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Chapter 21: A New Heaven and a new Earth

One of the deepest human longings is for a new beginning, a fresh start. We get frustrated by our limits. One of the deepest human sadness is at the way evil and failure are woven so deeply into all of human life. This chapter of Revelation addresses both those human questions. In a powerful vision, we hear of a "new heaven and a new earth," a place where God "will make his home among his people" and where there will be "no more death, suffering, crying, or pain."

What do you think will be the ultimate fate of the world? Some might say "destruction and death," some might talk about entropy increasing and everything running down. Did you know that Bible says that God will bring a new beginning to the earth? Did you know this how the New Testament ends?

Why is this chapter called great? For most of the Bible, salvation is about humans and the subject is human relationship to God. But here, the Bible expands our vision to consider the fate of the world as well.

Section 1: 1-8: The New Heaven and the New Earth

As you read this section, these notes may be helpful to you:

  • Verse 1. The new heaven and earth are a new act of creation from God. This is different from God purging or reforming the existing creation. The same language is used in Isaiah 65:17 (For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.) and 66:22 (For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, says the LORD; so shall your descendants and your name remain.) and in 2 Peter 3:10-13.
  • Verse 2. Old Testament prophecies had included the vision of Jerusalem being the center of a peaceable earth. See Isaiah 54.11-17 and 60.1-3. But in Revelation, Jerusalem is not currently a place where Godís blessing resides (see 11.8), so a new Jerusalem is needed. Some read this as a present sign (they are building the new Jerusalem now; radical political change should begin now); others read this as a sign for the future (God will interviene in history in a dramatic way.)
  • Verse 3. God will have a different, more intimate, relationship with the people in this new earth. An Old Testament passage that looked forward to this is Ezekiel 37.26-27 ( I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary among them forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. ). The same thought is amplified in the next chapter of Revelation at 22.3-5 and can be found in Leviticus 26:10-11.
  • Verse 4. There will be no more evil in this kingdom because God will rule it directly, a change from the way God rules the current creation.
  • Verse 5. This is second and last time that God speaks in Revelation. The other place was at 1.8. Isaiah 43.18-19 and 2 Corinthians 5.17 also use this language to describe Godís work.
  • Verse 6: the fountain. Water is a powerful symbol of life. This is even more so for people who live in the Middle East because much of it is a desert. A fountain of life-giving water was in the garden of Eden (Genesis 2.10) and in Revelation 2.7 there is reference to a "life-giving tree in Godís wonderful garden", another reference to the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2.9). Notice how Revelation 7.17 and 22.1-2 also use this theme.
  • Verse 6: "Alpha and Omega." Alpha (our letter A) is the first letter of the Greek alphabet. Omega ("Big O", closer to our W) is the last letter of the Greek alphabet. This is a way of saying the beginning and the end, first to last, start to finish. Just as Jesus was there at the beginning (John 1.1) so Jesus is there at the end. Also see Revelation 1.8.
  • Verse 7: "win the victory." Winning the victory isnít necessarily mean going out to fight and win a battle by human efforts. Earlier in Revelation at 2.6-7, 3.5, 3.11-12 and 7.14 those who persist in staying faithful to God are described as "winning the victory." Those who resist temptation are victorious. Your translation may say "conquer" or "overcome."
  • Verse 8: the judgment. The lake of fire was also mentioned in Revelation 19.20, 20.10 and 20-14-15. Your translation may use the words sulfur or brimstone to describe the lake.


Section 2: 9-27: The New Jerusalem

This section focuses on the new city. In doing so, some of the themes and ideas from the previous section are amplified and drawn out.

While the details of the construction of this new city are interesting, also think about the meaning and symbolism of those features.

Here are some notes on this section.

  • Verse 9: the seven angels. They first were described in Revelation 8.2. In Revelation 15.6-7 these seven (or another seven) are given seven gold bowls filled with the anger of God. In Revelation 16 these bowls are emptied over the earth, bringing the seven last troubles. One of these seven has spoken to John before (17.1). Seven as a number for completeness or perfection appears often in Revelation.
  • Verse 9: the lamb. The lamb is Jesus. See Revelation 5.6-6.1, 7.10-8.1 and 14.1-4. The bride of the lamb (Revelation 19.7-9) is the community of believers.
  • The meaning of numbers.Revelation uses many different numbers: 7, 12, 144, 666 and 144,000, for example. Rather than conveying exact physical dimensions these numbers have a symbolic meaning. In this passage we see 12 being used. If your translation says something about 216 feet for the walls, that is actually 144 cubits. 144 is 12 times 12. There are 12 gates to this city. The dimensions of the cube (15,000 miles) are actually 12,000 stadia.

    The constant use of 12 can mean continuity with the story of God. Remember that there were 12 tribes of Israel and that Jesus had 12 disciples. The writer of Revelation wants you to understand that this new city is consistent with Godís previous works
  • Squares and cubes. Perfection can be implied by putting special numbers together in combination. So the use of 144 (12 x 12) makes the "twelve-ness" even more special. The cube is a perfect shape.
  • The walls. The walls arenít there to make this city a fortress. Ancient cities were defined by their walls, usually the biggest structure of the city. At the city gates were gathering spots for trade and debate. In this city, the gates are always open, in contrast to real ancient cities where the gates were shut at night for security. In those cities, if you showed up after dark, you were out of luck. This city is open at all times.
  • Verse 18: the stones. These are all precious stones. Some see the 12 stones as evoking the breastplate of the high priest. In Exodus 28 are instructions to place precious stones on this garment. Since the Old Testament is in Hebrew, and the New Testament is in Greek, it is hard to be sure that in this chapter the same 12 stones are used, but it appears so. As this new city has no priests or temple, it is interesting that the walls might be a sort of "garment" for the holy city.

    The stones could also mean something else. In religions that used the Zodiac, precious stones were associated with the 12 signs. These 12 stones in Revelation are the same as those of the Zodiac, and they are in the reverse order of the signs of the zodiac. What this might mean is less clear.
  • Verse 22-23: no darkness. Darkness in a time with no artificial light is really dark and confusing, providing cover for nefarious activities. No darkness in this city means no place for evil.
  • Verse 22: no temple. There is no need to build a building to represent Godís residence because God is directly available.

Here are some questions to think about now that you have read this chapter.

  • What surprised you the most about this chapter?
  • What would have to change in human life if God was to rule the world directly?
  • Can you translate this description to language that we might use in the 20th century? Try thinking about symbolism that speaks to our culture.
If you liked this chapter

If you liked this chapter and are curious, weíd suggest you read the next, and very last chapter of Revelation, chapter 22, where the vision of the new heaven and new earth are completed.

You can also go back and read the rest of Revelation. Look at section "About the book of Revelation" for some orientation to the book

Revelation builds on promises of the Old Testament. You might want to read Isaiah 65, starting at verse 17 and continuing to the end of the book. Notice that the phrase "new heavens and new earth" appears at the beginning and at 66.22.

Another Old Testament source of images for Revelation can be found in Ezekiel 40 through 48.

Jesus spoke about the end of time. Matthew 24 and 25 are an extended speech on this subject. Notice how the chapters build towards the climactic story that starts at 25.31. You may want to read this last story first, and then go back and read all of 24 and 25.

Other "Great Chapters of the New Testament" can be found here.

Last updated 3/22/07; first posted 12/11/00; original content © 2007, 2000 John P. Nordin