A Whole New World
The year was 1516, when Sir Thomas More (who later became patron saint of politicians) first wrote a novel about a perfect society on an imaginary island off the coast of South America. Its people lived in 54 identical towns. They gardened, devoted their spare time to learning, and dressed only in black. There was no crime, no poverty, no political corruption, only peace and plenty, and presumably, the sky was not cloudy all day. But Thomas More was realistic in his writing, because he named this perfect place Utopia—a Greek term meaning no place.
Thomas More was not the last person to envision a perfect world. Politicians and philosophers, presidents and dictators have been promising to produce utopia for centuries. Yet nobody has ever succeeded in transforming this mixed up, messed up world into Paradise.
But that doesn’t mean it will never happen.
The Bible tells us God is working out His plan in history to redeem His creation, to make this world into a whole new world—the utopia He originally intended for it to be.
Mt 19:28 So Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
2 Pe 3:13 Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
These promises assure us God’s ultimate plan of redemption involves the recreation of the world. But what will this whole new world look like? How will life change for the people who live in it? How can the hope of this new world affect how we live in this present world?
This is what John’s vision in Rev. 21-22:5 is all about. In beautifully symbolic language, John gives us a glimpse into the new world, and shows us how this hope can encourage us today.
John begins with a wide-angle view of this whole new world in vs. 1-9, and then zooms in for a closer look at the New Jerusalem in vs. 10-27.
In this passage the Greek word new John uses means new in quality not new in time. The old heaven and old earth have passed away—probably a reference to Rev. 20:11. John doesn’t really answer a question many Bible scholars struggle with—does God destroy the old heaven and earth, or does He transform the old into the new? Either way, the image here is of a new world that is better than this world.
One of the improvements John mentions is there is no more sea… Why is this significant? John’s not saying the new world is waterless, because later on he describes a river in the New Jerusalem.
To the Jews, the sea was a symbol of storms, danger, and isolation (remember John is exiled on the isle of Patmos.) Rev. 13:1 tells us that the beast rose up out of the sea. John’s words here seem to symbolize the removal not of all oceans, but of all evil.
John also sees the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven…prepared as a bride adorned for her husband... John’s picture here is meant to evoke some emotional response. Though marriage customs differ from culture to culture, most brides dressed for their wedding would tell you they are full of excitement, love, and joy. She is looking eagerly looking forward to a new life with her husband, the man who will cherish her, provide for her and protect her.
This is the relationship in this new world between God and His people. John says in vs. 4 to God makes His permanent dwelling (lit, makes His tabernacle) among His people, binding Himself to them, and tenderly wiping away every tear, making all the pain, tears, sorrow and death go away for good. This whole new world is a world where God and His people finally enjoy perfect communion with one another.
Who is responsible for this wonderful new world? Vs. 5-6 makes it clear that God, not humanity, is empowers the renewal of all things. This renewal takes place through Christ, described in vs. 6 echoing Rev. 1:8 &
Jn 4:10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”
The living water here and in vs. 6 is the gift of salvation through faith in Christ. John writes this new perfect world is not the result of mankind’s efforts or plans, but of God’s power and plan of ultimate redemption. At the same time, though God takes the initiative, vs. 7 makes it clear we must respond if we want to be part of this whole new world.
The overcomers are those whose trust is not in themselves or their own works, but in Christ, Who saved them from being condemned with the rest of the world.
1 Jn 5:4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith.
These people are the true children of God who inherit this whole new world.
On the other hand, vs. 8 describes those who make another choice—the choice of unbelief, which shows up in their deeds: The cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, liars. Each of these groups of people display by their behavior that they don’t love Christ, that they don’t trust Him. Instead of inheriting heaven, they inherit the lake of fire. They go where they belong.
Now let’s think for a moment what this means for us living in the modern world.
First, it means there’s a whole new world coming in the future—a world not produced by politicians, or technology, or even religion, but a world recreated by God. This is the world the Bible says God’s people have always looked forward to.
Heb 11:14 …they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
But John’s vision makes an important point about why they desire this new world—not just because there’ll be no crying, or pain, or death, but more importantly because the new world is where they can be with the One they love---Jesus Christ.
They long for Him the way a Bride longs for her groom, for the day she says I do and spends the rest of her life with her beloved. They long for Him the way a child longs to be with his/her Father, never to be separated from Him. They long for Him the way a thirsty person longs for water. The consummation of that loving, joyful, intimate relationship with God is what this whole new world is all about. Through Christ, God recreates this world where we can know Him face-to-face, where we can experience His presence directly, where we can love more than we’ve ever loved Him before. It’s a place you enter not by effort, but by trust. It’s open not to those who do evil, but those who by God’s grace live to please the Lord.
Let me ask you to search your heart—do you long for this whole new world? Do you really look forward to the day when you leave this world behind and embrace the Lord you love? Do you really trust Him---not only with your words, but with a life of obedience a life that reflects His righteousness? This is what the whole new world is all about—a new heaven, a new earth, and a new life forever with the One you love.
Dr. Joe Stowell tells a story about visiting the Shepherds Home and School for children with Down’s syndrome. He shares how the founder of the school told him, “Joe, we always share the Gospel with these kids. We tell them that Jesus Christ died on the cross for them, and that Christ will forgive their sins, and not only that, but the day is coming when Christ will come back and take them to heaven.” He went on to explain the school’s biggest maintenance problem: dirty windows. The windows of the school stayed dirty, he said, “Because our kids spend time every day at the windows, hands pressed, faces and noses pressed to the window, looking up to see if this might not be the day that Jesus, the One who loves them, comes to get them and take them to heaven.”
Are we that eager for His return?
This is John’s overview of the new world. Next he zooms in on the Holy City in vs. 9-27.
These verses about the Bride of the Lamb are meant to contrast with Rev. 17:1-3, where another angel invites John into the wilderness to behold the Great Harlot. In this passage, John is carried in the Spirit to a high mountain to behold the Lamb’s Bride, the New Jerusalem.
Since the Lamb is identified with Christ in Revelation, and since the Bible so often refers to the Church as the Bride of Christ, it only makes sense to make this connection here. The symbolism is connected to the worship that will take place in the new world.
John describes this city in terms the ancient world is familiar with, including the gates, the walls, the foundation, the streets, the temple, and waterways. Each of these descriptions have been understood as either literal, symbolic, or both. But there are some aspects that are obvious no matter how you interpret them.
First, there is a sense of glory and beauty in this vision. John writes that the city is lit up by the glory of God, shining and reflecting through gold and precious stones. Though the jewels mentioned here cannot be identified for sure, His words are meant to give us a sense of radiance and color, the idea that this is no ugly city of stone or metal, but of almost indescribable majesty and splendor.
Second, there is an idea of security, shown by the 12 gates, 3 on each side of the city, each one made out of a solid pearl. Nobody can invade this city or overthrow it, because at each of its great gates stands an angel as sentinel. On each of the gates is inscribed the name of the 12 tribes of Israel, recognizing the importance of the Old Covenant in building this place of worship. The measuring of the city is meant to portray its invincibility.
Third, there is the idea of permanence, indicated by the 12 foundation stones, each with the name of one of the 12 apostles (the 12th is not Judas, but probably Paul.) The imagery here reminds us of
Eph 2:19-22 19Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
The size and shape of the city are significant symbols in John’s vision. The city is huge, measuring about 1500 miles square-plenty of room for everybody. The shape of the city is a perfect cube, which is the shape of the Holy of Holies in the OT Temple—which makes the fact that there is no Temple but God Himself understandable. In fact, everything about this city points to the worship of God, including vs. 24, 26, (where John says the kings and nations bring their glory= they bow before God and offer Him praise) and vs. 27, which describes the city as a place of purity, where only the worshippers of God and the Lamb are admitted.
Finally, Rev. 22:1-5 depict the glory of God’s provision for His church: the water of life and the tree of life, which represent eternal life, both physical and spiritual, flowing from His throne for His people from all nations=people groups.
The people who were once fragmented by division will now be healed=united in Christ. The removal of the curse of Gen. 3 represents the freedom from the limitations of the old world, and the healing of the nations implies
Finally, John sees God’s people worshipping Him without hindrance: they will serve Him, doing His work in the new world, carrying out their assignments; they will see His face, not by faith, but by sight as Adam once did; His Name shall be on their foreheads, indicating that we belong to Him; we will reign with Him, forever and ever.
Just as the earthly Jerusalem was the city of worship for the OT saints, so the New Jerusalem will be populated by those who joyfully worship the Lord God, not just in church, but everywhere they go, in everything they do.
In one sense, we will have to wait until we get to heaven to worship God so freely. But on another sense, this perfect worship explains much about how God wants us to worship Him right now. Let me offer some suggested applications.
1) Worship involves beauty. In my daily Bible reading I’ve been reading passages in
Exodus and Leviticus, especially where the Lord instructs them about the construction of the tabernacle, and all the clothes and other implements the priests use in worship. If you ever get a chance to see a picture of what all of this looked like, you will notice the beauty of many colors and beauty that went into the place where they came to worship God. In many ways John’s vision of the New Jerusalem mirrors the same beauty.
On the other hand, the modern church often misses the importance of beauty and excellence in our worship of the Lord. This not only applies to physical things, but also the attitudes that adorn our heart.
I really don’t notice what people wear to church, and have no interest in telling anybody else what is acceptable/unacceptable clothing to wear when we gather together to worship. But I do believe we ought to wear the best we have out of respect for our Savior. I have noticed that people often dress up for funerals out of respect for the dead; should we do any less for our living Lord? I believe this same principle applies to our building—we should keep it as clean and beautiful as possible, not to impress God or anybody else, but out of respect for the Lord.
I believe everything from the preaching to the singing, from the Sunday school class to the deacon’s meeting—we ought to do our best, to strive for excellence to honor God.
But far more important than what we wear, or what the building looks like, we ought to keep a beautiful attitude when we worship God. A smile that radiates from a heart of joy, a love for God that is deep and sincere, prayer and praise that lift up the Name of Jesus—these are what make our worship most beautiful.
2) Worship must have a foundation. Jesus told us that worship must not only be in the right
spirit, but must also be in truth. The Bible doesn’t tell us to worship God in any old way, but according to what He has revealed to us in His Word---in the words of
Eph. 2:20 …on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone…
The focus of our worship must be Jesus Christ, but the form of our worship must conform to the truth of God’s Word. In other words, our worship must be Biblical. This foundation is so important because if a church doesn’t get worship right it has no reason to exist. As the gates of New Jerusalem are built on the foundation of Christ, revealed through the prophets and apostles, so our worship must have a secure, permanent foundation on the Bible.
3) Worship is not just what we do in church, but what we do in life. Worship happens when
gather together in Jesus’ Name, but it also happens when we leave this building and go out into the world. That doesn’t mean coming to church is the same as going to work on Sunday; it’s not an either/or proposition, but a both/and proposition.
It is vitally important to every Christian to come to church and worship the Lord. The Bible commands us to do this. But the Bible also makes it clear that glorifying God can be done in whatever you do.
Col 3:17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
Worship is not only one of the purposes of the church—it is one of the purposes of your life. We will worship God long after we have left this life, not just by sitting on clouds and playing harps, but by serving Him. Now is the time we should tune our hearts to always worship our Lord by doing all things for His glory, so that when we enter that whole new world, we will simply go on lifting Him up in eternity.
Worship helps us find who we are and why God has placed us here on the earth. When we bow in God’s presence with worship, only then are we made complete. - Judson Cornwall.
Tonight I don’t want you to think John’s vision is meant to make us forget about this world, and only focus on the next (though most Christians do need to move in this direction!) What I pray this passage causes you to do is to see how you and I can hold on to the hope of a whole new world while we live out our love for Jesus in this world. My prayer is that you and I will get so excited about the new world that we start living right now as if we are already there. And you know what? One day we will get there, and we’ll be glad we got in some practice beforehand.