Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Dec 30 2020 - Revelation 21:1-27 – A new heaven and a new earth

In Revelation 20 we read of one seated on a great white throne, prepared for judgment. Heaven and earth fled from his presence and there was no more place for them (20:11). Now we read of a new heaven and a new earth (21:1). And this is not just a repetition of the old; it is radically new, radically different. "There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (21:4).

The terms "heaven" and "earth" are often used in the Bible to signify the whole of creation (e.g. Genesis 1:1). But they are also used to mark the radical separation between God and humankind, e.g., "God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few" (Ecclesiastes 5:2). We live in a world which, in a very real and deep sense, is marked by separation from God. Not so of this new creation. John sees "the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell 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'" (21:2-4). Eden is restored as God dwells with us in the midst of his creation.

There is both continuity and discontinuity between our present world and the world to come. The present creation is not abandoned; it is made new. We are not snatched up from earth to dwell with God in heaven; the New Jerusalem descends to earth so that God may live with us and we with him in the renewed creation. Nevertheless, it is a new creation; "the old order of things has passed away."

We need to retain this difficult balance. We must not treat this present world as if it were disposable, due for demolition. We are called to care for God's world and to seek to make it now, more like it shall be in that last day. We are called to pray and labour for the coming of his kingdom, that his will might be done here on earth even as it is in heaven. We must never give up on God's great kingdom project of seeking to build a world of justice, peace, truth, righteousness, compassion and love. We need to believe that our labour is not in vain in the Lord.

"God's plan of restoration includes not only our reconciliation to God and to each other, but in some way the liberation of the groaning creation as well. We can certainly affirm that one day there will be a new heaven and a new earth (e.g. 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1), for this is an essential part of our hope for the perfect future that awaits us at the end of time. But meanwhile the whole creation is groaning, experiencing the birth pains of the new creation (Romans 8:18-23). How much of the earth's ultimate destiny can be experienced now is a matter for debate. But we can surely say that just as our understanding of the final destiny of our resurrection bodies should affect how we think of and treat the bodies we have at present, so our knowledge of the new heaven and earth should affect and increase the respect with which we treat it now." (John Stott, The Radical Disciple)

At the same time, we need to know that our efforts, even though they are motivated and empowered by the Spirit of the age to come, cannot ultimately bring in the kingdom. We cannot abolish death. We can crush but we cannot kill the serpent. However, the day is coming when Christ, our Saviour and our hope, shall appear. He will accomplish the desire of our hearts and complete the work of our hands; he will make all things new.

Living God, may this hope flood my soul and animate my life. May I continually turn from the old and embrace the new – embrace and live the life of the coming kingdom.

Peter Misselbrook