Fifth Sunday after Easter
April 24, 2016 – originally preached at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Stewartville, MN
May 15, 2022 – reformed and made new for the people of God at St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Lee’s Summit, MO
Focus: God is making all things new.
Function: That the hearers trust in the Word of Christ given for them.
Structure: Walking through the text.
A New Heaven and a New Earth: Not Mere Fiction
This is one of my favorite texts in all of Scripture. And I’m so excited to have the opportunity to share it with you, to preach on this section of Revelation. It holds glorious words of promise, what Christ has done for you, but also what Christ is still doing for you.
But before we get there, let’s just take a step back and look at where we are. During the season of Easter, we’re spending six consecutive weeks in the book of Revelation. We started three weekends ago with Revelation chapter 1. Then we read from chapter 5, and last week chapter 7. But now today, we jump all the way to Revelation chapter 21. We’ll stay in chapter 21 next week before finishing two weekends from now with chapter 22, the final chapter of Revelation.
But that means we skipped a lot. From chapter 7 to 21. That’s hopping over two-thirds of the letter, which is why I wanted to summarize it all for you just two weeks ago. Because now we’ve just flown by the censors and the trumpets. We bypassed dragons and demons battling with angels. We miss out on the epic warfare, that ends much faster than the devil thought it would. We miss the end of the world. Literally. That’s in chapter 20. We’ve skipped past all of the images of what’s going on in the world, in your life, right now.
But that’s not the point of Revelation, to be an A-to-Z timeline of what happens in history. Rather, we see the ongoing reality of man intertwined with the kingdom of God, the people who put their hope in the Second Coming of Christ. That is, God’s victory for us.
1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
Wow! What a verse! The former things, the things of this world that we know, and sadly that we still cling to, are no more. Done, passed away. People often ask if this is symbolism, it’s just prophecy right? God isn’t actually going to destroy heaven and earth is He? Why does heaven have to go? Chapter 20:11 hints at this really happening: “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. From His presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.”
As we sit before the judgment throne of God, even heaven and earth scatter. Even they aren’t perfect, they can’t come into His kingdom. Under the judgment of God, heaven and earth are seen for what they are: broken under us. Just like we are corrupted by the sin of Adam and Eve, all of the earth is, all of creation is. Broken. They were stewards, it was entrusted to them, and they broke it. We break it. The heaven and earth of Genesis 1:1 are no longer suitable for the resurrected children of God.
It’s not just Revelation that tells of the new heaven and new earth. Jesus said it in Matthew (5:18 and 24:35), Mark (13:31), and Luke (16:17 and 21:33). Peter said it in 2 Peter 3:10-13. Isaiah in his 65th chapter (v. 17) says, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered, or come into mind.” This is where we get the imagery of the wolf and the lamb lying down together, with the lion eating straw for a meal like an ox. And he’ll talk about it again in 66:22.
There’s a lot of debate amongst Christians about “how” this happens. What happens to the old, and where does the new come from? We can’t be certain, as God doesn’t bother to explain how He’ll do it, only that He will.
One of the two most popular theories is that God will simply reform this present heaven and earth, like the Jeremiah 18 passage of a potter reforming his clay. That seems to fit well with what God is doing, has done, with us. According to Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” God isn’t completely wiping us out and making new people, He will raise this body and give it the newness of life!
The world of science fiction has been playing with this sort of idea for generations, with a process called terraforming, which is recreating the surface and atmosphere of a planet so that it might be habitable for new life. Such stories have flowed from the pens of men like H.G. Wells and Isaac Asimov, and been part of popular movies and series like Star Wars, Firefly, Titan A.E. and Doctor Who. There are even scientists exploring if it would be possible for man to terraform either the moon or Mars, to make them habitable for human life.
The other prominent view comes from the 2 Peter 3 text, where Peter says “10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” That makes it sound like this heaven and this earth truly are done away with, not restored, and that God begins anew.
So, if God will cleanse and reform the earth, or if He’ll completely wipe it out and build a new one, I don’t have the answer, but it’s an incredible promise when you think about what it takes. The God who created the universe and all that is in it in just six days gets to do it again!
The concept of time is another thing science fiction writers have played with for ages. Regardless of all of their theories, the simple reality is that God created time. It is not master over Him, but He is master over it. This is how Christ can tell the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.” This is how God can look upon us now and see Christ, because we’re already judged, judged righteous on account of Christ. You may not have died, but you’ve already died. It’s already the last day. This is how John can see everything, the heavens, angels and demons, and declare to us that they’re passing away. Because Christ has already conquered! It’s fun, mind-blowing stuff.
2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
When asked about going to heaven, I usually redirect, change the language. Not heaven, Paradise. A new creation, a new heaven and a new earth. And Christ promised He was going to prepare a place for us. This is it. The only perfect thing we know of is the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve lived pre-sin. They worked the ground, they cared for the animals. Everything was bliss. Paradise isn’t about getting your own cloud or your own planet.
A new heaven and a new earth. A new Jerusalem. But, even though it’s described as a city here, it’s not. In verses 9-10, which we’ll read together next weekend, an angel promises to show John the Bride of Christ, the Church, and when he does, he shows him the city of the New Jerusalem. This city is the Bride of Christ. By the time John wrote this book, Jerusalem was destroyed, Rome had wiped it from the map. That old Jerusalem was the capital city of God’s holy people, where He dwelled with them from His temple and spoke His Word to them. Just as we like to say that the Church is a people, so it is with the new Jerusalem. It is us! We are the Church, the Bride, the new Jerusalem. The Church is the place where God will dwell in the midst of His people forevermore.
That’s why John uses the picture of the bride adorned for her husband. God has restored us, His creation in a perfect splendor, and just as a father walks his daughter down the aisle and places her hand into the hand of her husband, just as God did in the Garden of Eden as He brought Eve to Adam, so He waits for the day when He gets to present us to Christ. Spotless, uncorrupted by sin. Perfect.
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Here God declares His intentions. Jesus declares His intentions. God will dwell in the new creation with His people, just like in the Garden. King among us. God incarnate with us. Sharing our lives, sharing our joys. There truly will be no more pain, no more suffering. This is the reason why verse 1 said there would be no sea. When we think of oceans, dread falls on many of us. Drowning, storms, floods, destruction, devastation. Noah and the ark. Water eroding the land. The sea will give up its dead. No more. Will there be water? It certainly sounds that way, but it will be a life-giving water, not life-taking.
This is the same thing we see in the chopped off verse. See our text today ends at verse 7. The text for next Sunday begins at verse 9. Let’s spend a moment on verse 8.
8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.
We can kind of see why the lectionary didn’t want to end on this verse today. But it fits. Revelation was written to a persecuted church, to Christians who were suffering terrible things at the hands of those who hate God and His Word. And all such things will be destroyed. Such enemies will no longer be able to harm God’s people, ever again. Christ has overcome all of His enemies. And so all who believe in Him, will enter into this Paradise where there is no more pain, suffering, or death. There is no more sin. All of those who seek to cling, not to God, but to their own lives on this earth now, will lose it. Hell, everlasting separation from God, the source of all good things, is the second death. It is very much real.
5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
All of your suffering, gone. Jesus Christ has declared it. In who He is and what He’s done, the end of the world has already come, the judgment has already happened. And in this Son of God, crucified for you on the cross and raised from the dead on Easter morning for you, you are His. Sins forgiven. Robes washed white in the blood of the Lamb. You are an heir of Paradise.
And while the words of men are corrupt, while our desires are self-serving, while our ideas are nothing but the misleadings of our own hearts, this Word is true. And He goes and roots it not in us or our works, but in Himself. These words are true, and thus John should write them down, because:
6 And 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 from the spring of the water of life without payment.
Jesus quotes the Father. The Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. Nothing exists apart from Him. This new creation, the new heaven, the new earth, the new Jerusalem, the place where God dwells with us, is rooted in Christ. In His Word. In what He has done for us, in words that sound like His final cry from the cross in John 19:30, “It is finished.” He has declared it. And He declared it again in Revelation 16:17, as He announced Satan’s demise with these same words, “It is done!” These Words are trustworthy and true.
7 The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.
“In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us,” (Romans 8:37). This is the beauty of all of this. The beauty of the cross and the empty tomb. The beauty of life and creation. The beauty of a new heaven and a new earth. You are conquerors. Not of your own doing, but of His. He has done it. In the life-giving water of baptism, He has declared you an heir of Paradise. In faith, in Christ’s work done for you, this Paradise is your promised home. You live here. And He is not some distant God. But even better, He is your Father. He has called you by name, adopted you as His child into His kingdom, His Paradise. Amen. Come Lord Jesus!