“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16:11).
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Revelation 21:1–8).
There are four basic approaches to interpreting the book of Revelation. One of them is the futurist, which regards the events predicted as being fulfilled overwhelmingly in our future. The second is the idealist approach, which takes the book as something of a cosmic parable, with no specific earthly fulfillments. The third is the historicist, which takes the fulfillment of the prophecies as an unfolding reality, down through all of church history. The last, and the approach that has been taken throughout this commentary, is the preterist. This comes from the Latin word for past, and means that the prophecies given were fulfilled in the prophet’s future, but in our past—and for the most part overwhelmingly in the first century.
I mention this because we are now in the part of the book where such clean distinctions are hard to maintain. In the previous chapter, we saw the Second Coming (futurist), and in these last two chapters we see a historicist description of all of church history, as the New Jerusalem descends. I would simply encourage everyone to sit loose in the saddle, and to maintain a sense of humor.
We are seeing here the transition between the first heaven and first earth (the Judaic aeon) and the new heaven and new earth (the Christian aeon). I do not take the new heaven and new earth as referring to the post-Second Coming eternal state for various reasons. The first is that the prediction of the new heaven and earth comes from the prophet Isaiah, and he describes it for us.
“For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: And the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. . . . There shall be no more thence an infant of days, Nor an old man that hath not filled his days: For the child shall die an hundred years old; But the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed” (Isaiah 65:17, 20).
What do people do in the new heavens and new earth? Well, among other things, they die. That will not be the case after the Second Coming.
Secondly, Peter talks about Isaiah’s prophecy as something that was right on top of his readers, and Jude apparently interprets him that way also. And when Jude refers to those who “separate themselves,” he has particular faces in mind.
“Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13).
“But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; how that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit.” (Jude 17–19).
So I take the first heavens and earth as the Judaic aeon and the new heavens and earth as the Christian aeon, and these two aeons overlapped—the latter beginning at Pentecost, and the former ending with the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. The destruction of that Temple has been one of the major themes of this book of Revelation.
So the New Jerusalem is the bride of Christ, which is explicitly stated in the next section (v. 9), which means that she is the Christian Church. Church history is the time it takes for this bride to walk down the aisle. By the time she gets to the front of the cathedral, she will be without spot or wrinkle or any other blemish (Eph. 5:27). When she arrives at that final destination, then all sorrow will have been banished, and there will never again be any more tears.
As she is descending out of Heaven, a great voice declares that the tabernacle of God is now with men. The Church is the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and this is how it is possible for God to dwell with men. And this is how it is possible for every form of sorrow to be sponged away.
The process of world evangelization is the process by which God is making all things new, which is the declaration He makes in this passage. The old world order is passing away (1 John 2:17), so that the new order may be established on the firm foundation of the Word of God. For the Christian, all things have become new (2 Cor. 5:17).
It is striking that the one who sits upon the throne here (Christ) says the same thing that He said from the cross. It is finished (John 19:30). When Babylon, the evil city was destroyed, a loud cry from the Temple said that it was “done” (Rev. 16:17). And here, again, it is said that it is “done” (Rev. 21:6).
And so, as Christ’s bride is working through her wedding prep, as she is adorning herself for that great and final day of consummation, she needs to remember that all of church history is nothing but wedding prep. Her bridegroom, the Alpha and Omega, summons her. He is the beginning and the end, the whole point of all history. He promises living water to anyone who thirsts, and shows us His tender care for His people. He promised this to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:10, 14), and later He gives the invitation at a great Jewish festival (John 7:37ff). He speaks the same word here.
The one who overcomes will inherit everything, and this characteristic promise reminds us of how He spoke to the seven churches at the beginning of the vision. And a somber note is also struck, when we are reminded that this is to be a holy bride, and so excluded from her are all vile lovers of vile living. One harlot has already been put away and judged for such things, and so they have no place with the new bride who is preparing herself.