What do you and I see when we look at the church? Do we see the warts, the wounds, the sin (especially when we look in the mirror)? That kind of honest self-appraisal is important—it keeps us humble. But it is important also to see the church as her Lord sees her, and as he revealed her to the Apostle John and the suffering, sometimes discouraged Christians in the province of Asia. In Revelation 21:1–8 Jesus points you ahead in time, and shows you the church as she will be for all eternity! And that is a note on which to conclude this series of messages on the church.
See the church as she will be. Your home is in the new heavens and earth. The passage uses lots of figurative language, but the symbols describe something real. The symbolism is needed because our minds and imaginations, clouded by sin, cannot fully comprehend what God has in store for us. There have been theories in parts of Christianity that the heavens and earth will be annihilated and brand new ones created. But God pronounced his creation “very good,” hardly pointing to simply a temporary purpose for it. In Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 15 Paul draws a parallel between our resurrection and the renewal of creation. Your resurrection body will certainly be changed (1 Thessalonians 4), but you will be raised and changed. Similarly the creation will be perfected, as we shall see, purged from sin and its effects, but it is God’s good creation in which you will dwell in the new heavens and earth. An obedient Adam, if you can talk carefully about what would have happened, was not to continue for all eternity in the Garden, continuing to guard against the temptations of Satan. After his period of testing, the fruit of the Tree of Life (from which as a fallen creature he was barred) would have been his to eat. He would have moved on to far greater glory. And, the creation, instead of being cursed by his fall, would have moved on to something even better as well. Now that has been realized, but only because the second Adam has done what the first did not do.
The church is Christ’s glorious bride. God’s covenant relationship with his people is so close, so intimate, so wonderful, that in the Old Testament (Isaiah 62 and elsewhere) the Lord is described as the husband of his people, and in the church in its New Testament form, she is the bride of Christ. She, despite her sins and failures, is a beautiful bride because she has been redeemed by the Lamb. “The bride in Revelation 21:1ff. . . represents the end-time completion of the redeemed, believing community from throughout the ages, finally secured from and dangers and residing in the midst of God’s perfect, full presence. Therefore, the new Jerusalem of ch. 21 has its inaugurated existence throughout the ages in the true Israel of the OT age and the church of the NT age (the latter of which Gal. 4:21–31 and Heb. 12:22–23 testify to).” (B. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, NIGTC, pp. 1045–1046). Traditionally in our culture a groom may not see his bride in her wedding gown until the ceremony itself. But in this case it is the groom who serves the bride and makes her the radiant, holy creature she becomes on that day, Ephesians 5:25–33.
God is with you! At the center of the magnificent garden-city is the throne of God. No one image is sufficient to describe the reality that John witnesses and shows you. A loud voice comes from the throne — you remember who is seated on the throne — focusing your attention on the very heart of the glory you are seeing. God himself tells you what this vision means. He dwells with his people. What old Jerusalem picture imperfectly, has become a permanent reality. God dwells among his people. His voice goes on to reaffirm the heart of the covenant relationship that was expressed repeatedly throughout the Old Testament and into the New: they will be his people, and God will be with them and will be their God. That lay at the heart of the grace shown to our first parents after the fall, and to Noah, as the earth passed through a preliminary judgment and cleansing. It becomes much more explicit in the covenant as God makes it with Abraham, and then with Israel through Moses, and again, with David. It becomes even clearer in the New Testament with the coming of Immanuel.
The curse of sin will be gone. Because the holy God is present with his people, and because they have been both forgiven and fully sanctified, the new heavens and earth have no more curse. Gone also are the effects of the curse. There is no suffering. Were there any tears, God would wipe them from their eyes. There is no death, mourning or pain. The old order is gone. The new has come. Even in this description of blessedness, there is a note of warning. The blessedness of the curse-free heavens and earth can exist only because there is no sin. And just as the description of the final judgment in Revelation 20 mentions those whose names are written in the book of life, so here, amid describing their blessedness, John reminds you that excluded from this blessedness are sinners, rebels against God, verse 8. They face the judgment of fiery lake, the second death. John is warning you not to presume (as so many in our culture do) that you can ignore God, reject his Son, live in rebellion—and expect the blessedness of the new heavens a earth.
Drink from the water of life. Satisfy your thirst—as you come to Christ. As John hears the voice of God the Father in Revelation 1:8, he hears that description. It is renewed here, near the end of the book. Alpha and Omega, first and last, God is claiming to be all in all. Here is the fulfillment of what Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:28 tells you of Christ’s work. The Father here offers the water of life. Wait for Revelation 22 for a more full description of that water. Just remember that it is what God offered in Isaiah 55. It is what Jesus spoke of to the Samaritan woman in John 4. It is the Lord’s own cry in John 7:37–39. Are you discouraged? Is your soul thirsty? God himself invites you to drink freely of his Son, the living water. “Revelation is designed not only to assure us of God’s final purposes, but also to increase our longing for him and the realization of his purposes. The sureness of that final bliss comforts the saints during times of temptation and persecution. It purifies our desires by directing them to God and his glory. And then the tawdry counterfeits of this world are seen to be what they are.” (Vern S. Poythress, The Returning King, p. 192).
Overcome, and be the people of God. Remember what comes near the end of each of the messages to the seven churches? God promises his blessing, the blessing of his presence, described in various ways that anticipate what lay ahead in the book, to the one who overcomes. The overcoming is not a military battle. It is entrusting yourself to the faithful Savior and remaining committed to him, despite the trials, temptations, suffering, and persecution that characterizes your life here on earth. Now the old order has come to an end, and as an overcomer, your inheritance is in the new heavens and earth. “[A]ll who overcome the dragon, the beasts, and the harlot through humble, persevering faith are heirs of everything. The homestead they inherit is not the first heaven and earth, sin-stained and curse-infected, but the new heaven and earth in which every impurity, pain, and sorrow has ceased to be.” (Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, p. 307). What you inherit is not just relief from tears and mourning. It is not just streets of gold. What you inherit is God himself. He is your God, and you are his child. Adam rebelled against his Father and lost Eden, not just for himself, but for you and all mankind. But God through his only Son, has undone the curse. The Lamb was slain so that your robes could be washed white in his blood. Now God is your Father, and you are his son, you are his daughter.
Keep the reality of the magnificence of the church as a beautiful bride in mind as you look for comfort in the face of death. Keep it in mind as you struggle with temptation, as you endure suffering. Nothing that you face can possibly be compared with the glory of the direct presence of God in the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, the bride of Christ. Take courage! Stand firm! Overcome!