The New Creation Revealed

It was a beautiful summer day, as families gathered outdoors for the dedication of their new park.  The city council had spent years planning the project.  Something had to be done in order to breathe new life into a downtrodden neighborhood.  Vacant lots and boarded up buildings sat empty for far too long.  It was time for change.  They brought in a master architect who drafted an incredible plan.  Construction crews came with bulldozers to clear the way.  After sweeping away the debris, trucks hauled in lumber and building materials.  Sidewalks were poured.  Flowers were planted.  Shelter houses were framed.  Playgrounds were assembled.  They spared no expense.  The architect was determined to create a something spectacular.

Finally, that day had come to unveil the new park.  They stood at the entrance, eager to step foot through those gates for the very first time.  The city officials welcomed the architect to the podium to commemorate the occasion with a speech.  He thanked everyone for attending, and told them how he hoped they would find enjoyment here in this place as much as he had enjoyed making it a reality.  The crowd cheered as he cut a giant ribbon that was stretched across the gate.  Young and old entered in, and they could hardly believe their eyes as they explored the grounds.  The path led through lavish gardens.  Shade trees lined the walkways, and there were comfortable benches throughout the park where guests could rest.  A large pond, with sparkling blue water, provided a home for wildlife including a family of ducks who were happily swimming from one side to the other.  Beautiful pavilions provided a shelter for picnics.  Children played on the swings, or raced down the slides or climbed the little rock wall.  There was so much to see and do.  The people were amazed.  It was beyond anything they could have ever dreamed of.  Where were all the empty lots, they wondered?  Where were all the rundown buildings?  Where was the trash littered in the streets?  The old landscape was gone.  It was all made new.  Nothing was broken.  Not a single speck of rust could be found.  Everything was exactly as it was meant to be.

Wouldn’t it would be exciting to take part in an unveiling ceremony, when the ribbon is cut, and a new space is presented to an eager crowd for the very first time?  Scripture tells us that all of God’s people will be there one day as witnesses for something infinitely greater than the dedication of a new park or a new building or new shopping center.  As momentous as these occasions might seem, they will be nothing compared to the celebration that is coming when the Lord unveils his creation of a new heaven and new earth.

In the opening chapters of the Bible, this present world fell into ruin when the first humans turned from the Lord.  But even then, God announced his intention to make all things new.  He is the master architect who specializes in restoring the broken and bringing life from the dead.  Our sin and rebellion have made a mess of God’s good creation, but the Lord has been patiently carrying out his plan of salvation through the ages and will finally bring this work to completion.

That’s the focus of our passage in Revelation 21.  Throughout the book, the apostle John was given a glimpse of the future.  He was shown events that must take place at the end times.  Some of those visions were  very dark and frightening.  Others were incredible and exciting.  But now we come to the end of history, the consummation of all things, after every prophecy has been fulfilled and every promise has come true.  The apostle watched with amazement as this present universe faded away, while the Lord fashioned a new creation in its place.

Revelation 21:1–7 (NASB95)

     1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” 5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” 6 Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. 7 “He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.

These are some of the most beautiful verses in the entire Bible.  The description of eternity that we find in the closing chapters of the Bible is very different from the impression that many people have.  When we think of eternity, we sometimes picture a scene where everyone is floating on clouds, strumming a harp, endlessly circling the throne of God, and there is nothing but an expanse of shimmering white as far as the eye can see.  It may surprise you to hear that’s not the picture given to us in the Bible.  The passage tells that God is preparing a brand new world for his people filled with magnificence and wonder, greater than anything we can imagine.

Christian author Randy Alcorn has written a wonderful book on Heaven, and he writes,

This world – including its natural wonders – gives us a foretaste and glimpse of the next… Every joy on earth is inkling or a whisper of greater joy.  The Grand Canyon, the Alps, the Amazon rain forests, the Serengeti Plain, these are rough sketches of the New Earth.  One day, we may say… “the best parts of the old world were sneak previews…”  All our lives we’ve been dreaming of the New Earth.  Whenever we see beauty [here] we catch a glimpse of heaven. Just like the Garden of Eden, the New Earth will be a place of sensory delight, breathtaking beauty, satisfying relationships and personal joy.  God himself prepared mankind’s first home on Earth… If he prepared Eden so carefully and lavishly for mankind in the six days of creation, what [can we expect for our new home]?  …Everything God tells us suggests we will look back at the present Earth and conclude, [so to speak] that God was just warming up.[i]

Does this fill your heart with excitement?  It certainly does for me.  I believe God placed these verses in the Bible so that his people would long for eternity.

We’re going to spend time this morning exploring the new heaven and new earth.  Not every commentator agrees on how we ought to interpret the vision.  Some suggest that the language is entirely symbolic, not to be taken literally.  I disagree.  There is symbolism in the description, to be sure, but the as we read through these chapters the details suggest the new heaven and new earth is a real place where God’s people will one day call home.

The first thing we notice as we watch this unveiling with the apostle John is…

The New Creation will be unstained by the curse.

Look at verse 4. “4and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 NASB95)

That last phrase is significant. It shows us how different the future will be from our present experience. The NIV puts it this way: “the old order of things has passed away.”  The NLT says, “these things are gone forever.”

What things? It is pointing to the curse that swept over creation when sin entered our world. In the beginning God created a universe that was perfect in every way.  There were no flaws or mistakes to be found.

Sometimes when we are working on our homes we have these “oops” moments, right?  You’re painting the kitchen, being very careful with the brush, but then accidentally splatter paint on the white window sill.  “Oops, I hope nobody notices.”  Or you are hanging a picture in the living room, and step back to see how it looks.  “Oops, that’s not centered.”  Or you’re cutting a piece of molding, and when you go to nail it to the wall discover it’s a smidge short.  “Oops, maybe I can put some wood putty in there.”

God doesn’t have “oops” moments. His creation was perfect in every way, but then we came along and messed things up by choosing to disobey his voice. All of the sudden, thorns and thistles sprouted from the ground.  The animals were no longer tame.  The forces of nature became menacing and unpredictable.  Our physical bodies were now susceptible to injury and disease.  For us, this is a normal.  It’s all we’ve ever known.  But it isn’t how life was meant to be.

The curse of sin corrupted this good creation, but the new creation will be completely untarnished and untouched by the effects of sin.

  • There will be no tears of sorrow. The God of comfort will heal our broken hearts.
  • There will be no funeral homes or cemeteries, because death will no longer separate us from our loved ones.
  • We won’t experience pain from an injury or ailment, and you won’t have any trips to the emergency room in the back of ambulance. In fact, hospitals or nursing homes won’t be needed, because our glorified bodies will be in perfect health.
  • We will never have to dial 911 or file a police report, because crimes will no longer be committed.

This seems so strange to us, doesn’t it? But this is the way it was meant to be. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to miss any of those things.  We won’t stand around and reminisce about the good ole days of this fallen earth because it will be like a distant memory.

Isaiah 43:18–21 (ESV)

18 “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. 19 Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. 20 The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, 21 the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.

The Lord tells us that he is going to do a new thing, and how we long to be there, standing with all the saints, when the Lord cuts the ribbon and unveils our new home. None of us were here to witness the creation of this present universe, but the Bible tells us angels looked on and shouted for joy when God laid the foundations of the earth (Job 38:7). In the future, we will be the ones shouting for joy when the new creation is revealed.

What about the statement, at the end of verse 1, that tells us “there is no longer any sea.” That would be a big difference from this present world. I’ve always enjoyed visiting places like Lake Michigan or the ocean.  I’ve enjoyed walking the beach and swimming in the waves.  We have friends who were married on a sail boat, and that was a special service.  Does this mean that there won’t be any large bodies of water in the new creation?  That’s probably not what the verse is telling us.  For people who lived in the ancient world, the sea was often viewed as a place of chaos and turmoil.  When fishermen left the port, they understood there was always the chance they would not make it home to their families.  Storms could erupt at sea without warning.  Giant waves could come crashing against their ship, and they had little control of where the sea might take them.  The sea was a fearful place, and came to be regarded as symbol for evil and chaos.  Earlier in the book, John speaks of the beast as coming up out of the sea.  He wasn’t talking about the water, but the chaos and turmoil of the nations.  Most commentators believe that’s what this passage has in mind when it says there will be no more sea.  We will have nothing to fear in the new creation.  There won’t be any sources of chaos or turmoil to threaten God’s people, but we will live in peace forever.

The old order of things will be gone forever.

The New Creation will be a place of exquisite beauty.

I think this goes without saying, but the passage goes on to describe some of the wonders that we will see. Verse 2 tells us, “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.”

Every country needs a capital. The capital of the US is… Washington DC. The capital of Spain is… Madrid.  The capital of England is… London.  The capital of France is… Paris.    The capital of China is… Beijing.  The capital of Azerbaijan is… Baku.  Every kingdom needs a capital, and the New Jerusalem will be the capital of the New Creation.

As the apostle watched all of this unfold, the city itself descended from heaven. Some commentators point out that we never read about it landing on the ground, so it’s possible that it remains suspended in midair, forever, like a city in the clouds. I don’t know whether or not that will be the case.  It does suggest that at this moment heaven and earth become one.  They are no longer separate realms as they are today.  There is no longer a spiritual realm inhabited by God and an earthly realm inhabited by man with an invisible barrier in between.  That barrier will be taken away, like a curtain, so that heaven and earth collide.

A glorious city emerges from heaven, “made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.” That’s a great metaphor.

How does a bride dress on her wedding day?  She is beautiful.  As a matter of fact, it takes a whole team of bridesmaids to help her get ready.  They spend hours doing their hair, and putting on makeup.  She doesn’t grab an old garment from her closet.  She picks out an elaborate dress, perfectly white, a flowing gown.  Guys don’t put that much thought into what they wear.  We show up at the rental shop in the mall and they ask, “what do you need?”  We answer, “just a tux.”  “What kind?”  “I don’t know.  The one on that mannequin looks good.”  It takes us five minutes to get changed and we’re ready for the wedding to begin.  That’s not the case for the bride.  The women arrive at the church hours before anyone else gets there.   When the doors open, and the wedding procession begins to play, everyone looks at the bride and thinks “wow, she is breathtaking!”

That will be our response when the holy city descends from heaven. “Wow. This is incredible.  We’ve never seen anything more breathtaking or spectacular.  The city resonates with the glory of God.  Everything about it is perfect and pure.

In this present world, we don’t usually regard cities as beautiful places. We think of traffic, noise, crowded sidewalks, pollution, smog, steel and concrete, graffiti spray painted on the side buildings, trash littered along the gutters, billboards and stoplights, parking lots and high rises. The people who live there long to get out of the city to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation.  But the New Jerusalem will be a very different type of city.

If you skip down to verse 10, John tells us,

     10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper.

It is very clear that this is no ordinary city. It is built with the finest materials that will never fade. We’re not going to read the entire chapter here, I encourage you to spend time this week going through these verses slowly, trying to imagine what it will be like to walk through those gates.  We are told that the New Jerusalem is built upon twelve foundation stones, decorated with every kind of precious gem including sparkling green emerald, deep red jasper, shimmering blue sapphire, glowing orange of topaz, royal purpose of amethyst, and the elegantly dark onyx.  The streets are made from pure gold, only it is clear like glass.  The gates are made from solid pearl, but they are never closed.  An angel stands in the watchtower above every archway leading into the city to welcome all who pass through those doors.  A great river flows from the center of the city, and there are trees yielding 12 kinds of fruit every month.

I’m sure the apostle had a difficult time trying to explain what he saw. Words are inadequate to describe the glory of the new creation. And just think, this is only the city.  Imagine what is waiting to be discovered beyond the walls.  If nothing else, the passage shows us that life will not be dull in eternity.  It will be filled with awe and wonder that never ends.  I don’t think we will ever lose the sense of amazement.

We see the beauty of God’s creation, today and it’s pretty incredible (the fall colors in the leaves, the melodious sound of a bird singing outside our window, the shimmering of the stars in the evening sky…). Sometimes we take it all for granted. It is right there for our enjoyment, but we’re so busy with our lives that we do not pause to give him the praise he deserves.  We ought to make the time.  Slow down.  Think about the wonders that he has made.  The universe declares his glory, and as his people we should lead the way in offering our praise.  These earthly wonders are only a shadow of what we will see when we are standing at the gates of the New Jerusalem.  We won’t be able to contain ourselves, when we get there, but will worship the creator with a joyful sound.

The New Creation will be expansive.

Someone might be worried about whether or not there will be enough room for the people of God through all the ages of history to dwell together. We don’t have to worry. The Almighty and infinite God is able to create a place that is more than adequate to suit our needs.  Look at verses 15-17.

     15 The one who spoke with me had a gold measuring rod to measure the city, and its gates and its wall. 16 The city is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as the width; and he measured the city with the rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. 17 And he measured its wall, seventy-two yards, according to human measurements, which are also angelic measurements.

These are verses we might be tempted to gloss over, without paying much attention. Unless you’re an architect or an engineer we may not consider the size of those dimensions. But if we pause, and think about this, we realize the New Jerusalem will be massive.

The passage tells us that stepped forward with a measuring rod and he invited the apostle John to accompany him as he measured the city. In the Greek text, the measurements are said to be 12,000 stadia. This is significant because the number 12 is important here.  It is the number of tribes in the nation of Israel.  It is also the number of apostles chosen by the Lord during his earthly ministry.  It’s a number that signifies wholeness or completion.   The dimensions are 12,000 stadia which is 12 multiplied by 1000 signifying perfect wholeness.  The footnote in our Bibles tells us that 1 stadia is roughly the equivalent of 600 feet which means the edges of the city measure about 1,500 miles across in both length and width.

Some scholars argue that this number is meant to be understood as purely symbolic, but if that’s the case what’s the purpose of the comment in verse 17 that tells us the angel was using human measurements? The point the passage is making is that this is an incredibly large city. It is much larger than the present Jerusalem.  I did some research and found that the present Jerusalem is not a very large. According to travel brochures, you can easily walk to the different sites throughout the old city. It’s less than a mile wide. The entire nation of Israel today is 290 miles in length and 85 miles across at its widest point. The state of Ohio is square-ish and measures 220 miles in length and width. We’re still not even close to those dimensions. Texas is one of the largest states in our nation and measures 801 miles in length by 773 in width. We’re still not there. A city of this magnitude would cover two thirds of the United States. That’s a big city!

The passage tells us that it is not only 1,500 miles in length and width but also in height. Today, the tallest building in the world is a skyscraper in Dubai called Burj Kalifa reaching 2,717 feet which is only half a mile. I wonder how many stairs you would have to climb to reach the top floor.  But this will be only a small building (like a single story home next to a giant skyscraper) compared to what we will find in the New Jerusalem.

The point of all this is to illustrate how vast and expansive the New Creation will be. If these are the dimension of the capital city, what about the rest of the New Earth? It will be boundless and immeasurable.  We will never run out of places to explore, or exciting destinations to visit.  It won’t be crowded or overpopulated.  God is able to create a perfect dwelling place for all of his people.

In his book on Heaven, Randy Alcorn says that these verses are sometimes dismissed. He writes,

Commentators routinely suggest, “Of course these are not actual streets of gold.”  But why do they say that?   …Isn’t John’s description of gates and streets further evidence that Heaven is a realm designed for human citizens?  Why wouldn’t a resurrected world inhabited by resurrected people have actual streets and gates?

Likewise, [many] books on heaven argue that the city cannot really be the size its depicted as in Revelation 21…  According to one writer, “It would dishonor the heavenly Architect to contend that its dimensions were meant to be taken literally.  He doesn’t say why it would dishonor God, and I have no idea why it would… If these dimensions are not literal, why does Scripture specifically give the dimension and then say, “by man’s measurement, which the angel was using” (v.17).  The emphasis almost seems to be an appeal: Please believe it-the city is really this big!

I have no problem believing that the numbers have symbolic value, with the multiples of twelve suggesting the perfection of God’s bride.  However [some] commentators act as if we must choose between literal dimensions or one with symbolic significance.  But we don’t.  My wedding ring is a great symbol-but is also a real object… Is it possible that the city’s dimensions aren’t literal?  Of course… However, my concern is this: If we assume the city’s dimensions can’t be real, people will likely believe the city isn’t real.  If it doesn’t have its stated dimensions, then it’s a short step to believing it doesn’t have any dimensions at all.[ii]

Whatever else these verses are telling us, they give us a glimpse of the glory that awaits us when the new creation is revealed.  There is no limit to God’s creative power.  He is great and awesome God, who has offered a great and awesome salvation, and his people have a great an awesome hope that will be realized one day in eternity.  As vast as the universe is today, the future universe will be far more impressive.

The New Creation will be the dwelling place of God with his people.

Revelation 21:3 (NASB95) says,

      And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them,

Earlier we mentioned that in the new creation heaven and earth become one. We see this here, when the voice of God calls out, “the tabernacle of God is among men.”

This has always been the objective of God: to dwell with his people, to draw us into his glorious presence. In one sense, we know that already in this life the Lord is with us, every moment of every day wherever we go. We speak of his omnipresence, and how there is no place in the universe where we could flee from him.  But God is calling us into a deeper relationship, and he longs to restore what was lost in the fall.  At one time, Adam and Eve walked with the Lord in the cool of the day and they experienced perfect fellowship with their creator.  But ever since they were banished from Eden, we’ve been longing for that kind of intimacy to be restored.

In that day, we will walk in perfect fellowship with the Lord. We will have unrestricted access to the throne of God. We will stand in his glory and will not be afraid to see him face to face.  We will be able to speak with him, not only through our prayers, but in person.  The sounds of his voice will be heard as we carry on conversations.  Maybe we will ask him questions about this life, or maybe we will sit at his feet to listen to his teaching.

God gives us glimpses of this, through the Bible. When he led the children of Israel out of Egypt, in the OT, he promised to go with them. He led the way with a pillar of smoke by day and pillar of fire by night.  These were visual representations of his presence, but they did not see him face to face.  He gave instructions to Moses for building a tabernacle.  This would serve as the center for Israel’s worship, and it was more than sanctuary.  His presence would inhabit the holy of holies, in the center of the tabernacle, so that in a special sense the Lord was dwelling in the center of their camp.  When the construction was finished, they even saw the smoke hover over the tabernacle and enter beyond the veil.  But again, they were not able to experience the fullness of his glory.  The veil was always standing in the way, serving as a reminder of barrier that sin has created between the holy God and fallen humanity.

In the gospels, God became flesh and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus Christ. The title “Immanuel” was given to him, which means God with us. For more than thirty years he walked this earth, teaching the crowds, healing their sickness, showing his love, all the while his deity was shrouded by his humanity.  The vast majority of people who passed by in the streets had no idea they were in the presence of majesty.  Even his closest followers were given mere glimpses of his true nature.

In the present age God’s presence resides within his people in a new way, through the indwelling Holy Spirit. There is no need for a physical temple, because we have become the temple of God. He is among us to receive our praise, when we gather together as a church.  And he is with each one us, transforming our lives from the inside out, and giving us strength to follow his ways.

Each of these movements express God’s longing to dwell among us. The problem is not with God’s ability to draw near to us, but our limitations that hinder us from drawing near to him. God has never stopped reaching out to us, but the barrier of sin obscures our view and hinders our experience of his presence.

Today we see glimpses of his glory but then we will see the fullness of his majesty. Today we see his fingerprints stamped upon all that is good in creation, but then we will see the hands of the creator. Today we hear a whisper calling out to us, but then we will hear his voice with perfect clarity. When heaven and earth become one, and the world is made new, these old barriers will finally be removed.  The things that kept us apart from him will be torn down.  There will be nothing standing in the way.   Heaven and Earth will become one, and the tabernacle of God will finally be stretched across the redeemed humanity.

All Things Made New

In Revelation 21:6–7 (NASB95) the Lord said,

“It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. 7 “He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.

It is done.  God’s plan of salvation comes to its magnificent completion.  We reach the final page of the story, and what do we find?  It is a new beginning, an exciting new adventure that will last forever.

This is not some fantasy.  It is reality: our destiny, our inheritance, our eternal home.  God gives us this glimpse to create a longing within us.  Some think that we shouldn’t dwell on these things.  How could we begin to comprehend what it will be like?  Why bother?  It’s true, that eternity will be greater than anything we can imagine, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t occupy our thoughts.  God put these verses here for a reason.  He wants us to read these descriptions with eyes of faith.  It prevents us from growing overly attached to this present world, and creates a yearning for what awaits us.

This is not meant to make us detached or less involved in our present world.  On the contrary, our eternal focus should fuel us to live with passion and hope each and every day as we strive to follow the Savior with all our heart all our soul and all our might.  The God who will one day make all things new is already at work making his people into a new creation.  May we live that out, allowing him to shape us more and more into the people that we were made to be, reflecting his character, following his ways, reaching out with his love.

——————————————————————-

[i] Alcorn, Randy, “Heaven.” P. 241-242, p.259

[ii] Alcorn, p.490-491

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