The New Heaven and the New Earth, Part 1 (Revelation Sermon 38 of 49)
March 04, 2018 | Andrew Davis
Hope is merely faith in the future; the two terms, hope and faith, seem almost synonymous when it comes to future good things that God has promised us. Therefore, I preach for your hope and for your faith, based on the Word of God. Revelation 21:5-6 contains wonderful words: “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, [I can imagine he spoke it in an urgent and excited tone of voice; but even better:] for these words are trustworthy and they are true.’”
We can have a hope based on scriptural truth; anything other accounts about Heaven that add to Scripture are fantasy. I would dissuade you from paying attention to those accounts — people who die and go to Heaven temporarily then come back and tell us what it was like. Be afraid. Do not listen to that; listen to the Word of God, to Scripture. That is enough. It is complicated, not easy to put into words, but it will be wonderful walking through it.
In 2004, Randy Alcorn published a book about Heaven called Heaven. It is 494 pages of some scriptural exegesis and some speculations. Alcorn argues for the sanctified use of imagination. These words of Scripture beg to be explained and unfolded and meditated upon. Alcorn wrote the book in part because he was shocked to find that many Christians that he talked to dreaded Heaven. I can understand being afraid to go to Hell, but they were afraid of their faulty view of Heaven. Many see it as an ethereal, non-physical, wispy-clouded place, with much playing of golden harps. One of my kids asked me if we will need harp lessons to be let into Heaven, like being in language school as a missionary. When one graduates into golden harp skill, he will be admitted into Heaven to begin his eternal harp strumming while sitting on a cloud.
Some imagine that we will be singing Amazing Grace forever, given the line in the hymn, “When we’ve been there 10,000 years, bright, shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing his praise [i.e., Amazing Grace] than when we’ve first begun.” Thinking about it that way, it can be depressing. Many people like the song, but most will say honestly that there is nothing they like doing on earth that they would want to do forever and ever and ever and ever. People have a hard time with the concept of eternity.
Alcorn cites a passage from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain, no believer at all, must have been gleeful in writing this section. Miss Watson, the Christian spinster who took in Huck, was continually warning him that he would not go to Heaven with his loose lifestyle. Huck said about her, “She went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was to go around all day long with a harp and sing forever and ever. So I didn't think much of it. I asked her if she thought Tom Sawyer would go there and she said not by a considerable sight. And I was glad about that because I wanted him and me to be together.”
Clearly, such a view of Heaven was utterly unappealing to Huck Finn, and if we are honest, it is unappealing to us as well. Thank God, that view is not biblically accurate. Alcorn wrote his book Heaven to drive away such depressing views of Heaven.
So what is the truth? What can we really believe about the future to which we are going? There is no better way to answer that question than to study Scripture, and there is no better place in the Bible to study about Heaven than in the final two chapters of the Bible, Revelation 21 and 22. We will take our time going through these chapters to try to squeeze all the heavenly nectar that we can out of the admittedly incomplete view that words cannot afford.
Our Heavenly Mindedness Glorifies God
Fill Our Hearts with Heaven
At the end of 1 Corinthians 13, Paul wrote about spiritual gifts, including preaching and teaching, saying all gifts culminate with what is eternal, what will remain — namely, faith, hope, and love. Before that verse, he said, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face-to-face. Now I know in part [thus a partial view] then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” Now, we see through a mirror, indistinctly, dimly, like the man whom Jesus healed in stages. At first he saw people like trees walking around; later, he was able to see everything clearly. Our view of Heaven might be somewhat like that.
From apocalyptic, visionary language, we are seeking to extract details of what our heavenly life will be like, and the process is well worth it. We should all meditate on Heaven based on Scripture more than we do. We should read Revelation 21 and 22 more frequently than we do. Commit it to memory and recite it to yourself on repeat.
Colossians 3:1-4 talks about being heavenly-minded: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” We are commanded to set our minds on things above and things to come, future things. We are to be thinking about them all the time, not primarily earthly and dark and temporal things. Our heavenly meditation is commanded.
Greater Suffering Brings Sweeter Meditations on Heaven
For our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, it is definitely true that the greater we suffer in this world as Christians, the sweeter our heavenly meditations will be. Brothers and sisters who are being persecuted for their faith in many places in the world feed their souls continually with meditations on Heaven. Such thoughts keep them going, keep them hopeful. These meditations enable them to lead guards who have tortured them to Christ, so obviously filled with a hope and fearlessness when it comes to death that the guards lack. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5:11-12, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.” In the midst of persecution, we can meditate on how great our reward will be in the heavenly world. Jesus says it is a time to rejoice. He is commanding heavenly joy based on heavenly reward, even in earthly suffering. When we get to Heaven, we will look back a great deal on church history.
We will be able to see what God did to strengthen our brothers and sisters who were in prison cells, in places of torture, with streaming heavenly light, a supernatural foretaste of heavenly joy and enabled them to endure great suffering. I read a book called The Heavenly Man about a man named Brother Yun, who was involved in the house church movement in China. He was arrested for the first time as a Christian when he was only 17 years old. At that time, he was ministering at a meeting far away from home. When caught, he was thrown into a freezing, unheated prison cell. His winter coat had been thrown away into the snow as he was being dragged to prison by the security police who had caught him. In that cold prison cell, he began to sing Psalm 150 out loud. The more he sang, the more he was filled with supernatural joy. Gradually, his frozen hands and feet regained feeling and he no longer felt cold. This would be the regular pattern of his many incarcerations for Christ. He was called the Heavenly Man because his hope in Heaven was so clearly on display in those many imprisonments.
The more suffering that we go through on earth, the sweeter our heavenly meditations will be. This was true of Christian slaves on the plantations in the South before the Civil War. Working in the cotton fields, they would sing constantly of Heaven, their only hope and solace in a life of unremitting sorrow and pain and injustice. “Swing low sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home. I looked over Jordan and what did I see, a band of angels coming after me. I’m sometimes up, sometimes down, but still, my soul feels heavenly bound. Swing low sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home.” Wikipedia writers prefer to say it was a secret language for the Underground Railroad, and it may have been, but very likely they were thinking about and yearning for Heaven even more.
Affluence Reduces Sweetness
Most of us do not endure suffering like that. There are sufferings that are common to people all over the world — sufferings of a medical nature, financial pain, chronic pain. But in general, our present level of affluence and our level of comfort renders heavenly meditation less sweet and less frequent. I do not think we do it as much as others do.
Proverbs 27:7 says, “One who is full loathes honey from the comb, but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet.” The Bible says that we are aliens and strangers in this world, but the more affluent and the more comfortable our lives are, the harder that is to believe. Those who lived by faith in the past, like those listed in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11, admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. They went through extreme suffering, people of whom the world was not worthy, but they fed themselves on heavenly hope. They saw from a distance their heavenly home where they were going. When all our needs are met physically — stomachs full of good food, beds warm, no real danger on the horizon — it is easy to forget about God and easy to not think much about Heaven.
Benefits of Yearning for Heaven
There are multiple benefits of a strong yearning for Heaven. First and foremost, it proves what your treasure really is. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” [Matthew 6:19-21] Heavenly-minded people know where their treasure really is. They live securely in this world because they are not afraid of losing earthly things.
Second, a strong yearning for Heaven develops Christian character. People who are drinking continually from thoughts of Heaven display fearlessness and boldness and perseverance. It shapes their character.
Third, a strong yearning for Heaven greatly glorifies God. The Psalmist says in Psalm 73, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” Sincerely meant, that glorifies God. The Psalmist is saying, “There is nothing I desire on earth compared to God. If I could have God, I do not need anything else in this world.”
Fourth, a strong yearning for Heaven makes all life God-centered because Heaven is a God-centered place. The more you meditate on Heaven, the more God-centered you will be in this world, thinking about God more, who He is, what He does and has done.
Fifth, a strong yearning for Heaven helps us to realize how insignificant our present earthly condition is, whether good or bad. Life is a mist, a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Whether things are going well or poorly as we would define it, either way it is as nothing compared to the heavenly reality. Earthly accolades and honors and prosperity are as nothing compared to Heaven. Heavenly accolades and heavenly life and heavenly prosperity are infinitely better. Our present sufferings are very small compared to the future glory, which puts everything in perspective, enabling us to persevere through suffering. Paul says in Romans 8:18, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
Sixth, a strong yearning for Heaven results in holiness. It is a very powerful force for putting sin to death. Being heavenly-minded, we will yearn for holiness and purity. Again, Colossians 3:4-5 says, “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry.” John makes the same connection in 1 John 3:2-3: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” Meditating on Heaven gives us power for holiness.
Seventh, a strong yearning for Heaven drives missions and evangelism. The more heavenly-minded we are, the more it is evident that we have a hope in us that non-Christians do not have, and the more they will ask us to give a reason for it. That is especially true when we endure suffering. It creates missionary encounters. Tertullian said, “The blood of martyrs is seed for the church.” It is seed if they die well, filled with evident hope in Heaven. The pagans will notice that these Christians have something they do not have, that they could not respond that way in the face of death. Hope in Heaven also frees missionaries up from earthly entanglements. Missionaries typically leave their homes to serve in worse conditions than they have ever known because they are yearning for a heavenly glory, both for the people they share the Gospel with and for themselves. They want rewards, as should we. We should want God to be pleased with us. A heavenly mindset frees people up to go serve in some remarkably difficult settings.
Eighth, a strong yearning for Heaven keeps us vigorously serving God for the rest of our lives. It gives us perseverance in service. At the end of that marvelous chapter on the resurrection body, Paul applies in 1 Corinthians 15:58: “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” Because there will be a resurrection of the body, your service to the church is not in vain. Your gift of administration is not in vain. Your financial giving is not in vain. Your teaching of toddlers in a BFL class is not in vain. Your secret closet prayer ministry is not in vain. Your evangelism in Durham is not in vain, even if none of the last 25 people you witness to have been interested. None of it is in vain. The more confident we are in our hope of Heaven, the more energetic and persevering in service to Christ we will be. Therefore it is well worth it for us to meditate often on Heaven.
The New Heavens and New Earth Revealed
Revelation 21 begins with this marvelous statement: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.” We have now come full circle now in the Bible. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Revelation ends with a New Heaven and a New Earth. There are innumerable vibrant, vigorous themes in the Bible that come to fruition and completion in Revelation 21 and 22. It is a challenge to trace them all — consummation of the tabernacle and the temple, service to Christ, worship, and many more.
A Physical and Spiritual Reality
It begins with this issue of creation. The terms heavens and earth provide familiar, recognizable concepts, not some alien universe. We have experience with the starry heavens — the sky and the stars — though we have not seen Heaven itself, the spiritual realm. We have experience with the earth; we understand the concept. In Revelation, though, the heavens and the earth will be new physical and spiritual realities which we will be able to explore, like Lewis and Clark, paddling up the Mississippi out of St. Louis and then going up the various rivers, but without the accompanying danger, disease, hostile enemies attacking, starvation, extreme temperatures, and other hardships.
We will finally see the consummation of Habakkuk 2:1 — the verse which I requested to be put over our missions map in the hall: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” We will explore and see how God has woven his glory into everything in creation, and we will know it well. We will not be idolaters, worshiping and serving the creature and creation; we will give the Creator full credit for creation and will serve Him.
Genesis 2 gives a picture of the first world to be explored, the Garden of Eden. God made this beautiful garden with a river running through, which“…separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.)” [Genesis 2:11-12] If they had not fallen into sin, Adam and Eve at some point would have left Eden, perhaps by boat, to explore the whole world. It would it have been beautiful. Sadly, they did fall into sin and the world was cursed. Eden is long gone, but we will inhabit a new perfect world with a river flowing out from God’s throne.
Revelation 22:1-2 says, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit yielding its fruit every month.” One tree stands on both sides of a great river. There is a sense of a real physical world to be explored.
Predicted and Revealed
This heavenly world must be predicted or unveiled or revealed by the Holy Spirit through writings, as it is in Revelation. Without this revelation, idle speculations would be damaging, but there is enough to go on. The phrase “new heavens and new earth” first appears in Isaiah 65:17-18: “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.” In addition to the New Heaven, New Earth, this also speaks of a delightful Jerusalem.
The First Heaven and First Earth Pass Away
Revelation 21:1 says, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…” John, transported, saw the new world in his vision of the future, given to him as an apostle while exiled on the island of Patmos. The first heaven and earth had passed away. Revelation 20:11 says, “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.” Take these two verses in conjunction with one another — Revelation 20:11 and 21:1; it is clear that the present physical universe that we know and call home will go away. In one sense, it will be transformed, made new; in another, it will be radically destroyed.
Hebrews 1:10-12, quoting Psalm 102, says, “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” Peter makes it plain that the present physical universe — earth and sky and outer space — will disappear. 2 Peter 3:10 says, “…the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.”
Two verses later, 2 Peter 3:12 says, “That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.” It is not hard to imagine that this verse describes a thermonuclear conflagration in which the atoms themselves release energy in a kind of massive explosive fireball.
Continuity and Difference
But there must also be continuity with this present world. While the word “new” implies a difference, the terms “heaven and earth” imply continuity. Just as our bodies will be resurrected, so will the world be resurrected, made new.
1 Corinthians 15:42-44 describes the resurrection body in the language of a seed that is sown and raised, another picture of both continuity and disconnect: “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” We will have a spiritual body. Our resurrection bodies will be different than we can imagine, but still physical. Jesus said, “Touch me and see; A [spirit] does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” [Luke 24:39] “Go ahead, Thomas, put your finger in the nail marks.” It is physical. He asked for broiled fish and ate it to prove that his body was physical. The spiritual aspect to Jesus’ resurrection body enabled him to go through cave walls, grave clothes covered with sticky, resinous, aromatic spices, locked doors — there were no obstacles for his resurrected body, and people did not recognize him unless he revealed himself, so there was some difference.
Our resurrection bodies will be like that. Paul calls it imperishable — cannot perish or fade or get old; glorious — radiant and shining; powerful — not growing weary but energetic and strong. In addition to being imperishable, glorious and powerful, it is a spiritual body. It is hard to fathom, along the lines of transparent gold or a single pearl as a gate (if you can picture the pearl, imagine the oyster that made it). It stretches the mind. We cannot yet imagine what a spiritual body, transparent gold, and a single massive pearl will be like.
Resurrected bodies with resurrected feet need resurrected ground to walk on. Anthony Hokum said, “Resurrected bodies are not intended just to float in space or to flit from cloud to cloud. They call for a new earth on which to live and work and glorify God.” The doctrine of the resurrection of the body makes no sense without the doctrine of the new, or resurrected, earth.
No Longer Any Sea
Revelation 21:1 ends saying, “…and there was no longer any sea.” Randy Alcorn disagrees with this. (One of his basic rules is that if he likes it, it will be in Heaven.) We have to take the Bible’s statement as it is given, but I understand the sentiment. The coast is a beloved vacation destination. Observing the sea, one sees a display of beauty and power, such as when the sun rises on the east coast and sets on the west coast. Some of the most beautiful scenery I have seen has involved the sea, like the rocky Maine coastline in Acadia National Park with sailboats all over the harbor. It sparkles beautifully in the sunlight.
We visited my mother’s house in Orleans on Cape Cod during Christmas 1996 when Carolyn was six months old. Since she was born in land-locked Kentucky, the only massive body of water she had ever seen was the Ohio River. I wanted her to see the ocean, so I put her in the car and the two of us went to Nauset Beach. From the parking lot, we walked up the stairs, cresting the sand dune which hides the ocean from view. There had been a serious winter storm the day before so the waves were in fine form. We heard the crashing waves and wind, felt the foam and mist on our faces, and smelled the salt air.
I did not want to miss the moment Carolyn first saw the ocean. I had seen it plenty of times myself, of course, but I had never seen my daughter see it for the first time. God gave me the foresight to watch her face. Since she was a wordless little baby, all she did was just point, as if to say, “Don't look at me, look at that spectacular, powerful thing.”
I would love to go on a whale-watching cruise in the New Heaven and New Earth. The last time I participated in whale watching, the sea was rough and choppy and had a less than desirable effect on my stomach. That will not be a problem in the resurrected world.
There are darker implications of no sea. It could be argued that there were no seas before the flood of Noah. God separated the water from the dry land, but the seas are vastly larger now than they were before the flood of Noah, which was a display of God’s wrath and judgment. The sea harbors, in the Hebraic mind, sea monsters that need to be killed; without the sea monsters being killed, there can be no salvation, no rescue. Psalm 89:9-10 says, “You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them. You crushed Rahab like one of the slain…”
This churning sea was the source of Daniel’s four great wicked empires that came up, one beast after another. John has the same image of the Antichrist that comes up out of the churning sea. The sea represents the nations and all their tumults and their churning. “But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. ‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked.’” [Isaiah 57:20-21]
If we literally take what it says, there will be no longer any sea, our future lives and the new earth will be radically different than the one we know in terms of ecology and biology. 70% of our oxygen comes from marine plants and 83% of our rainwater from the sea. 71.1% of the surface of the present earth is covered by water, and if all of that surface area became land and a new earth, with all of the creativity of God, there will be much exploring to do and plenty of room for us to do it in.
We do not have any idea how many people will be redeemed but most will not be. Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” We cannot guess the percentage of unredeemed, but Jesus put it in more general terms: many will be condemned and only a few saved. But we also know from Revelation 7 that the redeemed are comprised of “…a multitude, greater than anyone could count, from every tribe, language, people, and nation.” A smaller group of people than presently live on earth will be exploring much more land than we can possibly imagine.
So a new universe is coming, radiant with the glory of God. It will be our home for all eternity, and we would know nothing about the New Heaven and the New Earth, except that Scripture reveals it to us.
The New Jerusalem Descends from God
The Capital City of God’s Eternal Empire
Verse 2 reveals that a beautiful city is coming as well — not just countryside with beautiful land — called the New Jerusalem. Revelation 21:2 says, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” This is the capital city of God’s eternal empire, where his throne will be. There will be a radiantly beautiful land to explore and a radiantly beautiful city to live in.
I have seen some amazing sights all over the world. I tend to gravitate more toward and get refreshed by nature rather than city. Other people find cities exciting — I do too but I love nature to my core. I love visiting National Parks like Acadia; the Redwoods along the Pacific Coast in Northern California with massive trees and rocky coastline; Half Dome in Yosemite; Old Faithful in Yellowstone. I saw Mount St. Helens’ eruptions of steam following the main eruption as I was traveling down the Oregon coastline. All interesting and spectacular natural beauty.
I have seen some amazing cities as well, with their sights and sounds. It is impressive. I spoke at a conference on outreach to Muslims in New York City, staying on the 30th floor in a decent hotel on the Avenue of the Americas. It was like a man-made canyon of steel and glass and light. When the sun went down, I could see a man working at his desk right across the road, and as far as I could see to the left and right were man-made buildings. It had its own kind of beauty.
This past summer, I was on my way to Cameroon and missed my flight, so I had an extra day in Paris. I decided to make the most of it and took the train from the hotel they put me up in Paris. I walked as much as you possibly can in one day and was thoroughly exhausted by the end. As the sun was going down, I climbed the Eiffel Tower, overlooking the City of Lights. It was beautiful and amazing. London was the same way with Big Ben and all the monuments and other sights.
I have seen some amazing European cities as well, like Prague for example, one of my favorite cities, with cobblestone courtyards of old buildings, the Charles Bridge across the Vltava River, and the ancient castle on the hill.
A city implies a society with many people together — working, eating, experiencing life, having a common culture together. There is a man-made beauty because we are created in the image of God. Babel had this man-made beauty of construction even as the people were building the Tower of Babel as a display of human arrogance and pride. Perhaps there will be other cities in the New Earth, as Jesus implies in his parable about the ten minas: one who managed his affairs well would be in charge of ten cities and another in charge of five cities. The New Jerusalem is the capital city, and we will all be together to see its glory and its beauty.
The Old Jerusalem
Jerusalem links back to a history and heritage. Jerusalem was the place in Israel where God chose for His name and His glory to dwell. He told the Israelites, before they entered the Promised Land, that He would choose a place. It was called the City of David, because David conquered it militarily from the Jebusites. The Tabernacle had been moving around from place to place, but at last, the Ark of the Covenant came to Jerusalem. Three times a year, the Jews would take pilgrimages up to Mount Zion, to Jerusalem, to offer their sacrifices there. That was the heritage of Jerusalem.
But Jerusalem also had a history of great wickedness — evil and sin and idolatry. It was a dirty, filthy, nasty, sinful, wicked city, and the prophets railed against the wickedness of Jerusalem. Isaiah 1:21 says, “See how the faithful city has become a prostitute! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her — but now murderers!” Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem, saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” [Luke 13:34-35]. After saying this, he left Jerusalem.
Timeless Picture of God and His People
The new Jerusalem will be perfectly pure, radiantly glorious, purified of all of her uncleanness and idolatry and wickedness. It will be a radiant, beautiful place, the perfection of the Old Testament purpose, fulfilling God’s intention to put his name in a place, a location where His glory will dwell. The New Jerusalem the physical city, is this location. In our resurrection bodies, it is where we will congregate.
But the New Jerusalem is, more significantly, the church of Jesus Christ, the bride of Christ. The language in Revelation is of a radiant bride beautifully dressed for her husband. She is ready for her wedding day, descending from God, beautifully adorned. She is made ready in Heaven by God himself, prepared and made glorious by thousands of years of redemptive history, evangelism and missions, the ministry of spiritual gifts, and sanctification.
Christ makes her ready, and she is also making herself ready. Revelation 19:7-8 says, “‘Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.’ (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)” By her righteous good deeds she is preparing herself for her wedding day while being made ready by God and by Christ as well. She will descend ready, glorious. Revelation 21:9-11 says, “One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.” Radiant with the glory of God, He got her ready, made her glorious and beautiful.
Revelation 21:2 says, “beautifully dressed for her husband,” or adorned, kosmeo, from which we get the word “cosmetics.” She has adorned herself as every bride does. I have had the privilege of officiating many weddings — all brides are beautiful. My daughter was the flower girl in one. When she came down the aisle in her miniature bride dress, it was hard not to become emotional. (Fathers of brides look back; fathers of flower girls look ahead.) A bride’s dress is the most costly she will ever wear, perhaps made of silk, with sparkling sequins or beads woven into it. She puts a great deal of time into choosing it or making it. Her hair is perfectly styled, every hair in place. She has just the right amount of jewelry, tastefully chosen, and her face is shining with joy. She is beautiful.
In American weddings, the bride gets ready with help from her mother and bridesmaids, not typically from the bridegroom. In fact, it is a tradition that he does not see her on that day until the moment she walks down the aisle. But in this case, this radiant bride has been prepared by her bridegroom, Christ, for centuries. This is a word to every husband in Ephesians 5:25-27 “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”
Her beauty is his work. He did not find her beautiful but, as Ezekiel saw, kicking around in her blood and her defilement, ugly, rebellious, sinful. Romans 3:11 says, “There is no one righteous, not even one, there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God.” That is all of us who are part of the bride of Christ. He will is making us radiantly holy and glorious and beautiful — it is his work. The bride is the consummation of the wedding image of Israel and God — God married Israel, but she was unfaithful until He restored her in a new form.
First and foremost, I yearn, if you are listening to me with your ears, listen to me with your heart. Jesus said, “He who has ears, let him hear.” Please do not miss it; do not be excluded, on the outside trying to get in when it is too late — you will not be admitted then. Hear me now. This is the day of salvation. Hear the Gospel. God sent his son Jesus into the world to die on the cross for sinners like you and me. If you believe in him, your sins will be forgiven, and you will be there in Heaven. That is all. You do not have to — you must not — do any good works to pay for your sins. You must only trust in Christ. Do not miss this doorway of opportunity open for you — walk through it. Two years ago, I shared the Gospel with somebody on a plane. The Holy Spirit was so completely filling me that I had a deep yearning to spend eternity in Heaven with a guy I had never met. In my heart, I wanted to plead with him “Don’t miss it!” He would not have understood that, so I toned it down. But I do not want you to miss it either. Be there.
Second, for all who are Christians, I urge you, be heavenly-minded. Think about this more than you do. This week, take opportunities to talk to co-workers, to non-Christians about these things. Talk about the sermon. Ask the person if he ever thinks about Heaven. Let the Lord open the door to share the Gospel.
Let’s close in prayer.
Father, thank you for the things that we have covered today, for the opportunity we have to walk through this incredible truth and the things you are showing us. Please strengthen each one of us, and make us, O Lord, radiant and strong and energetic in serving you. Help us to be so filled with joy and hope that we would give you the glory that you deserve by the way we live. In Jesus name. Amen.