Not long after the death of Christ, People of the Way (Christians) had lost their Jewish status in the Roman Empire and were beginning to be hunted down and martyred. It was a time of persecution and the fear of being ostracized in business, disowned by family and lead to the lions was real and palpable.
Even John was exiled for his beliefs to the island of Elba. And it is here that he wrote the book of Revelation. (Side note- It’s not “Revelations”. There is no “s”. There was only one. Sorry, pet peeve.)
So here are Christians running for their lives, hiding in caves, war declared against them… how do you communicate with all this going on?
Do you write a letter naming Rome and the Emperor as villains? Probably not. That will for sure get you killed. You do it the way messages have been sent in wartime throughout history, in code.
That’s what we have in this book. John sending a message to scared, dying believers. A message telling them that even in the midst of all the pain and suffering, it will not last forever. All their hopes and faith are not in vain. And it is here that he explains to them that there will even be a new heaven and new earth. A place where God dries away tears and death is defeated.
John tells the people to have hope.
So what’s so bad about the old heaven and earth? I guess we don’t have to look far to see all the trouble the earth has going for it. Earthquakes, floods, fires, tsunamis, hunger, war… All of creation groans for its own reconciliation. A new earth seems like a welcome thing indeed.
But what’s up with needing a new heaven. Seems weird. After all, that’s were God is, right?
But if we remember our history, both of these places have been affected by sin. Both have been sites where the creation has thought itself greater than the Creator.
It also says to me that in the Fulfilled Kingdom of God, not even the current heaven is good enough.
So what will this new heaven be like for us?
Harps? Robes? Baby angels? I realllllllllly hope not. I think I would be extremely bored.
Maybe that’s why there is talk of a new earth by John.
What if this new earth, this new paradise, contains the things that we find joy in now, just perfected?
What if the joy, passion, and love that we have in our relationships here are to be found in the new place but made whole and right in the presence of God?
No more crying, pain or death. No more death of any sort. Never again will hope, passion, joy or love die.
Never to even fade or ebb.
Do we really believe that death is defeated?
After all, we see it all around us. But if the Son is raised and we raised with him then it is when the body dies that we truly begin to live.
And maybe that’s why, carrying on the passage, that we find John telling us that it is only the person who overcomes that will inherit these things.
We also get a long list of character traits that will be kept out of this place. The traits of unbelief.
Now, left up to us, we’re pretty doomed. But thankfully, even though we cannot overcome, Christ can and does and constant is overcoming.
But it does seem that John’s inclusion of the traits of unbelief are there for a reason.
I have heard all my life that “You can’t take it with you.”
Maybe that’s not totally true. Sure, you can’t take your wealth and money, which is fine for me since I don’t have those things.
But what if you do take what’s important to you?
What if it is who we are and the relationships we have with ourselves, with each other and with God that we do indeed take with us?
And what a great time to figure this out.
What is important to you? What matters to you?
In this world of instant information streaming, 1000 tv channels, and 10000 distractions, what matters?
I’m not talking resolutions which are so quickly made and even more rapidly discarded.
I’m talking Newness.
Narrow your list down. Figure out what’s important in your life. If you do get to take with you to the new earth and new heaven that which is truly important to you, what will you take?