Jesus Wins! – Part 37: City of God

//Jesus Wins! – Part 37: City of God

Jesus Wins! – Part 37: City of God

Genesis 3:6-19

6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” 11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” 12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. 15And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” 16 To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” 17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” [1]

Revelation 21:1-4

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. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” [2]

As we have studied through this letter of Revelation, we have received a panoramic vision of the history of redemption from the coming of Messiah to the end of the age. We have been looking at the final judgment of the devil, his minions, all the earthly powers and institutions, and all those who dwell upon the earth. The presence and power of sin is finally removed. Now God can eternally live with his people face-to-face in the New Jerusalem, the City of God, what we commonly call heaven.

When Adam and Eve were placed in the perfect garden, God dwelled with them and communed with them. Heaven (God’s realm) and earth (man’s realm) were joined together as long as Adam and Eve loved the Lord their God with all their hearts and souls and minds. But when Adam rejected God’s law and substituted his own judgment of what was truly good, sin entered into the perfect garden-temple of Eden. God, being perfect, could no longer live in the presence of sin. Heaven and earth were torn apart. The residue of this separation was tears, death, mourning, crying, and pain. Without God’s abiding presence, even the physical earth deteriorated into a cursed, chaotic state.

The previous 20 chapters have revealed an amazing story through the use of apocalyptic symbols painted with the colors of the Old Testament and set against the backdrop of 1st-century Roman Asia, as the demonically-inspired and empowered Roman Empire waged war upon all those sealed into Christ. The promise to those oppressed believers, and to all who follow after them in a world tortured by the devil and his demons, is seen in these pictures of the great final judgment describing the destruction of the harlot Babylon, the beast of political-military oppression, the false prophet of worldly culture and client-state princes, and the ruler of this present world who orchestrates the tears, death, mourning, crying, and pain.

“Having established a covenant of works with Adam in the Garden of Eden at the very beginning of the redemptive drama, at the end of time God will judge all men and women according to their deeds, whether good or evil. For those who know not Christ, this will be a day of absolute terror, when all of their public and private sins are revealed, and when they hear the final and irreversible verdict of eternal punishment in the lake of fire, along with the devil and all those who have served him.”[3] But for those sealed into Christ, their judgment day took place at Calvary in the old, earthly Jerusalem. Because Christ has born our judgment and shame on the cross, we will hear words of blessing, not condemnation. We will be ushered into the fully-consummated City of God. What will that look like? John is going to spend these last two chapters showing us what the City of God will look like when the presence and power of sin have been banished and heaven rejoins earth.

DIFFERENT KIND

John writes in verse 1, “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.[4] He sees the new because the first heaven and earth passed away. Some teachers believe what John is describing here is merely the same heaven and earth scrubbed clean and minty fresh from sin so that is renewed to its previous glorious state before Adam fall and earth’s curse. They teach John is describing a renovation project, not a tear-down and rebuild project. That is a plausible view. Teachers with varying views on the millennial kingdom believe this. It’s the predominant teaching for those who believe the church will take over the world and usher in a golden age that allows Jesus to return (Postmillennialism). In their view, as the church takes over the entire world sin will be so minimized in the Mosaic-Law-Keeping new world order and the earth itself will begin to transform as more and more law-keepers become environmentally conscious.

However, Peter appears to write that our present earth and sky will end in cataclysmic destruction:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.[5]

What we can say for certain is that the contrasting pairs of “first-second” and “old-new” emphasize a qualitative difference between the earth cursed by Adam’s sin and the new earth cleansed of sin. But the change isn’t merely moral or ethical. John is describing a radically-changed cosmos with fundamental structural differences. There will be no more night (21:5; 22:5) in contrast to the promise of Genesis 8:22, “As long as the earth endures …day and night will never cease.[6] Despite the differences, the new cosmos will be an identifiable counterpart to the old just as the believer’s body will be raised without losing its former identity.[7] The new hardware will be identifiable with the old hardware, only WAY better.

The current heaven and earth belong to this present evil age, which, John says, is even now passing away in anticipation of the glorious new creation depicted here (1 Jn. 2:17; see also: 1 Cor. 7:31; 2 Cor. 3:11). When John speaks of a “new earth,” we tend to hear a “second” earth”, created subsequently to the first one. But in Greek, a new earth is primarily a “different kind” than the present heavens and earth. The present heaven and earth are temporary and destined to perish. But the new heaven and earth belong to the age to come and are eternal. They will never pass away.[8]

The destiny of all the saints under the heavenly altar, those who have died in Christ (and one day you and me) is not a disembodied state where we sit on clouds with angel wings and halos while plucking harps. Nowhere does God’s word tell us human beings become angels when we pass through to heaven. We will spend eternity in resurrected, glorified bodies on a resurrected, glorified earth when Christ returns to consummate all things. Paul taught this in Romans 8:19-23:

The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.[9]

“Paul very clearly describes the new creation being liberated from decay being directly connected to the resurrection of our bodies. All things will be made new, when the curse is removed. This liberation from decay is what John is describing here in Revelation 21-22.”[10]

John is painting a picture of the new using colors of the old from Isaiah 65:17-25:

“Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. 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. 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. …They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. …my chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands. They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord…. Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the Lord. [11]

Isaiah speaks of the new heavens and earth in exaggerated, earthly terms familiar to pre-exilic Israel. What he promises is an age where there is no longer any curse. The ground will yield its harvest without sin’s curse. No sinner will exist to steal the products of our labors. The new earth will be free of death and weeping and wailing. All thoughts of our lives in a sin-cursed world (and the pains of it) will be banished in the New Jerusalem, the City of God. Isaiah cannot be referring to a literal earthly millennial kingdom (as pre and postmillennials believe) “since the conditions portrayed emphasize the absence of every form of visible and invisible threat to the entire redeemed community… (e.g., 21:1, 4, 8, 27; 22:3, 5).”[12]

NO SEA, NO TEARS

We mentioned the new earth and sky has no night. John tells us in verse 1 there is no sea. “…the sea was no more.” The sea more likely has a theological meaning rather than a geographical meaning. As we’ve noted before the sea was a symbol for chaos and rebellion against God. Psalm 74 describes God breaking the heads of “sea monsters” and crushing “Leviathan,” the mythical sea beast representing idolatrous worship and opposition to God. The sea was the great dark unknown from which evil comes. There were no Israelite naval heroes listed in the Old Testament for a reason. Ancient Israel avoided the sea. Satan the red dragon, his beasts, and the harlot are all connected to the sea.[13] The new world will have no chaos, no sin, no sudden troubles. So, says John, there is no sea.

Without the chaos of sin, there will be no more tears, death, crying, or pain in the New Jerusalem, the City of God. To press the point of this utterly new creation, John contrasts it again to the city of man. Babylon was a harlot; she died. But the eternal New Jerusalem is “from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.[14] Throughout the Old Covenant, the prophets spoke of Israel as God’s bride. But here in Revelation, John pictures all those who have looked in trust to Messiah as those who are Heavenly Zion and the bride of the Lamb. This is not what some call “replacement theology” where Gentiles replace Jews, or the church replaces national ethnic Israel. This is “inclusion theology” where ALL those sealed into Messiah (both Jew and Gentile) are included together as the true Israel dwelling with God in his new holy city.

DIVINE INTIMACY

Up to this point, Revelation’s description of the new creation has been mostly by way of telling us what it won’t be like: no more sea, no more sin, no more pain, weeping or sorrow. But sandwiched in between the description and the promises of “no more” is the great positive blessing – the complete fulfillment of the promise of divine intimacy. This is the climax of the entire process where God comes to his people.

John writes, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.[15] The phrase “I heard” is John’s literary formula to let us know that a vision is about to be interpreted. The interpretation highlights the fact that fellowship with God is the consummate blessing for the saints.[16]

Literally, God’s voice promises “the tabernacle of God is with men and he will tabernacle with them.” John had the beginning fulfillment of that promise in mind when he wrote in his gospel account, “The word become flesh and tabernacled among us” (Jn. 1:14). God’s promise, made first to Abraham and then to all his people, now becomes fully realized. These are colors from passages such as Ezekiel 37:27, “My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people. The nations also will know that I, the Lord, sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.[17] Also, Leviticus 26:11-12, “I will set My tabernacle among you, and My soul shall not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people.[18]

This promise is the golden thread woven into the fabric of scripture from beginning to end.[19] If you want to tell your pre-believing friends what the Bible is all about, this is the grand storyline of the universe: God is redeeming a people for himself. The perfect fellowship man enjoyed with God in the garden-temple of Eden was destroyed by Adam’s sin that cursed both man and the physical creation with separation from the Creator, the source of all life. Heaven and earth separated, but not before God promised the Seed of the Woman would come to destroy the idolatry the devil had encouraged.

Throughout the millennia that followed God repeated his promise, “I will be your God. You shall be my people. I will tabernacle with you.” But it wasn’t until Messiah came to tabernacle among his people (Jn. 1:14) and lived the perfect law-keeping life no child of Adam can live (though God demands perfection as the ground for fellowship), and paid sin’s penalty by his substitutionary death upon Calvary’s cross, and rose victorious over the grave, and ascended to the right hand of the Father that God’s promise of divine intimacy truly began to be fulfilled.

This side of the cross, because of Messiah’s perfect life and sacrificial death, Christians enjoy greater intimacy than God’s people in Old Covenant times. Then, only Moses and the priests could enter the tabernacle and see his glory; only the high priest could enter the place God physically dwelt on earth – the Holy of Holies. But now, because of the blood shed by Messiah the Lion-Lamb and the ministry of God the Holy Spirit, God’s glory tabernacles in the hearts of all who trust into the perfect life and sacrificial death of the resurrected and ascended Messiah Jesus (2 Cor. 3:18).[20]

But ALL the saints, all who have looked to Messiah for right standing with God, will one day enjoy greater, perfect, eternal fellowship. Most translations of Revelation 21:3 read, “He will dwell with them, and they will be his people.[21] But the Greek text actually says, “they will be his peoples” (plural). God promised Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” As Abraham’s faith is preached to peoples of every tribe and tongue and nation, peoples are gathered to be God’s unique possession in and through his unique Son.

St Author of Hebrews wrote that Abraham, though he was promised a land, wandered and lived in tents his entire life. Yet, “he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.[22] Here in these 4 verses of Revelation 21, we begin to see the great city that was Abraham’s hope. It is the eternal promised land, the new and true garden-temple, the City of God. The hope Messiah offers is not merely freedom from hell, but perfect eternal fellowship with the Godhead. The light of his glory will shine on the faces of his people.

If you are trusting into Christ this morning, this is your sure and certain hope. You are children of God, coheirs with Christ for eternal glory, and a member of the peoples with whom God will dwell in the fullness of your salvation. If you are hoping in your own virtue and strength this morning, we bid you die to that which is passing away. Trust into Christ alone.

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. [23]

 

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Ge 3:6–19.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 21:1–4.

[3] Kim Riddlebarger, Then I Saw a New Heaven and a New Earth (Rev. 21:1-22). http://kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com/downloadable-sermons-on-the-bo/Then%20I%20Saw%20A%20New%20Heaven%20and%20Earth30%20edited.pdf

 

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 21:1.

[5] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 2 Pe 3:10.

[6] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Ge 8:22.

[7] Beale, 1040.

[8] Riddlebarger, op. cit.

[9] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Ro 8:19–23.

[10] Riddlebarger, op. cit.

[11] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Is 65:17–25. See also: 66:22.

[12] Beale, 1041.

[13] Phillips, 611.

[14] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 21:2.

[15] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 21:3.

[16] Beale, 1046.

[17] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Eze 37:27–28.

[18] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Le 26:11–12.

[19] Phillips, quoting Kistemaker, 616.

[20] Phillips, 616.

[21] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 21:3.

[22] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Heb 11:10.

[23] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 22:17.

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