The New and the No

June 9, 2024

O Lord, I wonder if we have paid attention to the words that we have just sung, perfect submission, all is at rest, I and my Savior am happy and blessed, watching and waiting, looking above, filled with His goodness, kept in His love. O Lord, hasten the day that this will be our song for all ages unending. Thank You for this blessed assurance we have only through the gospel of Lord Jesus Christ. Now give us the eyes and ears of faith that we might believe it and receive this good news and follow You all the days of our lives. In Jesus we pray. Amen.

Our text this morning comes from Revelation chapter 21, the first eight verses of Revelation 21.

Much of Revelation is not a pretty picture. There are threats, both to believers and unbelievers. Jesus warns, “I will take away their lampstand. I will fight against them with the sword of My mouth. I will cast you on a bed of suffering. I will blot out your name from the book of life.” He says to Laodicea, “I will vomit you out of My mouth.” 

There are many evidences of persecution in this book. Martyrs under the altar in heaven, those beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, the holy city trampled upon, the two witnesses killed in the street, Christians put to death as they live in the city were Satan dwells.

There are enemies of the Church throughout this book. A dragon, a beast, a false prophet, a prostitute. Wicked cities are mentioned, like Sodom and Gomorrah, false teachers like Jezebel and Balaam, and behind it all there is Satan, our adversary, our accuser. There are plagues, almost too many to mention. Conquests, war, famine, disease, hail and fire mixed with blood. We’ve seen at various points a third of all the vegetation burned up, a third of the sea turned to blood, a third of the living creatures destroyed, a third of the waters turned bitter, a third of the stars struck down. We have seen intense heat and darkness and painful sores and polluted water and locusts and scorpions and men in such exquisite pain, gnawing their tongues and cursing the God of heaven.

There are many pages of promised judgment – earthquakes, falling rocks, fleeing mountains, men, women, and children, great and small, running in terror from the wrath of the Lamb. We’ve seen a final battle of Armageddon, where God wipes out His enemies. He leaves their carcasses for the birds of the air. We have seen battle scenes so gruesome that the blood is said to flow as high as a horse’s bridle for nearly 200 miles. We’ve seen wicked and unbelieving hordes of people and demons squashed like 10,000 grapes in the wine press of the fury of God’s wrath. We’ve seen the prostitute judged. We’ve seen Babylon systematically dismantled until all that is left in the streets of Babylon is silence.

We’ve seen the Beast and the false prophet and the devil himself, the great dragon, thrown into the lake of fire. We have seen terrible hail and lightning and thunder and nothing less than the unraveling of the entire cosmos. 

In page after page of nearly every one of these 20 chapters, we have seen the ugliness of sin and the terrible judgment that will fall upon all of those who are wicked and impenitent.

But that is not the end of the story.

“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 sulfur, which is the second death.””

Coming to Revelation 21 reminds me of the end of the Beatles’ song, “A Day in the Life.” Now this came out some 10 years before I was born, some of you remember it, some of you can Google it later. I don’t usually take Beatles’ songs to be much for their theological direction for us. But this particular song at the end of the Sgt. Pepper album took 34 hours to record in various stages. The first album the Beatles ever recorded took 15 hours. 

Perhaps you remember this song. It ends with a swelling, orchestral cacophony of sound. There’s strings and music, swelling louder and louder, and it’s an overwhelming sound of discordant noise until it finally gets louder and swelling and then pauses for a moment, and then one of the most famous chords in pop music, I had to look it up, it is and E chord, comes in and brings the resolution to all that had been swelling and cacophonous noise, played on three pianos, one organ, and it lasts for 40 seconds.

This discordant noise in life finally goes away and after all of the chaos and all of the cacophony, there is one final ultimate lasting resolution.

So we come to chapters 21 and 22 for these four weeks, Lord willing, and it is that giant, glorious E chord that will last not a mere 40 seconds but for all eternity.

These eight verses in particular are both a conclusion to what has been going on in Revelation and a beginning of these last two chapters to come. If you flip back to chapter 19, you can see verse 1. John says, “I heard,” and then again verse 6, “I heard,” and then it turns in chapter 19 verse 11, “I saw.” So verse 11, “then I saw,” same in chapter 19 verse 17, “then I saw an angel standing in the sun,” chapter 20 verse 1, “then I saw an angel coming down from heaven,” verse 4, “then I saw thrones and seated on them those to whom authority to judge was committed,” down in verse 11, “then I saw a great white throne,” and one more time in verse 12, “and I saw the dead, great and small.” 

Six times in chapter 19 and 20 he has been given a vision – then I saw, then I saw, and now for the seventh time in this series of chapters, beginning in chapter 21, then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.

So it completes what has been building from chapter 19 and 20 and then it introduces these last two chapters, these final four sections, you can see them marked out probably in your Bible neatly, these first eight verses about the new heavens and the new earth. Then we have the new Jerusalem, so heaven is a city. Then in chapter 22 heaven is not just a city but it’s a garden city. Then at the end of chapter 22 Jesus is coming, may He come soon.

The big idea in these two paragraphs and these eight verses is easy to spot. It’s right there in the heading, those headings are not inspired but they’re helpful, and it’s in that word “new,” n-e-w.

Verse 1 we have a new heaven and a new earth. Verse 2 there is a new Jerusalem. Verse 4 former things, so that’s old, old things passed away so that God can triumphantly declare in verse 5, “Behold, I am making all things new.” 

Notice that in the end of the age we are not being brought up to heaven, but rather heaven is coming down to us. We have reason to think that the new heavens and the new earth is more of a purification and a cleansing and this world remade rather than the complete annihilation of this planet. 

So there’s often a theological debate between the relative continuity and discontinuity between this world and the next world and certainly there is some of both. But you should not think of the end of the age like the end of the first Star Wars movie, by which I mean the fourth Star Wars movie, the only ones that count there, that Star Wars movie, where the Deathstar is blown up into a billion smithereens. That’s not what it will be like at the end of the age.

True, we have had often this cataclysmic language of the sky being rolled up and mountains being hurled into the sea and a great earthquake and hailstone. This is apocalyptic language to describe the total reversal of all things and the beginning of something new.

But we should not think that it is like that Deathstar and this planet that we are all inhabiting right now is blown up into a million and billion bits and tiny bits and then remade new. But rather what do we see here in Revelation 21? But coming down heaven all the way to earth.

Now it’s true there will be significant discontinuity. There will be a violent judgment. So you should not think, well, I just plant this tree, this tree will be my treehouse in heaven. Well, you’ll have whatever treehouse is necessary to make you happy in heaven.  

But it’s not all discontinuity. The key analogy is the one that Peter gives us in 2 Peter chapter 3. There Peter is talking about the end of the age and he says if the world that is now will be destroyed with fire as the world that then was destroyed by water. So he says we have a judgment coming. This one will be with fire, the one in the Old Testament with Noah was with water.

So what was the judgment like in Noah’s day? Well, it was universal in scope; it’s one of the reasons why we ought to think that it was a universal flood because the judgment to come will be a universal judgment. The flood certainly destroyed things, it certainly had a changing effect upon its natural environment, and yet that flood in Noah’s day did not mean the complete obliteration of the earth.

What was that flood? It was a water of judgment but you could also think of it as a water of cleansing. It was a way of cleansing the earth of all of its impurities.

Some of you may know that your pastor is very foolish and we have, in addition to nine children, we have one bunny, two cats, and now seven chickens. It is a farm. You can come by. Why chickens? Less work than another baby, I guess. But I’m not sure, because the thing about chickens is they cluck around and they’re fun but as some of you have had chickens before, as they grow up, they like to do their chicken business in all the places you don’t want them to do. So we, meaning my wife and my children, have been building a fence to enclose said chickens so that they can do their chicken business where they ought to do it. So that has meant that over the intervening days it has been cleansing with high pressured water all of the chicken stains throughout the porches and patios. You understand what I’m talking about.

Water has a cleansing, purifying effect. It is a water of judgment but it was a water of purification.

In the same way, Peter says the judgment to come is fire.

Thinking summer, you fire up your grill, we have our grill in the back, it’s always a big dirty mess when we open it and it has whatever was left over from the last time we put chicken or burgers on there. But the nice thing is is you turn on the heat and you let the flame go and the flame has to get that hot but it burns off all of the stuff. It’s the only way I really like to cook and clean is to have just the fire do all of the work. There’s a reason that it’s often the husbands and the men who do that. What? Be outside of the house, away from everything else with fire, that’s the job for me.

But it purifies and it heats and it’s a judgment and a purification.

So this is what the judgment to come will be like. Not a complete obliteration but it will be like the Belgian confession says, cleansing the earth “in fire and flame.” 

The picture of heaven in verses 1 through 8, and really in these chapters, do not focus so much on what heaven will be like. Isn’t that what many of us want to know? Well, okay, so heaven comes down to earth, do I get to see the Grand Canyon? What do I get to do? What do I look like? What sort of fun things? Do I get to read? Do I get, what’s food like? Those are the things we want to know.

But notice there is much less emphasis on what the place of heaven is like and much more emphasis on what the people of heaven are like. We will come in the remaining chapters to a description of the spiritual reality of heaven.

What we have in these two paragraphs is an emphasis on what is in heaven and what is out of heaven. We have lots of questions, what will it be like, what will I be doing, but here’s what the Bible wants to tell us – what will be in heaven, what will be out of heaven.

There are three things in this passage that we can think of won’t be there and two things that will. So in and out, just to keep with the same burger theme for this morning. Three things that will not be in the new heavens and the new earth.

There will be no sea, no suffering, no sin.

There will be no sea. You see that right there in verse 1, the first heaven and the first earth had passed away and the sea was no more. Right away you say, “Wait a minute! I love the ocean. That’s my vacation.” Now remember, this is a vision. We have to distinguish between what John saw and what it means. This verse is not about the literal lack of large bodies of water the in the new heavens and the new earth. You may recall the vision of God in chapter 4, verse 6, John saw a sea of glass, clear as crystal. The heavenly vision in Ezekiel 47 talks about the waters flowing out of the temple and reviving the Dead Sea.

So other pictures have bodies of water. Do not fear.

But the sea was a place of chaos and conflict, especially in the ancient world, especially for Israel. It was the place where enemies might come from, either from far-away lands by the sea or down the coast and then inland. Remember earlier in Revelation the beast came out of the sea. The sea, the Mediterranean Sea, was the place where storms came from. It’s where you could be tossed and toppled, or if you were fighting an enemy, they would trap your back against the sea. Remember when Moses thought he was done for because there was Pharaoh and there was the Red Sea.

The sea was not a place of safety and retreat. So we have to understand why the absence of sea would be a relief.

Imagine if you lived your whole life in a desert. Now we might say, well, that’s good, I want some dry air and I want to go see some beautiful topography. If you lived your whole life in a desert, it might be good news that there would be no more sand. Or if you lived your whole life in the plains, the vision might be in heaven there will be no more wind. If you’re from Michigan, the vision might be no more snow. Now you say, well, I like snow and you build a snowman and it’s Christmas, but if you lived in it every day, every day, that would be good news.

And remember where is John as he receives these visions? He is exiled on the island of Patmos. You may say, well, that’s not a bad place to be exiled, but he is stuck on an island and he has no way to escape this island because he is surrounded on all sides by what? The sea. It’s like telling a truck driver after his whole life – don’t worry, in heaven there are no more highways. Or if you do lawn service, look, there will be no more grass. Well, you might like the highway, you might like grass, but you understand the context in which this is good news.

The new heavens and the new earth will be a place of peace, safety, and rest. We might say no more fire alarms, no police sirens, no coding alarms in the hospital, no ambulances, no machine guns, no tanks, no bomber planes. That’s what it means, no more sea.

Second. This is easy for us to understand. No suffering.

That’s my summary for verse 4. It’d be hard to find a sweeter, more precious verse in all the Bible than verse 4. It’s a little more than 30 words in English. But it is here to heal 10,000 wounds and to provide hope for millions and billions of hearts.

Have you ever had a child, grandchild, crying because of a dream, a bad nightmare? Or skinned their knee? Or something far worse, a terror, a loss, a death. As you held that crying child near, what you want to say to that child, “Everything will be fine. I promise, nothing bad will ever happen again.” But we know as parents we can’t exactly make that promise. We can say God will always be with you, I will do everything, I will love you, you can speak rationally here’s why will be fine. You can say God will take care of us no matter what. But you cannot in this life, as much as you want to, give that absolute promise, “Come to daddy, come to Mommy, give you a hug, I promise you nothing bad will ever happen.” 

But here you can promise that. You imagine God saying to His beloved children, as any parent would, “Come. Come closer.” How close? “Close enough where I can wipe the tear from your eye.”

In verse 4 it’s as if God is saying to each of His beloved sons and daughters, “Now look me in the eye. Okay. I want you to trust me. Here in heaven, no one dies. No one weeps. No one cries. No one hurts. No one is ever scared.”

Imagine what that will be like. Would you allow your head and your heart to hope and to dream of such a place? 

It will be the inconveniences of life that will be gone. I can tell you some of the things I’m looking forward to. No more canker sores, no allergies, no celiac, fountains of gluten, no bad ankles, no bad knees, no bad back, no flu, no cold. 

Think about even the more serious things, the No’s – no more stillbirths, no miscarriages, no traffic fatalities, no suicides, no loneliness, no anxiety, no panic attacks, no depression, no dementia, no unexplained darkness that won’t seem to lift, no more tumors, no more cells that attack your body, no more head injuries, no more phone calls to frighten you in the middle of the night, no more war, no more shootings, no more bomb shelters, no more air raids, no more paralysis, no more auto-immune disorders, no more arthritis, no more freak accidents, no more leukemia. No more tears over wayward children. No more betrayal. No more getting dumped or divorced or cheated on. No more death.

You will never again think to yourself, or cry out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” You will never cry yourself to sleep in heaven. Or be up all night wondering why you can’t go to sleep. You won’t feel like lying in bed all day because you just can’t face the world and you don’t know why.

This new world of no suffering is beyond human description. We are left grasping for rhetoric and metaphors and symbolism and pictures so that our mind’s eye of faith might just scarcely imagine the splendor, the joy, the wonder that we will have in this place.

Isaiah 11 says they will neither harm nor destroy on all My holy mountains for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Do you see the language in verse 1 and verse 4? The word “first,” protos. First things, former things, old things gone. First Adam, first death, first resurrection, first things pass away. In some ways you could say human history is just a two-part book and we are all living in part one, and this part one seems very long, torturously long. The suffering seems incalculable at times. But, beloved, it is compared to the second half of the book but a tiny portion of this great novel that God is writing, for the second part lasts forever.

Everything that is first will be gone while everything that is second will endure. A second Adam, a second resurrection, a second world, and these things will have no end. 

No sea. No suffering. No sin.

We have to deal honestly with verse 8 – As for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.

You see all the second things last forever, just like the second death.

Now, this does not mean everyone who has ever had a moment of cowardice or ever had a moment of sexual immorality or who has ever lied will be in hell. Well, then, no one except for Jesus would be in heaven. No, what this is talking about, as we understand the full scope of Revelation, this is a warning to those who do not overcome. You see verse 7 – the one who conquers. Remember, this has been the dominant theme, this word “nikeo” or “nike,” meaning victory, conquering, overcome. This is a book that God’s people might be overcomers, not succumbers.

So these are those who live in unbelieving, unrepentant life, not the person who sins and repents, not the person whose life is then born again, not the person who cries out to God day after day, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” But the person with increasing hardness of heart who embraces all of these things and instead of overcoming the world, they are overcome by sin, flesh, and the devil.

We could put it this way – justified sinners get into heaven, but there are no sinners in heaven. Justified sinners get into heaven, but when you are in heaven, there is no sinning.

I wonder, do you hate sin as much as you hate cancer? You should. The only reason there’s cancer is because sin entered the world. Of all the evils in this world, moral evil is the worst. That evil which is rebellion against God. So even in this glorious passage, introducing us to the new heavens and the new earth, God wants to bring us to a decision. He wants to exhort us to faithfulness. He wants us to know this great inheritance that is coming is for the conquerors.

You would not want sin in heaven.

J.C. Ryle in his book Holiness has this arresting thought experiment. He says if all you like to do here on earth is sin, what will you have to do with yourself in heaven? Why should you think if all of your greatest joys on earth are sin that you would have any inheritance in the world to come where there is no sin? We need to be remade new so that even our joys and our affections and our pleasures are those things that are pure and clean and righteous.

Do you see the juxtaposition between verse 7, verse 6, and verse 8? Here’s what I mean. Verse 6 says to the thirsty, verse 7 says to the conqueror, and then verse 8 is addressed to the cowardly, those who did not conquer, those who were not thirsty.

So think about verse 6 and verse 8. Do we thirst for God, that’s the language of verse 6, more than we thirst for the things of verse 8? For your reputation, your respectability, for the fleeting pleasures of sexual sin, for revenge, for bitterness, for sex and drugs; that word sorcery is pharmakeia, it means some kind of drugs and idolatry.

Only thirsty people get into heaven. So if you’re thirsty, if everything in you says this world is not enough, I’m not totally satisfied with anything that I have here, then good news, because God can give you something to drink, and if you are feeling absolutely satiated with all that this world has, let that be a warning to you, because only the thirsty get into heaven. We only receive living water if we know that we need a drink. Whoever is thirsty, Revelation 22 will tell us, let him come. Whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. This reference to the water of life, or to living water, is likely a reference to the Holy Spirit Himself, that we have here the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Jesus says, in John 7, if anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink; whoever believes in Me as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living waters. Now this He said about the Spirit.

The waters of life that are given to us are not only eternal life but it is that life that comes from the Spirit.

So what will we not find in heaven? There will be no more sea, that place of chaos and violence and danger. There will be no more suffering and there will be no more sin.

But here’s what we will find. Two things that will be in the new heavens and the new earth, and actually not things, it’s not so much a what but a who.

You notice the only things we’re told in these verses about who will be in the new heavens and new earth, God and His people. No sea, no suffering, no sin. Okay. What will be there? Tell me, tell me what heaven will be like and here’s the vision that John gets. You want to know what heaven will be like? You want to know why it will be glorious? Because who will be there? God will be there and His people will be there.

Remember, I said a couple weeks ago that the second half of Revelation has been playing out as a kind of play, as one character after another comes onto the stage and then in the reverse order in which they arrived, they all depart. So in chapter 12 we were introduced to a woman and a man. There it was a son, and that’s representative of Christ and the Church, and then a dragon comes on the scene and then a beast and then a second beast, and then the prostitute Babylon; all of these characters entering onto the stage.

Then beginning in chapter 17 and then into 18 they all start filing off. First Babylon, the prostitute. Then the beast, thrown into the lake of fire and finally the dragon himself unit we come to chapter 21. Who is left? It’s only the man and the woman. It’s only the Church and her God.

This is the final fulfillment of all the covenant promises. You’ve heard me say many times that if you don’t like the word covenant, then this is going to be a hard church for you. You are going to be triggered, often. We’ve got covenant groups, we’ve got covenant children, we’ve got covenant baptism, it’s Christ Covenant, it’s written everywhere, everything. 

Well, we do like the covenant. A covenant is a promissory agreement and it forms in a way the spine of Scripture. And here in deliberate covenant language in Revelation 21 is the final fulfillment of everything that the covenant had promised.

Genesis 17:8 – I will give the land as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you and I will be their God.

That was the promise to Abraham and his descendants.

Exodus 6:7 – I will take you as My own people and I will be your God then you will know that I am the Lord Your God who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.

Leviticus 26:12 – I will walk among you and be your God and you will be My people.

That’s what all of Leviticus was about, about the establishing of the tents and about the meeting place, the tabernacle in the middle, and that God is holy and we are not, so we need a sacrifice because that central covenant promise is that God once again might dwell with us. After Adam and Eve are kicked out of the garden and the flaming sword is put there, you are removed, this heaven, you’re set apart from the heaven in which you were created. So the promise has been throughout Scripture that God would dwell with us.

Jeremiah 7:23 – Obey Me and I will be your God and you will be My people.

Jeremiah 30:22 – So you will be My God and I will be your people. [sic]

Ezekiel 36:28 – You will live in the land I give your forefathers. You will be My people and I will be your God.

You don’t even have to take one of RTS’s covenant theology courses to see what the covenant is about.

Then when John 1 announces the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

And Matthew 1 tells us you shall call His name Emmanuel, which means what? God with us.

All the promises are coming true.

Revelation 21:3 – Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them and they will be His people and He will be their God.

Verse 7 – The one who conquers will have this heritage and I will be his God and he will be My son.

It’s why verse 22 tells us, “I did not see a temple in the city.” What’s a temple? A temple is a representation of where God lives. There’s no temple in heaven because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. We don’t need a building symbolizing God’s presence, God will be there and we will be with Him.

The covenant promise is that we will no longer be alienated from God. The covenant promise is that you will, through Christ, make it back to the garden. God will bring the garden paradise to you.

You see how this covenant is meant to help us get our story straight. What is the story we are telling to the world and to the nations? It’s not ultimately a story about America, though I love being an American. It’s not ultimately a story about even your particular family, certainly not your favorite sports team. It is this story that people who are alienated from God, people that are enmity with God, can be reconciled to God. Is that the story you’re telling? Is that the story of your life? Is that the hope of your life? That on that day when heaven comes down to earth and all are resurrected and soul and body come together and we stand there before Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, our great hope is that we might say on the day, “That’s my God.” And you know what? God will also say, “Those are My people.” God Himself will say that.  

Did you notice there’s two relational analogies here. It’s the closest human relationships we can have. The first described as a bride adorned for her husband and then it says a father speaking to his son, verse 2, verse 7, that the relationship here between God and His people is like husband and wife, it’s like father and son, or like parent/child. Those are the two most intimate, most precious human relationships. God is giving us in language we can understand though it won’t fully convey all the glories of this reality. The best, most wonderful, beautiful, sweetest husband/wife relationship, the greatest joy you could ever have as parent and child, will be so far eclipsed in this new heavens and the new earth. 

That’s the story that God is telling. God and man at enmity, that’s what went wrong in the garden and that’s what will be set right in the garden city to come. From enmity to reconciliation for eternity. 

Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we thank You for Your Holy Word. Would You so move in our hearts. We are, as C.S. Lewis famously said, too easily pleased like children playing with mud pies in the slums who do not know what it is to have a holiday at the sea. We are too easily satiated with the things of this world when You have stored up for us what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, what no heart can even imagine. Such good news for us. So feed us with the Word that has been preached and now with the Word that we will receive in faith. In Jesus we pray. Amen.