This is the ninth in a series of articles on biblical terms that describe the afterlife and the unseen realm.
In the previous column we saw how Scripture describes heaven as the intermediate state between death and resurrection for followers of Jesus as they await future resurrection and glorification. Now, we look in more detail at heaven as well as the new heavens and new earth.
What about heaven?
The New Testament reveals many truths about this intermediate state for followers of Jesus. Here are 12:
(1) The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit reside in heaven, yet they have immediate access to earth (Matt. 3:16-17).
(2) God’s will is done completely in heaven – and one day will be done on earth (Matt. 6:9-10).
(3) Angels surround the throne in heaven (Matt. 18:10), as do majestic heavenly creatures and redeemed people (Revelation 4-5).
(4) The heavenly throne is the heart of God’s authority and majesty (Mark 16:19).
(5) Heaven is the place from which Satan fell and has no future part (Luke 10:18; Rev. 20:10).
(6) Heaven is where believers’ names are written down, providing assurance of everlasting life (Luke 10:20; Heb. 12:23).
There are at least seven promises given to us in Revelation 22 that confirm Jesus’ victory over Satan, sin and death. These promises also assure us that all the effects of the Fall are reversed in Christ’s finished work and the salvation He has provided for us by grace through faith.
In the previous post, we looked at promises 1-4. We conclude our brief survey now.
Promise No. 5: Light (v. 5)
Before creation there was darkness (Gen. 1:2), but God, who is light, brought light into the universe. Just as darkness is the absence of light, so evil is depicted in Scripture as darkness because it is an absence – perhaps more accurately, a shunning – of God’s holy presence. Eternal separation from God is called “outer darkness” (Matt. 8:12).
While Jesus suffered the wrath of God for the sins of the world there was darkness over the whole land (Mark 15:33). Unbelievers love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil (John 3:19). Jesus came to deliver us from darkness (John 12:46). Darkness is associated with Satan and his kingdom (Acts 26:18; Rom. 13:12; Col. 1:13).
But in the New Jerusalem there is abundant light; in fact, there is no need of the sun, moon or stars, or of any artificial light, because God provides light for us. Why is this light promised to us? Because Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12).
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.