Summary: Heaven is our true home, a city that will reveal Paradise restored..."Salvation history began in a garden and ends in a city."
A man died and arrived at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter greeted him, then noticed the man was carrying a suitcase. “What’s in that?” he asked. The man said it was filled with gold bars. Peter frowned and told the man that this wasn’t permitted; in fact we can bring nothing with us to Heaven. “But I have special permission,” the man insisted. “That’s highly unusual”, Peter said, “but I’ll check on it.” Peter did so, then turned to the man. “OK, I see that you do have approval…but what are you going to do with pavement?”
Heaven is described in Hebrews 11:16 as a city: God’s people are “longing for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore God has is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” For most of my life I’ve lived in or near cities. Big cities are “happening” places--hubs of commerce, the arts, education, and history. I’m originally from Jersey City. In Germany where I grew up and later served as an Army chaplain, I lived in Heidelberg, Frankfurt, and Würzburg. Here in the U.S. I’ve lived in New York City, Chattanooga, Virginia Beach, San Francisco, El Paso, San Antonio, and just outside of Baltimore and Washington DC. It’s great being a few miles from Boston. What’s the best, the most impressive city you’ve seen? It will look like a ghetto in comparison to Heaven and the New Jerusalem.
In our reading in Revelation 21, John describes Heaven as the City of God, a place where multitudes gather. He tells a “tale of two cities,” describing Heaven as the “Holy City”, a sharp contrast to pagan Rome. The Holy City descends from Above, as the embodiment of God’s fullest blessing. The prophet Isaiah promised that God would “create new heavens and a new earth” (65:17). Jewish writings associate this with the coming of the Messiah. Those under the tyranny of Rome yearned for a better city.
I’ve asked you to think of the nicest city you’ve ever been to…what about the worst? In my case, it would be Juarez, the murder capitol of Mexico, where many people live in shelters made from pallets and cardboard; where basic sanitation largely doesn’t exist. But Heaven is a perfect place to live, because all the ills of the Fall will be fixed and Paradise will be restored. All that was lost in Eden will be regained--in a perfect city.
A Philadelphia law firm sent flowers to an associate in Baltimore to mark the opening of a new office. Through some mix-up, the ribbon on the arrangement read, “Deepest Sympathy.” To make things worse, the correct ribbon was put on an arrangement that was sent to a funeral home. It read: “Congratulations on your new location.” For Christians, that’d be quite appropriate!
If you knew that you were moving, I’d suspect you’d want to learn all you could about your new location. When we received orders for new military assignments, we did research on the places we were going to live. We will one day leave this world and live with God. Wouldn’t it be advisable for us to “do some research” and know something about this new abode? We ought to seek all the knowledge we can about Heaven, and be doing all we can right now to prepare ourselves for our eternal home. Can you imagine standing before the gates of the Heavenly City Biblically illiterate?
Also, if you knew you were moving from an inner-city slum to a beautiful country estate, you would not focus on the life you were leaving but on the life you were about to begin. Heaven is a real place. It is not a state of mind or a sentimental dream. At death we will be doing much more than “existing in the memories” of our loved ones.
In Revelation 21 this City is distinguished by the things that are missing (vss. 1-5): No sea (which was regarded in Bible times as symbolic of evil); no tears, death, pain, sorrow, night, and no closed doors. When we get to the Heavenly City we will find there are no orphanages, mental hospitals, abortion clinics, prisons, nursing homes, or homeless shelters. Picture again the worst city you’ve ever seen…going to Heaven will be like leaving that city for the best one, times ten.
N.T. Wright says that God made Heaven and Earth, and when Jesus returns, He will remake both and join them forever…the New Jerusalem will come down from Heaven to Earth, “uniting the two in a lasting embrace.” Wright points out that “It is not we who go to Heaven; it is Heaven that comes to Earth. Heaven and Earth are not poles apart; they are made for each other” (Surprised by Hope).
This Holy City is the fulfillment of our greatest longing--for God’s own presence. King David sings in Psalm 42:1, “As the deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for You, O Lord.” The greatest glory of this City will not be its architecture, but the presence of God. In Leviticus 26 God promises, “I will make My abode with you.” He says in Ezekiel 37, “My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God and they will be My people.” He is in there to remain.