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Just How Heavenly is Heaven?

 

Rev. 21:1-5, 22-27; 22:1-5
Related Sunday School Lesson Bible Studies for Life, July 27

 

 

Throughout history, writers have contemplated various questions regarding heaven. For example, some have questioned whether or not there will be animals in heaven. Others have pondered whether or not the redeemed will have any knowledge of loved ones not present. Similarly, writers also question what heaven will actually be like, with one songwriter exclaiming proudly, “If heaven ain’t a lot like Dixie, then I don’t want to go.”

In Revelation 21 and 22, John writes with a degree of clarity regarding various aspects of the heavenly realm. Indeed, he appears to focus his pen on two areas: what is new and what is “not.”

 

What is new

In this new chapter, John immediately attracts the attention of the reader with the repeated word “new”: “Then I saw a new heaven and new earth …. I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem” (21:1-2). In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the earth, and He declared the creation was “good” (Gen. 1:1, 31). With the intrusion of sin, however, every aspect of creation became tainted and has since anxiously longed for God’s redemption – even creation itself (Rom. 8:18–25).

Thus, when John described Christ’s return and judgment of the beasts, their followers, and Satan (Rev. 19-20), he also wrote that “Earth and heaven fled from His presence” (Rev. 20:11). To be sure, John was preparing the reader for his description of a “new heaven and a new earth.”

Through the fire of destruction, John expresses God’s restorative process. Just as God will one day provide the redeemed in Christ a “new” – resurrected – body, He will also provide a “new” – restored – dwelling place for them. Presently, our bodies are designed for earthly existence; in the future, they will be fitted for heavenly – “a new earth” – existence.

In addition, John draws the reader’s attention to “a new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband” (21:2). Although John uses the term “city,” he makes clear that he is talking about the community of believers.

To be sure, the New Jerusalem represents those who are “from God” (21:2) and who will be “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (21:9). By using these terms, surely the Revelator endeavors to make explicit the purity of the church and the intimacy that she will share with the Lamb throughout eternity.

 

What is not

Not only does John focus the reader’s attention on what is new, he ventures to describe what is by stating what is not. That is, because heaven is largely indescribable, John couches his picture in terms of what will not be there. For example, “Death will exist no longer; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer” (21:4). Moreover, “the city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it” (21:22). In the end, “there will no longer be any curse” (22:3). Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, John declares that the effects of sin are removed resulting in a paradise similar to the Garden of Eden.

What was originally created in Genesis and later corrupted, John portrays as completed and restored. Consider the table within this lesson.

But heaven will be more than a mere re-creation of the Garden of Eden. More accurately, it will be the Garden of Eden on steroids. More than a Tree of Life from which man cannot eat, the New Earth will have what looks like an orchard of them from which to choose.

John writes, “On both sides of the river was the tree of life” (22:2). Thus, John describes heaven as perfectly shaped and decorated and as populated with the best fruits year round. In it, moreover, the people of God will share ecstatic intimacy with the Lord. Truly, this is Paradise.

 

Application

In each of our lessons, I have attempted to remind readers that John wrote to encourage believers. Certainly, the idea of salvation for Christ’s followers and the just judgment of His enemies bring with it a degree of encouragement. However, John offers more.

Scripture is replete with examples of disheartened believers. Just as Elijah needed encouragement when he believed that he was the only one who worshipped and served God, so today, John encourages the Church by reminding us that a great multitude of believers comprise the Army of God.

Earlier in this letter, John spoke of people “from every tribe and language” whom Christ redeemed by His blood (5:9-10). Later, he wrote that “a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” worshiped God saying, “Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne” (7:9-10).

And now as he closes the letter with a description of heaven, John mentions again the presence of “the nations” (21:24, 26).

Here is the point. First, the gospel is for everyone, regardless of age, rank, or race. Second, consequently, we are not alone. Christians are everywhere longing for the return of Jesus Christ to claim His own. “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus” (22:20).

 

Genesis

Revelation

God created the heavens and the earth (1:1)

God created a new heaven and new earth (21:1)

God established night (1:5)

There will be no night (22:5)

God created the sea (1:10)

There will be no seas (21:1)

God created the sun (1:16)

There will be no sun (21:23)

Death is in the Garden (2:19)

Death will be no more (21:4)

Humanity is driven from the Garden (3:24)

The church is restored to Paradise (22:14)