A preacher was preaching on heaven and asked the congregation, “How many of you want to go to heaven?” Everyone’s hand shot into the air – everyone except one man who sat there with his arms folded. The preacher looked at the man and said, “Brother, don’t you want to go to heaven?” The man replied, “Well of course I do. I just thought you were trying to get a bus-full to head out right now.”
George Bernard Shaw once said, “The statistics on death are very impressive. One out of one dies.” So, if you haven’t yet, there’s a pretty good chance you will someday. It’s funny though that more people give themselves better odds at winning the lottery than they do of dying. At least it would seem so – they certainly spend more time and money trying to win the lottery than they do preparing for what will happen after they die.
Last week we talked about the new body that we will all receive. Paul says, “…we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” That new body will be eternal, it will never wear out, it will never experience illness or injury, it will be perfect in every way – and it will be a physical, tangible body – like Jesus’ resurrected body.
But if we have a physical, eternal body, what will heaven be like? It certainly won’t be like our usual picture with clouds and harps and halos. What will it be like?
If we want a picture of heaven, we need to start with John’s picture in Revelation 21, where John was allowed to see what the future held and told to tell us about it:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Rev. 21:1-5)
God’s ultimate purpose has always been to dwell with his people in intimate communion. That’s how it began in the garden – walking in the cool of the day with Adam and Eve. And then sin entered, and the curse came and Adam and Eve were driven from Eden. And suddenly this communion was broken. And from that moment on, God’s purpose was to reconcile and restore that communion – ultimately in his Son, Jesus Christ. Listen to Paul in Ephesians 1:9-10 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
The apostle Peter spoke about this restoration and renewal that was going to come: Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. (Acts 3:19-21)
Now, I can see the wheels turning – the prophets? When did they talk about heaven? Listen to Isaiah: “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.” (Isa. 65:17-19) That sounds a lot like John’s description in Revelation 21, doesn’t it?
Jesus spoke about this restoration, when God would make everything new: “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matt. 19:28)
And we want to hear what Peter wrote about this final and complete renewal of all things:
First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. (2 Peter 3:3-14)
God’s plan is for a restoration and renewal of all things. Peter says, “in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth.”
But where is this new heaven and new earth going to be? You’re standing on it. Did you hear the analogy Peter made? In the same way God flooded the earth to make a new beginning, he will do the same with fire. Was the purpose of the flood to destroy the earth? No, it was to purge it and begin anew. In the same way, the earth will be purged by fire. Peter says, “the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” God’s purpose isn’t to annihilate his creation, but to get it ready for something new.
There are two words in the Greek for “new.” There is “neos” which is new in time, brand new, something out of nothing. Then there is the word, “kaine” which is new in quality, it has been remade, renewed, using what has already existed.
When Paul says, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” he uses the word kaine. When you come out of the water of baptism you’re not a person of different substance, you’re the same physical person, but God has done something new with you.
Kaine is the word Peter uses of God making a new heaven and a new earth. When he cleanses the earth with fire, it is for the purpose of preparing it for what comes next. God’s original plan was not a failed experiment. It was a preparation for what he has always had planned.
Last week, we read Paul’s encouragement that in the midst of suffering we need to keep our eyes on what God is going to do next: I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)
But we’re not the only ones that have been affected by the curse, or the only ones waiting for what God is going to do next. In the very next verse Paul writes, The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
How can the creation have hope if annihilation is its future? Doesn’t the “pains of childbirth” suggest that the creation has a future? That something new is coming?
If God were to destroy the heavens and earth and scrap them, Satan would win, and God isn’t going to let Satan win this battle for the earth, his good creation. It was Isaiah who wrote, “For this is what the LORD says— he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited— he says: “I am the LORD, and there is no other.” (Isa. 45:17-18)
This earth will be the new earth, but it will have to undergo a major restoration in order to prepare it for its next purpose: to receive the new heaven that will come down to inhabit the new earth. Up until Revelation 21, earth and heaven are two separate entities, but in Revelation 21, heaven comes down to earth, and the two exist in concert.
A little later in Revelation 21, John is given a tour of heaven by an angel, and he describes it in terms of the most beautiful and brilliant gem stones and crystal and gold, and then he says: I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever. (Rev. 21:22 - 22:5)
Now, I know – we like to spiritualize this and analogize this and say it’s not really like that. And certainly our language is inadequate to describe the beauty and the glory of heaven, but I believe that what John is describing is a tangible, physical entity, where we will live and experience our eternal existence in our glorified bodies.
And in those bodies we will eat and drink – did you hear him say the tree of life will yield its fruit every month? And heaven is described as a wedding banquet. Jesus himself had said, as he was sharing the Lord’s supper with his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matt. 26:28-29)
We will know each other as friends and enjoy relationships on a deeper level than we ever thought possible. And there will be things to do and places to explore – this new earth will be filled with beauty that is beyond what we have ever seen.
And there will be angels! The Bible always describes angels as powerful – not those chubby, cute cherubs in art – we will never be tempted to call an angel “cute.” In the Bible whenever anybody meets an angel they are always afraid, but in heaven you won’t be afraid. And apparently there are many different kinds of angels – there are cherubim and seraphim and archangels and a hierarchy of angels – you will meet Michael and Gabriel. Jesus said we will be like the angels, but we will not be angels. You don’t become an angel when you die. You become something even better. The Hebrews writer says the angels are our ministering spirits.
What will be missing will be the curse – the sin, the pain, the death. And there will be no temple, because God and the Lamb are the temple. There will be no sun or moon because God will be its light and the Lamb will be its lamp. And there will be no night, because we will always be in the presence of God.
When will this new heaven appear? At the second coming of Jesus. Paul writes in 1 Thess. 4:13-17 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
Why will we meet him in the air? So that the earth can be purged and purified by the fire that Peter described. And then we will come down as the New Jerusalem to inhabit heaven on earth.
Why did the Lord reveal all this about heaven? It isn’t just for informational purposes. It is to prepare your heart and inspire you to long for heaven. Peter said, “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” (2 Peter 3:13-14) Our anticipation of heaven causes us to want to live more for God in this life. When we think about heaven, it reminds us what a wonderful God we have and our deepest desire is to live for him and with him.
Christ left us with this promise: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-3)
Jesus is at work preparing a place for you. It will be a beautiful, glorious place. But the most amazing thing about heaven will be that you will get to be with Jesus.
(I want to acknowledge my dependence on two resources for some of the content in this sermon: Rick Atchley’s, Amazing Place, and N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope - both excellent studies on heaven.)