"If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never really meant to satisfy, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing… I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death… I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same." (C. S. Lewis)
"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). "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" (Heb. 11:16).
"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)
These last two chapters of Revelation (21, 22), describe our eternal home, our permanent address, and deserve great attention. But before we get caught up in pearly gates and streets of gold we must realize that the personal presence of God Himself is the most exciting and blessed joy of heaven. If He is not there heaven would in fact be hellish. (Psalm 73:25) 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. "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, (see 20:11) 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." As we will see, the new heaven and earth here in the Eternal State is different from the one described in the Millennium seen in Isa. 65:17-25 and other passages. In the Millennium sin and death are still present (but not here – vv. 4, 27) as well as the sea (e.g., Psalm 72:8) which now covers three fourths of the earth(but not here – v. 1); quite a change. The word used here for "new" (kainos) means both new in character and drastically different whereas the word of new (chadash) in Isaiah means to refresh or renew.
There are many artists' renderings of the New Jerusalem (see Web) and some show it hovering over the new earth and others show it on the earth. Likewise, commentators differ on just how it will look and where it will be in relation to the earth. Though verse 2 above does not say it touches earth it does not say that it doesn't come down to earth. Yet some commentators see it hovering over the earth and the earth (and even the universe) orbiting around it. It is also not the same as the Jerusalem now in Israel or even the renewed Jerusalem in the Millennium in which there will be a temple, unlike the New Jerusalem described here (v. 22). But many agree that it 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, the prayer of Jesus seen in these excerpts from John 17: 21-26: "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me… 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 …they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, 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 the church (Eph. 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 (Rev. 19:7) and is celebrated throughout the Millennium (the marriage supper/feast/banquet) this may show the on-going blessedness of God's union with His people that is even greater with the removal of all sin (as all the unrepentant are separated forever from God and His people) and in a purified earth and heaven – the Eternal State. Some commentators say that ultimately all of God's people, three distinct groups, not just the church (saved Jews and Gentiles as one new man in the church – Eph. 2:14-15) but saved Jews and saved Gentiles before and after the church age (see Eph. 2:11-22; Rev. 21:24) will all be God's wife and be in the new Jerusalem.
As we unpack the powerful truths and images of the new heaven, new earth and new Jerusalem (the capital city of the new creation) over the next weeks my prayer and desire is that we will all grow in our longing for heaven (primarily to be with our Lord face to face) and thus live every day down here for that Day up there (yes heaven is up- Rev. 4:1 and 12:2). 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 – That Day – has no significant motivation for us." In his book he greatly clarified the glory of heaven and inspired us to be "watching and waiting" for the Lord's Second Coming – for heaven (Luke 12:35-40). 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). 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. 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. Doesn't this sound more exciting than sitting on a cloud and playing harps? Over the next weeks we will look at these more closely. Today we will focus on The Great Restoration.
The Great Restoration – Eternity will include a new earth and all the good things of earth we are familiar with and greatly enjoy- but a purified and perfect earth. (Some of the following Scriptures describe the renewed earth in the Millennium but also give us a picture of how glorious the brand new earth in the Eternal Stare will be. "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth." "Behold, I am making all things new." "See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land. The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance." (Revelation 21:1,5; Song of Songs 2:11-13) Imagine the most beautiful spring day you have ever experienced, especially after a particularly long, cold, gray winter season. 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." "The mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and the trees of the field will clap their hands." (Romans 8:21; Isaiah 55:12) The greenest grass, the greatest variety of flowers, colors and aromas we can imagine; the majesty of the mountains and the bluest skies of the new heavens. And no more strip malls, strip mines, or strip joints. "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands." (Psalm 19:1) 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. "Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy." (Isaiah 35:5-6) Our human brokenness in every way, body, soul and spirit will be healed, made whole, perfected. (That should make us jump up and shout hallelujah!) Sin, death and disease are forever destroyed. The kingdom of God brings restoration, fruitfulness, harmony, beauty and all that is beautiful, true and good. "The days are coming declares the Lord, when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading the grapes. New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills." "The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together and the lion will eat straw like the ox. They will neither harm nor destroy on all of My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." (Amos 9:13; Isaiah 11:6-9)
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1) What are some of the positive aspects of a perfect city?
2) Read this passage together and discuss the four questions following it. "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me" (Phil. 1:21-26).
Do you see this life as Paul does – to only live for Christ? Why or why not?
Do you see death (heaven- to be with the Lord) as gain? Why or why not?
Do you desire to depart and be with Christ? Why or why not?
Who are the people (the you in bold) who need you to remain for their joy and progress in the faith (not for their temporal, earthly joy, or even their needs)?
3) What is your main take away from today's message and table discussion and how can you apply it to your life this week?