Summary: Heaven involves the new and the old and things that are missing. The prophecy ends with a gospel call to all who will hear: come and receive living water from the river of life; and with the promise that Christ himself is coming soon. To which we all res
Well, we’ve spent the last three months working our way through Revelation, so I guess we all have a pretty good idea what it’s about, don’t we? But now that we’re finally at the end, at the account of the last day, at the revelation of the new heavens and earth I wonder whether this what you would have expected? Is this your picture of heaven?
I have to admit that I have no idea what heaven will really be like. I actually think it’s so far beyond our human experience that we have no way of comprehending it until we actually get there. But God, as always, is gracious and so he gives us pictures of heaven that give us an idea, even if it’s only another set of moving images, of what it will be like.
What we’re shown here is heaven, but we discover heaven is in fact the world remade, now a world where only God and his people dwell. I guess you’ve noticed that Revelation is a tale of 2 cities. There’s Babylon, the city of those who serve Satan and there’s Jerusalem, the city of God. We saw Babylon destroyed last week along with its people and the armies of Satan and now all that’s left are the people of God.
And as John watches he sees the birth of a whole new universe; a new heaven and a new earth. What we find as we read through these 2 chapters is what’s new, what’s old, what’s missing and what’s central in this new world.
1 What is new (21:1-8)
What’s new is the new heaven and the new earth. This is a whole new universe. The old has passed away and the sea is no more. This isn’t a scientific description. You’re not meant to think about the geographical details that are described. Don’t be disappointed because you can’t go surfing any more. No, the sea was the symbol of chaos, of all that’s opposed to God, perhaps even of all that separates us from God. What’s left in this new creation is everything that’s in harmony with God.
And, as in the rest of Revelation, as he looks, he sees a mix of images. Coming down out of heaven is the holy city, the new Jerusalem. But hang on. It’s not a city, it’s a bride, adorned for her husband. Here are the 2 great pictures of God’s people from the Old and New Testaments, combined into one. Jerusalem in the OT is the home of God, the place where God dwells with his people. The people of Israel were commonly referred to as the bride of God. The prophets speak of the way God wooed his people, they speak of him winning her back to himself again. In Isaiah 62 the 2 images come together as God speaks of taking Jerusalem and making it his wife to vindicate her in the sight of her enemies. In the NT the Church is pictured as the bride of Christ. And here John sees the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Then a voice calls out: “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.” Again, the Scriptures are finally brought to fulfilment. When Israel was brought into the promised land it was meant to be a place where God would dwell with them forever. He’d be their God and they’d be his people. Well it never worked out that way did it? But now at last it’s come about. And it’s come about because there’s a new creation put in place. The old has passed away. Now everything is new. And so he says “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” God’s entire plan for history has now come to it’s end, it destination.
Here there’s no more sadness, no more death, no mourning or crying or pain. Those things belong to the old creation. Now everything is renewed. In their place he says he’ll give his people water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. He will be their God and they will be his children. This is the Garden rebuilt. Except that now it’s no longer a garden. Now it’s a city. Now it’s a community of those who worship God.
But notice who’s not found in this new city: “8But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” I take it the cowardly aren’t just the wimps. These are those who failed to withstand persecution; who denied Christ rather than face suffering for his name. They take their place with the others who refuse to do what God requires. Notice too, that along with all those you’d expect to be excluded from heaven: the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers and the idolaters, are liars. In fact this category ends the list 3 times in these last few chapters. That’s a scary thought isn’t it? Who is there in this world who’s never told a lie? Who doesn’t habitually tell lies even? Well there’s a solemn warning there isn’t there? Satan is the father of lies, so his children can’t be there.