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Revelation Part 4 – A New creation?

View of earth from space

Readings: Psalm 19:1-6, Revelation 21:1-15, John 1:1-5
Sermon for St Edward’s, 5 May 2024

Last week we covered up to chapter 16 of Revelation. Today we have the final part which takes us to the end of ch 22. Again I encourage you to go back over and read the in between chapters. But as a quick overview:

In chapters 17-18 we see the downfall of Babylon (shown as a whore) – representing the Roman Empire.  And a call for all to come out of Babylon, to not be part of her sins.

And then in contrast we see heaven rejoicing in ch 19. God has judged the earth and the bride has made herself ready – the bride symbolic of the church – the Bride of Christ. So we see a symbolic contrast here between Rome as a whore and God’s kingdom as a bride. Remember I noted before about the problematic language for women – but we need to try and see beyond that to what John is saying. And we read also that the beast and its armies are defeated.

Then we get to chapters 21 and 22 which talk of a new heaven and a new earth – what happens ‘in the end’ after judgement has happened? Here we have a tale of 2 cities if you like, Babylon: sinful, destroyed, and the new holy city coming down (21:2). Again a symbolic contrast. The new heaven and earth is a sort of holy garden city.

And there are OT parallels here – remember these are throughout Revelation – see Ezekiel 47 – measuring out from the temple. And in this place, we read, it will be a place of worship, where death will be no more, where God will wipe the tears from our eyes and will dwell with the people. (21:3-4).

So what is John telling us about eternity? This new heaven and earth? Well in answer I want to share a bit of a summary of my MA essay from our Revelation module last term.

There are 2 core arguments here – either: the earth is destroyed and a new heaven and earth appear – which is largely based on 2 verses:

Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them

Rev 20:11

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.

Rev 21:1

Or is it a renewed heaven and earth ? as per:

And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’  

Rev 21:5

I actually believe God is going to resurrect creation. That as with everything else in Rev, the description of heaven passing away is symbolic, it points to the old order, the sinful nature of people, the Roman Empire passing away and God will therefore resurrect God’s beautiful creation.

Creation in Revelation
So to unpack that a little, firstly, what do we read about creation in Revelation? Perhaps you can remember some of the verses – the descriptions of the throne room with a crystal sea, rainbow around the throne, creatures worshipping? But there is a lot more than that.  We see creation involved in the outworking of judgement and the destruction caused to it. For example: when the fourth seal is opened authority is given over a quarter of the earth to kill in various ways, this includes ‘by the wild animals of the earth’ (6:8); we see the sun and moon change; an earthquake and stars falling from the sky at the opening of the sixth scroll (6:12-13); as just a few examples. The earth is also subject to destruction, for example: one third of the earth, trees, grass and burned up (8:7), one third of the see became blood, and one third of sea creatures died (8:9). 

So John uses creation symbolically to help share his message.

I think it’s also worth saying that a literal destruction of creation based on those few verses from Rev 20-21, doesn’t really fit within the overall theme of scripture. Because throughout the Bible there is a theme of all creation praising God (eg: Psalm 91:1 as we heard earlier; Nehemiah 9:6; Job 12:7-9), and this is echoed in Revelation 5:13:

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, ‘To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might for ever and ever!’

So it seems really unlikely then that this heaven and earth, created by God, and honouring God, would therefore flee from the one it is worshipping, nor that God would destroy it…

Christ as example / martyrs

Then we need to think also about Christ’s role – Revelation begins by telling the reader it is a ‘revelation of Jesus Christ’, so then all this talk of creation –  what is the revelation of Christ in it?

Well, resurrection is a key concept in Revelation. Remember we saw Christ as the slain lamb bearing the wounds of death but actually alive – representing the risen Christ. The proto martyr as I mentioned a few weeks ago. The example to all those being persecuted for their faith. The faithful are to faithfully imitate him.

And we see the martyrs, the faithful who died for their faith waiting to be resurrected – under the throne in ch 6. And as we read back in 12:11 : They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony. The faithful witness and the death of the lamb bring about victory.

 In Paul’s writing he talks about this resurrection in this way too:

For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ… after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For ‘God has put all things in subjection under his feet.

1 Cor 15:21-26

So just as Christ is an example of resurrection in Revelation, so is creation an example for a resurrected heaven and earth. 

As with Christ and the martyrs, creation too faces persecution and wounds. The earth bears the marks of damage done by humanity. We read of a few examples: one quarter of the earth being killed by the sword, famine & pestilence (6:8);  the sun becomes black, the moon like blood, stars fall from the sky (6:12); and one third of trees and grass destroyed (8:7); one third of the sea becomes like blood and one third of sea creatures die as a result (8:9); and the seven bowls of God’s wrath are poured out on it leading to the death of every living thing in the sea (ch 16). 

If we liken this to the Rome comparison too, creation also suffers persecution at the hands of Rome – there were huge Roman mining operations on the landscape; the destruction of forests for fire wood for smelting metal; and animals killed in their thousands for war or sport in the Roman arenas like the Coliseum. It is quite clear that God’s creation was experiencing persecution of a kind, with great suffering inflicted on it. This parallels neatly with the suffering Christ and the suffering of the martyrs, and fits well with John’s overall symbolism. 

So in my view the final new heaven and earth is actually a resurrected creation that continues to glory, honour and worship the creator as it has throughout the Hebrew scriptures and here in Revelation. It is home of the resurrected lamb and the faithful.

Now as we draw to the end of our time in Revelation, I hope that some of this has helped you to see the book in a new light, less confusing and more symbolic, and as a real revelation of Jesus Christ. So I just want to finish with some final verses from ch 22:

Jesus says:

 ‘See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’ Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practises falsehood. ‘It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.’ The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’

And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’

And let everyone who is thirsty come.

Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

Revelation 22:12-17

Let us all come to Christ, to drink of the waters he offers and know him is a revelation in our lives.


Books //

Blount, B. (2009 ) Revelation: A Commentary Louisville: WJK 

Gale, H. Z. (1997) ‘What is New about the New Heaven and the New Earth? A Theology of creation from Revelation 21 and 2 Peter 3’ JETS 40/1, March 1997 (37-56).

Kiel, M. D. (2017) Apocalyptic Ecology: The Book of Revelation, The Earth and The Future Kindle Edition Collegeville: Liturgical Press

Middleton, Paul. (2020). ‘Revelation’ in J. Brian Tucker and Aaron Kuecker (eds.), T&T Clark Social Identity Commentary on the New Testament. London: T & T Clark, 585-620. 

Paul, I. (2018) Revelation: an Introduction and Commentary London: IVP 

Stevenson, G. (2013) ‘The Theology of Creation in the Book of Revelation’ in Leaven: Vol 21, Issue 3, Article 6.  

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