Summary: John, in the Revelation, sees a vision of the New Jerusalem, the Bride of Christ, the Church, as a climax of God’s redemptive purposes, an encouragement and challenge to believers still living in a dark and hostile world.
THE HOLY CITY, THE NEW JERUSALEM
When we look out on our world it’s easy to be pessimistic – with countries at outright war and others threatening each other, the environment at risk through global warming, disease and disaster. Evil seems to abound, with downright wickedness, injustice and discrimination, ruthless cruelty and wanton disregard for human life. Even in the sheltered parts of the world still free from terrorism, where we’re privileged to live, there’s an undercurrent of crime and vandalism, broken families and relationships. Surely this isn’t the world that God intended for human beings, made in His likeness, made for His glory and for our good.
No, it was and still is God’s great purpose to create and call out a people who will respond to His love and with whom He can be in perfect and everlasting fellowship. The Bible is ‘His-story’ and, in the words of an old hymn, it ‘begins with a tale of a garden and ends with a city of gold.’ That’s not a bad summary of the Bible’s view of creation and God’s new creation.
Genesis tells us that God created heaven and earth and the last book in the Bible, Revelation, describes the new heaven and a new earth. Genesis describes a paradise that was lost. Revelation pictures a paradise restored. Genesis describes the cunning and power of the devil, and pictures the awful scene of man fleeing away from God and hiding himself from the presence of the Almighty. God’s plan, though for a while seemingly defeated, is in the end seen to triumph completely. Revelation shows us the most wonderful and intimate communion between God and redeemed mankind. The great theme is that Christ is victorious.
The human race has made tremendous progress in developing the resources that the Creator God provided. But all too often the veneer of civilisation is torn away to reveal aggression and deceit, the abuse of the environment by global warming, with possible catastrophic effects for future generations. So how will it all end?
John the apostle saw on the screen of his mind, in great vividness of colour and clarity, a new heaven and a new earth. It’s the result of God’s redeeming grace, in the present and in the future. It’s already working in the hearts of His people. But the climax of the vision comes to John when he sees:
THE NEW HEAVEN AND THE NEW EARTH
John heard the words from the throne of God, "Behold, I make all things new" (21:5). Only God can do this. Human history is like a patchwork quilt, full of holes and ugly tears, bloodstained and broken. It’s surely the evidence of man’s repeated failure. But now, at last, the judgement of sin is completed. The first heaven and earth have passed away. How is to happen? John doesn’t give us the physics of this renewal. The only clue we get is the resurrection of Jesus, as the risen Christ is the beginning of the new creation.
It’s clear that the earth will have been subjected to God’s purifying fire. Every stain of sin, every trace of death has been removed, and a renewed universe has been born. Yet it’s the same heaven and earth, gloriously rejuvenated, with no weeds, thorns or thistles. Nature comes into its own. All of its potential, marred by mankind for so long, is now fully realised. The ‘old’ order has vanished. The universe in which Satan and his angels were carrying out their programme of iniquity has van¬ished. “God … will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order has passed away” (4). But back to the present!
Knowledge has increased by leaps and bounds in harnessing the resources of creation. But there’s one thing in which there’s been no progress and that’s in human nature. There’s no change for the better in the heart of man.
Only God can make new. Some have imagined that by means of more education, a cleaner environment, better laws and a fairer distribution of wealth, a new era will be ushered in. These things are worth pursuing, but it’s only God, who through His Spirit, makes all things new. He does it now by the new birth, though its outworking is still restricted, but He’s going to do it completely when Christ returns. The vision of God’s perfect realm continues in more detail, as John focuses upon the Holy City, it’s:
THE NEW JERUSALEM
Superficially the great cities of the world express the glory and power - but it’s a fallen world. J B Priestley wrote a powerful play, ’They Came to a City’ in which he portrayed the disillusionment of those who entered it. The city’s splendid buildings dedicated to commerce and the arts celebrate human genius and human glory. They look fine on the glossy pages of books that tourists take home for their coffee tables. But those outward images don’t tell the whole story. They are all part of the ’Babylon’ of this world. Behind the gleaming facade is decay and squalor, drug abuse and exploitation. What an illustration of people who have been misled by the devil into accepting his values rather than the claims of Christ!