Formations 02.15.2015: A New Creation

Revelation 21:1-7

The New Jerusalem, Bamberger Apocalypse, c. 1000

The New Jerusalem, Bamberger Apocalypse, c. 1000

The apocalyptic outlook of today’s passage may be challenging for modern readers. Apocalyptic is a mindset prevalent in some circles of early Judaism and Christianity. It is not quite the same thing as prophecy. In prophecy, such as the writings of the Hebrew prophets, God is envisioned working within history to set the world right. Thus, God can even work through “evil” empires like Assyria and Babylonia to accomplish divine purposes.

In apocalyptic thinking, however, the present world is beyond repair. Rather than working through the ebbs and flows of human history, the apocalyptic envisions God intervening to do away with this present creation and establishing a new one in its place.

In that light, the book of Revelation describes the new creation in store for God’s people: a new heaven and a new earth to replace the old ones that have outlived their usefulness. In this new creation, God dwells in endless light and there is no longer any mourning, crying, or pain. The breathless anticipation Paul described in Romans 8 has given way to newness and everlasting life.

Help learners to embrace the hope that is expressed in this passage.

Discussion

• Is your view of history and creation more “prophetic” (God working through history) or more “apocalyptic” (God overturning history)? Explain.
• What sort of future do you hope for, both in days or years to come and at the consummation of history?
• Where can we find assurance that we will indeed “emerge victorious” (v. 7) at the end of our life of faith?

Reference Shelf

New Jerusalem

The concept of the new Jerusalem reached its apocalyptic, spiritual climax in the Book of Revelation. The concept began with the prophetic idea of the reformation and transformation of the earthly city of Jerusalem. The vision of a “new Zion” in Isa 40–55 and Ezekiel’s prophecy of the political and religious restoration of Israel (Ezek 40–48) were major OT contributions to this development. The idea of a new Jerusalem can also be found in Jewish literature (cf. 2 Esdr 10:25-28; 2 Bar 4:3), as well as in the NT (cf. Gal 4:26-27; Phil 3:20; Heb 12:22).

The failure of the prophetic hope for a new Jerusalem to materialize politically led ultimately to its spiritualization by the author of the NT Book of Revelation. As described in Rev 21, the new city comes down out of heaven from God (v. 10), a description without parallel in the other literature. Elaborate symbols are used to indicate its completeness and perfection, including its measurements, which are multiples of twelve (cf. 21:12, 16, 17). Furthermore, it is described as a perfect cube (v. 16), the same as the Holy of Holies in the First Temple (1 Kgs 6:20). This city, however, has no Temple for in its entirety it is symbolic of the presence of God, who is its Temple.

John H. Laughlin, “New Jerusalem,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 611.

New Heaven and New Earth

In a new vision (“Then I saw”), John sees “a new heaven and a new earth” (21:1). John has already stated that the earth and heaven had fled and “no place was found for them” (20:11). He reiterates their demise at the end of 21:1 and adds a new element—“the sea was no more.” This is the sea that was before the throne of God in heaven (4:6). The sea represents chaos and rebellion; it is the untamed part of creation. In ancient Israelite mythology, the sea was the place where the monstrous power of chaos lived, Leviathan or Rahab (see comments on 4:6). In the old order, the sea was still present, both on the earth and even in heaven. In the new heaven and earth, no place exists for the sea because chaos, rebellion, and evil have all been eliminated. To say that “the sea was no more” is to portray in different imagery the same thing John has proclaimed in saying that Satan, the beast, and the false prophet have been thrown into the lake of fire. In the new creation, God’s ultimate design for God’s people, evil has been defeated and removed.

The idea of a new heaven and new earth echoes the words of Isaiah 65:17-18 (cf. 66:22):

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.

That which the postexilic prophet who penned these words could only hope for, John declares will be a reality in the new age that is to come (cf. 1 En. 91:16; 2 Pet 3:10-13). The centerpiece of the new heaven and earth is the new Jerusalem that John sees descending from heaven. As in Isaiah 65, John links the new heaven and new earth with a new Jerusalem. Obviously John is not talking about the rebuilding of the earthly city of Jerusalem. This is a new Jerusalem that he sees. It is qualitatively different from the old Jerusalem. In the Hebrew Bible, Jerusalem is God’s special city, the place where God dwells with God’s people. In seeing a new Jerusalem, John envisions a new community, a new way in which God dwells among God’s people (cf. Ezek 37:26-27).

Mitchell G. Reddish, Revelation, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001) 401–402.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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