Revelation 21 is a favorite chapter for many Bible readers, even the many who aren’t generally that interested in reading the apocalypse and the grand and sometimes mysterious visions in it. Why? The answer is clear. Look at what is promised in the first seven verses of this chapter.
The first heaven and the first earth have disappeared. The sea which comes between man and God has vanished (see Revelation 4:6; for more on the sea, see my blog, http://honesttalkwithgod.blogspot.com, June 3, 2010). There is nothing to come between humanity and God, and there is a new (untarnished) earth and a new heaven. Also in chapter 21 we are promised that there will be no more pain, no more tears (tears of grief, loss, and suffering), and no more death.
Of course Bible readers are drawn to this text. Anyone who struggles in life would want to know that the next life promises something better. That’s a reason this is such an often read funeral text. People take great hope for their lost loved ones and for themselves in believing that Heaven is so perfect. But it is not only funerals. This chapter provides hope any times discouragement threatens to break the will of a Christ follower. We receive the promise that we will be “made new” and that we will freely drink from the spring of the water of life (vss. 5, 6). Who wouldn’t want this?
Looking at the promises of these first seven verses, I wonder which one speaks to you most powerfully? In this season of Advent, as the church lives in the hope of ‘Immanuel,’ “God with us,” I am drawn to Revelation 21:3. "Now God's home is with people! He will live with them, and they shall be his people. God himself will be with them, and he will be their God.” The other promises are beautiful and wonderful and at other times in my life, I might be drawn to the new earth or to “no more tears.” But, with Christmas in view, I am taken by the idea that God’s home is where I am. God is at home with me, and I with Him.
I think the wonder of this promise is that it is relational. It is personal and intimate. I have flaws, plenty of them. There are things I can well, better than most people. I know areas where I need to improve. I know areas of weakness that will always be difficult for me no matter how hard I work at them. I am in touch with who I am as a person. Yet, God knows me better than I know myself. God “formed my inmost parts” (Psalm 139:13), and knows the number of the hairs on my head (Matthew 10:30). With all that God knows about me, God loves me and promises to make His home with me for eternity. That’s what I see in Revelation 21:3. It’s something that gives me great peace and strengthens my heart.
Chapter 21 also tells the implications of this promise. John says, “I did not see a temple in the city, because its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb” (v.22). Also, “The city has no need of the sun or the moon to shine on it, because the glory of God shines on it, and the Lamb is its lamp” (v.23). A straight literal reading of these promises would be that in Heaven it is always a church service and it is always day time. That reading misses the depth and richness of this poetry. John uses images his readers can understand in order to describe this wondrous place where there is nothing to fear and the fellowship is perfect.
This picture is a beautiful one to ponder during Advent. In Advent, we celebrate the love of God that is so powerful and far-reaching that God is willing to come and dwell among us in human form, Jesus of Nazareth. That’s the Advent story – a story of God’s love. The end times story is the Advent story reversed. We are invited to be at home with God – with God for eternity. In celebrating the coming of Jesus during this season, it’s a true blessing to know that his time on Earth is a foreshadowing of our heavenly home with Him.