************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 37 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 28, 2021
Belgic Confession Article 37 (#14)
Revelation 21:1 - 22:6
"What Heaven is Like"
Heaven is important to God's people. Very important. Why do I say that? The Bible tells us that our citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20). Our names are written in heaven (Lk 10:20). Our treasure is in heaven (Mt 6:20). Our eternal home is in heaven (Jn 14:2).
I am preaching about heaven tonight. What gets people and pastors confused is that don't realize there are two different heavens: first, there is the heaven that exists now; second, there is the heaven that exists after Jesus comes again.
I What Heaven is Like Now
A Our starting point has to be the last verse of our Scripture reading:
(Rev 22:6; NIV84) — 6 The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true ...Why do I start off with this verse? Because there are those who say that heaven is not real, that it is but "a state of mind, a dream, an idea." The Bible testifies that heaven is as real as the roof over our heads. Jesus says,
(Jn 14:2-3; NIV84) — 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.Notice, two times Jesus calls heaven "a place." He also refers to it as "my Father's house." There is no doubt that Jesus thought of heaven as a real, actual place. And, in his visions John also sees heaven as a real, actual place.
B If heaven is a place, where is it? Well, heaven is up. Now we know that, didn't we? No matter what part of this rotating globe I stand on, it's still up. In Ephesians Paul reminded us that when Jesus came to earth, He descended, and when He left earth, He ascended. In Acts 1, the angels told the disciples that Jesus has been taken up. In 1 Thessalonians 4 when the Lord comes, He will come down, and when the church meets the Lord, it will go up. In the Psalms we read that when God contemplates His creation, He looks down, and when His creatures gaze at God, they look up.
In Revelation when John was about to be given a tour of heaven, he was invited to come up. When the new Jerusalem is ready for occupancy, we're told in our Scripture reading from Revelation 21, that it will come down. Heaven is up. We don't see it and can't find it because it is beyond time and beyond space and exists in an entirely different dimension.
C What is heaven like now? What is the experience right now of those saints who have fallen asleep in the Lord Jesus Christ? You might find it surprising to learn the Bible says little. Don't believe it when we are told someone is at the fishing hole in the sky catching the big one or playing their best round of golf ever or are running and jumping in a way they never could on earth. Don't believe any of this because those who are in heaven right now are souls without bodies. Souls. No bodies. No legs, no arms, no hands, no eyes, no feet, no heads.
So what do they do? Do they just sort of float around up there? Paul says we are "home with the Lord" (2 Cor 5:8). Home. Think of what this word all implies. Home is where we belong. Home is where we are loved by our Father. Home is where our brothers and sisters in the faith are to be found. Home is a place of safety and security. There we have awareness of Him who sits on the throne -- namely, God and Christ. There we pray to God as we wait patiently until our number is complete (Rev 6:10-11). There we make it our goal to please God (2 Cor 5:9). There we appear before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10). There we are at peace.
D What is heaven like now? It is also a place of worship. Lots of worship, lots of singing, lots of praising of God -- on the part of the four living creatures, the twenty four elders, the angels, the redeemed. All of them basking in the glory of God.
II What the New Heaven is Like
A When Jesus returns heaven is changed. "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth ..." (Rev 21:1).
After Jesus returns heaven is new. What does this mean? I've told you before there are two Greek words in the New Testament for the word "new." One of the words is used with reference to time. The sentence, "I have a new bike" fits this use of the word "new." The bike is brand new. It was just made. The other word for new is used with reference to quality or kind or character. Someone who is a prostitute or alcoholic, for instance, can turn over a new leaf and act like a new person. Or, someone who has lost 50 pounds can look like a new person.
When John tells us about a "new heaven and a new earth," he doesn't mean new in time. It is not brand new, something that never existed before. Rather, it is a renewed or a re-created heaven and earth. It is of a different quality or kind or character than the old heaven and earth.
B What is the new heaven like? What is its new quality? In the new heaven there is peace: peace with God, peace among men, peace in creation.
(Re 22:3–4; NIV84) — 3 ... his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.There will be peace in every sense of the word.
(Is 2:4; NIV84) — 4 He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
(Is 65:25; NIV84) — 25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the LORD.
C What is the new heaven like? Listen to what John says in our Bible reading:
(Rev 21:1-2; NIV84) — 1 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. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.Our new home is in a new and beautiful city. The fact that it comes down tells us that right now heaven is also a city.
Have you ever noticed that cities always dominate a land? For example: France is Paris; Italy is Rome; England is London; Israel is Jerusalem; the United States is Washington D.C.; China is Beijing; California is Hollywood; and, Russia is Moscow. You do not think of any of these places without thinking of their most famous city.
When John writes of the new heaven he writes of a city: the new Jerusalem. I am always amazed that it is John who has this kind of vision. John, you see, was from Galilee. He was not a city dweller; he lived in the countryside, surrounded by trees and flowers and grass. Yet, the view he saw of the life to come was a vast, endless city.
This idea of our future life being in a city goes all the way back to Abraham. Do you remember what Hebrews says about Abraham?
(Heb 11:10; NIV84) — 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.Don't forget, Abraham lived in tents and moved from place to place. A tent is but a temporary dwelling in a temporary location. But for the future Abraham was looking forward to a city -- a permanent dwelling in a permanent dwelling place.
Many are turned off by the thought that our future life is in a city. They prefer to think of the future life as a return to the Garden of Eden because in this life and on this earth the city is anything but a perfect place. Think of Los Angeles or San Francisco and you know what I mean.
Why is a city the setting of our future life? Think back to what God said in the Garden of Eden. God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him" (Gen 2:18). God has designed us to fellowship with one another, to have communion with one another, to enjoy one another. As Paul writes, "For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone" (Rom 14:7). Or, as one of our 20th century authors put it, "No man is an island." For this reason men and women get married and have children. For this reason we join groups like Rotary or Kiwanis or Lions. For this reason we live together in the City of Visalia. For this reason we play team sports. And, for this reason God calls us to be part of His church. Notice, most of life revolves around community: whether it be family, service clubs, teams, towns, cities, or church. It will be exactly the same way in our future life. We will live in the great city, the beautiful city, the wondrous city, the new Jerusalem because cities are places of fellowship and communion and togetherness. There we will be given an eternity to see, know, enjoy, get acquainted, and fellowship with each other.
D What is the new Jerusalem like? In our Scripture reading John tries to describe our eternal home for us. But let me caution you with the words of Paul:
(1 Cor 2:9; NIV84) — 9 “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” ...We would be wrong to take John's description literally. For John is trying to describe the undescribable.
First of all, John describes our eternal home from the outside. He paints us a picture of its vastness: it is 1,500 miles up, down, and across (Rev 21:15-17). Go back to its dimensions: it is a perfect cube, like the Holy of Holies of the Temple. Telling us what? That it is where God dwells. He paints us a picture of its security: it has a high, great wall. He paints us a picture of its accessibility: it has 12 gates -- 3 in every direction. He paints us a picture of its beauty and splendor: its foundations are decorated with every kind of precious stone, its streets are paved with gold.
E Secondly, John describes our eternal home from the inside. What is the new Jerusalem like? It will include culture, it will include civilization.
When God made the earth, He told people to fill it (Gen 1:28). God wasn't just talking about making babies. God also means that human beings were to produce culture and fill the earth with it.
In the Book of Revelation, John sees the same thing happening with the New Jerusalem. John says,
(Re 21:24,26; NIV84) — 24 ... the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it ... 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.John pictures the New Jerusalem as being filled with the culture, the achievements, the inventions, and the genius of each people and civilization. John tells us that the best of human culture will be brought into the new heaven and new earth. He sees the New Jerusalem as being filled with the crowning achievements of the human race.
Why? What's the reason? One of the reasons is that the new earth -- like the present earth -- needs to be filled. Another reason is that the earth -- and all its fullness -- belongs to God. God means to reclaim and redeem and transform all that fullness. So the new heaven and new earth will be filled with whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Phil 4:8).
F What is the new Jerusalem like? John notices that three things are missing. The first thing that is missing is the sun and moon. The city gets its light and illumination from God Himself (Rev 21:23). We see the truth of this with Moses already. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai where he had met with God, his face was shining brightly, reflecting the light of the glory of God. And, when the Lord Jesus was transfigured, his face and clothing and body became bright and brilliant, reflecting the light of the glory of God. As with the original heaven, we bask in the glory of God.
The second thing that is missing is the temple (Rev 21:22). At the time of John the great cities of the world were all known for their beautiful temples. Herod's temple was in Jerusalem. The temple of Athena was in Athens. The temple of Artemis or Diana was located in Ephesus. And Rome was known for its temples dedicated to various gods and idols. But in the new Jerusalem there is no temple. Why not? Temples are places where one goes to meet with and worship his or her god. But in the New Jerusalem the redeemed will live in the very presence of God Himself so they have no need for a temple. On the new earth there will be no holy places where we can meet with God for every place will be holy to the Lord. There is no temple because life in the new heaven, life in the New Jerusalem, is life with God -- just like life in the original heaven!
The third thing that is missing -- thank God -- is sin and the tears caused by sin. We are told that God "will wipe every tear from their eyes" (Rev 21:4). Tears caused by suffering will be no more. Tears brought on by emotional, physical, relational, or spiritual pain are gone. Tears of repentance will cease. Tears of mourning have no place there. Tears of grief and remorse over sin are not to be seen. Tears spilled over loved ones who don't know the Lord are ended. Tears because of temptation and struggle and addiction and fallenness are no more. Tears of pain won't be found. "There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things have passed away" (Rev 21:4).
There is much that is so good about life now. I mentioned God's grace and the beauty of Creation this morning. We can mention the joy of family and the fulfilment of work and many other things. But for the future we have a new and better life in a new and better body in a new and better heaven. That future life is our hope and goal and longing.
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