What Does the Bible Teach About Heaven?
For this summer's "You Asked for It" series, I have taken your requests for subjects that you wanted me to speak on, and I'm endeavoring to talk about some of those vital subjects. One subject that continually came up was heaven. Now you do understand that it's totally impossible for me to take a grand and glorious subject like heaven or the last times and fit it into one message. In fact, in my last church in Ohio, we spent a year and two months just on the subject of the last times.
Even if I had a year or 10 years to speak on heaven, I could never do justice to it. There are some things that you just do your best, and when you're done, you wish you could have done better. Whenever I'm through with this subject, I say, "I didn't say what I really wanted to on heaven, where the redeemed are going to reside forever after this life."
In Revelation 21, beginning with verse 1, we read: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth passed away and there was no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, the 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 shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people and God Himself shall be among them.' They shall wipe away every tear from their eyes and there shall be no longer any death, there shall be no longer any mourning or crying or pain. The first things have passed away. And he who sits on the throne, said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ And he said, 'Write, for these words are faithful and true.' And he said to me, ‘It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, and I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be my son.’”
There is much misconception and wild imagination concerning heaven. I love what some 3rd graders in Tennessee, said, when they were asked by their Sunday school teacher to define heaven. This one certainly was a diplomat in her Sunday school class. She said, "Heaven is where some very nice teachers and a very nice principal will be found." Here's a 3rd grade theologian. "Heaven is where you'll get everything you want, but if you want too much, you might not get there." Let me give you one more, my favorite: "Heaven should be the happiest part of my dead life." Isn't that great? If you study secular history, you become convinced that God planted in the heart of man a sense of afterlife. You can see...
I think of the Egyptian civilization 4-5,000 years ago. Ever been to Egypt and has looked at the pyramids? I think the thing that impressed me the most was not the effort that went into building the pyramids, although that in itself is a wonder of the world. In fact, I remember looking at one that they felt probably took 100,000 workers 40 years to build. You look at that and you're amazed by the engineering feat. But what I was really impressed by was that this civilization had been created with a sense that there is something after death. Their extensive preparation for the afterlife was amazing.
In fact, it's interesting as you study every culture, except maybe our current culture, you find that man has always given great consideration to what happens after he dies. In many circles, we have been invaded by what we call existentialism., the here and the now. It's like we live for the day and give no thought to tomorrow. I read a bumper sticker the other day that said, "I want it all, and I want it now." And when I saw those words, I thought, if that does not describe the prevalent thinking of our society and culture today. Another very popular bumper sticker, which I know all you have seen, says, "The one who dies with the most toys wins." A society that can only think of the here and now.
I know as I get up to preach on heaven, some of you are saying, "Well, pastor is usually so practical.... Yawn, yawn, yawn. But today's on heaven." There's a tendency to almost yawn through a message on heaven or the afterlife or hell. But there will be a time when we'll give an account for our deeds on earth. And you say, "Well, I'm sure of that, but I'm not giving an account today because I'm still living." And yet when you read the Gospel accounts of Jesus, you see that one of the central themes of our Lord was the afterlife. "What would it profit a man if he gains the whole world...?" If he would get all the toys in the world? Jesus had a response thousands of years ago to that bumper sticker: "What does it profit you, if you have all the toys and die, and lose your own soul?"
Now, as we get into Revelation 21, I want to remind you that this book is difficult to understand because it is filled with symbolism. Because of that symbolism, we have a lot of misconceptions about heaven itself.
I love the story Bill Hybels shared with me about when he was in junior high choir. You know how junior high boys hate junior high choir. And his music teacher would say, "Now boys, if you plan to go to heaven, you'll have to like singing. So you'd better like this choir." Old Bill said, "I stood in there and thought that the worst thing I'd want to do is go to heaven. Ten billion years with a choir robe on, in a choir." I'll tell you every junior high boy would elect not to go if they thought that was what heaven was all about. Isn't that true? We don't understand all this symbolism and mysticism.
Yet I want you understand why they used that symbolism. Why? Because John did not have the words to describe what he saw as the heavens opened to him. If you'd ask a teenage boy that had fallen in love for the first time, "Hey, how's it going?" he'd look at you and stammer and say, "Well, gosh. I mean, it's, well, it's super." You'd say, "That's it?" "Well, it's just great.” He's feeling things that he doesn't have words to explain. And that's exactly what John is trying to do. He's trying to use symbols to describe what he sees.
I know that as I preach, I can overdo it. My parents are here, and we were having dinner the other night. Elizabeth was waiting on everybody and just being a perfect hostess. I was just waxing eloquent, bragging to Grandpa and Grandma about what a young lady she is. And I'm going quite overboard. By the way, when I do this for Joel Porter, he loves it. He says, "Come on Dad, keep it coming." But Elizabeth's a melancholy, and finally she leaned over from the kitchen, and said, "Dad, don't overdo it." But I can't overdo this subject.
Heaven is: relationships.
I think if we can grab hold of this one word, we'll begin to understand what heaven is really all about.
1. A New Relationship. (vv. 1,2,5)
He says, "When we get to heaven, we're going to have a new relationship. It's going to be something that we never experienced before." Let's look at verses 1,2 and 5 and I'll show you what I'm talking about. Notice the times that the word "new" appears. "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth passed away and there was no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God." Look at verse five,: "He who sits on the throne said, 'Behold I am making all things new.' And he said, 'Write, for these words are faithful and true.'"
A. A new place to live.
He talks about a new heaven and a new earth and a new Jerusalem. The former things on this earth will pass away. In Hebrews 11:11, that passage on faith, the writer said, "They desire a better country, which is a heavenly one, where God has prepared for them a city." There's a city prepared, and John says it 's a new city. It's a new heaven. It's a new earth. In other words, paradise is regained. In the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve willfully sinned against God, what happened? Suddenly, there were thistles in the ground, and they had to toil and sweat.
B. A new way to live.
He says, "When you go to heaven it's going to be a new way of living. A better living than what we have ever known before."
My brother is in Florida, and he develops real luxurious mobile home parks for elderly people. As they advertise all over the country, they talk about this great place to live. When you read one of their brochures you'd think it was heaven, it just looks so good.
Now when John talks about the new Jerusalem, we think materially. I've listened to guys talk about the new Jerusalem and describe its dimensions, and how high the walls are going to be and how the gates of pearl are going to swing open. And we talk about walls of jasper and streets of gold. That's not what John's trying to communicate to us. He's not trying to show us a physical community, although there'll be one. He's wanting us to see a spiritual community.
You know why it's going to be such a holy city? Not because of the materials, but because there will be no sin there. Can you imagine a city with no sin? Don't think of streets, stop lights and skyscrapers. Think of a city where you and I are going to live forever, and know absolutely no sin. I'm telling you, the newspaper reporters that make it won't have anything negative to report. Can you imagine getting the morning news up there? All you'd read is statements about the glory of God. No crimes to report, no murders. Can you imagine the 11 o'clock news up there?
What's the value of coming to church? Why do we like to come together as a community? Because when we shut the doors, we can sing praises and worship and pray and study God's word and our hearts can be strengthened and our fellowship can be warmed. We've had services here at Skyline where we didn't want to go home at the end. What is that? That's the holy city concept. John is saying we're going to live in a city that knows no sorrow, no pain, no sin, no suffering, no misunderstandings. And we won't have to go back home to a world filled with sorrow, sickness, sin, and suffering. We'll be able to stay there forever. And I will preach the eternal sermon. Wow. That's as bad as the junior high choir story, isn't it? You said, "Oh, no. Is that what's it's going to be like?"
He talks about how we will be ministered to. How we will be comforted one with the other. We'll get back to that a little later.
2. An Intimate Relationship. (vv. 2,3)
Let's look at verses 2 and 3. He said, "When I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, it was coming down out of heaven from God." And notice how he compares what he sees. He says, “It was made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. Now I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold the tabernacle of God is among men. He shall dwell among them and they shall be his people and God Himself shall be among them.”
When John tried to describe this scene, the only thing he could compare it with was a wedding. He's talking about the greatest relationship that man can know. He wants to relate heaven to us. It's like a great wedding, where the bride and groom come together.
This relationship is demonstrated through:
Think of the planning that has gone into this event. He started before the foundation of this world. Think of the planning through the Old Testament -- the prophets, the priests, the kings; and then Jesus himself in the fullness in time coming into this world. Think of the cost of this marriage. You know, when you talk to the parents of the children who are getting married, they say, "My goodness. I didn't realize how much this was going to cost." And Jesus, who has been preparing for this, paid a tremendous price for this marriage. God gave His only Son.
John talks about this purity in I John 3. "Beloved, now we are the children of God, and it has not yet appeared what we shall be. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has His hope fixed on Him purifies himself even as He is pure."
John sees the saints in white robes. Now, I know some of you are saying, "Oh, no, we're back into symbolism again." Well, I can hear a woman right now saying, "Well, I'm an autumn. And white doesn't look good on me. It's not my color." I hear somebody else say, "Well, I'm a little overweight, and robes make you look hefty." He means we're going to be adorned in white, because we'll be pure before Him. No more struggle with sin or temptation. No more heaviness of a soul pressed with conflicts of a sinful nature. We won't stand pure for our own sake, but because we're with God. No taint of sin upon us. Not of having sinned, or having been sinned against. There are times when I get tired of the struggle and warfare. It'll be good to know that it's over. "Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God."
He says in verse 3 that the tabernacle of God is among men. Oh, that's a great word study: the tabernacle of God. The tabernacle was symbolic of the presence of God. It's where the glory of God fell. Men went there to get close to God. And it moved with the children of Israel. It symbolized God's presence. And now John says, "They shall be His people and God Himself shall be among them."
In Leviticus 26:11, God said, “I'll set my tabernacle among you, and I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be my people." And Jeremiah 31:33, "I will be their God and they will be my people.” Ezekiel 37:12, “My tabernacle also shall be with them.”
3. An Individual Relationship. (vv. 6,7)
I see a personal relationship here. Notice with me in verse 6 and 7. In my Bible I circled quite a few words in these two verses. "And he said to me..." I circled that. God spoke to John. "...'It is done. I am the Alpha and Omega. The Beginning and the End. I will give to the one..." Notice that word "one." “...who thirsts, from the spring of the water of life without cost. He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be my son." Do you notice in verses 6 and 7 how that God becomes very personal, and talks about the individual? You see, whenever you look at the Word of God, you realize that the person is very important to God. That's why in Luke 15, he would talk about the shepherd going after that one lost sheep. Or he would talk about one lost coin, or he would talk about one lost son and the father waiting for him. One is very important to God. You see, heaven would be complete with God and one. And he looks down and he said, “He who overcomes shall inherit these things.”
God gives us...
A. Salvation that is free. (v. 6)
That's in verse 6: "I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost." Somebody says, "Hey, I want go to heaven. It sure sounds good. What do I have to do for it? Do I have join Skyline Church?" No, you don't. "Well, do I have to attend three out of four Sundays?" No, you don't. "Well, do I have tithe?" No, you don't. "What do I have to do? What do I have to give?" Nothing. Except open your heart, and accept the free gift of eternal life. You can't work for it. If you could work your way for heaven, my friends, we would have a "select society." We would have more Pharisees on this block than we could afford to have. We'd have more people counting out how many hours they pray and how many verses they read and how many services they attend. And I'd say, "I do this full time. I'm going to get there quicker than you." And we'd have to get a big log and put down all the things that we have done. No. You can't work your way there. You can't pay your way there. You can't earn your way there. None of us deserve it. But you can accept the gift of God eternal life.
B. Strength that is faithful. (v. 7)
In verse 7, he’s talking about overcoming. Who is going to be the one who gets to heaven? "He who overcomes." That's the one who will inherit these things. The word "overcome" is a great study. It's used 14 times in the book of Revelation. It's one of the most prominent words in this book. In Revelation 12:11 it reads, "And they overcame because of the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony." John says, "I see those who made it are overcomers. He gives us strength that will not fail."
C. Sonship that is forever. (v. 7)
He said in verse 7, “I will be his God and he will be my son.”
Give me your attention for a minute before we pray. Heaven's a very special subject to me. Back in March 1964, when I was 17 years old, in a service where a gospel group was singing about heaven, I gave my heart to Jesus. I was sitting in the back of the church listening to a group called “The Family Four.” And they were singing a song about heaven, with a phrase something like, "We'll join our hands together around the great white throne, as the angels sing, 'At last, at last we're home.'" What really grabbed me was that my father and my mother were on the platform, and as they sang the members of the quartet took my parents' hands and the other pastors' hands, and they made a line of about 12 or 14 people across the front.
And, I said, "Wait a minute. Mom and Dad are going somewhere that I'm not." I began to get homesick for a place that I wasn't prepared to go to. I thought of the earthly relationship that God had given me with my parents and said, "I don't want to miss it." While they were singing, I got up out of my pew and knelt at the altar in prayer. And I gave my heart to Jesus. I wonder this morning if there's someone who's not ready to go to heaven; but, boy, you've got some friends that are going there, and you don't want to miss it. It's a beautiful place of relationships. The good news is that this morning, you can do what I did in March of 1964. You can get ready.
Heaven is: _______________________________________________.
1. A ________________________________ relationship. (vv. 1, 2, 5)
Thoughts on Heaven:
2. An ________________________________ relationship. (vv. 2, 3)
When John tried to describe this scene, the only thing he could compare it with was a wedding.
This relationship is demonstrated through:
3. An ________________________________ relationship. (vv. 6, 7)
God gives us...
A. _____________________ that is __________________. (v. 6)
B. _____________________ that is __________________. (v. 7)
C. _____________________ that is __________________. (v. 7)
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