15. Everything New
(Revelation 21v1 – 22v5)
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, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell 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.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb
The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long. The angel measured the wall using human measurement, and it was 144 cubits thick. The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth ruby, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth turquoise, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass.
I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
Most of us have experience struggling through something long—maybe a period of waiting or tedious task or excruciating season—but then, on the other side of it, we’ve thought: “Oh man… it was worth it.”
It may have been losing those last 10 pounds, or years of discipline to get out of debt, or maybe leaning a new skill like a musical instrument or a new language. The struggle was painful, but at the end you said: “The struggle can’t compare with the satisfaction. The pain doesn’t compare with the pleasure.”
Pregnancy comes to mind (especially for the mothers among us!). After the struggle of pregnancy, the pain of labor, and the danger of delivery we’re find something new… a new life. The joy and excitement of meeting this new little person outweighs any struggle and scariness:
“It was worth it.”
That image of pregnancy closely mirrors the journey through Revelation. Stressful. Scary. Painful. Perhaps tedious at times. Tinged with anxiety about how it will work itself out. But, like pregnancy, this letter ends with the birth of something beautiful. An early Christian leader once wrote “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed” (Rom 8v18). John’s vision gives a glimpse of where God will take human history… and it’s new life in a new creation.
For all of us who have wept over evil; struggled through pain; experienced terrible seasons; and wondered where it’s all headed… John is about to tell us. Welcome to Revelation 21-22: a world where everything working against goodness and love has been eternally destroyed (20v10, 14-15).
These chapters are like Christmas morning, or a baby being born, or a bride walking down the aisle, or the sunrise of Easter. Revelation ends with something like every best day of our lives rolled up into one glorious, endlessly dawning day… and then raised to the power of seven.1
As we read these chapters, it’s worth reminding ourselves that the Bible ends with no grand vision of people going to heaven. Revelation ends with a vision of heaven coming here. That’s the historic hope of the Church and where John’s vision points. As his seven choices endure hardship, struggle, mistreatment, and abuse, John doesn’t tell his seven churches: “Don’t worry, this isn’t our home. One day God will take us all to some other world—to some other existence…”
The vision is not earth being evacuated to heaven. Rather, it’s a vision of earth being invaded by heaven. The great paradise city of God come down and transforms the world. This world. Wherever you’re reading this. That place. Whatever is going on around you. These bodies, these struggles, this life.
All we experience, all we see, all we’re going through… all of it matters.
God is will NOT press a button to reboot reality;
God is will transform, save, and rescue THIS world.
Any kind of spirituality that makes you
less interested in this world
is not a truly Christian spirituality.
Christians are resurrection people. We believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. Perhaps that seems obvious, but consider it. God didn’t toss aside Jesus’ body and say, “You don’t really need that physical stuff, because what really matters is the spiritual stuff.” No—God raises Jesus from the dead. And in doing this, God has planted his flag and said, “My creation is good, and I will rescue it from death and decay. I’m starting here, but I’m not stopping here.”
In the resurrection of Jesus, God has already reclaimed, remade, and rescued a tiny little part of creation: the physical body of Jesus. Certain cells, particular proteins, that carbon—they’re already transformed. The body of Jesus is a tiny bit of creation that’s been through hell and back with the scars to prove it. And yet it’s already shining with the glory, vitality, and beauty that God intends for all creation. And even those scars have been transformed and made beautiful. Resurrection matters. And resurrection means that matter matters.
The historic hope of the Church
is that one day Jesus will share his resurrection
with the entire universe… us included.
The Church does not hope everyone will one day go to heaven.
The Church hopes for heaven to come here… and include everyone.
When John sees the future, some kind of elemental transformation has certainly taken place.2 It’s a such a profound transformation that John can say, “the first heaven and first earth had passed away” (21v1). But what John is seeing is still recognizable as heaven and earth. Land and sky have died and been resurrected, somehow different but still the same. It’s as if the entire universe passed through Good Friday to emerge from an Easter tomb.
New Creation sounds a lot like
Jesus’s mysterious resurrected body.
That’s intentional. Because Christians are resurrection people. Make no mistake and accept no substitutes. We believe God will save, transform, illuminate, and grant a future to this world, this place, this existence.
This vision is good news. It’s as good for us as it was for John’s original seven churches. What you’re going through matters. Your struggle matters. Your pain and wounds—they matter. The injustice we see around us, and live through, and (Lord, have mercy) inflict on others. The goodness of life shattered by sin. It all matters. God hasn’t forgotten.
The physical space called Jerusalem is an easy example. Whenever you date the writing of Revelation, Jerusalem had recently been destroyed by the brutal beast of Rome. And yet here at the end of Revelation, we see Jerusalem dazzling and transformed. Jerusalem isn’t forgotten… God has recreated her (21v2).
Central to being the people of God holding all the ruins and rubble, the heartache and pain, of every Jerusalem before God and entrusting it to him. Whatever the ruins or rubble, it is not forgotten. Nothing ever is. Jerusalem matters. It all matters. And John gazes at Jerusalem finally reclaimed, rebuilt, resurrected.
The final words we hear from heaven’s throne in the entire Bible are the words of verse 5: “I am making everything new. Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
God does NOT declare “a new everything.”
(“Reboot button! Let’s start over!”)
God declares everything new.3
And with that declaration, we join John on a whistlestop tour of a different kind of city—a different kind of life, a different kind of reality—something different from anything human history has managed to build.
The best we can manage is an Empire—be it Babylon, Rome, or something modern. The greatest “cities” we build without God inevitably and eventually become monstrous, like that prostitute in Revelation 17 riding high on violence (17v18).
So too with “greatest” lives we can manage apart from God. Lives oriented around the worship of ourselves inevitably and eventually also become monstrous… vile, cowardly, perverse, untruthful shells of our truest selves (21v8).4 When we actively resist the grace of God, our lives aren’t truly human; we’re live as husks of humanity. And John gives us glorious news: that kind of empty life doesn’t have any future.
God’s glorious future
burns all our shells and husks
so that true life can flourish forever.
John’s tour of New Creation centers on the highly symbolic New Jerusalem—a gigantic golden cube of a city (21v16) built on glittering gems and jewels (21v19) surrounded by a jasper wall (21v18) with twelve gates made of pearl (21v21).
Taken literally, these verses describe a physical city descending to the earth like an alien mothership. A holy Borg Cube arriving in the future is, of course, not beyond God. But given the symbolism saturating this letter, it seems more likely that John is straining language to the breaking point one final time to talk about the future God has for the world.
When the angel measures the city, it turns out to around 12,000 stadia, which just sounds like a delightfully symbolic number.5 That converts out to be a staggering 1,400 miles across. Imagine if the city of Denver reached from Kansas City to San Francisco. And then—since the city is described as a square—it must reach from the southern tip of Texas to the Canadian border. Yeah. That’s one big square. There’s a lot of real estate in this city. And interesting fact: it’s the size of the known world for the first hearers of Revelation.6
But then it also rises… rises 1,400 miles (21v16). This city makes a cube that reaches space. For all intents and purposes, there’s an entire world in within this cube. A coherent world—shaped by order and logic. It’s a cube, after all. It’s forms an entire world that sounds like that cubic space at the center of the Temple. The place where the presence of God dwelt… the holy of holies.7
The New Jerusalem is like that:
it’s an entire world where God dwells.8
Like a lot of the language in Revelation, I think these descriptions are meant to overwhelm our senses—to boggle our minds—to fill us with wonder.9There are an indecent amount of jewels and gems, a city made of gold (21v18) with a great golden street (21v21) and a river running through it10(22v1-2). There’s an almost limitless grandeur and greatness about this place.
But this world has a threshold too. John describes twelve gates (21v12) inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. That’s the perimeter. The story of God, and his promises to Israel, gives it the shape. When you come to into God’s new world, you’re entering into Israel’s ancient story.
And then John describes the city’s foundations (21v14). They are inscribed with the names of the twelve apostles of Israel’s Messiah. This new world is built upon the testimony of these apostles.
All of this should make it clear: God has no a reset button. God’s new world is still this world. God’s new world remembers and celebrates what has happened in this world.
This is a world without walls. Well, there are some, but they’re only for decoration.11 The city’s perimeter is paper-thin compared to the size of the superstructure.12 Since verse 25 tells us that the gates of the city never ever shut, these walls function as a canvas for archways, a place for parades.
This is a world of welcome. In a curious (and hauntingly hopeful) detail, we’re told that “the kings of the earth will bring their splendor” into the city (21v24). These “kings” have sided consistently and unambiguously with evil throughout Revelation’s story.13 We last saw them intoxicated with Lady Babylon (18v3), marching out against God (19v19), and eaten by birds (19v21). But here they are again, marching into God’s city as ambassadors of their respective kingdoms. Revelation is optimistic that human beings, without any Enemy deceiving them, really will choose God.
This is a world without threats. That’s what John means when he says there is “no longer any sea” (21v1). It’s not that God dislikes trips to the beach. In the ancient Jewish imagination, the sea loomed large as a primordial image of disorder and chaos. But God’s new world has neither. In similar fashion, there’s “no night” (22v5). That’s not because God despises campfires or sitting under the stars. In a world without LED bulbs or artificial light, night descends and you become vulnerable and threatened. But there’s none of that here. No chaotic sea, no threatening night, no curse of any kind.14
This is a world without worry. What’s there to worry about when there’s no threats, no hunger, no rat race, no death? God himself has met everyone in our sorrow and wiped away our tears (22v4). Twin trees of life bear their fruit year round and the balm of their leaves heal the world (22v2). Some of the images are clearer than others, but whatever all the precise meanings, this is a world where—breathe this in—we never worry about what’s coming.
What will we do with all our time? Because that’s what we spend most of it. Worrying about what’s coming, about the future, about what things will look like, about how it will all turn out? But by the end of Revelation, the future has arrived and proven itself good. There’s literally nothing left to worry about.
How would our lives change if we trusted this vision?
Can we trust the words from the throne? Can we begin trusting that there is a future and that future is good? Nothing is forgotten, nothing is lost, nothing has slipped God’s mind. There is a day coming—the ruin, the rubble, the pain of life—and we’ll see God rescuing it. God redeeming it. It’s unimaginable. It’s frequently unbelievable. And it’s true.
God will not reboot this world; God will resurrect this world.
There’s a day coming when, together,
we’ll smile, breathe a sigh of relief,
and say, “It was worth it.”
Until that day comes, we should probably remind ourselves that we don’t make the future. The future is not something we make or build or secure… it’s a gift. It’s something that comes down out of heaven.15 God’s world made new is a gift.
The future is a gift—a good gift.
We’re invited to trust that.
Remember the moment you create this world? Remember when you started your own life? Remember what you did to secure this present moment, right now, reading these words? You can’t remember for the same reason I can’t. We haven’t done a thing but receive all things. This world, our lives, the present moment… it’s all a gift. And the future will be too.
The good news of Revelation is that God has wrapped and ready gifts that outshine all we can dream. Gifts that will make it all worth it. Everything matters, and God is making everything new.
Giver of Life, may we receive your future with humility and confidence in your generosity. Teach us to gaze at your Son and trust that we fill share his resurrection as surely as we share in his death. Sustain us in the rubble of the present and fill our hearts with optimism that everything matters. Open our lives to your future, filling fill us with faith, hope and, above all things, love.
- See what I did there?
- The lens of death and resurrection is an incredibly helpful lens through which to read 2 Peter 3.3-13 talking about “the elements” being destroyed and the earth and everything in it being “laid bare” (v10). The Christian vision of last days (which could also be called “first days”) involves a radical destruction of all that corrupts creation, but the world of the future is still recognizable as earth. Put succulently: a “new earth” is still this earth.
- Eugene Boring: “God does not make ‘all new things,’ but ‘all things new’” and therefore “the advent of the heavenly city does not abolish all human efforts to build a decent earthly civilization but fulfills them” (220).
- A similar list shows up again in 22.14-15. Those who have defined their lives in anti-God ways are here depicted as “outside the city” rather than “in the lake of fire.” This is another evidence that—as tempting as the siren call for certainty is—we must not push John’s images for precision they were not meant to give.
- It’s complete and apostolic (12) and really big (1,000).
- “The figurative nature of the perimeter is apparent from the fact that, if it were taken literally, it would be 5,454.4 miles… the size of the city is apparently the approximate size of the then known Hellenistic world” (Beale, 1074).
- “This particular shape would immediately remind the Jewish reader of the inner sanctuary of the temple (a perfect cube, each dimension being twenty cubits; 1 Kgs 6:20), the place of divine presence” (Mounce, 392). Beale observes that the Jewish apocalyptic work of Jubilees (8.19) “refers to the ‘garden of Eden’ as the ‘holy of holies and the dwelling of the Lord,’ which is noteworthy since the new Jerusalem and the temple in Rev. 21:9-27 are also spoken of as a restored Eden in 22:1-3” (1076).
- Revelation 7.15 had said that the martyrs “serve [God] day and night in his temple,” but 21.22 says there is no longer any temple. Mounce remarks, “The purpose the statement is not to describe the architecture of heaven but to speak meaningfully to a people for whom the temple was supremely the place of God’s presence” (395, emphasis added).
- It’s worth remembering that Revelation is a circular letter that would be an exclusively audible experience for almost all of its original hearers.
- The presence of a life-giving river with perennial fruit trees on each side owes much to Ezekiel’s vision of restored Temple (Ezk 47.1-12).
- “The wall is simply part of the description of an ideal city as conceived by ancient peoples accustomed to the security of strong outer walls” (Mounce, 390).
- “When the angel measure the wall, it is found to be 144 cubits. It is not clear whether this measurement is to be taken as the height or the thickness of the wall. The NIV says ‘thick’ but adds in the margin the alternative, ‘high.’ In either case the wall would be hopelessly out of proportion for a city some 1,400 miles high!” (Mounce, 392).
- These royal “characters” have functioned so far in Revelation as estranged enemies of God (6.15; 16.14-16; 17.2, 18) over which Jesus nevertheless rules (1.5). His kingship now expresses itself in prosperity for and generosity towards them and the nations of the earth (21.24, 22.2).
- Rev 22.3 is, of course, gesturing toward Gen 3 where creation falls under the corrupting power of a cosmic curse (3.14-19). The weight and stain of this curse has been absorbed by God himself in the person of Jesus (Gal 3.13).
- John tells us twice that it “comes down” (v2, v10). He really wants its “givenness” to sink in.