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Sermon blog post: New heaven new earth

November 15, 2017

Revelation 21:1 – 22:5

This morning’s sermon has been a while in the making.

We all have times in our lives I am sure when it’s all a struggle. When we feel we’re in the dark, when the pain is too much.

I remember reading just a few verses from today’s passage and thinking “I must look at this more closely. I need to know that one day everything is going to put right. This life is not everything”.

And so here we are looking into the closing chapters of the Bible.

Sometimes the visions that John received are baffling, incomprehensible, disturbing.

The vision in these closing chapters is breathtakingly beautiful and full of hope.

[1] In describing the new heaven and new earth, John uses terms which would have been familiar to his readers, drawing from the prophet Isaiah, and taking us back to the very opening words of the Bible.

From the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation, the Bible comes full circle.

At the beginning we see God in creation.

Now we see God in re-creation.

John has just been shown the judgement of the dead (chapter 20).

His first sight after that is of a new heaven AND a new earth.

Those who knew their Old Testament scriptures would have had their minds turned probably to Isaiah 65 and the promise of God through the prophet:

17 ‘See, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind” – Isaiah 65:17.

Old things will be forgotten. As John puts it, the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.

As Christians we often live with a false impression.

That this world is temporary.

That heaven is eternal and one day when this world is done we will go to heaven.

That’s not what the Bible teaches. For now as in Revelation, we are taken back to the very beginning of Genesis and are reminded that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”.

Heaven is a created place just as much as earth is.

Sometimes the Bible talks of heaven, sometimes it talks of heavens. We try to differentiate between the two, for example by explaining that the heavens is a way of talking about the skies, but the original language does not attempt to do that.

Scholars suggest that perhaps the only reason the plural is sometimes used is to try to portray the vastness of heaven.

“Heaven is the place, created by God alongside earth, where God dwells”, says New Testament scholar Paula Gooder in her book “Heaven”.

Which could beg the mind boggling question, where did God live before he made heaven?!

Think about that for homework!

But Gooder reminds us that “at the dawn of time God created heaven and earth together. They continue to coexist side by side and will be recreated together at the end of all times”.

God created the heavens and the earth

Jesus did not teach that heaven, as distinct from earth, was an eternal place, but said “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away”. (Matthew 24:35).

“God’s desire in creation was to dwell alongside humanity in  a realm created for that purpose”.

Occasionally scripture reminds us that heaven is not so far away:

In his book ‘Simply Christian’ Tom Wright reminds us:

“It has been central to Christian experience…that in Jesus of Nazareth heaven and earth have come together once and for all. The place where God’s space and our space intersect and interlock is no longer the temple in Jerusalem. It is in Jesus himself”.

Remember the baptism of Jesus?

“10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” Mark 1:10 & 11.

Occasionally when I was younger people would talk about a worship service as having been a foretaste of heaven. Perhaps it wasn’t so much a foretaste of a future event, but being permitted a glimpse into heaven. Although one day we will see things with full clarity.

As Paula Gooder puts it in ‘Heaven’:

“Worship, at least occasionally, should be one of those times when heaven opens and we see that our words are not ours alone, but are joined together with heaven’s eternal worship before God’s throne”.

What difference would that make to our church gatherings?

Returning to John’s vision, all that was good in the beginning, but which had gone off the rails is one day to be restored fully. God the Father, the one seated on the throne that John sees, says “I am making everything new!”

“God will restore what was lost or distorted at the beginning”. Fee & Stuart – How to read the Bible book by book.

The Bible uses different ways to describe what is to happen but, while some see the old heaven and earth destroyed, others see the new heaven and new earth not as replacements for their old counterparts, but rather that God takes the old heaven and earth and renews them. A divine renovation.

But not just a fresh lick of paint. God makes everything new. Sparkling, brilliant, spotless.

John describes that there is no sea. For sailors, surfers and channel swimmers that might not sound like good news.

When Bible writers used the imagery of the sea though they generally thought of danger and chaos. It’s the first hint of the safety and security to be found in the new heaven and new earth.

We are sometimes nervous to think about the new earth as we hear the Jehovah’s witnesses talking about those who will live on the earth while the select 144,000 enjoy heaven (we’ll see later that the city of God is not a closed place).

But what John sees is unmistakeably earth. With presumably all the beauty you would expect to see in God’s creation. Magnified.

[2] But not only is there a new heaven and a new earth.

But a new Jerusalem. The city of God. The holy city as it is described here.

Coming down out of heaven. From God. Touching earth. A city and yet also described as a bride dressed up for the biggest of big days.

Isaiah again:
“18 But be glad and rejoice for ever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more” – Isaiah 65:18 & 19.

More of that later.

As often in Revelation we see things in different ways, as with the glorified risen Jesus as the Lion and the Lamb.

Here we see a bride but also a city!

The bride of Christ is a phrase used to describe His church. You and I if we have followed him and experienced His forgiveness and salvation. Elsewhere in Revelation that bride is described in more ordinary terms.

If men are talking to each other about a wedding one of them has been to, they will probably talk about the food.

Ladies on the other hand will want to know the finer detail of the dress!

There’s no great detail in chapter 19. The dress is “fine linen, bright and clean”.

The purity and righteousness that the Lamb who was slain has given to his bride through his victory on the cross.

The bride is clothed in Jesus’ righteousness.

To appreciate the dress fully, you’ll have to see it for yourself!

John is later to get a guided tour of the city.

[3] Something amazing is taking place and fittingly there is a loud voice to announce it!

God is now dwelling with men.

The word is the same as that used when God took up residence in the tabernacle. At one time he deigned to live in a tent and then later in the glory of the temple, although we were reminded that almighty God doesn’t live in a building made by hands.

Even the temple we spoke of earlier proved to be temporary.

Now we see something altogether more permanent.

A city.

As heaven and earth come together again.

God and humankind are together as never before.

And there is no disputing it. God is unmistakeably God.

Every knee is bowed at last.

[4] Verse 4 is hauntingly beautiful.

All the tears that we have cried on earth, will be wiped away.

By God himself.

A loving, tender Father.

And death is no more. Whether or not we have tasted death before Jesus returns, death will have no place when heaven and earth are re-created.

And once those tears are wiped away, as Eric Clapton sang on the loss of his young son, “there’ll be no more tears in heaven”.

Imagine that. Nothing more to cry about.

No broken families.

No more cancer.

No more financial worry.

No more natural disasters.

No child abuse.

No life taken far too early.

No freak accidents.

No discrimination.

No mind subjected to dementia.

No terrorism.

No war.

No more pain.

Not even the odd twinge!

For however we describe what has happened to heaven and earth, “the old order of things has passed away”.

Revelation was written to those who suffered and if we sometimes feel that is us, we can see here a promise of the end of that suffering.

Simon Thomas is a former Blue Peter presenter and now a presenter on Sky Sports. He is open about his Christian Faith. On Tuesday of this week his wife Gemma was diagnosed with leukaemia. On Friday she died. I am sure that Simon’s faith will not provide easy answers for him, in his “indescribable pain”, and his 8 year old son Ethan in the days to come. But I trust they will be encouraged to remember that one day tears will be wiped away and pain a thing of the past.

[5] God underlines it again from the throne:

“I am making everything new!”

Again John’s original readers may have gone back to Isaiah:

”He will swallow up death for ever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken”. Isaiah 25:8.

God’s promises are surely coming to pass.

[6] God continues:

“It is done”.

Is it fanciful to hear those words and hear them echoed in Jesus on the cross?

“It is finished”.

I don’t think it is fanciful.

For ultimately how is this transformation taking place?

It is not by an expert building job.

This perfect future is achieved through one thing.

The cross of Jesus.

His moment of glory and victory.

The day that changes all history.

This truly is eternal God speaking. The alpha and omega. The A-Z. The beginning and the end.

But truly for God there is no beginning and end.

And it’s his hands we are in.

His promise is the water of life – free of charge.

The best spring water ever.

It’s Isaiah time again!:

‘Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost’. Isaiah 55:1.

[7] “Those who are victorious will inherit this”.

Children of God.

[8] But in amongst all this glory is a reminder of a darker truth.

Some are not destined to enjoy all this but their destiny is in “a fiery lake of burning sulphur”.

In the previous chapter this lake is described as the final destination for the devil and his followers. Even death itself is thrown into the fire.

But now God gives a list of those consigned to that same fate, for an experience described as the second death:

Cowardly. Unbelieving. Vile. Murderers. Sexually immoral. Practising magic arts. Idolaters. Liars.

In the previous chapter John describes books being opened and people being judged according to what they had done.

The whole range of sin is mentioned here from murder to telling lies.

If we are judged according to what we have done which of us can stand before God?

We are all sinners.

No sinners in heaven.

Even the apostle Paul described himself as the chief of sinners.

King David was a murderer and adulterer.

And no place for liars?!

Thankfully the previous chapter talks about another book. The Lamb’s book of life.

Those whose names are found in that book will truly experience God’s salvation.

The idea of looking for my name in a book brings back some memories to me. Or at least looking for my name in a newspaper.

Nowadays it is different, but when I completed my legal studies, the way I found out if I had passed was to look in the Times or the Daily Telegraph. They published a list of names of the successful candidates.

One year I got up early and went to the newsagents. My name was not there.

The following year, after much hard work, my name was in the list. Spelt wrong, but definitely there!

I wonder:

Will only perfect people get to spend eternity in the presence of God?

John reminds us:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us”. 1 John 1:8.

Grace and mercy for sinners like you and me is found in Jesus – the Lamb. Christ came to save sinners.

If we all fall short in the books showing what we have done, any accusation is overcome if our names are in the Lamb’s book.

Are these books real or is this picture language as with so much of Revelation.

My first suggestion is that God the Father knows his children and doesn’t need to look us up in a book.

My second suggestion is that we can have confidence that God is ready to receive us. It will not be like that frantic looking through the newspaper years ago.

Jesus’ promise is that “whoever hears my word and believes…he has crossed over from death to life”( John 5:24-29).

Judgement is according to works, but “The book of life belongs to the Lamb, and all whose names are in it belong to him. His obedience covers our sin, and his power within us produces holiness”. Wilcock – The Message of Revelation.

We can have confidence through what Jesus has done for us.

But only through him.

The price of trying to make it with our own good works is too great.

But the bride is clothed in Jesus’ righteousness.

The “second death”, as God describes it, is avoidable, by God’s grace.

[9][10] There isn’t time this morning to look in detail at the vision of the city of God. We are reminded again that the city, the bride, comes down to earth “down out of heaven from God”.

[11]-[21] It’s glorious, with the brilliance of precious stones.

Even the streets are made of gold.

There is security in its high walls, guarded by angels.

Israel’s tribes are represented in its pearly gates.

Its foundations are the 12 apostles.

[22] As John’s readers looked at the city they may have expected to see the temple, so central to the city of Jerusalem. But there is no such place now.

Now there is no need for a building to meet with God. Although of course there is no need now for a building to enable us to worship God.

The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb ARE the temple.

Now there is no barrier and we see them face to face!

[23] The sun and moon are even made redundant as we bask in the glory of God himself and the lamp of the Lamb. The light of the world indeed.

We are presented with a secure city but also an open city. There’s a sense of life going on. The nations will walk by that light. The kings of the earth will visit.

It seems that all that is truly good and beautiful from this world, is purified and enhanced. Nothing of real value is lost. It’s all now as God intended.

Such is the security that the gates need never be shut. And there is no night. No need to lock up and put the cat out.

[24]-[26] It’s interesting how the vision John has shows people coming and going between the new earth and the holy city. Makes you wonder what life in this new place will be like.

[27] There’s a reminder again that nothing impure can enter. Nothing can go wrong. There will be no one to be afraid of.

“Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” will have access.

[1] As we continue into the opening verses of the following chapter we are shown a river in the city.

Initially as I read this passage it all seemed to be about God the Father and God the Son, and stupidly I wondered where God the Holy Spirit is!
This crystal clear river reminds us that He is here.

I am reminded of some of Jesus’ words in John’s gospel, as I look at this river:

“14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14.

“37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’[c] 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified”. John 7:37-39

This river is flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb.

[2] Down the middle of that high street made of gold.

On either side of the road is the tree of life.

In the final chapter of the Bible we are thrown back to Eden itself.

Remember there were 2 trees that Adam & Eve were prohibited from eating from.

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Which they ate from.

And the tree of life. Which they were prevented from eating from.

Years before John’s vision, Ezekiel had prophesied, through a similar vision:

12 Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.’ Ezekiel 47:12.

Now that fruit of life is available to all.

[3]-[5] The curse has been removed.

The throne of God and Lamb are in the city. His servants will serve him. There will be ways in which we will continue to serve God. But not in the dark, but in the light of His face.

The name of God will be on their foreheads. We will be plainly seen as His.

Again we are reminded there is no night, no lamps, no sun.

“The Lord God will give them light”.

“And they will reign forever and ever”. We will be serving, but we will also be reigning! I wonder what that will mean.

What a truly astounding picture. It’s our great hope as Christians!

It’s something to anticipate, but how do we live now in the light of it?

How urgently will we share the good news of Jesus with those around us?

Simon Ponsonby writes:

“Such a hope, such a heaven, must have a powerful impact on our lives. The contemplation of it must lead us to action”. (And the Lamb wins).

“Your kingdom come, your will be done” we often pray. Wanting more and more to see heaven on earth, in the knowledge that one day all that hides heaven from our view will be stripped away.

Let’s be those who work to enable others to see the kingdom of heaven, as we look forward to that day when God’s dwelling will be with his people.

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