New World’s Order
“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” (Revelation 22:17)
I would hesitate to name any character from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise as one of my role models, but I did find something interesting in the films’ third installment. As (Captain) Jack Sparrow wrestles with the decision about whether or not to chase after a means of eternal life that seems within his reach, he asks his father about it in a roundabout way. In response, his father says, “It’s not just about living forever, Jackie. The trick is living with yourself forever.” After having many years to reflect on that statement, I eventually realized that I had been entertaining a strange, but similar, dialogue deep in my own heart: Did I actually want eternal life? Was there any part of the concept that motivated me towards the things of God, or was it some vague perk of a faith that I didn’t yet understand?
On The Horizon
The message of hope to all believers is that Christ isn’t finished yet. As far as redemption goes, Christ’s work is indisputably finished (John 19:30); there is no need to seek additional atonement because substituting Jesus’s death for our own is sufficient to cleanse us and pay the debt of our sin. However, as far as restoration goes, Christ has only begun. The Apostle John recounts at the end of the book of Revelation, after Christ has returned and after judgment has been passed on all Creation, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Revelation 21:1).
Knowing that it may loom in the distance for any number of people, let me ask the question so no one else has to: So what? Why should any of us care about a new heaven and a new earth? A promise like this can sound an awful lot like somebody promising to buy us a new house even though we are far from uncomfortable in our current one. We might like the additional space, the brand new appliances, and the new energy efficiency, but we probably won’t work overnight to have our effects packed and ready to move tomorrow. If we recall, though, the droves of people who have given up their lives in martyrdom with this future in view, we should be able to recognize that there is a dense weight of significance resting within this promise. To understand the most fundamental difference between this world and the next is to grasp that significance.
Reality In High Contrast
When mankind fell, a number of things happened, most of which can be tied to the idea of dominion. In the beginning, God gave mankind dominion over the world (Genesis 1:28). When Adam and Eve sinned, they submitted to Satan by inking an agreement with the lie that they didn’t need God. In doing so, they reneged on the original agreement they had already made with God, and since submitting to something means that we bring everything in our dominion with us into that submission, Satan became the ruler of the world.* In addition to the foothold given to Satan, Adam and Eve corrupted their own flesh by claiming that we as mankind could be our own gods (Genesis 3:5). Their actions claimed that they didn’t need God anymore, and so the separation from God began. Finally, God cursed the very ground of the world along with mankind after the fall, and the whole world itself fell into an unglorified, sinful state. Counting that up, that means that, in our current world, there are three separate sources of evil: Satan, our flesh, and the world.
It is in our nature to downplay the gravity of this evil. The idea that God is incomprehensibly more righteous and holy than we are tends to be one of the horse pills of Christian theology; though it is an important concept, it can be hard to swallow. The author of Hebrews exhorts his readers to “strive … for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Moses, because of the contrast between his sin and the holiness of God, could not gaze upon the Lord without dying (Exodus 33:19-20). Because of our rebellion, we don’t deserve to live. This idea is mentioned a number of times in the last couple of chapters of Revelation as well:
- “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)
- “But nothing unclean will ever enter it [the city, New Jerusalem], nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:27)
- “Outside [the city] are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” (Revelation 22:15)
These things should stick out to us because of one of the first comments the Apostle John makes about the New Heaven and New Earth. He observes, “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’” (Revelation 21:3). God can’t dwell with unholy things, and yet it says He will quite literally dwell with this new creation. We can conclude here then that sin will be gone in eternity. The judgment to come will be final, Jesus will once again sit on the throne, and this new creation will be perfectly, perpetually pure. If we want to live in this new dominion, the only way to change our allegiance is through Jesus Christ. By his blood, we can been cleansed; “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates” (Revelation 22:14).
No longer will we suffer under the cruel masters we now have – Satan, our flesh, and this fallen world – even though that suffering is exactly what we deserve. Jesus will return to restore the order of things to what they were meant to be, and this is the first reason why the New Heaven and New Earth will be significant. The second reason involves what Christ’s rule will allow us to experience in the age to come that we are not experiencing now.
Hope In Life
One of the most exciting aspects of the New Heaven and the New Earth is that sin’s harmful effects will go by the wayside: “’He [God] 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” (Revelation 21:4). Literally anything that causes pain, suffering, hard feelings, anxieties, or sadness will be gone. Sin causes these things, so as God blots sin from the world, He wipes away its consequences as well. No more saying goodbye to loved ones as they pass. No more wondering where the next meal is going to come from. No more insecurities about our performance or how we look or what people think of us. No more rotting teeth. No more bad backs. No more failing eyes. No more evil.
Additionally, consider what the Apostle John observed about the New Jerusalem as it will sit atop the new creation: “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:23). God will live with us in eternity, and His glory will flood every inch of His creation in an unadulterated fashion. Finally, there will be something worthwhile for our gaze.
A final piece to note is the river of life mentioned at the end of the book of Revelation. This is the same river of life that God provided the world during its creation (Genesis 2:10) and the same wellspring of life that was prophesied by Isaiah (Isaiah 12:3, 55:1). “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:1-2). The river of life and the tree of life are gifts from God providing eternal life to those who benefit from their fruits. There is a difference between the worldly definition and biblical definition of the word “eternal” in this context, and the difference is best described by considering the words “abundant” and “everlasting”. The world’s definition often consists exclusively of the latter, but biblical usage usually intends both. Death will be no more, so life will continue forever, but that life will also be abundant – if we have not spent time growing in the Spirit, it’s likely we do not have the context to understand the idea of “abundant life”. A life without the burden of sin and instead full of joy, peace, gratefulness, and love is an abundant life.
Release from suffering is not something we get to enjoy yet. We can’t get that here. Instead, we look forward with hope toward Christ’s new world where we can find it.
We believers call ourselves “saved”, but we should always remember that it was not our earthly lives that were saved but our eternal ones. Whatever old, gnarly, mangled thing we had before Christ should continue to wither and die, and we should allow the Spirit to continue bringing us richer life that will finally blossom in the next. To set our sights on these promises is biblical: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth” (Colossians 3:1-2).
We cannot fall for the lies that the forces of evil intend for us to believe. This world is not the end. We have not been saved for the present age. Because of the finished work and coming work of Jesus Christ, we have been redeemed for a world that will be magnificent beyond comparison. The life we will soon live will be worth a hundred times our suffering. All this is because God has been, is now, and forever more will be at the head of it all. This is the hope we have in Christ.
*As a sidenote observation, even though original sin led to the turning over of the world to Satan, there is nothing in the transaction that can be construed to say that God Himself lost dominion over the world. God never gave over the title of “God”, so to speak, to Adam, and so the title of “God” never could have gone to Satan regardless of what Adam did. God reigns in all things, regardless of what those of His image do or say – in other words, the son or the daughter does not have dominion over the Father.