JESUS CHRIST AND HIS BRIDE - [3] The new heaven and new earth [Revelation 21:1-8]

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015

In John 14:2,3 Jesus said ‘I am going … to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am’. In this context he used the symbol of his Father’s ‘house’ and the concept of ‘many rooms’. When we come to Revelation 21 we soon realize that these symbols are a massive understatement – that the reality is not just ‘rooms’ in a spacious ‘house’, albeit God’s ‘house’, but ‘a new heaven and a new earth’. The ‘bride’ does not come in Revelation 21 until all is ready - all evil has been removed, everything is new - until the Lamb has prepared the perfect place for his ‘bride’ where he will live with her forever.

A. THE NEW HEAVEN AND THE NEW EARTH – 21:1-8

Revelation 20:11-15 did not mention the outcome of the judgment for the redeemed – those whose names are in the book of life. All that we know is that the redeemed could not and did not end up in ‘the lake of fire’ which is ‘the second death’. Now John is given a vision of what happens to the redeemed after all evil has been dealt with.

Bible students debate whether the ‘new earth’ is meant to be taken literally. There is a popular conception that in the final state there is no ‘earth’, only ‘heaven’, and that the phrase ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ is a way of referring to the permanent heavenly state in which the redeemed, along with the angels, do nothing else but sing praise and play harps. In this perception there is no expectation of a perfect physical existence on a perfect physical earth. [Some premillennialists seem to want to see the millennial period as the ‘new earth’ – but there is obviously still sin and death during the ‘thousand years’ so it is quite clear that the millennial period is not the ‘new earth’, regardless of when the millennium occurs.]

In the symbolic description of the eternal state given in Revelation 21 and 22 there is much, much more said about the ‘new earth’ than about the ‘new heaven’. What appears to happen is that ‘heaven’ comes to ‘earth’, not that earth ceases to exist. This will be discussed later in this study.

A.1 The ‘new heaven’ and ‘new earth’ – 21:1
While the Old Testament contains numerous expectations of renewal, the specific promise of ‘new heavens’ and ‘a new earth’ was given through Isaiah in 65:17ff. Peter also anticipated ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ [2Peter 3:13]. The word used for ‘new’ is kainos – meaning ‘new’ as in terms of quality or nature, not neos – meaning ‘new’ in terms of time or age. The meaning is not that heaven and earth have been totally destroyed and a totally new and different replacement heaven and earth are created. Rather, the quality and nature of the existing heaven and earth have been renewed. That a renewal rather than a start-from-scratch creation is involved is obvious from Romans 8:19-22 where the existing earth is groaning as it waits eagerly for its release from its present corruption. Similarly Paul speaks of ‘the redemption of our bodies’ [Romans 8:23] and says ‘we will be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye … the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality’ [1Corinthians 15:51-53]. He envisages a renewal, a transformation, of our physical bodies, not a swapping of one body for another.

Here in 21:1 John mentions two things:

[1] The first heaven and the first earth had passed away.
The Greek verb is in the Aorist tense both here and in verse 4. This indicates that the change was not a process spread over a period of time but a one-off, once and for all occurrence. Note that similar abrupt changes have been reported in previous visions of the end – in 6:14 the ‘sky receded like a scroll’ and ‘every mountain and island was removed from its place’; and in 16:20 ‘every island fled away’. In each of these the Aorist is used.

In previous visions we have seen a range of catastrophic physical disasters in both preliminary judgments and the final judgment. The whole of the physical universe was involved when God’s wrath was poured out. This impact on ‘nature’ is not to be understood as a judgment on the natural world – there is nothing sinful about the natural world. Rather it is God using the natural world as the instruments and context of his judgment.

There is some debate about what it means that ‘heaven’ passed away, and there is a new ‘heaven’. We have seen in earlier studies that the Bible uses the term ‘heavens’ and ‘heaven’ in a range of ways. Two of these are of relevance for this verse. [1] that the word ‘heavens’ refers to that part of the physical creation that is distinguishable from ‘the earth’ – including the atmosphere, the stars, the planets, the entire universe that is ‘out there’ viewed from the perspective of earth. If Revelation is referring to this concept of the ‘heavens’ or ‘heaven’, there are no particular problems in speaking of its passing away and being renewed. [2] ‘Heaven’ is a reference to God’s dwelling place, to wherever he is. This is the way the word ‘heaven’ has been used in many of John’s visions – he ‘saw heaven open’, for example. If this is what Revelation intends us to understand, the question is raised ‘What was wrong with the first or former ‘heaven’? It was the earth that was cursed, not ‘heaven’, not God’s ‘home’. However, once humans sinned their contact with ‘heaven’ ceased. They were banned from God’s presence. Heaven was shut to them. This is symbolised very clearly in the structure and furnishings of the Tabernacle and Temple. God, who created us for an unimpeded relationship of love with himself, must impose law and judgment. He who intended that we would call him Father [Jeremiah 3:19] must, since the entry of human sin, rule over us as Lawgiver, Policeman, Jury, Judge and Jailer, even as Executioner. Looking at it this way, this old ‘heaven’ has passed away, the ‘new heaven’ has come, as we will see as we study the text.

This involvement of the natural world in God’s judgment began in Genesis 3. There our physical bodies became subject to death and decay as part of God’s judgment on our sin. There the natural process of birth became painful as part of God’s judgment on our sin. There our physical labour became difficult and stressful by the changes God impressed on the natural world because of our sin. If we move to Genesis 6 to 9 the whole world – animate and inanimate – was involved in God’s judgment on our human sin. This massive physical catastrophe, just like the original physical changes in Genesis 3, altered for all time the ‘heavens and the earth’. The whole creation was made subject to corruption as part of God’s judgment on human sin [Romans 8:19-22]. We have seen in earlier studies how God has repeatedly called on the natural world to stand aghast at human sin and wickedness. We have also seen how the natural world has been called upon to rejoice when salvation comes to humans.

Now in Revelation 21:1 ‘the first heaven and the first earth had passed away’. Those changes in the physical world that resulted from human sin have been removed. This has already been indicated by one phrase in the previous chapter – ‘death’ was ‘thrown into the lake of fire’ [20:14 – Aorist Tense]: there is no more death. In a decisive one-off action, death has been permanently disposed of. All of the changes to the physical world because of human sin meant that death, and all that causes death, was in the world. Now ‘death’ has been removed, because the judgment is past - because there is no more judgment. Nor will there ever be any more judgment because there is no more human sin. [1Corinthians 15:26 teaches that ‘the last enemy to be destroyed is death’ – after Christ has ‘destroyed all dominion, authority and power’ (verse 24). And this is what has just happened in Revelation 20:10,14.]

[2] There was no longer any sea.
Remembering that we are in an apocalyptic vision we need to ask what is symbolised by this statement. Does John mean us to understand that there are no oceans, no lakes, no seas in the ‘new heaven and new earth’? Or is he using ‘sea’ as a symbol?

The Bible affirms that the seas were created by God, and declared ‘good’ [Genesis 1:9,10]. This original creation of the seas by God, and their on-going sustenance by God, is supported by other Scriptures, for example Psalm 95:5; 104:24,25; Jonah 1:9. This creation by God affirms that there is nothing about the sea in itself that merits or necessitates its removal. So we can fairly safely dismiss the idea that this ‘no more sea’ is to be taken literally.

There are various symbolic or semi-symbolic references to ‘sea’ or ‘seas’ in the Bible, most of them having some connection with the concept of separation:

[1] The ‘sea’, or the ‘islands of the sea’, are used to refer to distant peoples who do not belong to Israel, and who do not know God. At some point in time they begin to acknowledge and glorify God [Isaiah 11:11; 24:15,16; 42:10-12]. Here a previously existing separation between humans and the knowledge of God is removed. This ‘sea’ of human separation from God and from the knowledge of God, does not exist in the ‘new heaven and new earth’. Note that the related separation between those who know God and those who don’t is also gone, for there is no one who does not know him.

[2] Repeated references are made to the ‘sea’ which separated the fleeing Israelite slaves from the safety. The Red Sea stood between them and life. It is a massive symbol of the sin that separates human from God and from life.  This ‘sea’ has gone in the new heaven and new earth.

[3] Within Revelation we have already seen the ‘sea’ of glass before the throne [4:6], which prevented access to God, but which the redeemed have traversed in 15:2. It is understood that this ‘sea’ probably relates to the ‘laver’ [sometimes called ‘the sea’] in the Tabernacle and Temple. This laver indicated the need for cleansing from sin, and was therefore indicative of the holiness of God which banned sinners from his presence. Again the thought of separation is involved. Such a prohibition and such a cleansing are not needed in the new heaven and new earth.

[4] Also within Revelation there are two negative references to the ‘sea’: (1) the first ‘beast’ arises from the sea [13:1], and (2) ‘the great prostitute’ ‘sits on many waters’ [17:1], however the word used here is not ‘sea’, but ‘waters’. Verse 15 states that ‘the waters … are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages’. The application of this symbol to the ‘no longer any sea’ 21:1 is quite apt, as these evil realities have all been terminated, but it is not clear if this is what is intended by the vision.

That there is no more sea we can understand to mean that there is absolutely no separation, no barriers, between humans and God: nothing that causes division at all, and nothing that can cause division. Nothing can interrupt the relationship. Ever. Indeed, the inclusion of the statement that ‘there was no longer any sea’ immediately following ‘the first heaven and the first earth had passed away’ could well be intended to teach us that there is no longer any separation between ‘heaven’ [God] and ‘earth’ [humans]. That this is true becomes obvious as we study these final two chapters.

A.2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God … 21:2
In verse 2 the ‘city’ is introduced. It is described in some detail from 21:8 to 22:5. Both terms, ‘the Holy City’ and ‘the new Jerusalem’ are symbolic references to the redeemed corporately.

Paul uses this imagery in Galatians 4:21-31, where he teaches that believers are ‘children of promise, symbolised by Sarah and her son, and corresponding to ‘the Jerusalem that is above’, in distinction from the physical city of Jerusalem. The ‘Jerusalem that is from above’ is described as ‘free’ and ‘the mother of us all’.

Hebrews 12:22, addressing believers, states ‘You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.’ In Hebrews 11:10 we read that Abraham ‘was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God’ and in 11:16 we read of the faithful that ‘God … has prepared a city for them’. In this context reference is made to the ‘heavenly country’ for which all the Old Testament faithful were longing.

Jesus, in Revelation 3:12 promised him who overcomes that he would write on him ‘the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God’.

In Revelation 11:2 the ‘holy city’ is a symbol for the Church during the age of witness. This ‘holy city’ stands in contrast to the ‘city’ or ‘great city’ otherwise symbolised by ‘Babylon’ and ‘the great prostitute’, and mentioned numerous times from Revelation 14 to 19.

In Revelation 20:9 the redeemed are referred to as ‘the city he loves’ [NIV] or ‘the beloved city’ [KJV].

Verse 1 has told us that the ‘new heaven and new earth’ are ready. Now verse 2 tells us that the ‘the new Jerusalem’ is ready. [This has already been mentioned in 19:7 under the symbol of the ‘bride’, a symbol repeated in 21:2 and 9.]

A.3 The loud voice from the throne … the dwelling of God is with men … 21:3
In the words spoken by the loud voice we find the answer to some of the issues raised in discussing verse 1. Verse 3 begins a description of what the passing away of the first heaven and the first earth, and the removal of the sea means, and in what ways the heaven and the earth are ‘new’.

This passing away of the old and this ‘new’ heaven and earth mean the permanent presence of God with his people. This is stated in a number of ways:

The dwelling [= ‘tent’ or ‘tabernacle’] of God is with men.
He will live with them.
They will be his people.
God himself will be with them and be their God.

There is no more separation between God and humans. The divisive and prohibitive barriers of sin have been totally removed never to be erected again. Perhaps this is why those four ‘living creatures’ those ancient ‘cherubim’ are nowhere mentioned in this vision. They are no longer needed to ban access to God, nor to ban access to the Tree of Life, as we will see in chapter 22.

That God and his people dwell together – he as their God and they as his people - is the eschatological hope of the Old Testament. The New Testament takes up this hope and applies it to all the redeemed, understanding that it is fulfilled and made possible in and through the saving work of Jesus Christ and brought to its final and perfect expression here in Revelation 21:3:

The Tabernacle, and later the Temple, was a symbol of God’s presence with the people of Israel [Leviticus 26:11,12]. It is also a prophetic symbol of his presence with the redeemed, as testified by various New Testament verses.

The Psalms consider living in the presence of God the ultimate blessedness [15:1; 23:6; 27:4-6; 61:4; 65:4; 84:4; 91:1], but this hope was frequently subdued by awareness of unworthiness.

Jeremiah was particularly conscious of this eschatological hope, which he based on the historic covenant relationship of God and his people [7:23; 11:4]. He saw a future God-given renewal as the means by which this hope would be realised [24:7; 30:21,22; 31:33,34; 32:37.38].

Similarly other Old Testament prophets anticipated this restored relationship between God and his people, brought about not by human merit but by an action of God’s sovereign mercy [Ezekiel 11:19,20; 36:25-32; 37:23-28; Hosea 2:23; Zephaniah 3:14-17; Zechariah 2:10,11; 8:3,8].

These Old Testament prophecies of restored and permanent relationship with God, regardless of their partial physical and temporary fulfilment in the history of Israel, are taken up by the New Testament and applied to the salvation we have in Christ. Paul applies Hosea 2:23 to both Jews and Gentiles who believe in Christ [Romans 9:24,25], and sees Leviticus 26:12 as a reference to God dwelling in the church [2Corinthians 6:16]. The writer to the Hebrews cites Jeremiah 31:31-34, applying it to the new covenant established by Jesus Christ and his Gospel [Hebrews 8:10]. Peter refers Hosea 2:23 to those who belong to Christ [1Peter 2:10].

This dwelling of God in and with those who believe in his Son is further taught in the New Testament, without specific reference to individual Old Testament verses, whenever the Church, individually or corporately, is referred to as the ‘temple of God’ [1Corinthians 3:16,17; 6:19; Ephesians 2:21,22]. It is also taught by Jesus in John 15:1-8 where he spoke of mutual indwelling, and in his promises concerning the Holy Spirit whom he would send from the Father to indwell them [14:15-26; 15:26; 16:5-16].

In Revelation, Jesus promised him who overcomes that he would be ‘a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it’ [3:12], and in the vision in 7:15 the redeemed are perpetually in God’s temple, with ‘his tent’ spread over them [NIV] or, KJV, with God dwelling among them.

Now in Revelation 21:3 all these prophetic hopes of the Old Testament have reached their final completion. Now here, that which the New Testament redeemed enjoyed in part, and by way of the ‘deposit’ or down-payment of the Spirit [Ephesians 1:13,14], they now will enjoy in its full and glorious reality. In the words of a Christian song ‘God and man at table are sat down’. Without barriers. Without judgment. Without fear. Of this eternal reality the incarnate Jesus spoke ‘I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture’ [John 10:9]. Of this reality the exalted Christ said ‘I will come in and eat with him, and he with me’ [Revelation 3:20]. To the eastern mind eating together signified fellowship, acceptance, security.

A.4 He will wipe away every tear … 21:4
As explanation of the renewal of the heaven and the earth, verse 4 summarizes the removal of all those aspects of the current world that entered in Genesis 3 - tears, death, mourning, crying, pain. [See also Revelation 7:16,17.]

Despite the fact that the text states that God wipes away every tear, the extent of this eradication of tears, pain, crying, and death is debated. A critical factor in this debate is how the original creation is understood. For example, the position of theistic evolution assumes long years of suffering and death prior to human sin. This position makes it difficult to hold that Revelation 21:4 is a restoration of the total perfection original creation, for if the original was the result of a long process it was not without pain, tears, and death. The question of whether or not pain and death in the animal world is also removed here in 21:4 is also a problem. Some Christians believe the absence of death in Genesis 1 and 2 included the birds and animals, at least those described in Genesis as ‘living creatures’, but other Christians, including some young earth creationists, disagree. This disagreement clashes with a number of Scriptures, unless those Scriptures are taken symbolically.

The Scriptures anticipating the eradication of pain, tears, crying and death include the following:

According to the Isaiah 11:6-9, when the Messiah comes [verses 1-5]:

Animals which previously preyed upon other animals, will live in harmony with animals which were formerly their prey [Isaiah 11:6,7; see also 65:25].

Animals which were previously life-threatening to humans will be so no more [Isaiah 11:6,8].

There will be no harm and no destruction at all [Isaiah 11:9; see also 65:25].

The reason all the physical danger is removed is stated as ‘For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea’ [verse 9]. It could be assumed by this that the references to animals living at peace is symbolic of human peace; but such a conclusion overlooks the synergy between human sin and traumas in the natural world that is attested by the Scripture, and the parallel synergy between human righteousness and order in the natural world.

According to Isaiah 25:7,8:

God destroys ‘the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever’.

In this context, Isaiah wrote ‘The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth’ [verse 8].

Although this has a physical, temporal application to the disgrace of Israel among the nations, its deep significance is far broader: all around the earth, every corrupt and dysfunctional aspect of nature – all the destructive, dangerous aspects of nature that cause death – all of these are witness to our human disgrace, to the fact that we, whom God created for his glory, listened to the evil one instead of listening to God, and in doing so chose the death that God had forbidden.

Every natural thing that causes death bears witness to that choice we made in Genesis 3: that we deliberately said ‘yes’ to what God in his wisdom and love had said ‘no’ [Genesis 2:17]. This constant reminder of our sin that is shouting at us from the present natural world will not exist in the new earth.

According to Isaiah 33:24:

‘no one living in Zion will say ‘I am ill’. The parallel statement in this verse is’ the sins of those who dwell there will be forgiven.’ Sickness entered the world only because of human sin; now that human sin has been completely removed, sickness also has been removed. [This is contained in the fact that ‘death’ has been removed – Revelation 20:14; 21:4. Anything that causes death either instantly or in the long term, has been removed.]

According to Isaiah 35:

Productivity and habitability will be restored to the earth [verse 1,2,7]
Human physical disabilities will cease [verses 5,6].
Ferocious animals will not be there [verse 9].
Sorrow and sighing will flee away [verse 10].

According to Isaiah 55:12-13:

There is peace [verse 12].

Creation responds with joy [verse 12]. [A similar joyous response is commanded in Psalm 98:8,9 as a result of God coming ‘to judge the earth’.]

The curse on the ground and vegetation [Genesis 3:17,18] is reversed [verse13].

When Jesus walked on the earth he healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf and speech to the mute, he made the lame walk again, and he gave life to the dead. He understood these miracles to be evidence that he the King was in the midst of the people, he understood that these healings were manifestations of his Kingdom. What he did then in a limited and temporary measure (‘temporary’ because death and suffering were still present and would have to be faced again by the same people he had healed or raised), he now does at the end in a complete and permanent way. The Kingdom, inaugurated by the events of his incarnation, is here completed and consummated.

A.5 … for the old order of things has passed away.
This is the reason there are no tears, pain, mourning, crying or death, and this is the explanation of the passing away of the first heaven and first earth and the coming of the new heaven and new earth. The old order of things has passed away [NIV]. The former things are passed away [KJV]. The way things were before is not how they are now. Everything is changed.

A similar concept is found in 2Corinthians 5:17, where Paul, speaking of the spiritual change that had taken place for all who are ‘in Christ’ wrote ‘the old has gone, the new has come’. On the spiritual level the ‘new creation’ – the new world, began at the moment a person believed. The old operating principle of ‘the law of sin and death’ [Romans 8:2] ceased, and the new operating principle of ‘the law of the Spirit of life’ began to operate through Christ. Whereas previously ‘death reigned’ [Romans 5:17] and ‘sin reigned in death’ now, from the point of their conversion, grace reigns for those who are in Christ [Romans 5:21].

Now in Revelation 21, in fulfilment of the Old Testament prophetic expectation, and in consummation of the New Testament Kingdom already inaugurated on the spiritual level, the old order of things has been removed from every area of existence. The new order of things applies to everything. Everything that came into the universe because of human sin has gone.

 

B. CONFIRMATION FROM THE THRONE – 21:5-8

Just in case we hand not understood or had not really believed what has already been stated several times in various ways, God himself – ‘the one seated on the throne’ - interrupts the loud voice and assures us that it is all true.

B.1 ‘I am making everything new …’ 21:5
It is God himself, the one ‘seated on the throne’ [Greek: ‘the one sitting on the throne’], who is ‘making everything new’ [NIV], or as the KJV has it ‘Behold, I make all things new’, [Greek: ‘see, new I make all’. This is not something done in a corner or behind God’s back. This renewal, this restoration, is done by the sovereign, Almighty God.

B.2 ‘… these words are trustworthy and true’ – 21:5
The word translated ‘trustworthy’ here and in 22:6 where it applies to the ‘words’, is translated ‘faithful’ in 3:14 and 19:11 where it applies to Jesus Christ. Because a person is faithful, his words are trustworthy. This ‘trustworthiness’ of the words of the one on the throne is applied to the entire Revelation in 22:6, because the whole Revelation, as we saw in 1:1 comes from both God and from Jesus Christ. Here in 21:5 they refer specifically to the words about the removal of death, tears, etc and the total renewal of all things. Because they are trustworthy, John is commanded to be sure to write them down. God does not want us to miss anything of what is here being confirmed.

B.3 ‘It is done’
Just like that. No sooner has God said ‘I make all things new’ than we read ‘It is done.’ We might expect that the same word previously used for completion [teleo] would be used here, or perhaps the word for fulfilment [pleroo], but those words signify the end of something. Although this event is the goal, the end towards which God has been working, from another perspective God is here drawing our attention to the beginning of something. The verb is ginomai which means something like becoming, or coming into existence, or happening. God said ‘I make all things new’ and it happened. The total ‘new’ came into being. The state or condition of everything changed. There is nothing of the ‘old’ left. The verb is Perfect Tense, indicating a completed action the results of which remain completed. This ‘all things new’ is now the permanent state.

B.4 ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End’.
We have heard these and similar words before applied to either God or Jesus, and will hear them again:

God is ‘the Alpha and the Omega’ [1:8].
[In some translations] Jesus is ‘the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last’ [1:11].
Jesus is ‘the First and the Last’ [1:17; 2:8].
Jesus is ‘the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End’ [22:13].

Here in 21:6 God, assures us that we, and the whole universe, that universe now totally renewed, are totally dependent on him. From him we exist. By him we exist. For him we exist. Nothing we need, nothing we have, can come from any other source, for everything comes from him. That previous state of affairs in which we believed we could exist and survive and find meaning and purpose and fulfilment apart from him is now totally removed. Now, in this new heaven and new earth, we will, for the first time since Genesis 3, truly live. Now, for the first time since then, our true being, our true identity, our complete potential as human beings is achieved. Now, we are once again what God created us to be, because now we are in that perfect relationship with him who is our Alpha and our Omega. Our Beginning and our End – our ‘telos’ – the one by whom we were created, the one from whom we have our true identity and meaning. In him we are complete. That which is presently true in terms of our spiritual salvation [Colossians 2:10] is now true in every aspect of our being and existence.

B.5 ‘To him who is thirsty I will give to drink … from the spring of the water of life …’ 21:6
This message is addressed to all who read the Revelation. It assures those who have already truly believed. It challenges those who have not yet believed. This promise is directly related to the fact that God is ‘the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End’. God himself is the source and sustainer of human life – every dimension of human life. That old order that here in Revelation 21 has ‘passed away’ is not, and never was, God’s purpose for human life. The real human life is the life lived in unimpeded relationship with him.

The Psalm writers knew of the emptiness of life without God and longed for the connection with God which alone would satisfy:

‘O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water’ [63:1].
 ‘I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land’ [143:6].

Isaiah anticipated this ‘all things new’ in which the ‘thirsty’ drink from the water of life. He wrote in 55:1

‘Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!’

Jesus spoke of it, indicating that belief in him restores this life-giving, life-sustaining relationship at the spiritual level:

‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you fro a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water’ [John 4:10].

‘… whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life’ [John 4:14].

‘ … he who believes in me will never be thirsty’ [John 6:35].
‘Whoever believes in me … streams of living water will flow from within him’ [John 7:38].

Now in the consummation of all things this life-giving connection with God becomes complete. It is no longer only the spiritual renewal present during the interim between the first and second comings; it is the fullness of life on every dimension – life lived without the presence of sin with its inhibitions and insecurities and twistedness, life lived in perfect dependence upon God – our Source and our Goal. Life to the full abundance intended by God [John 10:10].

B.6 ‘ … without cost …’ – 21:6
Here in these two words is the grace of the Gospel. Here in these two words is the sin-bearing death Christ which makes this gift possible and just. Note the ‘you who have no money’ in the Isaiah quote above. Read further in that chapter and note the ‘freely pardon’ in verse 7, and the incomprehensible ‘thoughts’ and ‘ways’ of God out of which this free pardon, this ‘water of life’ ‘without cost’, comes in verses 8 and 9.

All the human religions provide a list of perquisites and conditions which must be met in order to attain to the ultimate state of blessedness promised in each religion. There are conditions. There is a cost – of human effort, of human sacrifice, of human obedience. But here, in keeping with the Gospel of grace spoken of in both Old and New Testaments, ‘life’ – life beyond the grave, life beyond the end, life in the perfect ‘new heaven and new earth’ – is offered ‘without cost’. It is free.

Suggested reading:
Romans 3:21-26
Romans 5:15-20
Ephesians 2:1-10

B.6 ‘He who overcomes will inherit all this …’ – 21:7
Back in Genesis 1 God created a world for human habitation and human dominion. That world became cursed because of human sin. Now the curse has been removed from the earth. The old has gone. The new has come [21:1-4]. Back in Genesis 1 God created humans to live in such a relationship with himself that he himself was imaged in them. That relationship and that image was made impossible by the sin that separated humans from God. A curse fell upon humans - their inability to fulfil the righteous requirements of God’s law [Galatians 3:10], their spiritual death which was the wages of sin [Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:1,5]. Now that curse also has been removed by the life-giving death of the Lamb [Galatians 3:14] and ‘heaven’, life with God, is again enjoyed by man – the old has gone, the new has come [21:6].

All this [the Greek is simply ‘these’] – both dimensions of the new heaven and the new earth – is inherited by ‘he who overcomes’.

We met this ‘he who overcomes’ in the letters to the seven churches [Revelation 2 and 3]. In those seven letters various aspects of blessedness were promised to ‘he who overcomes’, the large majority of them obviously referring to the salvation all who believe in Christ receive by grace through his death. We also saw these overcomers in 12:11 and 15:2.

In the seven letters we saw the Christian life being lived out in the context of pressure [suffering] – the pressure of physical persecution, the pressure of economic hardship caused by faithfulness to Christ, and the pressure to embrace false religion, along with the reduced morality it fostered. In Revelation 12 the source of the pressure is the devil, which includes every kind of pressure. In Revelation 13 the source of the pressure is ‘the beast’ – antagonistic human governments, and ‘his image’ – pressure of false religion, and ‘the number of his name’ – related to economic hardship.

The first key factor in overcoming is ‘the blood of the Lamb’ [12:11]. These people who overcome belong to God – they were purchased by him with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. They have already been redeemed, rescued, delivered from Satan – he has no right to them [Acts 20:28; Colossians 1:13; 1Peter 1:18,20; Revelation 5:9].

The second key factor in overcoming is ‘the word of their testimony’ [12:11]. As we have seen, Revelation repeatedly refers to ‘the word of God’ and ‘the testimony of Jesus’ sometimes together, sometimes separately [1:2,9; 3:8; 6:9; 12:17; 19:10; 20:4]. 12:11 is the only place where Revelation refers to ‘their’ testimony. The word ‘testimony’ means simply ‘witness’ – their ‘witness’ – that is, the facts, the truth, that they knew and held about Jesus Christ. It is that truth, that knowledge, that faith content, that overcomes the evil one [see Ephesians 6:10-17].

These two key factors in overcoming are the possession and the protection of all who believe in Jesus Christ: the blood of the Lamb and the truth about Jesus Christ. These words ‘he who overcomes’ in 21:7 are not here to frighten the believers, but rather to comfort and encourage the believers, to assure them that ‘all this’ is their inheritance. They are the ones whose names are in the book of life and have therefore not worshipped the beast [13:8], they are the redeemed, they are the saints, they are the overcomers to whom this strong word of promise is given.

Here in 21:7 is the culmination and conclusion of all the New Testament references to the inheritance of the saints:

They inherit the earth - Matthew 5:5
They inherit everlasting life – Matthew 19:29
They inherit a kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world – Matthew 25:34
It is obtained through the word of grace – Acts 20:32; 26:18
It depends on grace and promise, not law – Galatians 3:18
It has already been obtained in Christ – Ephesians 1:11 [KJV and Greek text]
It is guaranteed by the indwelling Spirit – Ephesians 1:14
It is rich and glorious – Ephesians 1:18
God has qualified those who believe in Christ to share in this inheritance – Colossians 1:12
It is certain – Colossians 3:24
It is eternal – Hebrews 9:15
It is grounded in the covenant established by the death of Christ – Hebrews 9:15
It can ‘never perish, spoil or fade’ and is ‘kept in heaven’ for those who believe – 1Peter 1:4

This is what the New Testament believers have been waiting for. This is the basis of that ‘patient endurance’ of which John spoke in Revelation 1:9. This also is that eternal ‘better country’, that ‘city’ for which the Old Testament faithful looked [Hebrews 11:16].

Now, God says, you who believe, you who by the blood of the Lamb and the testimony of Jesus have overcome the evil one, you ‘inherit all this’. ‘All this’ – all this that the Lamb has prepared for his ‘bride’.

B.7 ‘But …’
In the vision God has affirmed the completion of the ‘new heaven and new earth’. In the vision ‘it is done’. But in human time it is not yet ‘done’. In human time we are still in the age when repentance is possible, when grace and forgiveness are available to all. There is still opportunity for sinners to be saved. So God, ever seeking the lost, again sounds the warning of the terrible fate that awaits all who refuse to come to him and accept from him the free gift of eternal life, and he and the Lamb will sound this warning again in 21:27 and yet again in 22:15.

This is not meant to frighten and unsettle the redeemed, but to save the lost, including those who associate with the redeemed but are not the redeemed, and those who have fake faith in a fake Jesus, and who are also not the redeemed.

The list of those who are excluded from the inheritance includes –

‘the cowardly’ [the timid, the fearful]. It is difficult to define exactly what is intended here. Peter was ‘cowardly’ and ‘fearful’ when he denied Christ three times, but this did not negate his saving faith in Christ. Paul was aware of his own fearfulness in preaching the Gospel, so much so that he requested prayer [Ephesians 6:19,20]. Jesus referred to his disciples as ‘fearful’ in Matthew 8:26 when they were terrified of the storm. He also assumed they were fearful when he said ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid’ when speaking of his departure [John 14:27]. In all of these references the root word is the same. Perhaps the meaning is that true faith, which is God’s gift, endures, even though it is fearful, because God makes sure it endures, whereas fake faith, which is not God’s gift, cannot endure under pressure, but gives up [see Matthew 13:20,21].

‘the unbelieving’ – this needs no explanation. They do not believe in Jesus Christ.

the vile’ – bdeloosso - a word meaning detestable, abominable; often referred to idolaters, but these are mentioned separately.

‘the murderers, the sexually immoral’ – these need no explanation.

those who practice magic arts’ – pharmakeus – those who cast spells through use of drugs, meaning sorcery.

‘the idolaters’ – those who worship false gods.

‘all liars’ – the reference is to whatever is deceitful, erroneous, untrue; this is most likely a particular reference to false teachers, but includes reference to all deception.

[Other lists of ‘the wicked’ who will not inherit the kingdom of God are given in 1Corinthians 6:9,10; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:5,6. Each of these lists defines the kinds of behaviour that are inappropriate for God’s children who are inheriting the Kingdom. It is this kind of behaviour, says Paul, that attracts the wrath of God to those who do not believe in Christ, and excludes them from the Kingdom. It is, therefore, utterly out of order for those who have escaped that wrath to think that this behaviour is acceptable in the Kingdom.]

The mention of this list of those who are excluded, in the middle of this vision about the new heaven and the new earth has a twofold significance for the redeemed:

[1] It reminds them that their inheritance of the new heaven and new earth is entirely due to God’s grace by which they are cleansed. For this list of prohibited persons is what the redeemed once were. The redeemed were once unbelieving, idolaters, vile, murderers, immoral, liars, and so on. But now they inherit ‘all this’.

[2] It assures the redeemed that not only has death been removed and all the causes death in the natural world, but so also have all ‘the inhabitants of the earth’ by whom they had been pressured, persecuted and killed. There is no human being left who will cause suffering, pain and hurt. There is no human being left who will be trying to corrupt the redeemed. There is no human being left who will cause fear or threat. Peace will be restored, not only between God and humans, not only between creation and humans, but also between humans and humans. Joy, peace and trust will return to the earth.

All those mentioned in this list, as we have seen previously, end up in the place of permanent judgment – the ‘second death’, the ‘fiery lake of burning sulphur’ [verse 8].