Rich Realities from Revelation: Heaven is our Destination! (Rev. 21:1-14)
Rich Realities from Revelation:
Heaven is our Destination!
What is your motivation…?
The teenager lost a contact lens while playing basketball in his driveway. After a fruitless search, he told his mother the lens was nowhere to be found. Undaunted, she went outside and in a few minutes returned with the lens in her hand. "I really looked hard for that, Mom," said the youth. "How'd you manage to find it?"
"We weren't looking for the same thing," she replied. "You were looking for a small piece of plastic. I was looking for $150."
What is your motivation for life? For staying faithful to Christ? For staying faithful to Christ’s truth?
The Christians who received the book of Revelation in the 1st century were being persecuted by their government - both national government of the Roman Empire and their local, regional governments - because Christians refused to compromise the teachings of the Gospel and their faith in Christ.
Some Christians were being thrown into prison - Revelation 2:10.
Some Christians were being killed - Revelation 2:13.
Some Christians were losing their business - Revelation 13:17.
Jesus reveals the book of Revelation to John the apostle to encourage those Christians to stay faithful. Jesus has used different promises throughout the book to motivate these Christians to say faithful to Him.
Jesus has reminded them that they are forgiven of their sins - because of Christ.
Jesus has reminded them that they will experience a resurrection from the dead - because of Christ.
Jesus has pictured for them the destruction of their persecutors - who are portrayed as beasts in fulfillment of visions God had given to the prophet Daniel centuries before.
Now at the end of this series of visions, Jesus is going to motivate His disciples to stay faithful to Him by giving them a picture of heaven, in words and images that would mean the most to them.
Now some of us love living in a big city with all of the modern conveniences and access to cultural attractions like museums and theaters and musicals, etc. But some of us love living in the country, where you smell decomposing leaves and you hear birds and frogs croaking.
The country music group Alabama has a song titled: “The Country Side of Life.” One verse in that song says, “I'm going down to the fishing pond where I can throw my line
It don't matter what fish I catch I only wanna rest my mind
The only fish you get downtown ain't caught with a hook and sinker
Put on your brakes beep beep honk your horn look out
Now turn on your blinker”
So if you are one who likes the city, the picture of heaven in Revelation 21 is for you - which we’ll look at in just a moment.
If you are one who likes the country, the picture of heaven in Revelation 22 is for you - which we’ll look at next month.
HEAVEN IS DESCRIBED AS A “NEW HEAVEN AND NEW EARTH” - 21:1-8:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, 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 will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be 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.” Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. “He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
First, observe that the first heaven and earth - the physical world - is destroyed. It is passed away. That is consistent with what the NT teaches in other places: Matthew 5:18; Mark 13:31; Hebrews 1:10-12; 2 Peter 3:10-12.
Thus when John writes that we will live in a “new” heaven and earth, he means that we will have a whole new place to live. It will not be like this place with its physical dimension and nature. Heaven is a spiritual place with a spiritual nature.
In this paragraph, “heaven” is pictured using Jerusalem as a metaphor too - the “holy city, new Jerusalem.” Clearly this is not anything like the physical Jerusalem because this Jerusalem is “coming down out of heaven from God.” So heaven is pictured as a city - like the capital of the ancient people of God.
The city is made ready, prepared, decorated as a “bride adorned for her husband.” In what way could you try capture the essence of beauty and preparation and anticipation than comparing the new dwelling place as a bride prepared to be given to her husband?
Notice in verse 3 that the “tabernacle” - the tent of worship where Israel offered her sacrifices to God - is “among men.” That is, God dwells among men in heaven, not separate from them but with them. This is the focus of this paragraph. God will live with His people in the new creation. Observe the expressions from verse 3: “among men; among them; among them.”
In heaven, there will be no tears; God will wipe every tear from the eyes of Christians, in heaven. If you have a friend or family member who is not in heaven, you will not weep over that. God will either wipe that memory from our minds, or the glory and beauty of heaven will overwhelm those thoughts to such an extent that we will not experience their sadness. There will be no pain or death or sickness in heaven. Heaven will truly be the best of all possible worlds!
God promises us that everything will be made new - of a better quality, better nature, better everything in heaven!
God emphases also that this vision and its message is “faithful and true.” We can depend on it; we can trust it; we can allow this vision to motivate us to stay faithful to Christ.
Whether it is God the Father or God the Son who is speaking in verse 6 is not relevant, but listen to His promises:
1) It is done. Once we get to heaven, there will be no more trials, no more pain, no more temptations! Heaven is the completion of God’s plans. It is the culmination of God’s plans. Nothing comes after that!
2) He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. We sing the song, “He is My Everything.” That’s the message of this expression. God began our faith and God will bring our faith to its fulfillment.
3) The one who thirsts will drink from the spring of life without costs. Heaven is God’s gift to mankind, who has lived his life serving God supremely and serving his fellow man sacrificially. Our eternal destination is our choice; it is our decision; it is a personal matter between me and God. Am I going to be faithful to Christ or not? If I am, then Revelation 21 is what I have to anticipate.
4) But the Christian life is not always easy because we do not always get what we want. And Satan can use our discontent to turn us away from Christ. So Jesus promises us that if we “overcome,” then we will inherit the blessings of heaven. Again, this verb “to overcome” is used 17 times in the book of Revelation; it is a key idea throughout the book.
5) God will be our God. We will be in His presence.
6) We will be His children. We will truly experience just what it means to have God the Father as our spiritual Father.
But in verse 8, Jesus reminds John to remind His Christian readers that there are lots of people who will not be in heaven:
Cowards - Those who give up the teachings of Jesus Christ because they can’t stand being in the minority.
Unbelieving - Those who have been motivated by Satan to stop trusting the Gospel message and all of its aspects.
Abominable - Those who have given themselves to worshipping false gods; in our day and age, a “false god” usually does not appear in the form of idols, but rather human beings whom we trust more than what the Bible actually teaches.
Murderers - Those who were willing to sacrifice someone else for the sake of their own lives.
Immoral persons - Those who were willing to sacrifice their own holiness as a matter of spiritual fulfillment.
Sorcerers - Those who engaged in practicing rituals that gave them reason to put their trust in someone else besides Jesus Christ and His teachings.
Idolaters - Those who worshipped idols and the false gods of the Roman Empire.
All liars - Those who have turned their back on Truth in all of its forms and manifestations.
Each of these, Jesus promises will have their part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. This is what is identified as a the “second death.” The “first death” surely refers to the physical death, the separation of the body from the spirit; the “second death” refers, then to spiritual death, the spiritual separation of our spirits from the presence of God - an eternity spent in the fires of hell (20:14).
Verse 9 leads us to a vision of the “holy city, new Jerusalem,” the dwelling place of Christians and faithful Israelites in heaven. This angel says, “Come, I will show you the bride, wife of the Lamb…” Of course, we learned from 19:7 that the church is the bride of Christ, Christians who have been washed by the blood of Christ. From verse 10 forward, John describes the “bride” (and he mixes metaphors) in terms of a beautiful but well-fortified holy city.
HEAVEN IS A PLACE OF GOD’S PROTECTION - 21:10-14:
“And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west. And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”
The beautiful description of the city here and through the end of the chapter is intended to visual depict this expression we have here in verse 11: the glory of God. Next year, we’re going to look at the beauty of God which compels us to stand in awe of Him! This city reflects that beauty, that glory.
Her brilliance is like costly stones, John mentions jasper.
But not only that, the city has a great and high wall - depicting safety and security. These Christians have been persecuted and killed because of their faith. But the Roman Empire - indeed those who might persecute you or me - cannot reach into the afterlife. We will be truly safe in the arms of Jesus. The twelve gates have the names of the twelve tribes of Israel written on them - signifying the faithful Jews who lived and died faithful to God under the Law of Moses.
The twelve foundation stones also had the twelve names of the twelve apostles, signifying the Christians who followed Christ based on the teachings of the twelve apostles. So this holy city is composed of all those faithful to God - whether they lived under the Covenant given through Moses or the Covenant given through Jesus Christ.
Let me just point out a few other things in the subsequent verses…
Verse 16 pictures the city as a cube, stating that the length and width and height are all the same. Now the NAS changes the measurements to make them fit an American’s thinking in the 21st century, but that hides the symbolic message of the text. The text actually says 12,000 stadia with one Roman stadion being equal to 600’. That would be 1,500 miles. So the new city, heaven is 1,500 miles high? Obviously that’s not the message Jesus is trying to send to us. Rather, this imagery reflects the picture of the holiest of holy room in the tabernacle built under Moses. What Jesus is saying is that God’s children are now the place where the presence of God truly dwells. Family, there will be no distance between us and God once we get to heaven!
The same thing is true of verse 17… The NASV says “seventy-two yards” but the Greek text says “144 cubits.” It is the multiple of 12 that is what is important in this point… The wall is perfect. It provides all the safety and security God’s people needs. The wicked which were mentioned in verse 8… are not able to enter into the holy city of God. There will be nothing dangerous there, nothing sinful, nothing negative in any way. It is a perfect city, with perfect dimensions, reflecting the glory of God which is the purpose of all the precious stones listed in verses 18-21.
We live in a culture which has - in some ways - become obsessed with safety. We are obsessed with wearing bike helmets and knee pads and mouth guards, and getting rid of all those playground equipment pieces that caused my generation broken bones. We have security cameras and dead-bolt locks. We do this because we are trying to minimize risk.
But there is only one true place of safety — Jesus Christ, a part of God’s new creation.
Take home message: The beauty of heaven and the glory of Christ and the presence of God should motivate us to stay faithful to the Gospel of Christ.