Revelation 21 The New Heavens and Earth, Part 1

Revelation 21:1-4

Image above from Pinterest.

Some commentators have mistakenly concluded that Rev. 21:1ff is a description of an earthly millennial kingdom. Note the following non-millennial presuppositions about Rev. 21.

  1. The Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Revelation passages deal with the full expression of the kingdom of God—the new heavens and new earth. This is not a description of a mere earthly millennium.
  2. The former heavens and earth are said to have passed away by the time 21:1 occurs.
  3. Pain, sorrow, tears, etc. are no longer existence when 21:4 occurs.
  4. All sinners are in Gehinna when Rev. 21 occurs—21:8.
  5. That the gates of the city are not shut (21:25) is merely symbolic of the permanent security of God’s people. There is no need to bar admittance to anyone.The same symbolism is found in the angelic sentinels, as well.
  6. Most of the events in Rev. 21-22 are assigned by all to the eternal state. To pick out certain events and make them “earthly millennial” is to mar the focus on the very end from 17-22.

Chapter 21 teaches—

Christ will consummate His kingdom in the end by renewing heaven and earth, and filling them with His resurrected, glorified  people.

I. Sin, Satan, and his emissaries must be removed before the Kingdom is established on earth. vs. 1

vs. 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. 

eternity

The Eternal State of Man pictured from Pinterest

“From the smoke and pain and heat [of the preceding scenes] it is a relief to pass into the clear, clean atmosphere of the eternal morning where the breath of heaven is sweet and the vast city of God sparkles like a diamond in the radiance of his presence.” (quoted in Johnson, A. F.; pg. 776; see below.) 

I like the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s summary of what life in the new heavens and earth will be like.

Q. 38. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the resurrection?

A. At the resurrection, believers will be raised up in glory, will be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment, and will be made perfectly blessed in the full enjoyment of God to all eternity. (see Snoke, D., below.)

Now that’s a future we can all look forward to!

The occurrence of the phrase “Then I saw” (kai eidon) is an indication that John is seeing a new set of visions. We should note there are two different words in Greek for “new.”

  1. Neos = “new with reference to time, freshly produced.” In English we would say, “It’s brand new!”
  2. Kainos = “new in the sense of not being used up, but new to the one who has it.” In this sense we would call a used car “new” because it is new to us.

model-honda-new-model-2021

If I buy the 2021 model in 2021, I buy a “brand new” car.

honda_accord_a1275984008b3713478_orig

If I buy a used 2008 model in 2021, it is new to me but old in time.

The word describing the “new heaven and new earth” is kainos. God will not create an entirely new universe for the eternal state. He will renovate the old universe by removing all that is sinful. II Peter 3:10-13 gives details of the earth’s future destruction—

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

God will use the old materials, purified from sin, to create the new universe for mankind’s eternal dwelling place.

Note Romans 8:19-22—

19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

God always intended for mankind to live on the earth. We saw this in Rev. 4-6. In the eternal state, God will purge the earth of all that is inconsistent with his holiness and our happiness and recreate it as an eternal dwelling place for us. The verb “passed away” (aperchomai in Greek) is used of someone “departing from his house.” The tense of the verb indicates a simple past event. At this point in the future, the old universe will have passed away and a new one will have taken its place.

C. S. Lewis made some interesting observations about the new heavens and earth in his final volume of the Chronicles of Narnia—The Last Battle. The clip below is short (2:09) and will help in our conception of the new heavens and earth.

John’s addition of the phrase “and there was no longer any sea” has been interpreted in various ways—

  1. Older commentators look upon this as John’s own personal longing for the sea that surrounded him in exile to be gone.
  2. Biblical theologians look upon this a reference to the biblical image of the sea as a place of uncertainty. Absence of the sea answers a universal need for stability and security.
  3. Critical scholars seek a syncretistic understanding. To them the sea is a symbol of the chaos monster spoken of in various Semitic religions.

It seems best to interpret this image in its context in Revelation. The sea is a symbol of the nations set in opposition to God. Compare the following Scripture references to the Sea in Revelation—

Revelation 13:1 And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads.

Revelation 17:1-2 1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.”

Revelation 17:15 And the angel said to me, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages.

Therefore, in light of the above evidence from the book of Revelation itself, it seems best to interpret the sea as a symbol of the nations set against God. Compare the following OT passage which supports this conclusion—

Isaiah 57:20-21 20 But the wicked are like the tossing sea; for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up mire and dirt.
21 There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”

The fact that the sea is removed in the new heavens and the new earth means that there will be no more source from which evil can arise.

II. All of created reality will be renewed and blessings will come down from God for His people. vs. 2

vs. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

John reports exactly what he saw. This city is the abode of the redeemed. It is the counterpart of and stands in contrast to Babylon the Great, the abode of the wicked set in opposition to the Lord.

The figure of the city is a metonomy. where an inanimate object stands for an animate one. We speak of the White House as if it were a real person. Instead, we all know that we are referring to the President who resides there. In the same way, the city is spoken of as if it were a real person. In reality, the persons are the inhabitants—the Bride of the Lamb.


Special Note

Some theologians/commentators conclude that the city never makes it all the way to earth. The text says that the city is seen coming down, but it never says that it makes it all the way. These commentators conclude that the redeemed will live in a “satellite city” hovering forever above the earth. This is a terribly misguided conclusion based upon a wrong view of the eternal separation of Israel and the church.

New_Jerusalem_moebius

Those who take this view believe that Israel will dwell on the earth forever, since in their estimation Israel is God’s so-called earthly people. The church will not dwell on the earth since they are God’s so-called heavenly people.

In the next verse it is clear that God’s habitation has come down to man. Thus, it is abundantly clear that John sees the city descend from heaven, where God has prepared it for man, to the earth, which is mankind’s destined abode for all eternity. (image from Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud’s comic art.)


III. God will dwell with His people in the new heavens and earth. vs. 3

vs. 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.

This verse contradicts the view that the New Jerusalem will remain in another place than earth. 

The word “dwelling” is skenē in Greek. It literally means “tent” or “tabernacle. “The word occurs in the OT to describe the Tabernacle. It was the earthly symbol of God’s presence with Israel. The verb “live” is skenoō. It is the verbal form of the noun skenē. In the descent of the New Jerusalem to earth, God has come to dwell with mankind forever.

Compare John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt [literally, “tabernacled”] among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only [“unique” = monogenēs] Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (ESV).

IV. God will banish all of the effects of sin as He implements His new heavens and earth. vs. 4

vs. 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.” 

As we have pointed out before, the tense of the verb is past (aorist) used as a simple past tense (constantive aorist). The old order has passed away at this point in John’s vision. George Eldon Ladd says, “In the new order, all the evils that have burdened and cursed human existence will flee from the presence of God.” (See Ladd, pg. 275, below.)

What we have in Revelation 21 is God’s “New World Order” based on God’s agenda. (And not the one politicians talk about through united effort of persons.) God’s new order will occur when the New Heavens and New Earth appear. It will not be ushered in by mankind on their own initiative and from present resources.

Next time we will look at God’s agenda for His new heavens and earth.

Notes
(Commentaries on which I rely, some without direct quotation) 

Beale, G. K. (2015). Revelation: a Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition.

ESV. (2001). Accessed 24 June 2020 from https://www.biblegateway.com

Hendriksen, William. More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. (p. 125).

Johnson, A. F. (1982). Revelation in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Johnson, D. E. (2001). Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Kenner, C. (2000). The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic.

Ladd, G. E. (1972). A Commentary on the Revelation of John Kindle Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Morris, Leon. (1987). Revelation in Tyndale New Testament Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Snoke, D. (2021). Westminster Shorter Catechism in modern English. Accessed 23 June 2021 from https://www.cityreformed.org/uploads/9/8/8/6/98869954/wsc.pdf

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© 2021 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

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