The scene here moves to eternity, after the end of time, when all the enemies of God have been vanquished, following the final judgment of all men, and when the long drama of human struggles and temptations shall have been concluded.
Christ promised that his faithful servants should “enter into the joy” of their Lord at his coming (Matthew 25:23);
Paul encouraged the Philippians with precious words of their “citizenship … in heaven” (Philippians 3:20);
Peter wrote that, “We look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13);
James said that Christians “shall be heirs of the kingdom which he promised to them that love him” (James 2:5);
Jude extolled the glory of “Him who is able to present you before the throne of his glory … in exceeding joy” (Jude 1:1:24); and the author of this prophecy promised that, “We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
All of the sacred writers and all of their prophecies of an eternal state of joy find their culmination and fulfillment (prophetically) in these final two chapters of Revelation. The Bible would not be complete without them.
We must not be perplexed or confused by the remarkable language of these chapters. Language itself, as a vehicle for the conveyance of thought, is incapable of any adequate portrayal of the realities symbolized.
Therefore, we shall not spoil the picture by belaboring the symbols, nor by literalizing the materials, dimensions, and conceptions which abound in it.
The beauty, riches, joy, and glory of heaven are exceedingly beyond all that people may think or imagine; and the very best description of them can be nothing but a feeble suggestion of their fullness.
Nevertheless, we humbly thank God for what is written, and we shall strive to catch a little glance of what it will be to be there when the Lord comes to claim his own.
In the English New Testament, the word occurs 261 times in some 20 New Testament books. Matthew quoted the word “heaven” 70 times from the words of Jesus, and the writings of the apostle John record it 83 times.
The conception dominates the New Testament. Besides the 261 direct references using the term “heaven,” there are many other passages, including whole sections of the holy Scriptures, in which it appears under a somewhat different terminology.
Jesus, for example, said:
And make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when it shall fail, they may receive you into the eternal tabernacles (Luke 16:9).
Then shall the King say to them on his right hand, Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34).
Peter likewise spoke of the same blessed estate when he said of the Christian graces:
For thus shall be richly supplied unto you the entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:11).
For verily in this we groan, longing to be clothed upon with our habitation which is from heaven (2 Corinthians 5:1-2).
Jesus also referred to heaven under the figure of a house from God, saying:
In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I come again, and will receive you unto myself; that where I am there ye may be also (John 14:2-3).
Likewise the Old Testament reveals the same basic conception of heaven as a place of reward for the righteous who shall live eternally with God:
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalms 25).
Daniel spoke of the book of life and of the time of the end, declaring that:
Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2).
There is no understanding whatever of Jesus Christ except in the light of his unique relationship to HEAVEN:
In heaven he was from the beginning.
From heaven he came.
Of heaven he spoke.
To heaven he pointed the way.
From heaven angels announced his birth.
From heaven angels ministered to him in Gethsemane and in the Wilderness.
From heaven angels came to announce his resurrection.
From heaven the voice of God declared him to be the Son of God.
From heaven angels came to escort him to Glory.
To heaven he ascended.
From heaven the angels announced his Second Coming.
In heaven he sits at the right hand of the Majesty on High.
In heaven he reigns until all enemies shall be put underfoot.
In heaven he intercedes for Christians.
From heaven he will come again to raise the dead and summon all who ever lived to the judgment of the Great White Throne.
Take heaven out of the Bible and you have nothing left!
I. Heaven will Fulfill Man’s Most Urgent Need
A. Our current dwelling place in the tabernacle of the flesh is ephemeral, uncertain, and inadequate.
The sacred writers made the most delicate reference to this, but the very tenderness of their words underscores the pitiful and overwhelming nature of that need.
As Paul put it, “If the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved!” What kind of an “if” is this?
Can any man doubt that the dissolution of this frail tent of a body is otherwise than certain and impending?
Hundreds of stained glass windows, inverted pillars, blind doors, and almost countless rooms augmented the estate until it covered several acres of floor space.
She slept in a different room each night, so that if death entered the house it could not find her.
But at last death came into the blue room where she slept, and all of her striving went for naught. Mrs. Mary Baker Patterson Glover Eddy pretended that death would not come.
When she could no longer ride in the buggy through the streets, she had her nurse go in her place to keep up the pretense of good health; but even in the likeness of all others, her soul deserted the body which had nowhere to go but to the grave.
Our Lord put this need in focus when he said, “WHEN YE FAIL … (KJV).” Not “if,” but “when.”
It is in the light of this basic fact that the walls of jasper and the streets of gold rescue the soul from the blackness of despair.
B. And what of them who reject this hope? To reject it is to commit spiritual suicide. To refuse to believe the promise of the Saviour in this sector is to accept for one’s self exactly the status of a worm or a dog.
To renounce this promise of heaven is consciously to accept an evaluation of one’s own life that leaves it without any cosmic value whatever, and to claim the rottenness of the grave as one’s eternal destiny. No wonder that Jesus marveled at unbelief!
II. Where Is Heaven?
A. The only one who ever went to heaven and came back was the apostle Paul who was “caught up into the third heaven”; and he was specifically forbidden to speak of it:
He was caught up into the third heaven … he was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is unlawful for a man to utter (2 Corinthians 13:2-4).
This prohibition enforced upon the apostle Paul could account for the fact that Paul did not speak of heaven as often as Matthew or John; and yet the few things that he said are abundantly rich in significance.
The Jews had developed a fantastic theory of seven heavens, but the word of the Lord knows nothing of any such thing.
Joe Barnett, minister of Broadway Church of Christ in Lubbock, to whom I am indebted for assistance in this sermon, identified the three heavens in Paul’s experience as:
(1) the earth’s atmosphere as evident in such Scriptures as “The fowls of the heaven and the beasts of the field” (Jeremiah 15:3);
(2) the starry firmament above as in Isaiah’s words: “the stars of heaven and the constellations” (Isaiah 13:10); and
(3) the third heaven is the heaven where the throne of God is; “God’s throne is in heaven” (Psalms 11:4).
Two of these heavens are visible to us, although the visibility of the second heaven of the stars and constellation is only partial and limited.
There is a third heaven beyond both of those which we, in a sense, can see; but the perverse and arrogant ignorance of man is reluctant to receive such a truth.
Indeed, indeed! What an impudent arrogance is this! A worm has climbed to his perch on a cabbage leaf and affirms in the authority of his blindness that there are no stars or constellations.
It is a measure of man’s rebellion against his Creator that, at a time when he has not explored one billionth part of the second heaven, he has the audacity to proclaim that there is no third!
That God is not! That man is supreme! That there is nothing in the universe any higher than a man, who even as he boasts is brushed into the grave.
III. What Is in Heaven?
A. The throne of God is there.
Straightway I was in the Spirit, and behold there was a throne set in heaven, and one sitting upon the throne … he is the Lord God, the Almighty (Revelation 4:2,8).
B. The Lamb of God is likewise on the throne.
And I saw in the midst of the throne … a Lamb standing as though it had been slain … and the voice of ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands, saying, Worthy is the Lamb that hath been slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and honor and glory, and blessing (Revelation 4:6,12).
C. Our hope is there.
Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast and which entereth into that which is within the veil (Hebrews 6:19).
D. Our treasure is there.
Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust doth not corrupt and where thieves do not break through and steal (Matthew 6:20).
Jesus promised the persecuted, “Great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:12).
Peter spoke of the inheritance “reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4).
E. Our citizenship is there.
Our citizenship is in heaven, whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory (Philippians 3:20,21).
Illustration: After the battle of Actium (Sept. 2,31 B.C.), Augustus Caesar, at last enthroned with absolute power made Philippi a Roman colony and banished the soldiers of Anthony, his final rival, to live there.
Thus, their true citizenship was in Rome, but they lived out their days as strangers in a foreign land. This illuminates Paul’s words here.
F. Our names are written in heaven.
Help these women, for they labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, whose names are written in the book of life (Philippians 4:3).
To the returning Seventy, Jesus said, “Nevertheless rejoice not in this that the spirits are subject unto you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
G. Our loved ones are there.
It’s the people who will make up heaven. That’s what makes any city; and the host of the redeemed of all ages await us on the other shore. Barnett tells the story of an old man who said:
When I was young, I thought of heaven as a far away place of gold, domes and spires, with mansions and a world of light and angels tripping about, none of whom I knew.
Then my little brother died, and I thought of heaven as a place of golden domes and spires, streets of gold and gates of pearl and one tiny little precious face that I knew.
But the Great Reaper continued his harvest of the earth, and my father and mother, and my wife and children died; and my friends, one by one faded away, until like the last leaf on the tree I alone was left.
And when I think of heaven now, I always think of the loved ones whom I have loved and lost awhile, but who shall welcome me into the eternal habitations. “Oh think of the home over there, by the side of the river of light, Where the saints all immortal and fair are robed in their garments of white.”
IV. Heaven Viewed in Its Greater Dimensions
But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Over and beyond those things which so intimately concern ourselves, the benefits and glories of heaven exceed the very limits of the imagination. As Paul expressed it:
Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man the things that God hath prepared for those who love him (1 Corinthians 2:9).
Read these two great chapters again; take a bird’s eye, general view of the whole vision; what do you see?
Note that John first described the city as it would appear from a distance:
It sits upon an immense platform of twelve foundations of precious stones: jasper, sapphire, agate, emerald right on through the list of twelve, the last being amethyst.
Above the grand foundation rise the solid jasper walls, perforated by twelve gates, each made of a single immense pearl.
Then John described the interior,
The gates … each one a pearl. What can this mean? It means that heaven will be a place for those who have overcome. A pearl is produced by a little sea animal’s response to a tragedy, being the only gem that is made from suffering.
Heaven is a place where there will be no more tears, but what could this mean to one who had never cried?
Heaven is a place where there is no more sorrow, but who could appreciate this who was never brokenhearted?
Heaven is a place where there is no more death, but who can appreciate this like one who has buried out of sight his beloved dead?
Heaven is a place where there is no more pain, but what can that mean to one who has never suffered?
And the street of gold! What can that mean? It means that the yellow dust which people worship on earth shall at last have found its proper place under foot in the eternal city!
And the tree of life and the river of life! Here are the fountains of eternal joy, unending bliss, security, salvation, and glory!
The leaves of the tree of life are for the healing of the nations. Whatever affliction oppresses people on earth shall there be healed forevermore. The blind shall not be blind there.
The cripple shall walk there. The helpless shall be strong there. The sad shall be happy there. The old shall be young there! The dead in Christ shall live there.
One of the great Restoration preachers lay dying in terrible suffering; and when a friend inquired “How are you doing?” he replied, “I am almost well”; and in a moment he was dead; but that is exactly what he was talking about.
Think of grasping a hand and finding it to be the hand of the Lord, or of breathing new air and finding it to be celestial, of being transformed and finding it immortality!
My beloved brothers and sisters, you see, we are all making a journey. We are passing through our allotted probation, but we have a destination that is neither in time nor space.
Death marks the terminal here, but we cannot properly appreciate the significance of it.
In that famous speech made by the infidel Ingersoll over the grave of a little child, he said:
We do not know which is the greatest blessing, life or death. We cannot say that death is not good. We do not know whether the grave is the end of life, or the door of another, or whether the night here is not somewhere else a dawn. Every cradle asks us, “Whence?” and every coffin, “Whither?” The poor barbarian weeping over his dead can answer the question as intelligently and satisfactorily as the robed priest of the most authentic creed. The tearful ignorance of the one is just as consoling as the learned and unmeaning words of the other.
Apart from the blessed word of God, Ingersoll was right. But you see, my beloved fellow Christians, Paul and Jesus and the blessed apostles viewed this question in the light of eternal truth, and not in the light of merely natural knowledge; and for us there is no doubt, or uncertainty.
Our entry into THAT is the HOMECOMING to which we prayerfully direct your thoughts this day.
For many of us the journey is soon to be concluded. Like the river, the stream of life inevitably reaches the sea.
Where runs the river? Who can say Who hath not followed all the way By alders green and sedges gray And blossoms blue?
The meadows wide, and hill and wood Curve round to hem the eager flood. It cannot straightly as it would Its way pursue.
Whatever fields or wooded plains And waterfalls o’er which it strains, The stream at last the Vast attains. And I and you!
One like unto ourselves is upon the throne of God himself, and he shall welcome us beyond the veil. “We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is”; and in my Saviour’s face all the tribulations of life shall be swallowed up in joy. As Alfred Lord Tennyson expressed it:
Sunset and evening star, and one clear call for me! And may there be no moaning of the bar, when I put out to sea, But such a tide as moving seems asleep, too full for sound or foam, When that which drew from out the boundless deep, turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell, and after that the dark! And may there be no sadness of farewell when I embark, For though from out our home of Time and Place, the flood may bear me far, I hope to see my Pilot face to face when I have crossed the bar.
We shall take the liberty of changing Tennyson’s verb in the last line: “I KNOW I’LL SEE MY PILOT FACE TO FACE; WHEN I HAVE CROSSED THE BAR.”
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth are passed away; and the sea is no more. (Revelation 21:1)
A new heaven and a new earth … “What is promised here is the fulfillment of Isaiah 65:17; 66:22, passages strongly ascribed by millennarians to the thousand years.”
One of the unsolvable mysteries in this is just what is meant by “new.” Paul wrote, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17) and yet the “new” man, in some sense, is the same as the old, the “newness” being in the vital change.
From this, some have supposed that a similar thing could be meant by the “new” heaven and earth. Ladd wrote that, “Biblical thought always places man on a redeemed earth, not in a heavenly realm removed from earthly existence.”
However, we are by no means sure that such a conclusion is correct. Zerr thought the new earth here “is the one Jesus meant,” when he said, “The meek shall inherit the earth.”
Isaiah’s prophecy was understood by some among the Jews as a figure, and others understood it literally.
The same element of uncertainty prevails now. It is not really necessary for us to know exactly what may be meant by this promise.
The first heaven and the first earth are passed away … This sheds no light on the problem noted above.
Peter described the destruction of the heavens and the earth by fire (2 Peter 3:10) in language that seems to say they will utterly perish; but he compares it with the “destruction” of the earth by water in flood during the times of Noah (2 Peter 3:5).
And the sea is no more … The same problem persists here. “The three-fold division of heaven, earth, and sea represents the whole of this world” but some very perceptive writers interpret “sea” here as did Cox, “The sea of unrest, the sea of anxiety is no more.”
It has also been noted that “the sea” at the time of this writing separated John from his beloved Christians in Asia Minor, and that the absence of it in the vision would mean “there will be no more separation, from loved ones.” The meaning is rich, however interpreted.