There is surprisingly little revealed about the character of the new heaven and earth in Scripture. The main emphasis is its uniqueness; it is quite different from the old. The new heaven and earth is not simply the old renovated but an act of new creation (Rev. 20:1; 20:11; 2 Pet. 3:10, which describes the dissolving of the old heaven and earth). The word “new” means fresh, new in quality and character.
One striking statement is made, “there was no longer any sea.” Most of the earth is now covered with water. Apparently in the new earth there will be no bodies of water except for the one river mentioned in 22:1-2. Human in the eternal state and in their glorified bodies evidently will not need water as they do today. There will be water, but it will speak of power, purity, and eternal life in the eternal city which has its constant source of life in God.
The emphasis is on the character of the new Jerusalem. It is the holy city; in striking contrast to the Jerusalem of the Tribulation which is called “Sodom and Egypt” (Rev. 11:8). The city comes down out of heaven from God and is in some way related to the earth. But it is nevertheless a heavenly city, not an earthly city. All the saints will ultimately live in this city (Heb. 11:10, 16). The figure of the bride simply emphasises the following: (a) as marriage is designed to be permanent, so this will be our permanent or eternal abode, (b) as a bride is beautifully adorned for her wedding, so this stresses the beauty of this city as it is adorned for the saints, and (c) as the bride is to be pure, it portrays the purity of the holy city.
While John is watching the city city, his attention is diverted by a loud voice. It is significant that the last loud voice announces the dwelling of God among men. Though God is the independent God of the universe, he longs to dwell among us in order to have fellowship with us and to bless us. This verse promises the most intimate and close fellowship with God in a perfect and unbroken way and on a face-to-face basis. This will be far beyond the knowledge of his presence and indwelling of his Spirit which believers can know today. Then he will be openly and visibly in our midst, personally ministering to our needs.
Verse 4 promises us no more tears, mourning, crying, or pain. This means perfect, uninterrupted happiness and peace. With God visibly and personally in our midst, there will be absolutely no possibility of unhappiness. Today we all experience pain, sorrow, and misery to some degree. Even for Christians who are walking intimately with the Lord, there are still many times of pain and sorrow.
The emphasis of these verses is that it is God’s visible and personal presence that gives this perfect happiness and blessing and not simply the removal of the sources of our problems. “The first things have passed away” refers to all the conditions of this present world—Satan, sin, a sinful nature, and death. Everything associated with Satan and his rebellion and man, his fall and rebellion, everything except believers themselves, will be removed, put away. In fact, “the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind” (Is 65:17).
With the passing away of the old something new must take its place:
1. There will be the water of life for all who thirst. Here is the offer of salvation that comes as a free gift, “without cost.” “All who thirst” refers to all who recognise their need, the spiritually parched condition of their soul, and come to Christ as the source of the water of life” (John 4:10; 7:37-39; Isa. 55:1). “Without cost” means of course, by grace, as God’s gift to those who come to Christ by faith (John 7:38). In this context, “the spring of the water of life” ultimately refers to the complete satisfaction of life that will come to the child of God in the eternal state (Rev 17:17).
2. There is the promise of a full inheritance to the one who overcomes (v7a). The overcomer is the one who quenches their thirst by simple faith in Christ and, as a result, becomes God’s child (1 John 5:4-5 and Gal 3:26). All of God’s people, Old and New Testament saints alike, will inherit the blessings of the eternal state, nothing will be lacking.
3. He will have complete and unbroken fellowship with God (v7b). “I will be their God and they will be my children.”
Heaven will be everything that this life cannot be because of the presence of sin, darkness, sinful behaviour, and Satan’s ever present activity. The point of this entire section is the perfect purity and absence of anything impure or evil. There will be no sinners and no sin in the new heavens and the new earth. According to 1 John 3:2, “when He is revealed, we shall be like Him.” If the kingdom contained those still in a sinful state, it would not be as glorious as God intends. That would put an eternal damper on the joy the Lord and his subjects.
Revelation 21:8 is a joyous verse for us. Those who interpret it to mean that we need to examine our behaviour to see if we are saved (or if we are still saved) have robbed it of its joy and replaced it with works = salvation gloom. The kingdom will be truly joyful because everyone in it will be holy and sinless.