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Revelation 21:1-4 by Robert Dean
Series:Revelation (2004)
Duration:56 mins 46 secs

The New Heavens and New Earth. Revelation 21:1-4


In chapter 21 we shift indicated by the first words in verse 1 NASB "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer {any} sea." As an overview to this chapter there is the introduction in verse 1 to this next period. The focus in on a period of a new heaven and a new earth. In verse 2 John focuses on the new Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven. Verse 3 shifts to the tabernacle, the new dwelling of God within the new heavens and the earth, and in verse 9 there is a more detailed look at the new Jerusalem, and this takes us all the way down to the end of the chapter. This is followed by another shift at the beginning of chapter 22.


As we look at chapter 21 and try to come to an understanding of what is going on here we have to address different things and then pull some things together from the Old Testament. The first key phrase that we see here at the beginning is, "Then I saw." The question we need to ask is: what kind of a break does this indicate? As John writes he is given a series of visions. It is just like he is looking through a photo album, looking from one picture to another; and each time he moves from one picture to another he indicates that by this phrase "Then I saw"—used about 34 or 35 times in the book of Revelation. It doesn't mean that each scene that he sees necessarily follows chronologically after the previous scene. Sometimes the scenes shift to different vantage points but they may or may not be chronologically related. Sometimes it is introducing material that happened at the same time as the previous chapter. The way most of us have been taught is that chapter 21 goes into the period when God totally recreates the present heavens and earth. However, there are some that think chapter 21 (some are dispensationalists) isn't talking about a newly created heavens and earth but is another look at the events that took place in the previous chapter—and John is not unknown for doing that; he will give an overview in one chapter then in the next chapter he comes back and looks at the same time frame as the previous chapter but looking at different aspects of that same time period. Furthermore, in other passages the phrase "new heavens and new earth" is used not to describe a future recreation of the planet and the universe but to the Millennial kingdom. (This was J.N. Darby's view)     


In chapter 21 we are introduced to this phrase, "a new heaven and a new earth," but this is not the first time this phrase is used; and normally in any decent system of interpretation, whenever you see a phrase or a term, if there is a precedent for that term and it is used in some earlier place, then you have to go back to those earlier uses to see how it is used and how it is defined in those earlier contexts. The first place that we find this phrase is in Isaiah 65:17 NASB "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind." We need to look at the context. Context is always critical for defining terms and understanding phrases to make sure we have a good understanding. To begin to summarize Isaiah 65 what we find in the first 16 verses is an indictment of Israel because of the way they rejected God in the Old Testament, because of idolatry in the nation, for their disobedience to the law. In the first seven verses God reminds them of how He had continuously initiated a relationship with Israel and they rejected it. It reveals how God again and again and again gave things to the nation but then they rejected them. In the latter part of verse 1: "I said, 'Here am I, here am I,' To a nation which did not call on My name. [2] I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, Who walk {in} the way which is not good, following their own thoughts." That is defined further as living on the basis of doing what was right in their own eyes.


Then there is a shift in verse 8 to how God blessed them and that there was always a blessing for a remnant within the nation, and that God would not judge all of them or destroy all of them, and there is a promise of a future blessing in verses 8-10—at the end of verse 10, "For My people who seek Me." These were those who went against the tide of idolatry in the nation, those who sought to be faithful to the law, faithful to God, and there was blessing for them. But then verse 11 returns to the indictment and states: "But you who forsake the LORD, Who forget My holy mountain, Who set a table for Fortune, And who fill {cups} with mixed wine for Destiny, [12] I will destine you for the sword [judgment], And all of you will bow down to the slaughter. Because I called, but you did not answer; I spoke, but you did not hear. And you did evil in My sight And chose that in which I did not delight."


In verse 16 He reminds them again: "Because he who is blessed in the earth Will be blessed by the God of truth; And he who swears in the earth Will swear by the God of truth; Because the former troubles are forgotten, And because they are hidden from My sight!" This leads right to the verse we are looking at, verse 17, the prediction that even though in the past there has been rebellion and judgment God as a God of grace will not reject His people forever, but there will be a restoration of the nation and God will bless them and establish the Messianic kingdom He has promised throughout the Old Testament. NASB "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth…" So the chronology here is that there is the judgment, the salvation of the remnant, and then there is the creation of the new heaven and the new earth. It appears from the time flow that this isn't talking about the future eternal state but about the Millennial kingdom.


There are some other verses that indicate that as well. Isaiah 65:19 NASB "I will also rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in My people; And there will no longer be heard in her The voice of weeping and the sound of crying." This is in contrast to previous chapters which describe the weeping in Jerusalem because the people, are scattered, they are like sheep without a shepherd, because of the horrors of judgment. This is similar to Revelation 21:4 NASB "and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be {any} death; there will no longer be {any} mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." So it appears that there may be a justification here for looking at the initial part of chapter 21 as being related to the Millennium and not to a future recreation.


But there are some other problems. Isaiah 65:20 NASB "No longer will there be in it an infant {who lives but a few} days, Or an old man who does not live out his days; For the youth will die at the age of one hundred And the one who does not reach the age of one hundred Will be {thought} accursed." So there is birth taking place during this period. That's not the eternal state, it has to be the Millennial kingdom. There is also going to be death during the new heaven and the new earth of Isaiah 65. Then the last verse, 25, "The wolf and the lamb will graze together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox; and dust will be the serpent's food. They will do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain," says the LORD. So if the serpent is still eating dust then the curse is still in effect, but as we will see in Revelation 22 the curse gets rolled back in the eternal state. So this is using the phrase "new heaven and new earth" for the period of the Messianic kingdom, not the recreated heavens and earth or the future eternal state.


The next time we see the phrase used is in Isaiah chapter sixty-six which continues to talk about this same time period. Isaiah 66:1 NASB "Thus says the LORD, 'Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest?'" The first three verses assert the authority of God and again He indicts the people, he indicts the people Israel for their false or superficial worship. They have gone through the motions of sacrifice but they weren't loyal to God. [6] "A voice of uproar from the city, a voice from the temple…" It is a time when there is a literal temple on the earth. There is a literal temple on the earth in the Millennial kingdom but when we get to the end of Revelation, 21:22 NASB "I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple."


Isaiah 66:7 the focus is seen on the labor and birth motif.  NASB "Before she travailed, she brought forth; Before her pain came, she gave birth to a boy." This motif of labor pains is one that was used to describe the day of the Lord—like a woman in labor giving birth to the kingdom. [8] "Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Can a land be born in one day? Can a nation be brought forth all at once? As soon as Zion travailed, she also brought forth her sons." This is describing the birth of the new nation Israel in the Messianic kingdom. All of this culminates in verse 22 NASB "For just as the new heavens and the new earth Which I make will endure before Me," declares the LORD, "So your offspring and your name will endure. [23] And it shall be from new moon to new moon And from sabbath to sabbath, All mankind will come to bow down before Me," says the LORD. And it shall be from new moon to new moon And from sabbath to sabbath, All mankind will come to bow down before Me," says the LORD."  This is all in the context of something that relates to the Millennial kingdom.

The prophets of the Old Testament would look down through history and not always see that there were various time lapses between events. They would be viewed as all happening at the same time without realizing that hundreds of years may separate certain events. Isaiah 61:1, 2 was quoted by Jesus when He read the Scripture passage in the Capernaeum synagogue in Luke 4:17-21. He was supposed to read down through verse 4 but He stopped at the beginning of verse 2. Isaiah 61:1 NASB "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners; [2] To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD…"  Here He stopped because He was showing that there were certain things he was going to fulfill at the first time that he came. His role was to provide redemption; it was spiritual. He wasn't coming to reign first and to suffer second, but to suffer first and to reign second.  At the second coming is when the remainder of the Messianic prophecy is fulfilled. "… And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, [3] To grant those who mourn {in} Zion, Giving them a garland instead of ashes, The oil of gladness instead of mourning, The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified."

Isaiah 65 and 66 are using "new heaven and new earth" not as in tight a technical way as Revelation 21 does. What we see is that Isaiah is pulling elements of both the Millennial kingdom and the future new heaven and new earth together in his description. The circumstances of the Millennial kingdom are going to be very similar to the eternal state. The Millennial kingdom is just phase one at the end of which there is the great white throne judgment and then the recreation of the new heavens and the new earth because the present heavens and earth have been s marred and distorted from the judgments related to sin upon the creation that there needs to be a recreation of the heavens and the earth.

Psalm 102:25, 26 NASB "Of old You founded the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands. Even they will perish, but You endure; And all of them will wear out like a garment; Like clothing You will change them and they will be changed." That passage is used to indicate that there is a new heavens but this tends to look at the restoration rather than a completely brand new creation. Another passage that is usually cited in 2 Peter 3:13 NASB "But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells." Then Peter goes on to describe how the present heavens and earth will be completely burned up and destroyed before a new creation comes along. But there are those who take the position that this new heavens and new earth here really refers to a restoration of the present because the present earth is so destroyed during the Tribulation period that 2 Peter 3 is only talking about a restoration of the planet so that it becomes fully habitable again during the kingdom period following the Tribulation. But there are other things in chapter three that probably argue against that.

Romans chapter eight is a key passage for understanding this because in that section we understand how the creation, nature itself, is under judgment because of man's rebellion against God from the garden of Eden. Romans 8:19 NASB "For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. [20] For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope [21] that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God." That occurs at the second coming because the curse is partially rolled back during the time of the kingdom. The lion will lie down with the lamb, etc.

Acts 3:21 NASB "whom heaven must receive until {the} period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time." This "restoration" is only talking about the kingdom, not the period after the Messianic kingdom. Matthew 19:28 NASB "And Jesus said to them, "Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." Jesus refers to the kingdom as the period of regeneration. That is the regeneration for the nation Israel as they are restored to the land during the Messianic kingdom; it is not talking about the post-kingdom period.

Other passages do indicate a complete destruction of the present heavens and earth. Psalm 102:25, 26 NASB "Of old You founded the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands. Even they will perish, but You endure; And all of them will wear out like a garment; Like clothing You will change them and they will be changed." This also shows that the idea of change isn't just talking about a restoration, it is talking about a complete destruction of the present universe, the present havens and the earth, and a complete recreation of the heavens and the earth. Isaiah 34:4 NASB "And all the host of heaven will wear away, And the sky will be rolled up like a scroll; All their hosts will also wither away As a leaf withers from the vine, Or as {one} withers from the fig tree." Again there is the clear image of the destruction of the present heavens and earth. Isaiah 51:6 NASB "Lift up your eyes to the sky, Then look to the earth beneath; For the sky will vanish like smoke, And the earth will wear out like a garment And its inhabitants will die in like manner; But My salvation will be forever, And My righteousness will not wane." Matthew 24:35 NASB "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away."

2 Peter 3;7 NASB "But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men." The judgment of the ungodly occurs at the end of the Millennial kingdom. It is the great white throne judgment. [10] "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up." The day of the Lord is a surprise to those who are going to be judged in the day of the Lord; it is not surprise to believers who understand what is going on. The day of the Lord can refer in a narrow sense to the events surrounding the seven-year Tribulation period, but it has a broader sense in which is covers the period from just after the Rapture through the whole Tribulation period, and then also to the end of the Messianic kingdom. Therefore [11] Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, [12] looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!" [13] But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells." So it is a time when there is no sin, and yet there are still those who are born with sin natures during the Millennial kingdom.

One of the better arguments that Revelation 21 speaks of a brand new heavens and new earth is that at the end of verse 1 it says that there will no longer be a sea. The term there for "sea" indicates a salt sea, not fresh water. The seas will be gone, there will be less water and more land. So this is a major distinction between the present earth and the future recreated earth of Revelation 21:1. The salt seas are also indicative in Scripture of the presence of judgment and turbulence—death is expected, it is uncontrollable by man—and it is a place indicating that the present earth is a place of chaos. And this is one of seven evils that John says in chapters 21 & 22 will no longer exist in the new heavens and the new earth. He says death, mourning, weeping and pain (21:4) will have passed away, the curse is no longer present (22:3), and night will no longer exist (21:25; 22:5) because of the presence of God and the Lamb, and His glory will provide illumination for the earth.

In Revelation chapter 20 when we see the description of the great white throne judgment we are told (20:11) NASB "Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them." This, again, indicates the removal of the present heavens and earth and the creation of the new heavens and new earth in 21:1. So the old heavens and the old earth will pass away. There are all kinds of people who believe in the literal nature of Revelation 21: that God is going to create a new heavens and new earth. How long is it going to take Him? They all think He is going to do that instantly. Ah, but when we go back to Genesis chapter one He has to do it in millions or billions of years! There is just a disconnect there. If God can create the new heavens and the new earth instantly why couldn't he have created the present heavens and earth instantly? God is omnipotent. So there is the creation of the new heavens and the new earth, there is no more salt sea in the new heavens and the new earth, and so it appears that there is a radical difference between the two. Also there is a temple on the earth but there is no temple in the new Jerusalem. Revelation 21:22 NASB "I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple." Again this shows a distinction between these two periods. Therefore we have to conclude that Revelation 21 carries the action forward beyond chapter 20. So at the end of chapter 20 the present heavens and present earth are destroyed, a new universe, a new earth is created in Revelation 21:1.

What will be at the theological center and the center of importance is going to be the new Jerusalem. Just as the old earth had to be destroyed the old Jerusalem is destroyed with it, but God's promise to Israel was that they would always have Jerusalem as a habitation. So there is the creation of a new Jerusalem. Revelation 21:2 NASB "And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband." In Revelation chapters 21 & 22 there is more uncertainty and debate about how some of these things should be understood among dispensational commentators and students than just about anything else because so little is really said. The Bible tells us very little about what life is going to be like in heaven. Isaiah 65:17 NASB "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind." We will not remember the things that happened in this life—the sorrows, the heartaches, things like that.

In Revelation 22 we are introduced to this new city, the holy city, the new Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. The study of the new Jerusalem gets a little interesting because we are told enough to know of its reality, and the greatest description of it is given in chapter 21. But it still leaves a lot of questions to answer? If this is taking place during the eternal state in the new heavens and the new earth, is there a new Jerusalem around the earth during the time of the Messianic kingdom. Many believe that it is there but is suspended over the earth. Others think that, no, it is not really on the earth and is not revealed until we get into the new heavens and new earth. We do know that the understanding of a new Jerusalem as a heavenly city that goes back deep into the Old Testament. Hebrews 13:14 NASB "For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking {the city} which is to come." In other words, everything in the present earth is temporary, it will eventually burn up. Our focus should be on the future new Jerusalem. This goes back to what the writer of Hebrews had stated in Hebrews 11:8, 10: that the Old Testament saints, like Abraham, understood that there was a heavenly city that was their ultimate destiny and would be an ultimate fulfillment of the promises that God had given to him. Hebrews 11:8 NASB "By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. [10] for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God." That is the heavenly Jerusalem.

In the Old Testament there were a number of references to a heavenly temple. Moses and David were shown heavenly archetypes for both the tabernacle and the temple, according to Exodus 25:9, 40; 1 Chronicles 28:11, 19. David was given a blueprint by God for constructing the temple. Many times in the Psalms David spoke of God in His heavenly temple. Psalm 11:4 NASB "The LORD is in His holy temple; the LORD'S throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men." [23:6] "Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever."  Also Psalm 26:8; 27:4; 138:2.

To fulfill the Old Testament promises that God had made about Israel dwelling in Jerusalem forever there necessarily must be a new Jerusalem. Psalm 125:1 is just one of these many passages. NASB "Those who trust in the LORD Are as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved but abides forever." If it abides forever, if the present heavens and earth are destroyed, then there must be a future new Jerusalem. We see in passages like Isaiah 65:17 and 66:19 that Isaiah didn't see a clear distinction between the future Messianic kingdom and the new heavens and new earth, and so they were viewed together, conflated as other types of prophecies are. When we get past the Old Testament and the closing of the Old Testament canon with the conclusion of the last revelation to the prophets (about 400 BC) we enter into a period called the intertestamental period. This is also during the time of the second temple that was built by Zerubbabel under the supervision of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, and so that period from 516 BC up to the temple's destruction in 70 AD is referred to as the second temple period. This is the period when Judah and Israel are resettled by Jews who come back primarily from Babylon. There is the restoration of the second temple, there is all of the different wars that occur, fights between the Ptolomies and the Seleucids fighting over the territory of Israel, until finally under the Hasmonaeans there is an uprising under the Maccabees, a revolt against Syrians and the establishment of the kingdom under the Maccabeaeans. Then they are defeated by Rome. Herod comes to be the king and he began a complete restoration of the temple, referred to as the Herodian temple. But it was just the second stage in the life of the second temple.

There is a book found amongst the Dead Sea scrolls that is entitled "The New Jerusalem," and that is also preserved in a number of other scrolls. In that particular scroll it is very similar in its description of the new Jerusalem and the temple there to Ezekiel's vision. It sees the New Jerusalem as having twelve gates, each one named for the twelve tribes of Israel, just as the new Jerusalem is described in Revelation 21. The Talmud speaks of an earthly Jerusalem [Jerusalem the lower] and a heavenly Jerusalem [Jerusalem the upper]. The Talmudic writers believed that the new Jerusalem hovers invisibly over the earthly Jerusalem and those who are righteous, those who are holy, will at times get a glimpse of the heavenly Jerusalem. It is interesting in that in terms of rabbinical eschatology the new Jerusalem comes after the establishment of the Messianic kingdom. So this roughly follows the same pattern, the same chronology that we see in Revelation.

In the New Testament there are the passages in Hebrews 11, but also in Galatians 4:26 NASB "But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother." So there is this recognition that there is this heavenly city of Jerusalem that is not visible, not present, but will be brought down on the earth at the time of the new heavens and new earth. Revelation 21:3 NASB "And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them." The words "tabernacle of God" is the Greek word skene [skhnh] really means "dwelling—tabernacle means "dwelling"—"the dwelling of God is with men."

Remember at the beginning of Revelation there is the initial vision that John has on Patmos. He has a vision of the throne of God in Revelation 1:4 NASB "…Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne." Some people have tried to make that phrase refer to Jesus because of the "who is to come," but it can't be. First, the only one who sits on the throne in Revelation is God the Father. Second, "He comes" in Revelation 21:3 is the Father who comes and dwells with man on the earth. It is not just Jesus who returns as the messiah to establish His kingdom on the earth during the Millennial period but in the new Heavens and the new earth God (all three persons of the Trinity) takes up His residence upon the earth. Revelation 21:3 NASB "And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them.'" Then we have a verse that we are all familiar with, v. 4, "and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be {any} death; there will no longer be {any} mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away."