The book of Revelation has reached its climax. After the final judgement in chapter 20, we now see the final outcome of God's work - a new heaven and earth.
John looks back to Genesis 1:1,2 where we first met the heavens and the earth and the dark waters. Their purposes are now over, and they are done away with. (The 'sea' in Jewish thought symbolised all that was unruly and evil, the home of monsters, so the lack of 'sea' in the new creation may not mean there will be no large bodies of water to play in and on!)
The new heavens and earth are a different order of existence. In this new creation there is no suffering, no tears, no death. John sees the 'new Jerusalem' coming down from heaven to earth, like a bride going to her wedding. The new Jerusalem is not simply a collection of buildings. The city stands for the people of God and their new community and homes and organisation and environment. Above all, it is the capital city, the dwelling place of God. The fact that it comes down from heaven shows that it is God's creation, not ours; and the fact that it is the dwelling place of God shows that the distinction between heaven and earth is done away. Later in the chapter John describes the city as a perfect cube - the same shape as the Holy of Holies in the temple. The difference between the Holy of Holies and the new Jerusalem is not simply size; in the former God's people were kept out, whereas in the latter they are included in. God is living with us.
The new creation is a brand new thing. Yet it is also the fulfilment of the work God began at the beginning of time, and has been doing ever since. All the blessings of the new creation can be tasted in the here and now - we can experience life with God, for his Spirit lives in us. We can experience God's comfort. We know what it is like to be God's people. We who belong to Christ already have eternal life. But all this is simply a foretaste. The full reality is yet to come.
John is writing this as an encouragement to be 'overcomers' the obstacles to living as followers of Jesus (v.7). At the moment we may be thirsty; but we will in the future drink from the river of life. We are called to keep going, despite all set-backs. We don't expect that our efforts to build a fairer world will meet with complete success in this life; but as followers of Jesus we still seek to remove suffering and tears as much as we can, we strive to overcome evil in all its forms, and we do not stop just because we see no end to the struggle in this life. St Paul tells us that none of our labour is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58); somehow God is working out his purposes for this world through us, until all is done, the prologue is ended, and the real play can begin.
ISSUES AND QUESTIONS
What makes it hard today to keep going as a Christian? How can John's vision help?
IDEAS FOR MEETINGS
If God were to ask you what one object (not person or pet) you would like him to include in a new creation, what would you say?
Read Psalm 136 (or part of it), and ask each member of the group to write two or three verses in a similar style, following on from verses 1 to 3 and using the same 'chorus'. For example, someone might write:
'To him who gives healing and wholeness,
(His love endures for ever)
Who healed Mrs Jones,
(His love endures for ever)
Who helped Mr Smith find a new job,
(His love endures for ever).
Then let each read out their verses in turn, all joining in the chorus. (It doesn't matter if some of the verses are the same.)