From All Things New
When Jesus used the phrase “at the renewal of all things,” he did it casually, almost breezily. You get the impression he assumed his listeners didn’t need an explanation or a long defense of the idea. Jesus spoke as though he were simply drawing upon a story and theology his disciples would know quite well. And indeed, these earnest Jews would have immediately found connection with many Old Testament stored in their hearts:
Those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away. (Isaiah 51:11)
“Then you will look and be radiant,
your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you,
to you the riches of the nations will come….
“I will make peace your governor
and well-being your ruler.
No longer will violence be heard in your land,
nor ruin or destruction within your borders,
but you will call your walls Salvation
and your gates Praise.
The sun will no more be your light by day,
nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory.
Your sun will never set again,
and your moon will wane no more;
the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your days of sorrow will end.” (Isaiah 60:5, 17-20)
A contemporary reader just isn’t quite sure what to do with such lovely promises as these. The beauty is enough to make my heart ache. But who are they for? When does this take place? We would give our right arm to see a fraction of this happen in our lifetime; half of it would be beyond our wildest dreams. But something in us knows that however much we long for it, we live with the partial here. Moments may come to us, but these passages are referring to something as settled and done as the happiness I saw in my dream. Why has God scattered these promises like wildflowers and precious gems throughout the scriptures? Is he taunting us?
A few chapters later in Isaiah we find the answer:
“See, I will create
new heavens and a new Earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more. (65:17-19)
Jesus knew his listeners already embraced this hope; he knew they ached for it and prayed for it. This is the culmination of all the Old Testament promises of a Great Restoration. And of course this passage foreshadows the climax of the book of Revelation, where the entire Biblical canon swells to a crescendo like a symphony reaching its glorious finish. Here is the final word of God on his promise to us:
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. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 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. 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.”
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.” (21:1-5)
I know – this is so saturated with meaning, bursting with promise and overflowing with beauty so grand our souls can hardly take it in, like rich dessert. Honestly, it seems too good to be true. We, the survivors of the wreckage of Eden, have grown so accustomed to living on the faintest traces of happiness and restoration, we must slow down and take this proclamation in pieces if we are to understand it, embrace it. This is, after all, the final word of God and the summation of every other Biblical text regarding our future. Read it like you would a ransom note if your child had been kidnapped; read it like you would the doctor’s report on your cancer – slowly, carefully.
Notice first, that the Earth is included, a renewed Earth. This passage isn’t just about Heaven, the Sweet By-and-By. John is shown the New Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven, an image begun in Revelation 3:12 and repeated a third time in 21:10, just to make sure we get our bearings. The City of God comes to the Earth. The dwelling of God, which has heretofore been Heaven, comes to humans, who dwell on the Earth.
Notice also that God promises to make current things new – as opposed to making all new things. If God were wiping away reality as we know it and ushering in a new reality, the phrase would have been, “I am making all new things!” But that’s not what he says, and God is very careful about what he says. Furthermore, if John witnessed some foreign reality being ushered in, he would have reported it so. He’s already told us about a meteor named Wormwood, a seven-headed dragon, and some awful beast the Whore of Babylon rides upon. However outrageous, he would have done his best to report the new reality if God had showed him one. But he doesn’t; he makes it clear: “I saw Heaven and Earth new-created,” (21:1).
I find it especially touching that immediately upon saying, “I am making everything new!” our Father God quickly adds, “Write this down, because it is true.” Perhaps John the Seer was obviously dumbstruck on this point (wouldn’t you be?) and needed to be assured by God, Yes – this is what I mean. Write it down. Perhaps God knew that future readers of such a statement would need the same assurance.
No matter what translation you prefer, the truth of Revelation 21:5 is quite clear:
“Behold, I make all things new.”(KJV, NKJV, RSV)
“Behold, I am making all things new.” (NASB)
“Look, I am making everything new!” (NLT)
“Look! I’m making everything new.” (The Message)
The Greek word for “new” is kainos – the same word used for the “New” Jerusalem. Certainly we understand that it is not the old Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven. It is a freshly remade, renewed Jerusalem. But it is Jerusalem – not Baltimore, Baghdad, or Budapest.