The New Heaven and New Earth
The Eternal State - Revelation 21:1-8
Revelation 20: 11 has indicated that at the time of the Great White Throne the earth and the heaven flee away. Now John sees a new heaven and a new earth, and the earth had no more sea. The earth is transformed. It is not a different earth, but a renewed earth, just as a sinner being renewed becomes a new creation in Christ. The sea is typical both of the nations in constant tumult (Rev. 17: 15) and of the flesh in its swelling unrest and vanity (Isa. 57: 20). Wonderful to know that all this will be gone in the eternal state! Verses 1-5 briefly refer to this eternal state of heaven and earth. This will be the eternity of God's rest after ages of His laboring with mankind.
The holy city, new Jerusalem, comes down from God out of heaven (v. 2). It is not said to come to earth, but will evidently be in sight of earth and in close connection. Its description given later (v. 9 to Rev. 22: 5) shows it to be a cube of 12,000 furlongs (over 1400 miles) and therefore not a city designed for earth at all, but symbolical or pictorial in its appearance and dimensions, though at the same time picturing a reality. In verse 9 the city is called "the bride, the Lamb's wife" when it is seen and considered in connection with the millennial kingdom which of course precedes verse 2 in point of time. This city, the bride, is the Church of God comprised of all believers of the present dispensation of grace, seen then in connection with the millennial reign of Christ. As the wife she assists in administrative matters. She is not said to administer in eternity, but then to be "as a bride adorned for her husband" (v. 2), for in eternity the emphasis is on the personal joy and newness of this beautiful relationship of Christ and His Church. This fresh bridal affection does not wear off after the 1000 years, but is new for eternity. Though this holy city is named for the bride, the Church, it is also a place of holy fellowship in contrast to the world's unholy cities. Old Testament saints also will have their place there, for Abraham looked for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11: 10).
The city is the last great symbol used in connection with the Church in Scripture. The Church is seen as one pearl of great price (Matt. 13: 46), as one flock (John 10: 16), one body (1 Cor. 12: 13), the epistle of Christ (2 Cor. 3: 3), the house of God (1 Tim. 3: 15) or the household of God (Eph. 2: 19), the espoused wife or bride (2 Cor. 11: 2, Eph. 5: 25-29) and lastly as the city. Each of these aspects emphasizes some special feature or features of the Church. The city speaks of perfect order in a great sphere in contrast to the disorder of the world's cities. It involves fellowship of tremendous dimensions in contrast to the limited fellowship that is implied in the present household character of the Church. We know that Old Testament saints will have their place in the city as seen by Hebrews 11: 8-10, but the city is named for the bride, the Church, because in her the grace of God is most strikingly shown as being the first result of the value of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. In fact, the city (Jerusalem which is from above) is called "our mother" (Gal. 4: 26), for it symbolizes the covenant of God's grace (in contrast to law) as the principle by which the Church has been eternally blessed. Therefore, though the city will be named for the bride, yet many others (all whose names are written in the book of life) will enter into it (Rev. 21: 27). They will be partakers of its marvellous grace.
A great voice announces that the tabernacle of God is with men and that He will dwell with them (v. 3). Why is it the tabernacle of God and not the temple? The temple emphasizes the magnificence of the display of glory (which will be seen in the Millennium), which subdues mankind with awe and wonder, but the tabernacle emphasizes God's tender grace in desiring to dwell among His people even though they have not deserved it. However, while the tabernacle in the wilderness was temporary, this is eternal. The abiding sweetness of the presence of God is surely more wonderful than the greatest outward display. In this His love and goodness will be deeply enjoyed forever. God will be simply dwelling with man-kind, they being His people and He their God. By that time Christ will have delivered up the kingdom to God the Father; Christ as Man being subject to God so that God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) may be all in all (1 Cor. 15: 24-28). The calmness of perfect rest, perfect well-being, perfect accord is beautifully depicted in this third verse which so briefly notes the positive side of the eternal state. Some have wondered why so little is written of the positive blessings of eternity. The answer is surely that the marvels of what God has to show us are so great that we cannot in our present state form any proper conception of them. The apostle Paul was caught up to heaven and made no attempt to describe it (2 Cor. 12: 1-4).
On the negative side, we will be most thankful for what is not there. There will be no more tears, no death, no sorrow, no crying out in protest and no pain. The former things (everything connected with a fallen creation) will have passed away (v. 4).
Though so very little is said about eternity and what it will be like, the Christian gladly bows to this, for having the knowledge of all the glory of God being manifested in His Son, we know that we shall be eternally more than satisfied. God is still on the throne, and He declares, "Behold, I make all things new" (v. 5). This newness is perpetual: eternity always will be as fresh and new as though we had just entered into it. This wonder will never fade. In our present physical and mental condition we could not form any right perception of it, no matter how it was described to us. It has been observed that, while Satan could show to the Lord Jesus all he possessed (by usurpation) in a moment of time (Luke 4: 5), eternity will not exhaust all that our great God has to show us. John is told to specifically write about all things being new. What is told him is true and faithful. We need this assurance because of our natural unbelieving tendencies.
The "I Am," The Overcomer and The Unbelieving
A short section (verses 6 to 8) is inserted by the Spirit of God to show how the heart of the Lord Jesus desires that all mankind should enter into this eternal blessing, yet solemnly affirming the contrary for every unbeliever. His words, "It is done" are final and positive: nothing can hinder the accomplishment of God's counsels. He again declares Himself as Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, He who is from eternity to eternity the living God. He promises "the fountain of the water of life freely" to one who thirsts. This is the thirst of realizing one's own emptiness as a sinner in need and thus turning to the one source of this living water, Jesus Christ who gives freely from a heart of perfect grace.
The overcomer will inherit all things (v. 7), for he becomes by faith a joint heir with Christ, into whose hands the Father has entrusted everything (Rom. 8: 17, John 3: 35). The Lord Jesus adds here, "I will be his God and he shall be My son" (v. 7). This is the only time in John's inspired writings that the believer is said to be a son ("huios") of God. "Son" indicates a position of dignity, liberty and trust. John's usual description of believers is "children," but this one exception is appropriate since eternity is contemplated, for the dignity of having part with God in eternal glory is emphasized rather than simply filial relationship.
The dreadful contrast to all this is seen in verse 8. Who can estimate the awful horror of the end of those who choose to reject the faithful, gracious Lord of glory? Solemnly, "the cowardly" are mentioned first-those whose fear of human disapproval causes them to refuse the Son of God! "The unbelieving" are those who refuse God's testimony, the only means by which they could be preserved from the company of "the abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters and all liars." Every unbeliever chooses such company, and he or she will have part with them in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. This is the second death, not annihilation, but separation (the basic meaning of death)-separation from God in eternal torment. If the symbol of fire is dreadful, what must the reality be?
The Holy City in Millennial Splendour
The first eight verses of this chapter (21), in completing a series of events described in Revelation 19 and Revelation 20, have carried us to the introduction of the eternal state. In verse 9 we are taken back in time for a detailed description of the glory of the bride, the Lamb's wife, the holy Jerusalem, as she will be in the thousand years' reign of the Lord Jesus, previous to the Great White Throne judgment. The wisdom of God has ordered it this way, for how much better it is to have this glory described to us as we near the end of Revelation, rather than to have it told us before reading of the Great White Throne. Thus the Great White Throne judgment does not cast a shadow over the splendor of God's glory revealed in the city.