A. THE GREAT ANNOUNCEMENTS: 21:1-4
1. New heaven and earth
In 20:11 John sees a "great white throne and him who was seated on it." This introduces what is often called The Great White Throne Judgment or the Final Judgment. As an aside, it is mentioned that "From his presence earth and sky [or heaven] fled away, and no place was found for them." Now, in 21:1 this is followed up by "a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more." We should probably connect this with verse 21:5, in which the Lord says "...I am making all things new." It is of no consequence whether it is understood that God has fashioned a brand new universe or reconditioned the present one. (Ladd, 276) It seems significant that, with the notation that the "sea was no more," the old earth loses a huge symbol "of the dark, mysterious, and treacherous" (Ladd, 276). And, just as the sea is gone, other treacherous powers are removed so that the earth can keep the old framework that is cleansed and renewed.
2. New Jerusalem
John jumps immediately to one feature of this new creation in 21:2--the New Jerusalem. The centrality of this holy city to the new earth is reflected by the fact that, in the description of the new state of things, 24 of 32 verses are centered on the New Jerusalem. I shall discuss the New Jerusalem in another post that will focus on those 24 verses.
3. God dwells with people
He returns to the more general discussion in verses 21:3-4. Those verses contain a most solemn declaration: "the dwelling place of God is with man [as in ESV--"humanity" would also be appropriate]." In John 1:14 another remarkable declaration is made: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us..." This verse follows up the amazing description of the Word in John 1:1-4: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God..." The Logos (Word) of God, who is elsewhere described as the "only Son" [or "only begotten Son"], joined the human race in the person of the son of Mary and grew up to be known as Jesus of Nazareth. This person was God Himself dwelling among us, fully God and fully human. By accomplishing his mission in obedience to the Father (see Philippians 2:5-11), Jesus made salvation available to all who believe (see Luke 19:10, John 1:12-13, 3:16). This salvation begins with living water within (John 4:14) and culminates in a river of life flowing from the throne in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:1).
A key element of this salvation is eternal fellowship with God. It begins, just as the salvation story began, veiled in flesh: "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." (John 14:23) So, we can enjoy, in this present order, the presence of God within us. The salvation culminates with this powerful statement: "...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." (Revelation 21:3) The experience of God within our heart now becomes the face-to-face experience of God.
This new relationship with God is described as: "He will dwell with them, and they will be his people." (Revelation 21:3b) Although this does not have a dramatic ring to it, this is an important component of the new order of things.
4. End of: tears, death, mourning, crying, pain; former things gone
One result of this fellowship with God is that God will comfort us and end all the "negative" factors of our lives. This is summarized in Revelation 21:4:
*The end of tears
*The end of death
*The end of mourning
*The end of crying
*The end of pain
*The end of all the "former things"
Even in the present order of things, God is the "God of all comfort." (II Corinthians 1:3) The vision of the new order of things is that God will complete his work of comfort. Whereas we at present continue to deal with affliction (see II Corinthians 1:3-7), someday God will wipe out all of the afflictions and bring us into a new creation that is free of affliction and filled with comfort.
The comment at the end of verse 21:4 is that the "former things have passed away." In I Corinthians 15:24-26, Paul explains: "Then comes the end, when he [Christ] delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death." What a list the "former things" would make! We could name a few: poverty, prejudice, hate, violence, cheating, lying, stealing, drunkenness, abuse, suicide, perversion, disease, drought, famine, mental illness, ignorance, pride, greed--you get the idea. All those will be gone. Jesus will destroy all those enemies that weigh people down and bring them tears and pain and fear and that complicate their lives. They will be absent from the new order and God will fill up our lives with his own presence.
B. THE ALPHA AND OMEGA: 21:5-8
1. Makes all things new
Verses 21:3-4 are announcements from an anonymous voice from "the throne." In 4:2, John has been transported to heaven and there he sees a throne "with one seated on the throne." From this point on, a major person in the book is the "one seated [or who sits] on the throne": see 4:9, 4:10, 5:1, 5:7, 5:13,6:16, 7:10, 7:15, 19:4, 21:5. In 21:5, the one who is seated on the throne begins to make announcements. The announcements of the voice from the throne are just as significant, but now we have a personal, "hands-on" sense of what God is doing.
Just as "the former things have passed away" (verse 21:4), now God announces that he is "making all things new." We remember the statement in II Corinthians 5:17: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." That new creation takes place right in the midst of the present order of existence. So, in a sense, God's creative acts in the future will allow the whole creation to "catch up" with what he has already done in us through our redemption in Christ. It is also true that, not only will God make things new in the future, God is, at the present time, "making all things new." The verb is in the present tense. The present tense in Greek is "progressive," which means that it, usually, describes action that is ongoing. God is in the process, even today, of making things new.
We should pause and reflect on that last statement. In what sense is God making things new? I should add that the wording could be translated: "I am doing all-new things." The word translated "making" is quite commonly translated "doing." So, right beside the "former things," God is doing new things. God is sending people who have never been called before into mission fields that have never been traversed before. God is preaching the gospel to people who have never heard or preaching in ways that have never been heard. God is confronting evil in ways that have not been used before. The old gospel hymn "I Love to Tell the Story," by Katherine Hankey, says: "And when, in scenes of glory, I sing the new, new song, 'twill be the old, old story that I have loved so long." So, the old story gets told with fresh joy and in new, imaginative ways again and again. So, God constantly does new things and creates new things and makes old things become new and fresh. This aspect of God's work is an important expression of his redemption.
The one who sits on the throne adds: "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." There is a common expression: "Write it down." I don't know if that expression came from this verse, but the verse and the old saying express a certain truth: that which is significant should be recorded. That God is making all things new should be on record. For God is not an old-fogey God. God is not trite or boring or repetitious. God is constantly out in front of us, making exciting new things. And when we come to the new heaven and earth, we will be astounded at the freshness of what God is doing.
Not only is God's statement that he is making all things new "trustworthy and true," but also the statements that follow are "trustworthy and true." "Trustworthy" translates the word "pistos," which is the adjective form of the word for "faith." There is also a verb form of the word. So we have "believe" or "have faith in" (verb), or "faith," "belief" (noun), or "faithful," "trustworthy," "believing" (adjective). So the statements from God--what has preceded and what follows--are trustworthy--worthy of being believed and relied upon. And, closely allied with that description is the fact that they are "true." God always conveys truth to us. He has confirmed and demonstrated his truthfulness and reliability in the experiences of his followers throughout the centuries.