“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
(Revelation 21:1-5, ESV)
Last Sunday, we looked into the fact that sin has brought disorderinto the cosmos, depravityinto human hearts, and dis-easeinto the human condition. God will someday reverse all that when Christ returns.
– There will be a New Cosmos, for God will reverse disorder in it;
– There will be a New City or new humanity, for God will reverse depravity in human beings;
– There will be a New Condition; God will reverse dis-ease, death and decay forever.
We will be focusing on the second point: the reversal of depravity which is symbolized by the holy city, the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. I am of course referring to the time when God completely frees us from sin and all of its effects by giving us glorified bodies.
What is the Christian’s greatest sorrow? It is the fact that we are still able to sin despite our knowledge that God loved us so much that he sent Jesus Christ to die for us and save us from our sins. When Christians sin, they sin against love and knowledge, and that is a terrible thing. True, they weep and repent and confess their sins, just like Peter. But then they’re at it again. Listen to Paul’s predicament:
“So, I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Romans 7:21-25)
To be sure, Jesus Christ has already partially delivered us from our inward corruptions, but complete deliverance will have to wait for his Second Coming when this sinful flesh is destroyed and replaced with incorruptible bodies. We know that because of the anti-climactic statement that follows Paul’s triumphant cry in verse 24, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” “So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”
The Christian life is therefore a life of perpetual struggle against sin because in this life sin is like the many-headed monster Hydra that confronted Hercules: You cut off one of its heads, two take its place! That is why the Christian life has been described as a life of daily repentance. John Calvinonce said, “Not a day passes without the righteous sinning many times over.”In saying that he was merely echoing the sentiments of Scripture.
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us… If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:8, 10)
So, the Christian life is a mixture of hope and frustration, of struggle and victory. God has begun a good work in us. To the extent that that work of spiritual renovation has been completed it’s a joyful life, but to the extent that it remains incomplete in the sense that we’re still capable of sinning against God’s love, it’s a wretched life. We are rejoicing and mourning at the same time; we are joyful and sorrowful at the same time. In the words of Martin Luther, Simul Justus et peccator. A saint and a sinner both at once.
I. The New Jerusalem is Perfectly Holy.
“The holy city.”
You might ask: What has all this have to do with the New Jerusalem that this passage is talking about? The answer may be found in Hebrews 12:22-23–
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.”
The New Jerusalem is not called the holy city for nothing. The New Jerusalem is the answer to Paul’s cry of wretchedness. When the new Jerusalem comes down from heaven God will finally complete the good work which he has begun in us. Jesus Christ will finally deliver us from this body of death. This flesh is not merely physically dying. The Bible teaches that sinful desires reside in the members of our body. Theologians refer to it as indwelling sin. It is as if sin were written so to speak in our DNA. All that is going to change when Christ returns and we are given incorruptible bodies, bodies incapable of either sinning or dying.
“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting.’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54-56)
This is the essentially the same triumphant cry we find in Romans 7:24. Our struggle against sin will be finally over. The sorrow and wretchedness of still being able to sin will be finally over. In the New Jerusalem the righteous will finally be made perfect! We are looking forward to the day when we will be completely saved not only from the penalty of sin, the power of sin, but also from the very presence of sin.
II. The New Jerusalem is Composed of Children of Promise.
But who are the residents of this holy city? Who will compose the New Jerusalem? The answer may be found in Galatians 4:21-26, 28.
“Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother … Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.”
The inhabitants of the New Jerusalem are those who are not under law but under grace, those who are children of God not by keeping the law but by believing his promise of salvation.
“But when the fulness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5)
“Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.’ But the law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’ – so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abrahammight come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” (Galatians 3:11-14)
The children of promise are the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. They are the inhabitants of the New Jerusalem. They are those who are destined to become perfectly holy.
III. The New Jerusalem is a Creation of God’s Grace.
“Coming down out of heaven from God.”
If ever we will become sinless and perfectly holy someday, if ever we will receive full adoption as sons,it is a gift of heaven, a product of sheer grace, and not because of anything we have done or deserved.
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)
“He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, [not because he foresaw that we would be holy, but in order]that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to his will.” (Ephesians 1:4-5)
IV. The New Jerusalem is the Result of Christ’s Work.
“A bride adorned for her husband.”
Someday we will face our husband Jesus Christ as a perfectly holy, spotless, and blameless bride. We will be glorious and beautiful in his sight. And it will be all because of what he has done for us.
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water by the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-27)
It is because of Christ’s death for us that we will someday become perfectly holy, although at present we are still in the process of becoming so.
“We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus once for all … For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:10, 14)
“Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?’ I said to him, “Sir, you know.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.’” (Revelation 7:13-14)
But because Christ has cleansed us with his blood and made us righteous in God’s sight, as his holy bride we should do righteous deeds. This is the way the bride adorns herself for her husband.
“Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” (Revelation 19:7, 8 NKJV)
1. Make sure you’ll be part of the new Jerusalem. Make sure you’re washed in the blood of the lamb.
“[We] are justified by grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:24-25a)
2. Live holy lives.
If we are destined to be holy, we might as well live holy lives now.
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2,3)
3. Don’t give up in your fight against sin.
Despite our numerous failures, victory is assured in the end. We will be delivered!
“In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews 12:4) Or in the words of the Fight Song, “I still got a lot of fight left in me.”
“Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise.” (Micah 7:8)
There is also provision for cleansing when we fall.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins…” (1 John 2:1-2a)
Will you be part of the new Jerusalem? Are you washed in the blood of the lamb?
Are you living a holy life?
Are you determined to keep fighting against sin no matter how many times you fall?
Lord, we’re so sorry for the many times we’ve sinned against your love. Sin indeed is our greatest sorrow. But we thank you for your blood that cleanses us from all our sins. We thank you too for the hope that you’ve given us, that someday you’ll completely free us from all our sinful tendencies and inclinations. Someday, when you return and the new Jerusalem comes down from heaven, you will deliver us from our bodies of death and replace them with glorified bodies, sinless and undying just like your own. Someday, it will be our greatest joy to obey your will without the hindrance and resistance that sin at present offers. We are looking forward to this day, Lord Jesus. And all this has been made possible because you unselfishly laid down your life and sacrificially shed your blood for our salvation. For this we thank you with all our hearts. Amen.
“Just as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” (Gal. 3:6) “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” (Gal. 3:7-9)
Even though we are God’s children now by faith in Jesus Christ (John 1:12 and 1 John 3:1-2a) we are still waiting for our full adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23b).