Heaven: What Do You Expect? (Revelation 21:1-4)

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Heaven: What Do You Expect?

Revelation 21:1-4

 God wants you to long for heaven. Are you longing for the right thing?

  1. Heaven is not old, but new (v.1-2)
  2. Heaven is about God, and not you (v.3-4)

I read a great analogy this week by Randy Alcorn. Imagine you are part of a NASA team preparing for a five-year mission to Mars. Just a week ago, Elon Musk of SpaceX said that they’ll be launching their first rocket to Mars in 2018. They plan to send a manned mission to Mars in eight years.

You are going to be on that rocket, so you go through years of grueling training–flight school, medical tests, equipment operation, physical endurance, survival training, extended isolation, confinement. After eight years of extensive training, the launch date finally arrives.

You’re sitting in the rocket. Houston is counting down to blast-off. The guy sitting next to you asks, “What do you know about Mars?” Do you think you would shrug your shoulders and say, “Nothing–we didn’t talk much about it. I guess we’ll find out when we get there.” It’s unthinkable, right? What kind of training would fail to prepare you for your ultimate destination?!

So how much do you know about Heaven? I’m sure you have some concepts in your head. But can you separate what you’ve received from church vs. culture, Netflix and Hallmark? Do you know what you got from Scripture vs. what you got from reading Left Behind?

Some people look forward to Heaven for things that aren’t there. They have wrong expectations of what is awaiting them. Other people love this life simply because their expectations for Heaven are so low. They also have wrong expectations of what’s awaiting them.

As Christians, we eagerly wait for the return of Christ. We see in a mirror dimly, but look forward to the day we will fully know our great God. God desires for us to long for Heaven. Are you longing for the right thing? The Bible gives us an amazing amount of detail about what Heaven will be like. So over the next four weeks, we are going to look at Revelation 21 and 22 and see what awaits us in Heaven.

21:1-4  Heaven: What should I expect?

21:5-8  Heaven: Who will be there?

21:9-27  Heaven: What will it be like?

22:1-5  Heaven: Won’t I get bored eventually?

This is not what happens when you die. This is about the new heavens and new earth where we spend eternity. Let me give you the one-minute version of what happens when you die. If you are a believer who dies before Jesus comes back, then:

Your body dies, and your soul lives on

Your soul is immediately in God’s presence

You will be at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8) in Paradise (Luke 23:48)

You likely will have some sense about what’s going on here on Earth, but time will not drag on at the same pace as now

When Jesus returns to Earth, your body will be resurrected and your soul reunited to it

He will rule the Earth for 1,000 years and you will be there for it

By the end of it, all God’s promises to the Jews will be fulfilled

Satan will be released from his bondage during Christ’s reign

Many who were born and raised in the Millenial Kingdom will turn to follow Satan and gather together for war against Jerusalem, the saints and Jesus

An innumerable army gathers and surrounds the saints and Jerusalem for war, but before the first offensive skirmish, fire comes down from Heaven and devours them all

Satan and the fallen angels are cast into the Lake of Fire

The Great White Throne Judgment commences where all unbelievers are finally judged and also cast into the Lake of Fire

That is the end of chapter 20, the conclusion of God’s wrath and judgment. When we pick up in chapter 21, we begin with words of hope and regeneration. There is no more evil, there is no more death, there is no more rebellion. This is not where you go when you die. What we are talking about today is the place where you will spend all eternity, and it is awesome!

A couple weeks ago, we were able to go away on a trip to Yosemite. It was so beautiful and so refreshing. We stayed at a house in Oakhurst. We would explore the property. We saw deer and owls. As we drove, we came upon a bear in the road. We hiked. Our kids climbed rocks and played in mountain streams. It was great.

But you know what was really great? Coming home. We got home after seven hours in the car last weekend. It was so nice to walk into our own home. And then that night to collapse into our bed. I love our bed! After a long day of driving and a week of being away, doesn’t your own bed feel so good? It’s the way you measure your sleep. That was almost as good as our bed.

When you’re away for a while, you long to come home. You look forward to being back in your house, having food from your kitchen, having family around, having your own bed. That longing is a bit like Heaven. And when you think of falling back into your pillow after a long time away, it sounds heavenly.

But our desires are nothing compared to what God promises! Heaven is going to be quite different and far better than what we usually hope for. So let’s dive into the text. The end of Revelation 20 is the conclusion of God’s wrath and judgment. When we start in chapter 21, we start with words of hope and regeneration.

There is no more evil, there is no more death, there is no more rebellion. All of that is done away with. There is no more struggle between spirit and flesh. There are no more battles. There will be no fight in your heart. The Spirit of God will rule your desires in peace. It’s the end of all competition. We enter something entirely foreign. We go to something entirely new to us.

1.  Heaven is not old, but new Verses 1 to 2

When you die, you go to a wonderful place. It is beyond what we can possibly imagine. But it is not the place that we are made for.

Revelation 21:1–2, “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. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.”

There is a new heaven and a new earth. Everything is made new. Nothing is the same. Heaven changes. God doesn’t change–He’s immutable. But God clearly says that Heaven will change. There will be a new one.

Did you ever see the second Star Trek movie, Wrath of Khan? In 1982 Shatner was still young. It had the Genesis Device which exploded on Regula I and begins to transform the dead, barren planet into a lush tropical paradise. It’s where they sent Spock’s dead body so that he could be resurrected in the next movie. In that movie, a dead, barren world is remade to be something beautiful. That is nothing like what God will do. Here’s what’s going to happen–God is going to cataclysmically destroy everything.

Look at 2 Peter 3:10 to 13. “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. 11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! 13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.”

When Peter says “new heavens” and “new earth,” he uses the exact same language as John in Revelation. They use a particular word for new that signifies something new in kind and quality. Since the Early Church, there has been some debate about whether Peter and John are saying that everything will be annihilated and made new, or if God will use the same elements to craft a new world.

So here’s what I can tell you for sure. Peter and John are not talking about climate change that makes life on earth impossible. I know that Peter describes fire, but it will not happen via a global nuclear holocaust. Here’s how I know that–look at:

2 Peter 3:10, “the heavens will pass away with a roar, a rushing sound

2 Peter 3:12, “the heavens will be destroyed by burning

2 Peter 3:12, “the elements will melt with intense heat

Elements do not equal earth, air, fire and water. Elements are all created matter, down to the neutrons and protons. Revelation 21 says essentially the same thing in verse 1. The first heaven and the first earth passed away–they cease to exist. Luke 5 uses the same words to describe leprosy being healed–it went away and ceased to exist.

So when we think of Heaven, we need to realize that it is nowhere that presently exists. I used to think of the earth being scorched over and then remade. That is not what is being described. Many think that the earth will become so bad that we need to find new planets to inhabit. It is the Tower of Babel all over again.

Elon Musk may see life on Mars as a safeguard for humanity. Revelation promises that the whole universe will be remade! Going to Mars won’t help you. Teleporting to a new galaxy won’t save you. God is going to destroy every tree, every city, every planet, every moon and sun everywhere.

Isaiah 34:4, “And all the host of heaven will wear away, and the sky will be rolled up like a scroll; all their hosts will also wither away as a leaf withers from the vine, or as one withers from the fig tree.”

In the days of Noah, when God wanted to cleanse the earth of man’s sin, he sent a worldwide flood to destroy all of life. Now in the last days, when He desires to cleanse all of creation from all sin, he destroys everything. It is far more apocalyptic than we tend to think.

The earthly change likely parallels in some way what happens to our own bodies. When you die, your physical existence ends. Your body is progressively destroyed, though your soul continues to live. When you are resurrected, God brings life back to your physical body, making it new and reunites your soul to it. This happens whether you were dead three days like Lazarus, or 3,000 years like King David.

Likewise, the universe’s death is sudden and total. And its renewal probably, likely mirrors our resurrection to new life. What’s clear is that it is entirely new. Our eternity will not be spent with God where He is now. It will be spent in an entirely new place. There is a new heaven and a new earth. Everything is made new. Nothing is the same.

We see that there is no sea. This has several potential significances. In the time of the Early Church, the sea was a place of danger, turmoil and death. It was untamable. Sea is viewed as hostile to God and to humanity. Note also Revelation 20:11 to 15. It was also the major barrier to the unification of all people—three-quarters of the earth is water, mainly ocean. To do away with that is huge. It would mean that all people everywhere can interact with one another.

The sea also represents the last and most significant step in the hydrological cycle. You remember elementary school–rain and snow goes to rivers, which run to the sea, where it evaporates back up into clouds. Virtually all life on Earth is dependent on water for survival. This means that without the sea, every feature of life and climate will be different.

The fact that there will be no sea tells us that danger has passed and that a whole new way of life has started. So if you’re the kind of person who is concerned about climate change, and water shortages, and the food supply, and fossil fuels, know that the new heavens and the new earth are not going to have any of those issues.

If you watch world news and see the danger of Boko Haram in Africa, the horrors of Syrian refugees, the persecution of Christians in North Korea, the mass killing in Orlando, Britain’s exit from the EU and Venezuelan food shortages–realize that all turmoil and all the tragedy will come to an end.

The media and news channels thrive on crisis. They bring in experts and analysts to conjecture on motives and consequences. If there’s a CNN in Heaven, all of its news will be good–all the time! Everything here passes away, and there is no more danger. It is a wholly new place.

Look at Revelation 21:2 again, “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. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.”

We will talk more about the new Jerusalem during week three, but for now here’s what’s happening. The Apostle John has been taken to Heaven in a vision. He stands in some elevated viewing place, in angelic company, and he sees a brand new Heaven and Earth in front of him. And as he watches, a city, a whole city which he identifies as new Jerusalem, comes down from Heaven, sent by God.

And the place is done up. The word is “adorned”, where we get the word “cosmetics”. You know the look of a bride on her wedding day. A cosmetician helped her. A hairstylist gave her a do. A white dress was perfectly fitted to her. All her friends looked her over to make sure that every eyelash was in place and the train of her dress was perfect.

That’s the imagery of the city which is coming down from Heaven. It has been made ready for our eternal inhabitance. Everything is new. Not one thing remains from the past. Isaiah 65:17, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.”

There will be no déjà vu. Nothing you see there will remind you of something from the past. There’ll be nothing that reminds you of cancer. There’ll be nothing to hint of Islam. You won’t remember the abuse you suffered or the bad things you did. Everything in this life will be changed. Do you get that?

Everything will change. Not one thing will be the same as it was. You will not be the same. Water will not be the same. Transportation will be different. Nature will be different. Only one thing stays the same. Only one person stays the same. God is unchanging. But He is making everything else new again.

Psalm 102:25 to 27, “Of old You founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. 26 Even they will perish, but You endure; and all of them will wear out like a garment; like clothing You will change them and they will be changed. 27 But You are the same, and Your years will not come to an end.” (cf. Hebrews 1:10 to 12)

It is going to be glorious! Our God is unchanging, but everything we know here will be made new and better. The things you hate will be made new and lovable. The things you love will be even better and more enjoyable to you than they are now. If you think time with church friends is sweet now, wait for the fellowship we’ll enjoy in Heaven.

If you enjoy nature, in the mountains, at the beach–it’s going to make your heart exult in God even more than it does now. If you think food tastes good now, wait until the new Earth. If you love music, you are not going to believe what it sounds like in the New Jerusalem. Heaven is where everything is made new! But with that, we have to acknowledge . . .

2.  Heaven is about God, and not you Verses 3 to 4

I say that because I don’t want you to expect the wrong things from Heaven. Will everything be new? Yes. Will you enjoy everything more? Yes. Will you be absolutely amazed by life there? Yes. But Heaven is not really about you. Heaven is about God.

Revelation 21:3 to 4, “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, 4 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.’”

He says it again at the end in verse 4–everything in this present life is done away with. The word here for “passed away” is the same one as used in verse 2. The life we know now will cease to exist. There won’t be tears. There won’t be death, no mourning, crying or pain.

Every hurt you’ve experienced in this life will be healed. Every tear you’ve shed will be made better. The experience of loss and grief at death will be forgotten and never remembered. Relational pain, physical pain, emotional pain, spiritual anguish–they will be cleansed and cured. Oh, it will be an amazing day!

But let me ask you this–do you remember in Matthew 13 the man who went into the field and found a hidden treasure? He found that great treasure, then he went and sold all he possessed so that he could own it. He sold off his house, his riches, his extra clothing, so that he could buy the land that had this great treasure buried in it.

In that story that Jesus told, what was the treasure? It was the Kingdom of Heaven. It was about salvation. But his enthusiasm was not about all the stuff he could buy. His joy was not due to the benefits of the treasure. His joy was in the treasure. His joy was in his salvation. His joy was in God Himself.

He didn’t buy the field to get the freedom from sickness and conflict. He didn’t buy the field so that he’d be free from working. He bought the field because he valued the treasure itself. That is what Heaven is about.

John Piper put it this way. “If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, …if Christ was not there?” (God is the Gospel)

Heaven is about God. This life is about Christ. So is the next one. Heaven will only satisfy those who want to be with Him. The promise of verse 3 is that God will dwell among men. It is stated three times in this one verse. God will dwell among men! The point is not simply that Heaven will be great and you’ll be free of sin and its effects. The point of the overall passage is that God will for the first time ever dwell with man.

John says, “the tabernacle of God is among men.” Tabernacle is a tent house, a dwelling place. That word is connected to the Hebrew word, Shekinah, which meant dwelling, and was used to describe the glory of God’s presence on Earth. John is saying that we will experience both the presence and the glory of God. And this is incredible.

Moses, one of the most humble and godly men who walked the earth, couldn’t stand in God’s presence. He had to hide in a cave until the glory of God had passed by (Exodus 33). No one has ever seen God (John 1). But what we have here is something entirely new. Heaven and Earth are united together. God will dwell with men for the first time ever!

Ephesians 1:10 says that God’s plan is “to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.” And this is it! Just as Heaven and Earth are united in the new universe, so God and man will be forever united through Christ. Before the fall, God used to sometimes walk with man in the garden. Now after the renewal of all things, God will not just stop by for a walk. He will live with us!

Now ask yourself this one question—do you care? If you could have all the gifts and good stuff without God, would it be enough? Too many people are excited about Heaven because it’s escape, it’s rest, it’s a vacation. That’s not what Heaven is. I’m worried many of our desires for Heaven are misplaced.

Do you want to know why you don’t desire Heaven more strongly? It’s likely because you have been focused on the stuff of Heaven and not the person in Heaven. The stronger your desire for God, the stronger is your pull towards Heaven. If you simply love and appreciate the gifts of God, then the allure of Heaven will be small/weak. Heaven is about God, not you.

Listen to Isaiah 25:8 to 9, “He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces, and He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken. 9 And it will be said in that day, ‘Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.”

The same promise of comfort is here. The removal of death is here. And how do the people respond? “This is our God for whom we have waited . . . this is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.”

I don’t know what you’ve been expecting, but Heaven is about God. It’s not created simply for your enjoyment. There will be people there from every tribe, every tongue, every people, every nation, every believer from all of time. All of our different cultures and tastes and preferences, all perfectly satisfied because God is there.

It’s all about God and His glory and His pleasure, and He wants us to enjoy Him—now and forever. This is what the Bible says we should expect. And Scripture says that a right understanding of Heaven will lead you to live differently. Here are three consequences of a right view of Heaven:

1)  You will see God as your greatest prize

Like Paul, you will count everything in this life as loss and disposable, so long as you gain Christ. Everything else will be garbage to you, compared to knowing God and being found in Him. Philippians 3 is so clear about that motivation.

If you understand that there is a Creator, One who made you, against whom you’ve been rebelling your whole life, so that you are deserving of damnation, condemnation and wrath because you have rejected Him utterly and completely–then when your eyes are opened to Christ everything else loses meaning.

Your reputation in the world doesn’t matter anymore, your possessions that you store are going to burn, your relationships to others are secondary to your relationship with God, your knowledge and self-image don’t ultimately count for much. What matters is that you have God, that He is the lover of your soul.

So you press on. You keep reading the Word, you keep praying, you keep obeying Him–why? Because He matters more than anything else! Philippians 3:14, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” If you understand that Heaven is made for God to dwell with man, then you will realize that God is your greatest prize.

Heaven is not made for you to finally relax. Heaven is made for you to enjoy God forever. It’s not about your retirement account. It’s not for escaping your debts. It’s not for your spouse or your kids. It’s not about being reunited with those whom you’ve lost–even though you will. Heaven is about God. He is the great prize!

2)  You will live a godly life

If Heaven is entirely new and nothing in this life is going to pass into the next . . . if the world is going to be destroyed and God is going to judge all sin and all evil . . . if 2 Peter 3 is true, “By His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men”–then you should live a godly life.

You don’t need to threaten others, because God will repay them–and you’ll feel sad for them. You don’t need to lie and cheat to get ahead, because retirement is not your ultimate goal. You will refuse to be entertained by things that Christ died for. You will flee sexual immorality and things that defile your soul and body. You will stay clear of drugs and alcohol that impair your ability to be controlled by the Spirit of God. You will be concerned not to bring reproach on the name of Christ because you recognize the end for which the world is headed.

The Bible doesn’t describe the end of the world to satisfy some morbid curiosity of mankind. God wants you to know what happens to the world so that you live differently. Second Peter 3:11 to 12, “Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!”

If you believe that Heaven is real and that God will judge all sin and unrighteousness,
then the consequence is that you will seek to live a godly life. It is time to stop toying with sin. It is time to get serious about your relationship with God. Some of you live like eternity will never come. You think that Heaven is far off and what you do now doesn’t matter. Oh, it matters.

Stop living for this life. Your passport is about to expire. It is not long before you stand before God. Live for Him! In fact, Peter says that your lifestyle can hasten the coming of God. It will come even faster by our living obediently!

3)  You will serve God out of gratefulness

And really, how can you not? If God is going to destroy the whole world, and He is going to eternally punish all sin and rebellion, and He chose to save you? You, me, all of us should be super-devoted servants of Him. There was nothing that made Him choose to save you. There was nothing in you that made you worthy. He just did it. He decided to love you and show mercy to you. How can you not be thankful?

Pretend Chris comes back from sabbatical and says, “Guys, I won the Powerball.” And he pays for the church building and then he comes to you and says, “It’s too much money for me. I would like to buy your house and give it to you. I would like to pay off your credit card debts, school loans and your cars. I would like to pay for all of your kids’ education. I bought a grocery store–you can shop there for free. I’d like you to keep your job and be generous to others with your income.”

How would you react? Would you write him a card? Maybe send a Christmas picture? Would you tell your kids and one day your grandkids about what happened? Would you tell your family? Maybe your neighbors? How would you spend the money you make? Would you do what he asked, or buy a boat? Would you take more groceries than what you need, in case of an emergency?

What does gratefulness look like? As Christians, the debt we have been forgiven is far greater. Is your life visibly grateful to God for His mercy in your life? Does your checking account show that the money is His and not yours? Do others know of the amazing gift you have been given in Christ? Are you thankful?

Hebrews 12:26 to 28, “And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.’ 27 This expression, ‘Yet once more,’ denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe.”

Living with gratitude now is an act of service and worship towards our God. It all depends on your view of Heaven. If you genuinely understand what awaits you, then you will:

1)  Treasure God

2)  Live godly

3)  Serve Him with thankfulness

Because Heaven is about God, and not you.

Next week, who’s going to be in Heaven with us? Let’s pray.

About John Pleasnick

John serves as a pastor and elder at Faith Bible Church

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