Sunday, July 5, 2015

Revelation 21:1- 4 - ALL THINGS NEW !

In the closing  chapters of  this   Revelation given to  the apostle John by the Lord Jesus,  he  receives insight  into what happens at the end of time  as we know it, when  God’s judgment  finally comes upon the whole earth. 

It will be the  end of all   gospel preaching. It will  be the end of the great invitation for all sinners  to  be reconciled with God through Christ. It will be  the end of  God’s  great  mercy expressed to an unwilling  and rebellious people.   It will be the day of accounting! And it will be the beginning   of a new era for God’s  people, and this era begins with a great  feast   which is called  the marriage supper of the Lamb![1]

I remind you  again of the  scheme  and flow  of the  Revelation to John. Central  to the  Revelation  are  the visions of  three cycles of judgment :
  •  seven seals (6:1-8:5) 
  •  seven trumpets (8:6-11:19) 
  •  seven bowls (16:1-21). 
Each  cycle  represents the   time  between Christ’s  ascension and  His descension, and  the cycles occur with  ever increasing  intensity.  Following this  comes  a revelation  of the end – in fact it begins  in  Rev. 16:17  where  the  judgment  of God  begins with the great prostitute, Babylon,   the bride of the dragon (16:17-18:-24). Babylon is the symbolic city of man,   the  city which  is contrasted with Jerusalem. Babylon  is  the enemy of   Christ and His church throughout the ages. 

This vision is then contrasted with  a vision of   heaven  and the gathered saints (19:1-11). These are also known  as  the bride of Jesus Christ,   which is the church!  Here  we see her reacting to the news of God’s judgment of the  great prostitute and this  leads to the  marriage supper of the Lamb.

Revelation 19:11-21  then describes  the judgment of the  beast (the anti-christ) and the false prophet,  who are caught alive and thrown into the lake of fire at the  time of Christ’s return. 

Then  follows Revelation 20  - a difficult  chapter to interpret.[2]  It  does not follow    the events of Ch. 19.   Ch. 20 depicts another vision, which like the others describes the entire period of time between the first coming and second  coming of Jesus. This chapter  stands  on its own  , and as such it  describes  a particular part of these last days between Jesus  ascension and His second coming . The most remarkable  fact concerning this period is that  the gospel  which Christ announced , and the kingdom which He introduced[3]  are now  a reality in our day !  The gospel  has bound  Satan in  this  sense  that  nothing that he does  can stop the church growing and  throughout the whole world for a specified period ( 1000 years) .  Note however , that  it says that at the end of this gospel period Satan  will be  released for a little while ( Rev. 20:3;7-8) . We  might well be  approaching this  time! In this time  Satan is permitted  to    deceive  the nations. His  goal   would be  to destroy the  true church . However , we read  that in this process Satan   will  find Himself defeated  by  God  ( Rev.  20:9).  History ends with God’s victory  and the final deliverance of the saints. The  devil, the beast and the false prophet ( the unholy trinity)   are now thrown  into the  eternal lake of fire (Rev. 20:10). Following this  is the Great White Throne Judgement (Rev. 20:11-14)  when  Jesus, now not Saviour, but Judge  opens the book of life.  We are told  that those  whose names are not found written in the book of life  are  thrown into the same lake of fire as the unholy trinity.  This then  is the end  of  all evil and the beginning of an exciting new future  for  the people of God , beginning with the recreation  of the  heavens and  our  earth.  We now consider  the  first four verses of  Revelation 21  as we observe :

1.      The Recreation of the  Universe and the Earth   (Verse 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.”   

Firstly , John  saw  the old creation  giving way to a new creation of the same.  The  first heavens and earth (Genesis  1:1) created by  our Tri-une God  have  now been recreated. In that sense the passing away of the old creation and the creation of the new  can  be compared to the resurrection of  our  bodies.
What are we to make of the statement   "and the sea was no more "?  The text here refers literally to the sea, even as it refers here to the literal  heaven and the earth. Does this mean that in the new creation  there will be no sea  as we know it ?  We don’t think so . The reference here  is  to the  first sea, even as we speak about the first heaven and the first earth.   The  old sea will be no  more , even as the text speaks of the first heaven and the first earth. That old sea (70 %)  which occupied such  a vast influence in our lives  on this earth is no more. And since God  created everything ( including the sea) as very good , there is no reason  for us to believe that the new creation  will include the sea .  The great difference  will be  that the first heaven and the first earth shall be replaced by a creation which is radically new. There shall be nothing  sinful  and the new creation  shall be  a perfect  place for  the perfected people of God who live  in perfect unity [4].
Note  that the OT prophets  have  spoken of such an age :
  • Isaiah 65:17 : "For behold ,  I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered, or come into mind."
  • Isaiah 66:22 : "For as the new heavens and the new earth that  I make  shall remain before me, says  the Lord, so shall your  offspring and your name remain."
  •  2 Peter 3:13  anticipates this : " But according to his promise,  we are  waiting for  new heavens and a new earth, in which  righteousness dwells ."
2.      The New Jerusalem  (Verse 2)
"And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  

Some say  that  we must think here of a literal  city ,  but  the context makes that impossible.  Remember that this is a vision of heavenly things ,   and  so  we find in this passage  that this New Jerusalem is the bride of the Lamb. The same  thought is  also expressed in  21: 9 – 10.   The  New Jerusalem and the bride of the Lamb are  the same, and  we  cannot talk here about  a literal city. In this  case  this  is  a metaphorical  city.   As we survey the Bible  we see  this development  :

(i)           Jerusalem as  the  capital of the old land of Canaan and then of Israel.
(ii)          Jerusalem  as the dwelling place of true believers  (NT  church )  
(iii)       Jerusalem  as  the perfected church, the bride of the Lamb in glory. This is  how the text  uses it here   -  the city of God now perfected and glorified. This is plain from more than one passage of Scripture.  

  •           Galatians 4:26 "But  the Jerusalem above is free,  and she is  our  mother ." 
  •           Hebrews 11:10 "For(Abraham) was  looking for to the  city  that has  foundations, whose  designer and  is God."  And in v. 16: "But as it is , they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one . Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God,  for he has prepared for them a city.

 Note also  that this city is called the New Jerusalem,  and not merely Jerusalem. In the OT period  it  was here  that  God chose to dwell  among His people. In that sense   God ruled over His people, and  He  protected them from Jerusalem  them against their  enemies.  But we must remember that this  Jerusalem was an  imperfect place , and as such it could only foreshadow  and  therefore be typical of the New  Jerusalem  which  was to come.   In fact, that old Jerusalem  and her temple  came to an end  when  Jesus died on the cross and when the temple curtain was torn in two  and when later she was destroyed in AD 70 .

The New Jerusalem is the fulfilment of prophecy. She is  the hope of the OT  saints. She is  realized, first of all, in the church of the new  covenant  which came into being at Pentecost.   She differs from the OT city   in that  she is not a city of brick and stone. The believers themselves are the dwelling place of God (1 Peter 2:5) . The New Jerusalem also differs in  this respect  that God does not merely dwell among His people, but within them by  the Holy Spirit. [5]  But  even in this form  the NT church is  still imperfect , for  sin is still a reality  for us . We groan because of this and we long to be freed from this as we wait for  the redemption of our bodies.[6]  The New Jerusalem will only be perfect  in  this state in which we now find her in our text.     Here she is truly  beautiful,  without spot or wrinkle – without sin -   and ready to meet her perfect  husband , the Lord Jesus Christ .  She comes down from God out of heaven. God is  the  One who presents her to His Son.

The Tabernacle Of God  (verse 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.”

The New Jerusalem is the city where God dwells.  She  is the tabernacle  (the dwelling place)  of God.  In the tabernacle  of the OT  God  met with His people  and they with Him . This was their place of fellowship.  God dwelt in the temple, or tabernacle,  but His presence did not fill the city.  Even in our own day as new covenant believers ,we   dwell  with and in Him by faith , but  there is still sin and imperfection . Therefore the  fellowship  which we have with God  is imperfect. However,  there shall  come a time  in the   future, when  God's presence   with His people shall  be  perfect and complete.  Again , this  is what the prophets  had foretold : 
  •         Ezekiel 37:27 :   "My  dwelling place (tabernacle) shall be with them, and  I will be their God, and they shall be my people."
  •         Isaiah 25:6-8  : "On this mountain  the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of  well aged wine,  a rich food full of  marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow  up on this mountain the  covering that is  cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever ; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces; and the reproach of his people  he  will take away from all the earth for the Lord has spoken." [7]

 So then , in this  vision  in Rev. 21, the goal of all prophecy is accomplished!

This is what you can expect in Heaven  (verse 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.”

It is hard  to  understand and imagine this  new state. John can only describe  things by way of comparison with the present things. In  a nutshell – things in heaven  are not as they are in the here and now.

One of the most significant facts  is  that there shall be no more death and therefore there shall be no sorrow or pain , which means that there shall be everlasting joy and gladness and everlasting well- being.  God shall wipe away every  tear from  our  eyes! What a lot of tears have been shed in this world!
The reason given is that the former things have  passed away. The "former things" are the present state  of things since sin entered into the world.

So , “the present  form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor.  7:31). This  is the  essence  of our Christian  hope , and  therefore  we remember  that  "the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to  be revealed to us." (Rom 8:18)  Amen!

[1] Rev.  19:6-9
[3] E.g. Matthew  1:17
[4]  Eph 1:9-11 ; Col 1:12ff
[5] John  14:17
[6] Rom 8:22,23
[7] See also Isaiah 60  e.g. vv 14 , 18-20 

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