Those who have been faithful to God will find themselves safe with God in the new heaven and the new earth.
Lesson Outcomes Through this lesson, students should:
1. Understand that God’s plan for creation is not destruction but renewal.
2. Understand that our actions here partly determine on whose side we spend eternity.
3. Understand that, in the end, God will make God’s home among God’s beloved creation.
Catching up on the Story Previously in the book of Revelation, John has depicted the struggle of the end when Christ defeats the satan and his followers by the word of his mouth. Satan has been thrown out of heaven, defeated, and thrown into the abyss. He has been released from the abyss after a thousand years, only to be cast away for good by Christ. Those who have been faithful, even unto death, were resurrected in the first resurrection before the thousand years. After Satan’s final defeat, everyone else is resurrected. Those whose names have been found in the book of life will be safe with Jesus, but those whose names are not found there are cast into the lake of fire with Satan, the beast, and the false prophet.
Those who are found to have been faithful, those who have resisted the temptation to complacency or for outright rebellion against God, will find themselves safe with God in the new heaven and the new earth. In his ultimate plan, God is going to renew everything. Death and destruction are no more. This new city will be characterized by the life-giving force of God. This promise comes with a warning, those who find themselves not having “conquered” will not take part in God’s good and everlasting future.
The Context The tremendous cosmic struggle is finally over. God has finally won; the forces of evil and death personified in Satan, the beast, and the false prophet have been relegated to the lake of fire where they will no longer be able to cause any harm to God’s people.
As the final victory has been won, the final resurrection takes place. Every last human is raised from the dead. Death and Hades are made to surrender those they have swallowed up so that judgment might be made.
There are a few books by which judgment is made. There is the book of life. Those whose names are written in the book of life have been found to have “conquered” as the churches at the beginning of Revelation have been told to do.
The other book is a book where a record of people’s deeds is kept. While I do not believe that John is propagating salvation by works, I do believe that he is saying that what one does in this life is important. Even those who claim to be followers of Christ but who have either been lulled into complacency or turned their back on God will be judged by how they have acted and not how they have “believed.”
Ultimately, those who find their names not in the book of life are cast into the lake of fire with Satan, the beast, and the false prophet. This is the end of the line. They will not have any chance of spending eternity in a place where death and pain are no more.
Revelation 21:1-8 After John sees the dead being judged, a new vision occurs. John describes this new vision as a new heaven and earth descending from heaven. The old heaven and old earth, and the sea have passed away.
The original language here of “pass away” does not carry the connotation of destruction. Instead, later in the passage, we are informed that the old earth and heaven are renewed. That is, they are made like they were new again. They aren’t “made new” as in new construction but are renewed.
With the new heaven and the new earth, John says he sees a New Jerusalem descending from heaven as well. Jerusalem is dressed up as a bride would be for her husband.
The imagery here is important. Many times in the Old and New Testament, God’s relationship with humanity, with Israel in particular, is described as a marriage. Now finally, God’s relationship with creation will be one of permanent, everlasting covenant fidelity.
Just then, John hears a voice that begins to proclaim what the images have already started to suggest, that God is descending to make his home with humanity.
God will no longer be separated from his people, and there will be no need for a temple because the new city is indeed the temple. It is where God’s presence will always be.
That being the case, the city’s inhabitants will find that they are completely transformed by the reality of God’s immediate presence. Death will be no more, nor will the consequences of death and destruction and chaos be visible on the faces of the residents of this new city. As in Isaiah 25, mourning and crying and pain will be no more; they will be wiped away because of the presence of God.
Then John hears another voice, but this time it is the voice of Christ himself. Here we have the affirmation of the remade nature of the world. “See, I am making all things new.”
The voice of Christ comes directly to John commanding him to write what he says. Verses 6-8 then are a promise and a warning to those who will read John’s work.
The promise is to those who “conquer” that the waters of life will be given to them, and they will live with Christ for eternity in this new and perfect city. The promise is that we can truly be God’s children, receive all the benefits that come with being God’s children, and receive it for eternity.
The warning is for those who are following Christ. John is then given a list of things those who will conquer don’t do. Verse 8, “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
This isn’t a comprehensive list, but the point should be clear. The world characterized by these traits will ultimately be done away with. Those who do the things listed in verse 8 belong to the losing side. The side that does not get to participate in God’s future.
It’s important to remember that part of John’s purpose in this book is to call Christians to choose a side. The choice is evident in John’s mind. You will either be on the side of the beast, the side controlled by selfishness and self-gratification, or you will be on Christ’s side, the side characterized by selflessness and love.
“At the beginning of Revelation, Christians are called to “conquer” through their faithfulness to God and the Lamb. The Lamb “conquered” by offering himself as a sacrifice for others before being raised to everlasting glory (Rev. 5:5-6). Those who are freed by the Lamb become part of a resistance movement against pressures to abandon faith, whether these pressures come from overt hostility, the temptation to compromise one’s faith to assimilate more comfortable into pagan society, or from the complacency that wealth induces” (Koester, 193).
So What…? The question is, on which side do you want to be found? Do you want to share in God’s good future, one where there will be unmediated access to God and faithful and good and unbroken relationships with others? Or do you want to end up in the lake of fire, the second death, by choosing to continue to live as those who have allegiance to the beast?
This isn’t meant to be a scare tactic. I don’t believe that John wants to scare his readers into believing in Christ; they already believe in him. But I believe John wants to get across that there is a winning and a losing side. God’s side is destined for victory. Nothing can stop it. Furthermore, God’s plan is not destruction for those who refuse to follow; that is, destruction isn’t the hallmark of God’s eschatological movement. Re-creation is.
This account of John’s vision is to make us aware that the redemption that God has planned for creation will happen. All that is bad and evil and that works against the goodness of God will be done away with. Death will be no more.
Discussion Questions Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.
In the first verse of chapter 21, John has a vision of a new heaven and a new earth. The sense that we get from the rest of Revelation and the rest of the biblical witness is not that heaven and earth are both destroyed but renewed and restored. If God is working to renew and restore creation, how might that change how we live here and now?
John also sees a new Jerusalem descending toward the earth. What might this new Jerusalem represent? Why is it descending toward the world?
The new Jerusalem is described as “a bride adorned for her husband” (verse 2). Why would the new Jerusalem be described that way? What kind of thoughts does the wedding imagery inspire?
Reread verses 3-4. What do these two verses describe? Is this picture similar or different from how you imagined the end of time? If so, how?
In verse 5, God declares that he is “making all things new.” What does God mean by this? Is there a difference between “making all things new” and “making all new things? If so, why? If not, what makes you think that?
Our actions aren’t what saves us. We can’t earn our salvation; it is a gift from God. But, our efforts do have an impact on our eternal salvation. Verse 8 lists things that could disqualify someone from spending eternity with Christ. Keep in mind that it’s not a comprehensive list. What might be significant about the actions on this list?
We are told that the consequence of living unfaithfully is a place in the “second death.” John gives us a description of what the second death looks like. Should we read this part of John’s revelation literally? If so, why? If not, why?
Ultimately, does it matter what the “second death looks like?” If so, why? If not, why?
Koester, Craig. Revelation and the End of All Things. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001.