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The grand story of redemption that unfolds throughout the Scriptures is a story that ends well. Unbelief may choose to regard the promise of the future triumph of the Lamb, as it is represented in the book of Revelation, to be little more than a fairy-tale ending. But for those whose faith is founded on the promises of the gospel, hope for the future—that is, eschatological hope—is securely based on the certain promise that Christ will ultimately triumph. In the language of the book of Revelation, “the Lamb who was slain” is also “the Lion from the tribe of Judah” (Rev. 5:5–6). He alone is worthy to open the seals of the scroll that contains an all-embracing script of the drama of redemption (v. 9). The last act in this drama will take place when Christ comes to usher in the new heaven and the new earth, granting to His people the fullness of their inheritance in the consummation of God’s kingdom.

Nowhere in all of Scripture is the future fulfillment of God’s promises in Christ more richly depicted than in the visions recorded in Revelation 21 and 22. The testimony that the Apostle John provides in these chapters undergirds the eager expectation of all true believers for the coming of Christ at the end of this present age. If true faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1), then it must produce a hopeful longing for the day when what the Apostle John saw in these symbolic visions will be fulfilled.

Though the visions of Revelation 21 and 22 are full of complex symbolism and imagery, three broad themes govern what they promise regarding the fulfillment of God’s redemptive purposes.

a new heaven and a new earth

The first and most obvious theme is that the history of redemption will culminate in nothing less than a “new heaven and a new earth.” In his description of the new heaven and earth in Revelation 21:1–8, the Apostle John draws on the prophecies of Isaiah 65–66: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind” (Isa. 65:17; see also 66:22–23).

The “former things” are all the afflictions that the saints have endured in this life as they await the coming of their King. When Christ comes at the end of this present age, the brokenness and pain that afflict the fallen human race and the whole creation under God’s curse will be expunged forever. In the new order of things, God’s people will shed no more tears. Christ will triumph over all His and their enemies, including “the last enemy,” death itself (1 Cor. 15:26). All the sadness, sorrow, and pain that belong to the present order of things will cease. Absent the presence of sin and its consequences, God’s people will know only unending joy and delight in God’s presence. When John sees the new creation, he describes it as a place where “the sea was no more” (Rev. 21:1). The “sea” in the book of Revelation and elsewhere in Scripture symbolizes the chaos and disruption that marked the former creation under the condition of sin (see Dan. 7:3; Rev. 13:1; 15:2). However, in the new heaven and new earth, God’s reign over all things will be secure. The new world will be a peaceable and righteous kingdom, a place of perfect shalom—peace.

The vision of the new heaven and earth in the book of Revelation raises a question about the extent of the continuity or discontinuity between the “new” and the “former” orders of creation. Will the present created order be utterly destroyed and replaced with a radically new and different order? If this were the case, there would be little or no similarity between the first and the second creation. Or will the new order of things be a renewal and healing of the old order so that significant continuity remains between the present and the future creation?

Though this question is much disputed, the best answer views the new order as a renewal of creation rather than its annihilation. There are several biblical reasons that support this view.

All the sadness, sorrow and pain that belong to the present order of things will cease.

First, the Greek word for “new” in Revelation 21:1 is also used in 2 Peter 3:13. In both instances, it refers to what is new in nature and quality but not new in the sense that it had no prior existence. In the new heaven and earth, God makes all things new, but this does not mean that He makes all new things.

Second, the analogy between the resurrection-renewal of the bodies of believers and the renewal of the creation argues for a measure of continuity. The resurrection of the body does not annihilate the body but “transforms” it into the likeness of Christ’s glorious body (Phil. 3:21). Romans 8:18–25 represents the new creation similarly as the liberation of the present creation from its bondage to decay. This liberation is one for which the whole creation longs, and it coincides with the revelation of the glorified children of God. In 2 Peter 3:13, the new heavens and earth “in which righteousness dwells” comes about through an act of God whereby the created order is refined and purified. Rather than annihilating the creation, God restores, purifies, and perfects the created order.

And third, it is instructive to observe the analogies between the first and new orders of creation that are reflected in the visions of Revelation 21 and 22. Although the original creation ordinances of marriage and family will be altered in the new creation (Matt. 22:30), they nonetheless find their eschatological fulfillment in the marriage between Christ and His church and in the fullness of God’s worldwide family, the church. We are told that the “glory and the honor” of the nations will be brought into the new creation (Rev. 21:26). The dwelling place of God’s people will be a city, the new Jerusalem. This city will be refreshed by “the river of the water of life” that will cause the “tree of life” to flourish on each of its sides, bearing twelve kinds of fruits each month and healing the nations by its leaves (22:1–4). This rich imagery harks back to and evokes features of the first order of creation. “Paradise lost” will become “paradise regained,” although in ways that surpass in glory what was true in the beginning.

the wedding day has arrived

The second theme that runs through the visions of Revelation 21 and 22 is the marriage between Christ, the heavenly Bridegroom or husband, and the church, His blood-bought bride. Immediately after the Apostle John’s vision of the new heaven and new earth, he declares, “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2). Much of the imagery in these visions invites the reader to envision the end of history as the long-anticipated wedding day of the Lamb and His redeemed people. After all the preparations and events that have occurred throughout history to make this day possible, the event for which the heavenly bridegroom has ceaselessly prepared and for which His bride-to-be has eagerly longed finally arrives.

On no wedding day throughout history will there ever be a husband whose love for his wife compares to Christ’s love for His church.

To appreciate this theme, it is important to remember that the book of Revelation—and the whole of Scripture, for that matter—views the history of redemption as a protracted period during which the heavenly Bridegroom is gathering and protecting His bride. The “mother promise” of Genesis 3:15 lies behind the imagery of the book. The “seed of the woman”—Christ and all those whom He purchased with His precious blood—is opposed by the dragon and his minions (the “beasts” of Revelation 13 and 17, the “harlot” Babylon or the false church, the false prophet). The closing visions of Revelation provide a striking picture of what will occur at the end of this history: all whose names are written in “the Lamb’s book of life” will finally be gathered to Christ (Rev. 21:27). The heavenly Son of Man will triumph in the day when He receives His bride, beautifully adorned and dressed in white apparel. The bride of the Lamb will celebrate her husband, who gave His life for her and jealously protected her for Himself throughout a long season of preparation and trial. On no wedding day throughout history will there ever be a husband whose love for his wife compares to Christ’s love for His church. Nor will there ever be a wife who has marveled in the presence of her husband as will the church in the day of Christ’s coming.

a new creation temple

The third theme woven throughout the visions of Revelation 21 and 22 is that the bride of Christ will dwell with Him in the presence of the throne of God in a new creation temple. John’s vision of the bride of Christ, the new Jerusalem, is saturated with temple symbolism. John doesn’t simply see a bride adorned for her husband; he also sees the home where Christ and His bride will live together.

All who have witnessed a wedding know that it marks the commencement of life together on the part of husband and wife. They also know that this life together requires a home in which to dwell together in intimate communion. After all, even in an earthly marriage, there is a familiar custom: the bridegroom carries his bride across the threshold into their new home. If this is true for an earthly couple, how much more is it true for the heavenly Bridegroom and His beautifully adorned bride, the church?

In the visions of Revelation 21 and 22, there are numerous allusions to the original garden sanctuary, Eden, to the Old Testament temple, and to the promises in Ezekiel regarding an eschatological temple (chs. 40–48). However, the temple sanctuary that John sees in these visions surpasses anything seen before. The whole of the new creation is filled with the glory-presence of God and of the Lamb. All who dwell in the new creation temple live in the immediate presence of God. No one lives “east of Eden” (Rev. 22:3–5). The prophecy of Zechariah finds fulfillment: even the “bells of the horses” and the “pots in the house of the LORD” will be inscribed with the words “holy to the LORD(Zech. 14:20).

the bride’s prayers

When the bride of Christ lives out of an eschatological hope that looks forward to the new heaven and earth, to her long-awaited wedding day, and to her home in a new creation temple, she prays. Strikingly, this is where the book of Revelation ends. In Revelation 22, we find two distinct prayers of Christ’s bride.

The first prayer is recorded in Revelation 22:17: “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.” In this penultimate prayer, the bride of Christ prays that all those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life but who have not yet received from Him “water of life without payment” (Rev. 21:6; see also Isa. 55:1) would come and join His bride as she awaits His coming.

However, the first prayer of the bride of Christ is not her ultimate prayer. The prayer of the church in this present age focuses finally on her hopeful expectancy for the coming of Christ. That prayer is short, born out of a living hope: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).

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