Heaven

Heaven—Revelation 21 & 22

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’ …The foundations of the wall of the city are adorned with every jewel…And the twelve gates are twelve pearls, each of the gates is a single pearl, and the street of the city is pure gold, transparent as glass…Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever.
— Revelation 21 & 22 

Pastors are often asked the question: what will heaven be like? While there are several passages in scripture that give us hints, (e.g., Isaiah 11: 6-9), it’s the closing two chapters of Revelation that paint the best picture for many people. The ultimate timing and meaning of heaven have been forever debated among God’s people, but we have always found hope and joy in the scriptural promise that something better awaits us beyond this life.

When John receives his apocalyptic vision, he is shown a paradise in which the city is adorned with the finest of jewels, the streets are paved in gold, and a life-giving river runs throughout feeding numerous fruit trees. There is no more darkness, night, tears, or death. The Lord’s light will illumine everyone and everything. For John, and his early readers, there could have been no more beautiful depiction of heaven. Living in a world without electricity, darkness created real problems (and was associated with evil). Imagine a world with no darkness; that would be heavenly! Likewise, when food is scarce and eating isn’t as simple as making a quick trip to a restaurant, think of how heavenly it must have sounded to have all kinds of fruit available at your fingertips! And to the poor, persecuted Christians of John’s day, gold and jewels were reserved for the Roman powers that be. But not so for their “new heaven and new earth.” What John describes was the polar opposite of what followers of Christ were experiencing at the time. This heavenly vision gave them hope for their eternal futures; just as it does for us.

Interestingly, I’ve had many folks over the years tell me (often embarrassingly) that the Bible’s description of heaven sounds somewhat boring to them. “What will we do with all of our time?” they’ve wondered. What do you think? The reality is that we can only wrap our minds around so much; which is perhaps why John’s vision spoke to him only in images that he could understand. Could it not be that eternal life in heaven is so much grander than anything our feeble minds can now comprehend? After all, Paul said “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.” (1 Corinthians 13: 12)  Maybe an earthly description of heaven doesn’t even scratch the surface of how good it will be.

[Editor’s note: originally published November 12, 2010.]

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