I always enjoy listening to children as they describe their view of God and spiritual things. I heard about a 4-year-old little girl by the name of Jenny. One day, she asked her mother, “Does heaven have a floor?” Her mother said, “Well, what do you think heaven is like?” Jenny looked up at the sky and the clouds and she said, “Well, I can’t see any floor up there, so I guess people are just up there on coat hangers!” Which seems just a little bit uncomfortable to me!
Some time ago, I heard Pat Boone share his childhood understanding of heaven. While he was sitting in church service one Sunday, agonizing through one of the preacher’s typically long and boring sermons, he thought about the fact that heaven was going to be just like that, only it would be a thousand years — ten thousand years — forever, just sitting in a church service. And, as a child, that seemed more like a punishment to him than a reward.
And, to be honest, most of our stereotypical descriptions of heaven don’t sound very appealing at all. We usually picture everybody with wings, floating around in the clouds, playing a harp. And frankly, it all sounds a bit boring.
But when we try to get a grip on what heaven is really like, it’s tough, because it’s hard to imagine an existence in a dimension beyond that of this physical world.
But heaven is an important topic for those of us who are Christians because it is so vital to our faith. The fear of hell and eternal torment may be a strong incentive for salvation, but that’s not the basis for our hope. Rather, heaven is the essence of our hope.
In I Peter 1, Peter wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” (I Peter 1:3-4)
I read an article this past week where someone made the statement that Christians don’t talk much about heaven any more. Apart from funeral services, some of the hymns that we sing, and an occasional mention in our prayers, we just don’t talk much about heaven. He said, “Many Christians,…who have attended church all their lives…can’t recall hardly ever hearing a sermon on the subject of heaven.”
When I first read that, I had trouble believing it. Then I went back into my files to see when was the last time I preached on heaven, and let’s just say, it’s been a while.
Which is surprising when you consider that the subject of where we will spend eternal life, forever should be rather important to us. J. C. Ryle, once said, “The man who is about to sail for Australia or New Zealand as a settler is naturally anxious to know something about his future home. Its climate, its employments, its inhabitants, its ways, its customs, all these are subjects of deep interest to him. You’re leaving the land of your nativity, you’re going to spend the rest of your life in a new hemisphere, it would be strange indeed if you did not desire information about your new abode. Now surely, if we hope to dwell forever in a better country, even a heavenly one, we ought to seek all the knowledge we can about it. Before we go to our eternal home, we should try to become acquainted with it.”
So, that’s what we’re going to try to do this morning. We get glimpses throughout the Bible of what this heaven is going to be like, but nowhere in the Bible is heaven described in more detail than it is in the book of Revelation, especially chapters 21 and 22.
So, as we bring our study of the New Testament to a close, let’s watch this overview of the second half of the book of Revelation, and then I’ll be back to take a closer look at what we can learn here about heaven.
Watch VIDEO (Revelation, part 2)
In Revelation 21, 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. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
“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. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” (Revelation 21:1-5)
In verse 22, “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:22-23).
Allow me to make several observations about heaven from these verses.
1. We don’t “go to heaven” so much as it comes to us.
Like most people, I usually think of heaven as a place that is somewhere far, far away, beyond the most distant galaxy, a place where we go when we die. In John 14, Jesus spoke of returning to his Father, where he would “prepare a place” for us. And we tend to think that “going to heaven” (as we often express it) means our going far away to that place that our Lord is preparing.
And I think, for most Christians, the idea of “going to heaven when you die” seems so basic that you don’t even question it. The problem is, you can’t find that kind of terminology in the Bible. No one in the Bible that I know of ever talks about “going to heaven”. Rather, John tells us that heaven comes down to us.
“I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God….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.” (Revelation 21:2)
It seems significant to me that the text doesn’t say, “we go to live with God.” Rather, it says, “God comes to live with us.” You see, the early Christians saw “heaven” and “earth” — God’s space and our space, if you will — as two halves of God’s creation.
Rather than rescuing people from this earth in order to go to heaven somewhere far, far away, God would instead bring heaven and earth together in a great act of new creation.
As Peter put it, “According to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:13)
The early Christians believed that God would then raise up his people from the dead, to share in — and, indeed, to share his stewardship over — this renewed creation.
They believed that all of this was possible because of Jesus. Because Jesus embodied in himself the perfect fusion of “heaven” and “earth.” The Old Testament scriptures promised that God would come back in person to dwell with his people forever. And when Jesus came, that became a reality. John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The word for “dwelt” literally means “he set up his tabernacle among us”. Because the tabernacle, the temple, was the place where heaven and earth came together.
And so, in Jesus, this ancient Jewish hope finally came true. The point was not for us to “go to heaven,” but for the life of heaven to arrive here on this earth. And so, the early Christians didn’t believe that they would “go to heaven when they died.”
Because they believed that, in Jesus, God had come to live with them, that was the lens through which they saw the hope of the world. And so, the book of Revelation ends, not with souls going up to heaven, but with the New Jerusalem coming down to earth, so that “the dwelling of God is with man.” Here in this “new heavens and a new earth”.
2. Heaven should be thought of more in terms of a person than a place.
Our first inclination is to think of heaven primarily as a place, and, of course, it is. But there’s so much more to it than that. More than anything else, heaven is being in the presence of God.
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5, “we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8).
In I Thessalonians 4, “We who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” (I Thessalonians 4:17).
And here in Revelation 21, “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.” (Revelation 21:3)
The Bible pictures heaven not so much a reward as a relationship. It’s getting to be with God. It’s talking with God. It’s intimacy with someone you love.
It’s like this — suppose you’re the wife of a prisoner of war. Your husband has been held captive in a foreign country for many years. Finally, after many setbacks, an agreement was negotiated with the enemy and the release of your husband is at hand.
The United States government has made arrangements for you to meet your beloved husband in Hawaii, where you will get to be with him for two weeks before returning home. Now Hawaii is a very beautiful place (or so I’m told). And I’m sure that most of us would love to go there. But, in this situation, the place is not nearly as important as the person. It would be all right with you if you met your husband in the Sahara Desert. You’re just thankful for the chance to be with him.
In the same way, while heaven is described as a beautiful place, our greatest joy will be to be with God. And when you think of it that way, heaven is not a place that an unbeliever would enjoy very much at all. How would you like to spend an eternity with someone that you’ve despised and rejected, and now he reigns supreme? How would you like to be worshipping him forever and spending time with those who adore him?
I believe that the Day of Judgment is a day when people will receive what they really want. If they really want to be close to God, and to serve and worship him, they’re going to do those things that will allow them to enjoy that. But, if somebody has no interest in God and they don’t want to be around God, on the Day of Judgment, God will give them exactly what they want – they get to be apart from God for all eternity.
Because heaven is more of a person than a place.
3. Heaven is a place where some things will be removed
In Revelation 20, we read, “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire….And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. 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.” (Revelation 20:14-15)
Verse 4, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1, 4)
God is going to join heaven and earth together into a new creation, and the first thing he does is to completely remove Satan, his angels, and those who choose to follow him. They are cast away from God’s presence. And so, in heaven, we won’t be frustrated like we are in this world by those who fight against God and God’s people because they’ll be gone.
Death will be gone, too. You’ll never be separated from Jesus or your family in Christ again. That’s what it means by “the sea was no more.” Throughout the Bible, and in the ancient world, the sea was a place of judgment, of chaos, of death, of separation.
Even more to look forward to, we’re told that won’t be any tears in heaven. No more mourning, sadness, weeping, heartache, depression, anxiety, fear.
Imagine an abandoned piece of property in your neighborhood. The owner moved away, and left behind a trailer, a garage, and a shed on an acre of land. Over the years, it has become more and more rundown, weeds growing up, the buildings starting to lean a bit. But one day, somebody shows up with a backhoe and tears the buildings down. All the trash is removed and everything is cleaned up. And now the whole neighborhood looks so much better. Your street feels brand new.
One day, Jesus is going to take a backhoe to this world — to every cemetery, every meth lab, every abortion clinic, every monument of racism, every abusive relationship, every mental illness, every funeral, every terrorist group, every injustice, every [……….] — you fill in the blank. It will all be cleaned up, and will be brand new.
Because in the new heavens and new earth there’s going to be a removal. But more than that…
4. Heaven is a place where there will be a renovation
Paul says in Romans 8, “All creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.” (Romans 8:19-21, NLT)
Did you notice that word — freedom! God is going to liberate this world from the effects of sin. Everything around us is going to be restored and renewed, and somehow, God will make it even better than it is right now.
About 10 years ago in Colorado, pine trees were infested with the mountain pine beetle. As a result, over 4 million acres of trees were destroyed. There were a lot of negative consequences that came about as a result of all that beetle-kill, included an increase in wildfires, but there was also some beauty that came out of it. It turns out beetle-kill pine makes some beautiful furniture.
In the same way, God is going to take all this death we see around us, all this pain and hurt, even from our own lives, and he’s going to renovate it into eternal beauty. And that’s true not just of the creation around us, but it applies to us as well! We are going to be renovated. That’s what the resurrection is all about.
“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:20-21).
Jesus will renovate our current bodies into a better version of ourselves. As John put it, “What we will be isn’t completely clear yet. We do know that when Christ appears we will be like him because we will see him as he is.” (I John 3:2, GW)
Heaven is a place that will involve a removal and a renovation. But one more thing…
5. Heaven is a place where there will be a return
I’m reminded of the wedding tradition of having “something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.” In the same way, heaven is a place where some things will be brand new, while other things will be old, very old.
Remember back to the garden of Eden before the fall? It was a perfect place full of life and vitality. God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground. And in the middle of the garden was the tree of life. A river watering the garden flowed from Eden.
But when Adam and Eve sinned, God cursed them, and banished them from the garden. Outside the garden, they no longer had access to the tree of life or the water flowing from the garden. They lost their access to eternal life.
But jump forward to the description of the new heavens and the new earth in Revelation 22.
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.” (Revelation 22:1-3)
When heaven comes to us, the garden is back and the curse is removed! Paradise was lost, but now paradise is found. The new heavens and new earth will be a removal, a renovation, and a return.
6. While heaven is a place of rest, it is not a place of inactivity.
I think a lot of people tend to compare heaven to retirement. I heard about a gravestone that said, “Don’t weep for me now, don’t weep for me ever; For I’m going to do nothing forever and ever.” But that’s not what heaven is like at all. Heaven is not a hammock, strung up between two clouds. Part of the beauty of the garden into which Adam and Eve were placed was that they had work to do, they had to tend the garden. In heaven, there will be work for us to do as well.
John saw that in this New Jerusalem “His servants shall serve Him” (Revelation 22:3, NIV). And while it is true that heaven is a place of rest, it will not be the rest of inactivity or idleness. We’re not just going to lay around staring at the beauty of our heavenly home. Revelation 7:15 says the saints “are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple.”
And yes, one the things we’ll have the opportunity to do is to worship our God. In Revelation 4, “And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.’ (Revelation 4:9-11)
I’ll agree with you that the thought of listening to me preach for a few thousand years is not a very comforting thought, but if you’ve ever experienced what it’s like to worship surrounded by thousands of other Christians, in a place like the Pepperdine lectureship or Winterfest, you know just how incredible that is. And I think it’s but a small foretaste of what lies ahead for us in heaven.
How Should the Doctrine of Heaven Affect Us Now?
In the Bible, every time God foretells what is going to happen in the future, he does so with the purpose of bringing about changes in our present actions. So it only makes sense that when God tells us about the heaven that he has prepared for us, if should bring about some changes in our present actions.
As Peter said, “All these things will be destroyed in this way. So think of the kind of holy and godly lives you must live as you look forward to the day of God and eagerly wait for it to come.” (I Peter 3:11-12)
Looking forward to heaven changes everything. It causes us to re-evaluate our priorities, it changes our view of how we should spend our time and our money, it changes our view of the suffering we go through in this life.
But, more than anything else, knowing about heaven should motivate us serve and obey God.
In Revelation 22, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star. The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” (Revelation 22:14-17).
I think one of the greatest disservices that any of us can do to someone else is to leave the impression that the joys of heaven are promised to all men. In each of the last three chapters of Revelation, the fate of the true believer and the unbeliever is contrasted. Those who have chosen to reject Jesus Christ as God’s only provision of righteousness, of forgiveness for sins, and of entrance into heaven, will not spend an eternity with God.
That assurance is only given to God’s children, to those who have put their faith in him, and committed themselves to following him. And if you have never made that commitment in your own life, “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’”