Heaven – on earth!
"I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore."
The Bible doesn’t tell us everything there is to know about heaven but it does tell us what we need to know. God is more interested in getting us to heaven than he is in satisfying our curiosity about it. The Bible’s message is much more a call to faith than a lecture imparting information.
However, just because the Bible doesn’t go into enormous detail about exactly what heaven will be like, this doesn’t mean that we are left to our own devices to imagine what existence there will be like. We can be absolutely certain, for example, that heaven will be a place of great happiness and joy. As the words of the text which was taken up and quoted by Peter in his Pentecost sermon,: "in your presence there is fullness of joy". And such a sentiment is echoed elsewhere:
Ps.21:6 "For you make him most blessed forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence."
Jude 24 "Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,"
And of course there will be no tears in heaven as the believer is invited to enter into the joy of his Master!
We can however still experience great difficulty really grasping what the delights of heaven will be like. When that is the case it is likely that our own desire to get there will become somewhat muted. We may well say that we want to go to heaven and yet be more than happy to see our entry postponed as long as possible.
Now why is that so?
When something good is scheduled for us we are normally found straining at the bit and the event whatever that event might be (a meal, a date, a marriage, an outing, a holiday) can’t come soon enough for us. In those circumstances we anticipate joy and delight but perhaps when we think about heaven we find that our understanding of heaven’s joys is a bit unreal and so those joys fail to impact us as they ought.
Why doesn’t heaven appeal more?
Several reasons could be proposed as to just why that is.
Of course a lack of genuine spirituality in a believer’s life will cause heaven’s glories to appear less bright and attractive than they are. If all of our time is given to seeking the goods and pleasures of this life then we shouldn’t be surprised if heaven seems a bit remote. After all as Jesus said to his followers:
Mt.6:21 "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
And yet even the spiritually-
This evening we will consider briefly two possible reasons why this might be and then we will spend more time on thinking about a third.
Classic descriptions of heaven such as the one which Peter gives us in his first letter or the one which John gives us in the Book of Revelation do use negative terms to try to get across to us a feeling of something that is too wonderful for words.
Peter describes our future in this way as he writes about our inheritance. Instead of telling us what the advantages of heaven are he tells us instead what disadvantages are not to be experienced there:
1Pet.1:4 "an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,"
John does something very similar when he tells what heaven is not like:
Rev.21:4, 27; 22:5 "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away... But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false... And night will be no more."
Do you see what John is doing? He is telling us truths that are wonderfully positive but doing it by telling us what will have no place in heaven: no sin, no sorrow, no pain, no night and no death.
Both authors are trying to alert us to the fact that heaven is amazing and wonderful, glorious indeed beyond our comprehension and way beyond the powers of speech to accurately convey.
But we can misread this and simply be frustrated by what we think of as a lack of positive detail.
Symbolic or precious stone language
Poets have often used images to describe heaven, images which scholars have called enamelled or jewelled imagery. Hardness of texture and brilliant light suggest a superiority, a permanence, a value and a splendour that doesn’t belong to our more earthy world.
The prophet Ezekiel gives us some fine examples of this type of language in the opening chapter of his book where he writes of flashing fire, lightning, gleaming metal and sapphire. The apostle John does the same sort of thing in Revelation with his memorable pictures of a sea of glass, golden crowns, gates of pearl, a city of pure gold with foundations of precious stones.
If we forget that the language is symbolic and we take it instead in a highly literal manner we may end up with views of heaven which are really rather uncomfortable and somewhat cold and unnatural.
This type of language is meant to tell us that heaven is an incredibly valuable place that is utterly indestructible – if we forget that then is it surprising that we might find heaven less than desirable?
An overly spiritual view of heaven
Now we come to the point I want us to stay with a bit longer. It is possible for us to have a false view of heaven that is too spiritual. Now what do I mean by that? Quite simply that heaven according to the Bible has a very material or physical side to it. After all our full enjoyment will only come about after we have received our new resurrection bodies. If however we nurture the view of a purely spiritual heaven then as beings with bodies we may well think that heaven as not being a very suitable place for people who only know life in bodies. The truth is very different – heaven will provide us with the ideal environment in which our resurrection bodies can flourish.
Indeed there will no longer be any separation as there is now of heaven from earth. John’s vision in Revelation includes the vision of the city of God descending to earth and of God making his dwelling amongst men. And we must turn our thoughts to what the Bible teaches about the future including what it has to say about a new heavens and a new earth.
Whenever God is at work in redemption he doesn’t cast damaged goods onto the scrap heap of history and start over all over again instead he redeems and restores and reinvigorates.
When Adam and Eve sinned our God didn’t replace them by creating a totally new human race but he worked to save that very humanity that had got itself lost in sin.
The same thing is true for us individually as Christians. When we become Christians God doesn’t give us a brand new personality that is totally divorced from what we were before but instead he sets to work, from the new beginning brought about by new birth, to gradually transform us into the likeness of his Son, Jesus.
God follows this same pattern as he deals with the rest of the material or inanimate creation. Just as he works to restore the human race, just as he will glorify the human body of the believer, so he will restore this present creation that has for a time been "subjected to futility". Satan will not be allowed the last word concerning the destiny of our planet. Every stain and blot of sin will be washed away, death will be eradicated and earth will be made to bloom with greater glories than it originally enjoyed.
Now why am I saying these things? What has all this to do with a series of sermons on heaven?
The reason is simple. Our thinking about heaven is often divorced from the Biblical picture – we tend to think of heaven as a spiritual and hence a non-
Jesus spoke of a coming new world order:
Mt.19:28 "Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel."
And in this Jesus was affirming what Isaiah had prophesied centuries earlier when he wrote:
Is.65:17 "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind."
Is.66:22 "For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the LORD, so shall your offspring and your name remain."
This was the view adopted by Jesus’ disciples as we can see from Peter’s preaching in Acts chapter 3:
This restoration of all things refers to a restored earth, to a purged and cleansed earth, to a renewed creation. It refers to a uniting or reuniting of heaven and earth. In the Garden of Eden before the fall God walked in the garden in the cool of the day and fellowshipped with Adam and Eve but sin brought an end to such fellowship as Adam and Eve were excluded from the garden – excluded that is until a new and living way was opened in the person of the Saviour (cf. Heb10:20).
The OT contains some glimpses of what this new creation will be like and it is a physical place – our old earth but rejuvenated and replenished and wonderfully suited to people like us who will have resurrection bodies there!
Is.35:1 "The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;"
Jesus obviously had a transformed renewed earth in mind when he taught his followers that the meek would inherit the earth (Mt.5:6). What kind of blessing would that be if all that was inherited was a corrupt, defiled and dying world destined for destruction. No! Jesus had something far better than that scenario in mind. Do you remember how he told his followers that they were to pray for God’s Kingdom to come and for his will to be done "on earth as it is in heaven"? (Mt.6:10)
My friends the day is coming when the will of God will be done all over the earth – perfectly, completely and forever!
Yes, of course some transformations and some changes will need to be brought about but that is precisely what our God intends to do. This is all part of the magnificent salvation plan of our glorious God – oh don’t think that salvation is only about the forgiveness of your sins – praise God it includes that but it is far far bigger!
Now this setting the creation free from its bondage to decay is not to be followed by total destruction rather this setting free is to be equated with a complete cleansing, a complete purging of everything that is unclean. It is to just such a cleansing that Peter referred when he wrote:
1Pet.3:10 "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed."
A few verses later he adds that after this melting, this dissolution of the old will come about what has long been promised:
1Pet.3:13 "But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells."
This is to what everything is leading in the purposes of God – heaven on earth as God lives with men!
What a glorious plan and what a wonderful prospect. A life in an ideal physical body, an ideal physical environment in which to live and an unhindered relationship with God! Heaven a prospect to look forward to! A prospect that should encourage us to prepare now by having done with sin and pursuing that holiness without which we will never see the Lord.