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Revelation 21:1-8

Rachel Ahlberg
Theology 213: Book of Revelation
December 2, 2014

God the Creator and Redeemer brings all things into completion. Revelation 21:1-8 is the conclusion of everything that has been described throughout the book of Revelation and it is the introduction to eternity. This passage inspires us to stay faithful and steadfast in our Christian life, awaiting the day when there will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away.
Near the end of the first century, when Revelation was written, the Emperor Domitian began a period of severe persecution against the Christian church. Despite the persecution, this group of believers had faith that Jesus would return. As time passed, however, their hope began to wane. The book of Revelation as a whole is a letter to the early Christian Church to encourage them to maintain faithful witness despite persecution and temptation. Revelation reminds us that, even though Christ is no longer on earth, we have Christ in us. He empowers us and gives us hope for the future. He removes all evil so as to transform and renew His creation. He brings peace and a future to those who are sealed. He promises us all things new and, for those who reject him, all things of judgment. When John refers to a new heaven and a new earth he is not just talking about a new version of the same thing, he is talking about God making a complete transformation of His creation. He does not use terms like “heaven” and “earth” because those are literally becoming new but, more likely, he uses those terms because they make sense to him. What he is seeing is beyond his own comprehension and he is trying to put the vision into words that will make sense to his audience. We might be able to understand the old earth passing away but it is difficult to imagine heaven will also dissolve. The point may be that, in the old heaven, God is separate from us, but the new kingdom will be characterized by his nearness. He also makes a distinction between the two worlds. The first world was impermanent and transitory, and has passed away, but the second world is to be permanent and enduring. John mentions that there is no longer going to be any sea. Throughout the bible, and the book of Revelation specifically, the sea is known as a source of evil. In Revelation 13, there is a terrifying beast that comes out of the sea. The beast has seven heads and on each of its heads is a blasphemous name. This beast is believed to represent the Roman Empire because of the emperor Domitian who demanded that he be called by the sacrilegious title “Our Lord and God”. In Revelation 4:6 there is a sea of glass in front of the throne. This sea could possibly represent the sins of mankind. It is in between John and the throne so it is separating him from God just as our sins separate us from God. Also, people in that age were not able to cope with the dangers of the sea. They regarded it as an unnatural force that was full of storms and danger. Many people died at sea therefore they saw it as being full of death as well. There will no longer be any sea because God is going to remove all evil from the earth. John also describes the holy city, the New Jerusalem, with language that sounds very similar to that used in Isaiah 52:1. In Isaiah, God also promises that His people will no longer suffer, they will be redeemed, and they will live with Him forever. In Isaiah 62:1-2, God also declares that Jerusalem will be given a new name, and then in Revelation 3:12 it explains that Christ’s “new name” is essentially the same as God’s name and the name of the New Jerusalem. The replacing of the temporary world with the new and permanent Jerusalem is expressed when John sees the holy city coming down out of heaven from God. The marital imagery from Isaiah 52 and 62 is also revisited at the end of Revelation 21:2. The city of Jerusalem is depicted as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. Isaiah 62:5 says that there will be rejoicing by those whom the lord will clothe at the time of Israel’s restoration. The literal meaning of the metaphorical clothing is explained as “salvation” and “righteousness” resulting in deliverance from captivity. The phrases in Isaiah emphasize that the coming salvation will be like a new marriage relationship in which the bride and groom celebrate by wearing festive clothing. The unveiling of the new heaven and earth is abruptly interrupted in Revelation 21:3 when John hears a loud voice. The speaker is not identified but the occurrence is familiar, as this is the last of twenty occasions of which John speaks of a voice as a “loud voice”. This same phrase is heard is almost verbatim to the words recorded in Revelation 16:17 and 19:5. With the announcement in 16:17 the loud voice is God declaring the completion of judgment, and in 19:5 a voice comes from the throne urging all God’s servants to praise Him because of the completion of the final judgment. Here the progression leads to 21:3, where the volume of the voice and the fact that it comes once again from the throne identifies the great significance of the words; that the dwelling of God is with men. The ultimate goal has been reached, the children of Adam and Eve can once again walk in the presence of God.
The declaration of perfected communion between God and his people is depicted in the Old Testament prophecies. These prophecies, such as Ezekiel 37:27 and Leviticus 26:11-12, predicted a final restoration in which God would put his dwelling place among them and he would be their God and they would be his people. In the prophecies of Ezekiel and Leviticus God’s dwelling place was said to be specifically with Israel. In Revelation 21:3, the description of God’s final communion with his people reveals something much bigger; the ethnic boundaries of “true Israel” are expanded to include every tribe, tongue, people, and nation as “God’s people”. Although this is a phrase typically reserved to describe God’s relationship to Israel, it is apparent that, while Israel was the focal point, God’s intention was always that the redeemed would come from all nations. God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 is now fulfilled; all the families of the earth are blessed. Paul has already give us a preview of this in Galatians 3:28 where he says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In some versions the term dwelling place is replaced with the word tabernacle. The tabernacle is a reference to the Old Testament where God established a temporary dwelling place inside the nomadic camp of the emerging nation of Israel. The tabernacle housed the Arch of the Covenant, the Most Holy Place (Exodus 26:33), a room where only the High Priest, under strict temple ordinances would have been exposed in the fullest way, and then only once each year (Hebrews 6:19). In Revelation 21:3 it is declared that the God’s presence is no longer separated from His people by layers of rooms and dense walls of curtains. The temporary has been made permanent, the walls removed, and finally, all of God’s redeemed – not just Israelites – can approach His person. Since the physical temple was a sign of the separation due to the unclean nature of mankind, it had no place in the New Jerusalem. Jew and Gentile alike are united in Christ in the New Jerusalem and they have all achieved the status of priests, ministering in the presence of God. The voice then goes on to describe the benefits that come to those who now dwell with God. First, He will eliminate all present sorrow. Using the language of Isaiah 25:8, John paints the tender picture, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes,” thereby also picking up the same promise from Revelation 7:17. To this is added, “There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain,” now echoing Isaiah 35:10. John gives a little catalogue of the evil’s that will cease to be and death is the first with certain emphasis. Death entered the world as the result of man’s sin but it would not have the final triumph. This is the reversal of the curse in Genesis chapter 3; mankind was a slave to death (Romans 6:16), all creation awaited freedom (Romans 8:21-22), and now, “Death is swallowed up in victory” (I Cor 15:54).
Both Isaiah 35:10 and 51:11 make reference to the end of mourning at the time of Israel’s restoration and both verses mention everlasting joy. The redeemed will experience such gladness because their former suffering will have passed away. John, therefore, continues here with the thought that the bliss of eternity is a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. The various forms of suffering in verse 4 are an expansion of the opening comment in 21:1, that there is no longer any sea. It is not coincidental that in Isaiah 51:10 the prophet reflects on the first exodus, when God caused the sea to pass away. Verse 10 declares, “Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep, who made the depths of the sea a pathway for the redeemed to pass over?” There the prophet draws a parallel from the first exodus, to the end time restoration of God’s people; “So the ransomed of the lord will return…and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” Just as God removed the barrier of water hindering the deliverance of God’s people from Egypt and gave them safe passage across the red sea, so he will remove all barriers to full redemption and will provide the redeemed with unending safety at the end of time.
Beginning in Revelation 21:5 there is a surprise moment when God’s silence is broken; it is one of the very few occasions in Revelation when God Himself speaks. Whereas the narration usually originates with an angel or an unidentified voice, as in verse 3, John tells us now that God speaks, but it is not to clear to whom he is speaking. The words certainly have meaning to the Church of John’s day; the persecuted and threatened members need these words of hope. I am making “all things new” primarily refers to the final restoration but, being that the present tense is used, there is debate about whether or not this refers to just the future restoration or to the fact that God is continually making all things new in the very present sense. I think that even though the primary focus here is on the final renewal, it is worth reflecting that God is constantly making things new. Following the vision of judgment, the sight of the new heaven and the new earth must have been breathtaking (21:1). This vision signified that all the consequences of original sin were vanquished. No longer would tears death, mourning, crying, or pain plague God’s people (21:4), since the first things have ended. No longer will God’s people long to know him, for he will dwell in their midst. God makes it very clear that these will be revolutionary times when he says, “Behold, I am making all things new” (21:5).
In the second part of the statement, God declares, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true”. The command is given to assure the preservation of the vision for future generations and to confirm God’s intentions and work. These words also function as a transition to the third statement: “It is done!” The use of the prophetic perfect tense assures John and the later hearers and readers of the text that what God has promised and what John has seen will take place and will be brought to conclusion. All comes from God and all will be with God and return to God.
The divine speaker identifies himself as, “the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end,” and these titles are synonymous with the similar title, “the first and the last.” All these titles express God’s sovereignty over history, especially by bringing it to fulfillment in salvation and judgment. These titles are figures of speech in which the point is to mention the opposite poles of something in order to emphasize the totality of all that lies in between. That God is the beginning and the end of history encompasses the thought that history originates with God, that he rules over all events in between, and that He is the ultimate and end objective. For only the second time in the Apocalypse a direct quote from God is recorded, found here in verses 5 and 6. As with the first occurrence in Revelation 1:8, the title “Alpha and the Omega” is used and, that the title appears at the beginning and the end of the book, it is both fitting and it cannot be mere coincidence. The placement further heightens the figurative point of the divine title, which is to say that all the events that occurred between 1:8 and 21:6 lie under God’s absolute sovereignty.
The remainder of verse 6 provides assurance that the redeemed of God are a people blessed because of his presence. The promise of water given for sustenance is an echo of Isaiah 49:10, where one of the blessings of Israel’s final restoration is that the people will no longer thirst and that God will lead them by springs of water. In Revelation, Isaiah’s springs of water become springs of the water of life. The living water is a representation of eternal life and it comes from God and the Lamb. This is the life of eternal fellowship with God and is reserved for those who have maintained their faith. Only those with such faith will receive the water of life without cost. The phrase “without cost” emphasizes that God’s gift is not grudging; the thirsty can trust in a full and free supply to fulfill their need.
So far the recipients of the promises of the new creation have been generally identified as God’s people. As we read verse 7, God uses two words to define what characterizes His people: victorious and overcomers. The victorious are those whose lives are branded by their refusal to compromise their faith in spite of the risk of persecution. They conquer when they maintain their faith even though they may seem defeated in the world’s eyes. “To those who are victorious” takes us back to the letters to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3, where they are promised the blessing of communion with God. The victorious are now assured that, in the final restoration, they will inherit all things. They will want for nothing and, moreover, God will be their God and they will be his children.
Every coin has two sides and in verse 8, John inserts a brief but serious warning as to the evil fate that awaits the unredeemed sinner. The cowardly are first on the list and, in the difficult circumstances wherein which John’s readers found themselves, courage was very important; even more so now that they were considering final realities. To be cowardly before the enemy at the end is to not only lose the blessing of God’s presence, but to be removed entirely from His presence into a place of unimaginable torment. John is speaking of a cowardice that chooses self and safety over God, and fears the enemy instead of trusting in the love and promise of Christ. In the words of the Apostle Paul, “God did not give his people a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7). This catalog of sins concludes with all liars, which likely points to those Christians whose profession is betrayed by compromising behavior or false doctrine. This brings us back to Revelation 2:2 which talks about people who lie because they call themselves apostles when they are really not. An almost identical list appears in Revelation 22:15 and a similar but abbreviated catalog will come at the end of chapter 21. Both these later lists end with falsehood, which echo the liars at the end of the list here. The list of offenses in Revelation 21:8 is sobering. While one might argue that they have never committed an overt act of murder, worshipped an idol, or committed sexual immorality, it becomes clear from a closer look at scripture that the hidden sins of hatred, the desire for things of the world, and entertaining a moment of lust would, and does place every human being in violation. Similar lists of sins can be found throughout the Bible, but always with hope that points to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). One similar list in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, states affirmatively that sinners will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Clearly the line that divides the promise in Revelation 21:7 from the eternal despair found in verse 8, is rooted in familial relationship – “and he shall be my son.” Only a family member can be an heir to an inheritance and, according to verse 7, only an overcomer can join the family. Fortunately, the heavy lifting has been done by Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God: “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.” (Revelation 12:11)

Bibliography
Beale, G.K. "The New Creation and the Church Perfected in Glory." In The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, by G.K. Beale, 1039-1062. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999.
Cloete, Daan G. ""And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first...were passed away" (Revelation 21:1-8)." Journal of Theology for Southern Africa, 1992: 55-65.
Dempsey, Carol J. "Revelation 21:1-8." Interpretation 65, 2011: 400-402.
Fee, Gordon D. "The (Original) Tale of Two Cities, Part 2: Good Makes All Things New." In Revelation: A New Covenant Commentary, by Gordon D Fee, 289-296. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011.
Morris, Canon. "A New Heaven and a New Earth." In The Book of Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, by Canon Morris, 235-241. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987.
Raber, Rudolph W. "Revelation 21:1-8." Interpretation 40, 1986: 296-302.

--------------------------------------------
[ 1 ]. Raber, Rudolph W. "Revelation 21:1-8." Interpretation 40, 1986: 296-302.
[ 2 ]. Morris, Canon. "A New Heaven and a New Earth." In The Book of Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, by Canon Morris, 235-241. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987.
[ 3 ]. Morris, Canon. "A New Heaven and a New Earth." In The Book of Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, by Canon Morris, 235-241. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987.
[ 4 ]. Fee, Gordon D. "The (Original) Tale of Two Cities, Part 2: Good Makes All Things New." In Revelation: A New Covenant Commentary, by Gordon D Fee, 289-296. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011.
[ 5 ]. Morris, Canon. "A New Heaven and a New Earth." In The Book of Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, by Canon Morris, 235-241. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987.
[ 6 ]. Beale, G.K. "The New Creation and the Church Perfected in Glory." In The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, by G.K. Beale, 1039-1062. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999.
[ 7 ]. Morris, Canon. "A New Heaven and a New Earth." In The Book of Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, by Canon Morris, 235-241. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987.
[ 8 ]. Beale, G.K. "The New Creation and the Church Perfected in Glory." In The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, by G.K. Beale, 1039-1062. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999.
[ 9 ]. Beale, G.K. "The New Creation and the Church Perfected in Glory." In The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, by G.K. Beale, 1039-1062. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999.
[ 10 ]. Beale, G.K. "The New Creation and the Church Perfected in Glory." In The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, by G.K. Beale, 1039-1062. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999.
[ 11 ]. Cloete, Daan G. ""And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first...were passed away" (Revelation 21:1-8)." Journal of Theology for Southern Africa, 1992: 55-65.
[ 12 ]. Dempsey, Carol J. "Revelation 21:1-8." Interpretation 65, 2011: 400-402.
[ 13 ]. Beale, G.K. "The New Creation and the Church Perfected in Glory." In The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, by G.K. Beale, 1039-1062. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999.
[ 14 ]. Beale, G.K. "The New Creation and the Church Perfected in Glory." In The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, by G.K. Beale, 1039-1062. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999.

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