The hope of Heaven
- The new heavens and the new earth
- The New Jerusalem
- ~The heavenly vision
- ~The worshipping community
- ~The beautiful environment
- ~The loving fellowship
- ~The transformed body
- ~The governmental authority
- ~The absence of evil
- ~Different rewards in Heaven?
- The assurance of eternal life
- There is some evidence that Scripture envisages more than one heaven. The Hebrew word for heaven is plural. Paul says he was caught up into the third heaven (2 Cor 12:2). A common way of dividing the heavens into three is that the first heaven is the atmosphere; the second, space containing the planets and stars; and the third, the abode of God. Jesus “has gone through the heavens” (Heb 4:14 Greek). William Barclay comments: “This may mean that Jesus has passed through every heaven that may be and is in the very presence of God. It can mean what Christina Rossetti meant when she said ‘Heaven cannot hold him.’ Jesus is so great that even heaven is too small a place for him.”
- Similarly, God is the God of heaven but Solomon said: “the heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you” (1 Kings 8:27). God says through Jeremiah “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” (Jer 23:24).
- The New Testament speaks of two main aspects of the final state enjoyed by believers: the new heavens and the new earth and the New Jerusalem. We look first at the broader context of the final state:
- The hope set before us is not of some spooky, ethereal heaven floating amongst the clouds but of a totally new creation. Isaiah prophesied this: “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind” (Isaiah 65 17). 2 Peter 3:12-13 speaks of the day of God which “will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.” John foresees the fulfilment of this prophecy: “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” (Rev 21:1).
- Prof E M B Green comments on 2 Peter 3:12-13: “Sin, which has marred God's world, will not be permitted to have the final word. In a renewed universe the ravages of the fall will be repaired by the glory of the restoration. Paradise Lost will become Paradise Regained, and God's will shall eventually be done alike in earth and heaven.”
- Paul describes creation as groaning and longing for its renewal/restoration which will coincide with the bodily resurrection of the saints: “the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:19-23).
- Professor W Sanday and Dr A C Headlam comment: “There runs through [Paul's] words an intense sympathy with nature in and for itself. He is one of those (like St Francis of Assisi) to whom it is given to read as it were the thoughts of plants and animals. He seems to lay his ear to the earth and the confused murmur which he hears has a meaning for him: it is creation's yearning for a happier state intended for it and of which it has been defrauded ....with St Paul the movement is truly cosmic. The ‘sons of God’ are not selected for their own sakes alone, but their redemption means the redemption of a world of being besides themselves.”
- Professor F F Bruce comments: “This doctrine of the cosmic fall is implicit in the biblical record from Genesis iii (where the ground is cursed for man’s sake) to Revelation xxii (where ‘there shall be no more curse’); and is demanded by any world- outlook which endeavours to do justice to the biblical doctrine of creation and the facts of life as we know them ....It is no accident that the redemption of nature is here seen as coinciding with the redemption of man's body - that physical part of his being which links him with the material creation. Man was put in charge of the ‘lower’ creation and involved it with him when he fell; through the redemptive work of the ‘second man’ the entail of the fall is broken not only for man himself but for the creation which is dependent on him.”
- The new heavens and the new earth and everything in them will be united under the Lordship of Christ. Paul writes of God’s intention “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (Ephesians 1:10) and “to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:20).
- The incarnation of the son of God brought about a new unity between heaven and earth. Jesus is the God-man. Divinity and humanity were brought together in a new way. His resurrection developed this. Jesus is in heaven in his resurrection body. He is the heavenly man. He is fulfilling God’s purpose to reconcile and bring together all things in heaven and on earth.
- The Genesis creation accounts show God intended peace, harmony and order in creation. Humans were to be his viceroys, not ruling in a harsh, exploitative way but maintaining God’s order in diversity. He intended that human beings should enjoy paradise and an intimate relationship with him as well as harmony with one another. But, of course, the fall of man spoilt all this. The new creation will fulfil God’s original intention.
- John makes the rather strange statement that in his vision of the new heaven and the new earth “the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea” (Rev 21:1). Considering the beauty of the sea and the immense amount of sea life it seems unlikely that this is a literal prophecy – God’s purpose is radical renewal of the whole earth. Isaiah refers to the sea as a symbol of unrest amongst the nations and the ungodly. He says: “The wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud” (Isa 57:20). Jeremiah described towns in Syria as “disheartened, troubled like the restless sea” (Jer 49:23).
- More significant is John’s vision of the “beast” (Antichrist) “coming out of the sea” (Rev 13:1). Robert Mounce comments: “The ancient world commonly associated the sea with evil, and for the last great enemy of God’s people to arise from the reservoir of chaos would be entirely appropriate.” Ancient mythology spoke of Tiamat, the chaos monster and godess of the sea.” It seems therefore that the absence of the sea is symbolical for the absence of the chaos and rebellion of godless society. The old order has been done away with.
- Daniel foretold that Jesus would ultimately be “given authority, glory and sovereign power.” He added: “all nations and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Dan 7:13-14). Similarly Isaiah wrote: “Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever” (Isa 9:7).
- John sees the end result: “The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever’” (Rev 11:15).
- At the centre of the new earth John sees the New Jerusalem. In the vision he says that an angel carried him away “to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev 21:2). This city was “prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Rev 21:10). This is, of course, the language of symbolism. Paul had referred earlier to “the Jerusalem that is above” which is free and “our mother.” (Gal 4:26).
- The writer to the Hebrews says to believers: “You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm [Mt Sinai] … But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven” Heb 12:18-23).
- So the new Jerusalem is “the city of the living God.” Its descent speaks of the control of heaven in the renewed universe. In this age there is tension between heaven and an earth under divine judgment. In the new age the rule of heaven will bring unity and harmony.
- The city is enormous, approximately 1500 miles square and 1500 miles high. Professor G R Beasley Murray comments on the height of the city: “Such representations depict a city which reaches from earth to heaven. That conception accounts for John’s staggeringly large measurements. The city of God and the Lamb will extend far over the territories of men and unite earth and heaven in one.”
- Robert Mounce comments on the new Jerusalem being a perfect cube, 1500 miles x 1500 miles x 1500 miles. “This particular shape would immediately remind the Jewish reader of the inner sanctuary of the temple (a perfect cube, each dimension being 20 cubits; 1 Kings 6:20), the place of divine presence.” (There are some, though, who think it might have been pyramid-shaped).
- Dr John Sweet points out that the idea of a heavenly Jerusalem was familiar “but there is no parallel to it coming down from heaven.”
- In the original creation God gave man a garden. In the new creation it is a huge city (within the wider context of the new heaven and new earth) which symbolises security and contrasts with Babylon. God intends to bring his people back to Jerusalem. Originally this meant bringing the Jewish people back to the literal Jerusalem. The New Jeruslaem is home to all believers – Jewish and Gentile. This is the ultimate homecoming for God’s people.
- The contrast between the two cities – Babylon and the New Jerusalem is clear.
- Babylon (godless society) was a prostitute adorned with jewels (17:4). She was indwelt by demons (18:2). People whose names are not in the book of life are astonished at the relationship between Babylon and the Antichrist (17:8). The kings give power and authority to the Antichrist (17:12-13). But Babylon drinks the wine of God’s wrath (16:17, 19) and experiences death mourning and famine (18:18). She will be in darkness and is doomed to destruction(18:23, 8).
- By contrast the New Jerusalem shines with the glory of God which is like jewels (21:11). Nothing impure will enter it (21:28). People whose names are in the book of life alone will enter it (21:27). The kings will bring their splendour to it (21:24). It will drink freely of the water of life (21:6) and there will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain (21:4). God will give it light (21:23; 22:5). God’s servants will reign for ever and ever (22:5).
- John writes: “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” (Rev 21:2-3). He continues: “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp” (Rev 21:22-23). He adds that: “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city” (Rev 22:3). So the most wonderful aspect of the New Jerusalem will be the beatific (blissfully joyful) vision of God.
- We shall see the majestic, awe-inspiring presence of God. The holy or pure in heart will see God face to face, as he is. Since God is spirit, what does this mean? Calvin said that this would be through seeing Christ, for to see him is to see God. Others speak of our ‘seeing’ God intuitively with our whole being.
- We cannot imagine the blissful joy and exalted rapture we shall experience when we see God in this way.
- Earlier John sought to describe God enthroned in heaven “the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders ... From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder” (Rev 4:3-5).
- He also had a vision of the glorified Jesus and wrote he saw: “someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash round his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. … His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance” (Rev 1:13-16).
- What a privilege it will be to have personal access to God in this way in view of the awesome holiness of God.
- When God revealed himself on Mt Sinai: “there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. … Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently” (Ex 19:16-18). When “the people saw the thunder and lightning … and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not let God speak to us or we will die’” (Ex 20:18-19). Little wonder the people were warned not to come onto the mountain, or to touch the ark of the covenant and only the High Priest could enter the Holy of holies on the annual Day of Atonement.
- Similarly, Isaiah wrote: “I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: with two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke” (Isaiah 6:1-4).
- Ezekiel struggled to find words to describe his vision of God: “High above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” (Ezk 1:26-28). Notice how he does not say he saw God directly but “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.”
- The writer to the Hebrews describes the presence of Jesus also enthroned in heaven “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Heb 1:3). He “is at God’s right hand – with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him” (1 Peter 3:22).
- Professor Richard Bauckham writes: “Since the whole of the New Jerusalem is a holy of holies, God’s immediate presence fills it. In place of a temple. it has the unrestricted presence of God and the Lamb (21:22). Like his presence in the temple (eg Ezek.43), this eschatological presence of God entails holiness and glory. As his eschatological presence, it is also the source of the new life of the new creation.”
- The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are worshipped by the heavenly hosts “many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand.” “Day and night they never stop saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.’ …. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.’ …. ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!’ … ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!’… “Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever.” (Rev 5:11; 4:8-11; 5:12-13; 7:12).
- We believers will join in that awesome worship “lost in wonder, love and praise.”
- John describes the New Jerusalem: It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal … The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth ruby, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth turquoise, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass” (Rev 21:11, 18-21).
- Robert Mounce comments: “The various stones mentioned in the Bible are hard to identify with any exactness because of the many different species and colours as well as the lack of a standard terminology. Jasper was a translucent rock crystal green in color. Sapphire was a deep blue stone with spangles of iron pyrite (the modern lapis lazuli). Chalcedony [agate] is usually taken as a green silicate of copper found near Chalcedon in Asia Minor. The emerald was another green stone. The sardonyx was a layered stone of red (sard) and white (onyx). It was prized for use in making cameos. The sardius was a blood-red stone and commonly used for engraving. Chrysolite may have been a yellow topaz or golden jasper. The beryl was a green stone, and the topaz greenish gold or yellow. The jacinth was bluish-purple and similar to the modern sapphire. The amethyst was a purple quartz…. The overall picture is of a city of brilliant gold surrounded by a wall inlaid with jasper and resting upon twelve foundations adorned with precious gems of every color and hue. The city is magnificent beyond description.”
- So the city was made of pure gold surrounded by a wall of translucent green. It was built on a foundation of precious stones: in ascending order - translucent green, deep blue, green, red, white, red, yellow, greenish-gold, bluish purple and purple. It had 12 gates (3 on each side) each made of a single pearl and a street of pure gold.
- Professor G R Beasley-Murray comments on the appearance of the city: “Its appearance like jasper, clear as crystal recalls the description of the divine appearance on the throne in 4:3, which is said to be ‘as jasper and carnelian’, ie., both transparent and fiery red, as the light. The whole city therefore is conceived of as glowing with the glory of God, reflecting the divine nature in its every part.”
- It seems that the precious stones in the city were related in the ancient world to the 12 signs of the zodiac but John lists them in the reverse order. Dr R H Charles thinks this shows that John is rejecting astrological speculations. But Beasley-Murray says, “This is doubtful, for the connection is too striking for a rejection to be communicated in this way. It is more likely that John's listing of the jewel signs plus his connecting them with the people of God and apostles of the Lamb is intended to suggest that the reality after which the pagans aspire is found in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.”
- He also writes: “the twelve gates of the city with their twelve angels may go back to the twelve figures and divisions of the heaven in the zodiac, the city's precious stones to the twinkling stars of heaven, the river running through its street (and possibly the street itself) to the Milky Way, and the wall of jasper to the night horizon. John's employment of pagan belief should be compared with his use in chapter 12 of the widespread myth or myths of the redeemer who destroys the dragon. As in that passage John employs the myth to declare the fulfilment by Jesus of the hope of the world for redemption.”
- The symbolism of the New Jerusalem speaks of the unending beauty of the environment we shall experience in Heaven. It is paradise.
- John also describes how “the glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it” (Rev.21:26). It seems likely that this would include the (redeemed) art, culture and creativity of humanity.
- The writer to the Hebrews says: “you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven” (Heb 12:22-23). Similarly, John “saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Rev 21:2). He quotes the angel as saying: “‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev 21:9-10). He also writes: “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ (Rev 19:9).
- The church is the Bride of Christ and the wedding of the Lamb speaks of the intimate relationship between Jesus and the believing community.
- Also, since God is love and calls us to love, the final state of believers will involve a perfectly loving fellowship. This will include acts of self-giving and service.
- Robert Mounce commenting on the new Jerusalem says, “Kiddle writes that the heart of the symbol is a community of men: ‘It is a city which is a family. The ideal of perfect community, unrealizable on earth because of the curse of sin which vitiated the first creation, is now embodied in the redeemed from all nations.’”
- John describes how the names of the 12 tribes of Israel are written on the gates and the names of the 12 apostles on the foundations. This speaks of the ultimate fulfilment of God’s purpose that “through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Eph 3:6). Paul affirms: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal 3:28-29)
- The question of the nations
- We must note that John says (about the New Jerusalem): “The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it. 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” (Rev 21:24-27).
- The idea that there are still nations living outside the New Jerusalem seems strange. Are they part of the loving fellowship in heaven? Reference to the nations clearly relates to the OT prophecies of the eschatological glory of the earthly Jerusalem.
- Isaiah prophesies in chapter 60: “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn … to you the riches of the nations will come” (60:3, 5). Foreigners will bring back Jewish exiles and rebuild Jerusalem (60:9-10). “Your gates will always stand open, they will never be shut, day or night, so that people may bring you the wealth of the nations – their kings led in triumphal procession. For the nation or kingdom that will not serve you will perish; it will be utterly ruined.” (60:11-12). “The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory” (60:19). “Then all your people will be righteous and they will possess the land for ever” (60:21). “Strangers will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards ... and everlasting joy will be yours” (61:5, 7). “The Lord will take delight in you, and your land will be married. As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you” (62:4-5).
- There are different views of the references to the nations living outside the New Jerusalem in the new heavens and new earth:
- 1. That it is referring only to those who have come to faith in Christ from the nations and so form the covenant people. Professor Richard Bauckham says that this view ignores the implication of Rev 21:3 that all the nations have become the covenant people. That verse says that the New Jerusalem “God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” Bauckham understands this as referring to all the nations.
- 2. That, whereas the inhabitants of the New Jerusalem are the covenant people with special privileges, the nations outside the city share the blessings of the new heavens and new earth. Bauckham makes the same criticism of this as of the previous view.
- 3. Bauckham favours the view “that the deliberate mixing of particular and universal imagery throughout the account is a way of maintaining the perspective given in 21:3. It brings together the Old Testament promises for the destiny of God's own people and the universal hope, also to be found in the Old Testament, that all the nations will become God's people.” Other scholars agree. Bauckham does add an important footnote about his view: “This does not, of course, mean that Revelation expects the salvation of each and every human being. From 21:8, 27; 22:15, it is quite clear that unrepentant sinners have no place in the New Jerusalem. Attempts to see Revelation as predicting universal salvation (e.g. Maurice  400-405; Rissi ) strain the text intolerably.”
- 4. Mounce favours the view that John has simply used OT figures of speech about the nations living around the New Jerusalem but they are not to be taken literally. He writes: “Beckwith is undoubtedly right in saying that John has taken over verbally from the prophets language and figures of speech which presuppose the continuance of Gentile peoples on the earth after the establishment of the eschatological era (pp. 769-70). Glasson puts it this way, ‘The prophets were thinking mainly of a future under the historical conditions of our present life. John makes use of their sublime visions, lifting them on to the eternal plane; and at times he retains words not entirely appropriate to this new setting’ (p. 120).”
- There are problems with the first three views:
- The first view does not seem to explain the distinction being made between those who live within the New Jerusalem and the nations who live outside.
- I don’t find the second view convincing. It seems to be reading ideas into Scripture.
- The third view, that the nations have largely been won to Christ does not seem to relate well to Jesus comment: “Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matt 7:14). Luke records that: “Someone asked him, ‘Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?’ He said to them, ‘Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from’” (Luke 13:23-25). One thing is certain, salvation is only through faith in Christ (although, as we said earlier, it would appear that if people have genuinely not heard the gospel in a way which “got through” to them, they will be judged according to how they have responded to the spiritual insight they have received).
- The fourth view, that John has simply used OT figures of speech about the nations living around the New Jerusalem but they are not to be taken literally, seems to be supported by the fact that John goes on to say that godless people are outside the city (Rev 22:14-15). This surely is not literal – godless and evil people in the new heaven and new earth. I am therefore inclined to accept this fourth view.
- We have already dealt with the nature of the resurrection body in the section on Resurrection but it is important to include some reference to it here as it is very important to our experience of heaven. Our resurrection bodies, as believers, will be like the resurrection body of Jesus - imperishable, glorious, powerful and spiritual (1 Cor.15:42-44).
- Robertson and Plummer write that the natural body is “by nature subject to the laws and conditions of physical life (psuche), the [spiritual body] will be controlled by the spirit (pneuma) and this spirit will be in harmony with the Spirit of God. In the material body the spirit has been limited and hampered in its action; in the future body it will have perfect freedom of action and consequently complete control, and man will at last be, what God created him to be, a being in which the higher self is supreme.”
- The analogy with Jesus’ post-resurrection body is instructive. He had flesh and bones (Luke 24:39) and could be touched (the implication of Luke 24:39 and John 20:27); he could break bread (Luke 24:30) and make breakfast for the disciples (John 21:9, 12-13); he could eat food (Luke 24:42f). Yet he could appear and disappear at will (Luke 24:31,36; John 20:19,26; 21:1); he could pass through solid objects (John 20:19, 26).
- There will be no death. God “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” (Rev 21:4). Isaiah prophesied the same: “On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces” (Isa 25: 6-8).
- It is true that Isaiah also says: “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed” (Isa 65:20). But in the light of 25:6-8 this verse must be seen as a poetic, not literal prediction (especially as in the previous verse 65:19 Isaiah says: the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.” How can that be if there is still death?).
- What are we to make of John’s prediction about the leaves of the trees along the river flowing in the New Jerusalem being “for the healing of the nations”? Why would there be a need for healing in the resurrection life?
- John writes of: “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. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” (Rev 22:1-2). Robert Mounce comments: “Although John speaks of ‘the healing of the nations,’ we are not to infer that nations will continue to exist outside the New Jerusalem. As in 21:24 ff, imagery borrowed from the present state of affairs is carried over into the description of the eternal state. The glory of the age to come is necessarily portrayed by means of imagery belonging to the present age. The healing leaves indicate the complete absence of physical and spiritual want. The life to come will be a life of abundance and perfection.”
- However it is important to remember that only God is eternal. Eternal life comes from him and needs to be continually received from him. The idea of the tree of life (also referred to in the Garden of Eden) continually providing ‘healing’ might be a reference to this.
- Will we know one another?
- Will we know one another in heaven? It seems clear to me that we shall. Admittedly, the disciples on the Emmaus road didn’t immediately recognise the risen Jesus but since we shall know who we are it doesn’t seem likely that we wouldn’t be able to tell everyone, including our loved ones, who we are, even if we are transformed!
- What about marriage in heaven?
- What did Jesus mean by saying: “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Matt 22:30)? Procreation is important in a world where death is an important aspect. But the resurrection world will not be subject to death and this removes the need for procreation. R T France comments helpfully: “In this new deathless life there will be no place for procreation, and the exclusive relationship within which it takes place on earth will therefore not apply. It is this aspect of marriage which Jesus’ argument excludes from the resurrection life, rather than any suggestion that loving realtionships have no place there. The Sadducees’ question may have been cynical, but the issue that it raises is a real one for those who have married more than once; Jesus’ reply points them to a possibility of fulfilment of these relationships in the risen life which the exclusiveness of the marriage bond in earthly life would have rendered unthinkable. Jealousy and exclusion will have no place there.”
- We can be confident that the resurrection life will be without sickness, pain, sadness, strained or broken relationships or death. We can also be confident that it will be a purposeful existence, characterised by vitality and creativity. There will be challenges to overcome and achievements to reach.
- Daniel prophesied that in the End Times the “holy people of the Most High” would share his sovereignty. “Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him” (Dan 7:27).
- Jesus foretells that the apostles will judge (i.e. govern, rule) “the twelve tribes of Israel.” He said: “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt 19:28).
- Paul broadens this out to include all the saints sharing in the Lord’s authority: “Do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? … Do you not know that we will judge angels?” (1 Cor 6:2-3). He also wrote: “If we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Tim 2:12). This sharing in divine rule seems to be implied by what Paul writes to the Ephesians “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6).
- Jesus also says to the Laodicean church: “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne” (Rev 3:21).
- John seems to relate this rule to martyrs in the Millennium: “I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshipped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years” (Rev 20:4-6).
- It is true that some of the references to the saints ruling might refer to the Millennium. However this passage does not exclude the more general reference to the saints sharing the Lord’s rule (in the resurrection life) in the other passages. John himself makes this clear when he says that whereas the inhabitants of the New Jerusalem will serve God they will also “reign for ever and ever” (Rev 22:3, 5).
- F D Bruner comments: “Along with the marvellous transformation of Israel and the whole world, there will be breathtaking responsibilities given to God's people, a teaching corroborated often in Jesus’ eschatological teaching (cf...24:47... 25:21, 23...). The future holds out exciting responsibilities to those who live their discipleships responsibly now. The fellowship that Jesus began with his disciples will not end with this world but will continue in the New World, where disciples will collaborate with the Son in his new work...”
- Professor Richard Bauckham comments that Christ's kingdom “finds its fulfilment not in the subjection of God's ‘servants’ (22:3) to his rule, but in their reigning with him. (22:5). The point is not that they reign over anyone: the point is that God’s rule over them is for them a participation in his rule. The image expresses the eschatological reconciliation of God's rule and human freedom, which is also expressed in the paradox that God’s service is perfect freedom...”
- N T Wright says: “Both Paul and Revelation stress that in God’s new world those who belong to the Messiah will be placed in charge. The first creation was put into the care of God’s image-bearing creatures. The new creation will be put into the care of, the wise, healing stewardship of those who have been ‘renewed according to the image of the creator’, as Paul puts it.”
- Sin and its consequences (suffering, curse and fear) will be totally absent from the new Jerusalem: “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” (Revelation 21:27). John adds: “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs [ceremonially impure people], those who practise magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practises falsehood” (Rev 22:14-15).
- Mounce comments on verse 15: “The verse does not intend to teach that in the eternal state all manner of wicked men will be living just outside the heavenly city. It simply describes the future with the imagery of the present. The contrast is between the blessedness of the faithful and the fate of the wicked.”
- Heaven will be so wonderful that being there will be sufficient reward. However it does appear from the New Testament that there are degrees of additional rewards in heaven.
- Jesus promises a reward to those who love people who don’t love them (Matt 5:46) to those who don’t parade their spirituality in front of others (Matt 6:1-6, 16, 18), to those who welcome a prophet (Matt 10:41) or give a cup of cold water to the needy (Matt 10:42).
- In terms of being accepted by God, including into heaven, (justification) that is by grace through faith, not because of works. However Christians are judged by works and rewarded according to what they have done “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what they have done” (Rev 22:12 cf. Matt 16:27; Eph 6:8).
- Perhaps the most important passage is 1 Cor. 3:10-15: “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person's work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.”
- We can only speculate on the nature of rewards. Perhaps they are various levels of responsibility.
- The New Testament makes it quite clear that eternal life is a gift and it is given to those who put their trust in Christ and believe “he was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Rom 4:25).
- Jesus spoke of his authority to give eternal life to all the Father has given him (John 17:2). He also said: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24). He spoke of faith in him as like drinking spiritual water which becomes “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). Similarly he speaks of it symbolically as eating his flesh and drinking his blood, the meaning of Communion (John 6:53f - this is taking Communion in faith, not as a mere religious ritual).
- Similarly John says that “everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” He continues: “Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life … Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” (John 3:14-16, 36). In his first epistle he writes: “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11-12).
- Paul makes it quite clear that no-one can gain eternal life by doing good works or keeping the Law. He says: “a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law … God credits righteousness apart from works” (Rom 3:28; 4:6). He also says: “a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ … because by the works of the law no one will be justified” (Gal 2:16).
- The reason for this is that no-one could be good enough to ‘earn’ eternal life by doing good works and keeping the Law. Paul says that the Law condemns us: “No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin” (Rom 3:20). Worse than that “all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law’” (Gal 3:10). To be good enough to ‘earn’ eternal life would mean being perfect – doing everything written in the law.
- Therefore thank God for his grace: “For
it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from
yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that
no one can boast” (Eph 2:8-9, cf. Rom 11:6).
- However saving faith which leads to eternal life is not mere intellectual belief. It involves real commitment. Saving faith will show itself in acts of love and obedience to God. After all, if we really believe we are saved and receive eternal life only because Jesus died for us then we will want to show our immense gratitude. Paul continues from Eph 2:8-9, which we have just looked at, which affirms we are saved only by grace through faith, by saying: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:10).
- Jesus makes it clear that saving faith will lead us to make sacrifices. He challenged the rich man, who asked him how he could get eternal life, to give away all his riches (Matt 19:16-24). He says: “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (Matt 19:28-30, cf. John 12:25; Rom 2:6-7; Gal 6:8; 2 Peter 2:11). Similarly he says that those who serve him by feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, visiting the prisoner, clothing the naked, looking after the sick will go to eternal life (Matt 25:34-46 cf. Heb 5:8-9). He told the parable of the Good Samaritan to someone who asked “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25-37).
- Let me summarise to remove any confusion:
- 1. Eternal life is a gift which God gives to all who sincerely trust in Christ.
- 2. Our good deeds would never be good enough to ‘earn’ eternal life (we’d have to be perfect!).
- 3. But true faith will show itself in commitment and good works. It will express in practice gratitude for the fact that Jesus died so he could offer us eternal life as a gift.
- 4. We show commitment and do good works not in order to gain eternal life (which is impossible) but because we are grateful to have received eternal life as a gift through faith in Jesus.
- With that understanding of faith in Christ (showing itself in good works) we can be secure in the knowledge that we have eternal life and that, as we persist in this faith, we shall certainly be in heaven. Jesus says about his followers “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. (John 10:28-29). He also said: “This is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:39-40).
- John assures us: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:11-13). So we can rest assured that our names are written in the book of life in heaven (Luke 10:20; Heb 12:22-23 cp Rev 20:15; 21:27).
- There is much we don’t know about Heaven. But we can be confident that we shall be for all eternity in:
- · A place of unending beauty
- · A place of undying love
- · A place of continuous joy
- · A place of unfathomable peace
- · A place of universal kindness
- · A place of endless divine order
- · A place of never-ending fulfilment
- · A place of constant opportunity
- · A place of awesome worship
 William Barclay, The Letter to the Hebrews, Daily Study Bible, Saint Andrew Press, Edinburgh 1976, p. 41
 E M B Green, The Second Epistle General of Peter and the General Epistle of Jude, Tyndale NT Commentaries, Revised Edition, IVP, Leicester 1987, p. 154.
 W Sanday and A C Headlam, The Epistle to the Romans, International Critical Commentary, T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1902, p.212.
 F F Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, Tyndale NT Commentaries, Tyndale, London, 1963, p.169f.
 Robert Mounce, the Book of Revelation, New International Commentary on the NT, Eerdmans Grand Rapids 1997, p. 249f.
 G R Beasley-Murray, Revelation, The New Century Bible, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1981, p.322.
 Robert Mounce, op. cit., p. 380.
 John Sweet, Revelation, TPI NT Commentaries, SCM, London, 1990, p.303.
 Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, NT Theology, CUP, London 1993, p.140f
 Robert Mounce, op. cit., p. 382f.
 G R Beasley-Murray, op. cit., p. 319.
 R H Charles, The Revelation of St John, International Critical Commentary Vol.1, T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1920/1985, p. 165ff.
 G R Beasley-Murray, op.cit., p.325.
 G R Beasley-Murray, op.cit., p.310.
 Robert Mounce, op.cit., p.370.
 Richard Bauckham, op. cit., p. 312f.
 Richard Bauckham, op. cit., p. 313.
 Robert Mounce, op. cit., p. 385.
 Robertson and Plummer, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, International Critical Commentary, T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1914, p.372
 Robert Mounce, op. cit., p. 387.
 R T France, Matthew, Tyndale NT Commentaries, Intervarsity Press Leicester 1985, p. 317f.
 F D Bruner, Matthew, Volume 2: The Churchbook, Matthew 13-28, Word, Waco, 1990, p.718f.
 Richard Bauckham, op.cit.,p.142f.
 N T Wright, Simply Christian, SPCK London 2011, pp.186-187.
 Robert Mounce, op. cit., p. 394.
© Tony Higton: see conditions for copying on the Home Page