“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth and they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (See Hebrews 11:13-16) Augustine set forth an important question. Ponder it carefully: “Suppose that God proposes a deal and says to you, ‘I will give you anything you want. You can possess the whole world. Nothing will be impossible for you. You will have infinite power. Nothing will be a sin; nothing forbidden. You will never die, never have pain, never have anything you do not want, and always have everything you do want, except for just one thing: you will never see My face.'” Did a chill arise in your heart when you heard the words ‘you will never see My face?’ If so, you have the pure love of God for you gave up everything just to have God.” “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 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, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:1-5) “There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their forehead.” (Revelation 22:3-4)
The new Jerusalem is an actual city, a place either already prepared or being prepared for God’s people (John 14:1-3; Heb. 11:16). This means it is not just the spiritual condition of our heart (as some say). Yet, although this imagery speaks of a real city and place, it also speaks of the union and intimacy of God and His people as pictured in the oneness in marriage as seen in the passionate prayer of Jesus in these excerpts from John 17:20-22, 24, 26: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” The imagery of a beautiful bride also seems to signify the splendor and beauty of the city and the love and intimacy anticipated in the growing intimacy of the bride and her husband – Jesus and His bride. (Ephesians 5:25-33) There are few things more beautiful than “a bride beautifully dressed for her husband ” and even more beautiful to the awaiting bridegroom. She is the focus and center of the wedding. Though the wedding took place earlier in heaven (Rev. 19:7), Revelation 21-22 speaks of the on-going blessedness of God’s union with His people that is even greater now that all sin has been removed (as all the unrepentant are separated forever from God and His people) and in a purified earth and heaven – the Eternal State.
John Eldredge says in his book, Journey of Desire: “The vision of heaven many Christians have is so vague and unreal that longing and living for heaven has no significant motivation for them.” In his book he greatly clarified the glory of heaven and inspired us to be longing for heaven as the saints seen in Hebrews 11 and as Paul did. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Phil. 1:21, 23). “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Cor. 15:19) Paul even said that there is a special reward for those who long for Christ’s return. “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing (second coming).” (2 Timothy 4:8)
“You see, everything connected to our spiritual life and destiny is in heaven. Our Father is there. Our Savior is there. Our Comforter is there. Our fellow believers are there. Our name is there, our life is there, our inheritance is there, our home is there, our citizenship is there, our reward is there, our treasure is there. Everything that belongs to us is there.” (John MacArthur)
Eldredge uses three metaphors to describe heaven and make it as real for us as we can grasp on this side of eternity. 1) The Great Restoration – heals the curse of a fallen creation – the decay and barrenness of “winter” in the natural creation and the decay and demise of our physical bodies – “the outer man” (2 Corinthians 4:16). The “new earth” will be like an eternal spring – “The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21) Every day all of God’s renewed creation will proclaim the glory of our Great God. But even more, we will be a new creation (in fact we already are – 2 Cor. 5:17) fully redeemed with new resurrected bodies (like our Lord’s – 1 Corinthians 15:42-49) to fully enjoy God’s new creation. Our human brokenness in every way, body, soul and spirit will be healed, made whole, perfected. Sin, death and disease are forever destroyed. We will at last and forever be the pure, sinless bride we have longed to be from the day we were first saved. “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (sinless perfection). For in this hope we were saved.” (Romans 8:23-24) The new heaven and earth brings restoration, fruitfulness, harmony, beauty and all that is beautiful, true and good.
2) The Grand Affair – heals the curse of loneliness and isolation through intimacy with our Lord, the Lover of our souls and intimacy with each other. “Happiness can be found neither in ourselves nor in external things, but in God and in ourselves as united to Him.” (Pascal) As delightful as a renewed earth, heaven, and resurrected body will be, heaven would not be heaven without the Presence of our Lord. He is the Life of the party and the Joy of heaven and earth. Our union with God, which will only be fully realized in heaven, is the deepest longing of our hearts. No person, no possession, no experience will ever fill that empty ache until at last we see Him face to face. But as we wait for Him to come and get us His bride, we must not try to fill this sacred, holy place in our soul with lesser lovers (idols – Luke 8:14). Holy longing for Him will expand our soul to its fullest capacity so when He comes we can receive all of Him and thus know Him more fully for all eternity. But our Lord is so gracious and generous that He shares His perfect love with us by giving us others to love through the family of God – the communion of the saints, an eternal, joyful community of friends. And as the song asks, Will the Circle be Unbroken? The answer is a resounding Yes; reunion and no fear of ever being separated by death again. And we shall recognize and know each other even as Peter, James and John recognized Moses and Elijah. (Luke 9:29-31)
3) The Great Adventure – heals the curse of futility and frustration of the “thorns and thistles” in our work with joyful, meaningful, creative work for all eternity. God is the ultimate creative artist, builder, poet, designer who loves His work. (Genesis 1:31) And we are created in His image and recreated in Christ for good works, which He prepared for us to do. (Genesis 1:26; Ephesians 2:10) And our good works will continue throughout eternity. “Because you have been faithful in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities”; “and His bond-servants will serve Him.”; “and they will reign with Him for ever and ever.” (Luke 19:17; Revelation 20:5; 22:3,5) This life is a dress rehearsal for our eternal vocation and the main preparation is our heart not our performance. What matters is our holy desire to please our great God and King like the little drummer boy who said, “I played my best for Him”. (1 Samuel 16:15) The true, beautiful and good is not a fairy tale. We will live happily ever after – forever and ever. But we must keep the vision of heaven ever before us. “Don’t read the Times; read the eternities (God’s Story – the Bible).” (Thoreau)
Until He Comes, Len and Kristen
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