Revelation 6: All Things New – Rev. Henry Brinton (audio available)
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All Things New
October 23, 2011
I have stood before grieving families many times. Usually they are seated right here, in the front row of the church, with flowers near the pulpit and the casket in the center of the sanctuary.
After a few Scripture lessons are read, I will say, “God loves us so much that he does not want our existence to end with the death of our bodies. No, he wants our lives to continue in his everlasting kingdom, that place where there is neither illness nor crying, pain nor dying.
“‘Look! I’m making all things new,’ says the Lord of all creation (Revelation 21:5). God is working to bring us all to a better place, where we can be closer to him, and to one another, free from anything that can hurt or divide us.”
I often use the Book of Revelation at funerals, because it is a source of tremendous comfort and hope in a time of grief. Now this may come as a bit of a surprise to you, given the disturbing images of chaos and conflict that we have encountered during this sermon series on Revelation.
But this book ends on a high note — a promise of divine restoration, in which everything is made new and trouble-free. Revelation assures us that God is creating a new heaven and a new earth, free from the agonies of this life. We have a future that looks radically different from the present — nothing less than the restoration of the Garden of Eden!
So how do we get from chaos and conflict to a happy ending?
Chapter 19 begins with the sound of a huge crowd in heaven celebrating the power of God and the punishment of “the great prostitute,” the city of Rome (19:2). You remember her from last week, don’t you? The city of Rome exploited both people and resources throughout the Roman Empire, and the residents of heaven are now rejoicing in the destruction of the city.
Then heaven opens, and the author of Revelation sees Jesus on a white horse (19:11). Jesus appears as a Divine Warrior — judging fairly and making wars justly, while bearing the names “Faithful and True” (19:11). His eyes are like “a fiery flame,” he wears crowns and a robe dyed with the blood of his death on the cross, and his name is called “the Word of God” (19:12-13). Following him on white horses are the angelic armies of heaven.
The Roman beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies gather to make war against Christ and his army. But the beast and his false prophet are thrown alive into the fiery lake that burns with sulfur, and the rest are “killed by the sword that comes from the mouth of the rider on the horse,” leaving their bodies to be eaten by the birds (19:20-21).
Another angel comes down from heaven, “holding in his hand the key to the abyss and a huge chain” (20:1). He seizes “the dragon, the old snake, who is the devil and Satan,” and binds him for a thousand years. Satan is thrown into the abyss, which is then locked and sealed over so that Satan cannot continue to deceive the nations (20:2-3). “After this,” says John, the author of Revelation, “he must be released for a little while” (20:3).
Does this seem odd to you? Why is Satan given another chance by God? Why not destroy him immediately? I think that this time of captivity is a reminder to us that Satan is one of God’s creatures. He is a fallen angel, not a divine being who is equal to God. Satan is confined to show us that God is in control.
Also, when Satan is released, he is given a second chance by a merciful and compassionate God. God actually gives Satan a chance to repent and change his ways. But Satan fails the test. After a thousand years, he is released from prison and immediately begins to deceive the nations. Then God throws him into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet reside (20:7-10). The old snake is finally crushed — the ultimate evildoer is brought to justice.
Then John sees “a great white throne and the one who is seated on it” (20:11). Dead people stand before the throne and a number of scrolls are opened, including “the scroll of life.” People are judged by what they have done, in an act of final judgment (20:13). Then Death itself is thrown into the fiery lake, along with anyone whose name isn’t in the scroll of life (20:14-15).
After the dead are judged, the scene shifts and John sees the vision reported in today’s passage of Scripture. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth,” he says; “for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (21:1). Many years earlier, God had revealed this vision through the prophet Isaiah, saying, “Look! I’m creating a new heaven and a new earth: past events won’t be remembered; they won’t come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17).
This new creation is one in which the past is forgotten, and the future endures forever. Even the sea, described earlier in Revelation as the home of the beast and a symbol of watery chaos, is “no more” (21:1).
John sees “the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (21:2). This holy city can be seen as the church, the bride of Christ, but even more importantly as the beautiful place where God and humans will live together eternally.
The voice of God speaks from the throne, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them” (21:3). These words are the language of covenant, the words of promise-based relationships. They update the covenant first established between God and Abraham (Genesis 17:7), one that was reaffirmed through the prophet Ezekiel, “My dwelling will be with them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Ezekiel 37:27).
After long years of struggle — with humans frequently breaking their covenant with God — the promise is made that God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (21:4). The promise of Revelation is that the covenant will be renewed, for all eternity.
Then God says, “See, I am making all things new,” and he instructs John to write down his true and trustworthy words (21:5). God proclaims, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega” (21:6). Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, the language used in Revelation, so God is saying, in effect, “I am the A and the Z, the beginning and the end.”
God then says, “To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life” (21:6). This offer of gracious hospitality extends to those “who conquer,” who emerge victorious from their earthly struggles, faithful men and women who will be God’s children (21:7). But Revelation predicts that this free gift of life-giving water will not be extended to a list of sinners ranging from the cowardly to liars. God says that they will be tossed into the lake that burns with fire and sulfur (21:8).
There are standards for behavior, even in the new heaven and new earth.
Next, one of the seven angels invites John to see “the bride, the Lamb’s wife” (21:9). John sees “the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (21:10). This New Jerusalem contains “God’s glory” (21:11), and it is clearly the place of God’s dwelling. It has “a great high wall with twelve gates,” twelve angels, the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, and twelve foundations containing the “names of the Lamb’s twelve apostles” (21:12-14). This number is significant because of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles of Christ, and is emphasized repeatedly in the structure of the city itself.
John sees no “temple in the city, because its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb” (21:22). Unlike Old Jerusalem, there is no need for a temple, because in New Jerusalem, people are given direct access to God and the Jesus the Lamb. There is not even a need for the sun and the moon, because “God’s glory is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (21:23).
New Jerusalem contains the fulfillment of many Old Testament dreams. In Genesis, a “river flows from Eden to water the garden” (Genesis 2:10). In Revelation, the angel shows John “the river of life-giving water, shining like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb through the middle of the city’s main street” (22:1-2).
In the Garden of Eden, “the Lord God grew every beautiful tree with edible fruit, and also he grew the tree of life in the middle of the garden” (Genesis 2:9). The prophet Ezekiel has a vision in which a river flows through the temple, watering trees that have “leaves for healing” (Ezekiel 47:12). Now, in the New Jerusalem of Revelation, “The tree’s leaves are for the healing of the nations” (22:2). This is the place where creation is renewed, brokenness is healed, and curses are removed (22:3).
When the Midlife Men on a Mission visit Honduras each November, we do construction work at a school run by a mission called Arbol de Vida — meaning “Tree of Life.” They base their work on this passage from Revelation, “The tree’s leaves are for the healing of the nations.”
Best of all, the “throne of God” will be in the New Jerusalem, and God’s servants will worship him. “They will see his face” (22:3-4). The light of God will shine directly on those who worship him, and together the Lord and his servants will “reign forever and ever” (22:5).
Now John speaks for himself, saying, “I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things” (22:8). He is an eyewitness to these visions from heaven, and he offers the words of Revelation as a personal testimony. Then Jesus speaks and says that he has sent his angel “to bear witness to all of you about these things for the churches” (22:16). To bear witness is to testify, to speak the truth — which is what the angel has done, and what John of Patmos is doing. It is what we are challenged to do as well.
“Now I bear witness to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy contained in this scroll,” says John: “If anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues that are written in this scroll. If anyone takes away from the words of this scroll of prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and the holy city” (22:18-19). John warns against doing anything that will corrupt the testimony that he has given in this book.
Jesus, the one who “bears witness” to these things says, “Yes, I’m coming soon.” And John answers, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” Then he closes with the words, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all” (22:20-21).
So, here we are, at the end of this six-week sermon series on Revelation. Think of this last sermon as a kind of a funeral message — words spoken at the end of a long journey. Together, we have witnessed pain and suffering, justice and punishment, struggle and faithfulness, love and victory and jubilation.
Now, we see John’s vision of a new heaven and a new earth. The promise that “death will be no more” gives us hope for the future, and the assurance that God “will wipe away every tear” offers the assurance of eternal, compassionate care (21:4).
But what difference does this make when the sermon series or funeral is over? How does the restoration of the Garden of Eden impact the living of your days? For starters, Revelation shows that God wants a new relationship with you, one that is intimate and eternal. God desires open and honest communication with you, through prayer and worship. The Lord does not want you to suffer forever, but is actively working to heal and save you.
Revelation also leaves you with a challenge: to bear witness, to testify, to speak the truth. The angel of the book does this, as does John of Patmos and Jesus himself. In a long line of faithful witnesses, you are in the next group being called on to speak the truth about Jesus, the one who is Lord of all.
The message of Revelation is that Jesus comes to you as Lord. He is the one who rules over today’s world and the coming New Jerusalem, over this life and everlasting life. Christian faith requires that you serve the Lord who makes all things new, whether you are living in the Roman Empire or in the United States.
Jesus is Lord, in every time and place. In whatever you say and do, testify to this truth. Amen.