“The one seated on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)
There is an interesting contrast that happens between Revelation chapters 20 and 21.
Revelation 21 is a favorite passage of many. Revelation 21 speaks of the New Creation; a new Heaven and a new Earth. Revelation 21 looks forward to the moment when humanity and God are no longer separated, but their dwelling place is together. Revelation 21 imagines a time when there is no more death, crying, tears, or pain. Revelation 21 is the future we dream about.
Revelation 20, however, is the opposite. There are very few sermons preached from Revelation 20. Revelation 20 is judgment and destruction. Revelation 20 is both when Satan is bound, but also when Satan is released to wreak havoc on the world again. Revelation 20 is the great battle at the four corners of the Earth with Gog and Magog joining the battle. (It also envisions some great Tolkien battle scene.) Revelation 20 is judgement from the white throne, with Death and Hades being thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20 is a moment to avoid.
On one side of the divide is death and judgment. On the other side is life and forgiveness.
On one side is war and destruction. On the other side is rebirth and peace.
On one side is all of the wicked forces in the world striving to harm the world in any way possible. On the other side is the great giver of life who is welcoming all into an eternal rest.
The two chapters, it appears, are completely different. One conjures images of joy. The other offers the type of images that lead to nightmares. Yet, while they are very different, they are also connected in an intricate way, because new life is only possible after destruction takes place. God can not usher in a new creation until the old world (or in reality the present world) is judged and punished. Destruction must happen first if we want to have life.
It seems counter productive to imagine destruction and life being intertwined. Yet the reality is we can’t move onto something new, until the old is destroyed. For instance, multiple times in scripture God reminds us to love our enemies, and to repay evil with good. This is a difficult proposition for Christians to embrace. It’s not easy to turn the other cheek, or to attempt to still love the person who has wronged you. Often the argument is given that to simply turn the other cheek allows wickedness to prevail because it goes unpunished. However, God never says that wickedness will go unpunished. Instead, God promises to punish the wickedness so that we don’t have to. “Vengeance is mine. I will repay says the Lord.” The reason Christians can turn the other cheek is because God promises at some future time to hold evil doers accountable, and to avenge all wrongs; even wrongs that are committed by good people. It is only the knowledge that at some point God will avenge the wrongs against us that allows us to take up our cross and follow.
Death, destruction, and judgement are then not just random events unleashed on the world, they are the moment of God making all things right. The image portrayed in Revelation 20 is the truth that at some point in the future, God will come to both judge and punish the wickedness in the world. Evil will not just be forgotten or erased. God will never act as if evil didn’t happen. Instead, God will call evil to account. God will punish evil and wickedness; avenging the righteous who have suffered.
Revelation 20 and 21 are thus intricately connected. New life is possible because the old has been avenged. A future without death, mourning, sadness, or pain is possible because God has held Satan accountable, and cast evil into the lake of fire. Behold, all things can be made new, because Death and Hades have been defeated. The coming destruction therefore is not a moment to be feared; a warning to avert us form the future. It is instead good news. The coming destruction means, in the words of Jesus, that the day of our redemption is near. As God destroys the old/present world, God is creating a new heaven and New Earth. The new creation is the dwelling we have been longing for, where God meets us as friend, comforter, and guide. Thus, we can pray with confidence and in hope; come Lord Jesus come.