Themes from the New Creation
In these preliminary comments on the text of Revelation 21-22, I am compelled by conscience and consistency to point out that the term “New Creation” does not occur even a single time in the book of Revelation. Since the motif of “New Creation” is the theme of Harding School of Theology for the 2013-2014 academic year, I was asked to speak on the theme of the “New Creation” in Revelation 21-22. Lacking this specific phrase “New Creation,” I intend to discuss my assignment from the perspective of what John says about the terms “new heaven” and “new earth.” Even though it is traditional to associate the idea of the new heaven and earth with all of Revelation chapters 21-22, upon closer inspection it becomes clear that the prophetic materials about the new heaven and earth go only from Rev. 21:1-22:5, and definitely not to the end of chapter 22. Most commentaries and study Bibles agree that Rev. 22:6-21 is an epilogue and not a part of the “New Creation” prophecies from John.
First, a word or two about “the first heaven and the first earth,” as John calls it (Rev. 21:1b). In John’s use of the simple term “for” [γὰρ] in Rev. 21:1b, he is making clear that the new heaven and earth can only arrive after the first ones have departed. There is a dualistic incompatibility that excludes the possibility of the new heaven and earth existing alongside of or as a part of the first heaven and earth. This explains the series of rapid-fire events by which the major opponents of God and oppressors of his elect have been rendered impotent through God’s violent punishments. The great city Babylon is removed by means of divine violence (Rev. 18:21); the armies of Babylon are destroyed by the fiery-eyed Jesus (Rev. 19:12), and their bodies are left as carrion for the “Great Supper of God” (Rev. 19:11-19). Sequentially the two beasts described in Revelation 13 are finally captured and thrown alive into the flaming, sulfurous lake (Rev. 19:20). Finally, the devil is thrown into the flaming, sulfurous lake (Rev. 20:10). Next, the first heaven and earth run away and never show up again (Rev. 20:11); death and hades, great enemies of God, are cast into the flaming, sulfurous lake (Rev. 20:14). Lastly, those who will not follow the Lamb everywhere he leads are cast into the flaming, sulfurous lake (Rev. 20:15).
All of these powers, both real and personified, must be excluded from the new heaven and earth because of the kind of conditions they fostered during the first heaven and earth. In Rev. 21:4 John states explicitly that the former conditions [τὰ πρῶτα ἀπῆλθαν] that characterized the first heaven and the first earth must depart, without exception. There should be little wonder that Rev. 21:4 begins, “he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” The drab, the infertile, and the pain filled accomplishments of the first heaven and earth are on full display for all to see, with their deceptive camouflage torn away.
Those tears, more than all the great oceans could hold, They’ll be in Hell!
Death, with more victims than all the graveyards can receive, It’ll be in Hell!
That Grieving and Crying and Pain, far more than every mother’s gentle kiss can assuage, It’ll be in Hell!
All of these damned things are debris in the wake of Satan, and they belong on the résumé of those who followed him and are excluded from the new heaven and new earth. Josh Garrels’s song “Zion & Babylon” resonates with facets of John’s spiritual attitude toward the contemporary rulers and denizens of Babylon, including those residing within churches.
My kingdom’s built with the blood of slaves
Orphans, widows, and homeless graves
I sold their souls just to build my private mansion
Some people say that my time is coming
Kingdom come is the justice running
Down, down, down on me . . . .
Because I love my Babylon
I am a slave, I was never free
I betrayed you for blood money
Oh I bought the world, all is vanity
These are the accomplishments of those who operated “the old heaven and the old earth” that the prophet and his congregants knew all too painfully well.