaven and a new earth in which
righteousness will be at home. It’s never said that the earth will cease to be, but that
it will be renewed, transformed. The present order of things will dramatically change.
John sees a new heaven and a new earth. Have we realized that this earth, our home,
will play a tremendously significant role in our future with God? In fact, the Holy City,
the New Jerusalem, is seen by the apostle John as coming down from heaven, not earth and
its inhabitants somehow going up. We usually think of going to heaven and leaving earth
behind, but this isn’t really the biblical view.
We sometimes say “This world is not my home; I’m just a passin’ through.” By that we
mean that our real home is with God, in his presence. But what if that life with God were
to be experienced here on Planet Earth? Then the earth would truly become our true home.
That’s what is envisioned here.
In verses 3 and 4, the deepest, grandest reality of our future life is described and
celebrated. What’s that? It’s not the streets of gold and gates of pearl, but God himself
dwelling with us, making his home with us. We will be forever his people and he will
always be near to us. That’s the heart of what heaven means.
And imagine this — he will wipe every tear from our eyes. What a beautiful
expression — like a mother’s tender touch to her child’s weeping. It will gently do
away with all sighing, sorrow, and sadness. Death, the last great enemy that has robbed us
so many times of our joys in taking loved ones from us, will be no more. Mourning and
crying because of loss and separation will be a thing of the past. And think of this
— no more pain!
My dear wife Helen has wrestled recently with this monster of pain. A sciatic nerve,
somehow pinched or inflamed, has caused her intense anguish. And as I stand by and see her
suffer, and I hear her cries of pain, I feel hurt too. That’s called “secondary
suffering.” We hurt when those we love are in pain. But the day is coming when pain will
never torment us again. For the Lord assures us about that from the throne: the former
things have passed away.
The New Jerusalem
Now let’s hear in more detail about the New Jerusalem, the holy city. A city, we
remember, is simply a large group of people who live together in community. We are
becoming more and more a world filled with huge cities. People flock to them, seeking
employment, housing, protection, cultural values, and community.
The people addressed in Revelation are people who live in seven cities in the Roman
province of Asia. And in the full witness of Revelation, the holy city is contrasted with
what John calls Babylon, a code word for the city of imperial Rome. The holy city, New
Jerusalem, is God’s wonderful alternative to the city of Rome.
The holy city is the chaste bride, the wife of the Lamb. Babylon is the harlot with
whom the kings of the earth commit fornication. The holy city has the splendor of the
glory of God. Babylon’s only splendor comes from exploiting its empire. Uncleanness,
abomination, and falsehood are excluded from the holy city. Babylon is full of those
things. God’s city is a city of life and healing and peace. Babylon is filled with the
blood of slaughter.
People who come to Rome and the world’s cities are expecting security, and they
encounter violence and crime. They seek a livelihood, and meet unemployment. They crave
riches, and live in grinding poverty. They want relationships, but are tragically
The holy city, on the other hand, is the city of our dreams, where hopes and longings
are finally satisfied. Remember the heroes of the faith described in Hebrews chapter 11?
Why do they hold on? They are seeking a homeland, a city. Abraham looked forward to “a
city that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” All the faithful desire a
heavenly country, a heavenly community. And God is not ashamed to be called their God.
Indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
Now we learn something about the life to come that many of us have perhaps never
realized. Listen to these words: “The kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.
People will bring into it the glory and honor of the nations” (v. 24). Think of that! In
the holy city, the new Jerusalem, our eternal home, will be preserved something of “the
glory and honor of the nations.” Nothing unclean or vile of earth will ever enter it, but
the greatest of human culture will be there — the most gorgeous works of art, the
most thrilling music of the ages. We aren’t through with the Hallelujah Chorus!
The new earth, friends, will not only be a world of natural wonders — more
spectacular than Niagara and the Himalaya mountains, sights of dazzling beauty, but the
best treasures of every human language and culture too. Do you see how this changes and
enriches our perspective on the life to come? Generally, we think of heaven as the absence
of earth’s negatives — no more curse, no more death, no more pain — and that all
is wonderful. But the future heaven will be also the presence of earth’s positives —
the beauties, the achievements, the exploits, the thrills of earth — all magnified
tremendously through the power and glory of resurrection bodies on a resurrected earth.
All of earth’s best will be free at last from the sin and shame and all that would hinder
both joy and achievement. It will be there for us.
So, friends, we don’t need a spirituality that denies human culture, sports, science,
education, and everything else human. Heaven will be for us retaining all that is good,
and also finding that the best is yet to be. The things we love best on earth are not
simply the best this life has to offer. They are also God-given previews of the grander
life to come.
I love this earth, don’t you? — every part of it I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a good
bit. I love the best in human culture, everything beautiful, true, and good. I love
Holland, Michigan, where I live. Everything about its community, culture, and surroundings
are touched by God. But all of this is only a glimpse of what is ahead, for as the apostle
Paul reminds us:
Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man the things
that God has prepared for those that love him. (1 Cor. 2:9)
But know this — we won’t somehow go to heaven and leave earth behind. Rather, God
will somehow bring heaven and earth together in the same dimensions with no wall of
separation. Here’s a text for it: Ephesians 1:10. God has a plan for the fullness of time,
to gather up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth. Hallelujah!
And then these last words about Eden restored. In these verses in chapter 22 (1-5) we
have a fitting capstone for the entire Bible. The book of Genesis begins in the garden
called Eden. In Genesis 2:10 we read of “a river that flows out of Eden to water the
garden, and of a tree of life in the midst of it.” This was the blessed environment in
which our human story began. Then came the command of God to his human creatures, followed
by the serpent’s tempting, and the disobedience of our first parents. They were banished
from the garden, and the long story of our sin and wandering away from God followed.
But now in the light of Christ and the gospel, and the triumph of God’s kingdom, the
wonder of Eden is somehow restored. From the throne of God and of the Lamb is flowing a
river of the water of life, of “living water.” It makes us think of Ezekiel’s vision in
chapter 47, where water flows from beneath God’s temple toward the barrenness of the Dead
Sea, and everything comes to life where the river flows. Now the river is from the throne
of God, and along its banks is the tree of life, which we could never taste before,
bearing all manner of life-giving fruit and healing leaves.
All the remnants of sin’s curse are gone. The throne of God and of the Lamb is there,
and his servants will worship him. Then comes one of the most marvelous words in all the
Scripture, “They will see his face.” You know how the Bible speaks again and again that in
this life, no one can see God’s face and live. Even Moses, who was perhaps closer to God
than anyone before Jesus, was told that he could not see God’s face and survive. He had to
be content with a lesser, more indirect view.
In Jesus, a new day began. John writes, “No one has seen God at any time. But the only
begotten Son, near to the Father’s heart, he has made him known” (John 1:18). Paul writes
that we begin to see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God “in the face of Jesus
Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). And perhaps in heaven, in the presence of the triune God, Jesus’
face is the only one we will see.
But this is what every believing heart longs for: to see the Lord face to face. The
pure in heart, Jesus promised, will see God. I remember a dear lady who was very godly who
would sometimes pray, “O God, if I could only see your face, I would know how you feel
Well, we will see his face, and we’ll serve him. That’s what we were made for, and then
we will do it well. But the last word in this text is that we will also reign forever.
Over what?, in God’s vast universe, we don’t know. How we will reign, we are not told. But
finally, in God’s presence we will both serve and rule. We will be humbled and exalted.
And all that was in God’s mind and heart in the Garden of Eden, which we lost and ruined.
All of that will be forever ours, through God’s astounding mercy in the gift of his Son.