Revelation 21 – Part 3

“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4

After the apostle John watched the New Jerusalem descend out of heaven from God to the new earth in this new vision about heaven (21:2), he hears the last of twenty times the phrase, “a loud voice,” is used in the book of Revelation, signifying a very important announcement. 1 “And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.’” (Revelation 21:3). This loud voice most likely belonging to an angel, proclaims, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people” (21:3a). The word “tabernacle” (skēnē) refers to a “transcendent celestial tent.” 2 The verb form of this word is also in this verse, and it is translated “will dwell” (skēnōsei) and means to “set up His tent” 3 or “take up residence” 4 with them.

In this final stage of heaven, believers “will enjoy a new intimacy with God which is impossible in a world where sin and death are still present.” 5 God will finally “tabernacle” or dwell among His cleansed and forgiven people, and they will experience perfect fellowship with Him on the new earth.

“This fellowship existed, to some extent, when God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and when He dwelt among the Israelites in the tabernacle and later in the temple, hence the reference to ‘the tabernacle’ (cf. 13:6; 15:5). It also existed partially when Jesus Christ ‘tabernacled’ among people (John 1:14). It exists today as God inhabits the bodies of Christians individually (I Corinthians 6:19-20) and the church corporately (Ephesians 2:21-22).” 6

God’s “tent” or presence will be among humankind: “God Himself will be with them and be their God” (21:3b). At His first coming, Jesus Christ “dwelt” (eskēnōsen) among humankind, but He was rejected by them (John 1:10-11). In the New Jerusalem on the new earth, Christ will dwell with humanity in perfect harmony forever. 7 Unlike the temporary tabernacle in the Old Testament, the presence of God among humankind on the new earth will be permanent (Revelation 22:5). 8

Heaven is where God lives. So, in the final stage of heaven, there will no longer be a separation between heaven and earth because God will dwell on the new earth with His redeemed people forever (Revelation 21:1-3). Thus, heaven and the new earth will essentially be the same place. 9

God’s glorious presence on the new earth will introduce many wonderful changes. “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4). This one verse reveals several things you will not find in this final stage of heaven:

  • “wipe away ever tear from their eyes.” There will be no more broken hearts … rejection… loneliness… grief. No more heartache. That is heaven. God will wipe away every tear from your eyes. You will not have sadness or grief again. There will be no disappointing memories. Those will either be erased, or we will look at them from God’s perspective and no long experience sadness. Those of you who are grieving the loss of a loved one or maybe you have been going through a period of depression, one of the things that does in our lives is it just makes heaven seem a little bit closer. We want to go to heaven when we are in pain. Why? Because there is none there.
  • “there shall be no more death.” There will be no funerals or cemeteries in heaven. Why? Because in this final stage of heaven on the new earth no one ever dies. You won’t ever have to be concerned about losing a loved one because death will be gone forever!
  • “there shall be no more pain.” In heaven, there will be no more bad hair days ladies and gentlemen. Everything about us will be perfect. This will be a glorious time. We will have glorified bodies. There will be no eyeglasses, no braces, no wheelchairs, no hearing aids, and no crutches. There will be no more hospitals, no ambulances, no CPR. COVID-19 will not exist, aspirin will be gone, accidents over, heart attacks banished, AIDS a distant memory, cancer done away with. No more chronic pain forever!

All the pain and suffering we face now will be forever gone! Why? “For the former things have passed away” (21:4b). Anything associated with the fallen world will “have passed away,” never to return. The sin that caused tears, pain, and death will be forever removed! We can enjoy uninterrupted fellowship with God and with His people. All of creation eagerly awaits this new earth (Romans 8:20-23).

“How different is this concept of heaven from that of Hinduism, for example? Here heaven is depicted as a city, with life, activity, interest, and people, as opposed to the Hindu ideal of heaven as a sea into which human life returns like a raindrop to the ocean.” 10

It is important to observe that the complete removal of pain and sadness takes place long after the Judgment Seat of Christ which occurs in heaven during the seven-year Tribulation period (Revelation 4:1-4; cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3). 11 It is at the Judgment Seat of Christ that some Christians will suffer the loss of rewards (I Corinthians 3:15; 2 Corinthians 5:10), which will include shame (I John 2:28) and a deep sense of regret (Matthew 8:12; 24:48-51; 25:24-30; Luke 19:20-26). 12 At the most, this painful loss of reward will not last beyond the Millennial Kingdom since the permanent removal of pain and sadness takes place when the New Jerusalem rests upon the new earth (Revelation 21:1-4). It is conceivable that this painful sense of loss will take place only at the Judgment Seat of Christ and not beyond that. However, one cannot be dogmatic about the length of time this sense of loss will last.

This new, joyful experience on the new earth is made possible because of Jesus Christ. “Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful.’” (Revelation 21:5). Jesus is portrayed as the One “who sat on the throne.” He is presented as the Judge in the book of Revelation. He is the Judge Who walks among the seven lampstands (Revelation 1); He judges the seven churches (Revelation 2-3); He judges rebellious humankind (Revelation 4-19), and He judges nonbelievers (Revelation 20). 13

Now the apostle John hears the Lord Jesus Christ, proclaim, “Behold, I make all things new.” Following His many judgments, King Jesus, announces that He is making “all things new.” This is a summary of the entire vision that the apostle John receives. It is the climax of the entire book of Revelation.

“Think about it. No more terminal diseases, hospitals, wheelchairs, or funerals. No more courts or prison. No more divorces, breakdowns, or breakups. No more heart attacks, strokes, or debilitating illnesses. No more therapists, medications, or surgeries. No famines, plagues, or devastating disasters. He is making all things new!” 14

The Lord Jesus says to John, “Write, for these words are true and faithful” (21:5b).  Christ instructs John to “write” about all these new things: new heavens [universe], new earth, and a new capital city, the New Jerusalem. Since Jesus’ promise to “make all things new” may seem too good to be true or believed, He says to John, “for these words are true and faithful.” Christ’s promise can be believed and trusted because it comes from Someone who is “true” and never misleads or tells a lie (Titus 1:2). It is spoken by Him Who is always “faithful” to keep His promises (2 Timothy 2:13).

Heaven is going to be an incredible place! God loves you so much that He wants you to live with Him there for eternity. To do so, you must receive His free gift of eternal life. Why? Because the Bible says we are born with sinful hearts – “Surely, I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5). From the moment of conception, we possess a sinful nature that causes us to break God’s rules. Because all of us have sinned (Romans 3:23), we deserve to be separated from God forever in the lake of fire (Romans 6:23a; Revelation 20:15).

But God’s love for those who don’t possess eternal life is so great that in the final two chapters of the Bible He offers eternal life (“the water of life”) as a free gift (Revelation 21:6; 22:17). “The water of life” is eternal life and Jesus offers it “freely” to those who believe in Him. You don’t work for eternal life because it has already been paid for when Jesus died on the Cross for our sins and rose from the dead.  Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47).

What is Jesus asking you to do that is hard for you to trust Him with? Is He asking you to trust Him for eternal life, but it’s hard for you to let go of your works and trust Him alone? It is so simple that children get it and adults miss it. None of us are promised tomorrow. If you were to drop dead in the next minute, are you absolutely certain you are going to heaven? If you are not, you can make sure right now. Why would anybody put it off? You need to settle this issue right now and you need to put your trust in Jesus for eternal life.

When you trust Him, He gives you everlasting life (John 6:47), He forgives all your sins (Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14), He places you in God’s family forever (John 1:12; 6:37), and He comes to live inside you through His Holy Spirit (John 7:39a; Galatians 4:6). He guarantees that you will live with Him forever in His heaven when you die or are removed from the earth through the Rapture of the Church, whichever occurs first (John 3:16; I Thessalonians 1:10; 4:13-5:11; I John 5:13).

If you just believed or trusted in Jesus alone for His gift of everlasting life, you can tell Jesus this through prayer. But praying this prayer is not what gets you to heaven. Only believing or trusting in Christ alone gets you to heaven. This prayer is a way of telling God you are now trusting in His Son.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, I come to you now as a sinner who cannot save him or herself. I believe You died in my place on the cross for all my sins and rose from the dead. I am now trusting in You alone, Jesus (not my good life, my prayers, or my religion) to give me everlasting life and a future home in Your heaven. Thank You Jesus, for the everlasting life I now have and the future home I will have in heaven. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

When you believed in Jesus, He gave you everlasting life which can never be lost (John 10:28-29). He forgave all your sins (Acts 10:43; Col. 2:13-14) and placed you in His family forever (John 1:12; 6:37). Christ’s Spirit now lives inside you to comfort, guide, and teach you how to follow Jesus as you read and apply the Bible (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13-14; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). To help you grow in your new relationship with Jesus, please download our free digital Pressing on materials to go through with those you love.

If you found this article to be helpful, please share it with those you want to see in heaven. Thank you and may Jesus reveal more of Himself to you as you learn to follow Him.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 236; John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), location 6537.

2. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 928.

3. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1583.

4. Bauer, pg. 929.

5. Walvoord, location 6357.

6. Constable, pg. 236.

7. Vacendak, pg. 1583.

8. Charles Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 373.

9. Randy Alcorn, Heaven: A Comprehensive Guide to Everything the Bible Says About Our Eternal Home (Tyndale House Publishers, 2004 Kindle Edition), pp. 80-81.

10. Constable, pg. 237 cites Alan Johnson, “Revelation,” in Hebrews-Revelation, Vol. 12 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), pg.  593.

11. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1147.

12. Constable, pg. 237.

13. Vacendak, pg. 1583.

14. Swindoll, pg. 375.

Revelation 21 – Part 1

“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.” Revelation 21:1

“During the Second World War, when it was hard for Franklin Roosevelt to travel among the troops because of his disability, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt took his place, and she became a favorite of soldiers around the world. She sent cables and letters back to FDR, becoming his eyes and ears. On one such trip in the Pacific theater she spent an evening talking to a group of soldiers, and later told her husband there was only one thought on all their minds – the desire to finish the battle so they could go home.” 1

Those of us who believe in Jesus Christ feel the same way about heaven. We are deployed on planet Earth in a battle between God and His enemies, but it is only a short-term assignment. Goodness and mercy will certainly follow us all the days of our lives. But what we eagerly await is dwelling in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23:6)!!! 2

For those of you who have not been with us on our journey through the book of Revelation, I will give you a brief overview of what we have covered so far. The glorified and ascended Lord Jesus Christ instructed the apostle John, “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.” (Revelation 1:19). This verse provides a divine outline of the entire book of Revelation involving the past, present, and future:

 – “Write the things which you have seen.” This refers to the past vision of Jesus in all His glory standing among the seven lampstands representing the seven churches in Asia Minor or modern-day western Turkey (Revelation 1).

 – “And the things which are.” This includes the messages from the exalted Lord Jesus’ to the seven historical churches in Asia Minor (wester modern-day Turkey) in the first century (Revelation 2-3). Jesus gives these seven local churches warnings and encouragements that are as applicable today as they were in the first century.

“And the things which will take place after this.” This section includes the future Rapture of the Church (Revelation 4-5), the seven-year Tribulation (Revelation 6-18), the return of Christ to earth with His Church to defeat His enemies (Revelation 19), the 1000-year glorious reign of Christ on the earth (Revelation 20:1-9), the final judgment of Satan (Revelation 20:10), and the final judgment of all the unsaved (Revelation 20:11-15). Now we are ready for the final section involving the new heaven and new earth where King Jesus will live with His people forever (Revelation 21-22).

Many people form their views about heaven from television, movies, religious experiences, and their imaginations instead of a thorough study of the Bible. But the Bible is filled with over five hundred references to heaven, 3 the most detailed of which is found in the final two chapters of Revelation.

Beginning with verse 1 of chapter 21, God gives the apostle John a new vision of what heaven is going to be like. “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also, there was no more sea.” (Revelation 21:1). John “saw a new heaven and a new earth.” This is not a renovation of the present “heaven” (atmosphere and planetary space) and “earth” as some suggest, 4 but a complete remake whereby God re-creates a brand-new heaven and earth out of nothing. 5 The word “new” (kainos) means “different from the usual, impressive, better than the old, superior in value or attraction.” 6 The “new” heaven and “new” earth will not only be new in a chronological sense, but also in a qualitative sense. 7

Swindoll writes, “To use a film metaphor, this isn’t a sequel – it’s a completely new and different production. It isn’t simply a reedited version, enhanced with clearer sound, brighter colors, and a smattering of digitally enhanced special effects. This is no reedit – it’s a remake!” 8

John explains the reason why he “saw a new heaven and a new earth” was because “the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” by fire after the 1000-year reign of Christ on the earth due to the corruption of sin (21:1b; cf. 2 Peter 3:10-13; Psalm 102:25-26; Isaiah 34:4; 51:6; Matthew 5:18; 24:35).  

John Walvoord says, “The most natural interpretation of the fact that earth and sky flee away [20:11] is that the present earth and sky are destroyed and will be replaced by the new heaven and new earth. This is also confirmed by the additional statement in 21:1, where John sees a new heaven and a new earth replacing the first heaven and first earth. Frequent references in the Bible seem to anticipate this future time when the present world will be destroyed (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 16:17; 21:33; 2 Peter 3:10)… Passages such as Revelation 20:11 and 2 Peter 3:10 state explicitly that this destruction is literal and physical. It would be most natural that the present heaven and earth, the scene of the struggle with Satan and sin, should be displaced by an entirely new order suited for eternity. The whole structure of the universe is operating on the principle of a clock that is running down. What could be simpler than for God to create a new heaven and a new earth by divine decree in keeping with His purposes for eternity?” 9

Let’s remember that when God created the universe, including planet Earth, it was all perfect (Genesis 1:31). There was no imperfection in what God had made. The world God created was perfectly suited for humankind, whom He made to enjoy an intimate relationship with Him forever. But when Adam and Eve disobeyed God (Genesis 3:1-6), it did more than break humanity’s relationship with its Creator God (Romans 5:12), it also subject the entire creation to “decay, disharmony, and hostility. When farmer’s plant vegetables, they harvest weeds. When they try to grow grain, fruit, and flowers, they get thistles, brambles, and thorns. The evil of humanity resulted in more than just the fall of Adam and Eve. It affected all creation. From the center of Eden to the edge of the cosmos, creation has groaned for redemption since the Fall.” 10

The apostle Paul wrote: “20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” (Romans 8:20-22). Human sin corrupted creation (Genesis 3:17-19; Romans 8:20-22) and dragged it down into the messes we see today. The existence of earthquakes, typhoons, volcanoes, and disease are the result of humankind’s sin against God. 11 “The entire created natural order is groaning and undergoing agonies that look toward a new age.” 12

“God will un-create the universe because each part of it is affected by sin, and the eternal state must be completely free from sin’s consequences. But that doesn’t mean the end for planet earth. Every molecule, atom, proton, and neutron in existence today will disintegrate only to be replaced by a glorious new creation.” 13

I have wondered what the “new heaven” or universe will be like. One of my mentors had suggested that the planets were able to sustain life prior to the fall. 14 But when Adam and Eve sinned, the affects of sin and death not only spread throughout planet Earth but also throughout the universe, including our solar system (Romans 8:20-22), rendering planets outside of earth unable to sustain life. This would explain why water has been found on other celestial bodies in the universe. 15

While I cannot be dogmatic, I do think when God creates “a new heaven and a new earth,” it is possible that planetary spacewill once again support life.If so, other planets may sustain human life and provide additional places to colonize as the new earth’s human population grows among the descendants of believers who survived the Tribulation and entered the Millennial Kingdom of Christ without glorified bodies (Matthew 25:31-46; Isaiah 65:20). These descendants will be able to multiply and fill the earth (and beyond) much like Adam and Eve would have done if they had not sinned. As the new earth’s population grows, these people in non-glorified bodies will be able to live on other habitable planets throughout the universe. While one cannot be dogmatic about this, it is quite possible that this expansion of the human population throughout the universe will continue forever. 16

John then informs us, “Also there was no more sea” (21:1c).One significant way the “new earth” will be different than the current one is that there will be “no more sea,” which means that the oceans that cover nearly 71% of the earth’s surface today will become land masses so the huge number of believers in Jesus from all ages will be able to live on the new earth. “The oceans affect the atmosphere, the climate, and other living conditions as well as human transportation.” 17

Dr. Jeremiah writes, “The ecology of the new heaven and earth will be entirely different than that of the earth we live on today. And there will be no need of salt water, because salt is a preservative, and there will be no decay. But there will be fresh water in the new heaven [and earth] – the river of life, flowing from the throne of God in the New Jerusalem, which will rest upon the ground during the eternal state. These waters will be more beautiful than any landscape we can fathom in this life.” 18

Those of us who love the ocean may be very disappointed to hear there will be no more seas. Does that mean there will be no more surfing, tide pools, snorkeling, and fun on the beach, and no more intriguing oceanic marine life? Keep in mind there will be an incredible river that flows through the New Jerusalem (22:1-2). But how much more water will be outside the city? Flowing rivers do go somewhere. Some of the world’s lakes today are very large and ocean-like, so it is quite possible that the new earth could have even larger bodies of fresh water 19 that provide even more enjoyable aquatic activities, including incredible marine life. 20

The absence of oceans on the new earth will not be a negative experience. The Bible tells us “There shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4b). Alcorn writes,“There will be no more cold, treacherous waters that separate nations, destroy ships, and drown our loved ones.”21 Whatever the absence of oceans will be like on the new earth, one thing for sure is it will be much more wonderful than our finite minds can imagine now.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You so much for Your Word which reveals what our future home with You will be like on the new earth where sin and death will be no more. The absence of seas on the new earth means living conditions and climate will be much more stable and enjoyable than we are used to now. Having no more oceans in the future means there will be more land masses for people to inhabit. Use us now O Lord to share the good news of Your free offer of eternal life to all who will believe in You so more and more people can make reservations to live on the new earth with You and Your people forever. In Your mighty name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. David Jeremiah, Answers to Your Questions about Heaven (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2015 Kindle Edition), pg. 9 cites Doris Kearns Goodwin, No Ordinary Time (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), pg. 464.

2. Ibid., pp. 9-10.

3. Ibid., pg. 9.

4. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 233; Wilbur M. Smith, “Revelation,” in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, edited by Charles F. Pfeiffer and Everett F. Harrison (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), pg. 1521; Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pg. 450 cites Randy Alcorn, Heaven (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2004), pp. 145-151, as providing an excellent case for the renovation view.

5. Hitchcock, pp. 449-451; Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1582; Charles Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 372; John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), location 6496; Constable, pg. 233 cites Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), pp. 439-440 and David E. Aune, Revelation 17-22 Word Biblical Commentary series (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), pg. 1117.

6. Swindoll, pg. 372 cites Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. and trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), Vol 3, pg. 447.  

7. Swindoll, pg. 372.

8. Ibid.

9. Hitchcock, pp. 450-451 cites John F. Walvoord, Revelation, ed. Mark Hitchcock and Philip E. Rawley, rev. ed. (Chicago: Moody, 2011), pg. 317.

10. Swindoll, pg. 371.

11. Tony Evans, CSB Bible by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 1941.

12. Zane C. Hodges, Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 805.

13. Evans, pg. 2420.

14. This was based on a discussion I had with Zane C. Hodges in the late 1980’s.

15. See Dr. Ron Samec’s April 1, 2015, article entitled “Mars – The Other Blue Planet?” at answersingenesis.org; cf. An article entitled “Are there oceans on other planets?” at the National Ocean Service’s website – www.oceanservice.noaa.gov.

16. This topic also originated from a discussion with Zane C. Hodges in the late 1980’s.

17. Constable, pg. 234.

18. Jeremiah, pg. 129.

19. See Randy Alcorn’s March 18, 2010, article entitled, “How can you say there will be oceans on the new earth when Rev. 21:1 says something different?” at epm.org.

20. Randy Alcorn, Heaven, pg. 266.

21. Ibid., pg. 265.

Revelation 2 – Part 1

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” Revelation 2:7

John now records “the things which are” (1:19b), consisting of the exalted Lord Jesus’ messages to the seven historical churches in Asia Minor in the first century (Revelation 2-3). Jesus gives these seven local churches warnings and encouragements that are as applicable today as they were in the first century. 1

There has been substantial debate about the meaning of “overcomers” in the book of Revelation. Two major interpretations are at the core of this debate. The perseverance understanding holds that all genuine Christians are overcomers. 2 This view argues that every believer is an overcomer (I John 5:4-5) who inherits eternal bliss (Revelation 21:7) and, therefore, proves his salvation with his works (Revelation 2:26). According to this position all true Christians will persevere in good works to the end of their lives.

The second interpretation understands the “overcomer” to be an obedient Christian who receives rewards for his faithfulness to God. 3 This view understands I John 5:4-5 to be true for all Christians. There is a sense in which all Christians are overcomers when they believe in Christ for new birth. This single act of faith at the moment of salvation is “the victory that has overcome the world” which is antagonistic toward this saving act of faith (I John 5:4b) and is satanically blinded to the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). But this interpretation understands that I John’s statements about overcomers is not the same as Revelation’s statements about overcomers as we shall now observe.

The word “overcome” comes from the Greek word nikaō which means to “be victor, conquer, overcome, prevail.” 4 John uses this word in Revelation to refer to victorious Christians who persevere in a life of faith.

It is important to understand that Revelation 2-3 is addressing Christians because the term “church” refers to believers. 5 The issue is not salvation, but discipleship or Christian growth because the focus is on persevering in works (Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15), and not a single act of faith for salvation from hell (cf. John 4:14; 5:24; 6:35, 37-39; 10:28-29; I John 5:1-5, 13). For example, access to the “tree of life” (Revelation 2:7) is not based on a single act of faith in Christ (I John 5:1, 4-5), but upon obedience to Christ’s commands (Revelation 22:14). Revelation is talking about Christians being overcomers through obedience to Christ until the end of their lives so they can gain eternal rewards such as eating from the tree of life or ruling with Christ (cf. Revelation 2:8, 26-27; 3:21; 22:14).

Also, in Revelation there is the call to hear (Revelation 2:7a; cf. 2:10, 17, 29: 3:6, 13, 22). Only those Christians who hear the call and appropriate the promise will be able to live a victorious life for Christ. Jesus is addressing the whole “church” consisting of believers in the letter (Revelation 2:1; cf. 2:8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14), but the call is to the one “who has an ear” and to the one “who overcomes.”

With this understanding, let’s look at the first church Jesus addresses. “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands.” (Revelation 2:1). Ephesus was the ‘New York City’ of the first century. Located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, it was a leading center of Greek culture as well as idol worship. Being a city of wealth and commerce, it contained the amazingly ornate temple of the goddess Diana (cf. Acts 19), one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was also a city that had been effectively evangelized by Paul over the course of several years (cf. Acts 19:10, 20) and had become a gathering place of believers earnestly devoted to the Lord and His work. Unfortunately, over time these dedicated believers ‘left their first love.’ Therefore, with great concern the Lord speaks lovingly yet directly to His Bride in Ephesus to woo her back to her original devotion and zeal.” 6

Jesus describes Himself as the One “who holds [authoritatively with power] the seven stars [angels of the churches] in His right hand” and “walks in the midst of the seven lampstands [churches]in that He is involved in these local churches (2:1). Jesus was active among local churches in the first century and He remains active in churches today. Christ knows what is going on in our churches and He first offers encouragement.

2 I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.” (Revelation 2:2-3). Christ commends this church for their hard work, perseverance (“patience”), and discernment of false teaching and teachers (2:2-3). “They tested everything by the Scriptures and rightly found that some so-called apostles did not teach pure doctrine.” 7 “In general this church had continued in its faithful service to God for more than 40 years.” 8

Next, Christ Jesus rebukes this church. “Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” (Revelation 2:4). The order of words is emphatic in the original language; the clause could be translated, “Your first love you have left” (τὴν ἀγάπην σου τὴν πρώτην ἀφῆκας). 9

While this church had excelled in their service for Christ and their orthodoxy, they had left their “first love.” This refers to their original love and devotion to Jesus. They were doing the right things now, but not with the same love and devotion they had in the beginning.

“They had correct doctrine, but not a correct heart. The key word here is first, not love. As with romantic love between a man and a woman, first love always involves passion. Yet there was not passionate pursuit of an intimate relationship with Christ in the church. They were merely following a program. Duty had replaced devotion.” 10

This can happen to any church or individual Christian. We start out passionate in our love for Jesus considering all He did for us in saving us from our sins. But as the years pass by, we can easily shift from passionate love for our Savior to more of a program mentality whereby we function out of duty instead of devotion to Christ. We go through the motions, but our heart is not connecting to the Lord like it was in the beginning of our Christian lives. We can become so familiar with the teachings of the Bible that we become less sensitive to what God is saying to us. Familiarity can produce apathy in our Christian lives.

How can we regain our first love for Jesus? How can we restore that original devotion and passion we had for our Savior? The Lord gives us three commands in this one verse: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:5).

REMEMBER. We can regain our first love for Jesus if we “remember” our original love and devotion for Him. Think back to what it was like when you first became a Christian. Remember how the Bible came alive for you? It was so new and life-giving. The beauty of Jesus’ love and grace for us captured our hearts. Talking to the Lord was such a joy. It is important to remember those early days in our Christian life to rekindle that original love for Christ.

– REPENT. The word “repent” (metanoeō) means a “change of mind.” Jesus was calling the church to change their thinking about their love for Him. Jesus was not a program; He was a Person Who loved them infinitely. As their thinking about Christ changed, so would their affections. The more they could see Jesus as Someone Who loved them and enjoyed their presence, the more passion they would have about connecting with Him and serving Him. The same is true for us today.

– RETURN. Jesus was also inviting them to return to “the first works” that increased their love for Him. As a new believer in college, I remember memorizing the book of I John. I worked at the University of Iowa Hospital until 11 pm at night, so when I walked home it was very dark outside. I would recite my I John verses aloud as I walked home. Those were some of the most intimate times I ever had with the Lord Jesus. God is inviting His church to return to those works we did early in our relationship with Christ that brought us closer to Him.

Should the church at Ephesus (or any church) refuse to “repent,” the Lord would “remove” their “lampstand” or witness and close their doors which eventually happened in the fifth century. 11 In fact none of the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 exist today because each one failed to maintain a repentant attitude toward the Lord. Such will be the fate of any church whose activity is about them rather than about the Lord Jesus. Failure to prioritize intimacy with God will result in the removal of one’s influence for Christ. As one commentator notes, The church that loses its love will soon lose its light, no matter how doctrinally sound it may be.” 12

Following this warning, the Lord Jesus added one more commendation. “But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” (Revelation 2:6). The Greek word for Nicolaitans means “to conquer the people.” 13 Little is known of the Nicolaitans, but their name typifies any system that focuses on dominating people rather than serving them. 14

Jesus then says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:7). Jesus is addressing the whole Ephesus church consisting of believers (Revelation 2:1), but the call is to the one “who has an ear” and to the one “who overcomes.” Only those Christians who hear the call and appropriate the promise will be able to live a victorious life for Christ till the end of their lives on earth and receive Christ’s promised reward.

Thus, the overcomers spoken of here in chaps. 2–3 are those people who not only believe in Christ for eternal life, but also walk in godliness (cf. 2 Peter 1:5-11) and remain faithful to Him until the end of their lives (cf. Matthew 25:20-21; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:26).” 15

Jesus promises to reward the overcomer for his or her faithfulness by giving them the privilege “to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” “There is a connection between the ‘tree of life’ and man’s rule over the earth. Adam in his unfallen state had access to this ‘tree,’ but when he fell, God kept him from it (Genesis 1:26-28; 3:22).” 16 The tree of life will be “in the midst of the Paradise of God” in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:2, 14).

This reward is reminiscent of the original paradise in Genesis 1– 2 where Adam and Eve were allowed to eat from any tree in the Garden, including the tree of life. At the end of the Book of Revelation, the tree of life is described as bearing twelve kinds of fruit, one for each month, with leaves that bring healing to the nations (22:2). Not everyone has the right to eat from the tree of life (22:14). A person can forfeit the right to eat from the tree by adding to or taking away from the words of Revelation (22:19). Aside from this, little is known about the tree of life, but its vagueness makes this reward even more tantalizing and motivating.” 17

People love to eat! I enjoy eating food every chance I get! The Lord Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what will motivate us to live faithfully for Him till the end of our Christian lives on earth. Christ promises the faithful believer access to “the tree of life” in the New Jerusalem in the future (Revelation 2:7; cf. 22:2, 14). Eating the fruit from the tree of life may give faithful believers the resources to rule more effectively on the new earth (Revelation 2:25-27).

Imagine standing before the Judgment Seat of Christ to receive your rewards from King Jesus (Romans 14:10-12; I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10). He tells you that because you were not faithful to Him till the end of your Christian life, you will forfeit certain rewards which include ruling with Him and eating from the tree of life (cf. Revelation 2:7, 25-27; 3:21; 22:2, 14). Think of the regret, sadness, or shame you will have at this time (cf. Matthew 25:18-19, 22-30; Luke 19:15, 20-26; I John 2:28). If only you had remained faithful to Christ, such rewards could have been yours.

Now fast forward to the New Jerusalem on the New Earth (Revelation 21-22). You are sitting at a table in the New Jerusalem with your friends or family, and one of them receives a call from the office of King Jesus, informing them that they have a special meeting with the King in an hour. At this meeting, fruit from the tree of life will be served for all to enjoy who are invited to this gathering. Because you were not faithful to Jesus till the end of your Christian life, you will not receive such a call nor have access to this special fruit.

Even though there “shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying…” and “no more pain” on the New Earth (Revelation 21:4), you will not be able to experience as much closeness and enjoyment with King Jesus as those who were faithful to Him to the very end. Only those believers who hear the call and appropriate the promise (“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says”) will be able to live a victorious life for Christ (Revelation 2:7). All believers will be in heaven, but not all believers will experience the same degree of rewards in heaven. Specifically for the church at Ephesus and those like it, those who do not lose passion for Christ in this life will experience a special place of intimacy with the Lord” 18 in heaven. Knowing this now is intended to motivate us to live faithfully for Christ with an undying love and devotion for Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, as we listened to Your message to the church of Ephesus, our hearts have been stirred. We know that we have lost the love and devotion we once had for You. Instead of prioritizing intimacy with You, we have focused on programs and performance. We have done things for You, but not with You. Thank You for loving us enough to confront us and woo us back to our original love and devotion for You. Lord, we want to regain our first love for You. Help us to remember the beauty of Your love and grace for us at the beginning of our relationship with You. Grant us a change of attitude toward You so we are not so careless to put ourselves ahead of You. Enable us to return to those things we did when we were passionately in love with You. May our love for You in some small way reflect Your incredible love for us. Thank You for promising us access to the tree of life if we will remain faithful to You to the end of our lives on earth. In Your glorious name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1501.

2. James Rosscup, “The Overcome of the Apocalypse,” Grace Theological Journal, 3:2 (1982): pp. 261-286; John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus, Revised and Expanded Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988, 1994), pp. 123-133, 134-148, 164-172, 188-194, 252-254.

3. Harlan D. Betz, “The Nature of Rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ” (Th.M. Thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1974), pp. 36-45; Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse (Dallas, TX: Redencion Viva, 1985), pp. 97-111; Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings (Miami Springs, Fla.: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1992), pp. 37, 470, 474; Arlen L. Chitwood, Judgment Seat of Christ (Norman, Okla.: The Lamp Broadcast, Inc., 1986), pg. 48.

4. pg. 673.

5. Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse, pg. 108.

6. Vacendak, pg. 1502.

7. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2371.

8. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.

9. Ibid.

10. Evans, pg. 2371.

11. Walvoord, pg. 164.

12. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 31 cites Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary Vol. 2 (Wheaton: Victor Books, Scripture Press, 1989), pg. 572.

13. Vacendak, pg. 1502.

14. Constable, pg. 31.

15. Vacendak, pg. 1504.

16. Constable, pg. 33.

17. Vacendak, pg. 1504. 18. Evans, pg. 2372.