The New Earth in Revelation (Part 2)

We are looking at what Revelation 21 has to say about the new heavens and new Earth.  We left off with the following:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God with with men, and he will live with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

This is hard to imagine.  We read that God walked around the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve interacted directly with God, but we have no similar experience.  There is a perceived distance now that will be taken away.  The fact that God will actually live with us is stated twice for emphasis.  It’s a big deal.

This passage demonstrates God preference for the human race.  He wants to be with His people.  I love that, but I don’t truly understand it.  I think that we can be a pain, but we will be different then.  We will not have a sinful nature.  All our undesirable but “human” traits like selfishness, clannishness, faithlessness, unrighteous pride (and I could go on) will not be a part of humanity.  That’s not just a blessing for God.  It will be a blessing for us.  Truly something for which to look forward.

There will be other changes as well.  There will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain, which is connected with the “old order”.    One thing for sure that is part of this old order is what the Bible calls “the curse”.  Do not think of an old Italian grandma putting on a spiteful magical spell when you think of the curse here.  This is something more like God taking a step back from maintaining the order of things.  It isn’t all “very good” anymore as it was in Genesis.  With the curse comes loss and suffering from various quarters:  natural disasters, poor health, aging, cycles of death and decay.  These are part of our current natural order.  A different natural order will exist then.  The specifics of this order are not revealed but it does spur the imagination of what is possible.

For instance, I ate something that might have sat out too long, the next day my digestive tract complained.  No more of that in the new order.  Hospitals?–won’t need them.  Nor will we need funeral homes, police departments, auto repair, dentists, most of government.  Won’t need pastors because God is right there.  Probably 90% of our jobs exist because of the curse.  What will we do?  Don’t worry, there will be plenty to do all and all enjoyable.  Labor is part of this order.

This description is very similar to what is found in Revelation 7:16-17, which is a description of Heaven, hence some of the confusion.  Heaven will be trouble free as well. Heaven will be living with God.  Clearly there are differences, but the differences are hard to discern.  Revelation 21 goes on to say:

He who is seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new! Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

It’s exciting to think what may be very different from what we experience today.  Perhaps even the laws of physics will be changed.  Biology will be vastly altered.  I would not go so far as to assume that there will be nothing familiar.  It is just that the familiar will be greatly improved.  Earth 2.0.  You can write that down because God guarantees it.

The New Earth in Revelation (Part I)

If the doctrine of a New Heaven and New Earth were not found anywhere except in Revelation, I would be inclined, as many are, to conflate the pre-Judgment Day Heaven with the descriptions of the New Heaven and Earth found in Revelation 21 and 22.  As we have already seen, information about the New Earth is found in both the Old Testament and Epistles.  The descriptions in Revelation 21 and 22 are not what we should expect in Heaven, but there are many parallels.

It starts like this:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth and the first heaven and first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.

The first thing that should be said is that “heaven” in this context is referring to the universe, not Heaven.  The Bible uses the same word for both, perhaps because people had no concept of the actual structure of the universe or the possibility of a parallel universe or other dimensions.  With that knowledge, I would conclude that Heaven is not necessarily a part of this universe at all. That conclusion doesn’t come with a lot of proof.  It is based on the 1 Peter 3 description of the destruction of “the elements” and the absence of any mention of the destruction of the current Heaven.

The passage above does clearly say that this universe as we currently experience it will cease to exist.  So the new heavens and earth will be a new creation, not a remodeling job.

Ocean lovers will find the end of this passage upsetting.  No sea, no beach.  Before you get too bummed out, keep in mind the method of reception of Revelation.  It is a vision, and John simply describes what he sees and hears.  Perhaps he just doesn’t see a sea.

This is perhaps a good place to discuss how literally we are to take this passage or any in Revelation.  Revelation is an apocalyptic vision.  Meaning that it is partially and intentionally veiled in its meaning, it does use figurative language, pictures and numbers, it is not necessarily linear in time; so in short, its a tough book to understand.  To some extent, you can use other Scripture to interpret this part of Scripture.  Being occasionally figurative doesn’t mean it is never literal.  So what are the rules for choosing between figurative and literal?  That is up to the Holy Spirit.  A strictly academic dissection will not be adequate.  To point, is “the sea” perhaps figurative for something like chaos? Maybe.

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, come down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

In other parts of Scripture, God often speaks of a new Jerusalem and how pleasing it will be.  Here it is.  John sees it in a vision that is definitely the future for him and still for us.  It is described as being “dressed like a bride” and later “the bride, the wife of the lamb”.  This leads many to take this whole section figuratively as a description of the church (the set of all who are saved) which is described elsewhere as Christ’s bride.  Unfortunately, God uses certain metaphors in more ways than one. So this connection is not conclusive.  Weddings and brides were the pinnacle of beauty and rejoicing in many times and cultures.  It is relatable, so it gets used.  Because of the density of detail given of the new Jerusalem in the verses that will follow, I’m inclined to take it as a literal description of a city.

There is much more to come on this topic.  Check back as we pick it up again in Revelation 21