June 13, 2012

Apocalypse Prophecy LXI: The New Heaven & New Earth

The New Creation(s) Revelation 21:1- 22:5

The community of faith is now perfected in glory. The theme of the new creation dominates chapter 21, though the preceding idea of judgment is not altogether forgotten. The prior five segments beginning with chapter 4), have focused on aspects of the past, the present, and the  future. The purpose of this last major segment is to highlight the  contrast between the church imperfect and the church perfected.  Chapters 1–3 focused on the churches’ weaknesses throughout the old age, here John foresees the church (the community of faith) in its perfected eternal state. The vision here also contrasts the new Jerusalem with ungodly Babylon. The purpose of the contrasts with the sins of the church and with Babylon, and the ultimate purpose of the entire segment, is to exhort believers in the present (at the time of reading) to persevere through temptations to compromise, so that they may participate in the consummated glory of the church.

In the new creation the faithful will experience the salvation blessing of intimate communion with god, but the unfaithful will be excluded from this blessing (21:1–8). The first thing John sees is “a new heaven and a new earth.” The reason is that he sees a new cosmos is because “the first heaven and the first earth passed away.” Because the first creation has passed away or literally dissolved, the second has been established to replace it. The “first” was impermanent and temporary, whereas the “second” is to be permanent and enduring.  No second law of thermodynamics (entropy), no  heat death...forever. In the light of the qualitative nature of the contrast between “new” creation and “first” creation and regardless of your view point, this portrayal connotes a radically changed cosmos, involving not merely ethical and moral renovation but transformation of the fundamental cosmic structure (including physical elements).

“There will be no more night” (Revelation 22:5; 21:25), and no more sea. This is an especially unique contrast to Genesis 8:22: “While the earth remains … day and night will not cease.”  Regardless it will  be identifiable to the old cosmos just as there appears to be a renewal of  our resurrection body that will be raised without losing its former identity. Similar, yet radically different. How so the Bible just does not make clear.

This "renewal" does not mean that there will be no literal destruction of the old cosmos, just as the renewed resurrection body does not exclude a similar destruction of the old. This idea is all throughout the Bible (Isaiah 65:16, 2 Corinthians 5:14-17). Paul also makes similar statements in Romans 8:18-23

"I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." John 12:24

When the new creation comes there will no longer be any threat from Satan because he will have been permanently judged and excluded from the new creation. Nor will there be any threat from rebellious nations, since they will have suffered the same fate as Satan. There will there be no death ever again in the new world. Funeral directors and morticians will be out of a job. For believers there will be no more suffering and no more tears. This cannot be said for unbelievers or those that did not repent and seek God through the Gospel. Conversely, there will be a “lake” of fiery punishment (Revelation 20:10, 14–15), but it will be located enigmatically outside the perimeters of the new heavens and earth (Revelation 21:27; 22:15).

John’s addition of “new” to “holy city, Jerusalem” is also derived from Isaiah. Isaiah 62:1–2 refers to “Jerusalem” as that which “will be called by a new name” at the time of its end-time glorification. This new name is then explained in Isaiah 62:3–5 as signifying a new, intimate marriage relationship that Israel (the true Church) will have with God. The commencement of the replacement of the temporary cosmos with the permanent is expressed in the visionary words “I saw "the city descending from heaven from God".

In Revelation 21:3 we see that the divine presence is not limited by the physical boundaries of an Israelite temple, since not only all believing Israelites but even all “peoples” experience God’s intimate tabernacling presence. Since a physical temple was a particularistic, nationalistic institution, a sign of God’s and Israel’s separation from the unclean nations, it had no room in John’s new Jerusalem, not only because believing Jew and Gentile are now united in Christ in the new Jerusalem but also because they have all gained the status of priests serving before God’s presence Revelation 20:6; 22:3–4.

To me this is the first hint that there is no literal temple in the new Jerusalem, which will be explicitly stated in Revelation 21:22, where the ultimate redemptive-historical reason for the absence of a physical temple is that God and Christ are the final, enduring form of the temple, to which the physical Old Testament temple always pointed.

The final permanent coming of God’s presence in fullness results in absolute peace and security from any form of the suffering that characterized the old creation. Not surprisingly, the forms of affliction to be done away with are those mentioned in Isaiah’s prophecy. First, God’s people will receive eternal respite from their former trials that they have persevered through, since God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” This will be a fulfillment of Isaiah 25:8: “the Lord God has taken away every tear from every face” Revelation 7:17. This is kind and merciful reassurance to those now that are going through helacious struggles in this life and are encouraged to endure through them to attain the reward of eternal life. Therefore, John continues here the line of thought that the bliss of the eternal state is a fulfillment of prophecy.

The absolute sovereignty and control of the theme of the new creation coming in its finality is continued in, v.5 “the one sitting on the throne” . God Himself says, “Behold, I am making all things new,” which repeats for a third time the Isaiah prophecies of the coming new creation. The trustworthiness of God and his promise in Isaiah and Revelation are based on the absolute irrevocability of the coming new creation, so God’s promise of a new creation in Revelation is “trustworthy and true” because God is the one who will, without a doubt, carry it out and He is sovereign, omnipotent and immutable in His promises.

We have seen that the titles “Alpha and Omega” and “first and last” in Revelation 1:8, 17 are synonymous with the similar expressions “the beginning and the end, the first and the last”. All these titles express God’s sovereignty over history, especially by bringing it to an end in salvation and judgment. Here in verses 5 and 6 are only the second time in the Apocalypse where God is explicitly quoted. The first was in Revelation 1:8. Both there and here the title “the Alpha and the Omega” occurs. That this title appears at the beginning and end of the book is fitting and cannot be coincidence. The point of the title is that the God who transcends time or is timeless and He guides the entire course of history because he stands as sovereign over its beginning and end.

Verse 7 shows God’s people and each one of God’s people is an “overcomer”. Overcomers as we have seen earlier in the Bible are those whose lives are characterized by refusal to compromise their faith (Philadelphia) despite the threat of persecution or even death. They ironically conquer when they maintain their faith even though they may appear defeated in the world’s eyes because of persecution.

We see that the genuine people of God “have a part in the first resurrection,” which guarantees their eternal kingship with Christ, so that they become immune to “the second death”.  In contrast, the wicked have “their part in the lake burning with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” Revelation 21:8b.

We see the collapsing temple, city, and land into one end time picture of the one reality of God’s communion with his people. That John “saw no temple” in the new Jerusalem “because the Lord … and the Lamb are its temple” (21:22) is partial but clear evidence of his method of interpretative refinement as mentioned earlier.

New Jerusalem and a Bride

Appearance of the city: god’s glorious presence establishes the sacred community of the redeemed (21:9–14). John hears that he will see the Lamb’s bride and then sees “the holy city Jerusalem,” which is thus the interpretation of what he heard. The “husband” of the bride (v2) is now clearly identified as “the Lamb.” It is the theme of God’s intimate presence dwelling fully and permanently with his people. The first part of the city structure that John sees is a “wall” and “gates” which is an allusion to Ezekiel 40:5–6. The multiple gates of Ezekiel’s temple (ch40) and the twelve gates of the city listed in Ezek. 48:31–34 are merged into one group of twelve gates arranged around the one city-temple of John’s vision. One angel is stationed at each gate, a feature not found in Ezekiel. In addition to the twelve gates of the wall, there are also twelve “foundation stones” (v.14), on each of which the name of one of the twelve Apostles is written.

It is noteworthy to observe in Revelation 21:14 that the apostles are part of the foundation, whereas the tribes are part of the gates in the wall built on the foundation. One might have expected the opposite portrayal since Israel preceded the church in redemptive history. But the reversal figuratively highlights the fact that fulfillment of Israel’s promises has finally come in Christ, who, together with the Apostolic witnesses to his fulfilling work, forms the foundation of the new temple, the church (Eph. 2:20–22). When we compare Revelation 21:14 side-by-side with Eph. 2:20 it reveals a arresting similarity. In Ephesians also the apostles are pictured as forming part of the “foundation” of the “holy temple,” which is the church. Together with the apostolic foundation are “prophets,” along with Christ, the “cornerstone.” Since the cornerstone in a wall was the stone that all the other stones were aligned to, this draws particular interest. Therefore when measurements of the city are taken the measurement or "judgment" of the city is a combination of both Christ and His disciples are one unit all based off of Jesus.

The measurements of the city and God’s permanent presence secures and guarantees the perfected holiness of the redeemed church (21:15–17). The image of an angelic figure measuring parts of the city-temple with a measuring rod is a continued allusion to Ezekiel 40:3–5. The angel measures “the city and its gates and its wall.” The measuring of the city and its parts pictures the security of its inhabitants against the harm and contamination of unclean and deceptive people. This cordoning off of the city guarantees protection for God’s end-time community and especially guarantees that its walls will provide eternal protection, in contrast to old Jerusalem’s walls, which were broken through by God’s enemies quite often. That the wall equals 144 cubits echoes the 144,000 as the complete number of God’s people.

There is a list of twelve jewels adorning the foundation stones of the wall is based on the list in Exodus 28:17–20 and Exodus 39:8–14 of the twelve stones on the high priest’s “breast piece  of judgment,” which was a pouch containing the Urim and Thummim. Eight of the stones in Exodus are repeated here, and the differently named stones in Revelation are semantic equivalents of the ones in Exodus. Written on each stone of the breast piece was one of the names of the twelve tribes of Israel (Exodus 28:21; 39:14). The priest was to “carry the names of the sons of Israel in the breast piece of judgment … when he enters the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually.” Therefore, these stones symbolized all Israel, so that the priest in all his cultic actions represented all Israel before the presence of God in the temple. SO this new vision applies to the foundation stones of the new city-temple the jewels representing the tribes of Israel in Exodus or the true Israel. This also equates the apostles, the foundation of the new city-temple, with the tribes of Israel from Exodus 28, God’s preeminent people in the Old Testament...thereby securely knotting these imageries together into one. This would then make the identification of the apostles in Revelation 21:14 as the paramount witnesses and representatives of true end-time Israel, the church as those recognizing their Messiah as Christ.

We see parallels of this allusion in 1 Peter 2:5 that believers simultaneously are building stones, a temple, and priests: “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood.”

Inhabitants will be in the glorious presence of God and the Lamb will elicit the response of praise from true believers, but false believers will be excluded forever from god’s presence (21:22–27). In verse 23 there may or may not be a literal sun and moon in the new cosmos (we just don't know and its not the point), but the point here is that God’s glory is incomparable in relation to any source of light of either the old or the new creation. God’s glory is sufficient to make the city (or the saints) resplendent.  The wording of the entire verse is based directly on Isaiah 60:19. The light from God and the Lamb will fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 60:19, which underscores the deity of the Lamb together with the Lord. Verses 24–26 continue the allusion to Isaiah 60.  John sees the pilgrimage of the nations to latter-day Jerusalem of Isaiah’s prophesy taking place in the future new Jerusalem, which lies in view before his own eyes. Verse 25's “there will not be night there” underscores the fact that the redeemed will have unhindered access to God’s glorious 
presence. Figuratively, there will be no darkness to dim God’s luminous glory before the faces of the saints as they “walk by its light” Revelation 21:24.

There is no basis for seeing the entrance of the nations and kings into the city as suggesting a kind of universalism wherein non-elect peoples not “written in the book of the Lamb” will enter the new Jerusalem. Sorry Rob Bell! Only the elect will come into the city, which is indicated by Revelation 21:27, where “those written in the book of life” clearly has its antecedent in the nations and kings who enter the city in verses 24–26. Neither can the portrayal refer to a universal election and salvation from the “lake of fire,” since the Apocalypse elsewhere views some people suffering that punishment for eternity and not temporarily as in Revelation14:10–11 and 20:10.

In every case in the Bible, as here, the "Lambs Book of Life" is a metaphor for elect saints, whose salvation has been predetermined: their names were entered into the census book of the eternal new Jerusalem before history began. As it has been in the past, he book is a vivid picture of security in God’s eternal city. The elect were written in the book of the Lamb before the creation, which means that they were identified at that time as ones who would benefit from the Lamb’s redemptive death. Therefore, they have been given the protection of eternal life, which comes as a result of the Lamb’s death.

There are theological tensions between divine sovereignty and human accountability in connection with the “book of life.” Some scholars see a concept of predestination as incompatible with human accountability and with the need to exhort Christians against compromise; other scholars acknowledge the tension but, sometimes to varying degrees, maintain both sides equally. In the end the whole question revolves around how one solves the relationship of the indicative to the imperative in biblical literature.  I believe that the tension solely resides within the finite but within the infinite mind of God it works – the sovereignty of God and the free will of man are co-existing realities. At least this is how the Bible reads. God is sovereign in predestining his elect; the Spirit works in their heart to bring about regeneration (the indicative); then God gives instructions (imperatives) and warnings through his prophets on how to they are to live as his people.

In the hearts of the true saints, admonitions convict the heart, and God’s grace empowers them to respond in characteristic obedience (effectual call). The exhortations in particular both reveal who the genuine elect are and provide the context in which the elect grow in their sanctification. One must participate in the reality of God’s grace in order to respond positively to his commands. 

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