Background Scripture: Revelation 21:1-8
Quotes of the Week:
Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither. C. S. Lewis
Have you ever moved? When people find out that my mom still lives in the same house that I grew up in, they are often astonished. However, this was more likely the norm in rural areas when people grew up and stayed in the same place. Today, most people have moved many times (some by choice, job change or out of some other need) and know of the pain in packing, moving and unpacking. Some that have moved multiple times may have yet to unpack some boxes. I know other people that seemed to move every three or four years, so that they could end up in a home they really desired, by making some profit on each transaction. I can't even imagine what that must have been like, to prepare for each move and the unpacking and setting up a home time after time.
There are positives in moving, as well. We like new (or at least different) things. Often, we find that a larger kitchen, fenced yard, larger entertainment area or more/larger bedrooms are preferred. Some people are looking for the exact opposite as they downsize and look forward to a smaller home where cleaning and yard work may not be such a big task. Sometimes having a different place is very much appreciated, as it can signify a new start of sorts. Regardless of the reasons why you may have moved in your life, most of us know of the positive and negative sides to moving.
In this lesson, we learn of God's promise of a new home - a new heaven and a new earth. There are several shows on TV today regarding fixing up old homes. In some of them, they gut almost everything inside and build again with new materials. This is not how I interpret this scripture; I believe that God will literally create a new heaven and earth. The new home is a new place altogether.
We read in verse 1 that John writes of a new heaven and a new earth. We like new things, don't we? In fact, life is all about new things. When we get married, we have a new relationship. If we have children, there are new babies and kids. We know about new homes, cars, toys and jobs. In life, we may experience several 'new' things. In fact, 2 Corinthians 5:17 reads, "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." As believers, we have all become new creatures in Christ.
In this passage, we read that John saw "a new heaven and a new earth". This is not a refurbished earth, but a new one altogether. If you think back to the Genesis 1 account of Creation, you may remember that God made all of these things and when God looked at all that He had made, He said "it was very good". What happened to that creation that 'was very good'? Why is a new earth needed? Certainly, the world started pure, but the impact of sin throughout time has tainted the world. In John 14:2, Jesus told His followers that He was going away to prepare a place for them. This new place will be perfection. Just this past week, Berkley and I were in Maine and saw many beautiful things in nature that we had never seen before. It was amazing. However, no matter how beautiful the places that we have seen are, God's perfection is much greater than anything we have ever seen or experienced.
We continue to read that the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no sea. In the Genesis creation account, the whole world was covered with water, and in Genesis 1:6-10, God created the expanse of the sky and then in verse 10, He created the dry land and the seas. He saw that it was good. While the sea was a large part of God's creation and has been a large part of our world today, we read that there will be no sea. For those of you who are fishermen or avid boaters, this may seem depressing. However, the sea is representative of perpetual unrest. The sea separates people and makes continued survival difficult. As previously stated, we have been in Maine and there are entire communities bordering on the sea whose livelihoods are dependent upon the sea. In the new earth, God will provide what is needed, even without a sea.
In his vision, John saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. Throughout Scripture, the theme of marriage is used to symbolize Christ and the church, as well as God and the Holy City. Marriage was considered to be the most intimate of relationships. In our day, we have changed marriage from its original intention in so many ways. Certainly our society wants to redefine marriage, but also in the lives of many believers, God's intent for marriage has been compromised. We easily see that the ideal is seldom adhered to. However, as we are imperfect and human, God's plan for Christ and the church is one of divine permanence.
We then read that God's dwelling place will be among the people. In a study that Berkley and I have been doing on Exodus, we have seen very detailed requirements for the tabernacle and the Holy of Holies. As the Israelites were in the wilderness, God dwelt in the Holy of Holies, but was not dwelling among the people. In our day today, we have the presence of the Holy Spirit in each believer, but the presence of God, in his full omniscience as it will be in the future, is not what we experience today. Can you even imagine what it would be like to be dealing with others in the literal presence of God? At the time related in John's vision, there will be an intimate close presence of the Lord as He dwells among us. In our lives today, we may find it easier to 'stay on track' when we are around other believers, but even within the body of the church, many sins, such as gossiping, run rampant. Even when we are around other believers, we have our sinful tendencies and God loved us enough to give us freedom, often to our own demise. I know that, as Christians, we thirst for sinless perfection in our lives and the continual presence of God, and yet will never be able to quench that thirst completely on this side of eternity.
In verse 4, we read that He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. Wow, can you imagine what that life will be like? Who among us does not deal with pain and sorrow? It is painful to lose any loved one, even when their time has come naturally. We have a couple of friends whose parents recently passed, and while we are saddened at the loss, we know that death was imminent at some point. However, we have also lost close friends who seemed to die prematurely and we often find ourselves asking why. Then there are broken relationships, some of which have split families and friendships, and it can be difficult to discern how to repair what seems to be destroyed, especially if you desire to see those situations and people lovingly restored. Again, we find ourselves on our knees asking God why he allows these things to occur. There are others who have been diagnosed with diseases, like I myself face with ALS, and we once again cry out from the depths of our souls….WHY!?!?!?!? There are so many different scenarios where people are intensely hurting and we keep asking why God He is allowing all of these horrible things to occur. Unfortunately, the simple answer isn't simple. I don't fully understand the why, but I do fully trust my God. I find myself trying to imagine what life would be like without pain and sorrow. It has become such a part of our daily life due to the things that occur around us - whether they are happening in our lives or in our city or other countries around the world. In fact, some have spent a lifetime nursing hurts and have somehow allowed those hurts to shape them, be it personally or even on a national level. In some respect, we all have a bit of this shaping, unfortunately. What a splendid thing to realize that we will live in this new earth which will be devoid of all suffering and pain. What a glorious day that will be!
As stated before, we thirst towards a life of perfection, even though we find it ever so impossible and elusive. In this new heaven and new earth, out thirst will be quenched from the spring of the water of life. We read that this water will be given without cost. If someone had access to this water today, can you imagine how much that would cost? God has placed within us a desire for a life that is free from pain and free from sin, but we are unable to obtain it. We read that God will give us the water of life freely. Those of us who are victorious will inherit all of this, and He will be our God and we will be His children. We will be able to enjoy God, who is all in all, in perfection. We will be sons and daughters of God, which is a relationship based upon who He is. So who will the victorious ones be? Is it the person who has kept the largest percent of the laws and has done everything according to what God has said? We read that if we are guilty of one sin, we are guilty of them all, so it is untrue that this victory can ever be based upon us and what we have or haven't done. Our victory comes through faith in Jesus Christ.
We read of the glorious state for believers, but there is a vastly different state mentioned in verse 8. We read of the cowardly or fearful, which represents more of a fear that those who refuse to approach the Lord have. Refusing to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior leads to all manner of evil behavior, of which are described as behaviors of unbelievers (vile, murderers, sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolater and all liars), although believers are certainly capable of these as well. Certainly, if these practices are in the lives of a believer, they need to be surrendered to God and repented of. We read that the end for these who have chosen to live apart from Christ will encounter the fiery lake of burning sulfur, which is the second death. The decision about where one would rather spend eternity would seem to be an easy choice - but for many, it is not this black and white. Oh that we would examine our own lives and rid ourselves of the actions that non-believers see and attribute to the God we say we love and serve. Might we also pray for God to send people to the lost who will boldly and lovingly speak truth and that God will allow it to be heard and accepted.
We read that God has a plan for those who seek Him. Jesus has gone to prepare a place and we can be sure that God's words are true. What will it be like for us to be in the place where God dwells? We can't know for sure. Some will look at the most positive experience that they have had, when they felt the power of the Holy Spirit in a worship service and the peace that filled them, and compare heaven to that experience. Part of what is hard in writing about these things, is that we only know what we know. And since all we know is an imperfect world, it is hard to fathom a world where there is no sin, no decay, no disease, no strife and no death. We are so accustomed to our world and all the problems it yields, we may have a very hard time even thinking about heaven and the perfection it holds. Or perhaps we are so tired and worn and weary from the battles of this life that we can't wait to be in heaven. Regardless of which side you land on, we can be certain that that day will come if we have secured our salvation through Jesus Christ. But until we are called home, may we live fully each day; may we find joy in the beautiful things that surround us; may we focus on being 'light' in a dark world and might we be ever mindful that non believers are watching us, and let us be the example that honors and glorifies the God we hold dear and not a deterrent to the lost soul bound for hell.