Dear Radio Friends,
Do you long for heaven? Do you long for the coming of Jesus Christ when He will make all things new? Today’s message on the subject of heaven should increase your longing for heaven, not because your life here is so difficult and you want to get out of it, not because this present world is so wicked and you want it destroyed, nor because you have to deal with your sins and with trials and troubles in your life and you want to be perfected. But this message should make you long for heaven because heaven itself is so wonderful, because there in heaven we will dwell forever with the Lord.
In the Bible, heaven is described in largely figurative language. In Revelation 21, for example, from which our text will come today, it is described as a perfect cube, a city with pearly gates and golden streets, and all these are figures that cannot be described literally. It is put in figurative language because the glories of heaven will simply be overwhelming.
Also we see in Scripture that heaven is often described in negative terms by contrasting it to what we have in the present. In heaven there will be (Rev. 21:4) the wiping away of all tears from our eyes so that there will be no more death nor sorrow nor crying nor any more pain. But all things will be made new. The Scriptures describe it that way because of sin. It is simply impossible for us to think in the present of life without sin and its effects. But that is what heaven will be.
Heaven is also given positive descriptions in the Scriptures. In Psalm 16 it is described this way: “At thy right hand are pleasures evermore,” a beautiful description of the endless pleasure and bliss of heaven. In John 14 Jesus says, “In my Father’s house are many mansions and I will come and receive you to myself that where I am, there ye may be also.” Heaven will be dwelling with God and with Jesus Christ our Savior.
But, as we look at the subject of heaven in Scripture, we see that the Scriptures have much more to say about our present life, our salvation, about Christian living, and even about hell and God’s judgment than they do about heaven. When they speak about heaven, they speak about it in a practical way. Heaven is not just something far off in the distance but heaven matters in our life today, and our longing for heaven should create a certain kind of living in this present world. We live as pilgrims and strangers. This earth is not our home. We seek a heavenly city that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
Today we want to look at the subject of heaven from the book of Revelation, chapter 21, and the first three verses. We are going to divide our message along the lines of these three verses. First we will see (v. 1) a new creation. John says there: “I saw a new heavens and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.” John is speaking here of the physical creation, a new creation, a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away. The first heaven and the first earth that are passed away are the old creation, what Peter describes in II Peter 3 as “melting with a fervent heat in the day of the Lord.” That old creation will pass away and be destroyed, but the essence of it will be re-created in the new heaven and the new earth.
Now, we should understand this as kind of a parallel to our own bodies and their death and the decay of our bodies in the grave and then our resurrection at the last day. Just as our bodies are destroyed by death and then by a miracle are brought back together in the resurrection, so it will be for this creation. It will be destroyed at the coming of Jesus Christ by a fervent heat but then a new heaven and a new earth will be created. Not a brand new one, but the essence of this one re-created without sin.
We can understand this by looking at Jesus’ resurrection body, too. We see that it was the same body in which it was crucified and buried. After His resurrection, He bore in His body the marks of His crucifixion. There was a continuity, but there was also a radical change so that new created body of Jesus Christ was deeply spiritual and suited for heaven.
We understand that the creation in the present is under the curse. That is because of the sin of Adam and Eve. Romans 8 says that this whole creation groans and travails, waiting for deliverance, deliverance of itself from the curse of sin. This is what will come when the old heaven and earth will pass away and there will be a new heaven and earth created.
That new heaven and earth will be something like this physical creation in which we live in the present. In Isaiah 65, there is indication that in heaven we will work, and in heaven there will be creatures much as we find them in the present creation as well. Verse 21: “They shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them.” Verse 25, “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock.” So there are creatures and there is work in heaven.
But it will be more like Eden, God’s original creation in which Adam and Eve were created in perfection. II Peter 3 tells us that this new heaven and new earth is one in which righteousness will dwell, that is, it will be right with God. There will not be any more sin anymore. That is indicated here in Revelation 21:1, when it says, “The first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.” We understand here that the book of Revelation is symbolic. It is not talking about the hydrology of the new heavens and the new earth, that there will not be a sea in it, necessarily. But it is saying that the devil and all the enemies of God and all the potential for sin will be gone. It is saying that in symbols. The sea in the book of Revelation represents the turmoil of the nations. Out of the sea comes the beast of Revelation 13 who is the Antichrist. And the wicked, Isaiah 57:20 says, are like the raging sea. When it says here there will be no more sea, it means simply this, that all potential for evil will be gone. In the new heavens and the new earth there will be this difference from the original creation. There will not be there a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. There will not be there a tempting serpent. It was possible for Adam and Eve to fall into sin. In the new heaven and new earth there will be no possibility of sin. This will be our salvation, that there will be no inclination in me for sin anymore. I will be delivered from the body of this death. As you think about that, as a Christian, with regard to heaven, this is what should really make us long for heaven. We will not be sinners anymore.
The new creation will also include this that there will not be anymore a great divide between heaven (God’s dwelling place) and the earth (man’s dwelling place). The spiritual and the physical world will be united as one. In the present there is this great separation. After Adam and Eve sinned, they were driven out from the presence of the Lord. Now the Bible presents heaven as above us, God’s throne, and the earth as His footstool. It speaks of the coming of Jesus Christ as His coming from heaven to dwell among men on the earth. That great separation between God’s dwelling place and our dwelling place is because of sin. But it will not be anymore in the new heavens and the new earth. There will not be two separate places, but one. For Revelation 22:3 says, “There shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it.” God will dwell with His people and be with them and they will dwell with Him and see His face and He will be their God.
So, we think of heaven first as a new creation, a new heaven and a new earth in which there will be no sin, in which we live in perfection in the very presence of God.
The second verse here presents heaven to us as a new city: “And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”
What is the “new Jerusalem”? The emphasis here is not so much on a place. It is not talking about Jerusalem in Palestine, but a new Jerusalem, a different Jerusalem, another Jerusalem. What is referred to here is not the place but the people. The city, in the Bible, is a metaphor for a community, a people. That is true in the book of Revelation as well with regard to the other city, the city of Babylon—a community of those who live in defiance to God. The new Jerusalem is a communion of the saints, the company of the redeemed. It is the hundred and forty-four thousand, the elect of God, gathered as one and prepared by Him to live in this new heaven and this new earth in perfect harmony. So God creates the new heaven and the new earth and then comes the Jerusalem—the people of God—to live and dwell in this new heaven and new earth.
Notice in this verse, there is a mixture of metaphors that helps us to see that this is referring to the people of God. John saw the “holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven,” and then here is the mixed metaphor, “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” This bride is described later in the chapter in verse 9 as the bride of the Lamb. Who is the Lamb? It is Jesus. Who is the bride of Jesus? It is the church (Eph. 5)—the bride that He loved and for which He gave His life. So the new Jerusalem is the bride of Christ, the church, that will dwell in the new heavens and the new earth.
Now, we should notice here several important things about the church. First is that the church is prepared and coming down from God out of heaven. This points to the fact that God, by His Spirit and Word, prepares His church and people to live with Him in heaven. All through history, this is what He is doing. As He gathers the church by the preaching of the gospel, as He sanctifies His people by the Spirit, the church is prepared for glory.
Also notice that this church comes down from heaven. This points to the character and the work of the church as deeply spiritual. The church is not simply an earthly institution. The church does not have earthly tasks. It is not here in this world to improve the social order or the problems that are here in this current world, but the work of the church and goal of the church in her work is spiritual and heavenly. The members of the church are born from above by the Holy Spirit, and the church aims at the new heaven and the new earth.
Notice also that this church is referred to as a city. The city in the Bible is the ideal community of people. The city is the place of permanent residence, of safety, of prosperity. Jerusalem was the city of God in the Old Testament to which the people went up and for which they longed, and it symbolized the unity of God’s people in their worship of Him. What we should see here is that heaven will be a profoundly social experience. Heaven will not be a place for lone rangers. Heaven will not be me and my God forever. Heaven will not be you huddled in a corner with a Bible. But heaven will be Father’s house of many mansions. We will all be together in one place as the people of God. This is the unity and community that we long for in the church today and then it will be perfected.
One more thing we should notice about this. The first thing that Christ shows John, the first thing He shows to us in the new heaven and the new earth, is His bride, the church. Christ, as it were, pulls back the curtains of heaven and we see the bride, adorned, ready to meet her husband. This is a typical scene from a wedding. The wedding party is assembled at the front of the church. The groom is waiting. The wedding march begins. The doors at the back of the church are flung open and here is the beautiful bride and everyone stands to welcome her. You can hardly go through that without shedding a tear of joy. Well, that is the scene here. There is something profoundly beautiful here. After the glory of God and the glory of the Lamb in the heaven, this is the most glorious thing about heaven. Christ does not first show us the wealth and the streets of Jerusalem and the trees of Life, but the very first thing that He shows us in this new creation is His bride. Everything else is secondary. He wants us to know: this is My love, this is the apple of My eye.
What an encouragement to the church and to the people of God here in the earth. Did you ever as a child of God, or as the church of God, feel unattractive or maligned by the world or marginalized in society? Certainly that was the way the seven churches of Asia Minor must have felt to whom this was written. That is how the church is in this world—a small flock, a little flock, a remnant. But it will not be that way on the final day. On that day, the day in which God will be all in all, the church will take center stage as His bride at His side.
So, as He draws back the curtains of heaven, He says, “See here, here is My Love.” That ought to stir us up in our commitment to the church, in our love for the church as well. Why should you love the church? There are many reasons in Scripture. But this is the most compelling: that Christ Himself loves His church. There is something wrong with my confession if I am indifferent to the church. The church is the object of the love of Jesus Christ so you should love her, too. Alongside the glory of Jesus Christ in heaven, this is the first and most glorious thing: the glory of His bride, the church.
So, we have a new creation (in verse 1), a new city (in verse 2), and then in verse 3 a new communion: “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.”
Notice what is repeated there three times: with them, with them, with them. God will be with them. It will no longer be that God is in heaven and we are on earth and occasionally He will drop by to visit us. His home will be our home. His dwelling will be with us. His presence will be no longer a matter of faith but a matter of sight. We will see His face. It will be the intimacy that Adam and Eve had with God as they walked with Him in the cool of the day in the garden, only it will be perpetual. Paradise will be restored.
Now, we understand that this is the promise that all of Scripture is looking forward to. This is the thread, this is the theme of all of Scripture: I will be with them and be their God, it says here in verse 3. That is the covenant promise that God always made. After Adam and Eve had sinned they were driven out from the presence of the Lord. But always God’s aim is to restore that communion between Himself and His people. So, in Genesis 17 God comes and says to Abraham and concerning his offspring and the people of Israel: “I will be their God and they shall be my people.” When Moses came, the tabernacle was built. It was called the “tent of meeting.” It was a picture of God’s dwelling with His people.
But also in that tabernacle, there was not a fulfillment yet. It was impossible for the ordinary Israelite to come into the presence of God in the tabernacle. Entrance was restricted. The furniture and the sacrifices and the curtain and the ark and the holy place behind the veil and the incense that was burned all pointed to the fact that no one could go into the presence of God. Only the priest, once a year, by the blood of the sacrifice. But in it there was a promise, a promise of greater, more permanent fellowship.
So Solomon built the temple. There was some permanence given to God’s presence with His people in the temple.
And the prophets pick up on this theme, especially towards the end of the Old Testament when the tabernacle and the temple are destroyed. Then Ezekiel says, “My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” All of these are prophecies and promises in types that anticipate Jesus Christ’s coming. For He is Immanuel, God with us. He is the one who, as the book of Hebrews shows us, fulfills all the types of the temple and the tabernacle and the priests and the sacrifices, and who, in His ascension, goes behind the veil into the very presence of God, there to appear for us. He is God with us and He is our Head. Us with God, in heaven.
But now we see here in the book of Revelation, chapter 21:3, there is even a greater fulfillment of this beautiful type of the tabernacle and the temple in the new heaven and the new earth. John, as he sees into heaven, sees God’s covenant perfected. There are no more sacrifices. There is no more sin. There is no more veil. There is no more separation. There is no more confession. There is no more repentance of sin. There is no more death. There are no more tears. There is no more sorrow and no more pain, no more crying. But we live with God in perfect bliss. God says, “I will be with them and be their God, and dwell with them and they shall be my people, and all the effects of sin will be gone.”
That is our longing as God’s people. We look for, we haste towards, that day when we will dwell in perfection in the presence of God.
So, what John sees in this chapter is a new creation, a new city (the people of God to dwell in this new creation), and a new communion—God Himself dwelling with His people in this wonderful new heaven and new earth.
Do you long for heaven? Is it being with God especially that makes you long for heaven? That is heaven. To live apart from God is death—that is hell. To be in the presence of God forever to eternity—that is heaven. And this is what should make us long for heaven. Not that heaven will be all the best things we have here on the earth. No. Heaven will be this: that we, free from sin, will dwell in God’s presence and bring Him glory in perfection forever. This is the longing of every true child of God.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the wonderful promise here of heaven. Beautiful pictures. And it makes us long for the day when we will dwell in Thy presence to eternity. So, again we pray: Come, Lord Jesus, yea, come quickly, Amen.
Dear Radio Friends,