Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 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 water without cost from the spring of the ater of life.
If you had to choose an animal that best resembles you or that you would want to be, which animal would you choose? I imagine that there might be a few tigers or bears or maybe something like a swan or an eagle. By a show of hands, how many of you said “caterpillar?” None? That’s what I thought. Caterpillars are fuzzy little creatures with a bunch of legs that crawl around on the ground or in trees or bushes eating greens. Some can be quite colorful, but they are soft and squishy and certain varieties can be poisonous. I’m not surprised that no one chose to be a caterpillar.
Eventually, though, caterpillars form a cocoon and emerge as butterflies, some of them quite beautiful. It’s almost as if the caterpillar puts up with its initial existence, enjoying what it can as it goes through life, but waiting for the day when it can break out of its cocoon and fly away.
Isn’t that really a pretty good representation of our own lives? We live on earth, enjoying what we can along the way, but waiting for the day when we burst out of our graves in glorified bodies to begin our eternal lives in heaven.
John describes the transformation that will take place for God’s people on Judgment Day. We aren’t there yet, but John assures us that we are on the way there. The earthly blessings and joys that God gives us make us eager for the perfect life that God promises to us. Today’s revelation from John encourages us to….
“Keep Your Eyes on the Prize”
I. A new home
II. A new relationship
John wrote, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.” Sometimes we picture heaven as being earth without all of the problems. We have an idea of what we want it to be, what we would consider the perfect place to live. What John saw went far beyond our wildest imaginations, so he tried to describe it in terms that we would understand. He called it “…a new heaven and a new earth.” What he saw was impossible to fully describe to people who have never seen it.
If you had to describe a caterpillar changing into a beautiful butterfly to someone who had never seen it happen before, you might understand John’s dilemma. John put it this way, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” John was not trying to paint an exact picture of what he saw in his revelation from God. Life on earth, no matter how good it may be, always falls short of perfect. Each day when we get up we try to clean up as best as we can. We comb our hair and brush our teeth and do what we can to look our best. It’s acceptable, but far from perfect.
A bride on her wedding day is quite different. Hair, makeup, and dress are all carefully tended to. Brides often spend hours getting ready for their big moment. John saw the glorious version of God’s people and described them this way, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”
God’s people, perfectly dressed in the robe of Jesus’ righteousness, live forever in the perfection that they are given by God. As the “bride” of Jesus, God’s people will live in God’s “new heaven and a new earth” where John said that “there was no longer any sea.” The sea at the time of John was regarded as a source of danger and separation. Travel by sea was often unpredictable and difficult. Our new life in the “new heaven” will not be. Perfect peace and harmony will rule the day under the care of our Lord. The absence of a “sea” pictures a life without any turbulence, without any waves to threaten or harm us.
Caterpillars can’t begin to imagine what their new lives as butterflies will be like. They cannot fully understand what it will be like to glide on the soft breezes. Nor can we truly understand what life will be like for us in heaven. Without faith, without the promises of God shared in the revelation given to John, we wouldn’t have much to look forward to. One day would melt into the next leading to a seemingly endless series of challenges with the occasional success and joy mixed in along with the nagging failures and sorrows.
Under those conditions, we would likely join the masses who view life for what it seems to be, a caterpillar chewing on grass and trying not to get stepped on. We recognize the attitude of the person who doesn’t live under God’s promises, but only sees the rewards and joys that this life can offer to them. An “eat, drink, and be merry” approach to life would determine our actions and shape our behaviors. We would likely buy into the mindset that we should “do our own thing” as long as it makes us happy. Self would become king and personal satisfaction would become our goal.
Life in the “new heaven and new earth” will be quite different than what we know today. Living under the perfect conditions provided by our loving God, we won’t feel the need to “get the most out of life.” The new heaven and new earth will offer us all of the glory without any of the failures, all of the joys without any sorrows.
We can look forward to the butterflies that we will become because our lives will be governed by our new relationship with our heavenly Father.
II. A new relationship
John wrote, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” Adam and Eve experienced a blessing that no one on earth has ever experienced since. They lived for a while in perfect harmony with God. Genesis tells us that God would walk with them in the evenings while they lived in the perfect world that he had given to them.
Sin took that blessing away. It ruined the perfect relationship between God and man. God is perfect and demands that we be perfect too. But we are not. We, as Martin Luther said, “Daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment.” Our sins “separate us from God” (Is. 59:2). That separation is more than just distance. Sin threatens our relationship with God and the blessings that only he can give to us. Sin can remove us from the family of God and our eternal future in his kingdom. To have a perfect relationship with God, sin must be removed.
That happened when Jesus paid for our sins on the cross. When Jesus cried out, “It is finished,” (Jn. 19:30) He meant that all had been done to restore our perfect relationship with God. We enjoy his presence every day of our earthly lives, through good times and bad, through successes and failures. God is with us here on earth and will be with us forever in heaven.
That is what John saw in his vision. “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.” God will be the most blessed part of our perfect life in heaven. John wrote that we “…will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” As we live under his perfect care, John said, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
In heaven, God will not only take away all of the things that we don’t like about life here on earth. John wrote, “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 water without cost from the spring of the water of life.’” Our every need will be perfectly met by God.
Today, as you well known, we live with daily uncertainties. We have a pandemic that doesn’t seem to want to end, an economy that often feels like a roller coaster ride, war in Ukraine and threats of war always on the horizon, weather that we can’t control, and the list goes on and on. Add to that our personal challenges and trials and you might feel more like a caterpillar than a butterfly.
John encourages us to keep our eyes on the prize. If we view life on earth as a daily grind to eliminate the bad and accumulate the good, we will likely be frustrated and often discouraged. But if we view life as a journey that we are being guided on by our Lord, guarded and protected from what can truly and eternally threaten or harm us, a journey that leads to the “…new heaven and new earth” God is preparing for us, we will see what John saw one day.
Like caterpillars becoming butterflies, we will be sinners on earth that God will change into saints in heaven. Jesus said to John, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” The day will come when God fulfills his promise to us and we become his perfect people in his perfect kingdom. Amen