The opening statement of revelation 21:1 provides some of the greatest encouragement that Christians could ever receive. The Bible states that when Christ returns, the “heavens and the earth,” which is a way of referring to both the physical universe and the spiritual world order, will be cleansed and renewed in glory.
Verse 1 adds a statement that sums up the removal of all evil: “and the sea was no more.” In the symbolism of Revelation, the sea has a theological rather than topographical meaning. The sea is the realm of evil and rebellion against God. Psalm 74 describes salvation as God’s breaking the head of “sea monsters” and crushing “Leviathan,” the great mythical sea beast that represents idolatrous opposition to God (Ps. 74:12-14). In Revelation 12:17, Satan “stood on the sand of the sea,” and then raised up his beast “out of the sea” (Rev. 13:1). In chapters 17-20, John was shown the removal of the dragon, his beasts, and the harlot, together with their entire wicked program. Finally, even the sea from which they came will be no more.
The second feature of the new creation ushered in by Christ’s return is a vision of the church as we will then be: “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (v. 2). Isaiah had foreseen a redeemed Jerusalem that is made righteous by God’s coming and that receives a new name reflecting a marriage relationship of love with God (Isa. 62:2-5). John sees this promise fulfilled not in Jesus’ first appearing but in the second coming of Christ. Jerusalem was the earthly center of God’s redeeming acts in history, especially in the atoning death of His Son. Therefore, just as creation is glorified in the new heaven and new earth, redemption comes to glorious consummation in the coming of the new Jerusalem.
Verse 1 showed a hew heaven and new earth, a regenerated creation in which all of Christ’s enemies are removed. In the new Jerusalem, we see God’s renewed people no longer condemned by sin. The flood cleansed the world until Noah and his family got out of the ark. Their entry brought a return of sin to the world (Gen. 9:18-25). It will not be so in the new heaven and new earth. Believers are qualified to enter eternal loving intimacy with God’s Son because we are cleansed of our sin by His blood and justified in the garment of His imputed righteousness. This is why John says that the church is “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (v. 2). By the atoning sacrifice in His blood, Jesus has forever removed our sin, gaining forgiveness before God for all who believe. So perfect is Christ’s preparation of His bride that John sees the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isa. 62:5).
Our present fallen world suffers the tyranny of Christ’s enemies, so that we now live in a spiritual wasteland of corruption and temptation. To make matters worse, we have the calamity of our own sinful nature. A third evil of our present age is seen in the consequences of sin in terms of the ravages of grief and sorrow. Verses 1-2 saw the sea and all evil removed from our future environment and God’s people cleansed and adorned for glory. Now the life of the age to come is made new, with no more misery under the cursed reign of sin and death. John writes: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (v. 4).
The sorrows of this life put tears on our cheeks and pain in our hearts. But when Christ returns, those who are joined to Him by faith will experience the fullness of eternal life. Isaiah foresaw that “the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isa. 35:10).
Most lovely of all, it will be God’s own hand that wipes away our tears. The imagery of verse 4 poignantly has us entering into glory with the tears of our sorrowful lives still upon our cheeks. What image can more fully express the sheer pain of life in this fallen world! But our loving heavenly Father greets us, wiping the last tears we will ever shed from our faces, and bidding us to weep no more forever and ever. Indeed, in verse 4, God’s hand reaches to us even now, gathering up our tears and showing us a time soon to come when Christ has returned and grief will be no more. Encouraged by His grace, we face the sorrows of this life with courage, heartened in our pilgrimage toward the promised land ahead.
So far, Revelation’s picture of the new creation has been primarily by way of negation: there will be no sea, no stain of sin, and no more weeping or sorrow. At the heart of the passage, however, is the great positive blessing awaiting Christ’s people: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God’” (v. 3).
The voice speaking from God’s throne literally says, “The tabernacle of God is with men and he will tabernacle with them.” This fulfills the promise given in Ezekiel 37:26-27, looking ahead to the time when God’s Spirit came through the new and everlasting covenant in Christ: “I will…set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
Christians enjoy greater privileges than God’s people knew in the Old Testament. Then, only Moses and the high priests could enter God’s tabernacle and see His glory, whereas now God’s glory tabernacles in the heart of every believer through the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18). But in the age to come, the longing of every spirit to know God and see His face will be perfectly fulfilled. The communion that God has eternally purposed to enjoy with His people will be achieved.
It has been said that those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it. The converse is true when it comes to the Bible’s revelation of the future. Without this vision of the new heaven and the new earth, we will live without the hope Christ offers, without the purpose He supplies, and without the glory He promises.
The Bible teaches that you are children of God, coheirs with Christ for eternal glory, and the people in whom God Himself will dwell and on whose faces the light of His glory will shine. How can this be? Because Christ has come to conquer sin and Christ is coming back to bring the fulness of salvation.
A holy city. A beautiful bride. A tearless everlasting life. A loving, Divine Savior who awaits the consummation of our love. Who will be there? All who confess their sins, trust in the blood of Jesus, and believe in the gospel of His salvation!
Revelation 21:1-4 Study Questions:
What does John see coming down out of heaven (v. 2)?
What does it mean that God will “dwell” with His people (v. 3)?
Which of the promises offered in verses 3-4 offers you the most comfort and hope right now, and why?