The book of Revelation reaches its conclusion following the destruction of the Beast, the False Prophet, the Dragon, Death, and Hades in chapters nineteen and twenty. The final vision of the completion of God’s healing work in chapters twenty-one and twenty-two leaves us with the fundamental contrast of the book: The spiritual forces of evil are gone, they are not part of the fulfilled city; New Jerusalem, and the spiritual forces of good are ever-present.
Even in the end, though, things are left ambiguous about the human element of the final scene. The book makes it clear what kind of person will be at home in the New Jerusalem—one who follows the Lamb’s path of persevering love. And we are told numerous times what kind of person will not be at home there—one who trusts in the Dragon and follows the ways of domination. What is ambiguous is what happens after the Dragon is gone. Shockingly, the very kings of the earth who throughout the book symbolize humanity at its most hostile to the Lamb are present in New Jerusalem. The nations—allied with the Dragon as they were—find healing in New Jerusalem. So, we don’t know precisely who will be there—some of the Christians mentioned in chapters two and three might not; the kings of the earth will be. It is not about religious affiliation. It is about the ultimate response to the Lamb’s call.
Probably the best way to understand the vision of “a new heaven and a new earth” and the statement that “the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (21:1) is that John reports the social and spiritual healing of the world we live in. We read a few verses later that God is “making all things new” (21:5)—not making all new things. The process of the plagues turns out to be not the total destruction of the physical world but the destruction of the destroyers of the earth (i.e., the Dragon, et al—the spiritual dynamic of domination).
Throughout the book we have been told about various moments of worship in the midst of the time of tribulation that characterizes the “three and a half years” of human historical existence. These worship moments point ahead to this vision of life lived in the presence of God and the Lamb—a kind of constant worship.