The last two chapters of Revelation offer a sneak preview of a fabulous future. The whole cosmos will be resurrected!
John “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” (Rev 21:1; cf. 20:11). What does that mean? The new creation (of which we are a part) will retain characteristics of the old creation, yet redeemed, transformed, and enhanced—like Christ’s resurrected body. Jesus’s resurrection ensures that the new creation is in continuity with the old creation. Much like the phrase “passed away” does not mean extinction, the present heaven and earth will “pass away” when they merge (cf. Rom 8:19-21; Isa 65:17-25).
The removal of the “sea” should not be taken literally. The “sea” throughout Scripture often symbolizes the chaotic realm of evil (e.g., Dan 7:2-3; Rev 13:1ff.). The new heavenly earth has no “sea” because all evil forces will be removed. Earth will be “found by fire” (purified of evil) and transformed into a new heavenly earth (cf. 2 Pet 3:10). The recurring biblical theme of God’s victory over the “sea” culminates in the eradication of the “sea” when the new earth emerges (Ex 15; Ps 66:6; 107:23-29; 114:3, 5; Isa 50:2; 51:10).
All the action in Revelation 21 is centered on the “holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (21:2). The “city” has been prepared for this moment. Jesus referred to the preparation phase of this “city” when he said, “My Father’s house has many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2-3).
The Father’s heavenly city-house project doesn’t just appear; it’s being prepared to come to earth one day (Rev 21:2). Although God is the “designer and builder” of this heavenly city (Heb 11:10, 16), believers in heaven are not sitting around watching him do all the work (cf. Rev 7:9-17). We are “workers together with him” in this life and our life after life (1 Cor 3:9; 2 Cor 6:1). What contributions will you make to the heavenly city when you arrive? I’m sure you’ll be busy!
It is always a shock to read Revelation 21:8: “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” God’s fiery glory will purge all defiling entities from the cosmos so that the earth is “laid bare” (2 Pet 3:7). Even Jesus admits of his desire to “bring fire on the earth” (Luke 12:49). When Christ returns, his refining fire will cleanse the earth of evil—not annihilate it.
Those who conquer (who are resurrected) will inherit the New Jerusalem (the resurrected cosmos) (Rev 21:7). No more mourning, no more crying, no more pain, no more death (21:3-4; cf. Isa 25:6-9). Resurrected human beings inherit not only their imperishable bodies but also an imperishable cosmos. The fullness of God’s life will saturate the new creation like springs of water (Rev 21:5-6). No wonder Paul said, “the only thing that matters is the new creation,” the resurrected creation (Gal 6:15)! God must really love this world he made.