June 05, 2016 | Randy Smith
Heaven's DescriptionRevelation 21:9-27
Sunday, June 5, 2016
Pastor Randy Smith
"Surely it is not wrong for us to think and talk about Heaven. I like to find out all I can about it. I expect to live there through all eternity. If I were going to dwell in any place in this country, if I were going to make it my home, I would inquire about its climate, about the neighbors I would have - about everything, in fact, that I could learn concerning it. If soon you were going to emigrate, that is the way you would feel. Well, we are all going to emigrate in a very little while. We are going to spend eternity in another world." That was the heart of the great evangelist, D.L Moody, back in the eighteen hundreds. Is that your heart today?
I've always been impressed with many of the new people attending our church. Even before they set foot in the building, they have researched us thoroughly via the website. Before we depart to an unfamiliar vacation destination, excitement compels us to familiarize ourselves with the location. High schools have orientations for eight graders, realtors have open houses for prospective buyers and lovers have a time of dating to learn about their potential spouse. As Moody said, Christians will spend eternity in heaven. How much do we know about our future home?
Hank Hanegraaff in his book Resurrection adds, "Tragically, many Christians spend precious little time thinking about their eternal home. Instead, they work themselves into oblivion building temporary homes and hideaways" (p. 86).
Jesus told His followers in John 14, "In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also" (Jn. 14:2-3). Be not mistaken, heaven is not the absence of existence or a realm of our imagination or a superstitious thought. As Jesus said, heaven is a real place, as real as the place where we are living today. Heaven is described as having a city with walls and gates and streets and rivers with buildings and people. As Hebrews says, it is a city without flaw whose "architect and builder is God" (Heb. 11:10).
Our passage this morning in Revelation 21 gives us a great description of heaven. Last week's sermon examined heaven's inhabitants. Today we'll look at heaven's description. We'll look at a lot of verses in Revelation and then finish with our featured verses from chapter 21. Let's see what the Bible has to say about heaven!
1. Heaven's Misconceptions
Before we get to the truth, let's start with the misconceptions - our first point.
Many are not excited about heaven because they cannot imagine heaven being more exciting than life on earth. Sure, they'd prefer it over hell, but after all, what will be doing for an eternity? If it is sitting on a cloud and playing a harp you can count me out. For many, one life is enough. That word "forever" sounds monotonous, bland, frightening. Even our most favorite activities get stale after a while. Even the thought of praising God if it means repeating hymns 1-500 over and over and over doesn't strike the fancy of too many.
Will heaven be a flash of excitement followed by an eternity of boredom? Will it be a series of earthy reruns? Will it be an eternity of doing the things we love the most from here on earth? Will a place of utter holiness be dull because for all us there is a little place hidden away in our flesh that still takes pleasure in some elements of sin? Maybe a little sin sounds more preferable than perfect righteousness? No longer any marriage according to Jesus (Mt. 22:30)? No wonder Billy Joel sang, "They say there's a heaven for those who will wait. Some say it's better but I say it ain't. I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. The sinners are much more fun" (Only The Good Die Young).
Can we describe heaven? Using Scripture, I'll try, but I proceed cautiously minding the words of Jonathan Edwards: "To pretend to describe the excellence, the greatness or duration of the happiness of heaven by the most artful composition of words would be but to darken and cloud it; to talk of raptures and ecstasies, joy and singing, is but to set forth very low shadows of the reality."
2. Heaven's Priority
The second point - what is the priority of heaven? And we see that the priority of heaven is worship.
Please turn to Revelation 4:8. "And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.' And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 'Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created'" (Rev. 4:8-11).
And the focus of heaven's worship will be the sacrifice of Christ. Chapter 5, verse 9, "And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.'" Verse 12, "Saying with a loud voice, 'Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.'" Verse 13, "And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, 'To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.'"
The center of the Father's plan was the sacrifice of Christ. I find it interesting that when Moses and Elijah came from heaven and spoke with Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration, they conversed of "of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem" (Lk. 9:31). And even when Jesus had His resurrected body, the nail prints in His hands remained as a perpetual memorial of His sacrifice (Jn. 20:27). In heaven, John saw Jesus as "a Lamb standing, as if slain" (Rev. 5:6).
As Ephesians 2:7 teaches, "In the ages to come [God] might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." Throughout eternity there will be a ceaseless witness to the mercy of God. The Father saved us through the Son so that we might be put on display as trophies of His surpassing riches in kindness. And as we enjoy heaven, all that we do will be forever understanding and forever experiencing and forever worshipping God for the grace that we received in Christ. There will be a new episode of grace everyday and new satisfaction that will erupt in spontaneous worship.
Worship is not boring, but the consummation of our enjoyment. You know that the emotional response completes the satisfaction when we first lay our eyes on the Grand Canyon or witness a breathtaking firework display or see a child being born. These are just shadows here. Heaven is the substance. Purchased by Christ is infinite grace from an infinite God leading to infinite worship.
3. Heaven's Attitude
Therefore the attitude in heaven, our third point will be unspeakable joy.
This can only be expected since heaven will be a place without sorrow or death or pain or fear or worry or tragedy or sickness or sin and a place of rest and beauty and excitement and adventure and health. This world is filled with chronic unhappiness. Possibly that is why it is hard to imagine a world without it. Yet God permits the trials to keep us from getting too attached to this place. Rightly understanding this home as compared to the home to come fills our hearts with anticipation of the joy which is yet to come. No wonder Revelation 14:13 says, "And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, 'Write, 'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!''"
Yet what makes heaven ultimately joyful is the uninterrupted, undivided, unsurpassed, unfading, undiminished and unlimited presence of God. In Psalm 16:11 we read, "In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever." We will achieve complete fulfillment of the desires He places on our heart. We will continually grow in our knowledge of Him. We will experience His grace in ways that are more fascinating, stunning and enjoyable than ever before. And we will never have any fear that this heavenly joy will ever end.
Jonathan Edwards said, "The blessedness of heaven is so glorious that when the saints arrive there they will look back upon their earthly pilgrimage, however wonderful their life in Christ was then, as a veritable hell. Just as truly, on the other hand, will those who perish in hell look back on the life in this world, however miserable it may have been, as veritable heaven."
One question I often receive is wondering how we can fully enjoy heaven if we know we have loved ones suffering in hell? Some have suggested our earthly memories fade. Yet I believe these memories will continue, and the meaning of our earthly existence will only increase in heaven. I believe a better answer is realizing how our understanding of God will be heightened (1 Cor. 13:12). We will better comprehend the insult of their willful rejection and the display of God's perfect justice. God is content and we will be as well in the way He chooses to rule His creation in righteousness.
J.A. James took a shot at that question back in 1825, "Will it cause distress in heaven, to know that our unsaved beloved friends and relatives are forever lost? The only way of solving this difficulty is to realize that a perfect knowledge of God and of the wisdom and justice of all His designs and operations will constitute a chief part of the happiness of heaven. We shall be so convinced of the equity of His dealings towards the wicked, so divested of all the weakness of 'human sentimentalism,' so absorbed in the love of what is right and just, that the absence of our loved ones from the world of glory, will cause no interruption of our heavenly bliss!" (The Great End of Life).
Overall, nothing will diminish our joy in heaven. Sam Storms in his book One Thing commented, "The happiness of heaven is not like a steady, placid state of a mountain lake whereby a ripple barely disturbs the tranquility of its water. Heaven is more akin to the surging, swelling waves of the Mississippi at flood stage. With each passing day there is an increase in the level of water. As the rain of revelation and insight and discovery continues to fall throughout the endless ages of eternity, so the water level of love and joy and happiness rises higher and higher, never to abate or to any degree diminish" (p. 170).
4. Heaven's Surroundings
Let's explore one more topic. Point number four - what will heaven look like? The natural place to examine is the book of Revelation where the word "heaven" is mentioned over fifty times.
When the apostle John was given his tour of heaven, the first place he observed was the throne of God. The throne of God is the focal point of heaven. It represents the sovereignty and kingship of the Almighty. In verse 3 of chapter 4 he writes: "And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance." He goes on to say, "Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads. Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind" (Rev. 4:4-6). If we continue reading (Rev. 4:7-5:14)we see that this throne is not just a place of exquisite beauty and inspiring awe and divine glory, but also a place where every created being expresses worship (cf. Eze 1:4-28).
The best description of the rest of heaven in the entire Bible comes in Revelation chapters 21 and 22. There we read about the new heavens and new earth. Remember, when sin entered the world, everything became cursed. Romans 8 says even creation presently experiences the sting of the curse. We read it "groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now" (Rom. 8:22).
I like the artistic way Joni Eareckson Tada put it in her book Heaven: "This is the earth that Christ will bring into His glorious freedom. Can you hear the sighing in the wind? Can you feel the heavy silence in the mountains? Can you sense the restless longing in the sea?… Something's coming…something better… It intrigues me to think that after Christ comes back for us, we may inhabit this very planet again… Heaven is not some never-neverland of thin, ghostly shapes and clouds… No way!…I get tickled thinking about how rock-solid real heaven is, and how much of a home" (p. 68ff).
So just as God will give us new resurrected bodies, He will one day renovate and renew and recreate this present world (2 Pet. 3:12). He will not allow the works of Satan to have the final word. He will bring it back to be the paradise that it was at one time - "very good" (Gen. 1:31). He will merge His heaven with a new universe to create a perfect dwelling place for His people. "Both heaven and earth unite in a glory that surpasses the limits of the human imagination and the boundaries of earthly dimensions" (MacArthur, The Glory of Heaven, p. 60).
Let's pick up the text in Revelation 21:1. "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them'" (Rev. 21:1-3; cf. 3:12; 21:10).
Let's continue and generally observe the descriptions and characteristics of the New Jerusalem.
First of all verse 4 indicates that God "will wipe away every tear from their eyes." Furthermore the verse says in this place there will be "no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." Something else will not be present either - those who rejected God and favored their sin in this life. Verse 8, "The cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone." Verse 27 adds more of the same, "And nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life."
The description of the holy city is described beginning in verse 11. "Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west [the gates speak of heaven's majestic nature, since there will be no need for defense]. And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb [the twelve tribes and the twelve apostles seek to represent all of the people of God]" (Rev. 21:11-14).
The city will be a part of the new heavens, and its size is detailed in verse 16. "The city is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as the width; and he measured the city with the rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal." If these numbers are to be taken literally, that is roughly half the size of the United States. And with a height of fifteen hundred miles, this is enough space to accommodate three hundred ninety-six thousand stories twenty feet apart. It is estimated that the space would be enough to house one hundred thousand million people, more than those who have ever lived. We are talking about a cubed structure that is two and a quarter million square miles, definitely big enough to house the "few" that find the "narrow gate." (Mt. 7:13-14).
Yet I believe the biggest point is that heaven is described as a cube. The only other place a cube is mentioned in the Bible is the "Holy of Holies." Here I believe we see a direct illusion to the fact that God manifests His glory in all of heaven.
Verse 18 says the wall around the city is made of jasper "and the city was pure gold, like clear glass." Regarding the other building materials we read beginning in verse 19, "The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation stone was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass" (Rev. 21:19-21; cf. 22:15). The jewels roughly parallel the twelve stones from the breastplate of the high priest in the Old Testament (Ex. 28:17-20). The point is simply this - there is nothing mediocre.
Verse 22 indicates there will be no temple "for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple." Verse 23, there will be no sun "for the glory of God has illuminated it, and its lamp is the Lamb" (cf. 22:5; Isa. 60:19-20). I am reminded of Moses' luminous face when he met with God on the mountain (Ex. 34:29-35; 2 Cor. 3:7-9) and the bright light that knocked Paul to the ground during his conversion (Ac. 9:3; cf. Ac. 6:15) and the appearance of Jesus at the Transfiguration when "His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light" (Mt. 17:2; cf. Rev. 1:16) and the "bright cloud [that] overshadowed" the disciples (Mt. 17:5). With the splendor of God's glory, created light forms are unneeded. No temple, no sun and then in 22:3 we read, "There will no longer be any curse."
Sam Storms elaborates what this means once the curse of sin is reversed: "When we get to heaven there will be nothing that is abrasive, irritating, agitating or hurtful. Nothing harmful, hateful, upsetting or unkind. Nothing sad, bad or mad. Nothing harsh, impatient, ungrateful or unworthy. Nothing weak, or sick, or broken or foolish.] Nothing deformed, degenerate, depraved or disgusting. Nothing polluted, pathetic, poor or putrid. Nothing dark, dismal, dismaying or degrading. Nothing blameworthy, blemished, blasphemous or blighted. Nothing faulty, faithless, frail or fading. Nothing grotesque or grievous, hideous or insidious. Nothing illicit or illegal, lascivious or lustful. Nothing marred or mutilated, misaligned or misinformed. Nothing nasty or naughty, offensive or odious. Nothing rancid or rude, soiled or spoiled. Nothing tawdry or tainted, tasteless or tempting. Nothing vile or vicious, wasteful or wanton" (One Thing, p. 178).
Then chapter 22:1-2 says, "He showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations."
And we conclude with the great truth as I summarize verses 3-5 from chapter 22: "The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads… And they will reign forever and ever."
No doubt, heaven will be a wonderful place. But as we close, this verse reminds us that what makes heaven truly heaven will be the presence of Jesus Christ.
The great preacher C.H. Spurgeon said, "I bear my testimony that there is no joy to be found in all this world like that of sweet communion with Christ. I would barter all else there is of heaven for that. Indeed, that is heaven. As for the harps of gold and the streets like clear glass and the songs of seraphs and the shouts of the redeemed, one could very well give all these up, counting them as a drop in a bucket, if we might forever live in fellowship and communion with Jesus."
Jesus provided the way to heaven through His sacrifice on the cross. Heaven is for people who love Jesus. Do you love Him?
In nearly the final verse of the last chapter of Revelation we read an invitation: "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 wishes take the water of life without cost" (Rev. 22:17).
Will you be going to heaven? Have you received the free gift of eternal life? Have you received the forgiveness that comes through Jesus Christ? Has He taken away your sins because you have acknowledged Him as Lord and Savior of your life?