One of the great tragedies of the church today is that there is so little preaching on heaven. The Bible mentions heaven more than five hundred times. The book of Revelation mentions heaven more than fifty times. Yet many churches these days seem to avoid the subject of heaven almost entirely.
Many Christians are surprised to discover that the Bible mentions three different heavens. The first heaven is where Satan dwells, and according to Paul (Ephesians 6:12), it is the realm of angels and demons, spiritual powers who have authority over nations and kingdoms of the earth. The second heaven is the universe, the celestial heaven. It is visible when you look up at the night sky or see photographs of deep space taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The third heaven is sometimes referred to in Scripture as “paradise.” This is the heaven Jesus spoke of when he told the repentant thief on the cross, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
There is an acronym for the worldly view of life: YOLO – You Only Live Once. For the believer, that’s simply not true. You live once, you die – and then there’s the resurrection! For believers, when we die, there is no waiting room. The Apostle Paul said, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8).” Our spiritual body would be like Jesus after the resurrection.
- The physical body is perishable but the resurrected body would be imperishable
- The physical body would be destroyed but the resurrected body would be raised up to glory
- The physical body would die in weakness but the resurrected body would rise in power
- The physical body is natural but the resurrected body would be supernatural
The third heaven, the paradise our spirits go to after we die is not the final and future heaven, the eternal heaven that Jesus promised to prepare for us. When the new heaven comes, the old heaven will be swept away. As John writes in Revelation 21:1:
“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.”
There are some people who spend more time looking and studying a place that they are going to for a vacation than they would do for a place they are going to live in forever. The more we focus our attention on this life, the more meaningless this life becomes, but the more we focus on the wonders of heaven, the more wonderful this life becomes.
Our earthly trials are not worthy to be compared to the glorious home our Lord is preparing for us (Rom 8:18). The best way to face all of our earthly trials – including the ultimate trial, death itself – is to view all of life through the lens of our true home in heaven. In the book of Revelation, the Lord Jesus gives John a vision of heaven. It’s a vision of comfort and encouragement for everyone who is burdened by the sufferings of this life.
The Roman empire thought he could get rid of John for preaching the gospel, so John was exiled to the island of Patmos, but God transferred this punishment into praise, pain into gain, stagnation into revelation. In Revelation 4, God graciously opens a door into heaven and gives John the extraordinary privilege of seeing what heaven will be like. So what does John see when he peers through the doorway into heaven? He continues his description of the heavenly throne room:
“And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. 4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. 5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, 6 and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.” (Rev 4:3-6)
John describes his first glimpse of heaven – he sees a throne with Someone seated on it. The image of the throne is symbolic, not literal. It symbolises the power and authority of our God. John sees Jesus, our great High Priest – and he describes Jesus as having the appearance of gemstones: jasper and ruby. Again, these stones should be interpreted symbolically, not literally. Jasper is a diamond-like white stone that symbolizes the glory and purity of Jesus. The ruby is a blood-red stone symbolizing the sacrificial blood of Jesus, which was shed on the cross. These two stones were worn by the high priest of Israel in Old Testament times, and they symbolized the beginning and the end, the first and the last, the alpha and the omega.
Christ Jesus is what makes Heaven to be Heaven. When we see Jesus face to face all of the puzzlement of life will be solved, all the painful experiences will be transformed into delight, all of the tears would be transformed into ocean of joy, all of the hurts and the disappointment would be transformed into clouds of beauty, and all our ashes would be transformed into beauty.
Surrounding the throne is a rainbow, which reminds us of God’s faithfulness to His promises. In Genesis 9, after God destroyed the world with the flood but saved Noah and his family in the ark, He promised, “I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth… I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth” (Genesis 9:11,13). John describes this rainbow as encircling the throne of God and shining brightly like an emerald. The full circular shape of the rainbow symbolizes the eternal nature of God, who has no beginning and no end.
God gives us the symbol of the twenty-four elders to show us that heaven will be populated by saints from both the Old and New testaments. In both 1 Chronicles and the book of Revelation, the number 24 symbolises the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 disciples of Jesus.
John tells us that seven lamps blaze in front of the throne, and these, he says, “are the seven spirits of God.” Has John changed the number of Persons in the Trinity? No, John is using symbolism again. These seven lamps of fire represent the sevenfold ministry of the Holy Spirit, as found in Isaiah 11:2:
- The Spirit of the Lord (His comforting presence)
- The Spirit of wisdom
- The Spirit of understanding
- The Spirit of counsel
- The Spirit of might
- The Spirit of knowledge
- The Spirit of the fear of the Lord
Next, John describes a sea of glass, as clear as crystal – a symbol of the pure, clear truth of the Word of God.
In Rev 21. John describes his vision of the new heaven, the new earth, and the New Jerusalem. Some portion of his vision are intended to be interpreted symbolically while others are meant literally.
In the literal sense, John said there was no longer any sea after the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. When we receive our glorified resurrection bodies, when we become like our resurrected Lord, we won’t need water to survive. There is also probably a deep symbolic meaning in those word of John as well. John was exiled on an island in the Aegean Sea, surrounded by water. When he stood on the shore and looked out over the sea, he longed to be with his loved one in Ephesus- but the waters formed an impassable barrier. For John, the sea meant separation.
You and I have loved ones we were once close to, yet we are separated from them by death. In the new heaven and the new earth, there will be no death, no separation. The sea of death that separates us will be gone. We’ll be united with them and with our Lord forever and ever. There will be no hurt, no sickness, no curse, no fear, no loss, no separation, and no regret in heaven for God announces that His dwelling place is now among the people. He will wipe away all their tears, and death will be no more (Rev 21 3:4).
In the literal sense, The Holy City, the New Jerusalem, is the capital city of the new heaven and the earth. When God creates the new heaven and the new earth, the New Jerusalem will descend out of heaven like “a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Rev 21:2), and will be home to the bride of Christ, the true church of all believers.
An angel takes John on a magnificent guided tour of the New Jerusalem. The city is brilliantly lit from within by the glory of God. It gleams like a sparkling jewel, as clear as crystal. It has twelve gates, symbolizing the 12 tribes of Israel, and it has 12 foundations, representing the 12 apostles. The angel gave John the measurements of the city. It is a cube measuring 12,000 stadia in length, width, and height. Meaning the city is going to be – 1400 miles long by 1400 miles wide by 1400 miles high.
The volume of the New Jerusalem is going to be more than 2.7 billion cubic miles. No wonder Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions” (John 14:2). A beautiful, brilliant crystalline cube measuring 1400 miles on each side contains more than enough room for a few billion mansions.
If you let your mind’s eye picture a vast crystalline structure glittering in colours of jasper, agate, sapphire, emerald, onyx, ruby chrysotile, beryl, topaz, turquoise, jacinth, amethyst, and pure gold, you are just beginning to grasp the breathtaking beauty of the New Jerusalem. If there is so much beauty and wonder in a world that is fallen and broken by sin, imagine what heaven will be like!
The New Jerusalem as no temple because God Himself, and the Lord Jesus Christ, will be present among us in the new Holy City. There will be no streetlights in the City, nor will the City need the sun and moon. God Himself will be the Light of the New Jerusalem. Temples were built by Moses and Solomon to symbolise the presence of God with Israel, His people. But a symbol is not reality, and when the real thing shows up a symbol is no longer needed.
In Rev 22, John describes the river of life “as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city”. The wellspring of this river is God Himself. The river of life flows endlessly, symbolizing the perpetual flow of blessings from the Lord.
John also tells us that we, God’s servants, will serve Him in the new heaven. We will have important work to do – meaningful, exciting, challenging work. As servants of the Lord, we may even find that our work takes us to other worlds and distant galaxies. God is everywhere, and wherever we go in the universe, whatever we do as we explore the new heaven, we will be able to speak to God, thank Him, and praise Him. And John says that we will reign with God “forever and ever” (Rev 22:5).