“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I 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 the throne saying, “Behold, 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. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also, he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.”
This symbolism represents a renewed creation, with death and destruction overcome. The first heaven and earth have not been literally destroyed but have been changed. The old things have passed away, meaning the way things were. Heaven and earth have been made new. A new heaven means, a new relationship between God and man, heaven is now reconciled to our world and communities. A new earth means, an earth free from alienation from God and free from alienation from each other in our personal relationships.
We see in Rev 21-22 how the scriptural story ends. It doesn’t end with believers going to heaven. It ends with a renewed creation.
The new Jerusalem, which means the kingdom and rule of God, comes down from heaven to earth. This symbol means that heaven and earth merge into one relationship and existence. The prayer of Jesus is fulfilled, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Heaven means, the presence and will of God.
God’s presence and will, which is neighbourly love, fills the whole world. This is the final eternal state of things. We don’t know all the details. But we know God’s will and our lives come together in love. The purpose of God in the original creation, in Genesis 1, is fulfilled. Humanity, in God’s presence, fill the earth with fruitful and kind relationships. God hasn’t deviated from his original creation purpose. He loves his creation and is committed to seeing it through, to full renewal. It is with the original purpose of creation completed, that the scriptural story ends.
There are other visions in Revelation of this eternal state, even before Rev 21. We saw in Rev 6, for example, a prelude to this resurrection life, in a new heaven and new earth. These visions in Revelation aren’t of life in heaven, away from earth, after we die.
They are symbolic representations of the resurrection, in a restored creation, with God and humanity dwelling in unity and love. The visions speak of God’s throne, of his full presence, and thrones of believers, but the throne is also a symbol, of the reign of God’s love.
The idea of heaven being far away came into our minds because humanity drew away from God in his own shame and fear. The cross draws us back to him. In Genesis 1, God and mankind were together. Man moved away from God, behind a curtain. Heaven is still here, all around us, but not visible to our fallen mind. One day, our blindness shall be taken away, the curtain shall be removed, and heaven’s conscious presence shall come rushing in like a flood and fill this creation. When that happens, death in this world shall be fully and finally abolished.
“And he will swallow up … the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 25:7-8)
Before that day, heaven is represented to us as being “above.” This isn’t a physical location, away from us, but “above” in the sense that its rule of love is superior to the selfish rule on the earth. It’s very important we understand these symbols/ metaphors. The new Jerusalem is surrounded by high walls. Walls speak of our security.
Some people have said that the new Jerusalem has walls, so we should have walls, and keep suffering people out of our nations.
This is opposite to what the symbol means. The new Jerusalem speaks of relationships of love and care between people, which become our security. It isn’t literal walls that protect our communities, but our love for each other.
There is also the symbol of the tree of life, and its leaves heal the nations. In the law of Moses, this tree is our love for each other.
Moses called it shema, loving God and loving our neighbour. Moses said, “If you do this, you shall live.” But we couldn’t obey, because our hearts were corrupted. The Spirit of grace brings healing to us and our relationship, enabling love to fill our communities. These Spirit led actions of love restore our nations. Paul said, this is “life and peace.” He called it, “the revealing of God’s children, delivering creation from its bondage to corruption (selfishness).” This shema is the new creation. God spoke the world into being, saying, “let there be.” He makes a new world by speaking into our hearts through the gospel, saying, “you shall love,” “as I have loved you.” This is the word of faith(fulness), which makes the creation new. And this is the tree of life, these actions of love that we do, as followers of Jesus, that heal our world. This way, faith doesn’t nullify the law, but fulfils, it, and fulfils its purpose, in bringing us life and wholeness. It brings us the wholeness that God intended when he first placed Adam and Eve in this world.
Revelation speaks symbolically of the reign of God filling the earth.
This is a reign of neighbourliness, as this neighbourliness filled the teachings of the Prophets – which they called mercy and care for others – and filled the teachings of Jesus. It is the centre of God’s character. It is his glory, which he revealed on the cross: love for neighbour, above love for self. This is the glory that Isaiah said shall fill the earth, as the waters cover the sea. And Isaiah spoke of this by symbols of the strong caring for the weak, even our tribes coming to peace. And peace comes as we put the interests of others ahead of ourselves.
The new Jerusalem, which comes down from heaven and fills the earth, is already here in the church. Peter calls this the new temple, the temple that Ezekiel spoke of, also by symbol, that is filling the land. Ezekiel used another image of the river, healing the nations.
This also, isn’t just the Spirit, but what the Spirit does in our hearts and lives, in our actions of love and care for each other, even towards our enemies. It is this river that Jesus spoke of in his Sermon on the Mount, our new cross life, in which we give of ourselves, to recompile our communities and enemies into new relationships. This is what his cross teaches us to do towards others, just as he did towards us. This is his reconciling power in action, making all things new.
So, what Rev 21 speaks of in completion, in the new heaven and new earth, is already coming into the world through the church today. This is the meaning of the church in the world, not to be taken out of the world, to heaven, but to fill the world with heaven.
Paul spoke of this, when he said, we are Christ’s body, his new temple, through which God is filling his whole creation. (Ephesians 1) This is the reason God called us, to do in us and through us, what he intended for Adam and Eve in this world, in the beginning.
How the role of the church, in filling this creation, merges in with the complete renewal of all things, the complete victory over death and destruction, at the end, I don’t know. I don’t agree with PostMillennialism, for several reasons. For one, it presents a kind of time-chart, showing all things progressively getting better, until Jesus comes. I don’t think there is anything in the scripture that guarantees this. We don’t know what the future will bring. It will depend on how the church responds to its calling in any generation. There is no guarantee against calamity in the future, even nuclear war, if we don’t put into action what God is calling us to.
The scriptures don’t give us a predictive chart. That isn’t their intention. Their intention is to show us the love of God and call us to live this love with one another, even when we are persecuted, just as Jesus was persecuted. This is our call, not because it works and guarantees a result, but because this is God’s nature and we are his children.
So, I have no details of what lies ahead, except that God has called us to his love, now, not to live by the rational of this current world, which is “pay back,” “do to others before they do to you.” This is the world’s logic. We are called to know that the love of the cross shall conquer all things and we are to live by this love now. We are to know that one day this love shall fill the creation, and we are to be living witnesses of this now, so we shall live in it in the resurrection at the end.
And this is the second coming of Christ, at the resurrection. The scriptures speak of this, using metaphors and symbols. Like Paul, in Thessalonians, saying Christ comes in the air and the believers shall be caught up to meet him. This was a Roman image, of Caesar coming back to Rome and his elite coming out to meet him ousted Rome, and then continuing the end of his journey to Rome together. This wasn’t meant to be a literal picture of how Christ will return.
The scripture uses symbols and metaphors to speak of real things.
The real thing is that death shall be conquered, and this creation shall be filled with light. Isaiah called it, death being swallowed up by life. That is the real thing. We don’t all the details, but we know, that when he appears, we shall see him as he is, and we shall be like him. We shall be transformed, at the resurrection, into his exact image of love and light. (1 John 3:2)