Second Reading: Revelation 21:1-5a
The Presence of God
1 I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and earth had disappeared, and there was no longer any oceans. 2 Then, I saw a new holy city, a new Jerusalem. I came down from God in heaven. And it was decorated like a bride all dressed up to meet her husband at her wedding. 3 Next, I heard a loud voice from the throne shout, “Listen! God’s house is with people. They will live in his house. They will be his people. And He will be with them as their God. 4 God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death. No one will mourn or cry or be in pain. The world where those things existed has disappeared!”
God who is seated on his throne said, “Listen! I’m making everything new!”
1 I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth went away, and the sea was not (there). 2 I saw a new holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down from heaven, from God, having been adorn like a bride (prepared for wedding ceremony) for her man. 3 I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Look! The tent of God is with men, and he will spread his tent over them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be them [(as) their God]. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and (there) will not be death, (there) not be neither mourning nor cries nor pain, [because] the first (things) went away.” 5 The (One) seated on the throne said, “Look! I made everything new.”
These few verses acted as a transition from the defeat of Satan to the glory of the eternal Jerusalem. Three points define the transition: recreation of the universe, unity of heaven and earth, and the effects of God’s presence with his people.
First, the recreation of the universe should not be seen in terms of destruction, but in terms of cleansing. With the defeat of Satan, the created order was freed from evil. In the ancient world, the seas were an unknown source of evil; the sea monster, Leviathan, was considered malevolent enemy of humanity (see Psalm 74:13-14). Isaiah 27:1 saw the defeat of this monster as a sign of the death of evil and the salvation of the righteous. So, the elimination of the sea meant the elimination of this source for evil. Hence, the destruction of the old order and the creation of a new order should be seen in moral terms. The moral universe had been recreated. Evil had been permanently eradicated.
Second, heaven and earth become one with the descent of the new Jerusalem. Many ancient people built their cities and temples upon a heavenly (hence “eternal”) pattern. Since there was some basis in the Torah for the Temple, it was considered the dwelling place for God. It was divinely ordained in the Law, so it should reflect the dwelling of YHWH in heaven. With the destruction of the city and its Temple in 70 A.D., there was no dwelling for his presence. So, a question arose: When will the presence of God return to earth? John the Elder saw this in the return of Jerusalem, the heavenly dwelling place for God and his people. With the descent of this new city, God was with his people. Heaven and earth were now one.
Third, now that God dwelt with his people, evil would permanently be banned from existence; so its effects would be missing (death, mourning, crying, pain). He would comfort his people forever, because he “tented” with his people. His presence would usher in a new order, a perfect order, an order of perpetual newness.
In the over all structure of this section, John wrote in the familiar “A-B-A.” The passing of the old and the appearance of the new (part “A”) highlighted the immanence of the divine with people (“B”). Notice the changes John lists were a direct result of God’s presence.
Image what could happen with the presence of God among us. John the Elder many have seen the effects in images that were larger than life. But, we can see the effects of God’s presence in the small, but definite changes within people. When he is present, there is the destruction of evil, the presence of good. God is the ultimate change agent.
How has the presence of God changed you? How has he changed you for the good?