This sermon is number 6 in a series of 6
Crucial Questions On Christ's Return - Part 6
"Heaven: Pie In The Sky Or Certain Promise?"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2004 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
I want our initial reading to be taken from Revelation chapter 21, and we will be looking at a number of Scriptures tonight - particularly Revelation 21 and 22, but we'll be flicking through the pages, so be aware of that and do put a marker in this passage because we'll need it later. We'll just read a couple of the verses at the beginning of this portion to get the gist of the theme, our subject tonight is under the title: 'Heaven: Pie In The Sky or Certain Promise?'.
John is now seeing a vision of what is commonly known as 'heaven': "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death", and we end our reading at verse 8.
It may be no surprise to most of you this evening to know that there are a lot more people in our world today who believe in heaven than believe in the reality of hell. MORI did a poll recently for the BBC, and they did it in a United Kingdom context - they found statistically that 60% of our population in the United Kingdom believed in God, that may surprise you but those are the facts. A further statistic was that 52% of those people in the population believed in heaven - 60% believed in God, 52% believed in heaven, but only 32% believed in hell. In a sense, it is natural for people to tend to accept that which is nice, rather than that which is nasty. People want to imagine a paradise, an idyllic situation, a utopia where all pain, and sorrow, and wickedness and discomfort, and depression and dejection are gone forever for all eternity. But when you consider these statistics for a moment, particularly that one regarding heaven - 52% of people in the United Kingdom believed in heaven - that is roughly half of our population believing in it, but therefore half of them also are sceptical where heaven is concerned. Half of them, perhaps, don't even believe in an afterlife, and certainly do not believe in the positive entity called heaven that we read of in the Bible.
Now we haven't got time tonight to go into all the beliefs that there are in our world's religious and philosophical systems with regards to the afterlife or even particularly heaven, but let me summarise them to you just in about seven short points. These are the beliefs that there are in our world, basically speaking: first of all there is atheistic materialism, very popular today particularly in the Western world - that is the belief that there is no God, and therefore it follows through that if there is no God therefore there is no soul in our being, we are simply material organisms, everything that really exists is to be seen around us, to be touched and felt, there is no spiritual realm, and therefore when our bodies that we are living in die everything that is who we are dies with our body and dies forever. There is no part of the human being that lives on beyond the body's death - that is atheistic materialism, particularly popular in our 21st century age of affluence.
Another opinion that would explain the overlap between the 60% who believe in God yet only 52% believing in heaven, which seems strange, is because there are people who actually believe in God but don't believe that there is a heaven. That might seem astounding, but the fact of the matter is some people believe that either God is not loving enough to care and save us to bring us to a place called heaven, or - perish the thought - God is an individual, personality, who lacks the power to bring us, as fallen human beings, to His heaven. That is the second view: God exists, but there is no heaven.
The third view is scepticism: in other words, no one can really know, no one has proved the existence of heaven, no one has come back to tell us that it is there - as far as they are concerned - therefore they are sceptical about the whole thing, and they live sceptically and they die sceptically, without any hope or assurance in anything beyond the grave. The fourth view is ancient paganism, which is particularly popular today in our New Age world - that simply is this: that you become a pale existence of your former self, not in a corpse but in a ghost. You're a ghost who roams around this world, or even inhabits a dark underworld - that's where we get all the theories of ghouls and ghosts - but many people, even in our age today, believe in this ancient paganism.
Then there is a fifth belief called 'Platonism', coming from the philosopher Plato - that is the teaching of the immortality of the soul. It's often confused today with Christianity, but it is not Christianity at all. It is the belief that the body dies, and when the body dies it decomposes, rots, ceases to exist, but it is the soul and the spirit of the man that lives on. Only the spiritual part of the human being continues to exist into eternity - that is not the Christian doctrine that we believe in. Then secondly there is what is called pantheism. Pantheism simply means that all of us constitute, as human beings, and in fact as the universal nature, we all constitute God. In other words, there is a spark of divine light in all of us, in a sense we are drops, if you like, of a cosmic ocean - pieces of 'God-stuff' - we all make up God who is effectively the universe. Therefore at death, our drop just returns to the big ocean sea and there is no real individuality, we all make up God and when we die we all go back into this big ocean of a cycle of life - pantheism.
Then seventhly, also very popular today in our New Age society, there is what is commonly called 'reincarnation' - that is, after the body dies, the soul gets another body, if you like it moves house. It goes not into an immortal body, but into another mortal body - and if you get promoted through enough times being reincarnated, eventually your soul and spirit may escape the body and become some kind of spiritual entity. These are the views that we, of course, as Christians reject - and we'll explain in a moment or two why we reject them. But most of us would be lying if we did not say that there have been times in our lives, even as Christians, where we have doubted the reality of the afterlife called 'heaven'. Perhaps we have had doubts about the existence of a utopia, or a paradise, or an entity where there is the eternal peace and joy forever in the presence of God.
We would not be alone if that was the case. We read in Ecclesiastes chapter 3, a man who is called in Hebrew 'Kohala', which is 'the preacher', he said in a record of his gloomy reflections on death in chapter 3 verse 19-22 - listen to the words: 'For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts', in other words, just like the dog dies, the man dies, 'even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity'. In other words there's no speciality with regards to the human being in a spiritual sense, he is no different than animal life. Listen to what he goes on to say in verse 20: 'All go unto one place', that is the grave, 'all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth? Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?'. In other words, he is a sceptic at this portion of life: 'Who really can know? Is it not more likely that we just die like an ordinary animal? Who can tell if man's spirit goes back to God into some heavenly existence?'.
Maybe you have asked at times of grief, at times of despair and dejection in life: is there really a heaven? Is it all pie in the sky? Or is it a certain promise? Can we be sure as believers of this fact? Now listen, I have no time this evening to assess all of the views that I mentioned to you, all of those seven - but there is one piece of evidence that I want to present to you this evening that refutes in one fell swoop all of the claims of false religion and philosophy with regards to the afterlife. It is simply this: the proven historical fact of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. His coming again from the grave as a whole man - body, soul and spirit - on the third day after His death is categorical, historical, factual proof that can be proven in a court of law today, that all of these other theories are false. Now if that wasn't enough evidence, the scripture does teach us that in fact this belief in heaven is not, as Karl Marx says 'The opium of the masses'. Marxism criticises the Christian hope of heaven as an escape from confronting the grim realities of earth - it is far from that, because the Bible teaches that the resurrection power and life of Jesus Christ that is now imparted to us as believers is living in us, and we can confront life with His presence in us, and in fact we can love as He loves, and show forth the fruit of the Spirit and make life meaningful not only for ourselves but ought to for all those around us. 'They would see our good works', the Lord Jesus said, 'and glorify our Father who is in heaven'.
But there are five, I think it is, more facts - and they'll be up on the screen, but you would do well to note these down - the first, obviously as I mentioned, is the resurrection of the Lord Jesus - categorical proof that there is an afterlife. People say: 'No one has come back to tell us' - that is a lie, the Lord Jesus has come back and proven to us that there is an afterlife, there is a heaven. Here's another very interesting thought as to why there has to be a heaven: human souls have always longed for such a place. You can go back into civilisation and into anthropological history, right to 3000 BC, right to the very age before the flood perhaps if you can find documentation, and you will see that men believed in an afterlife. In 3000BC the Egyptians believed in it, and it is a record of history that they believed in an afterlife - it may be a far flung idea from what we believe as Christians, but nevertheless it is proof that God in His creation wrote on the human soul the reality that there is more than this material life down here on earth. The second proof that there has to be a heaven is not only that the soul always longed for such a place, but the human soul has always felt that such a place existed.
A little boy on one occasion was flying a kite through the clouds, and nobody could see the kite. He was asked the question: 'How do you know it's there?', and he simply answered: 'Well, I can feel its tug'. You know, that's like heaven, even in unregenerate human beings there is a consciousness deep within their being - even though they won't, perhaps, accept it or admit it - there is a tug of the supernatural, of the eternal, that there must be more than this all around them. Human souls have always felt that there was such a place. Another reason, fourthly, is that human souls need such a place. You might dispute this, but the fact of the matter is - I'm sure at some point in your life - you have asked the question, as you look around you at all the destruction and disease and death, 'Is this all there is to life? Is this what it's all about? Is there not more?'. If we are so perceptive to be able to see the imperfection round about us, does it not infer, therefore that there must be perfection somewhere? If we can tell that all things are not good, all things are bad, does it not necessitate that somewhere in this whole universe, in this whole existence, that there is something good, that there is some perfection somewhere?
Fifthly, another reason is: justice demands such a place. The blood of the martyrs cries out for such an existence. In a positive sense: why would Paul the apostle have lived the life that he did? In fact, he said in 1 Corinthians 15 that if there is no resurrection - i.e. eternal life - we are of all men most miserable. 'What's the point in all my suffering and being stoned, being near to death, being in shipwreck and all the rest if there is no resurrection from the dead? I've wasted this life and I'm not finding another one!'. But I'm losing my life now, Paul is saying, that I might find the true eternal life which is in heaven.
Not only does justice demand it in a positive sense of the martyrs and those who have suffered for their faith, but in a negative sense justice demands it for men like Hitler, men like Saddam Hussein, men like Mussolini and other dictators of our age. Imagine if Hitler had got away with it, shot himself or whatever happened to him, he got away with the Holocaust and all of the tragedies of the First and the Second World War in his Nazi regime - did he just get away with it all? Justice demands that there should be a judgment day for him, and if he is now dead, how else can it be unless there is an afterlife?
The final and perhaps most prominent reason for us tonight to believe that there is a heaven, is that God and His Son the Lord Jesus Christ said there is such a place. In John 3:13 the Lord Jesus said: 'No man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven'. So let's look tonight at what the word of God says about heaven. I want to look first of all, in our first point, at the history of heaven - now that's a bit of a misnomer in a sense, a contradiction of terms, because heaven is defined in the Bible as eternal - therefore how can it have a history? Well, I'm talking about having a history in the context of human understanding, chiefly tonight in the understanding that we get from God's word.
So let's look at how the Bible portrays heaven for us, right back to the very beginning. If you were to look in your Old Testament Scriptures this evening, the most common word in Old Testament Hebrew for 'heaven' is 'shamayim' - now this word, throughout the whole of the Old Testament, refers to the sky; first of all to the place that the birds inhabit and fly in, if you like, the atmosphere all around the planet earth. It refers also therefore to the source of our rain, what Genesis in the first couple of chapters calls the firmament - and we could define that as being the first heaven, or the atmospheric heaven. But then the Bible in the Old Testament refers to another heaven, which is not our atmosphere immediately around us, the sky, but outer space - the abode of the stars and the planets. It refers to this realm as the second heaven, we could call it the stellar heaven, where the stars and the planets and solar systems are. But heaven is also described in the Old Testament, chiefly and in a primary sense, as being the seat of God's throne and God's judgment and governments. In fact, as we go through the Old Testament, we find that heaven is also given to us in the sense of the direction to which we should pray - we direct our prayers toward heaven, we lift up our eyes to heaven up to the hills from whence cometh our help. When we are beseeching God we look to heaven for help, not to earth. It's the place where God resides, and in that sense it is the third heaven - it's not the first heaven, the system of firmament around our sky; it's not the second heaven, the place where the solar systems are, the stellar heaven; but this is the celestial heaven, where God dwells, where God's throne is, the eternal realm.
Deuteronomy chapter 31 tells us that the Old Testament understanding of heaven is the place where God keeps records of human history. The Old Testament tells us that injustice reaches heaven, prayers are heard and even recorded in heaven. We read that Elijah went, because he was translated alive, to heaven; and the Old Testament saints were promised heaven after death. You remember the Psalmist in Psalm 73 said: 'Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee'. 'Shamayim', heaven in the Old Testament.
Then we come to the New Testament, and there is this Greek word 'ouranos'. The same usage is there, the first heaven, it can mean 'the sky'; it can mean the second heaven, the stellar atmosphere around the solar systems, but it also chiefly means as well in the New Testament the seat where God is - God's eternal realm where He rules, and one day where the saints will go. Let me try to explain and bring you up-to-date with where we are today with regards to our understanding of heaven in this age. Many people do not agree on this fact, and I'm sure I'll not get all of you to agree tonight, but many believe that the Old Testament saints went to a place - they believed, they had faith in anticipation of Messiah - but when they died they did not go directly into heaven and into the immediate presence of God, in fact they went to a place where they waited until the Lord Jesus Christ paid a ransom to deliver them from their sins, and effectively to take them into heaven.
If you were to turn with me to Luke's gospel chapter 16 for a moment, we see that the Lord Jesus bears this fact out. This was taught in Talmudic writings of the ancient rabbis, but the Lord Jesus takes it up Himself and puts His own divine seal of authority unto this fact. We read of a rich man, who the Bible says went to hell - the correct word in the Greek is 'Hades', the place of the departed dead - and then we also read of the poor man, the beggar, who went to heaven. Now, as we read that passage, it doesn't speak primarily of heaven but a place called 'Abraham's bosom'. As you read down that passage, we'll not take time to do it tonight, we see that the rich man in Hades was tormented - that's very clear - but the poor man in Abraham's bosom was comforted. So right away we see in this, what is primarily an Old Testament period before the Lord died and rose again and His church was born, in this period now the Lord Jesus is telling us that when you die you either go to a place called Hades, which effectively is a place of torment, a precursor of hell, or you go to a place of comfort called Abraham's Bosom, where you anticipate the final work of redemption that would be accomplished one day soon by the Lord Jesus who is telling this factual story.
Now let me tell you the update of the things as we understand it to be today in this age of grace. Hades, as you have it in Luke's gospel chapter 16, we have no reason to believe from Scriptures that things have changed with regards to that place of torment. Often the Authorised Version calls it 'hell', but you find as I explained to you a couple of weeks ago, even last week looking at Satan, that the true hell is that Gehenna that we read of in Revelation chapter 20, and that the Lord Jesus mentioned in many of His sermons. But the departed dead without Christ go to this place called Hades now, and are tormented in waiting for that Great White Throne Judgment when the books will be open, they will be judged, and Revelation 20:13-14 says that death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. The dead were called out of Hades, they were judged, and then death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire.
Now what happened Abraham's bosom? Well, from my understanding of the Scriptures, I believe that the change took place that affected Paradise, or affected Abraham's bosom, when the Lord Jesus died, was resurrected and ascended. Now do bear with me on this: Paul the apostle talks of Paradise. He talks of a man in 2 Corinthians 12, who many believe, we all believe really, he was talking about himself, was caught up into the third heaven - that heaven where God dwelt - but he describes that heaven as 'Paradise'. He is insinuating in that passage that Paradise now is in the immediate presence of the Almighty God. That place of comfort that was Abraham's bosom, if you like, has been promoted into the third heaven, the place where God dwells. Now why do we think that? Well, Ephesians 4:8-10 indicates the time of that change as we believe. Paul says there in Ephesians 4:8-10: 'When the Lord Jesus ascended up on high, he led captivity captive', or it could be translated like this, 'he led a multitude of captives'. When He died and rose again, the Bible says that as He ascended after 40 days dwelling in the earth, He led a multitude of captives. Now immediately after it says that in Ephesians 4 it adds these tremendous words: previously, before ascending, He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth. The lower parts of the earth speak of Hades, primarily that Paradise part of Hades, Abraham's bosom - and we believe that He delivered all these people who were anticipating Messiah into the immediate presence of God.
I hope you follow that. The Paradise division of Hades is now presently in the immediate presence of our Lord Jesus. Now, why am I so sure about that? Well, I'm not sure about a whole lot of things with regards to these matters, I don't think anybody really can be to an extent - but I do know this: whenever the apostle Paul was talking about dying, his belief and his great assurance was that he would be absent from the body and present with the Lord. To die, he said, and be with Christ was what? Very much far better! Very much far better than what? This earth, and I believe in an extent, everything that had gone before the Lord Jesus Christ - because how could the Gospel not affect the afterlife in itself? All the Scriptures testify such. Now even though that is the case, we still await - whether we're the righteous dead in the immediate presence of the Lord in Paradise now; or whether we're in Hades, the hell part of the afterlife - we still await the resurrection of the dead, all of us, to be reunited to our bodies.
Now that very quickly, and hopefully not too confusingly, is the history of heaven as we understand it. Now let's look tonight prophetically at the future of heaven, your second point. Let's look at this diagram that you have on the back of your sheet, we've been following this every week. After the Great Tribulation period here, this seven years, the Lord Jesus comes to the earth of course. He brings in His reign of righteousness for 1000 years, the millennial reign when Satan is bound - Revelation 20 - then at the end, you remember last week we saw that Satan will be loosed and will be defeated finally, there will be the judgment of the wicked and then the eternal state will be ushered in. Now this is what we're talking about when we talk about heaven in the most forensic sense in the word of God. The Bible teaches that after the Great White Throne Judgment when the wicked are judged, cast into hell, the devil is cast into hell and there is punished for all eternity, that righteousness will reign in the whole of the universe - not the millennial reign now, but the whole of God's universe, righteousness will reign in what we read in Revelation 21 will be a new heaven and a new earth.
Now turn with me till I show you how this will happen - 2 Peter 3 - the word of God teaches that there will be a renovation of the earth. Now there's a bit of disagreement even among scholars whether it will be this old earth burnt up and reformed in a sense, or whether the whole of this earth and this whole universe will be completely destroyed and replaced - but whatever way it will be, 2 Peter chapter 3 tells us something will take place. 'But the day of the Lord', verse 10 in chapter 3 of 2 Peter, 'The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness' - very important, let's not skip over that, that's the main point - 'Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness'.
Now this is not something new. In the Old Testament and Isaiah 65 and 66 - I'll just quote you Isaiah 65:17 - you read there in the prophet, he said: 'For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind'. He's saying, way back in Isaiah's day, that the new heaven and the new earth will come, along with a new Jerusalem coming down from heaven from God - we read of that in chapter 21 - and by a definite act of God's creative power, God will call into being a new heaven and a new earth as He did bringing into being the first heaven and the first earth. God designed it in the beginning to display His theocratic rule in the whole of universe, and we know what happened in the fall and everything else. It didn't take God unawares, but His programme is moving swiftly as we speak toward the day when a new heaven and a new earth will declare the glory and sovereign rule of Almighty God for all eternity.
Now when that begins, when the world that we live in is burnt up, and the heavens in the sense of the atmospheric heavens and the stellar heavens are burnt up - there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and that will bring into transition what we know as eternity - or as it is on your sheet 'the eternal state'. Now we know this from Revelation 22:5, where we read: 'And there shall be no night there', no night, no day or night, 'and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever' - that is eternity. No night there, because it is totally different realm, the restrictions that we have today are not upon us; and the Bible is teaching us that this is our ultimate hope as believers in the Lord Jesus. Peter said: 'According to His promise, we are looking for a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells'. Now I ask you the question tonight: do you even know that this is something that going to happen to us all? Let alone looking forward to it? Peter says this is our chief, our ultimate hope: a new heaven and a new earth wherein righteousness dwells.
Now let me say a word of caution, because among dispensational pre-millennialists alone there is a great divergence of opinion on these verses of Scripture. In fact, after verse 8 in chapter 21, after our reading where we read up to, most dispensational pre-millennialists - all of them in fact believe verses 1 to 8 of chapter 21 are to do with the eternal state, but there are many godly men, able scholars, who believe that the verses from verse 9 through to verse 7 of chapter 22 describe again the millennial reign of Christ. They're going back, they're backtracking, as if John is reminiscing of what has been happening on the earth when Christ has been reigning for these thousand years of millennium. Many scholars believe this: Darby believed it, Ironside believed it, and others. Others believe that it is the eternal state being spoken to, and I fall into that category. It is different than the millennium, these last two chapters, I believe.
Now let me show you a couple of reasons why: here's the first reason - verse 8, all these people: 'fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death' - sinners will not inherit this eternal state, it will be the saved who will inherit it. Look at verse 27 of chapter 21: 'And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life'. Now I told you last week that there will be those born in the millennial reign of Christ, the thousand years of the earth, they will be born sinners like we're all born sinners - and when the final rebellion takes place when Satan is loosed, they will follow Satan. So this cannot be the millennial reign of Christ, because no one that defiles will ever enter in here. Another reason is that the curse on the old creation that we live in tonight will be removed, chapter 22 verse 3: 'And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him' - the curse is gone. The curse will not be gone during the millennial reign, in the sense that natural sin will still be in men and death will still be there, and death is the intrinsic proof of the curse upon all fallen humanity.
The third reason is that there is no temple there, that's very clear in verse 22 of chapter 21: 'And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it'. Now a couple of years ago I spent many weeks looking at Ezekiel 40 to 48 to prove to you that there is a millennial temple, and there will be sacrifices and offerings among the Jewish people during the thousand year reign of Christ on the earth - but there is no temple here, which proves that it is this eternal state, heaven. Now let's look at this city that comes down from God, the new Jerusalem, which is the bride of Christ and which we as believers will inherit. A description is found, and of course there is great debate as to the extent to which these can be interpreted literally - but just bear with me in a general categorisation of these facts.
In chapter 21 verses 12 to 14 we have the city's walls, the city's walls are described. We haven't got time to read it all, but just to say that the city's walls are described as having twelve gates. First of all there is no height to these walls, which suggests that you can't get in and you can't get out unless you inherit - but yet the opposite extreme here is not only is there exclusive holiness to this city, the walls are given no height at all, but there are twelve gates. The twelve gates are all open, the Bible says, and they're never shut which suggests the antithesis - which is absolute openness and freedom for the saints of God to come and go out of this celestial city. So it's exclusive to those who are made holy by the righteousness of Christ, but it's open to them: they have true freedom in this city. Isn't that lovely? One day we're going to be totally free!
The Bible says that those twelve gates are named after the twelve tribes of Israel, and the twelve apostles are written on the twelve foundations of that wall - so right away we're seeing that this city will be inhabited not only by the Jews who have been saved, but will be inhabited by the church of Jesus Christ. Israel is represented, the church is represented, the people of God together in this city of the new Jerusalem come down from heaven from God.
The city's walls, then there are the city's dimensions in Revelation 21:15-17. We'll not read them all, just to say that if you measure all this, what you find is you get a symmetrical city - in fact it actually becomes a perfect cube. It is not on a level as our cities are, but it is a perfect cube which parallels very closely to the earthly counterpart of the inner sanctuary of both the tabernacle and the temple, which were perfect cubes. It's speaking of the immediate presence of God, where this passage says 'God will come and dwell with His people and He will be their God'. Verse 16 gives us the area of the city, it says its 12,000 furlongs - now let me compute that for you: that's 1,400 miles cubed, or over 2 million square miles - imagine that! Over 2 million square miles! There's plenty of room for all the saints to live in this city. On a mere horizontal level, someone has said that a city of that area would very nearly stretch from our capital city of London to New York! That's the city alone!
The city's walls, the city's dimensions, then thirdly the city's riches - in chapter 21:18-21 we read of all these marvellous stones. We'll not go through them, a good study Bible or a concordance will show you colours of this vast spectrum of jewels - but there are twelve stones mentioned here that are said to adorn the foundations of the city of the new Jerusalem. These twelve stones, if you correlate them with Exodus 28, are exactly the same stones that were on the breastplate of the high priest, on which were written the twelve tribes of Israel . But here we have that on these stones in the foundation of heaven are written the twelve names of the apostles! Not only that but the shape of the breastplate on the high priest was foursquare, just like this city. Those are the city's riches. Imagine the spectrum of the glory of God is shone into these great stones in this city, and it reflects that great Shekinah glory of God into a myriad of beautiful colours.
Then fourthly the city's characteristics - we read it: fearful, unfaithful people, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, the immoral sexually, sorcerers, those dabbling in the occult, those who are idolaters worshipping other gods, liars, those who do not believe nor stand by the truth - they will not inherit that place. The characteristics of chapter 22:1-5 are this, that there was 'a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb' - in other words, not only will this be a place where there is no temple for the holy light of God in Christ shines forth always; a place where the gates are never shut, where there's total freedom and open access in the presence of God; but it's a place where there will be continual eternal life flowing down from the throne of God to His people. Verse 2 says there will be a tree of life for the healing of the nations, with twelve fruits upon it - in other words, there will be abundant life in heaven, and we will be continually satisfied, and we will never want a thing in God's heaven!
Now friends, I could spend all night tonight on the future of heaven, but I hope that you're starting to see what a wonderful place this is. Is it any wonder that eye has never seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for them that love Him? I want to answer a couple of common questions tonight about heaven that might be in your mind, and I hope on the last night you'll give me a special dispensation of five or ten minutes - you might say we do that every week, and you never thank us! Common questions about heaven, here is the first: who will be there? Who will be there? Will you be there? I can't answer that question for you, but what I can do is say that if you fall into any of the categories in verse 8 of chapter 21, you'll not be there.
Let me make it more specific in verse 27 of chapter 21: if your name is not written in the Lamb's Book of Life, you will be sure not to be there. That means if you're not saved by sovereign grace - you cannot climb to heaven on a rung of morals, you've got to get in by God's grace. They're in heaven because they're loosed from their sins in the blood of the Lamb - will you be there? The second most common question is: how do I get there? Do you know how to get there? The Lord Jesus said in John 14: 'Let not your heart be troubled', and you would be troubled if you weren't sure you're going there, I'm sure, 'ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?'. And Jesus said: 'Listen Thomas, all of you listen, the world listen: I am the way, the truth, and the life', and the sense in the Greek is 'I am the only way, the only truth, the only life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me'. Not by yourself my friend, or by your church, but by Christ and Christ alone is the way to heaven.
How do you get there? Repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus. Here's the third question: what will we be like when we get there by grace? Can I remind you of the words of John the apostle who wrote Revelation, he also said in his first epistle chapter 3: 'Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is'. Now if you can remember from the Scriptures what the Lord Jesus was like, and I would encourage you to get our study on 1 Corinthians 15 on 'The Resurrection Body', but that was a prototype of what our bodies will be like, it was a precursor, He was the firstfruits of those who will be resurrected one day. That great spiritually controlled physical body that the Lord Jesus was in, that hadn't any of the restrictive restraints of time or physical appetites that we have today in our dispensation - they will all be gone!
Look at chapter 21 verse 4, all these 'no mores', it's wonderful: there'll be no more tears, God will wipe them all away. Dear child, those tears that you shed even last evening as you put your head to the pillow, there's going to be a day when you will rest and there'll be no wet cheeks. All tears are gone, there shall be no more death, no more cemeteries, no more funerals, no more headstones, no more undertakers - praise the Lord - looking you up and down, sizing you up for a coffin, that will all be gone! No more hospitals, no more medicine, no more doctors - can you imagine this? Neither sorrows, pain and sadness of any kind, nor crying - neither shall there be any more physical or spiritual or emotional pain! No more heartache! No more distress, depression, dejection, it's all gone!
My friends, isn't it wonderful to know that this is not a pie in the sky, some kind of utopian hope that ignores the realities of human life down here on earth - it is a certainty, because God's Son has promised us, and He has come back and shown us: 'As I am, so you will be'. Here's a very important question to a lot of people here in the meeting tonight, and to all of us I would say: Will we know one another? Well, many times I'm asked this question, and I understand why I'm asked. I want to try and answer it for you satisfactorily from God's word. I want to take you first to David, and you remember that David's child was very ill. It was near to death, and David decided that he would fast and pray, and beseech God that God would spare the child's life - but the child died. David said in 2 Samuel 12:23: 'But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast?' - what's the point any more? - 'can I bring him back again?' - answer: no - 'I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me'. Now that was what cheered him, that is what wiped his tears away and dried his eyes: the prospect that he would go to that child and meet it again. Is that not the case?
Maybe that doesn't convince you. First Thessalonians 2:19, Paul said to the Thessalonians who had all sorts of questions about the second coming of the Lord Jesus, he said: 'For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?'. What's going to be a joy for me when the Lord comes? 'I tell you', Paul said, 'having you all around me, the children that the Lord has given me'. Now if he didn't recognise them, how could it be a joy? Not only that, but in 1 Thessalonians 4 and verses 13-14 that we saw often hear quoted, we ignore the fact that these believers were asking about their loved ones who had died and gone before, what would happen to them at the coming of the Lord? Paul says: 'But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him'. Now underline that, 'will God bring with him' - what would be the point of those verses to those inquisitive Christians, if they wouldn't recognise their dead believer folk? He doesn't just say to them: 'Look, don't worry, they're OK. They're at rest, they're at peace - and even though you might never see him again, they're happy for all eternity'. He says: 'You want to know what is going to happen to them when the Lord comes? God's going to bring them with Him to you!'.
Spurgeon, who was very humorous at times in some of his quips, was asked the question: Will we know one another in heaven? And his answer was this: 'Dear man, do you think we will be more ignorant in heaven than we are down here on earth?'. Fanny Crosby, that blind woman who never saw anybody on the earth, wrote these words in one of her hymns:
'Know each other, blessed comfort
When this mortal life is o'er.
We shall know our friends departed,
Kindred spirits gone before.
In our holy thrill of transport
They will be the first to share,
First to bid us kindly welcome,
We shall know each other there'.
Can I ask the final question: what will we do? What will we do in heaven? People think we're sitting on a cloud plucking a harp - is that that you think? There's very little detail given to us in the Bible about what we will do in heaven, but occasionally the curtain is drawn to give a slight glimpse of life, or a foretaste of glory divine as Crosby would say. I want to give you a summary by Dwight Pentecost of what it will be like in heaven - listen to these descriptions, and they're all scriptural: One, we will live in fellowship with the Lord. Listen to this verse: 'For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face-to-face', another, 'I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am there you may be also'. Revelation 22:4: 'And they shall see his face' - and I shall see Him, face-to-face! Fellowship with our Lord, with nothing between.
Secondly: it will be a life of rest - are you weary tonight? John said: 'I heard a voice from heaven saying, Write, blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, from henceforth, yea saith the Spirit, they that may rest from their labours, and their works do follow them' - rest forever! Thirdly: a life of knowledge. Paul said: 'Now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known'. Elie Wiesel, who went through one of the Nazi concentration camps, said: 'Heaven is where questions and answers become one'. Fourthly: a life of holiness will be there. Struggling child of God with sin, the Bible says: 'And there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth' - including your warped, depraved, fallen human nature; it will be gone forever. A life of joy will be there, fifthly, God shall wipe all tears from their eyes. There shall be no more death, or sorrow, or crying, no more pain - the former things are passed away! That thing that's causing you the deepest pain will be gone forever! A life of service will be there, we'll not be lazing about. 'There shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him'. There will be a life of abundance - no want! 'I will give unto him that is athirst of the water of life freely'. There will be a life of glory, what did Paul said to the Corinthians? 'For our light affliction which is but for a moment' - those pains, those aches, the heart-rendings of the soul - 'they work for us a far exceeding and eternal weight of glory'!
And a life of worship - 'After these things I heard great voice', Revelation 19, 'of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God'. Well might he have wrote that hymn:
'O Christ, He is the fountain
The deep sweet well of love!
The streams on earth I've tasted,
More deep I'll drink above.
There to an ocean fullness
His mercy doth expand:
And Glory, glory, glory,
Dwelleth in Emmanuel's land'
Pentecost ended that summary with these words: 'There is a danger that we become so occupied with the anticipation of our own experience of glory, that we do not realise that the supreme glorification of heaven is for the Godhead'. Our occupation in glory will be with Father, Son and Holy Spirit - not our position in heaven, not our rewards and our status, but God Himself! We shall see Him as He is! We shall be fully occupied with the One that loved us and loosed us from our sins with His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father. It'll not be so much the place of heaven that will occupy our attention, but the person of heaven - not where it is, but who it is!
'The bride eyes not her garment
But her dear Bridegroom's face.
I will not gaze on glory,
But on the King of grace.
Not at the crown He giveth,
But on His pierced hand.
The Lamb is all the glory
In Emmanuel's land'.
Can I leave you with the challenge of a quotation from Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, as Christian nears toward the Celestial City? Listen to this, as he goes there with Hopeful his companion: 'Drawing near to the city they had yet a more perfect view thereof. It was built of pearls and precious stones, while the streets were paved with gold. So that they reason of the natural glory of the City, and the reflection of the sunbeams upon it, Christian with desire fell sick; and Hopeful also had a fit or two of the same disease'. Can I repeat that again? 'Christian with desire fell sick; and Hopeful also had a fit or two of the same disease'. Do you know why? They were homesick for heaven. It's my prayer tonight that you have got a glimpse of that great city, but my question is: is it a glimpse enough to make you homesick? May God bless His word to our hearts.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the sixth and final tape in his 'Crucial Questions About Christ's Return' series, titled "Heaven: Pie In The Sky Or Certain Promise?" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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