Sermon Commentary for Sunday, May 15, 2022

Revelation 21:1-6 Commentary

While we sometimes say, “The devil is in the details,” we might say part of this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson’s “gospel is in the details.” After all, some of Revelation 21’s greatest news lies in its verb tenses.

In it, the Spirit inspires John to see “a new heaven and a new earth” (1). This is, of course, creation language that echoes Genesis 1’s creational language. God created the “first” heavens and the earth to be “good” in “the beginning.” Humanity, however, willingly partnered with Satan, sin, and death to spoil and plunder God’s good creation. In Revelation 21 the Spirit shows John a new creation where God will fully restore that good work.

The apostle Paul adopts and adapts similar creational imagery in his description of God’s adopted sons and daughters. “If anyone is in Christ,” he writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” The Holy Spirit replaces the old creation that humanity willingly handed over to the evil one and his thugs with the new creation that is people whom God has re-created for a life of faithful obedience.

This Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson’s new creation language largely points ahead. Many of its verbs are in the future tense. Verses 3-4 alone contain 5 uses of the verb “will.” What’s more, even many of its past tense verbs point to the future. So, for example, when John reports “the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (1), he’s looking to the future. After all, when he sees that, that first earth and heaven are still alive and relatively well.

But John makes a subtle shift in verb tenses when he reports that the One who sits on the heavenly throne, in verse 5, is “making (italics added) everything new.” As a result, Revelation 7’s preachers and teachers might build their proclamation of it around what the victorious Christ is trying to tell John about what God is already doing when the apostle sees this startling vision.

How, in fact, might Revelation 21’s vision of the future actually reflect what God is currently “making new”? And how might the Holy Spirit use John’s glorious vision to help shape the lives of God’s dearly beloved people in response to that gracious work?

It’s worth noting and perhaps exploring that much of what John sees of the new creation is marked by absence. In other words, the new earth and heaven will be nearly as notable for what God will banish from it as for what God will include in it. The new earth and heaven will be striking in what can’t be seen there as what will be seen there.

There is, for example, in the new creation no more sea (1). There are no more “tears,” as well as death, mourning, crying, and pain (4). In fact, there is, in the new creation, no more “old order of things,” because it has “passed away” (4).

Into that “vacuum,” as it were, step the things that make the new creation so glorious. A new heaven and new earth (1). “The Holy City, the new Jerusalem … prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (2). The dwelling of God with God’s people to be their God (3).

While there is some disagreement among biblical scholars as to what the banished “sea” represents, most suggest that it symbolizes the chaos that threatens so much of the first heaven and earth and their creatures. N.T. Wright (Revelation, Westminster John Knox Press, 2011) suggests that “the sea” serves as a reminder of evil’s power that now covers nearly as much of the creation as the sea does. Evil’s power ranges from the biggest stages, such as in Ukraine, to the smallest stages that include children who are bullied.

Of course, the threat that is that “sea” won’t be fully “drained” until Jesus returns to usher in the new creation. Yet those whom God has graced with the eyes of faith see places where Jesus Christ’s friends are already helping “dry up” some of the evil power that the sea represents. In violent places, Christians are working for peace with justice and reconciliation. In places that alienation characterizes, Christians are being reconciled to, praying for, and forgiving their enemies.

In the new earth and heaven “the dwelling of God” will be with people. There “God himself will be with them and be their God” (3). Of course, Jesus’ name “Immanuel” means that God, in and through Christ, made God’s home among God’s dearly beloved people. Now the Scriptures even refer to Christians as God’s “temples” in which God graciously dwells by God’s Spirit.

God won’t be fully recognized as dwelling among us until God inaugurates the new earth and heaven. Yet the God who is already present in and with God’s people compels those to whom God is present to bring God’s presence to those who sense God is absent. Jesus Christ’s friends come alongside people who include students who are at risk, neighbors who are hungry and people who are lonely. In doing so, we seek to bring them the hope and comfort that God’s presence with them offers.

The death that God promises to banish from the new creation remains what Paul calls “the last enemy.” However, Jesus’ death and resurrection has changed the meaning of death for God’s dearly beloved people. Death for Christians, while still often painful and sad, is a passage from life to Life. What’s more, God is already graciously raising spiritually dead people from rebellion against God’s good and loving purposes to a new life of faithful obedience.

But God is also graciously already doing battle with the last enemy that is death. God sends God’s adopted children into every corner of a dying world with the saving, life-giving good news of eternal life. When the Spirit sends Christians to come alongside those who mourn death’s affects, mourners glimpse Life. When Christians gently help to dry mourners’ tears, we point them to the Life that God offers in the face of death.

Of course, “it” (cf. 6) is not yet “done.” Christians can be honest with ourselves and each other about how much work we sense that God still has to do. The “old order of things” has not yet “passed away” (4). People still suffer, weep, mourn and die. But none of those things will get the last word. Revelation 21 insists that God gets the last word. And that word is life.

God is, after all, “the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End” (6). The biblical scholar Edwin Walhout (Revelation Down to Earth, Eerdmans, 2001) writes about that, “God was there at the beginning when he created the world – he is the Alpha. God is there now at the end of the process – he is the Omega.

“’The Beginning and the End’ is not merely another name for God; it is a philosophical description of the origin and destiny of human life. We originated with God, and we are destined to culminate in God. And the process of human history is the process whereby we move from one to the other.”


Jack is the twelve year-old the narrator of Gary Schmidt’s powerful book, Orbiting Jupiter. When not attending school, he spends a lot of time working with his foster brother Joseph for and with his dad on their family farm. He has a particular warm spot in his heart for their family cow, Quintus Sertorius.

Jack tells of a day on the farm when “The sun was out and the sky too bright a blue to look at as the snow melted off the yews and came clumping down. The cows were as restless as spring, thinking there might be new grass out in the fields, even though the snow was still pretty deep.

“And Quintus Sertorius would not stay in his stall. So after school Joseph and I took him out of the paddock to let him walk around … Quintus Sertorius snorted and snickered and swished his tail high and did everything he could to tell us how happy he was that spring was coming, even though it was still a long way off.”

Looking at and experiencing of all that, Jack muses, “Sometimes it’s like that. You know something good is coming, and even though it’s not there yet, still, just knowing it’s coming (italics added) is enough to make you snort and nicker. Sort of.”


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