This sermon is part of the sermon series "Four People You Meet in Heaven". See series.
An 85-year-old couple died in a car crash after having been married almost 60 years. They had been in good health the last ten years mainly due to the wife's interest in health food. When they reached the pearly gates, St. Peter took them to their mansion, which was decked out with a beautiful kitchen and master bath suite and Jacuzzi. As they marveled at it all, the old man asked Peter how much all this was going to cost. "It's free," Peter replied, "this is heaven." Next they went out back to survey the championship golf course that backed up to the home. They would have golfing privileges everyday, and each week the course changed to a new one representing the great golf courses on earth. The old man asked, "What are the green fees?" Peter replied, "This is heaven, you play for free." Next they went to the club house and saw the lavish buffet lunch with the cuisines of the world laid out. "How much to eat?" asked the old man. "Don't you understand yet? This is heaven, it is free!" Peter replied with some exasperation. "Well, where are the low fat and low cholesterol tables?" the old man asked timidly. Peter lectured, "That's the best part! You can eat as much as you like of whatever you like and you never get fat and you never get sick. This is heaven."
With that the old man went into a fit of anger, throwing down his hat, stomping on it, and screaming wildly. Peter and the man's wife both tried to calm him down, asking him what was wrong. The old man looked at his wife and said, "This is all your fault. If it weren't for your blasted bran muffins, I could have been here ten years ago!"
Have you ever noticed how most of us spend most of our lives trying to stay in this life? Yet if we knew how marvelous heaven will be, we'd be anxious to get there sooner than later. We've spent the first four parts of this series considering the different people you meet in heaven: the resurrected Christ, those who have found the narrow path of faith in Christ, a multitude of angels, and a glorified new you. Now I'd like to give you some insight on the meeting place—heaven—itself.
1 Corinthians 2:9 says, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him." On the one hand, we can't possibly comprehend or imagine what heaven will be like. Yet the Bible gives us so much information about heaven that it is right for us to think about what the future holds. Revelation 21 provides some of the best and most beautiful insight into our future resting place.
The meanings of heaven
When the Bible uses the word "heaven" it can mean one of several things. It can mean the universe or outer space, with the sun, moon, and stars—essentially whatever is not earth: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). Heaven can be referring to the spiritual realm—the invisible sphere of angels and demons: "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:12). Heaven is written about as the dwelling place of God, or wherever God is: "The Lord says, 'Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool" (Isaiah 66:1). Heaven can mean an intermediate state, or the time before Christ's return when our bodies will finally be glorified and the new earth established. And heaven can refer to the future or final reality of the saints. This is heaven as we think of it most often, where the believe in Christ will spend eternity.
I want to look at what Revelation says about this particular heaven.
What heaven is like
Heaven is a specific place. Some people think about heaven as being a "state of mind" or a non-physical realm—not somewhere you go, but some esoteric, undefined existence. In John's vision, however, he sees "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" (Revelation 21:1). Notice that the old heaven and earth (both real places) are replaced with a new heaven and earth.
In John 14:2-3, Jesus said, "I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." Heaven was a place where Jesus was coming and going and where he was going to take us to be with him. Now, you might be surprised to learn where this place is. John describes it as "the new heaven" coming down to earth. The Bible explains that the earth will be renewed (2 Peter 3:10), and God will establish heaven on the restored and redeemed earth. This new earth will be what Scripture refers to as the "new Jerusalem": "I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband" (Revelation 21:2). This new Jerusalem will have real walls and gates and real rivers and roads; it is a specific, physical place where we will walk, eat, sing, and relate to one another.
Heaven is a spacious place. Verse 16 says, "[this city] will be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long." That is 1,400 square miles, the distance from Mexico to Canada or from the Appalachians to California. And in this space will accommodate all who come: "in my Father's house, there are many dwelling places" (John 14:?).
Heaven is a sacred place. "And 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.'" (verse 3). Heaven is a real place, but it is also a real presence. Jesus calls heaven his "Father's house." In heaven, we will be immediately and continually in the sacred presence of God.
Heaven is a secure place. Verse 4 says, "He 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." We've talked about the old passing away and the new coming to life in our resurrected bodies, but verse 5 says that God will make all things new. There will be no sin, no crime, no litter or smog, no sickness or death. Think of all the folks that will need to find new jobs: exterminators, counselors, insurance adjustors, doctors, mechanics, policemen, health inspectors, and the list goes on.
Heaven is a spectacular place. John describes the spectacular beauty of heaven as having walls of precious gemstones, gates of pearls, streets of pure gold. And what will make heaven most spectacular is the radiant glory of God that will replace even the sun's light. Peter the Great built a summer palace in St. Petersburg with gilded frames, priceless antiques, exotic rugs, and manicured shrubs—every artifact was a reflection of royalty—and that palace doesn't have even a corner of the grandeur of heaven. The full perfection and beauty of heaven will be a reflection of who God is.
Heaven is a satisfying place. Notice the abundant provisions in Revelation 22:1-2: "Then 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 down 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." Not only will heaven not have loss, it will not have lack. Every need will be met. Today, 800 million people will go to sleep hungry; one in six people in the world live in extreme poverty, under $1 a day; the average salary of the top 20 hedge fund managers is 22,000 times the salary of the average worker. These things will not be so in heaven. Heaven will be a place of life, fruit, and fullness; there will be no lack, no longing, no have-nots. All will be satisfied in heaven.
Heaven is a select place. Verse 27 says that "Nothing 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." Heaven is a pure place and, therefore, the only people there are pure—those who have been forgiven and made clean by their identity with Jesus Christ, the Lamb.
What a study like this tells me is that it is good and right to long for heaven. God has put "eternity in our hearts" (Ecclesiastes 3:11). A. W. Tozer said: "Let no one apologize for the powerful emphasis Christianity lays upon the doctrine of the world to come. Right there lies its immense superiority to everything else within the whole sphere of human thought or experience …. We do well to think of the long tomorrow."
David Daniels is the lead pastor of Central Bible Church in Fort Worth, Texas.