A. Story of Joe Rantz
Joe Rantz was a man born in 1914 which means he lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s. However, hard economic times were not the only hardship that Joe had to endure. When Joe was five years old his mother suddenly died and as a result Joe was sent via train (by himself) to live with his aunt, Alma. Joe had to live with Alma because his dad had went to Canada to figure life out after the death of his wife. After Joe’s dad had time to morn and collect himself, he came back to the United States, found a job, and quickly remarried. Joe was sent back via train to live with his father and his new stepmother which he had never met. Growing up Joe’s parents had three additional children; three step siblings for Joe. When Joe was ten his step-mother was fed up with him and told Joe’s dad that Joe must move out of the house. So, Joe lived at the school house where he did miscellaneous chores as a way to pay his rent and food allowance. When hard economic times hit Joe’s family they decided to move, but Joe’s stepmother gave Joe’s father an ultimatum: Either Joe stays or she will stay with the kids. Joe’s stepmother was fed up with Joe and would not tolerate him any longer. In her mind, the family was moving for a fresh start and they were not going to take Joe with them. So, the family left for a new area to start over and left Joe in their home. Joe stayed there for a while. He continued to go to school and find food to eat. One way that he provided for himself was going down to the local water canal to fish. Him and his friend would go to the canal together. One boy would stand up stream with a wooden spear in his hand ready to throw it at a fish while the other boy went down stream, jumped in the water, and tried to rush the fish up stream. The boy with the spear would through it into a salmon, then the two boys would take the salmon to town and sell it for cash as if they had caught it with bait and tackle (despite the big hole through the fish). Over time, things started to get better for Joe. Joe’s older brother learned about Joe being left by his family and had Joe come live him and his wife during high school. When it came time for college Joe was accepted to the University of Washington. Just before college he met a woman who would eventually be his wife. Joe had worked hard to save up enough money to pay for school, but he would need to find part-time work while in school. In fact, the one way to guarantee that you would get part-time work while in college was to play a sport. If you were a student-athlete the school would put you to work. So, Joe tried out for the rowing team. It was work that Joe loved because it was difficult, painful, and masculine. So many of his life experiences caused him to develop grit and determination and rowing was a way for him to use that experience. Joe’s rowing team eventually competed in the 1936 summer Olympics which the United States took the gold medal! While his life started out very difficult, later in life he was able to taste some of the sweet things of life. He got a college education, married a lovely woman, and won the gold medal for his country!
B. Text of Rev 21:1-8
1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth were gone and the sea was also gone. 2Then I saw the holy city—the new Jerusalem—coming out of heaven from God dressed like a bride prepared up for her husband.
3Then I heard a loud voice from the throne saying:
“Look! The home of God is with mankind. He will live with them and they themselves will be his people and God himself will be with them. 4God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, sadness, crying, or pain. Those prior things are gone forever.”
5Then the one sitting on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, because these words are trustworthy and true.” 6Then he said to me: “It is finished! I am the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the one who thirsts I will give from the spring of the water of life for free. 7The one who is victorious will acquire these things. I will be his God and he will be my son. 8But, the cowardly, unfaithful, abominable, murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and liars will burn in the lake of fire and sulfur. This is the second death.” (Rev 21:1-8)[ref]Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own based on the NA28 Greek text.[/ref]
C. General Remarks about Rev 21:1-8
Like most of the book of Revelation, this passage is a little controversial and difficult to interpret for two reasons:
- First, the rest of the Bible does not say a lot about the new heaven, earth, and Jerusalem.
- Second, when the rest of the Bible (both OT and NT) mentions the new heaven, earth, and Jerusalem it appears to describe this future state in the same time period as the Millennium.
Meaning, when OT prophets or NT writers described the end time they seemed to describe all of the events happening together. Instead of a sequential or chronological way. Examples are Isa 61:1-2; 65:17; 66:22; Dan 12:2; Luke 4:17-19; 2 Peter 3:10-13. However, the book of Revelation provides a clear description of events that happen in a sequential and mostly chronological way.
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II. THE NEW HEAVEN, NEW EARTH, AND NEW JERUSALEM (Rev 21:1-2)
A. The New Heaven and New Earth (v. 1)
Καὶ εἶδον οὐρανὸν καινὸν καὶ γῆν καινήν. ὁ γὰρ πρῶτος οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ πρώτη γῆ ἀπῆλθαν καὶ ἡ θάλασσα οὐκ ἔστιν ἔτι.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth were gone and the sea was also gone. (Rev 21:1)[ref]Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own based on the NA28 Greek text.[/ref]
1. New or New?
The Greek word used here for “new” is the adjective, καινος, which describes something that is recent in contrast to something old. Often it is translated as new. According to one lexicon it describes new “in the sense that what is old has become obsolete, and should be replaced by what is new. In such a case the new is, as a rule, superior in kind to the old” (BDAG, 497). Walvoord describes the word meaning both “new in character and in the sense of recently made” (Walvoord, Revelation, 329). Metzger says it is a “new kind of heaven and earth” (Metzger, Breaking the Code, 98).
2. No Sea
This verse tells readers that there will be no more “sea.” Is this a literal sea of water, or is it a symbol known to the Jewish mind? In support for the sea as a symbol, the Jewish reader would have known that the “sea” was deeply connected to wickedness (Job 38:8-11; Pss 89:9; Isa 57:20; cf. Rev 13:1). With this in mind, the sea might be a way to tell readers that the fallen world and evil are now gone forever.
B. Two Views on the New Heaven and New Earth
There are two main views for the creation of this new heaven and earth. In summary, the renewal view says that this earth will continue to exist but will be transformed into something new. The recreation view says that this world will be completely destroyed and God will, in effect, start over. A brief examination of each view follows.
Description. Some believe that the earth will be “utterly transformed.” People who hold this view are called “renewalists” and see the new heaven and new earth as a renewal of creation. Renewalists believe in transition, not extinction. The coming judgement will purify, change, and renew the world (Svigel, 407). I believe N.T. Wright explains this view well saying, “The new world will be like the present one, but without all those features, particularly death, tears and everything that causes them which make the present world what it is” (Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 189-190).
Renewalists see a renovation of creation that is connected with God’s plan of cosmic redemption from Rom 8:19-22; Acts 3:21; Matt 19:28. Renewalists also support their passion with Old Testament teachings that the earth is eternal and was given to Israel as their everlasting possession (Gen 48:4; Pss 109:90; Ecc 1:4).
Passages. Gen 48:4; Pss 89:36-37; 109:90; 148:3-6; Ecc 1:4. Renewalists see a renovation of creation that is connected with God’s plan of cosmic redemption from Rom 8:19-22; Acts 3:21; Matt 19:28.
Historical Support. Michael Svigel has written an exceptional article that outlines the early church’s belief in a renewal of the earth. Here’s a brief list of quotes from early church fathers who believed the earth would not be totally destroyed but instead renewed:
- “Neither is the substance nor the essence of creation annihilated.” – Irenaeus of Lyons (AD 180)
- “For if the heavens are to be changed, assuredly that which is changed does not perish, and if the fashion of the world passes away, it is by no means an annihilation or destruction of their material substances that is shown to take place, but a kind of change of quality and transformation of appearance” – Origen of Alexandria (AD 220)
- “It is not satisfactory to say that the universe will be utterly destroyed.” – Methodius of Olympus (AD 300)
- “For this world shall pass away by transmutation, not by absolute destruction.” – Augustine of Hippo (5th century)
Svigel states that these quotes above are not a carefully harvested list of early church history. They represent the majority view of the church fathers from the second to fifth centuries (Svigel, 402).
Modern Scholars. Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 189; Michael Svigel, “Extreme Makeover: Heaven and Earth Edition—Will God Annihilate the World and Re-create It Ex Nihilo?,” Bibliotheca Sacra 171 (October-December 2014): 401-417; Osborne, Revelation, 722.
2. Re-creation ex nihilo
Description. The re-creation view says that God will completely wipe out this present world and heaven. In other words, it will be annihilated. God then will create a completely new heavens and earth from nothing—ex nihilo. In other words, “creation will be totally dismantled and put back together again” (Hitchcock, The End, 450).
Passages. Pss 102:25-26 (quoted in Heb 1:10-12); Isa 24:20; 34:4; 51:6; 65:17-25; 66:15-22; Matt 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33; 2 Cor 5:17; 2 Peter 3:5-7, 10-13; Rev 20:11.
Modern Scholars. Walvoord, Revelation, 325; Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2012), 449-450.
C. The New Jerusalem (v. 2)
καὶ τὴν πόλιν τὴν ἁγίαν Ἰερουσαλὴμ καινὴν εἶδον καταβαίνουσαν ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ἀπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ ἡτοιμασμένην ὡς νύμφην κεκοσμημένην τῷ ἀνδρὶ αὐτῆς.
Then I saw the holy city—the new Jerusalem—coming out of heaven from God dressed like a bride prepared for her husband. (Rev 21:2)
1. The Origin and the Originator
The Greek text gives a few clues here. The Greek preposition έκ describes the origin of the city coming out of heaven. Meanwhile, the preposition ἀπο describes the originator of the city (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 442).
2. The New Jerusalem
Some say the New Jerusalem will be a satellite that is suspended over the earth during the Millennium. As a satellite, that is where the resurrected and translated believers exist during the Millennium (Walvoord, Revelation, 326). Another view (but not my belief) sees the new Jerusalem described here with a present participle and that means believers in our world also live with the new Jerusalem coming down is a present reality (Mulholland, “Revelation” , 590).
III. GOD’S PROMISE FOR HIS PEOPLE (Rev 21:3-4)
A. God with His People (v. 3)
καὶ ἤκουσα φωνῆς μεγάλης ἐκ τοῦ θρόνου λεγούσης·
ἰδοὺ ἡ σκηνὴ τοῦ θεοῦ μετὰ τῶν ἀνθρώπων, καὶ σκηνώσει μετʼ αὐτῶν, καὶ αὐτοὶ λαοὶ αὐτοῦ ἔσονται, καὶ αὐτὸς ὁ θεὸς μετʼ αὐτῶν ἔσται [αὐτῶν θεός],
Then I heard a loud voice from the throne saying:
“Look! The home of God is with mankind. He will live with them and they themselves will be his people and God himself will be with them.” (Rev 21:3)
1. An Angel Speaks
It appears that an angel or someone around the throne speaks here in Rev 21:3 because God speaks in Rev 21:5-6 (Osborne, Revelation, 733; Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 443).
2. Our Life with God
Oh, how comforting it will be to live with the one who designed and created us. God is that good and perfect ruler. As Psalm 139 describes, God knows everything about us (Pss 139:1). He knows both our actions and our deeds (Pss 139:2), when we travel and when we stay at home (Pss 139:3), and what we are going to say even before for we say it (Pss 139:4). Furthermore, he made all the delicate inner parts of our bodies, knit us together in our mother’s womb (Pss 139:13), watched us as we were growing in the womb (Pss 139:14), and saw us before we were born (Pss 139:16). This is the God that we get to live with.
Thomas writes that God’s presence with us “will be closer and more intimate in the new Jerusalem than ever before” (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 443). This is the reward and fulfillment of many Old Testament passages (Lev 26:11; Jer 24:7; 30:22; 31:1, 33; 32:38; Ezek 37:27; 48:35; Zech 2:10; 8:8; 2 Cor 6:16).
God living with his people is the focal point of the entire passage and chapter. God’s presence illuminates the city (Rev 21:11, 23; 22:5), Israel is named on the gates (21:12), the foundation stones are named after the apostles (21:14). For more indirect indicators of God’s intimate presence with his people see Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 443-444.
3. All “His People” Enjoy This
Galatians describes that everyone is one in Christ. There are no Jews, Gentiles, slave, or free (Gal 3:28-29).
B. Sadness and Pain Gone Forever (v. 4)
καὶ ἐξαλείψει πᾶν δάκρυον ἐκ τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν αὐτῶν, καὶ ὁ θάνατος οὐκ ἔσται ἔτι οὔτε πένθος οὔτε κραυγὴ οὔτε πόνος οὐκ ἔσται ἔτι, [ὅτι] τὰ πρῶτα ἀπῆλθαν.
“God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, sadness, crying, or pain. Those prior things are gone forever.” (Rev 21:4)
1. Sadness and Pain in This Life
Connor. There is sadness and pain in our life. I think we can all agree about that. For example, a couple of Christmas’ ago Jen and I were visiting my parents who live in Alaska. My parents had some friends that were married with three boys. They had a twelve-year old, a ten-year old, and a baby who was one year old. The baby’s name was Connor. While having Christmas dinner with this family we finished our meal and began to enjoy pumpkin pie for dinner. The baby, Connor, was sitting in his high chair at the table and began to make eye contact with my mom indicating he wanted some pumpkin pie. So, she picked him up, put him in her lap, and began to take small pieces of pie on her finger and give them to Connor. Every time he took a bite he would go, “hump!.” It was hilarious. So, she kept feeding him little bits of pumpkin pie. That little dude ate my mom’s whole piece of pumpkin pie! Several months later I called my mom to check in and she said she was preparing a meal to take to that same family that we had enjoyed Christmas dinner with. I asked her why, and she told me that baby Connor had gotten sick that week and suddenly died. This little baby that was innocent and harmless tragically died.
Apartment Fire. Every November 12 is a memorably day for Jen and I. Not because it was the day we became married, or because it is one of our birthdays. It is the day that our apartment burnt down in 2014. I was at home and I had just scanned in my homework for the Greek class that I was taking. I was about to upload it to my school’s website and a guy comes pounding on my door saying that the building was on fire and that I needed to leave. So, I grabbed some of our valuable items as well as the folder that said “Renters Insurance” on it, and I went outside to stand and watch as the apartment burnt. In my view, I was doing everything I was supposed to be doing. Jen and I had moved here from California to do what we thought God wanted us to do. I had just done my homework like a good student, yet that event happened which was a tremendous inconvenience, to say the least.
2. Wipe Away
The word used here, ἐξαλειφω, means to cause something to disappear by wiping away. This is not like a child that is crying and the mom wipes away a tear, yet the child continues to cry. The tears we have from this life will be wiped away and will be gone forever (BDAG, 344). As Walvoord affirms, “There is no just ground for assuming from this text that believers will shed tears in heaven concerning the failures of their former life on earth. The emphasis here is on the comfort of God, not on the remorse of His people” (Walvoord, Revelation, 328).
IV. GOD’S PROMISE FOR BELIEVERS AND UNBELIEVERS (Rev 21:5-8)
A. Everything Made New (v. 5)
Καὶ εἶπεν ὁ καθήμενος ἐπὶ τῷ θρόνῳ· ἰδοὺ καινὰ ποιῶ πάντα καὶ λέγει· γράψον, ὅτι οὗτοι οἱ λόγοι πιστοὶ καὶ ἀληθινοί εἰσιν.
Then the one sitting on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, because these words are trustworthy and true.” (Rev 21:5)
1. New, Fresh, and Perfect
How great it will be when everything is made new and changes! There is an atheist that I work with whom I regularly talk to about God and the things of life. One day we were talking about people and the state of our world. I am a fairly positive and optimistic person and this guy asked me, “You think people are—for the most part—good, right?” I looked him in the eye and told him, “No. This is a fallen and corrupt world that has horrible things in it. It is not the way God designed it to be. Yet, in the future it will be changed and made perfect.” I think I love this passage in Revelation so much because it tells how God is making the world new again and making it perfect like it was supposed to be.
2. Don’t Forget to Write this Down!
John, caught up in his amazement at what he saw and heard might have forgotten to write down what he saw. The book of Revelation is God’s revelation to Jesus, from Jesus to an angel, from that angel to John, and from John to us. Here in Rev 21:5 God says, “Look! I am making everything new!” John, probably taken back by the amazing things he saw had to be reminded by the angel to write down what he was seeing.
B. The Alpha and Omega Gives to the Thirsty (v. 6)
καὶ εἶπέν μοι· γέγοναν. ἐγώ [εἰμι] τὸ ἄλφα καὶ τὸ ὦ, ἡ ἀρχὴ καὶ τὸ τέλος. ἐγὼ τῷ διψῶντι δώσω ἐκ τῆς πηγῆς τοῦ ὕδατος τῆς ζωῆς δωρεάν.
Then he said to me: “It is finished! I am the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the one who thirsts I will give from the spring of the water of life for free.” (Rev 21:6)
1. World History Is Finished
When it says, “It is finished!” it does not mean the new earth is complete. It means that world history is done.
2. God Is the Alpha and Omega
The Alpha and Omega is the same title used for God in Rev 1:8 and will be used later in 22:13. Alpha and Omega symbolizes the beginning and end of the Greek alphabet in John’s time. The letter, Α/α was the first letter of the alphabet and Ω/ω was the final letter of the alphabet. If God was communicating in English he would say, “I am the A and the Z.” As Alpha and Omega God is complete control over all things. What he starts he will be able to finish (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 448).
3. An Invitation to the Unsaved
The book of Revelation is not just a description of the events at the end of the world. It is also an invitation to know Jesus Christ, believe in him, and commit to follow him. Here, in Rev 21:6 that invitation is provided as a free gift. When Jesus was traveling through Samaria he stopped at a well near the village Sychar. You are probably familiar with the Jesus’s interaction with this woman at a well. While talking about the mysterious “living water” Jesus says, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.” (John 4:10, NLT). Years later the apostle Paul writes to the believers in Rome about the free gift of grace that was given by Jesus Christ, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.” (Romans 3:23–24, NLT). God’s invitation to us is offered as a free gift. The invitation has been sent to us and God awaits our RSVP.
C. The Victorious (v. 7)
ὁ νικῶν κληρονομήσει ταῦτα καὶ ἔσομαι αὐτῷ θεὸς καὶ αὐτὸς ἔσται μοι υἱός.
“The one who is victorious will acquire these things. I will be his God and he will be my son.” (Rev 21:7)
Alternate translation, “I will be their God and they will be my children.”
This is the promise we as believers get to enjoy. Because someone has shared with us the Good News about Jesus Christ and because we responded, we receive this promise that we are victorious and we are children of God.
D. The Second Death (v. 8)
τοῖς δὲ δειλοῖς καὶ ἀπίστοις καὶ ἐβδελυγμένοις καὶ φονεῦσιν καὶ πόρνοις καὶ φαρμάκοις καὶ εἰδωλολάτραις καὶ πᾶσιν τοῖς ψευδέσιν τὸ μέρος αὐτῶν ἐν τῇ λίμνῃ τῇ καιομένῃ πυρὶ καὶ θείῳ, ὅ ἐστιν ὁ θάνατος ὁ δεύτερος.
“But, the cowardly, unfaithful, abominable, murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and liars will burn in the lake of fire and sulfur. This is the second death.” (Rev 21:8)
Dan Wallace, in his excellent Greek Grammar reminds us that the lake of fire is not reserved only for people who meet all of these qualifications. Furthermore, it is not a place for someone who meets just one of these qualifications.
Overlapping groups are intended here for people that might meet several as an example of their life lived without Christ (Wallace, Greek Grammar, 280). Walvoord writes that Rev 21:8 is “the sad inheritance of unbelief” (Walvoord, Revelation, 330).
This “lake of fire” is not a new idea to the book of Revelation. The lake of fire is a picture for human penalty (Isa 34:10; 66:24; Dan 7:10; Rev 14:11; 19:3).
V. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
A. God Is the Only “Alpha and Omega”
Throughout the book of Revelation God uses “Alpha and Omega” as a way to distinguish himself as the beginning and the end (Rev 1:8, 18; 2:8; 21:6; 22:13). I remember a time when Jen and I were visiting fossil rim in Texas and we were walking along a trail next to a river and there were families scattered throughout the river just hanging out and having fun. We were walking when we heard a mother begin to argue with her child. She proceeded to start yelling at the child saying, “You will do whatever I tell you to do. I am the ‘Alpha and Omega.’ When I say to do something, you do it!” Now, I appreciate this mother’s desire to discipline her child and to let the child know that mom is in charge, but at the same time I think we need to reserve the title “Alpha and Omega” for God. We should not use that to describe us in relation to other human beings. Our God is the only God. He is supreme and ruler over all of the earth.
B. There Is Hope for An End of Suffering
One of the most promising elements of this passage is that it provides for us a hope that there is an end to suffering. Even though we have to endure suffering in our lives on this earth, there will be a time when that suffering will be gone forever.
C. Today We See Glimpses of Pain and Sorrow Gone Forever
Earlier I briefly told you about the baby Connor that died after a year of life. While it is tremendously sad to think about his life being cut short, it is somewhat comforting to know that a part of him lives on in two other babies. When he died his parents decided to have his heart given to another one-year old baby that desperately needed a heart transplant. And one of his organs was also donated to a baby that desperately needed it. While Connor was taken from his family too soon, another family is able to see their child grow up. On a matter more closer to home, it was comforting that when our apartment burnt down this church was close to us. Jamie came and sat with Jen while we waited that night for the apartment office to find us another apartment to stay in. Kevin came over to bring us a few things and he asked me, “Do you have a coat?” I said, “No, I am wearing all the clothes I have.” Then he said, “Here, take the one I’m wearing.” He then took off the coat he was wearing and gave it to me.
D. Remember that this Is a Free Gift
Yet another example of pain and sorrow gone forever is in the life of Joe Rantz. After a difficult childhood and teenage years he was able to win the gold medal in the Olympics, get a college education, and marry a wonderful woman. He was able to see the good things of life and catch a glimpse of life without pain and sorrow. However, unlike Joe we do not have to work hard for pain and sorrow to be gone forever. This is a free gift that Jesus Christ offers to us. We do not have to work for it, we just have to accept it.
While a baby dying and an apartment being burnt down are difficult to understand and deal with, it is comforting to see little glimpses of the new life we will enjoy in the future. Most importantly, we see glimpses of that pain and suffering gone when we accept Jesus Christ and commit to follow him.
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