A new heaven and a new earth

Revelation 21:1-4

So, the climax of all that God has planned, throughout eternity, has come to this awesome point. Just imagine what John saw! From his heavenly perspective, he sees the creation of a new heaven and a new earth, plus a new Jerusalem to provide a new place where God can live among His people in all the fullness of His glory! Various people through the Bible have been given glimpses of what is to come but, of all of them, John is now given perhaps the most clear and detailed of all.

We know that all God has done (and continues to do) is perfect, but Satan corrupted humanity in the garden of 'Eden' and that corruption spread eventually through the whole of the creation. As the final stage in His plan to save the human race, Father God will remove entirely the original heaven and earth and create them anew in righteousness. (2 Peter 3:10-12) In this chapter and the next, John is told of seven evils that will not exist in the new creation:

the sea - death - mourning - weeping - pain - night - any curse

God has always shown that His desire is to live amongst human beings, from Adam & Eve in the garden of 'Eden', to the choice of Abraham and his descendants as God's special people, through to Jesus, with His brothers and sisters drawn from every nation on earth to become His bride and His body, the church. If this is to be our future, it is good to remind ourselves to make the most of every opportunity to meet with fellow believers. (Hebrews 10:25) It is hard to find a more powerful witness in any community than a strong, local church, which demonstrates the love of Jesus, both in the way that believers care for each other and in how they show that love to everyone else as well. Through godly actions, we can show that His love knows no bounds and can reach out to a hurting world. As believers, we can use Christ’s power and authority to work together in spreading the good news of His kingdom, encouraging and supporting one another.

John sees that everything will be made new by God because our earth (which we are all going to so much trouble to preserve) is "reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgement and destruction of the ungodly". (2 Peter 3:7) Peter goes on to say that, "the Lord is not slow in keeping His promise as some understand slowness. Instead, He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9) His delay is giving our friends and relatives the opportunity to choose Jesus. In the meantime, we keep looking for the dawning of this new day when, according to the promises of God, righteousness and freedom from sin will be restored. (Isaiah 65:17-19)

A future and a hope

We cannot know whether or not these things will come to pass during our lifetime, but the apostle, Paul, talks about death as being another form of sleep. "Listen, I tell you a mystery: we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed - in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet." (1 Corinthians 15:51-52) Jesus promised to go and prepare a place for us in His Father’s house. (John 14:1-4) We don't know exactly what that will be like and 'home' is many things to different people, but we know that, when we awaken from 'death', we shall be in heaven, where we shall be very much at ease. We can be sure that Jesus will have prepared many good and familiar things for us. He knows everything about us: the colours we love, the scenery, the flora and fauna we enjoy and all the things that make us happy. All these personal and intimate details, which He has prepared so lovingly for us, will greet us as we enter the Father’s house! Can we begin to imagine how we will feel, when we realise that we have been eagerly expected? What heavenly joy!

God is coming to live with His people, just like He did in the garden of Eden and when Jesus Christ came to earth, as God incarnate. (John 1:14) What an awesome picture we have here of everything begin created anew, pure and perfect. How typical of our fantastic, heavenly Father, who longs for perfection for His redeemed children! Of course, we have done nothing to deserve this bright new world; it is all due to Jesus and what He has done for us. All we have to do is to choose Him and to accept, in faith, His free gift of salvation. We are His people and He is our God. He will wipe our eyes Himself and show us the bottle where He has collected every tear. There will be no more crying; no more death, mourning or pain, because everything belonging to the old order will pass away. (Isaiah 65:19-20)

This is such good news, whatever our situation now may be and whatever we are going through. Let's remember how God walked with Adam in the garden of 'Eden', in the cool of the day, before Adam and Eve chose to disobey His instruction. When we are forgiven and restored, this is how it will be for us and we shall love every moment! Hard as it is to imagine now, by faith we shall be holy, as He is holy, and this will be for the whole of eternity! What a magnificent day of rejoicing this will be!

God speaks directly to John

Revelation 21:5-8

John has heard many angels speaking on God's behalf and the tumultuous songs of praise and worship with which God's people have responded. Now he hears the one "who was seated on the throne" speaking in the first person: "I AM making everything new". Is John so overwhelmed to hear God's voice that he remains spellbound and thunderstruck? Can he barely believe what he is seeing and hearing? Perhaps so, because the one on the throne then addresses him directly, saying: "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true". - Come on, John! This is important! People need to know about this!

Just as God created all things at the beginning, so now He is creating a new heaven and new earth. He is the 'Alpha' and the 'Omega' - the 'First' and the 'Last'. Even as He says, "I am making all things new", He goes on to say in the next moment, "It is done!" Here we have the beginning and the end - in one breath! The same creative force that said, “Let there be light” will create a complete new universe. (Genesis 1:3) All the horrors of judgement that we considered in our earlier studies pale into insignificance in the majestic presence of God Himself. It is just the same as it was from the beginning, before time. We can hardly imagine what this new heaven and new earth will be like. Even in this present world, marred as it is by sin, there are places of awesome beauty, but the landscapes of His glorious new heaven and new earth will be far greater than anything we have seen before.

In a clear echo of the prophet Isaiah, God now promises always to satisfy our thirst for Him. (Isaiah 55:1-2) At times, we may all have experienced the barrenness of drought in our relationship with God. Life can be intensely frustrating and we so often react in anger or sorrow at our own shortcomings and feel that our prayers are bouncing back from the ceiling. During such trying moments, we need just to sit quietly at His feet, laying everything before Him and allowing Him to fill us up with Himself. Worship is a great way to rebuild our relationship with Jesus and to encourage us. We can remind ourselves that He is present and has not left us. Our thirst is satisfied by being filled afresh with His love, while flushing out our frustrations. Frequently, this has to be an act of faith, because we may not 'feel' anything, but it does not make it any less true. The promise for all those who 'overcome' in this way is that we shall inherit all that the new heaven and new earth have to offer. God Himself will be our God and we shall be His children. How magnificent!

God's final word to John reinforces the judgements on all those who have set themselves steadfastly against God's holiness and justice. The horror of their fate in the "fiery lake of burning sulphur" seems so much worse in the light of the love, peace and purity of the new creation. When we allow the awful finality of the second death to settle in our consciousness mind, it should redouble our concern for those we know who have, thus far, been unwilling to listen to the warnings of Scripture. Let us pick up this challenge to believe every word we read in the Bible and to take God at His word. Unbelief opened the door to sin in the garden of 'Eden', when Satan cast doubt on what God had said previously to Adam & Eve. (Genesis 3:1) Since then, the Enemy has consistently kept people away from God and His salvation. Let us resolve to do all in our power to demonstrate God's incredible love through our own lives and our willingness to use every opportunity to point people towards Jesus.

The new Jerusalem

Revelation 21:9-14

John is now given a more detailed view of the new Jerusalem. Whenever we leave home for a time, whether on holiday, business or to visit friends or family, there comes a point when the pull of the familiar becomes strong and we begin to yearn for home. As Christians, we often sense that, although we are in this world, we are not of it! We realise that the earth is wearing out and, for all its magnificent beauty, it is nothing like what God has prepared for us. Everything will be new! The former city of Jerusalem has played a central role in the history of God's people, Israel, from the time of King David right through to the present day and will continue to be central to world events on into the "tribulation" and the millennium. However, at this point, all of that will have passed away and God will have created a brand new and holy city, in which He will live among His people.

As if to emphasise this, John sees the new city suspended in the heavens, shining in all the brilliance of God's light and glory, then descending to the new earth as God's gift - pure, whole and complete - and the home of the saints for all eternity. John is so impressed by this vision of beauty that he uses a favourite image: that of a bride prepared for her husband. Previously, he described the church of redeemed people from throughout the ages as a bride, prepared for Jesus at his second coming, followed by His wedding after the "tribulation". This time he applies this picture to the new city of Jerusalem, which God has designed as a home for all His people.

The city itself shines with the glory of God, who is Himself light, like some massive great diamond. It appears to be square with three gates on each side. The gates bear the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, whilst the foundations of the walls bear the names of the twelve apostles. This shows a city that is rooted and grounded in truth, but also indicates a city built to be permanent - an enduring home. From the names on the gates, we can deduce that God's people, Israel, will continue to maintain their distinctive identity here, alongside the church - redeemed people from every nation, tribe and tongue of the Gentiles. The walls of the city will be high and the twelve gates protected by angels, making the new city an immensely secure place, but also underlining its accessibility on all sides.

Do you sometimes wonder why God goes to so much trouble to create so many diverse and beautiful creatures and environments? It is His character. He cannot give His children enough blessing. It is the abundant outpouring of love from a fantastic Father, who loves to surprise us and remind us of His intimate, personal love; who will go to any lengths to draw us us to Him. Can we begin to imagine the kind of home He has prepared for us? What furniture will He have placed there for you? What personal touches shall we find, reflecting His deep knowledge of us, in our new home?

A perfect gem

Revelation 21:15-27

John goes to a lot of trouble to describe how the angel measured the city, with a perfect ruler of gold. The new Jerusalem is a flawless cube, which is considered to be the symbol of perfection and this is the same shape as the "Most Holy Place" in the original temple. (1 Kings 6:20) The city measures fifteen hundred miles square and high. These dimensions are no longer considered impossible, as they might have been in the past! (Think of structures such as the international space station and the myriad communication satellites that hang in our skies.) We are meant to see that there will be room for everyone. We may have to limit the size of our churches, but there will be room for everyone in God's new city!

The angel guiding John on his tour of the city now measures the city, just as the prophet, Ezekiel, was given a vision of a restored temple and devoted three whole chapters (forty to forty-two) to listing its measurements. This level of detail draws attention to the perfect planning and execution of the design for the city. John notes that the walls are made of jasper - a hard, brilliant but opaque, reddish-brown stone – perhaps a similar colour to earthly bricks? The city itself was of pure gold; so pure, that it was comparable in appearance to transparent glass. The paths, streets and avenues throughout the city will all reflect the glory of the divine presence: God's 'Shekinah' as displayed on several occasions through Scripture. (Exodus 40:34-35; Leviticus 9:23; 2 Chronicles 7:1; Ezekiel 10:18-19; Revelation 1:16)

The foundation stones comprised a variety of precious gems, which were ablaze with His reflected light. These stones represent the glory of God in many different ways. The overall impression is one of wealth and magnificence beyond anything known on earth. Perhaps, the most striking image in the whole picture is that each city gate comprises one vast pearl. In the ancient world, pearls were the most highly valued of all stones. These gates of pearl have deep significance because, not only are they symbols of unimaginable beauty and un-assessable riches, but they are also a reminder of great suffering. Pearls are not found as rocks or precious metals in the earth, but formed within an oyster. When a piece of sand becomes an irritant under the shell of an oyster, the creature then covers the irritant with layers of nacre, which builds up to become a smooth pearl which represents the oyster’s answer to the pain! In other words, oysters are beautiful symbols of 'healed hurts'!

As the saints enter and leave the city, there will be a constant reminder that it was the pain of the cross that enables us to pass through this gate of glory. As we remember their size, we recognise the horrific amount of suffering that went into making those 'pearly gates'. Those pearls, hung eternally at the access routes to glory, will be an eternal reminder to us of the one who hung upon a tree and whose answer to those who injured Him, was to invite them to share His home! These gates will never be shut, showing that there is clear, ongoing communication between God and His people.

There will be no temple in this new city because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The whole city will be a 'Holy of holies' all the time because the presence of God will always be there and worship will take place anywhere and everywhere. For us now, it's so important to remember that the presence of the living God is what makes a church, not the building. The fact that there is no temple also shows us that God’s presence will not be fixed in one place. He will be omnipresent - everywhere at once. Indeed, God never has been confined to one place. He is with us constantly, regardless of where we may be or who we may be with.

There will be no night in the city; everything will be open and there will be no secrets. The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into the city, as an act of worship, to acknowledge that heaven rules. In return, the blessing of God will pour down. The times of the mystery of spiritual things will be over and heaven will be visible from earth. Human beings will live in the full blaze of glory that shines visibly from the sky. This will be the perfect home for all whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life and who are washed clean by faith in the blood of Jesus. What a home it will be – a home for all those who are in God’s covenant family through grace!

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