October 16th 2022: Gareth Edwards

Revelation 21.

            At a service station on the M5 I recently heard a song being played on the public address system entitled, “Heaven is a place on earth.” It was a pop song about some kind of love relationship. But what do really understand about “heaven”? In this message I want to speak about “heaven on earth.” What we really want to know is that special dwelling place of God. There are three phases of the reality of heaven that believers experience. These are not three separate heavens but three phases of the experience of heaven – the special dwelling place of God.

            First, when a believer is born again. Before we go to heaven, heaven comes to us. The indwelling Spirit of God and the fellowship of Father and Son in the believer’s life is an experience of heaven on earth – the beginning of eternal life (John 17:3).

            Second, when a believer dies, then they go into the presence of the Lord immediately. There is no purgatory or half-way house. We know this, for example, from the promise the Lord Jesus gave to the dying thief: “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). So, there is an experience of heaven on being born again and then an experience of heaven on physical death, sometimes referred to as “the intermediate state.”

            Thirdly, after the resurrection and final judgement we have the final phase of experiencing heaven – where God dwells with us eternally. This is found in our text of Revelation 21. The imagery of Revelation is not always easy to understand but we shall not dwell today on the specific details found in Revelation 21. Christians of the first century, perhaps, appreciated these images more readily than we do today. [Note: there is a strong connection to the prophecy of Daniel]. For now, we shall look more generally at the text to consider this final phase of the experience of heaven by believers.

Heaven is our new earth.

            We see in Revelation the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. What does the term “heaven” indicate in Scripture? In some cases, it simply means the air or the sky as in the phrase “the birds of heaven.” In some cases, it refers to the universe or space. In others it means the special dwelling place of God.

            But we need to understand that the ultimate dwelling place of God is not part of creation. The new creation is not the creation of the place where God dwells. Where God is and where He dwells is perfect and glorious eternally. So the new creation which includes a new heaven and a new earth cannot be that eternal place where God dwells. The new heavens and the new earth in Revelation 21 speaks of a new creation of the universe, not the special dwelling place of God which is eternal and pure.

            But, one of the great characteristics of this new creation is that heaven – the special dwelling place of God – will come to earth (new earth). The popular idea is that we ‘go to heaven.’ But here in Revelation 21:2,10 heaven (the special dwelling place of God) comes down to the new earth.  At this the distinction between that special dwelling place of God and the new heavens and earth will cease forever. The two will merge and it is pictured figuratively here in Revelation 21 as the new Jerusalem. The new creation will therefore be heaven on earth which we could describe as:

            a heavenly earth OR an earthly heaven

God is omnipresent. He is present fully everywhere at all times. There is no place where He is not present. God is beyond the confines of space and time. As creatures we are limited by both space and time. We cannot be in two places at one and the same time and we are limited by time. However, the presence of God (whilst always there everywhere) is not universally experienced nor revealed all of the time.

            In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve only experienced God’s presence on occasion.  God was always there – He is omnipresent – but not experienced always. In Genesis 3:8 Adam and Eve heard the sound of the Lord and sought to hide. They became aware of God at this time and sought to hide from His presence. The Lord was always there even when Adam and Eve were unaware of Him. Or consider Moses who requested to see God and was shielded in the cleft of the rock so that the Lord could pass by and he could see only the hinder or back parts of the Lord (Exodus 33). Or think also of the holy of holies in the temple where God’s presence was experienced by the high priest and by Isaiah (Isaiah 6). But in Revelation 21 the glorious presence of God permeates the new creation so that it is manifest, real, obvious, and tangible all of the time for everyone, always. In Revelation 21:22 we are told that there is no temple in this new creation because the special dwelling of God is manifested everywhere always.

            Here in the new creation is the reality of heaven (the special dwelling place of God) on earth. Heaven (the dwelling place of God) is merged with the new creation of God.

Harmony.

            One blessing of this final phase of the experience of heaven is harmony between heaven and earth or within the new creation. In the Lord’s prayer we pray that God’s will, will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In heaven (the special dwelling place of God) God’s will is always done and done perfectly. The angels and saints in heaven always do what God requests. On earth (this earth) His will is not always done. God permits evil for a time. Sin pervades the days in which we live. BUT in the new heavens and earth God’s will, will always be done perfectly. There will be no natural catastrophes. There will be no environmental troubles. There will be no “nature red in tooth and claw.” Instead, there will be harmony (Isaiah 11:6-9; 65:17-25). The lion will lay down with the lamb. There will no longer the groaning of creation. Creation will no more be longing for the release from its bondage brought about by mankind’s sin and the curse (Romans 8:18-22). The new creation will never groan because there will be no more sin. It will be a glorious world in which there is perfect harmony.

The greatest blessing.

            But apart from a world of harmony where sin no longer dwells, the greatest blessing of heaven on earth, of the new heavenly earth, will be the fact that we will live eternally conscious of the glory of God Himself. Every moment (every nanosecond – if such thing exists in the new creation) and every part of our being will be full of the glory of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9; Habakkuk 2:14). We shall experience knowing God fully. We shall have an endless delight so that all our senses will be absorbed with the majesty and glory of God.

            Some people are thrill seekers, (bungee jumpers, sky divers …). But the glory of this heavenly earth – this earthly heaven – will be an endless thrill, joy, and pleasure. It will be an unlimited, unrestricted fellowship with God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) in all His glory.

            Eternal life begins when a believer first repents and trusts in the Lord. We do experience some of these things of heaven now, but they are not unrestricted, nor unhindered. In heaven these delights will be permanent.

            It is not surprising, therefore, that praise is the central feature of the new creation. We will enjoy proclaiming the praises of God. Every word, thought, action, gesture, or deed will bring praise and glory to God. We will be full of satisfaction – although this word is weak – in knowing what it truly is to worship God as He ought to be worshipped and as He deserves.

The new earth.

            Thinking a little further on this new creation there are two features we need to bear in mind. The term “new earth” is a deliberate term that conveys two important ideas.

[1] It will be familiar territory.

            It is “the earth.” The popular view of heaven with harps and clouds leads some to think that they might get bored. Who wants to sit on a cloud playing a harp all day long? But this idea is so far from the truth as to be laughable.  The glories to come can be described as “earth” in order to show that there is a physical life in heaven. Life after the resurrection is a physical existence. It will be a physical world. It will be familiar (to a degree). There will be physical activities that we know something of now.

            It is an earth but it is not ‘this earth’ with its failing and its sin. There will be recognisable ‘nature’ (creation). In Genesis 1:31 the Lord concluded that the world He had made in the beginning was “very good” and so it was before the fall. The new creation is not a renovation of the old. It will be a new creation, but in many respects the Lord will salvage what man has spoiled.

            Perhaps you know the experience of moving house. It can be unsettling and disturbing. Will you fit in? Will you find it to be your home? But there is no need to fear in coming to heaven! First, you will be with your Father, and you will be with your Elder Brother. Your whole family will be there. It will be like coming home. In reaching heaven we will be coming home truly. Hear we have no continuing city. Then second, you will be familiar with these new surroundings. This new creation will be so much better than those things we know here on this earth. We will be enabled to enjoy fully the perfections of the new creation. No one will ever be homesick for this present earth. We ought to be homesick for heaven to come!

            Physical life is precious. In heaven physical life is to be raised to new heights of glory. Psalm 139 speaks of us as being fearfully and wonderfully made, but in heaven this will be far superior. There have been those who deny that physical existence is good. The ascetics of the early Christian church fell into the heresy of gnosticism which held that the physical was detrimental to the spiritual. The body was to be beaten and held down in order to experience the spiritual. But this is a mistake, for God made us with physical bodies that were described as “good” in Genesis 1. Physical death is not good. God made us physical beings (as well as spiritual) so that the physical aspect of existence is good. But death is the separation of the spiritual (soul/spirit) from the physical (body), and this is not good. When a person dies physically the loss is keenly felt. It is unnatural. Death is an enemy, but it is the last enemy and a defeated one (praise God). Life is not cheap, nor is it disposable. Abortion and euthanasia are denials of the preciousness of physical life. In the new creation we will experience a physical life – but a physical life which is to the full. After the resurrection we will have physical bodies.

[2] It will be ‘new’.

            It will be familiar, physical, something we grasp here and now, but it will also be very different too. There are two Greek words translated as “new” in the New Testament:

[i] neos – something new in time.

[ii] kainos – something of better quality. 

The second word is the one we find to describe this new creation. It will be a far better earth than the old one – greatly superior. Not just in respect of the fall but from the original creation. Life will be familiar, but will be so much more superior compared with current existence as to bear no comparison. Paul quotes Isaiah:

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1Corinthains 2:9).

We do not yet fully understand how glorious this new earth will be. It will be familiar, but it will be better by far.

            We can see a glimpse of this superiority in the risen body of the Lord Jesus Christ. After His resurrection He was familiar to the disciples. He ate food and could be touched by them. But He could also appear suddenly in a room with closed doors. Paul wrote to the Philippians:

20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself. (Philippians 3:20,21).

We have a passport stamped “heaven” and we are citizens of this new creation. We are waiting in eager anticipation for one day the Lord will transform this “lowly body” into one fit for that new creation so that it “may be conformed to His glorious body”! It will be physical, but it will be greater and far superior! Our physical existence in the new heavenly earth or the earthly heaven will be incomparably greater than we have ever known here on this earth. The new superior existence is shown in Revelation 21 by the absence of death, sorrow, sickness, pain … It is qualitatively so superior like nothing seen on earth that it will be literally “out of this world”! The joy, the beauty, the splendour is unimaginable. These bear no comparison to what we know now. It is very difficult to imagine!

            But the thing that makes it so much better and superior is the fact of knowing, loving, and worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ perfectly. The thing that brings greater joy is the knowledge of God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), not simply the absence of pain, sorrow, sickness and death (great though these things will be). All that is done and thought will redound to the glory of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We will never displease the Lord. How incredible is that!

Something to ponder in closing.

            It is only possible to enjoy all of this new creation because of what the Lord Jesus Christ has done in His death on the cross.

            Do you have a place reserved in heaven? If so, then praise Him! Remember what gaining such a place cost Christ at Calvary. Worship Him. Live for Him.

            Are you unsure of a place in heaven? Are you yet to trust in the Lord? If you have not yet repented of sin and put all your trust in Him, then consider your position. We all, by nature, are sinners, rebels, and deserve the wrath of God. There is nothing we can do to make things right. We deserve to experience God’s wrath in full. Yet Christ has suffered this for all who will turn, repent and trust in Him. Turn to Him while there is still day. There is a place reserved in heaven for the contrite repentant ones who call upon God in truth for rescue and deliverance.

May God grant such an assurance of this new heavenly earth to you. Amen.

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