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9. A Revelation of Heaven

LONNIE: Welcome to Exploring the Word. Thanks for joining us. This is your opportunity to dig deeper into the richness of the Word. And we trust you will come up with some inspiring discoveries. Jeannie, what do you have today?

JEANNIE: This is a question from Ray, a writer actually, who makes a living making up stories. And he started wondering about the stories about heaven he’s heard. “People have so many different ideas about what heaven is going to be like. Do we just make up heaven out of our imaginations? Does the Bible have any specifics on what life will be like up there?”

LONNIE: That’s interesting. Heaven is a fascinating subject, and there’s all kinds of speculation about it.

JEANNIE: But don’t you think Christians ought to have a clear answer about this?

LONNIE: Absolutely. I’m afraid some of our pictures in the past haven’t been very convincing.

How does heaven become real for people? Well, when it comes to the subject of last-day events, one book in the Bible stands head and shoulders above the rest---the book of Revelation. It’s twenty-two chapters focus on the end times, or eschatology. And it, like the book of Daniel, pictures the future graphically, using a variety of symbols.

Did you check out chapters 21 and 22? That was our assignment from last week, remember? We’ll be talking about some of the clues about life in heaven you hopefully picked up.

Revelation was one of the last books of the New Testament to be written--- penned around 95 A.D. by the beloved Apostle John. He was in the custody of Roman authorities, exiled on a little island called Patmos. When I visited that rocky wind-swept place and looked out over the Mediterranean, I could well imagine John’s isolation.

Scholars believe the apostle used symbols in part to disguise the fact that he was writing about Jesus winning in the end, not Rome. The young Christian church was entering a period of persecution, mainly because Rome had started to enforce a cult of emperor worship. John, like his fellow believers, affirmed that Jesus, not Caesar, is Lord. And he believed that the future, that history itself, lay in Jesus’ hands.

So he finds himself in Roman chains as he writes this “revelation” given to him, he says, by Jesus Christ. He wrote in the shadow of the powerful, and pagan, Roman Empire. And yet through these chapters you will find remarkably bright and vivid pictures of heaven. We catch glimpses of that other world. John gives us dramatic scenes in fact, that give us a taste of a future face-to-face life with God.

Today we’re going to put those scenes together. So get your Bibles ready. We’ll come up with Revelation’s picture of heaven, the most authentic picture to date.

The Apostle John gives us our first glimpse of heaven in the first chapter of his Revelation. He describes a vision in which he encounters a glorious being. It begins with Revelation 1:13. He sees:

“One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and His hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters.” Revelation 1:13-15

The phrase “the Son of Man” is used 80 times in the New Testament to describe who? Jesus Christ.

John had spent a lot of time with this Man, of course, all over Galilee and Judea. But now Jesus looks like anything but the humble carpenter, or wandering rabbi. John is awed by his eyes; they’re so brilliant and piercing they seem like two dancing flames. Christ’s skin shines like polished brass. A radiance around Him makes His hair look white as snow. And His voice is as deep and resonant as the ocean’s roar.

John is catching a glimpse of Jesus—as He appears in heaven. This is a spectacular figure.

John’s first vision in Revelation about things to come tells us one thing very clearly: heaven has Jesus at the center.

Heaven centers around a fascinating person, and a loving God. Heaven isn’t just an empty space we fill with our imagination. Heaven isn’t just a vague place inhabited by shadowy figures.

No, at the center stands this extraordinary figure, Jesus Christ. This is the most fascinating personality in the universe.

So, what’s heaven about? It’s about getting to know God, face-to-face.

Heaven is going to be a thrilling experience because Jesus Christ is a thrilling experience; we’ll be exploring the height and depth and breadth of His character forever.

Now let’s move on to our second glimpse of heaven. It comes to us in Revelation chapter four.

Here we see the throne room of heaven. In verse three we see an emerald rainbow hovering around God’s throne. In verse six, a “sea of glass, like crystal,” spreads before it.

And then we see, in verse seven, symbolic creatures, full of eyes. Day and night, John tells us, they declare this, verse eight:

“Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God Almighty,
Who was and is and is to come!” Rev. 4:8

This is a chorus, apparently sung over and over again. Why? What does it mean exactly? What is this scene telling us about heaven?

The experience of two Sahara tribesmen might help us understand. A couple of Muslim nomads were flown to France by a pilot who befriended them. They’d spent their entire lives in the desert. It was the trip of their lifetime. They were shown all the glittering sights of Paris. But there was one thing in France that impressed them far more than the Eiffel Tower or the Palace at Versailles.

The two tribesmen were taken to the countryside and there they saw a waterfall. They stood before it in silent awe. Their guides couldn't coax them away. Finally they asked, "When are they going to turn it off?" These men of the desert had to wander for days in search of a drink of water. They just couldn't believe this flood could just go on and on. The men of the Sahara stood transfixed, thinking, water, water, all this water.

You know something. That’s what heaven is going to be like. Why are those symbolic creatures pictured saying, holy, holy, holy night and day? Because nothing in our world has prepared us for the wonder of God’s holiness. In our world, selfless love is as hard to come by as water in the desert. But when we look at God we see love pouring from Him in every circumstance. His love never stops, never gives up. It’s like a thundering waterfall in a dry and thirsty land.

What this scene tells us is that worship is at the heart of heaven.

But please note, this is a special kind of worship. It’s not just sitting around, singing hymns and strumming harps. It’s not just a religious duty. No, this is an expression of the awe that’s filling our hearts. It’s being overcome before the waterfall. It’s an exuberant celebration.

Worship in heaven is about expressing our deepest emotions in all kinds of ways.

That’s why we see an emerald rainbow, a sea of glass. That’s why there’s thunder and lightning. That’s why the living creatures cry out exuberantly. That’s why, at the end of the chapter, we have 24 elders throwing their golden crowns before the throne and breaking into praises.

All these sights and sounds reflect an intense emotional experience. It’s worship that comes from the heart. It’s joy flooding out from our souls.

That’s what heaven is going to be like.

Now let’s move to one of the last scenes in Revelation. Look at chapter twenty-one, near the end of book. In this chapter John tells us about the heavenly city we’ll inhabit, the New Jerusalem. It comes down out of heaven “as a bride adorned for her husband.” Chapter twenty-one actually gives us a tour of this city. Look at verse 19:

“And the foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones.”

John goes on to describe jasper, sapphire, sardius and topaz. Nobody’s pouring mere cement here. The very foundations of the city gleam like gems.

Go down to verse 21:

“And the twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.”

Pearls the size of a city gate. Streets made of translucent gold. Quite a city. What is this telling us? What does all this dazzle say about heaven?

Do you remember what Christmas time was like—as a little child? Maybe you visited grandmother’s house, or some other relative. Maybe you celebrated at home. But didn’t those presents piled under the tree seem like a mountain? Didn’t those packages just burst with color? Didn’t that Christmas tree seem enormous? And didn’t all those twinkling lights on it dazzle you?

Those memories are very vivid for many of us. Why? Is it just because the wrapping paper was so colorful? Just because the twinkling lights were so bright? No, it’s because all that represents home to us, the best of home. That’s when we felt loved the most. That’s when we felt we belonged. That’s when we were happiest.

It’s for those reasons that the Christmas lights twinkle so brightly in our memory.

And that’s what God is showing us with this dazzling city. He’s showing us that we’ve got a real home here.

Perhaps you remember Christ’s famous words, “In my Father’s house are many mansions. God has prepared a home for us in the New Jerusalem, a home of our own. It’s having that place of belonging that makes everything seem like a gem.

Now look over at verses 25 and 26 in this chapter. Here’s something else John saw about the city:

“Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it.” Rev. 21:25,26

Why are the gates never shut? Because all this glory and honor keeps flowing into it. What does that mean? It means everything good and great comes into this city. The achievements of the nations, the creative expression of all peoples—it finds its way here. The most powerful pieces of art, the most moving pieces of music, the skill and craft and wisdom of every culture finds a home in this city.

In other words, our heavenly home is furnished with the best of life.

We’re not just talking about furniture of course. Everything excellent and honorable, everything lovely and gracious, finds expression in this place. No wonder the streets shine like gold. No wonder the very foundations gleam like jasper.

Revelation does indeed give us a clear picture of heaven we can hang onto. It’s a picture about real life in a real place. It’s a picture of face-to-face relationships with a real God. It’s a picture of the kind of worship that expresses our deepest emotions. It’s a picture of a special home furnished with the very best in life. And most important of all, it’s the Revelation of Jesus Christ. It’s glimpses of heaven from the One who is preparing those mansions for us there.

JEANNIE: You know Lonnie, I recall a time when heaven seemed terribly real to me. Remember that trip to Banff we took about a year after we were married.

LONNIE: I sure do.

JEANNIE: We were driving across Canada toward the seminary Lonnie would be attending and he wanted to show me Banff National Park. That was some little detour! I’d just never seen such majesty—the snowy mountains just etched into a perfect blue sky. Everything was on such a grand scale and I felt so tiny there. I took Lonnie's hand and said, "Heaven can't be more beautiful that this!"

Since then we’ve had other glimpses, other foretastes of heaven in our travels. And I think it was some of the poorest people in the world who gave me the brightest pictures. People in Africa who, in spite of all their hardships, had smiles that just melted your heart. People in the Philippines who showed incredible hospitality.

Such poverty, and such generosity. They showed me what Jesus is like. And for me, He’s what heaven is all about.

I have to say, though, that it was Lonnie who really helped me believe in something as fantastic as heaven. Because of my background I had a hard time really grasping unconditional love. But after Lonnie and I started dating and our relationship grew deeper and deeper, I finally started absorbing that kind of love. I remember I often told my mother, "Lonnie looks at me the same way I picture Jesus looking at me."

LONNIE: We’ve been very, very blessed Jeannie, in so many ways. You’ve helped me open up more and experience things I never would have otherwise. And you know, we’ve also seen examples of how heaven becomes real for people in the worst of times as well. I’m always amazed at the ways God breaks through to people and shows them something more.

Heaven can come close even in our grief, even in the dark. In fact, the book of Revelation shows us that heaven has a special place for the wounded and hurting. It’s here in the last chapter, chapter twenty-two. Let’s read the first two verses:

“And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” Rev. 22:1,2

What is this picture telling us? It’s telling us that heaven is going to be a place of nourishment, abundant nourishment. It’s telling us that God is going to fill every single empty place in our hearts. There’s enough fruit, there’s enough nourishment, to go around.

And what’s more, the leaves of this tree of life are “for the healing of the nations.” This is talking about complete healing, healing for all our wounds.

Yes, heaven is a place where every tear will be wiped from our eyes. God will take care of all our wounds, all our scars, all our regrets, all our painful memories.

Every one of us, no matter what our background, can live with heaven in our hearts. All of us don’t have the same emotional resources of course, the same imagination. But we can all do this: we can journey on this earth with the values of heaven. We can invest ourselves in some way for eternity. We can keep reaching out to the God who is preparing a mansion for us in His Father’s house.

Will you determine to do that right now, with me as we pray? There’s more to life than just the glitter and the gold we see around us. There’s more to life than the endless race to acquire more things. The gold John speaks about reflects something deeper---joyful worship, a home with God, face-to-face communion. Don’t get buried in the demands of making ends meet, or getting ahead. Keep your heart open to the call of heaven. Keep your eyes out for the glimpses of heaven that God gives us here and there. And keep your faith firmly placed in the One who gives us these glorious revelations.

Dear Father, thank You for giving us wonderful glimpses of heaven. Please clarify our values in the light of eternity. Please help us to set our priorities with a heavenly perspective. Don’t let Your voice be drowned out by the here and now. Keep us open to Your call to the then and there! Help us to invest ourselves, to invest our treasures, in Your everlasting kingdom. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

JEANNIE: We hope you’ve been digging into the Word along with us each week. It’s so important for each of us to make our own discoveries in the Bible. And to help you do that we’ve got a homework assignment for next week.

LONNIE: Our topic relates to the timing of Christ’s return, the signs that precede His return. And we’d like you to look at Matthew chapter 24.

JEANNIE: Read that chapter and try to focus on what trends in history Jesus is talking about. What direction does he say history will take just before He returns?

LONNIE: That’s Matthew 24, Christ’s great discourse on His second coming. And be sure and join us next week.

Until next week, God bless you and yours. And remember, never stop exploring the Word.