During my years in Texas, I was amazed by the power of rain to renew the land. We might go for weeks or even months with very little precipitation. The grasses would turn brown. The bushes would be covered with dust. The trees would droop with thirst. The air would feel heavy and sad. Then, a series of thunderstorms would blow through the Texas Hill Country and everything would change. New green grass would sprout up. Bushes and trees were clean and vigorous. The air was fresh and filled with the scent of a world reborn.
So far, we have been prayerfully engaging with John’s vision of the new heaven and new earth as found in Revelation 21. In his vision, the holy city, that is, the new Jerusalem, comes down from heaven. God dwells in the city among human beings and is fully present with them. Moreover, in verse 4 we learn that God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
For the most part, today’s English translations of Scripture do a wonderful job rendering the ancient languages of the Bible into readable English. But translators do not agree on some of the details. For example, when you read Revelation 21:3 in the NIV, you find the phrase, “They will be his people.” The ESV concurs, though adding a footnote: “Some manuscripts peoples.” The NRSV and the CEB prefer the plural, “[T]hey will be his peoples.” So we have a curious inconsistency. In Revelation 21:3, does the voice from the throne say “They will be his people” or “They will be his peoples.”
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we saw that Revelation 21:3 uses camping metaphors to depict God’s dwelling with us in the future. The Greek word translated as “dwelling place” has a basic meaning of “tent.” “Dwell with them” could be more literally translated as “set up camp with them.” Of course, we’re not supposed to think that God will actually pitch a tent when he dwells with us in the age to come. Rather, as he once was present with Israel in the Tabernacle (an actual tent), so God will be truly, gloriously, and fully present with us in the new Jerusalem.
When I was a boy, I loved going camping with my family. We’d jam our car full of all sorts of equipment and head for the mountains. Once we arrived, my dad would set up our tent, a spacious canvas structure with a floor to keep the critters out. Our tent was fairly good sized for a tent, but it had to provide shelter for six people, my parents and three siblings in addition to me. As you can imagine, six people living in a tent for a couple of weeks was quite an adventure. It facilitated family closeness, along with the occasional squabbles that come when people are stepping all over each other (literally!). (Photo: I’m peeking out of my tent while camping with my wife in the mountains of Northern California. Just two of us this time.)
Have you ever felt far away from God? Perhaps your life was going along wonderfully, right according to plan. Then, without warning, everything started to fall apart. You lost your job. Or you were diagnosed with cancer. Or your spouse asked for a divorce. Or . . . you name it. In desperation, you cried out to God, but it felt as if God didn’t hear you or didn’t care if he did hear.
The vision of Revelation 21 tells us that this world matters much more to God than we have been led to believe. And it suggests that how we live in this world also matters much more to God than we have been led to believe.
There’s something in us that loves a garden. Whether it’s a small herb garden in an apartment window, or a neatly manicured English garden, or the wild “garden” of a natural forest, our hearts gravitate to the beauty and vitality of gardens. (The photo shows a flower from a dogwood tree in my garden.)
One of the peculiar features of Revelation 21:1 is the final phrase: “and there was no longer any sea.” If you like taking long walks on the beach, enjoying the crash of the waves and ocean breezes, you may be disappointed by the “sea-less” vision of John. And if you’re a surfer, I expect you are majorly bummed out.
When John reports his vision of “a new heaven and a new earth,” we hear echoes from the past. The first and most obvious echo is of the first creation. The opening line of Scripture reads, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). The new heaven and new earth seen by John are also created by God, along the lines of Genesis 1. As we’ll see, in some ways the new creation is consistent with the first creation and in some ways it is distinct from it.