A few weeks ago, we began this series of sermons, I asked you to imagine that you are going to take a trip from Boston to California because you want to go to Yosemite National Park. I said that you had several options to get there. If you were pressed for time, you could get on an airplane and within a few hours you would be very close to where you wanted to be. However, you could also drive and decide what you want to see along the way and where you will stop. If you take your time, you will get there and enjoy all that Yosemite has to offer. But you will also have learned much about this country and its history along the way.
We conclude our study of the covenant this morning. Or to use our picture of the road trip, we have arrived at Yosemite! We have seen how God has been working through the whole Bible to bring about our salvation. We have been following the covenant of grace as we have seen how God has done this. But where does it end? What is the final destination that God has in mind in this covenantal story? For that we turn to the last book in the Bible: the book of Revelation. There we see that when Jesus comes again, the covenant of grace will be finally and fully fulfilled in the new creation or the new heaven and new earth. And those beautiful images we read of here are the fulfillment of all that God has been promising throughout history in the covenant. Let’s read Revelation 21:1-8.
I. The new creation is described in verses 1-2.
The new creation is called a “new heaven and a new earth.” John, the author, says the old heaven and earth have passed away. Moreover, the new heaven and earth will be very different from what we know today.
Verse 1 says that in this new heaven and earth, “There was no longer any sea.” The “sea” in the Bible was much more than just a large body of water. It was mysterious, vast, powerful and often very ruthless to those who sailed on it. People in the ancient world looked at the sea much in the way a child may look at the ocean. A child may look at the vast expanse of water with the waves crashing and she knows that the sea is dangerous and threatening. As such, the Bible writers often used the sea as a way of describing evil. In Isaiah 57:20, Isaiah writes, “But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud.” Isaiah compares the wickedness of the world to the vast tossing sea. Revelation 13:1 says: “And the dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, and on each head a blasphemous name.” The beast, which represents all that opposes the rule of Christ, comes out of the sea. The sea is a picture of all that is evil and opposes the rule of God.
And so when John says that the sea is gone, he is saying that the power and mystery of sin no longer exists in the new heaven and earth. Heaven will be a pure, sinless and as such an amazingly beautiful place. To underscore that, John then uses the picture of a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. A bride is perfect and beautiful in her husband’s eyes. Heaven will also be pure, sinless and beautiful.
Verse 2 then describes Christ’s church as the new creation as “the holy city, the new Jerusalem.” Why is the church in heaven described as a city? In a city there are many people who are living and working together. What John is saying is that the church in the new heaven and earth is a community of believers.
This is also the final fulfillment of the covenant as well. When God came to Abraham he said he would make of his descendants a great nation and he would give them a land. It was not just a promise given to him as an individual, but a whole community and that community would have a place to live and thrive in the presence of God. Heaven will be a community of people living, working and praising God together; we will be doing meaningful and wonderful things!
Our cities are full of sin and evil, but the city of God will be eternally free from the effects of sin. Think of the sins each of us struggle with on a daily basis in our lives. Think of how the effects of sin cause us pain through illness, death and sinful behavior. However, in heaven all of the things that hurt us and overwhelm us will be gone. It will be the best city and best life for God has given us a place to live for eternity.
II. The life in the new creation is described more fully in verses 3-5.
The most important part of that life is that God will dwell fully with us. Here is that same promise from God that has its roots deep in the covenant in the Old Testament. God had promised Abraham and his descendants already in the book of Genesis that He would be their God and they would be His people. Under the direction of Moses, the Israelites built a tabernacle which was a symbol of God’s presence with them, but it was still only a symbol for no one could look at God and live. When Jesus was on earth, that promise was brought closer to fulfillment. John 1:14 says that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. God dwelt with us in bodily form but only for a short period of time.
Verse 4 describes yet another aspect of life in the new heaven in that when the new heaven and earth come, God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Think about all the tears that you have shed in your life. Tears of bitterness, depression, frustration, disappointment, grief and sadness. Think of all the tears you will likely shed in the rest of your life. In the new heaven and earth, God will dry them all like a mother wipes tears from her child! The reason there will be no more tears is because there will be no more death. Death is a very big part of the tears that we shed on this earth. But if death is gone, so will the tears that it brings.
And look who is speaking in verse 5: “He who was seated on the throne,” who is “the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.” We tend to think of this description as being limited to God the Father. He is the creator God and ruler of all, but notice who else uses this title to describe himself. In Revelation 22:12-13 Jesus says, “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” Jesus is also on the throne as King and Lord! Remember God’s covenant promise to David in 2 Samuel 7 was that his descendants would be ruling on the throne forever! Now the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and End is on the throne and will rule forever. King Jesus, the descendant of David, is ruling and is making all things new.
And in fact, it will be a brand new life in a brand new world. In verse 5, God Himself speaks: “I am making everything new!” Notice that God does not say, “Someday, I will make everything new.” But now, at the present time, I AM making all things new. The day of no more death, pain and sorrow is coming and we are moving slowly to that day when we all will be in our true home and that is important to realize. There is an Orthodox Jewish tradition that maintains that every Orthodox Jew’s house must have some part of that house unfinished. Even if it is the most elegant house, some part of it must look like it is not finished. Why? It is a reminder that its occupants are only pilgrims and strangers on the earth. Our real home is in the new heaven and earth, not here on this sin-stained earth.
III. Who are the residents of the new creation?
Verse 6 says only those who are thirsty will inherit the new heaven and earth. The ones who are thirsty are the ones who truly love the Lord. Think of how good a cold glass of water is after we have worked hard and are thirsty. These people have the same longing and desire only for the Lord. Those who are thirsty are those who have responded by believing in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; they will live in the new heaven and new earth.
John especially mentions those who have endured and overcome all the persecution. They are the ones who, in spite of all the blows of life, have kept their faith secure in God. We face difficulties in our lives that test our faith. We may face a job that is very stressful or unfulfilling. We may face family relationships or issues that are difficult and painful. We may face a health crisis and we don’t know what the end result is going to be. All these things test our faith and we may wonder what God is doing. Those who endure and overcome such things are the residents of the new heaven and earth. They are the ones who have withstood and persisted in spite of the uncertainty and the pain.
Then verse 8 gives the list of those who will not live there. They are the ones who throughout their lives never accepted Christ. They were comfortable with their lives without God and so never responded to the Lord. They will now be on the outside of the new heaven and earth. All these will not enjoy the benefits of the new heaven and earth.
IV. So how are we to be living with our faithful covenant God today?
We must live in faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. To have this wonderful eternal life in the new heaven and new earth we must simply believe in Jesus as our Savior and Lord. When God made his covenant with Abraham in Genesis, all Abraham had to do to receive those covenant blessings was believe and the Bible says that Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteous. We have to simply believe that what God has done through history, culminating in the death and resurrection of Jesus, was for us; we simply have to accept it in faith. God is, and always has been, faithful in giving his covenant blessings to those who believe.
But remember that a covenant contains both blessings from God and obligations for us. We must seek to live obediently, faithfully following the laws God has given. Remember that the laws God gives are there to help us enjoy life to the fullest. God instructs us not to hold us back but to enable us to live freely and joyfully. We must seek to live in obedience in the presence of God so that we can enjoy the blessings of the covenant already now.
And then remember that some day we will be able to enjoy living with God in all its fullness. There is a time coming when Jesus will take us to our real home to spend eternity with Him. What a wonderful life that will be some day. But in the meantime, let’s not just endure this world as we await that. Jesus never tells us to just wait around. Jesus calls us to be busy working to build the kingdom on earth. We do that by living a life of obedience to Him, but obedience recognizing that we are living in God’s covenantal love and grace shown through all of history but fulfilled in Jesus. As you go through your life, don’t forget that God in his love and faithfulness has made a covenant with his people and then made sure of our obligations by sending Jesus to fulfill it. Thank God for his gracious covenant and live with him within it.