Rev. 21:5 – Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new.” He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.” 6 And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give water as a gift to the thirsty from the spring of life.” (HCSB)
Making everything new
In verses 5-6 John writes, “Then the One seated on the throne said, ‘Look! I am making everything new.’ He also said, ‘Write, because these words are faithful and true.’ And He said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give water as a gift to the thirsty from the spring of life.’
In the creation, God makes everything out of nothing (ex nihilo) and declares all He has made to be good. Sinless perfection is the norm until Adam and Eve fall into sin, bringing death upon themselves and entropy upon the created order. From the garden, however, God provides atonement through a substitutionary sacrifice and a promise that the “seed” of Eve will crush Satan’s head and set things right.
We get glimpses of the world set right throughout scripture. Yahweh defeats the false gods of the Egyptians and parts the Red Sea for His people. A widow finds an abundance of oil and flour after she offers the last of her supply to the prophet Elijah. A leper is healed after bathing in the Jordan River. An army of 185,000 Assyrians is struck dead in a single night. And the prophets of old share inspiring predictions of a world restored, where the lion and the lamb lie down together while the child plays over the cobra’s den.
Rev. 21:1 – Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea no longer existed. (HCSB)
The sea no longer existed
It’s curious that John notes there is no longer any sea (Rev. 21:1). Why is this?
John may be saying that just as the old heaven and earth have passed away, so has the old sea, which covers most of our planet. Many of God’s creatures reside in the sea or rely on it for life. So why wouldn’t Jesus renovate these huge bodies of water and their inhabitants? Some commentators take John’s words to mean the oceans are done away with, not fresh bodies of water.
Still others take this symbolically as representing the nations and peoples of the Gentiles. Only spiritual Israel – that is, true Israel consisting of Old and New Covenant saints – remains, while unbelievers are cast out, allowing the glory of the Lord to fill the earth: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord’s glory, as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).
A.R. Fausset and D. Brown offer this perspective: “The sea is the type of perpetual unrest. Hence our Lord rebukes it as an unruly hostile troubler of His people. It symbolized the political tumults out of which ‘the beast’ arose, Rev 13:1. As the physical corresponds to the spiritual and moral world, so the absence of sea, after the metamorphosis of the earth by fire, answers to the unruffled state of solid peace which shall then prevail…. The sea was once the element of the world’s destruction, and is still the source of death to thousands, whence after the millennium, at the general judgment, it is specially said, ‘The sea gave up the dead … in it.’ Then it shall cease to destroy, or disturb, being removed altogether on account of its past destructions” (Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, Rev. 21:1, Logos Research Systems).
Rev. 14:13 – Then I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write: The dead who die in the Lord from now on are blessed.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “let them rest from their labors, for their works follow them!” (HCSB)
The dead who die in the Lord
This section ends with a voice from heaven saying, “Write: The dead who die in the Lord from now on are blessed.” This is followed by the Holy Spirit, who speaks, “Yes, let them rest from their labor, for their works follow them!”
Certainly, those who “die in the Lord” are blessed. Their names have been written in the Lamb’s book of life. The angels have rejoiced at their entrance into the kingdom. Jesus has gone to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house and will return to resurrect and glorify them. They will live forever with Jesus in the new heavens and new earth. Meanwhile, at the moment of death, they are absent from the body and present with the Lord. And they will be wherever Jesus is forever and ever. These are blessings for which every believer may rejoice for they are gifts of God’s grace, secured through the finished work of His Son.
But what does the phrase “from now on” mean? It cannot mean that those who previously have died in the Lord are lesser citizens of the kingdom or are denied the full benefits of eternal life. Nor can it mean that God withholds His promises from particular saints just because they lived in a different chapter of human history. Rather, the voice from heaven seems to be assuring those who remain faithful to the Lord during a time of extreme persecution that in death they are spared further suffering. Even more important, they are reminded that “their works follow them,” meaning they will be richly compensated in eternity for what they willingly sacrificed in time.
If you believe doomsayers or John Cusack movies, the world will end Dec. 21. That’s the date of the so-called Mayan Apocalypse, when an important cycle of the Maya Long Count Calendar draws to a close.
Not to worry. End-of-days predictions have made and broken pundits and self-proclaimed prophets for millennia. Not to be outdone by religious fanaticism, contemporary culture embraces the drama of a cataclysmic end to the world.
For example, in the 1979 film “Mad Max,” a shortage of fossil fuels drives the breakdown of society, prompting leather-clad motorcyclists to terrorize anyone with a full tank of petrol.
In “Planet of the Apes,” astronaut George Taylor discovers he has traveled through space and time, returning to an earth where humans are mute and loud-mouthed armor-wearing apes are in charge.
Rev. 8:8 – The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain ablaze with fire was hurled into the sea. So a third of the sea became blood, 9a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed (HCSB).
The second trumpet
This is the second of four trumpet judgments that affect natural objects, in this case the sea and the creatures who swim in it or sail upon it. The final three trumpet judgments, as we learned in the last lesson, affect men’s lives with pain, death and hell.
In this second trumpet judgment, John sees something that appears to him as a great blazing mountain plummeting into the sea, resulting in a third of the sea becoming blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea dying, and a third of the ships navigating its waters being destroyed.
Is John’s vision to be taken literally? What is this great blazing mountain? Is the sea a reference to all salty bodies of water around the world, or perhaps simply a reference to the Mediterranean Sea – or something else entirely? What are we to make of the fractional reference to “a third,” which we encountered in the first trumpet judgment? Let’s look more closely.
The second angel blew his trumpet
As a reminder, the “trumpet” each angel blows in this series of judgments is the shofar, or ram’s horn, and has special significance for Israel (see The first trumpet for more details). In this case, the sound of the shofar announces the commencement of judgment. This is an important detail that should not be overlooked.
While the Day of the Lord will come “like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2) and Jesus warns His followers to be ready at all times for the unknown day of His return (Matt. 25:13), the judgments God sends upon the world’s wicked are announced in advance. We are not told how much time elapses between the sounding of the shofar and the arrival of these torments, any more than we can say with certainty how much time we have to run for cover after a tornado siren blasts a warning. But it appears that God communicates to mankind through the angels that His mercy is drawing to a close and His hammer is about to fall. Perhaps in these final moments some will repent, although John’s record seems to indicate that the wicked prefer blasphemy to humility in the face of judgment (Rev. (9:21, 16:9b, 21b).
Something like a great mountain ablaze with fire
What is it that John sees? He writes that “something like a great mountain ablaze with fire was hurled into the sea.” He doesn’t say “a great mountain,” but “something like a great mountain,” which could mean this is a hidden symbol for his first-century readers or an attempt to describe something he has never seen before – a glimpse, perhaps, into the distant future.
Commentators offer many perspectives:
- Some say this mountain is Satan, lifted up like a mountain in his pride, and burning with hatred for God and his people, who is cast down into the sea of humanity, where he does much harm.
- Others say this is a heresy that does much damage to the church – the Macedonian heresy, perhaps, leveled against the deity of the Holy Spirit, or the Arian heresy against the deity of Christ. Each of these divine persons is one-third of the triune Godhead, so John’s reference to the mountain causing damage to “a third” of the sea finds its significance here.
- Still others argue that it’s best to understand this imagery in terms of the invasion of the Roman Empire by the Goths and Vandals. Rome is fitly represented as a great mountain, as kingdoms and cities sometimes are in scripture. The “sea” in this case represents the people throughout the Roman Empire who suffer as a result of the invaders’ brutal advance on Rome. Over the course of 137 years, beginning in 410 A.D., the Goths and Vandals sack Rome five times and reportedly one-third of the people are killed.
- W.A. Criswell writes that a modern-day fulfillment could be communism, which finds its foothold among restless people. Rather than producing liberation, it brings captivity, hardship, economic depression, despair and death.
- Futurists like Hal Lindsay see this blazing mountain as John’s attempt to describe nuclear warheads.
- Others interpret these verses literally. “The mountain is probably best understood as being a literal large body that fell from heaven. Since the results are literal, it is reasonable to take the judgments as literal also” (J.F. Walvoord, R.B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Rev. 8:8–9).
Whatever the proper interpretation, it’s clear that this judgment impacts many people. Satan is thought by some commentators to have taken one-third of the angelic host with him in his rebellion. Heresies that undermine any of the persons of the Triune Godhead impact the church and its ability to carry the gospel to the world. Wars involving world powers like Rome generate tremendous violence and upheaval. Worldviews that deny the reality of a Creator and Judge, like communism, result in spiritual, political and economic imprisonment. And modern technology has made it possible for a single nation to wreak havoc on much of the world.
Perhaps, as we’ve addressed in previous lessons, these verses are fulfilled in John’s day, and later in church history, and finally in the last days. Jerusalem falls in 70 A.D. and with it, formal Judaism comes to a close. The Roman Empire falls a few centuries later. Heresies do great damage to the church. Warfare causes great loss of life and damage to property and the environment. And in the last days, according to futurists, the Antichrist will lead nearly the whole world astray. In every case there is a common denominator: sin. Mankind’s rebellion against God manifests itself in political leaders who deify themselves; in church leaders who trump scripture with manmade traditions or, worse, heresies; in philosophers who rail against the idea of God and His absolute truths; and in ordinary people who prefer the praise of men to the praise of God.
Maybe we would do well not to agonize over what each symbol in Revelation means, but to look within ourselves at our fallen state and to grasp the only hope we have: Jesus. Ultimately, it will take the destruction of the entire world to purge it of sin and its consequences and to make way for new heavens and a new earth (see 2 Peter 3: 10-13).
Next: Hurled into the sea (Rev. 8:8-9)