Exploring the original Greek of Revelation 21, Pastor Rigdon shows us Christ’s words on the new heaven and the new earth promised to us in the last days.
Setting the Scene
Exiled on the isle of Patmos, the apostle John received this revelation from Jesus Christ roughly sixty years after our Lord’s ascension. At the beginning of the book, John records seven letters given to seven churches, followed by visions of seals, trumpets, and bowls of wrath. In visionary scope, the reality of Christ’s victory unfolds through the rest of Revelation. In chapter 20, shortly before this month’s passage, we read, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” In the wake of these events, John now describes the experience of paradise restored because of Christ and His work.
The Reading from Revelation
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also He said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be My son. (Revelation 21:1–7)
Mining the Gems: The New
Verse 1 reads, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” The Greek for “had passed away,” ἀπῆλθαν, is an aorist verb, past tense, implying an instant of passing, rather than passing over a period. The same sense is conveyed with the Greek οὐκ ἔστιν ἔτι, “was no more,” referring to the sea. The first world had passed on; the new world comes forth in John’s vision. Tied to this idea of newness are Jesus’ own references to the new order of things after His earthly ministry. You’ll find this in Luke 22:20 at the institution of the Lord’s Supper (“and likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood’ ”), in John 13:34 (“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another”), and in Jesus’ imagery of wine and wineskins (“But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins”) in Luke 5:38.
Christ Covers His Bride and Dwells with the Church
In verse 2, the imagery of a bride recalls Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:27 where he describes the relationship between husband and wife. “So that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” Usually, a bride dresses herself in a wedding dress, jewelry, and other beautiful things. Christ dresses His bride, the Church, with His life of perfect obedience and His own shed blood.
The Greek word σκηνὴ, “the dwelling place,” in verse 3 can also be translated “tabernacle.” Recall that God made His tabernacle with Israel following the exodus from Egypt. In that Most Holy Place, God allowed the high priest to approach Him once each year. Now things are new. God dwells with His people in the Son, Jesus Christ. While we anticipate a perfect union with God in heaven, He dwells with us now through Holy Scripture, Holy Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper.
Christ Stays Our Tears and Quenches Thirst
The imagery of thirst and quenching water in verse 6 from our passage draws the reader’s mind to Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well in John 4:10. “Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give Me a drink,” you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.’ ” Water from the earth will only satisfy briefly. Jesus quenches our thirst for righteousness for all time.
In verse 4, we learn that there can be no more tears or sorrow. The cause of such misery is gone. Jesus conveyed His victory over death to the family and friends of Lazarus, the widow at Nain, and those to whom He appeared following His resurrection. He comforts us now with the same certainty of the resurrection.
Learn more with the Concordia Commentary on Revelation!