Last week we considered the first chapter in John’s Gospel as he wrote about the Word—Christ, the Messiah—who was with God in the beginning, was God, and whose glory was beheld in the person of Jesus. We also saw how all of the writers of the Gospels—not only John, but also Matthew, Mark, Luke—as well as John the Baptist, God’s prophet—took great care to make sure that what they wrote down was a true and accurate account because so very much was at stake. They all understood how very important it was that they get it right.
This first day of the New Year, we are going to continue to consider another account by John who this time is writing not about the life of the earthly Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God who created all things and made his dwelling among us, full of grace and truth; no, in the book of Revelation, he is providing us an account of the ascended Jesus Christ, governing from heaven, as he is seated at the right hand of God the Father and disclosing what will take place at the end of the earthly age. Here John isn’t looking so much to the past creation and earthly life of Jesus as he is to his future consummation and renewal of all things.
In fact, John begins the book of Revelation by identifying what he is about to make known as, “1 The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” So, dear hearts, prepare to be blessed as we consider but a small portion near the end of this book!
As you know, at times I find it helpful to consider the definition of words whose meaning we think we know. In this book John is providing a “revelation from Jesus Christ.” So I want to begin by asking, “What, exactly, is a ‘revelation’”? I’d like you to take a moment to think about what the word “revelation” means. And I’m going to challenge you as every good elementary school teacher would challenge us by adding that in your definition of “revelation” you are not allowed to use any form of the word, such as to “reveal”!
Well the desktop dictionary on my computer provides three definitions of “reveal”:
First, “make (previously unknown or secret information) known to others;”
Second, “cause or allow (something) to be seen;”
And finally “make (something) known to humans by divine or supernatural means.” All three of these senses of “reveal” work here. For in this revelation John is indeed making known to others something that was previously unknown. So, too, since this revelation is from Jesus Christ, he is the one who is causing or allowing John to see it for these are supernatural realities that would otherwise remain unseen. And lastly, the means Christ is using is indeed by divine or supernatural means—John says Jesus Christ has given him this revelation—and it’s for the purpose of showing his servants what must soon take place. Further Christ is making all of this known by sending his angel to John who is testifying to everything that was shown to him. He is testifying to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.
So John’s “revelation” also fits the dictionary definition of “revelation” as it is “a surprising and previously unknown fact” that is being “made known in a dramatic way” and it is also a “divine or supernatural disclosure to humans of something relating to human existence or the world.” And again in spite of the dramatic nature and content of this divine revelation, we continue to see the great care that John, the disciple who during Jesus’ earthly life referred to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved, has taken to make sure he gets the message of the risen Jesus right—to make sure he has rightly recorded the events that have been given, that have been disclosed to him by his reigning Savior and Lord.
Now by the time we reach chapter 21 of this extraordinary book, John has moved from addressing the fate of humanity at the end of the ages—Christ’s enemies have now been destroyed—to the new heaven and new earth that are being ushered in by God in Christ. Yet even this revelation, even this unveiling of the new heaven and earth isn’t completely new for it’s grounded in an earlier revelation of God’s Word to his people from the Old Testament. When John opens this chapter by stating, “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’” he is actually quoting Isaiah 65:17. Listen to a few verses from Isaiah 65 about the new heavens and earth that John is also addressing:
17 See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. 19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more. 20 Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years.
Isn’t that a glorious vision of our future state and destiny?! And both Isaiah and John have been given this same vision of the new heavens and earth; which is to say that both have been given a vision—a glimpse—of what our life in heaven will one day be like; of what life will be like after Christ’s second Advent, his second and final coming to judge the earth and call his people home. For the entire cosmos will have been sanctified, will have been made holy in the sense of being set apart for God in Christ and in having all pain, evil, decay, and death removed. It will be a new heaven and a new earth.
In this new heaven and new earth, we’re told, “there was no longer any sea.” Now the point here isn’t that bodies of water won’t be part of the new earth, but there was no longer any sea in that the sea here is representing the source of rebellion from which the beast, God’s enemy, emerged. Earlier in his vision, John says, ““The dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name.” So there will no longer be any sea from which the beast can emerge to wreak havoc and torment those who are Christ’s.
Next John says, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” As the old heaven and the old earth have passed away, they are replaced with the Holy City or the new Jerusalem which is descending from God out of heaven. The image of Holy Jerusalem being prepared as a bride who is beautifully dressed for her husband indicates that Holy Jerusalem is the Church of Christ. As in the Old Testament, God’s chosen people are referred to as his bride, so the New Testament continues to use this imagery to indicate the intimate relationship which is to exist between God, the groom, and those who are his, his bride. So for example, Isaiah states, “For your Maker is your husband— the Lord Almighty is his name— the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.” And a few chapters earlier in his vision, John similarly states about the Church, “6 Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: ‘Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. 7 Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. 8 Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.’” So in John’s vision we see this bride beautifully dressed. And this eternal home—this Holy City, the new Jerusalem—has been prepared for Christ’s bride, his people, his family, his Church.
In verse 3, we see that John’s vision involves not only the sense of seeing but also the sense of hearing as he says, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.’” One of the names God discloses to us of himself in Scripture—and which we even sang about throughout the Advent season, and not coincidentally, this morning!—is “Immanuel” which means “God with us.” Prior to the end of the ages—that is, during the time in which we are now living—God is indeed with us by means of his indwelling Holy Spirit whom Christ initially sent to those who were his during Pentecost but whom he now sends to all who turn to him. Yet the voice from the throne is pointing not only to God’s people being sealed and indwelled by his Spirit but to their becoming his dwelling place in a fuller and richer way. They—we—will be his people and God himself will be with us and be our God by making us his home.
In addition to seeing and hearing, a third sense is introduced in verse four—the sense of touch. The voice from the throne goes on to tell how God “‘will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” We’ve all experienced this wiping of tears from our own eyes and the eyes of others. What a tender picture we have here! And whereas earlier John had quoted from Isaiah 65, here the voice from the throne is also quoting from Isaiah, but this time from 25:8 which tells how the LORD—using God’s personal name of Yahweh— “…will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.” As John has seen this Old Testament vision being fulfilled in Christ, so too has the voice from heaven’s throne. Scripture is in agreement with Scripture.
And in this year when so many from even our small flock have encountered the loss of loved ones—most recently Christina’s Uncle Eddie; John’s mother, Marion; Donna’s cousin who lost her husband; and Richie’s mother earlier in December—how important it is for us to remember that our Lord knew how devastating death and loss would be for us so throughout his Word he offers us these reassurances. So, too, in I Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul tells how Christ “25 …must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Brothers and sisters, here in John’s vision in the Book of Revelation, we see the consummation of Christ’s work in that, once and for all, he has put death to death. Did you catch that? As a result of Christ’s work, as attested to not only by Paul but also by Isaiah and John, there will be no more death.
As a result of Christ’s work, there will be no more mourning.
As a result of Christ’s work, there will be no more crying.
As a result of Christ’s work, there will be no more pain.
And not only that, but God himself, as the loving Father he is, will wipe away every tear from our eyes. The old order—
the order that resulted from Adam’s disobedience;
the order that has been the lot of humanity since the time of the Fall;
the order that includes beauty, yes; and love, yes; and joy, yes, but also mourning and crying and death and tears and darkness will be no more. All pain will be removed and the only thing that will be left is the light and love of God in Christ “for the old order of things has passed away.” Last week Donna shared a reflection—and I wish I had it with me to read to you this morning!—that pointed out how all who first brought the Good News of Christ’s birth framed it in terms of joy. So, for instance,
The angel said to the shepherds in the fields, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”
And when Mary greets her relative, Elizabeth says, “As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”
And after Mary heard these words from Elizabeth, she said, “46 “My soul glorifies the Lord 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
And later when the Magi “saw the star [that led them to Jesus], they were overjoyed.”
Brothers and sisters, the reason that Christ’s coming to earth is a message of joy in which we, too, should rejoice is because through Jesus Christ all evil and death have been overcome and will one day be destroyed completely, never to touch our lives again. And all of God’s people said, “Amen!”
In his revelation to John, in his divine disclosure to John, in his heavenly communication to John, we see that Christ Jesus himself, verse 5, “He who was seated on the throne” said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” What we continue to see from the beginning of the Old Testament all the way through to the end of the New Testament, is that God’s chosen vehicles of his revelation aren’t making any of this up but rather they are faithfully recording the teachings, words, and events that God is asking them to communicate on his behalf, that God is asking them to communicate in his name. And the Lord Jesus Christ,
who came to earth in the form of a baby, and grew up as a child, and ministered as a young man;
who lived, suffered, and died on our behalf, in our place;
who on the third day rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, and was seated at the right hand of the Father,
this very Christ, seated on his throne, is the one who tells John, “I am making everything new!” Jesus Christ, along with the Father and Holy Spirit, was never content to allow the Fall to mar the lives of those whom he made in his image. And though this side of heaven our bodies may age and die, by the presence of Christ’s Holy Spirit in them, one day they will be made new for God in Christ is making everything new. And because he wants us to know this he has told John to write down these trustworthy and true words.
In this vision of the end of the current heavenly and earthly age, King Jesus on his throne, says to John in the beginning of verse 6: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.” When we looked at John 1 last week, we saw how much he drew from Genesis 1, connecting Christ with the beginning of the work of Creation, with the beginning of God bringing all things into being by and in and through Christ. And here we see that not only was Christ present at the beginning of creation, but he also will sustain that creation until its foreordained End. In stating that he is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, he is making the same point in two different ways for, as many of you know, “alpha” is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and “omega” is the final letter. So the time of creation is being bracketed by Christ who has been involved with his creation at its beginning, and is now sustaining it, and will be there at its end.
In this first day of the New Year of 2017, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we included in our list of resolutions to reflect on the God who not only made us, but who refuses to give up on us;
If we reflected on the wondrous love of God who came to earth in the form of a baby in manger, that we might know what he is like—and that we might know what humanity was intended to be;
If we reflected on the fact that God in Christ came in order that he, the last Adam, might obey, despite temptations, so that he might take our place, become a curse in our place, die in our place, that we might never have to experience the separation from God that he experienced, but instead be able to rise with him to eternal life?
If we reflected on the certainty that because of what God in Christ has done, one day we will no longer experience death—or mourning—or crying—or pain?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this coming year, we were able to reflect on the Good News of great joy that is ours because of God’s love for us in Christ?
This is my prayer for you—this is my prayer for me—this is my prayer for all of God’s image-bearers everywhere. That, as John stated at the beginning of his revelation, we hear God’s Word and take to heart what is written in it that we might so be blessed. Because the time is near.
Let us pray.
 The entire passage reads as follows: Isaiah 65:17–25: 17 “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. 19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more. 20 Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach[Or the sinner who reaches] a hundred will be considered accursed. 21 They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands. 23 They will not labor in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them. 24 Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. 25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.
 The ongoing presence of bodies of water is indicated, e.g., in Revelation 21:6b: To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Revelation 22:1–2: Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
 Revelation 13:1.
 For the connection between the heavenly Jerusalem and the Church, see Hebrews 12:22–24: 22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
 Isaiah 54:5. See also Hosea 2:19: I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion.
 Revelation 19:6–8. See also Ephesians 5:23: “Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.” Matthew 22:2–14, the parable of the Wedding Banquet.
 This is also stated in Revelation 7:17: For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”
 I Corinthians 15:25–26.
 Luke 2:8.
 Luke 1:44.
 Luke 1:46–47.
 Matthew 2:10.
 See also Revelation 1:8: “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 22:13: I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.; Revelation 2:8: “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. Isaiah 41:4: Who has done this and carried it through, calling forth the generations from the beginning? I, the Lord—with the first of them and with the last—I am he.” Isaiah 44:6: “This is what the Lord says— Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. Isaiah 48:12: “Listen to me, Jacob, Israel, whom I have called: I am he; I am the first and I am the last.