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Revelation 21 and 22

A television producer for the British Broadcasting Corporation was preparing a documentary about Christianity in England. In the course of his research, he sent a memo to a clergyman who served as an adviser to the BBC on church affairs. The memo read,

How might I ascertain the official church view of heaven and hell?

The clergyman replied with a memo consisting of only one word:


Fortunately, we do not have to die to discover God's truth about heaven and hell. We have already seen much of what the Bible has to say about eternal punishment. Now in chapters 21 and 22 of Revelation we encounter God's revelation of a coming reality called heaven.

Throughout much of this book we have seen judgment upon judgment, seven years of tribulation, trials of persecution and martyrdom, earthquakes, plagues, doom in the heavens, smoke and thunder, war, the final judgment, and the lake of fire. Now the scene shifts from images of cataclysm and judgment to images of joy and triumph.

If you are old enough to remember a pre-World War II radio broadcaster named H. V. Kaltenborn, you probably remember the catchphrase with which he began every broadcast: "Well, we've got good news today!" That's the theme of the final two chapters of Revelation: good news. The vision of John has taken us through moods of deep sorrow and intense horror and forced us to look at the destruction of our world. But the good news is that God is preparing a new world for us to inhabit after the old world passes away.

George Bernard Shaw once complained, "Heaven, as conventionally conceived, is a place so inane, so dull, so useless, so miserable, that nobody has ever ventured to describe a whole day in heaven, though plenty of people have described a day at the seashore." And you know, the old curmudgeon was right! Remember, he was talking about "heaven, as conventionally conceived." And how is heaven conventionally conceived? Look at most movies about heaven and you'll get the picture: Saints who have been transformed into angels with wings and white robes, sitting on clouds and playing their golden harps all of which is indeed conventional, inane, dull, useless, and miserable.




The reason a day in heaven is harder to describe than a day at the seashore is that heaven is a wholy different plane of experience than the seashore. As Peter Toon writes in Heaven and Hell, heaven is a reality which is "'outside' the space and time we know" and "must be described in language which of necessity exists for communication within our space and time." And that's the problem.

Imagine trying to explain the concepts of relativity and quantum physics to a child in the second grade. Or trying to explain the technological marvels of the late twentieth century to a man of 2,000 B.C. They would simply have no frame of reference to even begin to grasp what you are saying. And heaven is even more removed from our frame of reference than physics is to a child or the modern world to ancient man. Heaven is not just another place; it is another plane, another dimension.



A New Heaven and a New Earth



The two concluding chapters of Revelation contain virtually all that the Bible has to say about the eternal state of the believer. Certainly there are many passages in the Old Testament that picture a time of great blessing and utopian peace, but these are prophecies not of heaven but of the thousand-year kingdom which precedes heaven.

Heaven, as we discover in these chapters, is an entirely new creation that springs into being at God's command. We catch our first glimpse of heaven immediately after the Great White Throne judgment of Revelation 20.

21:1-4 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

What beautiful words! Nearing the end of the Word of God we come full circle, all the way to the beginning of the Word of God. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," says Genesis 1:1. Now, in Revelation, we see the heavens and the earth of Genesis 1:1 have passed away, and a new heaven and a new earth are coming.

The apostle Peter recorded a parallel description of this scene:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.

A fiery roar and the earth is laid bare: thus ends the old heavens, the old earth. But the new is coming. In the new heaven and new earth, Jesus will continue His reign. He will be King not only over the earth but throughout the entire reach of the vast universe of God.

Why a new heaven and a new earth? Four statements in this opening paragraph of Revelation 21 tell us that God has a very definite purpose in mind. The new heaven and new earth are the next phase in His eternal program. There is a strong suggestion in these verses that the New Jerusalem John sees is to be the capital city of the whole new universe.

The new universe will be radically changed from the universe we now know. I don't believe God will eliminate the present heavens and earth, but rather will cleanse and reconstruct the substance of the universe that now is. We see the same principle at work when we become Christians new creatures in Christ. We are still the same person, but we are also new, changed, and cleansed. So also the old heavens and the old earth will be cleansed. They will be cleansed by fire.

We know that the present universe even to the farthest reaches we can observe is governed by the same physical laws that we observe right in our own planetary neighborhood. One of these physical laws is the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the law of entropy, which says that the energy of the present universe is running down. Our ordered systems are tending toward disorder and decay. Given enough time, even the stars will grow cold.

But in the new heavens and the new earth, the law of entropy is reversed. The batteries are recharged, the clock wound up again only now it will never run down. The new heavens and the new earth will manifest a unity, stability, symmetry, and beauty that even the old heavens and earth as marvelously ordered and beautiful as they were never had.



No More Sea



There is an interesting statement embedded in this passage: ". . . and there was no longer any sea." A friend of mine after reading this passage said to me, "I don't think I'm going to like the new heavens and the new earth. I love the ocean!" I understand that feeling. I love the ocean, too. But consider for a moment just why the ocean exists.

Over 70 percent of the surface of our world is covered with salt water. The average depth of the ocean is 2.3 miles. Why does our planet need such a massive covering of salt water? Answer: To cleanse the earth and make life possible. The earth is bathed in God's great antiseptic solution composed of about 96 percent water, 3.5 percent salt, and about .5 percent trace constituents chlorine, magnesium, calcium, and the like. The salty brine of the ocean purges, cleanses, and preserves our planet, making it fit to live in.

Many of the pollutants and waste we produce get washed out of the soil and into our streams and rivers; others we deliberately dump into the rivers. The rivers wash these materials to the sea. The antiseptic salinity of the sea absorbs, scrubs, and breaks down these pollutants and wastes. The sun heats the sea, causing only pure, clean water vapor to float up into the sky, forming clouds which bring refreshing rain back to the land a continuous cycle of cleansing and renewal. But in the new heaven and new earth there will be no more pollution, no more decay, no more need for cleansing, and thus no more need for a salty sea.

Though the Scriptures do not suggest this, it is interesting to speculate that there may be large bodies of fresh water, perhaps even larger than the Great Lakes, that we may enjoy in the new heaven and the new earth.



The New City



The second statement in this passage that tells us the purpose of the new heaven and new earth is John's description of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, "coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband."

We all love weddings. The climax of every wedding is that moment when the bride makes her entrance at the beginning of the aisle, beautifully dressed for her husband. All heads turn. You hear that collective intake of breath as every eye is instantly captivated by the literally breathtaking sight of the beautifully adorned bride. In that moment the poor fellow standing at the altar in his rented tux is completely forgotten. It is the bride so achingly beautiful in her white gown and gossamer veil that has captured all eyes and every heart.

That's the image we are given of the new city, the New Jerusalem, as it comes down out of heaven from God. Just as the false bride, the prostitute Mystery Babylon, was both a city (Rome) and a woman, this new and pure bride, the New Jerusalem, is also described as both a city and a woman. Mystery Babylon was destroyed for its utter evil and abomination. But the bride of Revelation 21 speaks of true intimacy and purity. And a shining city speaks of community, of many people living together in peace and abundance.

So we are given a picture here of the redeemed of God, each in a new body of glory, empowered with limitless energy. No longer will anyone be able to say, "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." Whatever the spirit decides to do, the flesh will accomplish with ease.

I often think of that phrase in John's letters where he says, "It does not yet appear what we shall be." I keep looking in the mirror for signs of change, hoping to see the new body God has promised me. But what do I see? More wrinkles! It won't be like that when we get to the new heaven and new earth. We will have bodies of glory and beauty that will be like the body of the Lord.

There will be such a sense of community, love, and belonging in the New Jerusalem that we cannot even imagine it in this life. We will live in close intimacy not only with the Lord Himself, but with one another.



The Home of God



The third statement in this passage that tells us the purpose of the new heaven and new earth is that the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, will be the dwelling place of God. "Now the dwelling of God is with men," says a loud voice from the throne, "and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God."

The New Jerusalem will be composed of all the saints. We are the city. The dwelling place of God will be you and me and every other believer! In heaven, the name Immanuel, meaning "God with us," will at last be fulfilled. The New Covenant will finally be fully accomplished.

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