St Athanasius On the Incarnation [31

THE NEW CREATION (Revelation 21-22)

Well, finally we've gotten to a place in Revelation where everyone's agreed, right? "The new heaven and earth" - that's to be literal, referring to eternity after the end of the world, right? Wrong. Or, to be absolutely precise, I should say: Yes and no. The truth is that the Bible tells us very little about heaven; just enough, in fact, to let us know we're going there. But the primary concern of Scripture is the present life. Of course, the blessings of the final chapters of Revelation do refer to heaven. It is not really an "either/or" kind of an issue. But what is important is that these things are true now. Heaven is a continuation and perfection of what is true of the Church in this life. We are not simply to look forward to these blessings in an eternity to come, but to enjoy them and rejoice in them here and now. John was telling the early Church of present realities, of blessings that existed already and would be on the increase as the gospel extended and renewed the earth.

' 'Behold, I Am Making All Things New" First, John said, he saw "a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth passed away" (Rev. 21:1). To understand this, we need to remember one of the most basic lessons of the Paradise theme: salvation is a re-creation. This is why creation language and symbolism is used in Scripture whenever God speaks of saving His people. The Flood, the Exodus, and the First Advent of Christ are all seen as God making a new world. Thus, when God spoke through Isaiah, prophesying the earthly blessings of the coming Kingdom, He said:

For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;

And the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.

But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing, And her people for gladness.

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.

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

Shall be thought accursed.

And they shall build houses and inhabit them;

They shall also plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

They shall not build, and another inhabit;

They shall not plant, and another eat;

For as the lifetime of a tree, so shall be the days of My people, And My chosen ones shall wear out the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, Or bear children for calamity;

For they are the offspring of those blessed by the Lord,

And their descendants with them.

It will also come to pass

That before they call, I will answer;

And while they are still speaking, I will hear.

The wolf and the lamb shall graze together,

And the lion shall eat straw like the ox;

And dust shall be the serpent's food.

They shall do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain.

This cannot be speaking of heaven, or of a time after the end of the world; for in this "new heaven and earth" there is still death (at a very advanced age - "the lifetime of a tree"), people are building, planting, working, and having children. We could spend the rest of this chapter examining the implications of this passage in Isaiah, but the only point I will make here is that it is clearly a statement about this age, before the end of the world, and shows what future generations can expect as the gospel permeates the world, restores the earth to Paradise, and brings to fruition the goals of the Kingdom. Isaiah is describing the blessings of Deuteronomy 28 in what is probably their greatest earthly fulfillment. Thus, when John tells us that he saw "a new heaven and earth," we should recognize that the primary significance of that phrase is symbolic, and has to do with the blessings of salvation.

John next saw "the Holy City, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a Bride adorned for her Husband" (Rev. 21:2). No, it's not a space station. It is something which should be much more thrilling: it is the Church. The Bride is not just in the City; the Bride is the City (cf. Rev. 21:9-10). We are in the New Jerusalem now. Proof? The Bible categorically tells us: "You have come to Mount Zion and to the City of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven . . ." (Heb. 12:22-23; cf. Gal. 4:26; Rev. 3:12). The New Jerusalem is a present reality; it is said to be coming down from heaven because the origin of the Church is heavenly. We have been "born from above" (John 3:3) and are now citizens of the Heavenly City (Eph. 2:19; Phil. 3:20).

This thought is expanded in John's further statement. He heard a loud voice from the throne, saying: "Behold, the Tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them" (Rev. 21:3). Like Paul, John connects these two concepts: we are citizens of heaven, and we are God's dwelling place, His holy Temple (Eph. 2:19-22). One of the Edenic blessings God promised in Leviticus was, "I will make My Tabernacle among you" (Lev. 26:11); this is fulfilled in the New Testament Church (2 Cor. 6:16). The voice John heard continued:

"And He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." And He who sits on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." And He said, "Write, for these words are faithful and true." And He said to me, "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost" (Rev. 21:4-6).

Ultimately, this will be fulfilled in heaven to the utmost extent. But we must recognize that it is true already. God has wiped away our tears. The proof of this is the obvious difference between Christian and pagan funerals: we grieve, but not as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). God has taken away the sting of death (1 Cor. 15:55-58). And most striking is the following phrase: "The first things have passed away. . . . Behold, I am making all things new." Where have we read that before? It comes from 2 Corinthians 5:17: "Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." Is this true now? Of course! The only real difference between the subjects of 2 Corinthians 5 and Revelation 21 is that Paul is speaking of the redeemed individual, while John is speaking of the redeemed community. But both the individual and the community are restored to Paradise in salvation, and the restoration has already begun. The water of life feeds us freely now, giving life to the individual and flowing out to give life to the whole world (John 4:14; 7:37-39). "He who overcomes shall inherit these things," God says, "and I will be his God and he shall be My son" (Rev. 21:7); the child of God is characterized by victory against opposition (1 John 5:4). The language used here ("1 will be his God") is the basic covenantal promise of salvation (cf. Gen. 17:7-8; 2 Cor. 6:16-18). The highest fulfillment will take place in heaven for eternity. But, definitively and progressively, it is true now. We are living in the new heaven and the new earth; we are citizens of the New Jerusalem. The old things have passed away, and all things have become new.

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