Chapters 21 & 22: The perspective of John’s first century readers is shaped by two things: first, persecution and martyrdom are on the way. Its already bad will soon get worse. Second, they are the people of the promise waiting for the Day of the Lord, the decisive moment of salvation and judgment promised by God. In the closing chapters of Revelation John proclaims the Day of the Lord is coming. It will happen. And he reminds his audience that they must remain faithful in the face of persecution to be rewarded on that day.
After heaven and earth flee from the presence of God (20.11) a new heaven and a new earth appear. The first earth, along with the sea (the source of chaos and evil in the ancient world) no longer exists. In the Revelation itself the sea has been portrayed as the origin of cosmic evil (4.6; 12.18; 13.1; 15.2), the nations rebellious to God and who persecute his people (12.18; 13.1), the place of the dead (20.13), the primary location of the world’s idolatrous trade activity (18.10-‐ 19), as well as literal bodies of water (5.13; 7.1-‐3; 8.8-‐9; 10.2, 5-‐6, 8; 14.7; 16.3).
The new city, the people of God, will exist on this new earth and God will dwell with them on it. According to G. K. Beale, “This is probably not a portrayal of a literal new creation but a figurative depiction (see on 20.11 and 6.12-‐15). In light of the qualitative nature of the contrast between ‘new’ creation and ‘first’ creation, it is likely that the meaning of the figurative portrayal is to connote a radically changed cosmos, involving not merely ethical renovation but transformation of the fundamental cosmic structure (including physical elements). Furthermore, ‘there will be no more night’ (22.5; cf. 21.15), which indicates another difference, especially in contrast to Gen. 8.22: ‘While the earth remains… day and night will not cease.’” In other words the creation will be new or transformed in the same way humans are resurrected. The resurrection body is the transformation of the current body (1 Cor. 15.35-‐44). The new earth will be transformed from the current one.
John, then, stresses the theme of perseverance from chapters 2 & 3. Those who are victorious, in the face of persecution, will inherit the blessing. “I will be their God and they will be my children.” They will enjoy God’s actual presence and his fulfillment of his promises from chapters 2 and 3 which are: they will eat from the tree of life (2.7); not be hurt by the second death (2.11); be given hidden manna and a white stone (2.17); receive authority over the nations (2.26); not have their names blotted out of the Book of Life (3.5); be a pillar in the temple of God (3.12); sit with Christ on his throne (3.21).
The same cannot be said for the “cowardly” and “unbelieving.” They will not inherit the blessing and God will not be their God. John is here referring to Christians who do not persevere in the face of persecution.
After that John uses two powerful images to describe the Church in the Day of the Lord. It is the Bride of Christ (21.9) and the New Jerusalem (21.10-14). Ezekiel promised an eschatological temple for the people of God. It turns out that God and the Lamb are that temple (21.22) as well as the source of light (21.23-24). The city itself is Eden restored (22.1-4).
Then John closes the book with an invitation and a warning (22.12-21): “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.” And, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.” Finally 22.20: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”