Revelation Chapter 21 (Part 1: Verses 1-4)


REVELATION 21

Adam Maarschalk: February 3, 2010

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 21:1-27

Introduction to Revelation 21-22

Steve Gregg, the editor of the highly resourceful book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary),” provides the following breakdown of how these questions tend to be viewed by believers today (p. 485): Will There Be a Literal New Heavens and New Earth? What Is the New Jerusalem?

Literalist: Non-Literalist:
  • Some take the descriptions in these chapters fairly literally, as applied to a brand new planet and universe, which will be created after the close of the Millennium (premillennialists) or else at the Second Coming (some amillennialists and some postmillennialists).
  • The New Jerusalem described here will be the eternal home of the redeemed.
  • Some spiritualize the whole vision, applying it to a nonmaterial state of existence in heaven.
  • Others take the “New Heaven and the New Earth” to represent what Paul called “a New Creation” (2 Cor. 5:17)—that is, the condition of those who are in covenant with God and Christ through the New Covenant, the “Old Heaven and the Old Earth” (meaning the Old Covenant) having passed away.
  • The New Jerusalem represents the church itself, represented under the imagery of a new Holy of Holies—the tabernacle of God with men—in its present earthly existence.

A large portion of this first post will be spent discussing just the first 2 verses of Revelation 21, as they lay a foundation for what is to come, and also because they use language which appears fairly often throughout the rest of Scripture. We will only cover the first four verses of the chapter in this post, and the remainder of Rev. 21 will be covered in a second post.

Verse 1: John sees that [1] a new heaven and a new earth have replaced the old heaven and earth [2] there was no more sea. Steve Gregg (p. 486) speaks further on what he sees as the three major ways this text is interpreted:

The new heavens and the new earth have been interpreted in essentially three ways: (a) literally of a future material universe after the coming of Christ (so most futurists believe); (b) symbolically of heaven, the abode of the glorified saints; or (c) spiritually of the New Covenant community (the church) that has replaced the Old Covenant community of Israel.

Many tend to take the first position as the primary meaning and to acknowledge secondarily a spiritual application to the present believing community, which has already “tasted of the powers of the age to come” (Heb. 6:5), but which still awaits the establishment of the literal “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13) at the return of Christ or after the Millennium.

Some may be surprised to know that many well-respected preachers of the past did not primarily see Revelation 21 through the lens of explanation (a) above. At the end of this post, we will note some quotes from Jonathan Edwards and John Owen. For now, let’s note how Charles Spurgeon viewed the meaning of “the new heavens and the new earth” in this excerpt from a sermon he preached in 1865:

Did you ever regret the absence of the burnt-offering, or the red heifer, or any one of the sacrifices and rites of the Jews? Did you ever pine for the feast of tabernacle, or the dedication? No, because, though these were like the old heavens and earth to the Jewish believers, they have passed away, and we now live under the new heavens and a new earth, so far as the dispensation of divine teaching is concerned. The substance is come, and the shadow has gone: and we do not remember it (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. xxxvii, p. 354).

Spurgeon evidently saw the language of the new heavens and the new earth as one and the same with the arrival of the New Covenant. I share his viewpoint, at least in the primary sense. This fits with everything else we’ve been seeing in our study of the book of Revelation; the completed transition from the Old Covenant age (ending in 70 AD) to the New Covenant age (inaugurated at the cross, and overlapping with the Old Covenant age for one generation). Kenneth Gentry likewise sees a first-century fulfillment for this passage here in Rev. 21, in part based on its correlation with a similar prophecy by Isaiah. Gentry says on page 173 of his newest book, “Navigating the Book of Revelation,”

Isaiah prophesies the Church age by using dramatic new creation language: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind” (Isaiah 65:17).

Proponents of all viewpoints seem to agree that John’s vision was a clear allusion to this text from Isaiah. The different interpretations have to do with the perceived timing of its fulfillment. Some see it as a yet future reality, to be fulfilled and made manifest after Christ’s future Second Coming. Futurist Arno C. Gaebelin said of Revelation 21, “We now come to the revelation concerning the final and eternal state of the earth” (Gregg, p. 486). John Piper sees Revelation 21 as speaking of the future “age of the resurrection.” Others, like Gentry and Charles Spurgeon, believe that this reality has been realized ever since the last symbols of the Old Covenant disappeared with Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD, now replaced by the New Covenant and the New Jerusalem. Looking again at Isaiah’s parallel account, Gentry further clarifies his points on this matter[1]:

Isaiah’s prophecy clearly portrays the coming new covenant order established by Christ, which Paul calls a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; cp. Ephesians 2:10; 4:24)… We know that Isaiah was not speaking of the consummate order, for he includes aspects of the present fallen order in his description: “No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his days; For the youth will die at the age of one hundred and the one who does not reach the age of one hundred shall be thought accursed” (Isaiah 65:20). The eternal order will not include infants, death, aging, and curse (p. 169).

Steve Gregg also expresses some thoughts on the Isaiah – Revelation 21 connection (pp. 488-489):

The concept of a new heaven and a new earth (v. 1) is first given clear expression in Isaiah and is later mentioned by Peter, probably alluding to Isaiah (2 Pet. 3:13). God first speaks of His intention to “plant the heavens, lay the foundations of the earth, and say to Zion, ‘You are My people’” (Isa. 51:16). Since this is uttered after the first heaven and earth were created, this must speak of planting a new heaven and earth… This could refer to the establishment of the New Covenant, since certain elements of the New Covenant order are said to be something that God “creates” (Isa. 4:5; 57:19). Also, the specific promise of “new heavens and a new earth,” found exclusively in Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22, fall within a portion of Isaiah which New Testament writers applied to the present age.

Regarding the portion of Isaiah which New Testament writers applied to this present age, Steve Gregg offers the following comparisons (p. 506):

[a] Isaiah 65:23 with I Cor. 15:58
[b] Isaiah 65:25 with Luke 10:19
[c] Isaiah 66:1f with I Tim. 3:15
[d] Isaiah 66:8 with Gal. 4:26
[e] Isaiah 66:11 with Matt. 5:6
[f] Isaiah 66:12 with John 14:27
[g] Isaiah 66:15f with Matt. 22:7
[h] Isaiah 66:18 with Matt. 8:11
[i] Isaiah 66:19 with Eph. 3:8 and Col. 1:27
[j] Isaiah 66:20 with Rom. 15:16

David Curtis, pastor of Berean Bible Church in Chesapeake, Virginia, has this to say:

In biblical apocalyptic language, “heavens” refers to governments and rulers, and “earth” refers to the nation of people. This can be seen in the book of Isaiah [e.g. Isaiah 1:1-2, 10]…

Isaiah 34:4-5 (NKJV) All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, And the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll; All their host shall fall down As the leaf falls from the vine, And as fruit falling from a fig tree. 5 “For My sword shall be bathed in heaven; Indeed it shall come down on Edom, And on the people of My curse, for judgment.

Here we have a description of the fall of Edom; notice the language that is used. This is Biblical language to describe the fall of a nation. It should be clear that it is not to be taken literally. God says that, “His sword will be bathed in heaven,” then explains what He means by saying “It shall come down on Edom.” The NIV puts it this way, “My sword has drunk its fill in the heavens; see, it descends in judgment on Edom, the people I have totally destroyed.” So, God speaks of His sword being bathed in heaven, meaning the nation Edom, not the literal heaven. Edom shall be rolled up like a scroll.

Isaiah 51:13-16 (NKJV) And you forget the LORD your Maker, Who stretched out the heavens And laid the foundations of the earth; You have feared continually every day Because of the fury of the oppressor, When he has prepared to destroy. And where is the fury of the oppressor? 14 The captive exile hastens, that he may be loosed, That he should not die in the pit, And that his bread should not fail. 15 But I am the LORD your God, Who divided the sea whose waves roared; The LORD of hosts is His name. 16 And I have put My words in your mouth; I have covered you with the shadow of My hand, That I may plant the heavens, Lay the foundations of the earth, And say to Zion, ‘You are My people.'”

The time of planting the heavens and laying the foundation of the earth that is referred to here, was performed by God when He divided the sea (ver. 15) and gave the law (ver. 16), and said to Zion, “Thou art my people; that is, when He took the children of Israel out of Egypt, and formed them in the wilderness into a covenant nation. He planted the heavens and laid the foundation of the earth: that is, brought forth order, and government.

If the destruction of heaven and earth were to be taken literally in all of the Old Testament passages, it would mean that heaven and earth were destroyed a bunch of times. This language is clearly not literal, but figurative and apocalyptic [the same also being true in a New Testament passage like Matthew 24:29].

Australian Pastor Andrew Corbett (a partial-preterist) says on this matter:

When the Lord speaks [throughout Scripture] of a new heaven and a new earth there may be some merit in regarding this as Biblical language for a new covenant. This suspicion is increased when we consider how Christ used this expression as well: For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished (Matthew 5:18).

Since Christ fulfilled the Law, was He right in stating that heaven and earth passed away? If we regard the expression ‘heaven and earth‘ as referring to God’s covenant with mankind, then this statement makes perfect sense. It seems that Christ was therefore saying that once the Old Covenant is fulfilled it will be done away with and replaced by a new covenant.

Hebrews 8:13 says that the Old Covenant became obsolete at the Cross, but it was still to be done away with. Since we now know that the Book of Revelation was written around 64AD (just after the Epistle to the Hebrews, which referred to the Old Covenant as still being in existence – note Hebrews 8:13) Revelation’s announcement of a ‘new heaven and a new earth’ was perhaps announcing that a change in covenant-order was pending…

Could the picture of a new heaven and a new earth in the Book of Revelation be describing a coming new physical reality? Perhaps. But we have some Biblical precendent for regarding it as an expression of God’s covenant relationship with mankind… Therefore, while there may be future physical implications of this Biblical prophecy, there might not be.

Putting these thoughts together (if we are on track), the use of the words “heaven” and “earth” in Revelation 21:1 represents [1] the final passing of the Old Covenant Judaic age in light of the destruction of the second temple and the city of Jerusalem when God poured out His wrath upon apostate Israel in 70 AD, just as Jesus predicted (e.g. Matthew 8:10-12; 11:21-24; 21:33-45; 22:1-14; 23:29-24:35; Luke 11:47-51; 13:1-5; 19:41-44; 21:1-36; 23:28-31); [2] the full establishment of the New Covenant age and the kingdom of God (no longer encumbered by Judaism), in which it is openly manifest that God’s covenant people are only those who place their trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. I believe that the remainder of our study of Revelation 21 will bear these things out, as we compare Scripture with Scripture.

I appreciate what David Lowman says here: “So, perhaps it is best to understand the NHNE [new heavens and new earth] covenantally as a picture of the promised New Covenant that finds origination in the Old testament, institution in the Gospels, unfolding in the [book of] Acts and explanation in the rest of the New Testament.”

Regarding the absence of the sea in Rev. 21:1b, Steve Gregg says (p. 489), “Many take the sea symbolically as representing the nations and peoples of the Gentiles. According to this theory, only the spiritual Israel remains of all the nations that once covered the planet. The glory of the Lord thus fills the earth as the waters once covered the sea (Hab. 2:14).”[2]

Back in February, I posted a 3-part series titled “‘The earth’ as a Common Reference to Israel in Revelation.” The first post can be seen here, the second post here, and the third post here. This 3-part series was an in-depth study of John’s frequent use of the phrase “the earth” as an indication of the impending judgment upon apostate Israel in 70 AD. In the third post, I included an appendix briefly discussing a similar use of the phrase “the sea” to indicate the Gentile nations. Here is a large excerpt from that appendix:

One passage where this is almost certainly the case is Revelation 13:1, in referring to the beast with ten heads and seven horns. This is very similar to (and likely based on) one of Daniel’s visions where he saw four great beasts coming “up out of the sea” (Daniel 7:3); all of them are Gentile leaders. Most scholars are united in saying that these beasts represent [1] Babylon [2] Medo-Persia [3] Greece [4] Rome, with the Roman beast being the one that John saw.

Perhaps an even clearer indication of this idea is seen in Revelation 17:15 where the angel says to John, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages” (cf. Rev. 17:1). The word “sea” is not used in this instance, but the same idea (“many waters”—verse 2) is communicated, and this is done in terms of a clear reference to the Gentiles. In Rev. 12:12, we see that a woe is pronounced upon the inhabitants of “the earth and sea” because “the devil has come down to you in great wrath.” It seems it would make more sense for the Gentiles to be alarmed over this fact than for the whales and other sea creatures to feel distress…

The Old Testament basis for this pattern of “the sea” as a reference to Gentiles can be seen in the following passages:

[1] Psalm 65:7; The “roaring of the sea” and the “roaring of the waves” is equated with “the tumult of the peoples.” The latter phrase is understood in the Old Testament to be a reference to the Gentiles.
[2]
Isaiah 17:12-13; In verse 12, “many peoples” is compared to “the thundering of the sea” and “the roaring of mighty waters.” In verse 13 the same is said of “the nations,” a clear reference in Isaiah’s day to the Gentiles.
[3]
Isaiah 57:20; “The wicked,” it is said, are “like the tossing sea,” whose “waters toss up mire and dirt.”
[4]
Isaiah 60:1-5; This is a prophecy for the Church, deemed as such by New Testament writers (e.g. Eph. 5:14 RE: verse 1, Rev. 21:24 RE: verse 3). In verse 5 a direct parallel is drawn between “the sea” and “the nations”: “…the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.” Some translations use the phrase “the Gentiles” instead of “the nations.”
[5]
Jeremiah 6:23; Here, Jeremiah is prophesying of “a people coming from the north country” (verse 22) to make Jerusalem a desolation (verse 8). Their sound, Jeremiah said, “is like the roaring sea.” Babylon fulfilled this prophecy within Jeremiah’s lifetime when they devastated Jerusalem in 586 BC.

A prominent example of “the sea” as a reference to Gentiles in the New Testament outside of Revelation can be seen in Luke 21:25. Here Jesus is speaking of Jerusalem’s impending desolation (verse 20), what would be an imminent call for all who are in Judea to flee (verse 21), and wrath against “this [same] people” (i.e. the Jews) along with “great distress upon the earth” (or “the land,” i.e. Israel). Jesus prophesies the trampling of Jerusalem by the Gentiles (which Revelation 11:2 indicates would last for 42 months) in verse 24. In His very next thought, Jesus then utilizes a common reference to Israel (“sun and moon and stars”; see Genesis 37:9-10), and says that “on the earth” (Israel/Palestine) there would be “distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves” (verse 25). This is the same language we see used commonly in the Old Testament.

Here in Luke 21:20-25, “the earth” (Israel) is shown to be distinct from “the seas” (“the nations” and “the Gentiles”) in the same passage. This same distinction also takes place within several passages in Revelation:

[1] Revelation 13:1-18; The “beast rising out of the sea” (verse 1) is distinct from the “beast rising out of the earth” (verse 11), though the second beast ends up working on behalf of the first one (verses 12-17; Rev. 16:13) and is captured along with it (Rev. 19:20, 20:10). In our study of Revelation 13, we gave good reasons for believing the sea-beast to be Rome (in the general sense) and Nero (in the singular sense), and the earth-beast to represent Jewish leadership.
[2] Revelation 16:19; The “great city,” explicitly shown to be Jerusalem in Rev. 11:8, is shown to be distinct from “the cities of the nations.” The terms “earth” and “sea” are not used here, but this same idea is communicated.
[3] Revelation 17:15-18; An angel refers John back to Rev. 17:2-3 where he had seen “
the great prostitute who is seated on many waters…sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names.” She is equated with “the great city” (verse 18), which we know is Jerusalem (Rev. 11:8), and the “waters…are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages.” The Jewish prostitute is seen sitting on the Gentile beast. Early on they are on good terms with one another, but later the beast causes the demise of the prostitute (verse 16).

The picture before John then is of Israel’s national and religious leadership having taken a stand against God’s people in partnership with the primary Gentile force of her day, Rome. This is signified by the “sea” and “earth” dichotomy in the book of Revelation. One more reference to “the sea” in Revelation, which some scholars do take to indicate Gentiles, is in Revelation 21:1. There we read, “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.” Does this mean that when this passage is (or was, or is being) fulfilled, that there are to be no more non-Jews? No, but it certainly could mean that there would be no more distinction made between Jews and Gentiles. After all, this is the message of Revelation 10:7, the fulfillment of “the mystery of God” (cf. Eph. 3:6; Rom. 10:12-13; Gal. 3:28, 5:6, 6:15). One’s view on whether or not this is John’s indication here in Rev. 21:1 depends on whether one takes the “new heaven and a new earth” and “the holy city, new Jerusalem” (verse 2) to be New Covenant Christianity (Gal. 4:24-26; Heb. 12:22-24) or simply a literal and future dwelling place.

Verse 2: John saw “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” As noted earlier, many today see the “new Jerusalem” as a future, physical reality. Is there any precedence elsewhere in the New Testament for seeing the New Jerusalem as a present, non-physical reality? Recall Spurgeon’s quote at the beginning of this post, and how he related the dichotomy of the old and new heavens/earth with the Old/New Covenants. I haven’t read his entire sermon, but I’m willing to bet that he had this passage in mind:

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 andone by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, whilethe son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are twocovenants. 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. For it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor. For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.” Now you, brothers,like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say?“Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave butof the free woman (Galatians 4:21-31, emphasis added).

Bear with me as I take us on a brief rabbit trail here, but one that should prove to be valuable. The passage quoted in Galatians 4:27 is Isaiah 54:1. Most are agreed that this passage in Isaiah is parallel to Isaiah 66:8-9, seen in context here: “Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at His word: Your brothers who hate you and cast you out for My name’s sake have said, ‘Let the Lord be glorified, that we may see your joy’; but it is they who shall be put to shame. The sound of an uproar from the city! A sound from the temple! The sound of the Lord, rendering recompense to His enemies! ‘Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son. Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment? For as soon as Zion was in labor she brought forth her children. Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?’ says the Lord; ‘shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?’ says your God. Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn for her (Isaiah 66:5-10).

Dispensationalists and Christian Zionists insist that Isaiah 66 predicts Israel’s birth as a nation in 1948. However, if it is indeed parallel to Isaiah 54:1, it must be seen in the same way that Paul made application of Isaiah 54:1 in Galatians 4. Isaiah foresaw the birthing and the breaking forth of the heavenly Jerusalem (66:8-10), even as earthly Jerusalem met her demise (66:6). Ironically, Isaiah 66 does not speak of the restoration of earthly Jerusalem into the hands of mostly unbelieving Jews in 1948. Rather, it mirrors the taking away of the earthly kingdom from apostate Israel (in 70 AD), and the giving of the heavenly kingdom exclusively to God’s holy nation, the Church, just as Jesus predicted (Matthew 21:43-44; cf. Daniel 7:18, 22, 27). It speaks of the full establishment of the New Jerusalem for the Church invisible, the dissolving of the Old Covenant in favor of the New Covenant. This is the point of Isaiah, Jesus, Paul, and John.[3]

In our study of Revelation 17, we noted the same dichotomy which we just saw in Galatians 4, as John was shown a contrasting picture of two women: the harlot of chapters 17 and 18, and the bride in chapter 19 clothed with “fine linen, bright and pure…the righteous deeds of the saints (see verses 1-8). In Hebrews 12:22-24 we see the same language, where the picture of the New (heavenly) Jerusalem is again linked with the New Covenant: “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, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” Looking at the larger context, the author of Hebrews is comparing and contrasting the giving of the Old Covenant (verses 18-21) with the granting of a non-physical kingdom even as the old physical kingdom (the Jerusalem temple; cf. Heb. 9:8-10) was about to be removed.

In John’s letter to the Church in Philadelphia, this promise was also given to those who would be found faithful: “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from My God out of heaven, and my own new name” (Rev. 3:12). This was a promise to first-century believers. The temple of which Christ spoke, of course, is the Church (I Cor. 3:9, 16-17; 6:19; II Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:19-22), a very present reality.

In this same vein, Kenneth Gentry stated, “The new Jerusalem is a symbol of the redeemed people of God in whom God dwells (Rev 21:3), much like the “temple” in Paul’s writing often represents the people of God and not a physical building (1 Cor. 3:16–17; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21).”[4] Steve Gregg adds (p. 490), “Since the New Jerusalem is later described as the ‘Lamb’s wife’ (v. 9), we can readily identify the symbol with the church, which is the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:31-32).”

Can you see it in these passages? It’s time that the Church shakes off the false teachings of dispensationalism and Christian Zionism, with their heavy emphasis on an earthly kingdom for one particular ethnic group (the Jews), and lives in the present realities of the New Covenant, the heavenly kingdom which cannot be shaken.

Steve Gregg also adds, on pages 489-490:

The mixing of metaphors in the holy city, New Jerusalem…prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (v. 2) is arresting. That a city could be dressed in bridal attire is difficult to picture with the mind. Yet it is not the first time the images of a city and a woman have been joined in describing one entity. In Revelation 17, the great harlot was also Babylon, and a divine interpreter explained that “the woman whom you saw is that great city” (17:18). The figure of a woman to represent a city goes back to the Old Testament, where Jerusalem is referred to as “the virgin, the daughter of Zion” (Isa. 37:22)…

The bride is here prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (v. 2), suggesting the wedding day. In chapter 19, the announcement was made that the marriage of the Lamb had come and His wife had made herself ready (19:7), yet no description of the wedding or the bride was offered. This vision seems to pick up where that one left off, for here we see the procession of the bride in her readiness to be joined to her husband.

Verse 3: “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.’” The language used here is quite similar to the description of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34. The phrase “Behold the tabernacle of God is with men” also hearkens back to Ezekiel 37:27-28, a passage which follows shortly after the New Covenant promises articulated in Ezekiel 36:24-28. Furthermore, in Ezekiel’s own vision of a city, he was told that it would be the place where God would dwell with His people (Ezekiel 43:7, 48:35). Steve Gregg notes that this promise was first made conditionally in Leviticus 26:11, and further comments:

The destruction of Solomon’s temple and the removal to Babylon in 586 B.C. was God’s way of revoking this privilege because of the Jews’ disobedience. While in Babylon, however, Ezekiel prophesied that there would come a time of ultimate restoration of God’s people under the terms of the New Covenant, resulting in the renewal of the original privilege: “My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore” (Ezek. 37:27). Many interpreters apply Ezekiel 37 to the Millennium, though the repetition of Ezekiel’s words in this place [Revelation 21] would favor a fulfillment in the new creation.

Is this promise awaiting future fulfillment? The apostle Paul didn’t believe so when he quoted Exodus 29:45 and Lev. 26:11 as a present reality for the Church in his own day (II Corinthians 6:16).

Verse 4: John is told that tears will be wiped away, and there will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain, “for the former things have passed away.” Of all the statements in Revelation 21, this might be the hardest one to explain as a present reality. Here are some questions that we can ask to help us think through what John is told in this verse:

1. Since God can’t wipe away what isn’t there, can we conclude that tears are present when He wipes them away? If this is so, what is the likely setting where this takes place – on this earth during our lifetimes, or beyond the grave?

2. What does the rest of the New Testament say about “death” and its relationship to followers of Christ? What does the New Testament say about what Jesus has already accomplished with regard to death?

3. What does the New Testament teach regarding “former things” passing away, or “the old order of things” (as the NIV puts it) passing away? Does the NT elsewhere present the passing away of former things as an accomplished reality, or a future reality?

From Isaiah 53:4, we know that Jesus bore our griefs and sorrows on the cross. From John 3:16, we know that God gave His Son, Jesus, so that those who believe in Him would not perish. From II Timothy 1:10, we know that Jesus has already abolished death and brought life and immortality to life through the gospel. From II Corinthians 5:17, we know that the old has already passed away, the new has come, and we are new creations in Christ. From Galatians 6:15, we know that this new creation counts as everything. From Hebrews 12:24, we know that we have a new covenant with better promises and realities than ever existed in the old covenant. 

Revelation 21:4 is based on Isaiah 25:8, which says: “He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces; The rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth…” The context shows that God would ruin one city (Isaiah 25:2, 26:5), but on a mountain He would create “for all people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines…” (verse 6). He would destroy “the veil that is spread over all nations” (verse 7) and bring salvation (verse 9). The walls of the new city would be marked by salvation (26:1) and a righteous nation would enter the open gates (26:2; see Rev. 21:24-26). 

According to Paul, there was a veil over the mind when reading the old covenant, and that veil is only taken away in Christ (II Corinthians 3:14). The old covenant was also a ministry of death (II Cor. 3:7). So, when examining the background of Revelation 21:4, we can see that the death and sorrow was covenantal, and those “former things” passed away with the creation of the new covenant at the cross (Matthew 26:28) and the destruction of the old covenant system in 70 AD.

Steve Gregg remarks on these things (p. 490),

Some have so construed the promise God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (v. 4) as to teach that there will be tears in heaven. Biederwolf, however, suggests that the words simply mean “that He will so constitute things that no more tears will be shed.” …The causes of present mourning and crying are eradicated forever.

There is also a present realization of these truths, since, for the Christian, Christ has “abolished death” (2 Tim. 1:10), so that “whoever lives and believes” in Christ “shall never die” (John 11:25). As for sorrow, grief, and pain, our relationship with God through Christ has even transformed these experiences so that, while we do still mourn the loss of loved ones, we do not “sorrow as others who have no hope” (I Thess. 4:13).

Is Rev. 21:4 also a reflection of the truths laid out in Hebrews 2:14-15? There we read, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” In any case, one of the provisions of the New Covenant brought about by Christ’s death on the cross is the deliverance from the fear and sting of physical death (and, of course, exemption from the second death—Rev. 20:6, 14).

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Before moving on to our next post, where we will continue with our study of Revelation 21 (beginning with verse 5), I would like to close this post with some pertinent quotes from Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) and John Owen (1616-1683) which mirror what we have been saying here:

[1] Jonathan Edwards: “The Scriptures further teach us to call the gospel-restoration and redemption, a creation of a new heaven and a new earth… The gospel-state is everywhere spoken of as a renewed state of things, wherein old things are passed away, and all things become new… And the dissolution of the Jewish state was often spoken of in the Old Testament as the end of the world. But we who belong to the gospel-church, belong to the new creation; and therefore there seems to be at least as much reason, that we should commemorate the work of this creation, as that the members of the ancient Jewish church should commemorate the work of the old creation…

Heaven and earth began to shake, in order to a dissolution, according to the prophecy of Haggai, before Christ came, that so only those things that cannot be shaken may remain, i.e. that those things that are come to an end may come to an end, and that only those things may remain which are to remain to all eternity.   So, in the first place, the carnal ordinances of the Jewish worship came to an end, to make way for the establishment of that spiritual worship, the worship of the hearts, which is to endure to all eternity.   This is one instance of the temporary world’s coming to an end, and the eternal world’s beginning.  And then, after that, the outward temple, and the outward city of Jerusalem, came to an end, to give place to the setting up of the spiritual temple and the spiritual city, which are to last to eternity.

[2] John Owen: [regarding II Peter 3] “It is evident, then, that in the prophetical idiom and manner of speech, by heavens and earth, the civil and religious state and combination of men in the world, and the men of them, were often understood… On this foundation I affirm that the heavens and earth here intended in this prophecy of Peter, the coming of the Lord, the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men, mentioned in the destruction of that heaven and earth, do all of them relate, not to the last and final judgment of the world, but to that utter desolation and destruction that was to be made of the Judaical church and state.

(1.) Because whatever is here mentioned was to have its peculiar influence on the men of that generation. He speaks of that wherein both the profane scoffers and those scoffed at were concerned, and that as Jews, some of them believing, others opposing, the faith. Now there was no particular concernment of that generation, nor in that sin, nor in that scoffing, as to the day of judgment in general; but there was a peculiar relief for the one and a peculiar dread for the other at hand, in the destruction of the Jewish nation…

(2.) Peter tells them, that after the destruction and judgment that he speaks of (vers. 7-13), “We, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth,’ etc. They had this expectation. But what is that promise? Where may we find it? Why, we have it in the very words and letter, Isa. lxv. 17. Now, when shall this be that God shall create these new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness? Saith Peter, “It shall be after the coming of the Lord, after that judgment and destruction of ungodly men, who obey not the gospel, that I foretell.” But now it is evident from this place of Isaiah, with chap. lxvi. 21, 22, that this is a prophecy of Gospel times only; and that the planting of these new heavens is nothing but the creation of Gospel ordinances to endure forever. The same thing is so expressed Heb. xii. 26-28…

He will come- He will not tarry; and then the heavens and earth that God Himself planted, -the sun, moon, and stars of the Judaical polity and church, -the whole old world of worship and worshippers, that stand out in their obstinancy against the Lord Christ, shall be sensibly dissolved and destroyed: this we know shall be the end of these things, and that shortly.” (Sermon on 2 Peter iii. 11, Works, folio, 1721.).

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In Part 2 of our study of Revelation 21, we will examine the remainder of the chapter (verses 5-27). We will also note a number of similarities between Isaiah 60 and Revelation 21, Ezekiel 40-48 and Revelation 21, and other fascinating allusions to other Scripture texts in Rev. 21.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.


[1] Kenneth Gentry, “Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues,” GoodBirth Ministries: Fountain Inn, SC, 2009.

[2] Kenneth Gentry notes that “John Walvoord (Revelation, 311) takes a strongly literal approach,” saying, ‘The new earth apparently will have no bodies of water except for the river mentioned in 22:2.’” Gentry himself agrees that the replacing of the old heavens and earth with the new heavens and earth is a picture of the Old Covenant order. Gentry comments,

John witnesses the New Jerusalem “coming down out of heaven” (Rev 21:2). In John’s drama the collapse of the Jewish temple in AD 70 opens direct access to God (Rev 11:2, 19; cp. 19:1–2, 9; 22:14). If God descends with his New Jerusalem people “then the barrier of the glassy sea [Rev 4:6; cf. 4:2–5, 9–5:1, 6–7], which in the present age separates his dwelling from the earth, will have to have been done away with” (Mealy, 195). This is precisely what we see in Rev 21:3–5.

This new covenant principle of open access to God appears elsewhere in the NT. For example, we see this when Jesus promises that soon people will no longer need to worship in Jerusalem but can call upon God from anywhere (Jn 4:21, 23; cp. Mal 1:11). This begins to occur when the temple veil is torn and creation is darkened and shaken (Mt 27:45//, 51b; cp. Rev 21:1), for after that event Christians are urged to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace” (Heb 4:16; cp. 7:19) because of the removal of the old covenant (Heb 8:13; 12:22–28) which blocked access to the holy place (Heb 9:8). This removal of the old covenant is dramatically exhibited and finalized in AD70.

In that the Exodus motif appears frequently in Rev, the removal of the sea may also reflect the drying of the Red Sea so that Israel could enter the Land (Ex 14:21–22; Ps 18:15; 106:9; Isa 44:27; 50:2; 51:10; 63:11–12; Jer 51:36; Nah 1:4). But even here we may note the separation from God involved, for the sea separated Israel from God’s promised inheritance, requiring that God overcome this impediment. Hence, the image of the Exodus / Red Sea underscores the symbol of open access to God.

I do believe the absence of the sea in Rev 21:1 portrays just this sort of image. The new covenant access to God is a major consequence of the removal of the old covenant and rituals portraying the hiddenness of God. As Christianity takes the place of Israel at AD 70, God’s people can come boldly before the throne of grace in a way they could not have in the OT.

Source: Kenneth Gentry, “No More Sea” (Supplement to his newest book, Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues), January 2010, p. 4.

[3] Some (e.g. Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, Gary DeMar) would say that Peter makes the same point in II Peter 3:1-14, where he speaks of scoffers “in the last days” (of the Old Covenant age?), the existence (at least in his day) of “the heavens and earth,” and the coming “day of the Lord” (70 AD?) in which the heavens would pass away with a roar along with the burning up of “the earth and the works that are done on it,” giving way to “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” Others, like partial-preterist Kenneth Gentry, see Revelation 21:1-2 as primarily speaking of the events of 70 AD, but II Peter 3 speaking of what will take place at the end of world history with the future Second Coming of Christ. Here is what Kenneth Gentry says regarding these things:

My understanding of Revelation 21–22 is that John provides an ideal conception of new covenant Christianity as the new creation and the new Jerusalem. Though the ultimate, consummate, eternal new creation is implied in these verses, his primary focus is on the redemptive new creation in Christ. John is encouraging the beleaguered Christians to hold on through their trials: Once Jerusalem falls and Nero dies, they will have entered into the final redemptive-historical order in history. And he paints Christianity in glowing terms [p. 1, underlining added]… John’s new creation revelation differs from Peter’s (2 Pet. 3:10ff) [in that Peter highlights the eternal result of the temporal redemption in Christ that John speaks of].

Source: Kenneth Gentry, “New Creation As New Covenant” (Supplement to his newest book, Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues), January 2010, pp. 1, 4.

Rightly or wrongly, some have taken Gentry to task for inconsistency in these matters.

[4] Source: Kenneth Gentry, “Dispensationalism and the New Jerusalem” (Supplement to his newest book, Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues), January 2010, p. 5.

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A Discussion of Two Ages: “This age and the age to come”


A Discussion of Two Ages

Adam Maarschalk: April 10, 2010

Readers familiar with the New Testament will recall that there are two ages frequently spoken of within its pages. NT writers spoke often of “this present age,” i.e. an age that was present in their day. Is this same age still present in our day? Interpreters are divided on this point. The way one answers this question has a significant bearing on one’s eschatology. The well-known and well-respected Puritan theologian Dr. John Owen (1616-1683) would have answered “no” to this question, which would have put him in the minority if he was living today. This is what he once said on this matter:

Most expositors suppose that this expression [In Hebrews 1:2], “The last days,” is a periphrasis [euphemism] for the times of the gospel. But it doth not appear that they are anywhere so called; nor were they ever known by that name among the Jews, upon whose principles the apostle proceeds… It is the last days of the Judaical church and state, which were then drawing to their period and abolition, that are here and elsewhere called “The last days,” or “The latter days,” or “The last hour,” 2 Peter 3:31 John 2:18Jude 1:18… This phrase of speech is signally used in the Old Testament to denote the last days of the Judaical church (John Owen, The Works of John Owen, Volume 19, pp.12 – 13).

Source: David Duncan (Facebook)

Source: David Duncan (Facebook)

This topic was broached briefly during the “Evening of Eschatology” forum moderated by Pastor John Piper in September 2009, and the division between the forum members was evident. Here in this post I will only be presenting one point of view, the same view that John Owen held to. Do feel free, though, to take up this discussion in the “Comments” section below this post, and even to point out any other well-written articles taking up an alternative position.

The bulk of what follows is an article on this subject by Pastor David B. Curtis, based on a message he preached March 14, 1999 at Berean Bible Church in Chesapeake, Virginia. This discussion has a bearing not only on our study of Revelation 20, but also our study of Revelation 21 which will be posted soon. David draws on a large number of texts which refer to “this age and the age to come” and other similar language used in the New Testament. His premise is that we are living in the New Covenant age (which the New Testament often called “the age to come”), and that the previous age, i.e. the Judaic or Old Covenant age, came to an end in 70 AD when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed. I chose to highlight David’s article because I don’t know that I’ve seen a more thorough or well put-together discussion on this subject. I will only be quoting from the portion of his article which discusses this dichotomy of two ages.

Curtis begins his article by asking whether or not the Bible teaches that this world will end. This is beyond the scope of our discussion here, but one relevant point he does make early in his article is that passages like Matthew 13:40 (and Matt. 24:3) have often been taken to refer to the end of world history when in fact they do not. In the King James Version, Matt. 13:40 reads: “As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.” However, “world” here is [perhaps not so correctly] translated from the Greek word “aion” which means “age, dispensation, era, or a period of time.” Newer translations do in fact implement this change, such as the New King James Version: Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age.” Clearly Jesus was living in the age He was speaking of, which Curtis believes (and I agree) ended in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple.

Curtis goes on to show that the end of that age was connected to the destruction of the temple in Jesus’ famous sermon known as the Olivet Discourse (see especially Matt. 24:3, Mark 13:4, and Luke 21:7). For the sake of space I will only sum up Curtis’ closing thoughts regarding the Olivet Discourse (but one may follow the link in the paragraph above to see all that he had to say):

[The disciples’] question was, “When will the end be?” …Jesus tells them quite clearly that the end would come in “this generation” (v 34). The word “generation” means: “those who are contemporaries or live at the same time.” So, the age that was to end was the Jewish age. It would end with the destruction of the Jewish temple and the city Jerusalem. The end of the age did not happen at the cross or at Pentecost but at the destruction of Jerusalem. The world was not going to end but the age of Judaism was. The disciples knew that the fall of the temple and the destruction of the city meant the end of the Old Covenant age and the inauguration of a new age.

As far as I know, this understanding that 70 AD was a dividing point between two ages is not at all consistent with most Futurist and premillennial ideas. Even some preterists, though, would articulate Curtis’ thoughts just a little bit differently. For example, when reviewing the “Evening of Eschatology” hosted by John Piper (video included), I noted this observation from one partial-preterist:

Doug Wilson made the point that the years 30-70 AD were the overlapping of two ages, the Judaic (Old Covenant) age and the Christian (Church) age. He likened this transition to the passing of a baton between two runners, where the first runner keeps running alongside the second runner for some distance, before completely letting go of the baton and giving way to the second runner. One relevant text for this idea is Hebrews 8:13. Doug noted that the Christian age began at Pentecost, but the Judaic age only ended 40 years later with the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 AD (See the video, roughly from the 18:30-22:00 mark).

Source: Cindye Coates, The Porch

So Doug Wilson speaks of the Church age beginning at Pentecost, while David Curtis speaks of it being inaugurated a generation later in 70 AD. Perhaps this is a small distinction, for I know that some preterists will say, for example, that in 70 AD the Church age “carried on exclusively, no longer encumbered by Old Covenant Judaism.” With that caveat out of the way, I’d like to come back now to the article by David Curtis and quote a sizeable portion from it regarding these two ages:

This brings us to a very important question, “HOW MANY AGES ARE THERE? William Barclay says: “Time was divided by the Jews into two great periods– this present age, and the age to come. The present age is wholly bad and beyond all hope of human reformation. It can be mended only by the direct intervention of God. When God does intervene, the golden age, the age to come, will arrive. But in between the two ages there will come the Day of the Lord, which will be a time of terrible and fearful upheaval, like the birth-pangs of a new age.”

Zechariah 14 teaches us that the “Day of the Lord” and the destruction of Jerusalem were connected. So, the destruction of Jerusalem, which was the Day of the Lord, marked the end of one age, the Jewish age, and the beginning of the new age, the Christian age of the New Covenant.

To the Jews, time was divided into two great periods, the Mosaic Age and the Messianic Age. The Messiah was viewed as one who would bring in a new world. The period of the Messiah was, therefore, correctly characterized by the Synagogue as “the world to come.” All through the New Testament we see two ages in contrast: “This age” and the “age to come.”

Matthew 12:32 (NKJV) “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.

The word “come” at the end of the verse is the Greek word mello, which means: “about to be.” We could translate this, the “age about to come” (in the first century). Many think that the age to come will be a sinless age; not according to this verse. Sin against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven in that age, referring to the age of the New Covenant, our present age. We see here that both of these ages have sin in them.

Ephesians 1:21 (NKJV) far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.

Here again we see the two ages. So, the New Testament speaks of two ages, “this age” and “the age to come.” The understanding of these two ages and when they changed is fundamental to interpreting the Bible.

Let’s see what the New Testament teaches us about these two ages. Questions that we need to try to answer are: What age did the new testament writers live in? What age do we live in? How is ‘this age” characterized in the New Testament? What does the New Testament say about “the age to come”? When does “this age” end and “the age to come” begin?

WHAT AGE DID THE NEW TESTAMENT WRITERS LIVE IN?

The New Testament writer lived in the age that they called “this age.” To the New Testament writers the “age to come” was future, but it was very near because “this age” was about to end.

1 Corinthians 2:6-8 (NKJV) However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, 8 which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

The wisdom and rulers of “this age” were coming to nothing because the age was passing away. He is speaking of the Jewish leaders and the Old Covenant system. The rulers of “this age” crucified the Lord. These rulers would shortly have no realm in which to rule because “this age” was about to end. Think about this. If the Jewish age ended at the cross, as so many claim, why were they still ruling the age?

1 Corinthians 10:11 (NKJV) Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

Paul said very plainly that the end of the ages was coming upon them, the first century saints. “This age,” along with its wisdom and rulers, was about to end.

Hebrews 1:1-2 (NKJV) God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;

Jesus was speaking in the last days. What last days? The last days of the Bible’s “this age” — the Old Covenant age.

Hebrews 9:26 (NKJV) He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

When was it that Jesus appeared? He was born, not at the beginning, but at the end of the ages. To suppose that he meant that Jesus’ incarnation came near the end of the world would be to make his statement false. The world has already lasted longer since the incarnation than the whole duration of the Mosaic economy, from the exodus to the destruction of the temple. Jesus was manifest at the end of the Jewish age. Peter says the same thing.

1 Peter 1:20 (NKJV) He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.

Jesus came during the last days of the age that was the Old Covenant age, the Jewish age. That age came to an end with the destruction of the temple in AD 70. All the things prophesied by Jesus in Matthew 24 occurred at the end of that age. Alright, so the New Testament writers lived in what the Bible calls “this age.”

HOW IS “THIS AGE” CHARACTERIZED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT?

1. It is an evil age:

Galatians 1:3-4 (NKJV) Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,

Paul says here that the “present age” which is “this age,” the one that was about to pass away, is an “evil” age. Christ came to deliver them from the “present age” because it was evil. Could “evil age” be referring to Christianity? Could the Christian age be called an “evil age” that we need to be delivered from? No! Christ came to bring us out of the evil age and place us into His kingdom.

2. It was an age of darkness:

Colossians 1:12-13 (NKJV) giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love,

Christ came to deliver them from the “power of darkness.” This is a reference to the Old Covenant or “this age.”[1]

John 8:12 (NKJV) Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

Jesus was speaking to the Jews, He was calling them to leave the darkness of the Old Covenant and follow Him.

3. It was an age in which Satan ruled.

Acts 26:18 (NKJV) ‘to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’

The “present age” was one of darkness. Satan is called the god of “this age.”

2 Corinthians 4:3-4 (NKJV) But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.

Remember “this age” is not referring to our age, it was the “this age” of the first century. Satan ruled in the Old Covenant world of Judaism but his reign was shortly (in the first century) to come to an end.

Romans 16:20 (NKJV) And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

Satan would be crushed when the “present age” of darkness came to an end. When John wrote his first epistle he said that the darkness was passing.

1 John 2:8 (NKJV) Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining.

The “darkness” is speaking of the Old Covenant age, and the “true light” is speaking of the New Covenant age.

4. It was an age of death and condemnation.

2 Corinthians 3:5-11 (NKJV) Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, 8 how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. 10 For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. 11 For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious.

Here Paul is comparing the two Covenants, the Old Covenant was one of death and condemnation, but the New Covenant was one of life and righteousness. When Paul wrote this to the Corinthians, the Old Covenant age, the “present age,” was in the process of passing away.

Paul spoke to the Galatians about these two covenants and said that the Old Covenant was at that time in effect.

Galatians 4:21-26 (NKJV) Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. 23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, 24 which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar; 25 for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children; 26 but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.

Hagar, represented both the Old Covenant and the Jerusalem that “now is” (the Old was still present at that time), and Sarah represented both the New Covenant and the New Jerusalem that was “above” (it was still to come).

5. It was an age that was called “night.”

Romans 13:11-12 (NKJV) And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.

Their salvation was drawing near, and the night was just about over. Is the Christian age day or night? It is day! The night of Old Covenant Judaism was just about to end, the day of the New Covenant, the Christian age, was just about to dawn.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-4 (NKJV) But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. 2 For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. 3 For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. 5 You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness.

Paul told the Thessalonian Christians that they were not in darkness, they were sons of light and sons of the day that was about to dawn.

So, “this age” of the Bible is the age of the Old Covenant that was about to pass away in the first century. It was characterized as evil, darkness, Satan’s rule, condemnation, death, and night. It should be clear to you that “this age” is not the Christian age in which we live. In the first century the age of the Old Covenant was fading away and would end completely when the temple was destroyed in AD 70.

Hebrews 8:13 (NKJV) In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

The book of Hebrews was written at around 65-69 AD. At this time the Old Covenant was still in effect but it was ready to pass away. It passed away in AD 70 in the destruction of Jerusalem. The “this age” of the Bible is now ancient history.

 I will conclude with these words from David Curtis:

We now live in what was to the first century saints the “age to come.” When most Christians read in the New Testament and see the words “the age to come,” they think of a yet future (to us) age. But the New Testament writers were referring to the Christian age. We live in what was to them the “age to come,” the New Covenant age. Since the “present age” of the Bible ended in AD 70 with the destruction of the temple and the coming of the Lord, we must be in the “age to come.”

David Green, who shares this same viewpoint, has listed 101 Scripture passages from the New Testament which indicate that a very significant event (or series of events) was about to take place in the days of the early Church. The study he has presented is valuable in seeing how frequent this language is in the New Testament, and what was to take place not in the 21st century (or beyond) but at that time.

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All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.

All of our studies on Revelation 20 and the Millennium can be found here.

We are now ready to move on in our study of the book of Revelation to Revelation 21, where John presents his readers with a picture of the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven.


[1] Another text that gives credence to this idea is Matthew 22:1-14, the Parable of the Wedding Feast. In this parable, speaking of the kingdom of heaven (vs. 2), a king (God) was to prepare a wedding feast for his son (Jesus), but those who were originally invited (the Jews) refused to come (vss. 3-5) and even killed the king’s servants who had invited them (v. 6). Therefore, these murderers were destroyed (cf. Matthew 23:29-38; Rev. 16:4-7, 17:6, 18:20, 18:24), and their city was burned (cf. Rev. 18:8-10, 18; 19:3). This is precisely what we see having happened in Jerusalem’s destruction and burning in 70 AD. The invitation then goes out to others (Gentiles as well as Jews; vss. 9-10), but only those with proper wedding garments were allowed to remain (vss. 10-14; cf. Rev. 19:8). Those who lacked these garments remained in outer darkness and were not part of the chosen people of God (vss. 13-14; cf. Matt. 8:11-12).