Revelation (Part 22): The New Creation
Following the presentation of the scroll in this third and last scroll section, the results of the whole scroll sequence are realized. The scrolls, remember, are John’s way of organizing this book highlighting the revelation of Jesus Christ as the Kinsman Redeemer. The scroll signified, in effect, the heart of God—his purpose and his plan. It involved his claim on and redemption of his image bearers to restore his creation purpose of everlasting love relationship. It is the Zion purpose. And just as that realized purpose was anticipated in Isaiah, here in Revelation 21, God revives that view in our minds that has been burning in his heart since the fall.
After the scene of identifying the redeemed whose names appea in the book of life (the heart of Christ and God), the imagery shifts to the glory and resultant satisfaction of the reign of the God-focused. This section (21:1 through 22:5) is split into three emphasized ideas: the restoration accomplished (21:1–8), the God-focused (image bearers; redeemed) described (21:9–27), and the rest in eternal life (22:1–5). God’s restoration accomplished begins chapter 21 with the picture of a new heaven and a new earth—a familiar theme from other Scripture, but calling us again to decide meaning for it here. Specifically, verse one has three conjoined elements: a new heaven and earth appearing, the passing away of the first heaven and earth, and the sea no longer existing.
Of course, even apocalyptic and figurative literature reads plainly. And the tendency is to mix ideas such as “our God can do anything” with “future cosmic wonders may come about with the end of this age” to settle on a completely literal view of this verse. Perhaps the physical universe we know (which, after all, has been corrupted by sin and evil) will be dissolved into nothing and a new, uncorrupted physical creation of matter and energy made ex nihilo (from nothing) will take its place. And this will be the new stuff of which our new bodies will be constructed (2 Cor 5:1).
But that idea is where the literalist becomes more wildly speculative than the figurative interpreter. The whole of Scripture, as well as the detail of Revelation in particular, focuses on redemption, and redemption is not giving up on something—doing away with the old and disappointing to find something new. Rather, redemption offers the hope of renewal, transformation, and refining. It is the means by which new life comes from the old. Even of our bodies, Paul says they are “sown in corruption, raised in incorruption; sown in dishonor, raised in glory; sown in weakness, raised in power; sown a natural body, raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:42b–44a). The old will be reborn. Our bodies will not be replaced; they “will be changed. For this corruptible must be clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal must be clothed with immortality” (1 Cor 15:52b–53). That is the victory over death—not conceding the old creation to death’s conquering, but rather Christ conquering death through redemption and restoration.
One of the great points of Romans 7 and 8 is to highlight this difference between the still corrupted flesh and our renewed life. Paul cries out in anguish because that truth, goodness, and beauty that his transformed spirit longs to do is fought against by his still corruptible flesh. And in Romans 8 he says, in so many words, that this “creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it—in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. And not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits—we also groan within ourselves eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:19–23).
So, no, our physical universe will not be done away with to be replaced by a new and totally different set of matter and energy.
But then, what does verse 1 mean? The first heaven and earth passing away recalls the same emphasis that Christ had before Pilate saying that his kingdom was not of this world. This world, this creation—this first heaven and earth—is corrupted by sin. It operates according to the focus of sin. What is the focus of sin? Quite simply, if love relationship is the focus of God’s kingdom, the focus of an evil kingdom (world, creation) is self-love. All sin rises from selfishness. It is the look to self that had Adam and Eve removed from the Garden. It is the look to self that toppled Satan from his grandeur. It is the look to self that throws up barriers to belief in God and his appointed Redeemer. It is this embedded cancer that will be dug out of this body of creation, resulting in a new heaven and new earth and new hope and new life.
The earth will be as pure as it was before the fall—before sin ever touched its soil.
We must be careful to realize that not everything goes back to the way it was in Eden. Certainly sin will be removed—and that’s the point of new creation and new earth. But we do not regress to Adam and Eve’s pre-revelation relationship with God. We have received ultimate revelation of our God for the purpose of ultimate relationship. Adam and Eve had yet to grow into relationship when their sin cut the learning process short. They still had a Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil with which to contend to grow into their Tree of Life relationship. But in the new heaven and new earth, we find no Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Those days are overcome. By God’s full revelation to us, satisfying our created impulse for truth, goodness, and beauty, we are completely full and satisfied. And we see in this coming new paradise only the Tree of Life, symbolizing our now unending relationship (22:2).
The sea, verse 1 tells us, is gone. We have traveled through Revelation from that first chapter 4 image of God in judgment, set against us, his fallen image bearers. We were kept from him by thrones and living creatures and a raging sea. But the Kinsman Redeemer conquered and our names were engraved on his heart. The sea is gone. We have access to the embrace of our God.
So we see then the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down from heaven. This is the Zion purpose fulfilled. This is the Immanuel declaration by God. He lives with us—in us and us in him. Death and grief and pain are gone. We are satisfied.
To make that satisfaction image even more poignant, God calls out from heaven’s throne the same cry of Jesus in the temple. He promises springs of living water to satisfy the thirsty. We have been thirsty throughout these generations of sin. But with the redeemed creation in place, our thirst is satisfied. The water of purification (illustrated by John’s baptism and the wedding in Cana) and Spirit holding our adoption (John 7:37-39 united with Gal 3:26-27 and Rom 8:16) support the complete satisfaction of this Revelation 21 scene.