Pastor Scott Andrews | June 4, 2023
In his book simply entitled Heaven, author Randy Alcorn suggests that far too little attention has been given to the subject. He says, go to most systematic theology books, and if you’re lucky, you might get a page or two on the topic of heaven in the last couple of pages of the book, or you may get nothing at all. Now, on the topic of eschatology or last things, you might get pages on the timing of the Rapture or the teaching of the Tribulation or the various Millennial positions, all the things people love to debate – but very little about heaven. Which is odd, he says, given that’s where we’re going. That’s what this is all about – the hope of heaven is that to which we are to fix our hearts and our minds.
Think about it, we spend 70, 80, maybe 90 years here, but will spend all eternity in heaven. It is the culmination of the divine plan of the ages. But too often, our focus is here. And I suppose that’s fine – after all, we live here. But, if the gospel is true, and it is, this is not all there is. Our short time here is basically an opportunity to trust Christ and His work, and then to faithfully serve our God, all in the rock-solid hope of eternal life. It’s why Paul writes things like this:
In Colossians 3 – 1 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.
3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.
It’s interesting –a song years ago said, “If you’re too heavenly-minded, you’ll be no earthly good.” I’m not sure I’ve ever met someone too heavenly-minded. At least, I’ve never been so.
In Philippians 3:20 – For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
And of course, that famous passage in Philippians 1 – 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
22 But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose.
23 But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better;
The author of Hebrews writes in chapter 11, the famous hall of faith, 10 for he (that is, Abraham) was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God…
13 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. [that’s who we are, this world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.]
14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own.
15 And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return.
16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.
And of course, Jesus said things like:
Matthew 6:19-21 – 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
20 “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;
21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
And in John 14, as He prepared His disciples for the cross, and His leaving –
1 “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.
2 “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.
3 “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. [the best thing about heaven, as we’ll see today, is being with Jesus.]
So you see, the Bible isn’t exactly silent on the topic of heaven. Now, it is true it’s not till we get to the last couple of pages of the Bible – the last couple of chapters of this book we’ve been studying that we get much of a description of heaven. Well, at least the most detailed picture of heaven.
So here we are – living our earthly lives, having studied through the NT over the past 26 years, and this is where we are headed. It all points to this. All the challenge of studying through the book of Revelation over the past year, and we finally arrive. All the challenges of living our lives for Christ, and we arrive. All the challenges of 2,000 years of church history – all the wrangling over last things – and we arrive. In fact, all the challenges of human history, from the Garden of Eden till now, and we arrive. This is the culmination of God’s redemptive plan of the ages. It’s what He had in mind all along. Everything points to this incredibly good news.
In fact, I don’t mind telling you, I wrote this sermon on Friday with Beth Cheshier firmly in mind. I wrote that sentence Friday morning, suggesting she was in the last moments of her life here. She died Friday afternoon, but heaven awaited. That is, the current heaven, but there is a new one coming. It is our hope. We grieve, but not as others who have no hope – the hope of the gospel, and what awaits those who believe in Jesus. So, this is an incredibly encouraging text, especially for many of us today. And it ends with this implied question – will you be a conqueror, or will you be a coward? Read it with me, Revelation 21:1-8.
It’s been some time since I reviewed this outline of the book with you:
- The Prologue (1:1-8)
- Jesus Among the Seven Churches (1:9-3:22)
- The Vision of Heaven (4:1-5:14)
- The Seven Seals (6:1-8:1)
- The Seven Trumpets (8:2-11:19)
- The Seven Signs (12:1-14:20)
- The Seven Bowls (15:1-16:21)
- The Triumph of God (17:1-20:15)
- The New Heaven and New Earth (21:1-22:5)
- The Epilogue (22:6-21)
I want to draw your attention to roman numeral VIII (8) – the Triumph of God. After the three septets of judgments – the seven seals, trumpets and bowls, we saw the triumph of God in chapters 17-20. In chapters 17 and 18, we saw the fall of the unholy city, the rebellious city, Babylon. That brought us to chapter 19 where we saw the hallelujah chorus, the marriage supper of the Lamb, the Second Coming of Christ, and the Battle of Armageddon, where the Antichrist and the False Prophet are thrown into the lake of fire to be tormented day and night forever.
Which brought us to chapter 20 – still under the triumph or victory of God. We see Satan bound and cast into the abyss for a thousand years, no longer able to deceive the nations. We see the first resurrection, that is, those who believe in Jesus are raised physically from the dead to reign with Christ during the thousand years. Then we see Satan loosed, and many flock to him in rebellion, which leads to the final battle, and Satan is defeated and cast forever into the lake of fire. We then saw the great white throne judgment last week. Some disagreement about that, but everyone agrees the unrighteous are judged according to their works, and since their names are not written in the Lamb’s book of life, they, too, are cast into the lake of fire.
Everything is now done. All evil is forever banished. The judgment is done – unbelievers cast forever into the lake of fire, God’s people resurrected forever to eternal life – which brings us to the eschaton, the eternal state. Again, this is what we are waiting for all our lives. This is heaven, the eternal, celestial city whose architect and builder is God. We get the introduction to the new heaven and the new earth and God’s purposes in the re-creation in these verses. Next week, Lord willing, we will see a detailed description of the new heaven and the new earth – which are now together. So, the outline is as follows:
- The New Heaven and the New Earth (1-3)
- The Old Heaven and the Old Earth (4)
- The Purposes of God in the New Creation (5-6)
- The Conqueror or the Coward (7-8)
John starts the chapter with the familiar words, then I saw. After the final judgment, then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away. That happened in last passage when the great white throne is seen with One sitting upon it from whose presence the earth and heaven flee, and there was no place found for them – judgment has come.
Now again, as I suggested last week, there is some disagreement as to whether the new heaven and new earth are a recreation of the old heaven and earth; or whether they are completely new with the total destruction of the old. Incidentally, there are passages that can be used to support each position – as I suggested, you decide. Either way, what John sees is completely new in the sense that all that was imperfect in the old no longer exists – we’ll see that in verse 4. The first heaven and the first earth and all its corruption will have passed away.
The new heaven and new earth was prophesied by Isaiah in 65:17, where we read, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.” Peter picks up the idea in II Peter 3:13, after the destruction of the old heaven and earth, “But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” God has promised a new creation filled only with righteousness, without sin or its sorrows.
There is even no longer any sea. Why the sea? Well, the sea was seen as a place of chaos and disorder and even evil. Remember, the beast, the Antichrist, rise out of the sea back in chapter 13. So, the new heaven and earth have no vestiges of evil, no symbols of evil, to include the turbulent and uncontrollable sea. All will be peaceful and calm.
In verse 2, the image narrows to the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. The new Jerusalem was mentioned in chapter 3, and Paul talks about the Jerusalem that is above, and Hebrews talks about the heavenly Jerusalem. We will receive a detailed description of the new Jerusalem next week. But notice, as the first Jerusalem was to be the spiritual center of the world and seems to be the place from which Christ reigns during the millennium, there is now a new Jerusalem as the center of God’s new created order. And it will be altogether holy.
But the verse goes on in apocalyptic language to describe the holy city, the new Jerusalem, as a bride adorned for her husband. Wait, I thought we were the bride. What is that about? We saw in chapter 19 the bride of Christ was the people of God – the church and all saints throughout time redeemed by grace through faith. So what gives, is the bride of Christ a people or a place? It’s probably both, although it’s possible the description of the new Jerusalem is an apocalyptic image of the people of God. Even as I say that, many disagree, because of the detailed description given in the following passage – and the fact that the new heaven and new earth seems to be a physical location. We don’t hold to Greek dualism that everything physical is evil and everything spiritual or immaterial is good. No, God created this physical universe.
Besides, in the resurrection, I Corinthians makes it clear we receive new, glorified physical bodies. Jesus Himself had a glorified physical body. He wanted to make sure the disciples understood it was physical – Thomas, come put your finger in My nail prints and your hand in My side. I’m hungry, do you have anything to eat? And He eats fish with them for breakfast at the Sea of Galilee. And John sees Jesus as a slain Lamb standing, bearing in His body the marks of suffering and crucifixion. So, it is reasonable to think the new heaven and new earth are physically real. Now, to be sure, it is a new reality – one that defies description. But the later description seems to indicate things like gates and foundations and trees and fruit and rivers.
So, all that to say, I think the New Jerusalem will be the center of the new creation, and it will house the people of God. All the people? Don’t know – there’s a new heaven and new earth, which we’re going to find are now together. And we will live there. Now listen, as I suggested a few weeks ago, when people die today, their bodies are buried, and their souls go immediately to the present heaven – in the presence of Christ. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. It’s called the intermediate state. But there is coming a day when our bodies will be physically resurrected and souls reunited with bodies. That’s what I Thessalonians 4 says, right?
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.
15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.
18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
There is comfort in knowing, those who sleep or die in Jesus before us will be raised physically to life. And so, there is a physical resurrection to come, along with a new heaven and a new earth and a new holy city, New Jerusalem. As a bride adorned for her husband. I’ve had the privilege of doing lots of weddings, and I’ve never seen an ugly bride. They are adorned – beautiful – immaculately dressed and prepared. A wonderful description of the people of God, made ready by His work – adorned and made ready by Christ for Christ. My brothers and sisters, we are looking and longing for the celestial city. That’s where our citizenship is. That’s what our passport says, stamped by the blood of Jesus. And what will it be like?
Don’t miss it – first and foremost in verse 3, there will be God. And I heard a loud voice from the throne – it’s not likely God since the voice speaks of God in the third person. It’s likely an angel speaking with the authority of God, 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.” This is covenantal language – throughout the OT – God will dwell with His people. This has been the plan all along. This has been His intent and promise throughout Scripture – that God would dwell with His people. That He would tabernacle with them.
We remember that’s what Jesus did back in John 1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt [or tabernacled] among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. Certainly, the Son of God came to make atonement for our sins so that the promise of God dwelling with His people could be ultimately and fully realized. Christ’s first coming was a foretaste of that which is to come – God actually living with His people. The word dwell with or tabernacle with is a transliteration of the Hebrew word from which we get the word Shekinah glory. The shekinah glory of God is the presence of God in His glory to be seen and experienced by His people.
Now listen, when we think of heaven and all its glories – pearly gates, foundations of brilliant gems, the crystal sea, the tree of life bearing its year-round fruit, the streets of gold – we will see all that next week. We have lots of ideas about heaven – clouds, halos, wings. As I’ve shared before, when people die and go to heaven, they don’t become angels – that would be a demotion. Angels are merely God’s servants – we are His children.
Now, one idea of heaven I think we get right is that we will see others who have gone before us. After all, Hebrews 11 speaks of the hall of faith, and they seem to still have their personal identities. The story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 – they still have their identities. First Corinthians 13 says then we will know even as we are known. I think we will know one another in heaven. And so, often at funerals, you will hear things like, I’m so excited because they will get to see mom or dad or grandma or grandpa, or even a husband or wife or son or daughter that has preceded them. I believe that is true and wonderful.
But as we’ve seen through the book, the main attraction of heaven is the presence of God and the main event of heaven is the worship of God. God being surrounded by His people(s) from every tribe, tongue, people and nation, worshiping Him. And so, the best part of the new heaven and new earth is God living among His people. We will see God. We will talk about this more later – but remember, blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Well, there will be some notable things absent in verse 4. In verse 1 we read the first heaven and the first earth passed away. Now we find all that was the result of sin, with sin now banished, passed away. What are those things? Again, all those things that are the result of sin. And God Himself with wipe away every tear from their eyes – the eyes of His people. Probably not the tears of remorse for sin, since those sins have been atoned, removed, cast as far as the east is from the west, to be remembered no more. Probably more tears for the results of sin – sorrow and pain and death. Others suggest, probably rightly, the tears of suffering.
You see, there will also no longer be any death or mourning or crying, for the first things have passed away. We saw this last week – the last enemy to be destroyed is death. No more mourning or crying over sickness and disease and brokenness and death – all the things that sin drug in with it. Remember when God said to Adam and Eve, on the day that you eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, on that day, you will die. And they did – spiritually. And God cursed the earth with all the sorrow we have seen. And so creation, and we ourselves, have been groaning, waiting for the sons and daughters of God to be revealed. And it is coming at the end of all things – at the eschaton – when God will dwell with His people.
You see, God’s purpose for all this has always been to dwell among His people. To receive the worship of His glory that He rightly deserves, for the joy of all people. As John Piper has said, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Therefore, in verses 5-7, we read that He who sits on the throne now speaks. This is one of only two or three times God speaks (not of course including the Son), but as the One who sits on the throne, and what He proclaims is breathtakingly glorious.
Behold, I am making all things new. The old has gone, the new – unblemished and perfect without the stain of sin – has come. The fullness of the perfect kingdom, to be enjoyed in the presence of God. Apparently, John was so amazed by what he saw and heard, he stopped writing. God reminds him to write, for what he saw and now heard were faithful and true words.
Then God said, It is done! Does that sound familiar? Three times in Scripture, we have something similar to those words. When God finished creation, He said, it is very good. When Jesus finished the work of redemption on the cross, He said, it is finished. And now, with the coming of the new heaven and new earth, when God dwells with His people per eternal plan, He says, it is done. History is done, redemption is accomplished, the eschaton is here.
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Of course, Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. When He says I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, He means He is the beginning of all things, the cause of all things, the purpose of all things, and the end to which all things are headed – and everything in-between.
I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. We remember Isaiah said, (Isaiah 55:1) “Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” We remember when Jesus said to the woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” A few chapters later, at the end of the feast of tabernacles, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in me as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”
If you are thirsty for life, eternal life, then come and drink freely of the water of life Jesus provides without cost. To be clear, it doesn’t cost us anything – it cost Him everything.
Verse 7, referring back to all the promises to the overcomers, the conquerors in the letters to the seven churches, “He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be His God and he will be My son.” Incredibly, that is a very near paraphrase of the Davidic covenant in II Samuel 7 – the promise to David, I will be your God, and you will be My son.
Which brings us to the implied question and our conclusion. Will you be a conqueror, an overcomer, or a coward? You see, he who overcomes will inherit these things. But, verse 8, for the cowardly and unbelieving – then he goes on to describe the character of the cowardly and unbelieving. They are abominable or vile, murderers, immoral person, which speaks of sexually immorality, sorcerers, idolaters, and liars. These describe the earth-dwellers we’ve seen throughout the book.
For them, their part will be in the lake of fire that burns with brimstone, which is the second death. You say, wait, I thought we already took care of that in chapter 20. True. But remember, the readers then, and the readers today, are still reading this, and we are not yet in the new heaven and the new earth. And one of John’s primary purposes is to encourage people to persevere, to be faithful to the end, despite any opposition and persecution. We want to be people who stay faithful, even to the point of death.
So this becomes a warning. Which highlights the first word in this vice list – the cowardly, the only place the word appears in the book. The cowardly are those who do not persevere, who turn back, who deny the faith in the face of opposition and persecution. Are these Christians who lost their faith and turned away? I don’t think that’s the point – I’ll let you decide. The point is, stay faithful. Don’t become a coward and turn from the faith to these actions and attitudes the rest of the verse describes. Don’t follow the beast, don’t become an earth dweller. Stay faithful to Christ. Will you be a conqueror, or a coward?