Summary: Heaven seems to us like an abstract concept, yet it’s a real, substantive place. If we’re uncomfortable here on earth, it’s because we’re not home yet.
“Heaven’s Glory” Revelation 21:1-7, 27 -Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
A wealthy Christian was preoccupied with the idea of bringing some of his riches to Heaven. He knew the Bible clearly teaches that you can’t take it with you. Nonetheless, he prayed and prayed that God would grant him permission. Finally, his persistence paid off. God spoke to him and said, "Okay, enough all ready! You can take one suitcase with you into Heaven." The man thought, "Wow—what should I take? What are the most valuable assets that I can put into one suitcase?" He finally made his decision and packed his bag. Then one day he died, and approached the Pearly Gates dragging his suitcase behind him.
St. Peter met him at the gate and said, "Hey—wait a minute. What do you think you’re doing? You’re not allowed to take anything into heaven." The rich man answered, "You don’t understand; I have special permission from God Himself to take this suitcase into Heaven."
Peter rubbed his beard and said, "Well, that’s highly unusual. I can’t imagine God letting you do that. Let me look inside your suitcase and see what’s there." The man opened his suitcase, which was filled with gold bars. Peter said, "Well, all right, no problem. If God said so, I suppose you can take that in if you want. But I don’t know what in heaven you’re going to with more pavement.”
To our earth-bound minds, Heaven is an abstract concept, a realm foreign to us. We accept by faith the reality of this spiritual realm, but it’s difficult to imagine what Heaven must be like. The Bible only gives us hints at what Heaven is like, and the descriptions we have appear in the form of poetry and metaphor. Galileo remarked, “The intention of the Holy Spirit is not to teach us how Heaven goes, but how one goes to Heaven.” The glories of Heaven far surpass our perception. Heaven is a real place, and the reality will exceed all images and symbols. The Apostle Paul was given a vision of heaven, but words failed him. Human language has limitations. All Paul could say was that he experienced things so astounding that they couldn’t be told (II Cor 12). Heaven is a reality unreachable to any of our senses. It’s like explaining the world to an unborn baby.
Heaven is “Paradise restored”. Because of sin, Adam made a grave of a garden, but Christ has made a garden of a grave. Sin resulted in expulsion from a garden, and salvation is restoration to Paradise. Some things will be missing in Heaven. There will be no death, no pain, no sin, no curse, no tears. God declares through the prophet Jeremiah: “I will turn their mourning into gladness, their weeping into laughter, lavishing comfort, invading their grief with joy.” (31:13, the Message). The injustices and deprivations of earthly life will be fully and forever corrected. In Heaven we will be liberated from every loss. We will find Heaven a place where the Lord’s Prayer is fulfilled--where God’s Name is hallowed, His Kingdom is come, His will is done.
Heaven is called the “New Jerusalem”(vs 2). The city of Jerusalem has been destroyed twice in history, by the armies of Babylon and Rome, and today it remains a place of great unrest. It’s an unlikely model for Heaven, but the point is that God will take and transform our human existence into something wonderful. He will heal the corruption and brutality and defilement and suffering. I’ve spent most of my adult life as a soldier, and I’ve seen the devastation of war. I’ve also been to Jerusalem and noted how the streets were filled with soldiers bearing arms. The “New Jerusalem” will be a place of “former” soldiers—it will be a Holy City where we will study war no more!
Heaven’s been called “a prepared place for prepared people.” Jesus said He’s going to prepare a place for us in His Father’s house (Jn 14:1-4). Only those who have embraced Jesus would be happy living with Him for eternity. Think for a moment about the place you’d most like to live…someone living there can’t stand the place! For people who haven’t been transformed by God, Heaven may not seem too inviting or attractive. Heaven is a holy place, hardly suitable for those disinterested in righteousness. Eugene Peterson writes, “If we don’t want God, or don’t want Him very near, we can hardly be expected to be very interested in Heaven.” (Reversed Thunder, 185).
C.S. Lewis wrote a book called The Great Divorce, in which a group of people in Hell get a free bus ride to heaven, and a guided tour. In fact, they’re given an offer: if they want, they can stay. They look around at heaven’s splendor and feel very uncomfortable. They can’t wait to get back on the bus and return to Hell. Lewis isn’t claiming that people will be given a “second chance” after death; he is saying that heaven isn’t an enjoyable place for everyone.