Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and the first earth disappeared, and the sea vanished. And I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared and ready, like a bride dressed to meet her husband. I heard a loud voice speaking from the throne: "Now God's home is with people! He will live with them, and they shall be his people. God himself will be with them, and he will be their God. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain. The old things have disappeared."
Jessie and Jack were excited. Today they were going to the Brisbane Exhibition. They woke up early. Cleaning their teeth, getting dressed, and combing their hair were not the chores that they were on school mornings. In next to no time, they were ready and waiting for mum and dad. Even eating breakfast went quickly even though they were so excited that they didnít feel like eating. Usually the ride in the car was accompanied with a constant "Are we there yet?" but not this time. All they could think of was the show and chatted all the way about what rides they would go on, what show bags they would buy, and how much fun they were going to have. Their excitement grew to a high pitch as the car turned a corner and they could see the giant ferris wheel and roller coaster. They could hardly wait for dad to park the car suggesting that he could park in the tiniest of parking spaces.
Itís great to have this kind of enthusiasm. Even as adults, we get excited about a holiday. We look forward to a trip, something that is different and out of the ordinary Ė maybe a family get together, or going to a concert or play, or to a wedding. We are in a better mood, and we can handle our problems better, or at least in our excitement we put them aside for a while. Having something to look forward to makes all the difference.
Sometimes there isnít any bounce in our step and joy in our voice. The world situation with war, sickness, and threats of terrorism and the hassles in our own lives leave us with little to get excited about. But our text today from the book of Revelation tells us that there is something to get excited about, something to look forward, something that puts all of our problems into perspective. We are given what St Peter in his first letter calls "a living hope", a hope that will never decay, or spoil or fade away. This "living hope" is eternal life in heaven.
The vision that is given to John was especially addressed to a dispirited and disheartened church. The excitement and exhilaration of Jesusí resurrection was past and now they were engaged in a life and death struggle. They were persecuted by the Romans and ridiculed by their pagan neighbours. In their present circumstances, there was little to get excited about. Even their church leader, John, had been exiled to an island. Iím sure John would have often looked over toward the mainland and his heart ached for those whom he loved who were facing so many challenges to their faith. The joy and excitement of Easter must have seemed a dream in the past, so far from the harshness of the world.
I think we can relate to that. We might not be persecuted and in fear of a government that will gladly get rid of the followers of Jesus, but we do live in a world where the pain in our bodies, the trouble at work, the lack of joy in our relationships give us so little to look forward to. And so today, God reminds us that our stay here on this earth is a short one compared with eternity and that we really do have something wonderful to look forward to. Through John the writer of the book of Revelation, God gives us a vision, a marvellous, technicoloured dream, a picture beyond our wildest imagination.
When the curtain is raised the first thing, we see is the heavenly throne. And what dramatic effects! (Rev 4). There are flashes of lightning, peals of thunder. These announce that God himself is now on stage - heaven and earth quiver and shake before God. Around the throne of God, there is a crowd that is too large to be counted. These are people who have endured the trouble and pain of this life and are now are praising the Lamb who sits on the throne (7:9-16).
The vision, then expands, sweeps through time into one great crescendo of praise in our text from Revelation 21. We read of a totally new earth, and a completely new heaven in which everything that is wrong here has been made right. A voice calls out, "Now God's home is with people! He will live with them, and they shall be his people. God himself will be with them, and he will be their God." What a vision!
The Bible doesnít tell us a lot of information about what heaven is like, simply because it canít be described with human words. We canít begin to imagine what heaven is like because it is so different to this world. Even using earthly comparisons we canít adequately describe heaven. We canít say that heaven is like a never-ending holiday on a carefree tropical island because all such comparisons donít come anywhere near describing heaven.
But the Bible does give us a small glimpse of heaven. Itís like looking through a keyhole Ė you can see just a small part of the room of the other side of the door. Even the small bit we can see through the keyhole of the Bible, is extraordinary.
So what do we know about heaven?
Heaven is a holy place.
There is no crime or violence, war or sickness in heaven. We are told that "there will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain" (Rev 21:4).
There is no sin in heaven. We are told, "Nothing impure will enter the city, nor anyone who does shameful things, or tellies".
If there is no sin then there are no sinners in heaven. The citizens of heaven are those whose sin has been washed in the blood of the Lamb and they have been new and clean and right in the sight of God. "Only those whose names are written in the Lambís book of the living will enter the city" (Rev 21:27).
There is no death in heaven Ė the blood of the Lamb has saved us and rescued us from the power of death. Jesus destroyed the power of death to wipe us out completely. Because he rose from the dead, so too we will rise and live forever in heaven.
The book of Revelation says that God will create a new heaven and a new earth. The earth that has been abused and exploited will vanish. The earth that is destroyed through floods, fires, earthquakes, and cyclones will be replaced with a new earth that is perfect and peaceful.
Heaven is the place where God dwells. Everything that separates God from humanity will disappear. In heaven, we will be in the presence of God. John the write of Revelation hears a voice calling out, "Now God's home is with people! He will live with them, and they shall be his people. God himself will be with them, and he will be their God". We are told that God will graciously give us everything that we need Ė he will wipe away our tears, give us eternal life, and he will be our God and we will be his children.
Heaven is a magnificent place. An angel shows John around and he sees a city covered in precious jewels, with streets of gold. It is perfect in every way. This is the perfect place to live forever.
In heaven there will people from every nation around the world. They may not have known each other during their earthly life, but in heaven, they will be like old friends. They will all have one thing in common Ė Jesus, the Lamb, who is their Saviour and whom they now worship. Every prejudice and division will disappear and they will stand together as brothers and sisters.
What a wonderful place heaven must be but
what does a vision like this mean for ordinary people like you and me?
Does this vision make any difference to the child lying in a hospital suffering the effects of chemo-therapy?
What difference does it make to those parents who are grieving the loss of their baby daughter?
What difference will this vision make to those families caught up in disharmony and its members hurting because of conflict, abuse and neglect?
We can dream all we like about a glorious future, but what about the realities of the here and now?
Just as John wrote all this down in the book of Revelation for the Christians who were suffering in the early centuries of Christianity, these descriptions of heaven remind us that the suffering we now endure are for just a short while. Then all this will come to an end and we shall enjoy the beauty and glory of heaven, joining all those who have gone before us and are now dwelling in that God-filled land. Our future is not all doom and gloom. That might be the case for those who believe that there is nothing beyond this life, and when they have breathed their last, thatís the end. Thereís nothing more to look forward to. I have met people who have said this to me but after a few questions they indicate that they have no idea of what heaven is really like. What is more they fail to recognize that there is only one other alternative to heaven Ė hell. Beyond the suffering of this life there awaits the faithful follower of Jesus a life that is a sharp contrast to what is our experience at the moment. Itís no wonder that Christians who know that death will soon come, face it with the sure confidence that they will soon be greeted by their Saviour at the gates of heaven.
Itís true that there will always be suffering and trouble in this life but the vision of heaven reminds us that God is in control of everything. We might think that our cancer is out of control, that violence and crime have a firm hold on our community, that wars, famines, earthquakes and all kinds of natural disasters are so destructive. The fact that God can promise us a place where none of these will exist indicates that God has the ability to give us the support and strength that we need right now. He is more powerful than any destructive force.
The Bible doesnít answer all of our questions about heaven but it certainly gives us some tantalizing glimpses of the life we will enjoy with God. And in the meantime as you journey through this life as those who have inherited eternal life in heaven, let the light of Christ shine despite the darkness that continues exist on this earth. Let this vision of heaven encourage you to be faithful to Christ and confident about the future.
© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
18th November, 2001