Teaching series from Revelation

God's Eternal Kingdom (Part 1)

Revelation 21:1-6

Teaching t23024

Introduction

We come now to what all of this book has been leading up to – God’s eternal kingdom, which John calls “the new heavens and the new earth.” This week, we will look at John’s first overview vision of it (21-8). After the holidays we will spend at least two weeks looking at his more detailed vision of it (21:9-22:21).

This overview vision answers three key questions: “What is it like?”; “Why should I believe in it?”; and “How can I get in on it?”

What is it like?

21:1-4 provides several key insights into what God’s eternal kingdom will be like. Let’s read it a little bit at a time...

Read 21:1. The name “new heavens and new earth” is significant because it means that God’s eternal kingdom will be fully (though not solely) physical/material, like our present world. It will not be some immaterial, ethereal state (BODILESS SPIRITS FLOATING IN CLOUDS), which is what many Christians mean when they refer to “heaven.”

“Heaven and earth” echo Gen.1:1 (QUOTE) – where the “earth” refers to the physical earth and the creatures that inhabit it, and the “heavens” refers to the physical sky and the things (creatures; sun, moon and stars) that inhabit the sky (Gen.1:8,14-18,30).

Is this NH/NE a replacement or a renovation of our present creation? 21:1b (and other passages, like 20:11; 2Pet.3:10-13) seem to indicate that it is a replacement. On the other hand, other passages (like Rom.8:20, 21) seem to indicate that the NH/NE is this creation, thoroughly cleansed and renovated and glorified. Whatever the case, it will be physical like our current universe, only far better.

This means that all the natural beauty of this present creation (e.g., MOUNTAINS; SUNSETS; ANIMALS; etc.) will be there – only far more beautiful. “There will be no more sea” is probably figurative, since the “sea” in Revelation is a symbol for the evil and tumult caused by fallen nations (13:1; 17:15).

This implies what many other New Testament passages affirm – that people will have new physical bodies (like Jesus’ resurrected body) which have far greater capacity to both travel through and appreciate nature (cf.Phil.3:20,21; 1Cor.15:42-44).

21:2,3 emphasize another feature of God’s eternal kingdom, the feature that is central to it – it is relational. John’s vision communicates through three symbols...

Read 21:2a. The first symbol is “the holy city, the new Jerusalem.” A city is where people live and interact together in various ways. Of course, it will be very different (“holy”) from today’s cities because it won’t be filled with traffic jams, air/noise pollution, crime, etc. It will be filled with redeemed, glorified people who live in perfect harmony with one other. This doesn’t mean that you will be around people all of the time (extrovert heaven; introvert hell). Healthy solitude will be available, but it won’t be solitary (more like Bible’s definition of hell!).

But the holy city is not just people who relate to one another. They also relate to God in joyous intimacy. This is why God describes the holy city “made ready as a bride for her husband” (read 21:2b). Both Old Testament and New Testament employ this metaphor of God as the husband and believers as his bride to emphasize God’s desire to have a deep love union with his people. Far from losing our individuality through this union (as with pantheism), we will flourish as individuals as we relate to God in ever-deepening love. Because the God of the Bible is both infinite and personal, He is able to relate in infinite intimacy with each one of us.

After showing John the “holy city” and describing it as a “bride,” he now describes it as the “tabernacle” (read 21:3). This symbol combines the previous two relational aspects. The tabernacle (later the Temple) was a symbol of God’s desire to indwell all of His people and for all of them to experience His presence together. In God’s eternal kingdom, we will relate to God with one another and we will experience God through one another so profoundly that our deepest experiences of closeness with God and others in this life (e.g., BEST GROUP PRAYER) will pale in comparison as “down-payments.”

John’s overview vision includes a third key component of God’s eternal kingdom – read 21:4. Somehow, God will administer complete healing of the sadness we have experienced in this life in a deeply fallen world.

We all have deep sadness because of the reality of physical death (e.g., LOSS OF LOVED ONES; OUR OWN MORTALITY), because of injuries inflicted on us by others’ sins (e.g., ABUSE, NEGLECT, ABANDONMENT, BETRAYAL), because of our own sins and sinful nature (e.g., MY ALLERGY TO GOD & SELF-CORONATION), and because of the attack and oppression of demonic forces (e.g., ACCUSATION & THEAT/DOOM).

How will God heal us of this? I don’t know. I don’t think it will be by removing these painful memories – some kind of “memory lobotomy.” It may be by healing them with the goodness of 21:2,3. Just as the pain from childhood abuse can be partially healed by being reconciled to God, being in fellowship, and building a good marriage, maybe the goodness of being in God’s presence and being with redeemed people completes that healing. Maybe then the deep pains of this life will be like a nightmare whose power dissolves when you awaken in a safe house on to a sunny morning.

God’s healing will not only be the removal of this kind of pain and sorrow; it will also be the bestowal of never-ending and ever-lasting joy. “All their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page. Now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

“The most ordinary moments on the New Earth will be greater than the most perfect moments in this life—those experiences that you wanted to bottle or hang on to but couldn’t. It can get better, far better, than this—and it will. Life on the New Earth will be like sitting in front of a fire with family and friends, basking in the warmth, laughing uproariously, dreaming of the adventures together—and then going out and living those adventures together. With no fear that life will ever end or that tragedy will descend like a dark cloud. With no fear that dreams will be shattered or relationships broken.”

Isa. 25:6-9 brings together these same three threads (read): real physicality (mountain; food and wine; bodies to enjoy them), community with God and one another; healing from death and its effects and resultant joy.

Why should I believe it will happen?

Doesn’t your heart long for what John has described? But, along with this longing, are you afraid to believe that it could be true, for fear of being disappointed again? Are you skeptical because it sounds like wishful thinking? “Why should I believe it will happen?” is a valid question – and God anticipates and answers this questionin the very next verse...

Read 21:5. God commands John to preserve in writing the content of this vision down because its prediction is “faithful and true.” How do you know when you can count on someone’s promise? When you have observed them to consistently keep previous promises. God is saying: “You can trust Me to fulfill this prediction because I have already fulfilled many other predictions.”

This is even more clear in 22:6 (read). This isn’t the first prediction God has made. He has already predicted many, many things through His prophets which have already come true (e.g., 300+ PREDICTIONS OF FIRST COMING; LINEAGE, BIRTH-PLACE, DATE OF COMING; MANNER OF DEATH). If He has this kind of flawless track-record, we have a rational basis for trusting that this prediction will also be fulfilled!

This leads us to a third question– “How can I get it on it?”

How can I get in on it?

Jesus gives us part of the answer to this question in the next verse (read 21:6). “The water of life” is yet another symbol of God’s eternal kingdom (“life” is zoe, which means eternal spiritual life, not bios, which means temporary physical life). Jesus offers it to everyone “without cost.” In other words, He is offering it to you as an absolutely free gift – you don’t have to pay any money to obtain it, you don’t have to do any good works or perform any rituals to earn it, and you can get into it even if you have committed terrible sins (THIEF ON THE CROSS; PAUL).

How can He offer something this precious to everyone, as a free gift, without cost? Because He paid the admission price. He earned our admission by giving His life to pay for all our sins. He took what we deserve (God’s judgment for our sins) so that He can offer us what we don’t deserve (admission into God’s eternal kingdom).

There is only one condition – you have to ask Jesus to give it to you (read Jn.4:10 NLT). Jesus is saying this to a woman who had really messed up her life through lots of wrong choices. You might expect Him to say: “You’ve screwed up so badly that you are ineligible for God’s kingdom,” or at least to say: “If you work really hard to reform your life, then eventually I’ll let you in.” But He says: “It’s the gift of God – just ask Me for it, and I’ll give it to you.”

Why do you have to ask? Because Jesus respects the free will that God gave you. He won’t impose God’s kingdom on you. He wants to enter into an eternal love relationship with you, and (like marriage) that requires your voluntary choice to enter into it – which means that you have the freedom to decline His gift.

Do you know how easy it is to ask Jesus? Just speak to Him from your heart, tell Him that you want to enter His kingdom (“thirsty”), thank Him for paying the price of this free gift (“without cost”), and ask Him to give it to you. In that moment, you will be guaranteed admission. And what’s more, He will give you His Spirit to personally assure you that you’re in. It’s your move!

It may be both, like our future glorified bodies. There is some kind of continuity (physically recognizable), but also radical discontinuity (e.g., immortal; glorious).

C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle (HarperEntertainment), p.767.

Randy Alcorn, Heaven, p.472.