Eternity

Original Date: 
Sunday, February 9, 2014
Series: 

Revelation 21-22 Forever: Eternity

Longing For Eden
In a book called The Journey of Desire John Eldredge tells a parable about a sea lion who had lost the sea and lived in a desert where it was dry and dusty. Eldredge writes:

How the sea lion came to the barren lands, no one could remember. It all seemed so very long ago. So long, in fact, it appeared as though he had always been there. Not that he belonged in such an arid place. How could that be? He was, after all, a sea lion. But as you know, once you have lived so long in a certain spot, no matter how odd, you come to think of it as home. (quoted by Randy Alcorn in Heaven, p. 77-78)

As you could probably imagine, a sea lion living in a desert would long for the ocean. He’d make the best of his desert accommodations that he could, but deep inside, he’d know he wasn’t in quite the right place. Even if he couldn’t fully imagine what an ocean would be like—even if he had never seen the ocean—there would be some instinct within him crying out that he was made for someplace different.

In a sense, that is true of all of us. Randy Alcorn says: “We are homesick for Eden.” (p. 77) Our first ancestors, no matter how briefly, were created for and lived in an earthly paradise. They lived in a garden where they enjoyed perfect harmony with nature and ate fruit from the tree of life and walked with God in the cool of the day. There was no pain or shame or disagreement or sin.

And somewhere, deep inside of us, we long for a return to what we were originally created for. Right now we live in a world that is corrupted by sin and marred by death and suffering and war and poverty. We are sea lions in the desert. But we all carry this instinct that cries out that we were made for someplace different.

The promise of the Bible is that a return to Paradise is coming.

Present Heaven/New Heaven
Last week, we started a new series I am calling Forever. The Bible teaches that we will all survive our own deaths. We are all eternal souls that will live forever in one of two final destinations, either Heaven or Hell. And since we are going to be spending so much time in one of those two locations, it makes sense that we would want to know as much as we can about them.

So, last week I started talking about heaven. We looked at 2 Corinthians 4 and 5 and we learned that heaven is the promise of eternal joy that makes the difficulties of this life bearable. We saw that heaven promises us glory that is greater than the trials of this life, that heaven promises a new body that is greater than the groaning of this life, and that heaven promises us a relationship with Jesus that is greater than anything else this world could offer.

I also introduced a concept, briefly, last week that I want to come back to today. I talked about what theologians sometimes call the “Present Heaven” or “the intermediate state.” That is, heaven right now. We saw that the Bible teaches when we leave this life believers go immediately to be “at home with the Lord.” (2 Cor. 5:8)

So we believe that our loved ones who follow Jesus—and us too, when we die—do not endure limbo or purgatory or soul sleep or anything like that, but “depart to be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:23). The Bible calls that heaven, and it is the start of our eternity.

Heaven as it exists now, however, is not how we will spend the majority of our eternity (if there is such thing as a “majority” of eternity). Most of the descriptions the Bible gives of heaven seem to be looking beyond what heaven is like right now, to what heaven will be like after Christ comes again.

We can call this Eternal Heaven and as we’re going to see today it takes place in what the Bible calls the New Heaven and the New Earth. Today, we are going to get a picture of what it will be like when the sea lion is returned to the sea. That is, we are going to get a picture of what we were truly made for.

Revelation 21 and 22
Our text today is Revelation 21 and 22. The last two chapters of the Bible. If you want a really simplistic outline of the Bible you could say that the first two chapters—Genesis 1 and 2—and the last two chapters—Revelation 21 and 22—are like bookends. They tell us what the world was like when it was first created, they tell us what the world will be like at the end. They’re almost mirrors of each other. And everything in between, the rest of the 66 books of the Bible, tell us what went wrong and how it is being fixed.

So, today, we are going to focus on what the world is going to be like in the end. Eternity.

I’m going to try to cover a lot of ground today. These two chapters are the same two chapters—if you were here last week—that Steve Steele read while we were served communion. And I really want you to hear the words of scripture. I want scripture to speak for itself. So I’m going to read both chapters in their entirety again today. And I’ll pause and make some comments as we go.

Then, at the end, I’ll try to answer 4 quick questions about what we read. I won’t be able to cover every detail of these verses, but I want us to get a taste of what eternity will be like. (Because I am going to be reading both chapters in their entirety, you might want to open your Bibles and follow along. We will put verses on the screen, but in this case you might find it easier to follow along with the actual text open in front of you. It’s easy to find, just open the back cover and go to the final two chapters of the Bible.)

Let’s begin. Revelation 21:1:
1Then 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.

This is the end of history. There are a lot of theories about what all must take place before the end comes, but whatever theory you subscribe to, all Bible students agree that it ends here: with the beginning of the new heaven and new earth. Jesus comes again, history as we know it ends, and something new begins. Eternity.

And notice, there’s a paradox of sorts here. The old heaven and the old earth pass away, and a new heaven and new earth come to be. Destruction and renewal at the same time. Verse 2 gives a little more detail:

2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

Theologians call this the “consummation of all things.” Heaven, described here as both “the Holy City” and “a bride” (Revelation likes to mix its metaphors) comes down and joins with the earth. A consummation. A fulfillment. “All things in heaven and on earth together under one head.” (Eph. 1:10)

This is what is meant by the New Heaven and New Earth. God is going to bring them together as one. We don’t just get to go to Heaven. We get to go to Heaven that will exist here on earth. More on that in a bit. Verses 3-5:

3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ 5He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’

In a lot of ways, these first few verses of Revelation 21 are a preview of what comes later in the chapter. We’ll get a fuller picture of what this heavenly city on earth looks like in what follows. Verse 6:

6He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.’

It’s very clear: not everybody will make it to heaven. There are those who come to Jesus and drink the water of life, and there are those end up in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. There are only two final destinations. Heaven or Hell. Verse 9:

9One 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.’ 10And 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. 11It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.

Now we get a glimpse of the Bride, the wife of the Lamb. And notice, the Bride is described as a City. Again, Revelation likes to mix its metaphors. But you know who the Bride is, right? That’s us. Those who believe. So heaven is being described here both as a people, and a place. Verses 12 through 14:

12It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. 13There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. 14The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

Twelve is an important number in the Bible, and in Revelation. Here, the 12 tribes of Israel are a way of describing all the believing people of the Old Testament. The 12 apostles of the Lamb are a way of describing all the believing people of the New Testament era. Us. In other words, all the believers from all time are found in this city. Verses 15 and 16:

15The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. 16The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long.

While the city is clearly symbolic, there also appears to be something quite real about it as well. John is trying to find earthly words to describe an otherworldly vision. And clearly he sees a place. With dimensions of a cube—as wide as it is long as it is high.

And, again, you see the number 12: the dimensions of this city are 12,000 stadia—which is approximately1400 miles. So if you wanted to take this literally you would be talking about a city that would stretch from San Diego to Houston and from Houston to Fargo and would be so tall that it would reach the orbit of some satellites. If you imagine 12 foot tall ceilings, there would be room for some 600,000 stories in this cube. Huge! Verses 17-20:

17He measured its wall and it was 144 cubits thick, by man's measurement, which the angel was using. 18The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. 19The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, 20the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst.

There are 12 precious stones mentioned here, and they more or less correspond to the 12 precious jewels found on the breastplate of the High Priest in the Old Testament. They also cover the entire spectrum of color found in a rainbow. The impression is given of great wealth, color, and light. Verse 21:

21The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass.

Here’s where we get the expression “the pearly gates.” (Imagine the size of those oysters!) And the streets are paved with gold. In other words, gold is so abundant and so little thought of that it is being used as common paving stone. Imagine! Verses 22-27:

22I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life.”

One of the intentions of Revelation here is to show us the safety and security of this heavenly city. Yes, it has gates. Every ancient city did. But these gates never close. There is no threat. There is no night. It is eternally secure. Chapter 22, verse 1:

1Then 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 2down 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 [apparently there is passage of time in eternity!]. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

Here’s the Garden of Eden. And where is it? Right in the middle of the city. This is a garden city. An urban paradise. The river of life flows right down the streets of gold. And the tree of life straddles the river (I’m not even sure how that works: either it is a very big tree or it is like a grove of trees!) Verses 3-5:

3No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

The main feature in this new city is the presence of God and of the Lamb. Like it said at the beginning of chapter 21: “Now the dwelling of God is with men.”

That’s the end of the description of the New Heaven, but allow me to read the rest of the chapter. Verses 6-8:

6The angel said to me, ‘These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.’ 7‘Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book.’ 8I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things.

This is common in the book of Revelation: there are three witnesses to what is happening. The angel, the Lord God who sent him, and John himself who is writing it all down. The rest of verse 8 through verse 9:

And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. 9But he said to me, ‘Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!’

John is so overwhelmed by everything he is seeing that he just wants to fall at the feet of the angel that is showing it to him and worship. But that he cannot and must not do! Only God is worthy of worship. Verses 10 through 11:

10Then he told me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near. Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.’

The time is near. Time is short. You have to face up to who you are today. You can’t assume a perpetual string of tomorrows. Verses 12-15, now Jesus Himself is speaking:

12‘Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. 13I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. 14Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.’

There’s only one way into heaven. You have to wash your robes in the blood of the Lamb. You have to put your faith in Jesus. Verses 16 and 17:

16’I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.’ 17The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.

In many ways, the book of Revelation is as close as we get to having a book actually written by Jesus. In a sense, all of the Bible is written by Jesus—inspired by His Holy Spirit. But the book of Revelation is exclusively said to be His testimony. He sent the angel to reveal it to John. It is the “revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1:1) And as such, it is not a book to which we should add or subtract. Verse 18:

18I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. 19And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. 20He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. 21The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen.”

Four Questions
Now, there is a lot here. Way more than I can cover in one sermon. I’m not sure why I thought I could preach on these two chapters in one day. So let me recommend that you visit the library and look at some of the resources we have there. We’ve pulled some of the best books we have on heaven—especially this book by Randy Alcorn called Heaven. And we also have a bunch of copies of a booklet that condenses that larger book down to about 60 pages. You can check the library books out, but you are welcome to just take and keep a copy of the Alcorn booklet. If we run out, we’ll order more.

So, I can’t go into a lot of detail: but let me ask and answer four questions about eternity based on what we’ve just read. You might want to keep your Bibles open, as I’ll be citing some verses but won’t be putting them up on the screen. Four questions.

First: Where will eternity be?

I want you to see that eternity is going to be spent on this planet we call earth. The whole point of the new heaven and new earth is that heaven comes down to earth. “The Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” (21:2)

Most conceptions of heaven have it as a place that’s out there, some other dimension, spiritual, floating on clouds. That may be where heaven is now, the present heaven. But not for eternity. God’s plan is to bring heaven to earth.

And so, it’s going to be a very physical place. That seems to me to be the point of the description of all the jewels and pearls and gold and measurements. That is certainly symbolic, we shouldn’t expect it to be literally like this. But it’s hard to argue that eternity will be less than physical. There will be a river there. And trees. And fruit. And the passage of months!

And this makes sense. Why would we think that God would give up on earth? Remember, when He finished creation in Genesis 1 He said it was all very good. It became corrupted after the Fall, but why would we think God would abandon it all? It’s not like He’s a failed inventor who has to scrap His creation and start over. Yes, the Bible talks about the destruction of things on Earth, but it’s always a destruction for renewal. A cleansing. A re-birth.

In fact, those words that start with Re- are very important here. There’s a whole Biblical vocabulary of words that express the idea of starting over, bringing something back to its original, perfect state. Renew, Reconcile, Redeem, Restore, Recover, Return, Regenerate, Renovate, Rehabilitate, Recreate, Resurrect. God’s plan is to take His original, good creation and salvage it from its fallen state. Eden will be restored.

Randy Alcorn quotes a man named Paul Marshall:

Our destiny is an earthly one: a new earth, an earth redeemed and transfigured. An earth reunited with heaven, but an earth, nevertheless. (quoted on p. 77)

Second question: What will NOT be in eternity?

We can get a sense of what will be by what the Bible says will not be. So, there will not be, according to verse 1: Any Sea. I don’t know if that is literal or not. There will be rivers, probably lakes too. Maybe there will be oceans.

But symbolically this is so important, because to ancient Israelites the sea is a symbol of evil and chaos. The sea is unstable. The Beast of Revelation 13 comes out of the sea. But now, the sea is gone. So evil is gone.

And, verse 4, there is no death. No more funerals. No more funeral homes. No more graveyards. No more sad goodbyes. Death is gone. Can you imagine?

And there is no (v.5) mourning. If there is no death, there is no mourning. No grieving. No bawling our eyes out that we have lost stillborn children or spouses or parents or grandparents. No more days of prayer for the persecuted church!

And there is no (v.4) crying. God Himself will wipe every tear from our eyes! Why will that be? Because, (v.4) there is no more pain, “for the old order of things has passed away.” No more death, or mourning, or crying or pain. No suffering at all. Our new resurrection bodies will be a total upgrade from what we have now.

Plus, verse 25 says there will be no night there. That’s repeated in 22:5. Night is the time of evil. Night is when cities locked their gates to keep the bad guys away. But now, there is no cover of darkness. The glory of God the Father and the Lamb will provide consistent light.

And no more sinners. No more unrepentant evil. 21:8 says: “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” Verse 27 says nothing impure will ever enter the city, nor those who do what is shameful or deceitful.

There will not be any sinners in eternity. No unrepentant sinners. But there will be billions of sinners saved by grace.

And then, 22:3: “No longer will there be any curse.” This sums up everything else. The curse of Genesis 3 will be completely undone and gone! It’s like in Narnia, where the land was cursed to be always winter and never Christmas as long as the White Witch ruled. But then Aslan came back, and the curse was broken.

That’s what eternity will be: Everything will be pure and perfect and back to what it was supposed to be...and even better! A return to Eden.

Third question: What will we do in eternity?

There’s so much, but let me give three quick answers:

We will shine. We will shine with the glory of God. Like I said earlier, this new city is both a people and a place. We are the city of God. We are the Bride of Christ. And what do these chapters say about that city? It shines. It is radiant. 21:11 “It shone with the glory of God.” We will perfectly reflect the glory of God. We will be a perfect community, a perfect society, a perfect people for God; perfectly reflecting His glory.

When we’ve been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.

Or, again, we will serve. We will serve the King of kings. 22:3: “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve Him.” Heaven will not be passive. It will be peaceful. But it will be active. We will not sit around for all eternity. We will serve the King of Kings like we were made to!

I don’t know all of what that means, but at least part of it is reigning. 22:5. “And they will reign for ever and ever.” That’s us! Reigning with God over the New Creation! God has many more plans for us in Eternity. There will be stories to write and adventures to have and places to explore and things to create.

We will serve the King of Kings. We will never be bored. If you are afraid of Heaven because you are afraid of being bored, you are afraid of the wrong place. Hell will be the most boring place every imagined. Heaven will be the most exciting place that is conceivable (and then some).

And, third: we will see. We will see God’s face. 22:4: “They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” One other thing that will not be in the new heaven and new earth is a temple. I take that to mean there won’t be any church sanctuaries either. Because we won’t need a place to go to worship God, because God will be in the midst of us. And we’ll see His face.

Do you know how remarkable that is? In the OT, Moses had to be hidden in a cleft of the rock and he was only allowed to glimpse God’s back after he passed by, and even then his face turned white. To see God’s face is to die! But not in the new heaven. Because there will be nothing impure. We’ll be able to live with God in a love relationship that knows no barriers. We’ll be able to discover more about Him forever!

Remember, Jesus is what makes Heaven Heaven! And we will see Him face to face.

Finally, then: What should we do about eternity?

I have two answers to this question, and they both center on the word “come.”

First, we should come to Jesus. 22:17:

17The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.

There is an invitation. There is only one way into heaven, and involves putting your faith and hope in Jesus. Come thirsty for Him and drink the water of life. Best of all, it’s free. It costs you nothing, you don’t have to earn it. Just come and take the free gift of the water of life.

And then, second: Long for Jesus to come. 22:20:

20He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Nearly the last words of the Bible, and they are a longing for Jesus to come. Come, Lord Jesus. In Aramaic, that’s maranatha, the word I use at the end of every service. It should be the cry of our heart for Jesus to return, for the re-creation to happen, for the new heaven and the new earth to begin!

Like a sea lion in the desert longs for the ocean, we should long for our return to Eden.