Beginnings can be exciting and may be eagerly anticipated: A new company is founded. A new medication is produced that can reduce suffering. The new job offer looks promising and may provide much-needed financial resources. A marriage takes place, and two people promise each other to share their lives and love all life long. A baby is born, and a child learns to walk and detect new things. A church is started with people who have learned about Jesus and have begun to love Him.
But not all beginnings are great. Some we encounter with apprehension: Will we succeed with the difficult and straining classwork? Will we be able to make friends in a new environment? Some we encounter with great fear: What will we do after a divorce or the death of a spouse? What will a new beginning be like after having been fired? How do we deal with the situation when told that our life will come to an end soon?
Life on earth has many beginnings, good ones and bad ones. Some affect humanity as a whole; some affect us primarily as believers, and some are of an individual nature.
A look at human history can be insightful and, simultaneously, appalling. We had a good beginning when God created us. But when we turned against Him, life became mostly misery for the majority of us—even the well-to-do. We get sick. We get hurt. Life may seem to be meaningless. Eventually we will die. None of us has eternal life automatically. The saying that humans are humanity’s worst enemies is still true. We take advantage of each other, oppress each other, amass money without end while others have nothing to survive. We try to enlarge our turf and our countries at the expenses of others. Has there ever been a long period in history when there was no war on earth? We call people “great” who have built themselves empires by killing millions of fellow humans. And things are not getting better, as we are told it would be: an evolution to a better kind of humanity without God just does not take place.
Against this background, the new beginning at the end of human history—brought about by God Himself—shines brighter than any other human hope. The Old Testament already pointed to a new beginning of some kind for the Israel of old, which never became fully true. But the books of Daniel and Revelation point to a final new beginning, the kingdom of God in glory. While Daniel heralds this kingdom, the last book of Scripture describes its nature; and this is more and better than what we could ever hope for. But it has become possible only through Jesus’ incarnation, His life among us, and, especially, His death on the cross for our salvation, toppling all forces of evil and turning upside down all human approaches to life that at the end leave us hopeless, unfulfilled, and sick.
The new beginning at the end of human history—brought about by God Himself—shines brighter than any other human hope.
Revelation repeatedly narrates human history from the time of John to the end of time. This story line is in no way pleasant. Think about the four apocalyptic horsemen, the martyrs under the altar, and suicidal humanity at the Day of the Lord in the seven seals (Rev. 6-8). Think about the culminating judgments of the seven trumpets (Rev. 8-11). Think about the dragon’s intense war through his minions against God’s people (Rev. 12-13). What lies ahead of us is conflict, plagues, and Armageddon. But there is more, much more. God is still in charge, and He changes all our games, all our fabrications of evil, injustice, and oppression, and all the onslaughts of evil powers.
The last two chapters of the Bible return indirectly to the lost Paradise of Genesis 1-2. The original beginning of human life, recorded in the first two chapters of Scripture, is matched by a new beginning of human life at a new level at the end of Scripture: the first creation is matched by a new creation.
Revelation 21 starts with John seeing a vision of a new heaven, a new earth,, and the Holy City, the New Jerusalem. This general statement will be unpacked later when an angel shows John the Holy City as a bride, the throne of God, the river of the city, and the tree of life.
In conjunction with his vision, John hears a great and unidentified voice from God’s throne declaring that God’s tabernacle (skēnē) will be with humanity and that He will “tabernacle”/dwell (skēnoō) with them and take away all tears, death, mourning, crying, and pain (Rev. 21:3, 4). Revelation describes the new beginning already from the perspective of the old eon having come to an end, and a new and supreme beginning having been made.
The message of Revelation 21:3, 4 explains the presence of God among the redeemed with sanctuary language. God “tabernacles” among his people as He did in the Garden of Eden, in the earthly sanctuary, and as He did when Jesus “tabernacled” among us after His first coming (John 1:14). Revelation 21-22 is all about the presence of God among His people. This is the major point and is repeated with different phrases and different imagery. God will be with us—not as an occasional visitor, but permanently, intimately, and directly! He and we will belong together in a totally unique way.
The wonderful result of God’s presence is then described with the positive affirmation that in fatherly love God will take care of all tears of His children. In tenderness He personally will remove what has created hurt and harm, and He will undo—in an exemplary way—four detrimental aspects of our present life: crying, pain, death, and mourning. This surpasses all our present understanding and experience: We know what suffering and death mean and fear them. We know these better than any created being in the universe. But we do not know resurrection yet. Only Jesus can understand us fully: only He has encountered evil in the most intense way, and He has risen from the dead.
The promise of removal of the former things, including death, implies that the resurrection of the believers at the Second Coming will have taken place (Rev. 19:11–20:6). This resurrection is the beginning of the final beginning. Throughout the New Testament, resurrection is a major theme. The apostles could not stop preaching Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. Because Jesus was raised, His followers will also be resurrected.
The resurrection is the great hope of believers and the ultimate threat to the enemies of the gospel. First, though the latter were able to harm and even kill Christ’s followers, they cannot hinder them from coming back to life! They do not have ultimate power over life and death. Second, they too will experience a resurrection, even if they do not want it, the “resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29, ESV).1 Issues of life and death are in the hand of God the Father and the hands of Christ, the “firstborn from the dead” (Rev. 1:5) and the one who is life personified (John 14:6).
Following the “great voice” of Revelation 21:3 (KJV), the voice of God the Father is heard (verse 5), affirming that everything will be made new and that the promise is “true and faithful.” While Jesus speaks repeatedly in the Apocalypse—for instance, all the messages to the seven churches come from Him—God the Father, the Creator and the “Alpha and Omega,” utters only two direct speeches, the one found here and the other one in the prologue of the Apocalypse (Rev. 1:8). When God breaks His silence, we had better listen. Both times He is portrayed as Creator, as “the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 21:6) and as He who is and was and is to come, the Almighty (Rev. 1:8). As He states: “It is done!” (Rev. 21:6): salva
tion (John 19:30), sanctuary, and new creation are connected. The crucial aspect in the new creation, not present in the original creation, is the gift of eternal salvation.
Starting with Revelation 21, one of the angels charged with carrying the bowls in Revelation 15-16 speaks and explains the new creation in more detail (Rev. 21:9–22:5). He shows John the New Jerusalem, the river of the water of life from the throne of God—the sanctuary—and from the Lamb (Rev. 22:1), and the tree of life (verse 2). The New Jerusalem is a bride (people), a temple city (Rev. 21:22) (God’s presence), and a garden city (Paradise). The angel’s imagery points to protection and peace (walls), access (the open gates), sufficiency (size), inhabitants as faithful people of God (12 gates/tribes and 12 foundation stones/apostles), beauty and durability (building materials), and security (the nature with the river and the fruits).
The major point of the new creation is not golden streets, strawberries as big as watermelons, leisure, and pleasure. The angel ends his portrayal of the garden city by returning to God’s presence with humankind. The intimate fellowship between God and humanity that existed in original Eden will be restored. Redeemed humanity will see the Creator and Savior face to face, will serve Him, and reign forever (Rev. 22:3-5): “God and humans share the same address.”2
The original creation and the new creation have a lot in common. But the new beginning surpasses the old one in several aspects: A tempter (serpent) will no longer be present. The danger of falling into sin is practically excluded. Jesus is not only Creator but now also Savior and one of us, while also being part of the Godhead. His incarnation and death for our sake has changed His nature permanently and therefore has changed the Godhead permanently. The plan of salvation has brought Godhead and humanity much closer to each other than they ever were. This new dimension can probably be best described as “God with us” and we with Him in an ever deeper and fuller growth experience, with new vistas into every aspect of life and into God’s grace and wonderful character throughout eternity, with profound satisfaction and ever-increasing love of the Lord of life on our part. This is truly the beginning for which we long. “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).
Ekkehardt Mueller, retired, was an associate director of the Biblical Research Institute, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland.