May 29, 2016 | Randy Smith
Heaven's InhabitantsRevelation 21:1-8
Sunday, May 29, 2016
Pastor Randy Smith
It always amazes me how people want to cling to their religion, but have no interest to hear what the Bible has to say. To bring a biblical perspective on the situation is often deemed offensive for many people - and I'm not talking about other religions. I'm talking about so-called Christians, people who profess to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
It breaks my heart to hear how people think they are right with God while at the same time plainly violating and misunderstanding clear doctrines in the Bible. My friends, if we are not getting our theology from the Bible, we are getting it from man at best, demons at worst. Thus it's going to be wrong. It's going to be useless. And it's going to be offensive to God.
Possibly no other doctrine has been more misunderstood (especially in recent years) than the concept of heaven. It's one we've all heard of. And since it's a place of eternity, it is one that must be considered with a high priority. Yet when it comes to heaven, most falsely believe that all if not most people are going there, and they take their understanding of what heaven will be like from their imagination and little children who supposedly die and come back with stories.
The book of Revelation thus far has been expressing the glory of Jesus Christ. It explained how those who follow Him must give Him ultimate priority and forsake their love affair with the world. It explained how Christians will be persecuted and it has also promised those who persevere the greatest blessing imaginable. We see this described in Revelation chapters 21 and 22. We call the place, "heaven." And we would be wise to get our understanding of heaven from the Bible.
I'd like to take some time to discuss what verses 1-8 in chapter 21 teach us about heaven. But the bulk of our time together this morning I'd like to use our passage in Revelation 21 also with other verses we've studied to specifically identify who will be in heaven or as the title of the sermon suggests, "Heaven's Inhabitants."
1. What Is Heaven Like?
So before we get to heaven's inhabitants, let's take a little time to see what our passage generally has to say about heaven itself - our first point. Here's a few interesting observations.
Verse 1, after John describes the "new heaven and [the] new earth," He says, "And there is no longer any sea." That kind of seems out of place. We like the sea! Yet do you remember how we have been learning that the sea was a symbol for danger and destruction and evil? Remember in chapter 13 how John saw the beast coming up out of the sea? Now we learn in heaven that the sea is no more. Obviously we're not concerned about a hydrological principle. What we are talking about here is that in heaven all chaos and darkness and evil has been put away.
Also interesting are the many descriptions for heaven in chapter 21. Remember, apocalyptic literature likes to mix its symbols. Verse 1, it's "a new heaven and a new earth." That speaks of recreation. Verse 2, it's the "New Jerusalem." What a great metaphor to explain the new city of God. Remember the literal old Jerusalem here on earth. In its heyday it recalled images of a temple where God met with His people and a high priest that brought people to God. There were the prophets that would bring forth God's Word, and a king that ruled in righteousness. Heaven is all of this with all of these symbols fulfilled in Christ. Jesus is the prophet, priest and king. The New Jerusalem is God dwelling amongst His people.
Verses 3 and 4 give us a great description of that: "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, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away."
Heaven is also described as a bride in verse 2. Another great description of intimacy. Again, what better picture do we know of intimacy this side of heaven than that of a marriage? Remember, we have been learning this - our marriages are a picture of Christ's marriage to the church.
Alright, let's spend the rest of our time learning who will be in heaven - our second point.
2. Who Will Be In Heaven?
Before we get to who is there, let's begin with who will not be there.
First of all, and it goes without saying, Satan will not be present in heaven. Among other names, he is described as a "roaring lion" (1 Pet. 5:8) and a "murderer" (Jn. 8:44). He is the "accuser" (Rev. 12:10), the "serpent" (Rev. 12:9), the "devil" (Rev. 12:9), the "adversary" (1 Pet. 5:8), the "enemy" (Mt. 13:39) and the "father of lies" (Jn. 8:44).
Satan is a created being. He rebelled against God in the beginning. His defeat was secured by the death of Christ (Jn. 16:11; Eph. 4:8; Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14). As a defeated foe we've learned how he seeks to frustrate the good plans of God. His wrath is great because he knows his time is short (Rev. 12:12), and his end has been secured. As we recently learned, Revelation 20:10, "And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever" (cf. Rev. 19:20).
Satan will also be joined by his demonic companions in hell. As a matter of fact, Jesus said the primary purpose of creating hell is to eternally host these evil spirits. In Matthew 25 He called hell "the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels" (Mt. 25:41).
Certain people will also be excluded from heaven. If we take the Bible seriously, those in heaven will be far less than those who enter the "broad [road] that leads to destruction" (Mt. 7:13). The Bible is clear that most people, 2 Thessalonians 2:10, "[Will] not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved."
The truth is simply this, no one deserves heaven. We are all hell-bound because God is holy and we are sinners. Yet in His love He sent Jesus Christ to the cross to take away our sin and provide forgiveness. Those who reject Jesus reject their only hope of heaven. Didn't Jesus say, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me" (Jn. 14:7; cf. Jn 3:18).
Make no mistake about it. Contrary to what countless people believe, the Bible teaches that most people will not be in heaven. List to what Revelation 21:8 teaches from our passage today. "But for 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, which is the second death" (cf. Rev. 21:27).
Of course only faith in Christsaves, but evidence of our faith in Christ is seen by our actions. Unrepentance gives proof a person was never really saved.
I am tragically convinced that even many who call themselves Christians will not be in heaven. In Matthew 7:21 Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter."
So who's going to heaven? Answer: Christians. But how does God define a Christian? Look at the end of verse 6. "I will give to the one who thirsts from the springs of the water of life without cost." A definition of a Christian is one who thirsts for God. Or how about verse 7? Who's going to heaven? "He who overcomes will inherit these things." God's true children will persevere until the end.
Coming to Christ is not only a prayer of mental assent (the demons believe - Jas. 2:19), but it is also an act of the affections and will. It is a total surrender to His lordship. It is loving Him with all of our hearts and living the rest of our lives as His servants submissive to the Father's will. As a matter of fact, when Jesus made His comments about the recipients of hell, they were frequently directed to "religious people" who failed to prove their allegiance to Him in the way they loved His people (Mt. 25:46) and used their time and treasure and talents (Mt. 25:30).
Well, who then will be in heaven?
First and foremost, the Triune God will be there in all His glory. We know that God is omnipresent whereby one location cannot contain His presence, but heaven is frequently mentioned as His home and the place where He manifests His presence in a unique way. In heaven the invisible God makes Himself visible (1 Ti. 1:17). Twice in Revelation He is called the "God of heaven" (Rev. 11:13; 16:11). Ezekiel 48:35 calls heaven "The Lord is there."
In verse 3 of chapter 21 we have our best description of heaven and the greatest part of that description will be the presence of God. "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. 21:3).
Those in heaven will see God (Mt. 5:8; 1 Jn. 3:2; Rev. 22:4). And those in heaven will enjoy intimate fellowship with Him throughout eternity. One of the Puritans said, "[Heaven is] where the unveiled glories of the Deity shall beat full upon us, and we forever sun ourselves in the smiles of God" (Ezekiel Hopkins, A Puritan Golden Treasury, p. 133).
There is a mystery, but let's see if we can scratch the surface as to the presence of each Person in the triune Godhead.
God the Father
We will be with God the Father. From our youth we have recited the "Lord's Prayer," "Our Father who is in heaven" (Mt. 6:9).
The Father is spirit (Jn. 4:24) yet He will choose to manifest Himself in a visible presence for us. Possibly the best description comes from Revelation 4 and 5. "Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. 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… Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder…and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal" (Rev. 4:2-3, 5a, 6a). Obviously this description fails to capture the totality of the divine glory as John was simply using the best language he had available. We are talking about a presence here that is beautiful and stunning and glorious far beyond our earthly imagination.
God the Spirit
We will also be in the presence of God the Spirit. As we read of Him in Scripture, His role is never drawing attention to Himself. He exists to bring glory to the Father and the Son. And when we look for His presence in heaven, as we would expect, there is not much to be found in Scripture.
Possibly the best reference comes in Revelation 4:5. "And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God." We know there is only one Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:4), so scholars have debated what the number seven indicates. Possibly it describes His perfection or fullness. Maybe it describes His ministry. It could be an indication of His manifestation. And as for His manifestation, it seems to be in the form of fire, drawing images in our minds of Pentecost (Ac. 2:3-4).
God the Son
God the Son will be present in heaven. In heaven, Jesus will retain His bodily form yet exist without the limitations He experienced during His earthly ministry. Revelation 1 gives us a picture of His appearance: "And in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength" (Rev. 1:13-16). Immediately John adds, "When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades" (Rev. 1:17-18).
Face to face with Christ my Savior,
Face to face -what will it be -
When with rapture I behold Him,
Jesus Christ Who died for me?
Only faintly now I see Him,
With the darkening veil between;
But a blessed day is coming,
When His glory shall be seen.
Face to face I shall behold Him,
Far beyond the starry sky
Face to face all His glory,
I shall see Him by and by!
Carrie E. Breck
Being in the eternal presence of Christi is what makes heaven, heaven.
C.H. Spurgeon said, "Oh, to think of heaven without Christ! It is the same thing as thinking of hell. Heaven without Christ! It is day without the sun, existing without life, feasting without food, seeing without light. It involves a contradiction in terms. Heaven without Christ! Absurd. It is the sea without water, the earth without its fields, the heavens without their stars. There cannot be a heaven without Christ. He is the sum total of bliss, the fountain from which heaven flows, the element of which heaven is composed. Christ is heaven and heaven is Christ."
In addition to the Triune God, heaven will be populated by the holy angels.
Angels are created beings (Job 38:7). They seem to exist in some chain of command (Eph. 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Col. 1:16; 2:10, 15) with angels like Gabriel and Michael on the top.
We know they serve as God's messengers. We've seen that throughout Revelation - defeating demons and delivering God's wrath. Yet Revelation often describes them in heaven bringing unceasing praise to God.
"Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, 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'" (Rev. 5:11-12).
The four living creatures will be in heaven. Most likely they are a type of angels, although they are never called that in Scripture. Possibly they include the cherubim and seraphim (Gen. 3:24; Eze. 1:5-6; 8, 11, 23; 10:7-8, 21; Rev. 4:6-9). Their primary task is to worship the One on the throne. "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' …The living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever" (Rev. 4:8-9).
Lastly we read about the humans in heaven.
Obviously if heaven is the home of God, heaven is a place of perfect holiness. Therefore only those in heaven will be the ones who have been washed clean by the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14). In other words, heaven will only be populated by people who have received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior for the removal of their sins. Like we have seen often in Revelation, verse 7 describes them as overcomers. He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son" (Rev. 21:7; cf. Rev. 2:7, 11; 3:5, 12, 21).
So based on our teaching from the Bible, can you consider yourself among the inhabitants of heaven? You only have two options: Revelation 20 - the lake of fire or Revelation 21 - heaven.
This chapter is meant to bring hope to the Christian. The one who wants the personal battle with sin to be over. The one who wants to see God's visible reign. The one who wants intimate fellowship with Christ. The one who wants peace from anti-Christian persecution.
You know, throughout most if not all of Revelation, it has been Jesus Christ or angels who have done the speaking. Yet now in chapter 21, it is God the Father who stamps His seal of approval on the whole thing. Verse 5, "Write, for these words are faithful and true." And then in verse 6, "It is done."
What an incredible plan, a plan already completed in the mind of God for those who thirst for Christ. For those who truly love Him, the day will come when they will enter their heavenly rest.