The New Heavens & the New Earth (Rev. 21 & 22)

Publié le 14 novembre 2021 dans Traductions

Sermon preached by Julien Grenier, Agape campus minister, on 14th November 2021

This morning we will complete our study of the book of Revelation. We will study chapters 21 and 22, the end, the eternal state, the new heavens and the new earth. That moment when the bride comes to meet Christ, who reigns forever and ever. 

Before we read our two chapters I would like us to remember in what context the apostle John writes this prophecy. The apostle John is writing in 95 after Jesus Christ, he is in exile on the island of Patmos, a small island in the Aegean Sea not far from Ephesus. In 95 after Jesus Christ, the Church was experiencing an unprecedented persecution. The emperor Domitian had the Christians impaled in the fields at the entrance to Rome… The message was clear: You are not welcome, if you don’t want to end up like your brothers, abandon your faith and your Jesus… In 95 after Jesus Christ John was old, he was alone, he was the last apostle still alive. I imagine that it must not have been easy every day. And it is in this context, in order to strengthen his courage and his faith that the Lord Jesus appears to him and says: « Come, I will show you something, I will show you the things that are coming soon.

Let’s read Revelation 21 and 22.

Today we will see:

 1/ The new heavens and the new earth, its indescribable character, its grandeur and beauty.

2/ Who will enter?

a.The warning 

b. The great invitation

1/ The indescribable character of the new heavens and the new earth: its grandeur and beauty.

We see in verse 5 that Christ makes all things new. 

We have here in France and all over the world recycling bins… We throw away something old to recycle it into something « new »… And generally speaking this is how we understand « new ». You may have heard expressions like « nothing is created, everything is transformed » or « we are made of stardust »… This idea that there is a certain amount of matter, of atoms in the universe, and that this matter is continuously renewed. Here when Christ tells us that he makes all things new » he is not talking about a renewal of what already exists, as if he were taking the atoms of this world and rearranging them in some way. No, this is not recycling, here the Lord creates from nothing. He creates the new heavens and the new earth which are not made of the same material as the first heavens and the first earth.  The Lord shows these things to the apostle John, in order to share them with those churches in Asia Minor that are suffering so much… and by extension so that this revelation is shared with Christians throughout history and also with us today. 

But how could John understand what he saw, how could a man understand the beauty of this new matter which is not made of atoms? How could he have the right words to describe these things? An image that helped me a lot to understand the situation in which John finds himself is this image from the author CS. Lewis. 

He says: Imagine a child in his mother’s womb, all he knows of the world is his mother’s womb (the umbilical cord, the amniotic fluid he bathes in, the placenta… And maybe a brother). He does not know that one day he will be born to enter a world full of wonders (forests, mountains, rivers, stars, galaxies). And imagine that an angel appears to him and shows him all these things that are infinitely more wonderful than his umbilical cord from which he hangs. But how could he understand what a mountain is, how could he understand what a star is? 

I imagine that when the apostle John sees these things he has two reactions: The first one: wow! This wow that makes him forget all the afflictions he is going through, this wow that makes the apostle Paul say in chapter 8 of the epistle to the Romans: « I think that the sufferings of the present moment are not worthy to be compared to the glory that is going to be revealed for us ».  His second reaction: How am I going to write down the beauty, the greatness, the « wonder » of all that I am seeing… Many of you will remember the song from the 90’s that said: « I don’t know how to tell you what I can’t write, I’d have to invent words that don’t exist in the dictionary ». 

So now let’s look at this description John gives us of this new Jerusalem. 

The first thing to note in this description is the shape of this city. It is a cube… A cube that reminds us of the sanctuary of the temple in Jerusalem. This sanctuary is the most holy place, this place where the presence of God is, this place so holy that only the high priest is allowed to enter once a year after going through a very strict protocol of purification… 

This cube covered with gold which is 10 meters… 10 meters is not bad, but this sanctuary, this tabernacle of God that John sees coming down from heaven is 2200 kilometers. 2200 km is very big, 2200km is the distance between Toulouse and Oslo, 2200km cube is 2/3 the size of the moon. This cube of completely disproportionate dimensions, this capital of the new heavens and the new earth that descends from heaven, is filled with the presence and the glory of God. 

In verse 22 John tells us that he does not see a temple because God Almighty is his temple, as is the Lamb. It is the holiest place that can be, we see in verse 23 that there is no need for a sun because the glory of God lights it and the Lamb is its torch. There will be no more death, no more tears, no more crying, no more pain, no more night, it is the day of God. 

The second thing we can note is its extreme beauty. This city is made of pure gold, its foundations are adorned with precious stones that reflect the glory of God, just like the stones on the breastplate of the high priest’s robe in the temple that reflected the light of the candlestick placed in front of it. But the real beauty of this heavenly city is its transparency… It is certainly adorned with all the gold and jewels of the new earth, but it is also completely transparent. 

We read in verse 18: « The wall was built of jasper and the city was pure gold, transparent as pure glass ». Here we must understand that what makes this city truly beautiful is the closeness of God to his people, and this transparency amplifies that closeness. When the transparent city descends from God, John sees the bride of the Lamb, the people of God who are in the city, descend. This city, this house of God is one with his people. This transparency also allows the light of God’s glory to illuminate everything and to make every part bathe in God’s presence. 

What makes the true beauty of the new Jerusalem is its transparency. This transparency amplifies the proximity of God in all his glory with his people. This closeness, which is absolutely inconceivable in our world where sin still reigns, will become reality in this new creation, this closeness is our promise, it is our hope. Just as a fish was created for water, we were created to bathe in the permanent presence of our creator and to give him glory forever and ever… He is our life! 

2/ Who will enter

a. The warning.

So who will enter? Who will have the right to pass through its gates? What are the qualifications required to enter heaven? How to pass the entrance exam? 

These questions come naturally to the human heart because this is how the world we live in works. From a very young age we are taught that if we want something we have to earn it. In the academic field: If you want to go to university, you have to pass your baccalaureate. If you want to go to a high school, you have to not only pass your baccalaureate with very good grades, but also work hard for two years to pass a competitive exam. In the professional field: If you want a good job, you need a good diploma and a good interview. You have to be worthy. Then when man comes to think of God he says to himself that it must be the same thing and he creates religions… 

There are about 1000 religions in the world, all to show us the way to paradise, all these ways that are presented to us in these religions finally they take a little bit the same form: a series of laws, of rules… Good advices to prepare and to succeed in the final exam… Advices to help us to become worthy of God… So when the natural man reads our text and arrives at the verse 8 of chapter 21 and at the verse 15 of the chapter 22, he is going to understand them as advices. He will say: « Aha, here is the way to God ». He’s going to force himself to do these things, he’s going to say I’m going to do my best and God will judge if I’m worthy… And he’s going to die. These two passages are not advice, they are warnings. Very serious warnings not to be taken lightly, but warnings that can save our lives.

So you’ll tell me advice, warnings, what’s the difference? How do we understand these things? I thought of an image to illustrate this, I was inspired by John 15. Here it is:

Imagine a people of fruit trees, apricot trees or apple trees, planted because of their sins in a huge desert… Without a drop of water. And then they are told: « Those who do not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire… » 

The apple tree must realize that it can force itself as much as it wants it will not be able to bear apples, the apple tree must realize that the real problem is deeper, the real problem is that it is parched, that it is thirsty… That what it really needs is a transplant near a stream… When they are told: « Those who do not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire », they are not being suggested to bear fruit. They are being warned that if they remain in the desert they will die… 

It is not the fact of bearing fruit that gives us life, it is the source of water that gives life… We bear good fruit because we have life in Christ, it is he who is life. And when according to Galatians 5, we live by the Spirit, we can also be led by the Spirit and bear good fruit for the glory of God. He who is not in Christ is spiritually dry and cannot bear good fruit. These passages are there to warn us that there is only one true way… It is said that all roads lead to Rome… In any case, not all roads lead to the New Jerusalem.

b. The great invitation

So how to be on the right path? This text warns us that the wrong paths lead to death, but this text also invites us to come on the right path. It invites us to this transplantation near the water of life. He invites us to be grafted onto the living Vine… 

We read in chapter 21 verse 6 « To the thirsty I will give freely to drink from the spring of the water of life. » 

The greatest danger in life is to never notice this spiritual thirst we all have, this thirst that only God can fill. Or rather to never find the true source of water that satisfies us spiritually, to always find substitutes that were not created to take the place of the true source… money, recognition, social status, success, relationships, morality etc. 

These things are not bad in themselves, but they can become deadly if we think they can satisfy our spiritual thirst, if we think they can justify us. 

In the Gospel of John, chapter 4, when Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Galilee, they meet a woman at a well. Jesus says: « I am thirsty, give me a drink ». She begins to ask him questions, she is surprised that a Jewish man is talking to a Samaritan woman. And Jesus tells her that if she knew who he was, she would ask him for real water, living water, spiritual water, water that satisfies for eternity… 

Natural water is not bad but it must never become an idol and replace the real spiritual water that the Lamb gives us freely and that satisfies our thirst once and for all. 

So once we realize our spiritual thirst, once we become weary of the cravings of this life, once we long for more. Once we understand that nothing in this world will satisfy our true thirst, the Lord gives us this magnificent invitation in chapter 22 verse 17 « Let him who is thirsty come! » 

Come! This move towards the other. Coming to meet the other is really the central theme of these last two chapters of this prophecy, these last chapters of the Bible! The Lord is coming soon, he tells us so himself and he invites us to come to him, leaving all other ways aside to simply come to him…

But perhaps some of us are wondering how to come to him? In chapter 22 verse 14 we have the answer: « Blessed are they that wash their robes, for they shall have the right to the tree of life, and shall enter in at the gates of the city »… 

Those that wash their robes… In Revelation 7 and verse 14 we read: « … they have washed their robes, they have made them white in the blood of the Lamb. » 

We said that this living water the Lamb gives us for free, and it is true that it is free for us. But this transplantation is not free, nothing is, it is simply at the expense of the great gardener… 

One day Aurelian said to me: « You know Julien, there are seven times the word « Lamb » in Revelation 21 and 22. What is a lamb, what is the function of a lamb? The function of a lamb is to be sacrificed. It is Jesus Christ, he is the perfect Lamb, the perfect sacrifice towards which all the sacrifices of the Old Testament point. And it is at the price of his life that he offers us this eternal life… No nothing is free, all wrongs must be paid for and God knows this more than anyone else and God is more just than anyone else, He knows that he cannot simply forgive our faults… The wages of sin is death and we are weak and we sin, and we should die. » 

But here we are, in his love God decided to die in our place… During his crucifixion in John 19: 28 Jesus says « I am thirsty »… He had already said « I am thirsty » to the Samaritan woman but this time it is not the same thirst he is talking about, this time he is not thirsty for natural water, he is thirsty for his Father, he is thirsty for living water. And what does he get? Vinegar… He takes the vinegar that we deserve so that in Him we can have the water of life that only He deserved… And then He says, « All is fulfilled ».

2 Corinthians 5:21 says: « he who knew no sin made him sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. » At the cross Jesus becomes our Savior, At the cross Jesus becomes the slain Lamb… He becomes our bridge as Luke said three weeks ago, he becomes our way, he becomes the only way. 

And then he is victorious over death, he becomes the first to rise so that in all things he is first… He becomes the victorious Lamb. And he sits on his throne and he lives in us through his Spirit and he is by our side every day until the end of the world… And to those who do not yet know him he says: « Come! Come to the cross, believe in me, stop trying in your own strength, you will not succeed, accept me as your Savior and I will become your Lord. »

To the Lamb be all the glory! He is the only one, the true way. 

He is the way, he is the life, but he is also the truth. 19:9 « These words are the true words of God »,

21:5 « Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true », and again 22:6 « These words are trustworthy and true »

The apostle Paul says: I think that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is going to be revealed for us. Well, the apostle John does not have to estimate, at this moment he knows, he takes confidence, he takes courage because these things are being revealed to him. These inexpressible and wonderfully indescribable things, this new creation, the holy city which is our eternal home in which Jesus tells us he has prepared a place for us. That eternal home that awaits us. 

In the Gospel of John in chapter 14 Jesus speaks with his disciples, I read the first 6 verses: « Do not let your hearts be troubled! Believe in God, believe also in me. 

There are many dwellings in my Father’s house.

If it were not so, I would have told you. 

I will prepare a place for you. 

And since I am going to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you with me so that where I am, there you will be too. 

You know where I am going and you know the way. 

Thomas said to him: Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way? Jesus said to him: I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. »

A few weeks ago, Pastor Samuel told us about the Star Wars, this war that seems to be lost in advance. We too are in a spiritual war where sometimes we feel crushed, without hope… But in this war we know that the Lamb is victorious, that Jesus has conquered death and that in him we are also victorious. And he tells us that he is coming back soon. I read the last two verses of this prophecy… 

The last two verses of the Bible: « He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon. Amen! Come Lord Jesus! May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with all the saints! »

Let us pray: 

Our God, our Lord: 

You are the way, the truth and the life, and you prepare a place for us in your Father’s house and you tell us that you are coming back soon. 

What a promise! What a hope! 

Lord, you tell us not to seal the words of the prophecy in this book with secrecy. 

I pray that we can be proud of you, that we can be proud of the Gospel, that we can announce this hope that you give us, that we can speak of this salvation, of this life that you give us on the cross. 

Lord, you are the alpha, you are the omega, the beginning and the end… You are our promise, you are our hope, you are our all. 

Lord, the good news is not so much that through you we will obtain the rewards of heaven, all its gold and jewels, it is most of all that we will be with you and spend eternity together with your Father. Lord, you are our future… Be our present too. You are our good news… You are the Gospel. May all the glory be yours for ever and ever. 

In your precious name I pray, Lord Jesus, Amen.