A New Heaven and a New Earth, 1-8
21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had ceased to exist, and the sea existed no more. 21:2 And I saw the holy city—the new Jerusalem—descending out of heaven from God, made ready like a bride adorned for her husband. 21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Look! The residence of God is among human beings. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. 21:4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more—or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist.”
A new heaven and a new earth – The dissolution of the old creation had been spoken of in Ps 102:26; Isa 34:4; 51:6. See also 2 Pet 3:7,10-13. We should not, however, understand these scriptures to teach a total annihilation of the old order. See Rom 8:19-22. This is analogous to the spiritual re-creation spoken of in 2 Cor 5:17: the old nature has not been destroyed, but renewed. See also Mt 19:28; Acts 3:21.
Specifically, this fulfils the hope of Isa 65:17.
‘The first heavens and the first earth have passed away. In our imagination let us try to see this new universe. The very foundations of the earth have been subjected to purifying fire. Every stain of sin, every trace of death has been removed. Out of the great conflagration a new universe has been born. The word used in the original implies that is was a “new” but not an “other” world. It is the same heaven and earth, but gloriously rejuvenated, with no weeds, thorns or thistles. Nature comes into its own.’ (Hendriksen, More Than Conquerers)
The sea existed no more – Often, in the OT, representing chaos and disorder, and leading to feelings of fear (cf. Rev 13:1).
Jerusalem itself is referred to as ‘the holy city’ in Mt 4:5; 27:53, because of the presence of the temple, God’s dwelling place on earth. Here, it is the people of God who are thus designated. Consistent with NT thought generally, they are the dwelling place of God.
The new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven – It is clear from what follows that ‘the new Jerusalem’ is nothing other than the people of God. They are already citizens of heaven (cf. Eph 2:6; Phil 3:20).
‘The NT conceives of a heavenly Jerusalem as the dwelling place of God, the true homeland of the saints, and the dwelling place of “the spirits of just men made perfect,” Heb 12:22; cf. Gal 4:26; Php 3:20. While this heavenly Jerusalem is represented as the dwelling place of the departed saints, heaven is not their ultimate destiny, but only the temporary abode of the saints between death and the resurrection, Rev 6:9-11; 2 Cor 5:8; Php 1:23. In the consummation after the resurrection, Rev 20:4, the heavenly Jerusalem will descend from heaven to take up its permanent location in the new earth.’ (Ladd)
‘The direction of travel, with the city coming down out of heaven, is in line with the rest of Revelation and with other expressions of New Testament eschatology, which does not envisage the saved leaving the earth to be with God in heaven, so much as sleeping in death and awaiting the bodily resurrection at the return of Jesus, and it matches the desire expressed in the Lord’s Prayer: “your kingdom come … on earth as it is in heaven”.’ (Paul)
Made ready like a bride adorned for her husband – In Rev 19:7f this adornment represents ‘the righteous deeds of the saints’.
“Look! The residence of God is among human beings” – skēnē, ‘tent’. There is an allusion here to the tent of meeting, which was the dwelling of God as he journeyed with the Israelites in the wilderness (Ex 27:21).
Ian Paul elaborates:
‘Within Revelation, the term (together with its cognate skēnoō, ‘to dwell’) describes God’s protective presence over those who are faithful to him (Rev 7:15), as well as the people of God who (spiritually speaking) reside before the throne (Rev 12:12; 13:6).’
The God who once dwelt with us in weakness will one day do so in glory:
‘The same Greek word as is used of the divine Son “tabernacling among us.” Then he was in the weakness of the flesh: but at the new creation of heaven and earth he shall tabernacle among us in the glory of his manifested Godhead (Rev 22:4).’ (JFB)
“They will be his people” – According to Morris, the better manuscripts have ‘peoples’, indicating that they come from many nations. Many modern translations (e.g. NRSV) reflect this reading.
On the reading ‘peoples’, Mounce comments:
‘Apparently, John modified the traditional concept (Jer 7:23; 30:22; Hos 2:23) and substituted a reference to the many peoples of redeemed humanity. Jesus had spoken of “other sheep that are not of this sheep pen” that must become part of the one flock (John 10:16). It is with the redeemed peoples of all races and nationalities that God will dwell in glory. God himself will be with them, and he will be their God. It is the presence of God, and the fellowship with him of all believers, that constitutes the principal characteristic of the coming age.’
Ian Paul, similarly:
‘It is striking that, whereas the Old Testament uses the singular ‘people’, John uses the plural ‘peoples’, signifying the overflow of grace in the inclusion of those from ‘every nation, tribe, people and language’ (Rev 7:9) in the renewed covenant community. This fulfils the (sometimes muted) note in Old Testament prophetic expectation that sees all the nations coming to worship God in Zion (see Ps. 86:9; Isa. 2:3; 66:20; Mic. 4:2).’
The language here is redolent of the OT covenant formula: ‘They will be my people, and I will be their God’ (cf. Jer. 32:38; Ezek. 37:27.
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more—or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist.”
Cf. the vision of the eschatological banquet in Isa 25:8 –
‘He will swallow up death permanently. The sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from every face, and remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. Indeed, the LORD has announced it!’
‘It will matter little to the faithful what their sorrows may have been in this vain world, since no trace of them will remain when they enter on that ineffable peace which is in store for them in the life to come.’ (Athanasius)
‘Affliction has a sting, but withal a wing: sorrow shall fly away.’ (Thomas Watson)
The former things have ceased to exist – As Ian Paul remarks, while there is clear continuity between the old order and the new order, there is also radical discontinuity.
As the apostle puts it in 2 Cor 5:17 –
‘So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away—look, what is new has come!’
21:5 And the one seated on the throne said: “Look! I am making all things new!” Then he said to me, “Write it down, because these words are reliable and true.” 21:6 He also said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the one who is thirsty I will give water free of charge from the spring of the water of life. 21:7 The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 21:8 But to the cowards, unbelievers, detestable persons, murderers, the sexually immoral, and those who practice magic spells, idol worshipers, and all those who lie, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur. That is the second death.”
As Paul observes, this is the first direct speech from God since Rev 1:8. Out of all the previous confusion and chaos emerges the clear, unmistakable voice of him who will make all things new.
“Write it down, because these words are reliable and true” – This is the last of seven occasions when John is commanded to ‘write’. There is an implication of permanence, and also of universality, about this, which contrast with the more limited and localised messages of the OT prophets (cf. Isa. 6:9; Jer. 2:2; Ezek. 3:4).
“I am the Alpha and the Omega” – The first of these is spelt out; the second is given just as the letter.
‘The Greek translation of God’s name YHWH (the Tetragrammaton) was spelt IAO, and this was of interest because the Greek chief of gods, Zeus, was said to hold the beginning, middle and end of all things (in Plato and Plutarch).’ (Paul)
“The beginning and the end” – cf. Isaiah 41:4; 44:6; 48:12.
The water of life – Here and in Rev 22:1, 17, the water ‘is emblematic of the maintenance of spiritual life in perpetuity.’ (Vine)
“The second death” –
The New Jerusalem Descends, 9-27
21:9 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven final plagues came and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb!” 21:10 So he took me away in the Spirit to a huge, majestic mountain and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. 21:11 The city possesses the glory of God; its brilliance is like a precious jewel, like a stone of crystal-clear jasper. 21:12 It has a massive, high wall with twelve gates, with twelve angels at the gates, and the names of the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel are written on the gates. 21:13 There are three gates on the east side, three gates on the north side, three gates on the south side and three gates on the west side. 21:14 The wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
21:15 The angel who spoke to me had a golden measuring rod with which to measure the city and its foundation stones and wall. 21:16 Now the city is laid out as a square, its length and width the same. He measured the city with the measuring rod at fourteen hundred miles (its length and width and height are equal). 21:17 He also measured its wall, one hundred forty-four cubits according to human measurement, which is also the angel’s. 21:18 The city’s wall is made of jasper and the city is pure gold, like transparent glass. 21:19 The foundations of the city’s wall are decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation is jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 21:20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. 21:21 And the twelve gates are twelve pearls—each one of the gates is made from just one pearl! The main street of the city is pure gold, like transparent glass.
21:22 Now I saw no temple in the city, because the Lord God—the All-Powerful—and the Lamb are its temple. 21:23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, because the glory of God lights it up, and its lamp is the Lamb. 21:24 The nations will walk by its light and the kings of the earth will bring their grandeur into it. 21:25 Its gates will never be closed during the day (and there will be no night there). 21:26 They will bring the grandeur and the wealth of the nations into it, 21:27 but nothing ritually unclean will ever enter into it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or practices falsehood, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
I did not see a temple in the city – ‘In a document like Rev. which follows the traditional images and motifs so closely, the idea of a Jerusalem without a Temple is surely novel. John’s statement that he ‘saw no temple in the city’ has been taken to mean that the whole city was a temple; note that the shape of the city is cubical (21:16), like the holy of holies in Solomon’s Temple. (1 Kings 6:20) But that is not what John says. He states plainly that God and the Lamb is the Temple. What he very likely means is that in the place of the temple is God and his Son. Such indeed would appear to be the grand denouement for which the writer prepares his readers. First he dramatically announces that the temple in heaven is opened and its contents laid bare for human eyes to see (11:19). Later he drops the hint that the divine dwelling may be none other than God himself (21:3; note the play on the words skene and skenosei). Finally, he states quite simply that the temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. One after another the barriers separating man from God are removed until nothing remains to hide God from his people. ‘His servants… shall see his face’ (22:3f.; cf. Isa 25:6ff). This is the glorious privilege of all who enter the new Jerusalem.’ (NBD)
v25 Rob Bell (Love Wins, p114), speculates that the image of the open gates suggests that people, even in the life to come, will be able to enter heaven (and, indeed, leave heaven). After all, ‘gates are for keeping people in and keeping people out. If the gates are never shut then people are free to come and go’. But, as Paul Coulter points out, the present chapter comes after the final judgement recorded in Rev 20, when those whose names were not found in the book of life are thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:15). Moreover, the reason for the ever-open gates is explicitly stated in the present verse: ‘for there will be no night there’. The gates of ancient cities were closed at night for reasons of security. As Coulter remarks, ‘this city does not need such security because there will be no night (the glory of God and the Lamb give it light according to verse 23) and because there is no threat to its security since any threats have been eliminated in the victory of Christ that Revelation describes.’
Ian Paul remarks on the mixture of inclusive and exclusive language here:
‘On the one hand, these gates are unexpectedly ‘inclusive’; unlike human cities which are anxious about security and safety, and so close their gates at night, this city of God has no such anxiety, and welcomes all who will accept the free but costly invitation to drink from the river of life and feast at the wedding banquet of the Lamb. The ‘nations’ and the ‘kings of the earth’, whom we thought had been lost in their captivation to the power of the beast, make a surprising appearance in the city.
‘But on the other hand, these gates are also unexpectedly ‘exclusive’: ‘nothing impure will ever enter the city’. Most artists omit to include the angels that are stationed at each gate—stationed to check the passports of those who enter, whether their names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. As the text then makes clear, to have your name written there involves having made the change from ‘what some of you were’ to the ‘But now you have been washed’ of Pauline theology—’for their good deeds go with them’ (Rev 14.13). And the list of vices that are excluded in Rev 21.8 and Rev 22.15 (excised by the lectionary) have an obvious relation to the vice lists in both Paul’s and Jesus’ teaching.’
Rev 21:26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it – This suggests a continuation of human creativity and productivity in the new creation.
‘In the ancient world, it was desirable to build a temple with the best materials from all over the world; this is what Solomon did for the temple in Jerusalem. More than that, people would bring gifts from far and wide to adorn the temple after its completion. It is probable that the image of kings bringing their gifts to the New Jerusalem flows from this background. It does not seem too much of a stretch to imagine that these gifts are the products of human culture, devoted now to the glory of God.’ (Theology of Work Bible Commentary)
‘Nothing from the old order which has value in the sight of God is debarred from entry into the new. John’s heaven is no world-denying Nirvana, into which men may escape from the incurable ills of sublunary existence, but the seal of affirmation on the goodness of God’s creation. The treasure that men find laid up in heaven turns out to be the treasures and wealth of the nations, the best they have known and loved on earth redeemed of all imperfections and transfigured by the radiance of God.’ (Caird)
‘Do you grasp the beauty of this verse? It says that all the creative splendours of the nations – their best architecture, their mighty feats of engineering, their greatest art and most inspiring literature – will be paraded into the New Jerusalem because the glory of God is where they belong.’ (Harrison, Glynn. A Better Story: God, Sex And Human Flourishing.)