The manuscript version of this article is unavailable. This is a lightly edited transcript of Bob Deffinbaugh’s preached message (available in the related media). Appreciation for the transcription work goes to Marilyn Fine.
Good morning. Well, as you can tell, this is the last on the series, Hope and Change God’s Way with the focus these last several weeks on the hope of heaven. The next series, Lord willing, will be on I and II Thessalonians. I need to apologize to Derek, by the way, he had practiced another text and I pulled a switcheroo on him. If you can imagine having that Scripture reading thrown at you without a chance to rehearse. Those are nightmares, but he did exceedingly well.
All right, let us think about this last message. I think, as we do, we need to keep in mind a couple of texts. I Corinthians 2:9, you remember, has a quote from the Old Testament which says,
“things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined, are the things God has prepared for those who love him.”
These are incredible things that we are speaking about. As Paul writes in II Corinthians 12, their thoughts and ideas that are beyond words, they are indescribable in human words and so these are incredible things that we are dealing with and these last chapters of our Bible give us a picture of what the new heavens and the new earth will look like. I should point out, too, that in Revelation 21 and 22, there is a fairly clear break and you see the difference between earlier periods in these last days. You see before Chapter 21 that there is a temple that is referred to. You see that there is death that is spoken of. There is a sea that is spoken of. All those things change in Revelation 21 where the new heavens and the new earth come down to earth. That is the period, that is the element that we are focusing on this morning. There are, of course, many other things in the book of Revelation. I have to tell you I have read Revelation a number of times. I have talked through Revelation and I still, when I read through Revelation, my eyeballs just roll. I wish I could say to you that I have nice, clear picture. I think maybe one of the reasons that Revelation is written that way is that we ought to get the main points. We ought to get the big picture. As somebody said, “Jesus wins” is not bad. That is really what it is all about. I suspect that for those who are living in a particular period that is described in Revelation, they will look at that text at that moment in time and say, “Ah-ha –that is what He was writing about.” We will talk about some things which are mentioned in other parts of Revelation because I think they do give us a picture of heaven in terms of the new heavens and the new earth.
I want to approach this lesson by just asking a few questions and see if you can answer them from our text. Who will be there and who will not? What is heaven like? What will the saints be doing in heaven? What does Revelation confirm that we have found from other passages in the scriptures and what is the unique contribution of the book of Revelation to our study of our heaven? Finally, some applicational thoughts.
So, let us go to the first question; i.e., Heaven, who will be there and who will not?
Obviously, God will be there. Father, Son and Holy Spirit will be present in heaven and I was thinking of that text in I John 3:2 where it says,
“We will be like Him for we will see Him as He is.”
When you look at Exodus 33, Moses got a pretty good view of God from the back side, but he did not see everything. What we are going to see when we get to heaven is—we are going to see God face to face in all His glory. So, you have God the Father, who is described as being there, God the Son, who I think is probably the star of the show in the book of Revelation, and then the Holy Spirit.
Now, here is something kind of interesting. The expression, Holy Spirit, is never used in the book of Revelation. I am not sure why, but if you looked up that term, Holy Spirit, you would not find it in the book of Revelation, at least not in the American Standard translation. You have “in the Spirit” used four times. That is when John is talking about him, I think, under the influence of the Spirit and seeing the revelation that God is giving and then you have the word, “Spirit,” used nine times. What I did not put in your notes is the expression, “Seven Spirits.” Four times in the first five chapters it talks about the seven spirits. I wish I understood all that, folks, I am just telling you that is the way it is. The Holy Spirit is going to be there, too.
There are the saints, and I think there is a special honor that is given to those who are the martyrs, who have died for their faith in the Lord Jesus, many of them in the great tribulation. There are the angels. Seventy-four times they are mentioned in the book of Revelation. Twenty-five percent of all the references to angels in the Bible are found in Revelation. Lots of angels are there and I think we would probably expect that. There are the elders there. They occur 12 times. The apostles are also mentioned there and then the four living creatures.
Does that not just bend your mind? I think there is a tendency, at least in my mind, to think of heaven in terms of me and all my fellow human beings that are saved and then the angels, and pretty much God and that is it. But, you have these four living creates that are obviously beyond our dimension. When I read, for instance, in texts like Ephesians 3 where it talks about God giving this mystery to Paul that he has been playing out and now to make known the mystery of the Jews and gentiles being brought together in one body in the church and he says, in effect, so that all the celestial powers will see this and behold this. I think we all know that there is some kind of angelic celestial audience, but somehow in my mind those four creatures just did not have chairs in the auditorium that I was thinking about.
It almost gives you that Narnia feel, does it not? Where you are just saying, “Wow, there are these other things.” Hey, you know, God perhaps may have creatures that we are not aware of. I am not going down that trail very hard, but they are obviously here in the book of Revelation. But, I have to say this, we are not the only people who will be in heaven, but we are the only bride. The beauty of it is that when we are gathered together and assembled before God, we are going to be His bride and the object of His great affection and love.
Who will not be there? Well, the wicked will not be there— as you see in those texts in Revelation 21 and 22. Now, I may have overstated a point when I talked about the separation of the wicked from God and you get that clear impression from texts like II Thessalonians 1 “away from the presence of God.” R.C. Sproul, in a book I was reading this week, makes the point that if God is omnipresent (and remember when the Psalmist says “if I make my bed in sheol, behold thy are there”) then you have to say there is really nowhere that God is not somehow present. I think what you have to say is He is not present in the sense that He is with his saints. In fact, when you look at the punishment of the wicked, it actually describes them as being punished in the presence of the angels and of the Lord. When you look at the description of the abode of those who are unbelievers in Revelation 22, it describes them as being “outside the city” so when I look at a text like Luke 16 where you have the rich man and Lazarus and Lazarus is in Abraham’s bosom, it appears to me that you can actually sort of see the other side. There is not really a contact passed from one to the other, but one can see the other side. In a sense, that seems reasonable to me that those who are suffering in hell can actually see the delight, as it were, of those saints who are in heaven in the presence of our Lord.
What is heaven like? Well, the thing I did not say, and I wish I had said then, but I at least have a chance to say it now, is when I talked about heaven coming down in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, God incarnate, dwelling amongst men, it really did not occur to me to say at that point (I guess I should say I forgot to say at that point) that Jesus is really the prototype of what heaven is going to be like.
Now, we see in Matthew 1:23 that He is to be called, Emanuel, “God with us.” Likewise in John 1:14, “He tabernacled amongst us.” Additionally, in John 2, Jesus speaks of Himself as being the “temple.” So, there are those indications that our Lord Jesus is certainly God dwelling amongst men and that, of course, is what heaven is about.
We see that in our Lord Jesus Christ the attributes of God are all displayed through the humanity of our Lord so that Jesus can say in John 14, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Think about the miracles. I guess that is the thought that I had passed by that I should have mentioned back in that message. His miracles are sort of a snapshot of the things that are going to happen and the way it is going to be in heaven. So when you think about the turning of the water into wine you see our Lord Jesus taking something that is certainly of lesser value and converted it into greater value.
Now, it depends upon how you view the new heaven and the new earth. There are those that argue that “new” there does not mean entirely new. It means more “renewed.” This is sort of like your car having been in an accident and only it would now be better in this scenario. It would be better than the way it went into the shop—as something that God has reworked. In II Peter when it talks about the earth being dealt with in fervent heat, it may be that there is some kind of renewal. Our Lord Jesus is able to take that which is lesser and make it into that which is greater. That may be stretching it a bit, but the water to wine is at least an evidence of our Lord’s power over nature. As is the calming of the storm when the disciples looked at each other and said, “Who is this?” But, there will absolutely, of course, be control of over of nature in the kingdom of God.
Our Lord’s travel in the darkness. Remember in John 11 when Jesus has waited on purpose to go and to be with Mary and Martha because Lazarus has died? The disciples are saying, “Lord, they want to kill us.” He says, in effect, well, men normally travel in the daylight. The inference is He does not have to do that. He can travel at night because day and night does not matter. He is the light. So, therefore, He may travel at night when other people are in bed. He is the light in the darkness.
The casting out of demons is certainly a prototype of the defeat of Satan that we are going to see that takes place just before the new heaven and the earth. The healing of the sick and the raising of the dead. There will be no sickness. There will be no pain or sorrow. So, what Jesus did was a sample of that which is going to come. Of course, the transfiguration of our Lord is one more example of what heaven is like when you see Him in His radiance and His glory. That is a bit of a foreshadowing of what you see, for instance, in Revelation 1.
What is heaven like? Heaven is like God. Have you ever gone to somebody’s house and looked at their house and you say that is just you. Sometimes we say that about the way people dress. Somehow that is just them. When we get to heaven, it is going to be just God. It is so God-like, I think, in these ways. Think about glory. I had to start in my mind at Exodus 33 where Moses says to God, “Show me thy glory.” You remember in Exodus 34, he gets a pretty good view. Certainly, beyond anything that anyone else had seen to that point. You see the glory of God proclaimed in Isaiah 6:3 and John 17, our Lord speaks about showing His glory to His disciples, those who have followed Him, the glory that He had when He was with the Father in heaven. Then, in Revelation 21:23, it says,
“And the city has no need of the sun or the moon to shine upon it for the glory of God has illuminated it and its lamp is the lamb.”
So, here the glory of God is such a bright radiance you do not need any other light. It is a glorious place. It is a holy place. Again, in Isaiah 6, “Holy, holy, holy,” and Isaiah 57, but look in Isaiah 21:27,
“Nothing unclean and no one who practices abomination of the line shall ever come into it.”
So, uncleanness is out of the picture. Remember Paul says in I Corinthian 15,
“These mortal bodies cannot enter into the presence of God.”
That is why we have transformed bodies when we come into the presence of God.
Righteousness. Now this one I think we need to reflect on a bit more. You remember in II Thessalonians 1:6-10, Paul is talking about the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is talking to those who are suffering for their faith and he speaks about the reward that is going to come for them for their perseverance and endurance. He then says also,
“It is right that when He comes, He is going to bring judgment upon those who have afflicted you.”
There is a sense, my friend, and I do not think we always see it— because we have never been down that trail. We, you and I, have never been martyrs. We have never suffered the intense cruelty that some people have— and many more people will endure in the future when their faith becomes the occasion for great oppression and cruelty and martyrdom. Then the righteousness of God will be evidenced in that judgment.
So, you have the saints in Revelation 7 crying out to God, “How long, how long will it be before you (in effect) come to deal with this?” Revelation 16 talks about the angel in verse 2 going out, pouring out his bowl upon the earth and then the second angel pours out his bowl and the third angel in verse 4 and it says in verse 5,
“And I heard the angel of the waters saying, Thou art righteous art, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy.” (KJV)
That may sound harsh to you, but there is a sense that all of us are waiting, (is there not?) for all those unpunished evils to be reckoned with. All the wickedness in this life where men have died and not faced the judgment they really deserve, there is a sense in which when you are in heaven and you see the righteousness of God, you will praise God for His rightly dealing with those who have rejected Him and, in particular, those who have oppressed His saints. Our Lord takes that very seriously. Men will praise God for it in heaven. Now, we may have a little trouble on this side thinking those thoughts. Yet others do not have any trouble at all. Perhaps they just go to the imprecatory Psalms and pray them about their enemies… But, the reality is when we get to heaven and we see God as He is, we will rejoice that He is righteous in his judgment— since He is holy and glorious.
Deity. You see over and over the references to the beauty of God. In Revelation 21:8-10, it talks about the bride as the bride comes down. Now, folks, I think in bride terms here. I have never heard anybody say of a bride, “Uh, uh, she really needs some work.” Brides are beautiful, are they not? Brides are beautiful and the bride, as it comes down and is joined in this marriage ceremony, is beautiful. So, the description of heaven— with all these gems and gold and everything else— is a picture of that beauty, but that beauty is a reflection of God’s beauty. It is the appropriate thing for God’s place.
Immortality. You remember I Timothy 1:17 talks about “God immortal.” God cannot die. He has always been. So when we get to heaven there will be no death (Revelation 21:4), and there will be the tree of life (Revelation 22:2). So, there we will be in heaven with an “immortality” that we enter into. There is light described in Isaiah 60:1, and John 8:12. Then, obviously, in Revelation 21:23, light comes. He is the lamp, as it were, of heaven.
And the last one is joy. Heaven is going to be a joyous place. There are texts in Isaiah which speak about the celebration and the joy that will be ours in eternity, but in I Timothy 1:11, it talks about the blessed God. I remember my professor in seminary pointing out that that word means also “happy.” I did a message on the attributes of God on that, the “happiness of God.” God delights in us. He takes great pleasure and great joy in what He does. Heaven is going to be a joyous, happy place because it is a reflection of God.
So, what will we be doing in heaven? Well, if you look, (and this is where I kind of spread out over all of Revelation—not just chapter 21 and 22— because you see these heavenly scenes) we will be singing. We will be singing a new song. I thought about that this morning and I thought, “I wonder what the song leader in heaven is going to do when he introduces that new song?” We are probably going to be perfect and we will not have as much trouble with new songs there as we do here. But, it will be a new song. Then, there is the song of Moses in Revelation 15:3. Interesting, is it not, how you tie the new in with the old because there is that recollection and remembrance? People see the salvation of God in a sense of continuity and they see the song of Moses, therefore, as a reflection and a remembrance. Similarly, the saints of today can remember, as well.
Prayers. Very, very interesting to me. I see some prayers, for instance, like the martyred saints in Revelation 7:9-11, who are, in effect, saying “how long before you deal with these people?” The word “prayer” is not used. Yet that really is a prayer. But, the way in which prayer is described it comes across as something which God has stored up. So, look with me for a minute at a couple of those other prayer texts. If you look at Revelation 8:3-4, it says,
“And another angel came and stood at the altar holding a golden censer and much incense was given to Him that He might add it to the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.”
It is like that text (Psalm 56) which says that He has gathered, collected all of our tears in a bottle and that He is going to deal with that. He does not overlook any of our suffering. But, there is also a sense in which we are very momentary. We are very “McDonald’s” in our thinking about prayer. That is, we want to sort of roll up to the window of heaven, roll down our window, give our order and then wait for God to deliver. What I see is that heaven is going to be the answer to a whole lot of prayers that were not answered earlier. I know people have said one of God’s answers is wait. Well, it really is in the sense that some of our prayers may wait in terms of their answer. But, the description is that God has saved those up and they go up as incense before God. He is ever mindful of the prayers of His saints from all of history and that at some point those prayers are not going to be answered in heaven.
Worship and praise. You see, of course, a lot of that all the way through Revelation. One of the things which fascinated me was several times God is worshipped as the Creator and that is interesting because, of course, there will be the new creation, the new heavens and the new earth. Our Lord Jesus, of course, is worshipped as the redeemer, the one who has brought about salvation for His people. Much worship, much praise is being offered. However, it is from all of heaven, not just saints. It is also from the living creatures and elders and all the whole group present.
Service. In Revelation 22:3, we will be serving. Remember our Lord Jesus speaks of Himself as the one who will, in effect, seat his disciples and He will serve them at the table. I think that we are inclined to think that serving ought to stop when we get to heaven. That is the part we “pay” on earth so we can do something else in heaven. If Jesus is right, and He surely is, we have an inverted table. Greatness is actually in serving. Naturally then the reward for us in heaven is to serve. It is Him giving us the greater part, the greater role.
There is also the element of ruling which I would take as an aspect of our service where we will rein with Him. Then, I make the observation that heaven and what is done there is a lot like what we do every Sunday, is it not? Or, let us put it this way, what we do on Sunday ought to be a lot like what we do in heaven. You might even call Sunday a “rehearsal.” Even as related to the element of ruling, there is a sense in which when we come together in the meeting of the church that there are those men who God is going to lead to direct us, to guide us in worship of Him. So, all these elements, singing, prayer, worship, service, all those elements are here and we ought to be grateful. We ought to be looking forward to church just like we ought to be looking forward to heaven. The better if gets here, the more we know it is going to be even greater when we get to heaven.
What does Revelation confirm to us about heaven? Well, it certainly confirms that heaven is the place where God dwells with His people. Revelation 21:3,
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, Behold the tabernacle of God is among men. He shall dwell among them and they shall be his people and God, Himself, shall be among them.”
Heaven is the place where God is with His people. It is the place where we will be with Him. More than streets of gold, more than these other beautiful elements that we see in the description of heaven, it is the beauty of God and the presence of God that is our great joy and delight.
So, what are some of the unique things, contributions, that Revelation makes? It is really clear heaven does come down. You have this kind of earthly picture where I think we think of heaven mainly as us going up. Certainly that is true— when we die we do go up in the rupture as it is described in I Thessalonians 4—but here it is described as heaven coming down and God having His presence on this new renewed new heaven and new earth. Heaven comes down.
In Revelation 2, the preface to this is that it is addressed at churches. So, this is really specifically aimed at us as churches. There are specific things that God is looking at in his church that He expects them to do: to be faithful to sound doctrine, to correct those who are in error, to correct and avoid immorality, and all of that is described here. Then He says, “I know your deeds.” He also says, “Be careful lest I remove your lamp stand.” What a terrible thought. When you think about these seven churches of Asia, I am not sure there is a lamp there to speak of as there was in those days. The question is, how is our lamp doing? How is our lamp burning? We ought to be faithful to our Lord Jesus.
Now, suffering, martyrdom and heaven. I guess what I see is I am putting suffering and martyrdom on this side and then putting heaven on this side. Whatever you want to think about what the future holds, when I read the book of Revelation I see a lot of suffering on the part of saints. The scripture says that He even allows the beast to overcome the saints and to kill them. You see the martyrs crying out for justice. In my way of viewing things, I do not see that Christians are promised an escape hatch from the wrath of men. I see Christians promised an escape from the wrath of God. You can play that out in your eschatological scheme as you like, but it seems to me that in His words here He is talking to people who are going to have hard times. Those churches that He addressed already were having hard times and some of them were going to have more difficult times. The church, as we move toward the tribulation period, is going to undergo hard, hard times. Many are going to be martyred for their faith. What better thing to be saying to those in the midst of all the suffering of saints? Now there is the suffering that God pours out on the unbelievers, as well, but for the suffering of saints He holds out the joy of heaven. Is that not meant to give them comfort and courage and endurance and perseverance? So that they know, as Paul did from his experience as described in II Corinthians 12, and from His statements in II Corinthians 5 “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”
So, anyway there is that great blend of suffering, martyrdom and heaven because heaven is the reward for those who persevere great suffering, Revelation 13. I get the impression as I read through the whole book of Revelation, do you not see a coming day when there is one world government? As I was reading that, I am saying to myself, whoa, and it is a little spooky, is it not, to watch the news and to see that movement toward this whole one-world setup. I do not know whether to be upset or excited. I guess I am both. As an American, I am upset. As a Christian I am saying bring it on. The Lord is just preparing the way, but I see that rather clearly that there is a movement toward one-world government and I see a movement toward opposition to Israel. Those things seem to be, in my opinion, in the making. Maybe they have happened before, maybe they will happen again. Yet as I read Revelation that part does not sound foreign to me any more—as it used to.
Satan’s defeat and judgment. What a great description of Satan’s destruction that we see in Revelation 12 and particularly in Revelation 20. So, where does all this go? Well, Revelation 22:17 says, “Come. Those who want a drink of that living water, come.” There is a message of salvation offered in the book of Revelation. Heaven is for those who will trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Come. Buy Gold. That is what He says in Revelation 3:18. It sounds like those conservative news shows, does it not, the commercials, “Buy Gold”? Well, I am not sure you want to buy it from them. Some of those guys are probably crooks, but, there is a sense in which we know that if the streets of heaven are paved with gold, then the “wood, hay and stubble” will not cut it. We are not taking a sack of ashes with us to heaven. So there is a sense in which we ought to buy that which lasts. Of course, it is not physical gold that we are talking about. But we ought to be, in effect, laying up treasures in heaven— preparing with those things that will last forever. As Luke 16 says, one of them is those people who have come to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and Paul makes a big point of that in his writings, as well. Be ready. The time is near.
When you read in Daniel 12, God says to Daniel, “Seal up that book.” Daniel, you are going to die. A lot of “times” are going to pass and then eventually you will be resurrected and these things are going to happen. Is it not what you read at the end of the book of Revelation? He says, “Do not seal the book because the time is near.” That ought to be a message to us that the coming of our Lord Jesus could be very, very near. As you see from Revelation 2 and 3, this means we ought to be active and faithful, not passive sitting back and as we see these coming up, cheering, checking off on our list the next set of terrible things that is going to happen before our Lord comes again! We ought to be actively out there proclaiming Christ, living Him before a lost world. Persevere. Over and over you see that word, perseverance.
I guess if I were to say anything to myself and to you, it would be this: Let us pray that God would give us an appetite for heaven. Is that not what it says in the prayer in Matthew 6, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”? It is an interesting expression. Does it mean I pray that your will, will be done now on earth? I think so, but heaven is the time when heaven comes down to earth and God’s will will be done on earth, just as it is in heaven. Those ought to be wonderful thoughts. Those ought to be things that we, in a sense, daydream about. What it is going to be like then. For some of you younger folks it is going to be harder. For some of us who are older, we are saying bring it on. This is great news. It is a great place and I pray through faith in Jesus you are going to be there.
Father, we thank you for the hope that we have. Thank you for the glories of heaven that You will not only be there, but heaven we will be just like You. Help us to look forward to that. Help us in this life, perhaps as persecution grows in our own day, that we would endure and persevere and live out the life of the Lord Jesus before an unsaved world. In His name we pray, amen.