|By: Dr. Robert Thomas; ©2003|
|The eighth scene of the seventh bowl judgment presents a bit of a surprise. Dr. Thomas explains this picture of the new heaven and new earth.|
Events of the Seventh Bowl, #7: Sketch of the New Jerusalem
Our study this month brings us to the eighth scene of the seventh bowl judgment and a bit of a surprise. Instead of a negative picture with an occasional positive note as with the other bowls, here we encounter a picture of eternal bliss with only a brief negative note about those excluded from the holy city. Revelation 21:1-8 furnishes a description of a new heaven and a new earth, the featured part of which is the new Jerusalem descending from heaven from the presence of God. The picture presented contrasts sharply with the lake of fire visualized in the immediately preceding seventh scene. Finite human beings cannot fathom the glorious delight of the holy city any more than they can comprehend the indescribable awfulness of the lake of fire.
The description of new Jerusalem has two major parts: an introductory word and a loud voice from the throne (21:1-4) and words from the one sitting on the throne, both reassuring and disheartening (21:5-8).
Introductory Word and a Loud Voice from the Throne (21:1-4)
John informs readers of seeing a new heaven and a new earth, but in agreement with Revelation 20:11, adds an explanation to indicate that they replace the earth and the heaven that have fled away (21:1). The replacement of the old with the new comes in fulfillment of Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; and Psalm 102:25-26. Sin and death entered and made the old creation a place of rebellion and alienation from God, but the new will have none of that. Though some see the new as a renovation of the old order, evidence indicates that the old will cease to exist and the new will represent a completely new creative act of God. The sin-stained old Jerusalem will be replaced by a new city that befits the final bliss of a sinless environment. When John wrote Revelation, Jerusalem had been in ruins for about twenty-five years, but that will never happen to the new city where God will dwell with His people.
The absence of the sea from the new creation (21:1) probably relates to an archetypical significance of the sea in the Bible. The sea often represents a principle of disorder, violence, and unrest (e.g., Isa. 57:20; Ps. 107:25-28; Ezek. 28:8), conditions that have obviously characterized the present world. If this understanding is accurate, the sea is the first of seven evils that will be missing from the new order of creation, the other six being death, mourning, weeping, pain (Rev. 21:4), the curse (22:3), and night (21:25; 22:5).
John’s description of the holy city includes its origin—the presence of God in heaven— and its beauty—“prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (21:2). At that point he heard a loud voice from the throne in heaven uttering words that are more exhilarating than any ever heard by mankind: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they themselves will be His people, and God Himself will be with them, their God” (21:3). The loudness of the voice emphasizes the importance of this announcement as does the “Behold” that introduces the words. The new condition of intimate fellowship between God and His redeemed ones marks a return to the condition under which God could dwell with man before the entrance of sin with its resultant curse and estrangement (Gen. 3:8a). Such a new relationship is a supreme and immeasurable reward far surpassing all other benefits that the new Jerusalem will afford. It is the fulfillment of God’s promises to His people (Lev. 26:11; Jer. 24:7; 30:22; 31:1, 33; 32:38; Ezek. 37:27; 48:35; Zech. 2:10; 8:8; 2 Cor. 6:16). The essence of Revelation 21:3 is the focal point of John’s description of the new Jerusalem: God’s immediate presence with men. Verse 3 evidences the prominence of this theme through a fivefold repetition of the same essential truth, a focus to which the writer returns in 21:7 where the promise to the overcomer is that God will be his God and He will be God’s son.
Following the positive incentive of 21:3 comes a description of the city in negative terms, one that is easier for humans to understand because it depicts the absence of miseries that characterize present existence (21:4). Having tears of grief and pain wiped away recalls the compassion of a God who notices even the smallest aspect of human unhappiness. An environment without death is a desirable state that is difficult for creatures of the old creation to imagine. All four of the ills mentioned in this verse entered the world in connection with the beginning of human sin in Genesis 3, so their disappearance amounts to a reversal of the curse that accompanied sin.
“Because the first things have passed away” (21:4) provides a reason for the disappearance of death, sorrow, crying, and pain. It also is a comprehensive summary of everything entailed in the announcement of 21:1.
Words from the One Sitting On the Throne (21:5-8)
A Reassuring (21:5-7). John’s pastoral purpose in writing Revelation is nowhere more evident than in 21:5-8, because the personal concern of Almighty God comes into immediate view. Verse 5 records the first direct utterance of the Father since Revelation 1:8. Voices have come from the throne as in 21:3 and out of the sanctuary as in 16:1, 17 where they may be His voice, but this verse explicitly identifies His voice.
“Behold, I make all things new” alludes to Isaiah 43:18-19 where the Greek translation of the Old Testament passage is almost identical with the words here. Some have construed the primary sense of these words as a remaking that is always in progress, for example, as in 2 Corinthians 5:17. But to identify the words with present regeneration of individuals is to miss the chronological progression that is integral to John’s visions in Revelation. The direct reference of these words is to God’s future work of creation, when He brings the new heaven and the new earth into existence.
At this point the angel intervenes to instruct John to “write, because these words are faithful and true” (21:5). For a third time, John receives a reminder to write certain words (cf. 14:13; 19:9), possibly because of bewilderment caused by all he witnessed. Human beings can rest assured of the reliability of the words because of their truthfulness and reliability.
At 21:6 the one sitting on the throne resumes His pronouncements. “They are done” echoes the pronouncement at 16:17, “it is done.” The words just spoken have been fulfilled and the state of completion now obtains. That gives the setting for the promise of 21:7 and the jeopardy of 21:8: the state after the disappearance of the old world and the beginning of the new heaven and the new earth. Repeating His words from Revelation 1:8, the Father continues, “I am the Alpha and the Omega” (21:6). His sovereign control over everything and His eternal nature guarantee His complete trustworthiness and the faithfulness and truthfulness of the words He has spoken. As “the beginning and the end” (21:6), He is the first cause and the finality of all things in both old and new creations. “I will give freely to the one who thirsts from the fountain of the water of life” (21:6) is the Father’s response to an earnest sense of spiritual need among the faithful, a promise whose essence occurs also in Revelation 7:17; 22:1, 17.
The Father directs His word of reassurance to the overcomer in 21:7. It is first a promise of inheriting “these things,” referring back to the “all things” of 21:5. The overcomer will inherit God’s new creation, including the glories of the new Jerusalem that is about to go on display, beginning at 21:9. Next, the promise includes personal companionship with the living God: “I will be to him God and he will be to Me a son” (21:7). “I will be to him God” is the personal promise that first came to Abraham (Gen. 17:7-8) before coming to many others. David was the first to receive the promise “he will be to Me a son” (2 Sam. 7:14) before Solomon and even the Messiah Himself received the promise (Ps. 89:26-27). Closeness to God cannot exceed such an intimate relationship.
A Disheartening (21:8). Not all will be overcomers, however. “The cowardly and unfaithful and abominable and murderers and fornicators and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars” will be denied a part in the bliss of the new creation. The group composed of such individuals will rather reside forever “in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (21:8). Remember the seventh bowl is a bowl of judgment. This eighth scene within that bowl is no exception. Exclusion from the holy city entails eternal misery in separation from God the Father. This inheritance contrasts boldly with that of the overcomers in the new Jerusalem (cf. 21:3-4, 6-7). Names of the ones in this group are missing from the book of life (20:15) and will be excluded from the holy city (22:15). These closing words from the one sitting upon the throne cannot fail to dishearten those included in the eight categories of offenders listed (21:8).
Why do people in this life care so little about what is of ultimate importance? Why do men and women not long for an intimate relationship with God the Father, which will eventually mean supreme satisfaction for those who overcome through relying on the sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world? Irrationality is the only answer. Any person in his right mind will come to God through Jesus Christ right now to avoid spending an eternity outside the boundaries of God’s new creation.
Note: For more details on the new Jerusalem, see my discussion in Revelation 8–22 (Moody Press, 1995), pages 437-455. To order this volume, you may contact Grace Books International at (800) GRACE15 (800-472-2315) or www.gbibooks.com.