All Things New (Revelation 21: 1-5)
by T.V. Philip
T. V. Philip, born in India and a lay member of the Mar Thoma Church, has worked and taught in India, Europe, USA and Australia. He is a church historian, and a former Professor at the United Theological College, Bangalore, India. The following appeared in The Kingdom of God is Like This, by T.V. Philip, jointly published by the Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Christava Sahitya Samithy (CSS), Cross Junction, M.C. Road, Tiruvalla-689 101, Kerela, India. The material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
Revelation 21: 1-5
And 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 ... I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold the dwelling of God is with men ... He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall mourning nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away... And he who sat upon the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new."
The book of Revelation is a very difficult and complex one. It is difficult to understand the various images and symbols in the book. It is also the most abused and misused of the New Testament books. Some preachers thrive on this book, reading into it contemporary events and persons. The beast, Babylon, the anti-Christ, the number 666, all are given highly-colored interpretations.
Has the book got any message for us today? When we listen to the happenings around us, we are often driven to despair. Recent happenings in the United States, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Japan, and all over the world make us anxious and despairing. Has the world we live in got any future? Many are very pessimistic about the future of the world. Of course there are some who are very optimistic. They think they can easily fix the problems of the world if only they would be given an opportunity to do so.
In contrast to utter pessimism and a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness on the one hand, and a naive optimism on the other hand, the Bible proclaims a message of hope for the whole creation. The biblical hope is not based on human ability to sort out the problems of the world and order its future, but it is based on Godís future, a future which God is bringing about in Jesus Christ. The biblical message is that in the midst of all fearful events of our day, God is opening up a new future for us. He has given us this hope in Jesus Christ. The book of Revelation is about this hope -- the hope for the future which God is bringing about.
The Bible is a book of hope. In the midst of sin, uncertainties, disintegration and death, the Bible speaks of the future which God has promised. Abraham, Moses, Isaiah and Jeremiah, and all other Old Testament prophets and saints lived with a vision of Godís promised future. By faith Abraham sojourned in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, and be looked forward to the city whose builder and maker was God. John the Baptist, Mary, Peter, James, John and Martha tell us about the kingdom which has come in Jesus and which is yet to come.
There are different opinions as to the times and authorship of the book of Revelation. One thing is certain -- that it was written at a time of severe persecution for Christians and that it was written to encourage them to stand firm in the faith and to tell them of the future which God was preparing. It is a message not only for the Christians of that time but fur the believers of all times. John, the author of the book, himself was in prison in the Island of Patmos. In his vision he saw the future unfolding. He saw a decisive battle between good and evil. There will be persecutions and sufferings in this world. Evil may triumph for a time. But since God is the creator and Lord of history, the ultimate outcome of the conflict will be according to Godís plan. The future is in Godís hands.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away... And he who sat upon the throne said "Behold I make all things new."
The word Ďnew Ďis the key to the understanding of the message of the New Testament. The New Testament speaks of the New Israel, the new covenant, the new commandment, the new wine, the new man, the new Adam, the new age and so on. God is establishing a new heaven and a new earth. The dream of a new heaven and a new earth was a dream that can be found deep in Jewish thought. The prophet Isaiah says, "For behold I create a new heaven and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind." This dream is now being fulfilled. It is the work of God. The new heaven and new earth comes down from heaven.
Then John heard a voice: "Behold the dwelling of God is with men." It is a beautiful future of God coming down to dwell with his people, in the midst of his creation. He is no longer a far off God. He is not seeking his dwelling in a far removed mountain or a temple or a cathedral. He is coming to dwell among his people who are sinful, broken hearted, subject to disease, cruelty, oppression and death. Then what happens. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more. There will not be any sea -- sea represents chaos and disorder. The first things have passed away. What has been withered, what has been dead, comes up and lives again.
Godís personal presence among the people will unite what death has separated. When God comes near to us, we no longer weep over the grave. He who sits on the throne said, "Behold I make all things new". This is what God is doing and what he will do. So the world in chaos, despair, fear and anxiety has hope. The world can be renewed. Our nation can be renewed. Our families can be renewed and we ourselves can be recreated. We can be transformed into a new creation. So St. Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians could write:
If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold the new has come. And this is from God, who through Christ has reconciled us to himself. (2 Cor: 5:17)