Summary: If you’ve ever wondered what heaven is like, we get one of our most complete looks at it in the final chapters of Revelation. We’ll also see heaven and hell compared.
When you think of heaven, what comes to your mind? The stereotypical view is of white puffy clouds, with us dressed in white robes with wings, carrying harps and just lazing around all day with nothing to do. Is that heaven? No.
Chapters 21 and 22 of Revelation give us about as much information as we know about heaven. One of the reasons it’s so hard to describe is that it is not just another place but another dimension, another creation. But these chapters do give us some hints and clues about what our eternal state will be like.
Chapter 20 left off with some pretty sobering words: "And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." This happens at some point either during or at the end of Christ’s thousand year reign on the earth. So at this point, only those who have been redeemed by the Lamb of God, and God’s angels, are around. Everyone else is in the lake of fire. These last two chapters don’t mention it - in fact, hell is just referred to as "outside".
Unlike the return of Jesus to the earth - the coming of heaven will not be a sudden event. It might be sort of a gradual transition. There are suggestions that God will literally blow up the existing heaven and earth - like one of those buildings slated for demolition that you see imploded on TV.
2 Peter 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. ESV
If Peter is referring to the end of the planet - then by that time a new earth and a new heaven will have been established and God’ll just be getting rid of the junk. The truth is that we are really hazy when it comes to this time period. But let’s see what these chapters do tell us.
In a lot of ways what we will see here is the return to the Garden of Eden - except that this is perhaps the Garden (as a city) that God always intended for us - where we can live and prosper in God’s presence.
1. Creation is new - but different (Verse 1)
The old heavens and earth had "gone off" literally in the Greek. This new earth doesn’t have a large body of water, but does have a river.
2. There is a city in the new creation - details later (Verse 2)
It’s possible that this new city is symbolic - and is actually the church (more on that later). Though it may be physical, yet also we, the church, make up the city. Our problem is we are trying to describe a heavenly reality by earthly means. The important thing to note is that God will now dwell with His people in the New Jerusalem.
3. God will live with us in that city (Verse 3)
This also returns us to the state in the Garden of Eden, where we could walk with God in the cool of the day (Genesis 3).
4. Life will be entirely different in the absence of pain (Verses 4-7)
Everything that caused pain and sadness on earth will not be present in heaven.
5. Little is said about hell because it won’t really matter (Verses 8 & 27)
Look at this list - I’ve always marveled at the fact that liars are on this list. We tend to judge people that don’t measure up to our standards - and we say things like "if you smoke or dance or go to movies then you are going to hell." Yet we don’t realize that if we have ever told a lie - that is enough to send us there as well. God is far more perfect than we can ever imagine - that’s why we need Jesus so much!
Verse 27 - the only way to get in is to be in the book.
6. The New Jerusalem IS the Bride - the church (Verses 9-11)
Here it almost suggests that this new city IS the Bride of Christ. Peter suggests something like that too:
1 Peter 2:4-6 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. ESV
If you have ever flown into Las Vegas you know what man’s neon glory looks like. The radiance from this city will be so incredible it will make Las Vegas look like an ember in a dieing fire.