"Things Are Going to be Different"
21:1 - 8
(Delivered at Bethany Bible Church on Sunday, September 24, 2000. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
"Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." Then He who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." And He said to me, "Write, for these words are true and faithful." And He said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be His God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Rev. 21:1-8).
As we've studied the book of Revelation together over the past several months, I've grown to appreciate what I believe is the Lord's practical purpose in giving it to us. I believe that He has given this marvelous book for the encouragement and edification of His 'called out' people who must live in the midst of a hostile and ungodly culture. It's particularly meant, I believe, to be an encouragement to God's people when, according to His will, they must personally suffer intense persecution and affliction because of their love for and identification with His Son Jesus Christ.
I believe that what God wants us to know from the Book of Revelation is that, no matter what happens, He remains sovereign; He is in complete control of our destiny and protects it for us. He wants us to know that we can safely risk all for Jesus -- even to the point of death. He wants us to be assured that, even on the other side of suffering all the hatred and hostility of this evil world and the devil combined, there remains a glorious reward that Jesus Himself has on reserve for those who are faithful to the end.
As followers of Jesus Christ, this practical purpose of Revelation is something we desperately need to hear about today. We live in a day when 'faithfulness' and 'devotion' to a higher cause are rare commodities. This is even true of people in the church.
It used to be that people could be counted on to be faithful to their responsibilities and to their relationships, no matter what the personal cost might be. Generally speaking, people kept their word no matter what the personal cost, because they knew that God was watching and listening. People who had difficulties in their marriages tended to stay together -- even when it was very hard to do so -- because they had made a vow before God that they would. Fathers and mothers could be counted on to give up personal advancement and material comforts in order to do what is best for their children, because they knew they had a duty before God to do so. People believed so much in the ideals that gave birth to our nation that they were willing to lay down their lives for our country, because they believed those ideals were of God and were of eternal value.
We live in the midst of a culture, however, that fights against such qualities. The mere idea of "faithfulness to one's duty" doesn't motivate people as much as it used to. In fact, in almost every aspect of our culture today, talk about "duty" and "faithfulness" is treated as something sort of 'corny' and 'sentimental'. Instead, people tend to think in terms of their own feelings; and they're encouraged by our culture to place what feels good to them over and above everything else.
I suggest there's a spiritual reason for this. An esteem for the qualities of "faithfulness" and a sense of "duty" has declined among us at the same time as a there has been a loss of faith in God's promises concerning heaven. As people have grown increasingly secularized with respect to their attitudes toward life, and as they believe less and less in the eternal reward of heaven as something real and substantial, they have lost their motivation to be "faithful" when it hurts to do so. After all, why should we be self-sacrificial during our life on earth, if there isn't really any reward for it when that life is over? Why shouldn't we live for today, if today is all we'll really ever have?
Jesus calls His followers to a high standard of faithfulness, self-sacrifice and devotion. And an essential element in that faithfulness is a strong, confident assurance of heavenly reward. He said, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:10-12).
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; if we genuinely believed that what God says to us in Revelation 21:1-8 is true, then nothing else on earth would matter to us than to be faithful to Him. In fact, if we genuinely believed it to be true, we'd never need to be persuaded to be "faithful" and "sacrificial" for Christ. We'd gladly be so out of love and gratitude to Him.
I believe that the reason The Lord has told us what's in store for us in heaven is so that we would be motivated to live faithfully for Him now while on earth. Let's look closer, then, at what God says in this passage; and as we do, may His Holy Spirit use it to inspire us to new levels of faithfulness, sacrifice and devotion to His Son Jesus.
The first thing we see from this passage is that ...
The apostle John begins by saying, "Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea" (v. 1).
My family and I took a drive yesterday to McMinnville. It was a beautiful fall day; and the weather was gorgeous. The sky was clear and blue; the sun was shining brightly; and you could see the towering mountains in the distance. It was striking how truly beautiful God's creation is.
But as beautiful as this creation is; the Bible tells us that it is also damaged and ruined. God gave the first man and the first woman authority over this world as its God-appointed managers. But when they sinned against God and fell, creation suffered in that fall as well. The Bible tells us that, through the sin of Adam, "sin entered the world, and death through sin" (Rom. 5:12). And now, all of creation awaits a day of deliverance from the damaging effects of sin. The Bible says,
For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now (Romans 8:19-22)."
And what's more, the Bible tells us that this damaged creation, as beautiful as it might seem in spite of its corruption, isn't permanent. This created order is only temporary; and it's God's plan to replace it one day with another. The apostle Peter tells us,
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with a fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:10-13)."
I love this creation. It's beautiful to me. It's hard for me to imagine another. But I have faith in God's promise that, one day, He is going to make another -- one that no longer suffers the effects of the curse of man's sin; one from which death and decay will be forever banished; one in which righteousness will perfectly dwell. How could it not help but be immeasurably more beautiful than this one? I want to be there; don't you?
John said that, in this new creation, "there was no more sea". And at first, that doesn't sound very appealing to those of us who live near the Oregon coast. But just think of how nations and peoples are divided from one another by the fact that a "sea" separates them. Perhaps this is meant to symbolize the fact that the earth will be one great nation ruled by one King: Jesus. Perhaps it's meant to symbolize the promise that the glorified peoples who dwell on the earth will no longer be divided one from another as they have been in centuries past. Certainly, the "sea" will no longer be needed; because the Bible tells us that, in this new creation, there will be "a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb" (22:1). We're told that God says, "Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely" (22:17). Perhaps the fact that this wonderful river doesn't flow into a sea speaks of its eternal freshness.
Well; these things are bigger than my mind can grasp (as you can probably tell). But I'm confident that this new creation will be so wonderful and glorious, that if God's plan doesn't include the "sea" in it, I wont miss it.
Do you believe God is going to do create new heavens and a new earth? If you did, wouldn't it affect the way you live? Peter said, "Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness" (2 Peter 3:11). Does the way you live show that you believe this promise to be true?
Not only will there be a new creation, but there'll also be a new home for us to dwell in while living upon it. John says, "Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (v. 2).
Jerusalem is presented to us in the Bible as the city of God in which His chosen people dwell. And yet, what John saw wasn't simply a "remodeling job" of the old city. This is a new, glorious city. He called it "New Jerusalem". It isn't a city that man will build, because it's pictured as coming down out of heaven from God. Most of the last two chapters of the Bible are filled with descriptions of the remarkable beauty and immensity of this glorious city. And I believe that we're meant to take what is said about it literally.
You may not particularly like cities -- and especially big ones. But this city will be beautiful and glorious beyond any human powers of description. It's immensity will only add to the magnitude of its beauty.
Look at how it's described: "as a bride adorned for her husband". I've been to many weddings; and as far as I can tell, it doesn't matter what a girl looks like the rest of the time -- she's always at her most beautiful on her wedding day. I believe God Himself graces a young woman with a special beauty when she strolls down the aisle, in her wedding gown, to be presented to her husband-to-be. John sees that this glorious New Jerusalem will come down from the throne of God to rest upon the new earth -- and it's perhaps he describes the city as a beautiful bride because he can't think of anything more beautiful than a bride on her wedding day.
And notice also that this city is "prepared" as a bride adorned for her husband. It's beauty is intentional, and is a product of God's own careful workmanship. This makes us think of how Jesus told His disciples, "In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2). He created our current home in only six days; but He's been preparing this glorious city for the past two-thousand years! Who can possibly imagine how beautiful it must be!
Again, I ask: do you believe this? Paul once said that we should live a life of practical devotion and faithfulness, because "our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:20). Is it your expectation to live in this glorious city? If so, does that expectation have any affect on the way you live now?
There's also a new experience of God's presence in this new home. John said, "And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God." The "tabernacle" of God simply means God's "dwelling place".
To me, this is the greatest and most exciting aspect of heaven. What will make heaven heavenly to me wont be the beauty of it all -- although I have faith that it's beautiful beyond description and I long to see it. What will make it heaven to me wont be the fact that there wont be any suffering, pain or death there -- although I look forward to that with great anticipation. What will make it heaven to me wont be the fact that glorified saints and loved ones will be there -- although I day-dream a lot about my eternal fellowship with them. In the end, what will make heaven heavenly to me will be -- above all else -- the fact that Jesus will be there. I will see Jesus -- the One who loved me and died for me -- and enjoy eternal, unhindered, unlimited fellowship with Him. For me, that will be what makes heaven "heavenly".
He is already our God; and we are already His people. But John is telling us here about a new level of intimacy -- a new level of the experience of Jesus' presence. No longer will He be in heaven, separated by the greatness of His majesty from His people who dwell upon the earth. No longer will we have to cry out to Him as though piercing the heavens with our prayers. The glorified Son of God will personally make His home on the new earth with His glorified people. As it says in Revelation 7:16-17; "They shall neither hunger anymore, nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." Or as it says in Revelation 22:4; "They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads." Or as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12, "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known."
For now, Jesus dwells in such terribly unapproachable glory, that when John was given a vision of Him, he fell at His feet as if a dead man (Rev. 1:17). You and I would do the same if we were to see Him in His glory. But when we are raised up in glorified bodies like His own, and made to dwell with Him in the New Jerusalem, then we'll enjoy a new level of fellowship with the One who loves us and died for us to make it all possible. We'll see Him as He is; and when we do, we'll talk with Him face to face, and touch Him, embrace Him and be embraced by Him, and experience all the fullness of the joy of His presence that we can experience now in only the most limited way. He will dwell with us, and we with Him, forever.
Do you believe that this is describing your future? Is it your expectation to see Him and dwell with Him forever? For Jesus, the prospect of our eternal fellowship with Him is the great joy of His heart; and, as the Bible says, He "for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame" (Hebrews 12:2). Does this prospect make any difference in your level of devotion and faithfulness to Him?
And because of the glorious depth of the presence of Jesus with His people, there will be a new comfort. The heavenly voice John heard said, "And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away" (v. 4).
Recently, Marilyn checked a book out of the library for us to look at together. It was a collection of Pulitzer prize-winning photographs throughout the last 50 years or so. We were interested in looking at this, in part, because we knew one of the photo-journalists featured in this book.
But we weren't emotionally prepared for all we saw in this book. This collection of photos constituted one of the most vivid displays of the depth of human suffering we'd ever seen. We saw unforgettable pictures of death, sorrow, crying and pain. Many of them were photos that you've probably seen; some are so familiar that they'll probably always be a part of our history. But the impact of seeing them together -- one after another -- overwhelmed us with the depth of man's cruelty to his fellow man, with the unspeakable experiences of human pain and suffering that are in the world, and with the multitude of tears that have been shed on the earth in just the last few decades. We almost didn't have it in us to look through the whole book in one sitting. You couldn't go through it without being moved to the core.
In the new heaven and new earth which God has promised to create for us, and in the new city that He is preparing for us, and in the new intimacy we will share with Jesus -- all of that will finally, completely, come to an end. God will Himself wipe away every human tear from every redeemed eye with His own tender hand. Death will be gone forever. Sorrow will be banished. Crying will never again be heard. Pain will never again be felt. Never again will there be any such thing as those photographs pictured for us. All the former things that cause all this death and sorrow and crying and pain will have forever passed away.
And it's not that all those things are passed away, and a vacuum is left in their place. Look at the glorious concluding words to all this: "Then He who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new" (v. 5a). He makes everything -- even His redeemed people -- "a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). The old things that caused all this sorrow will have passed away; and new things will replace them and be a cause for eternal joy.
Again, I ask; do you believe this? Do you believe that, as great as the suffering may be that we see in this world, the glory of God's future for us is immeasurably greater? As Paul said in speaking of the new creation, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:16). If you genuinely believe that, does it change the way you live?
God wants you to believe it. He wants you to believe it passionately. And so, He goes out of His way to assure you of the truth of it. This leads us to the second point of this passage:
If we believed these things -- truly believed them with all our hearts -- then we would be willing to give our all for Jesus Christ. We would be faithful to follow Him wherever He leads us -- to make any sacrifice He calls us to make -- to suffer anything He calls us to suffer -- all because we know that whatever we may suffer during this present time, it isn't even worthy to be held up in comparison to the glory which will be ours in heaven through Him.
Its was as if God had opened up His own photo album before our eyes, and had shown us the future glory He has in store for those who are faithful in His Son Jesus. And now; it's as if He closes His photo album, and turns to us -- with our mouths hanging open in astonishment -- and affirms the absolute truth of it all to us.
First, notice that John says, "And He said to me, "Write, for these words are true and faithful" (v. 5b).
This is remarkable, isn't it? When God says something, He certainly doesn't have to tell us that what He's saying is the honest truth, does He? But, in this case, He condescends to our need and does so. He tells John to write it down -- to put it on paper, and record it in black and white for us. He goes to unusual lengths to affirm to us that the words He has just spoken to us are "true" (that is, an honest representation of the way things really are), and "faithful" (that is, reliable and worthy to be counted on as that which will prove to be true in experience). He wants us to believe what He has said with all our hearts, so that it will charge us with hope and change the way we live.
Second, notice that John says, "And He said to me, "It is done!" (v. 6). God expresses this in a tense of the verb that means that, as far as He is concerned -- and as far as we ourselves should be concerned -- all these things are as good as done right now! The new heaven and the new earth, the New Jerusalem, the abiding presence of Jesus with us, the wiping away of every tear -- it is all as certain as if it had already come to pass! It's a done deal!
Third, notice who it is that promises all this to us. The one who sits on the throne, speaking these words to John, says, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts" (v. 6b).
This is a name that Jesus gives to Himself in the Book of Revelation. In 1:17, He introduced Himself to John by saying, "Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am live forever more. Amen." And in 22:13, He says, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last". Its a name that is meant to give assurance to His suffering people.
He promises that He will give of the fountain of water of life freely to the one who thirsts for it. And His identity as the the eternally pre-existent God -- who is the sovereign Author of all of Creation; the One who made all things and sustains all things by His mighty power; the One who merely pulls His sustaining hand away and causes it all to come to an end -- He testifies that He is able to accomplish whatever He purposes for us. He is calling us to believe confidently in what He says He will do; because He is able to do it all.
And fourth, notice the encouragement He holds out to us. He says, "He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (vv. 7-8).
That last sentence isn't saying that our being declared God's sons and daughters is a result of our having proven ourselves worthy -- as if we "earn" it by "overcoming". The whole context of the book of Revelation has been that of God's people remaining faithful during a time of intense suffering; and that's how we should understand what is said in these last two verses. Many of the people of the world would buckle under the pressure and capitulate to the lies of the devil. What people will do will simply be a demonstration of what they really were inside.
When following Jesus would involve the experience of pain and suffering, those who are not His sons and daughters would capitulate and show themselves to be cowards. When it came to trusting in God in the midst of suffering, they would deny the Lord, showing themselves to be unbelievers. When it came to aligning themselves with Jesus and becoming distinct from this sinful world, they would instead wear the world's mark on their hand or forehead and show themselves to be abominable or vile in the eyes of God. When it would come to standing boldly for the Lord in the face of the hostility of men, they would betray one another to death (Matthew 24:9-10) and show themselves to be murderers. When it came to bearing up under the lusts of the flesh and resisting the pressure of the world to gratify their sinful passions, they would give themselves over to their lusts instead and so prove themselves to be sexually immoral. When it came to trusting in the sustaining power of God and the resources He gives, they would turn instead to the occult substitutes of the devil and so prove themselves to be sorcerers. When it came to refusing the demand of the antichrist to be worshiped as God, they would fall down and worship the image of the beast and show themselves to be idolaters. When it comes to taking a stand for the truth of God, they would embrace instead the devil's deluding lies, and so prove themselves to be liars.
All these, John says, "shall have their place in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone."
And please pay special attention to the specific word of encouragement He holds out to His people in all this. He says: "He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be His God and he shall be My son." It's the one who "overcomes" that will be proven to be an inheritor of all these things. It's the one who "overcomes" that will be proven to be a son or daughter of God.
Who are the "overcomers"? What does it mean to "overcome"? John tells us, in 1 John 5:4-5; "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world -- our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?"
And so, can you see it? This is a call to us to become men and women of faithfulness. It's a call to us to be believe all that He has said, and to be ready and willing to risk all for Jesus -- confidently assured that, on the other side of it all is the glorious reward that Jesus holds out to us. He Himself testifies that it's all true! He Himself will bring it to pass! We can count on it!
Now, I could conclude all this by making a passionate appeal to you to become more faithful in your love and devotion to Jesus -- and it certainly would be appropriate for me to do so. But if I did, all that would happen would be the same thing that we both know has happened a thousand times before. You'd be aroused and pepped-up for a while; and then you'd go home, fall back into the ruts of life, and in all likelihood, forget all about it before the day was over.
Instead, I appeal to you to take the time -- not only today, but repeatedly and frequently -- to meditate on the things that God has told you in this passage. I urge you to let these things sink deeply into your thoughts, and to ask God to increase your faith in what He promises here. I urge you to believe what God goes to great lengths in this passage to assure you is the absolute truth. I urge this because I believe that, if you and I did so with the Holy Spirit's enabling, -- and that if these things became a permanent fixture in your minds and in your expectations -- I wouldn't have to persuade you to become more faithful and devoted in your walk with Christ. You'd want to be more faithful and devoted to Him as an expression of your own gratefulness and love to Him for the future He has for you.
Please let these things get into you and become the basis of your hope. Let the confidence of that hope move you to a greater level of faithfulness and devotion to Jesus. May He be glorified in you as a result; and may you forever be blessed in Him.
(copyright 2000 by Pastor Greg Allen and Bethany Bible Church. Reproduction without permission, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.)