The World Beyond the Skies
April 11th, 1968 @ 12:00 PM
THE WORLD BEYOND THE SKIES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-11-68 12:00 p.m.
Now today it is entitled The World Beyond the Skies. It is a message on heaven. The Book says that there are three heavens and it refers to three of them: the heaven of the birds and of the clouds, the first heaven; the heaven of the stars, of the Milky Way, of the sidereal spheres, the heaven of the great universe above us, the chalice of God’s sky, the second heaven; then the Bible says there is a heaven beyond and above—there is the heaven of God’s throne, the third heaven.
I went through St. Isaac’s Cathedral in Leningrad September a year ago. It is the largest monument to the Christian faith in Eastern Europe, and one of the most impressive and beautiful of all the cathedrals that human genius could erect to the glory of God. But as you know, the communists, the atheists, have taken those beautiful cathedrals in Leningrad like Kazan and like St. Isaac’s and have dedicated them to atheism. And there in that beautiful St. Isaac’s cathedral, the worship home of the czars of Russia, where once stood the high altar, there is a picture of the Russian cosmonaut Gagarin and a picture of the Russian cosmonaut Titov. And underneath in Russian, and in German, and in French, and in English are the words written, “We have searched the heavens, and there is no God.”
I cannot but marvel at the puerile adolescent persuasion of men—having flown around the earth, maybe a hundred miles, then coming back and avowing, “We have searched the heavens.” Our little tiny planet in so vast an infinitude, as though God were confined to where a bird would fly or a star would shine; the third heaven where God’s throne is set; the infinitude of the Almighty, heaven where God is and where the saints of the Lord are gathering home.
An affluent businessman whose life was enmeshed in this world had an only son, a little boy. And the little fellow sickened and died. It broke the heart of the big, strong man and his dear wife. And after the memorial service for the little lad, every night in the library that businessman took down the Bible and read it, and read it, and read it, and underscored and underscored. One day his wife, just curious to know what he was reading and underscoring, while he was away at work, slipped into the library and took down his Bible and turned the pages and found that everywhere in God’s Word that the Lord said something about heaven, that husband and grieving father had underscored it.
When I was a young minister, a young pastor, if an older couple or an older person would begin talking to me about heaven, I sought to change the subject. I thought to speak of it in their age would be maybe to give the impression that I supposed soon they were to die. And I sought to change the subject. An old-time preacher who was with me once, observed what I had done and said to me, “Young pastor, let me say a word of counsel and advice. When an old person asks you about heaven, don’t change the subject.” He said to me, “If you were going on a long, long journey, wouldn’t you like to know of the country and of the land to which you were traveling? They are going on a long, long journey, and they are interested in the land, the people, and the country. Talk to them about it.”
I have done so ever since:
I will sing you a song of that beautiful land,
The far away home of the soul.
Where no storms ever beat on the glittering strand
While the years of eternity roll.
O how sweet it will be in that beautiful land
So free from all sorrow and pain
With songs on our lips
And with harps in our hands
To greet one another again.
[“Home of the Soul,” Ellen M.H. Gates]
And as we approach heaven where God has His throne, behold, it is a city. “And I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” [Revelation 21:2], and what an amazing, astonishing, bewildering proliferation of glory, and beauty, and grandeur, and celestial light! How marvelously beautiful did God make this first creation for our temporal and earthly existence; the trees of the forest, the stars of the sky, the meadows of the field, the rivers and the streams and the mountains, snowcapped; how beautiful God made the first world [Genesis 1:1-31]. How extraordinarily, astonishingly, overwhelmingly glorious as I looked upon what God hath prepared in the new heaven and the new earth [Revelation2 1:1-2]. No wonder Paul exclaimed, “Eye has never seen, and ear has never heard, nor have entered into the heart of man, those wonderful things, glorious things God hath prepared for those who love Him” [1 Corinthians 2:9].
As we approach the city, we are astonished at its glory and grandeur. First: John describes the outside as he approaches the city and looks at it. He describes the outside. It sets upon a great, vast platform, twelve tremendous foundations and the glory of every foundation, the first one is solid diamond, and the next one is sapphire, and the next one is chalcedony, and the next one is emerald and up through twelve, and the last is amethyst [Revelation 21:14,19-20]. And as we scale the height of those twelve foundations, we look below and we look upward, vistas of glory. If the foundation is such, what must the wall be? And if the wall be such, what must the city be? And if the outside be such, what must the inside be? And if the city be such, what must our mansions be? And if our mansions are such, what must the palace be? And if the palace be such, what must the throne be?
Twelve foundations and a great wall of solid diamond [Revelation 21:15, 18], perforated by twelve gates [Revelation 21:12]; like the twelve and twelve, the four and twenty elders; the twelve foundations, the apostles of the Lamb [Revelation 21:14]; the twelve gates, the tribes of Israel [Revelation 21:12], the saved of all God’s redeemed from Abel to the last one that shall enter the kingdom of our Lord [Revelation 21:24]. The city and how spacious, one thousand five hundred miles long this way, one thousand five hundred miles long this way, and one thousand five hundred miles high this way [Revelation 21:16]; a city as large as all Great Britain, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Deutschland, Germany, Holland, Austria, Turkey, Poland, Scandinavia, and all of European Russia. One street of it and one thousand five hundred miles high, street upon street upon street, and what a proliferation of color, what incomparable brilliant iridescence; frozen light in diamond, and sapphire, and ruby, and emerald, and pearl, as though God were mingling together the azure blue of the sky, and the surf of the sea, and the rainbow of autumnal glory, and the fire of an August sunset; and its symmetry a perfect cube, as the Holy of Holies and the city lieth foursquare [Revelation 21:16].
And having described the outside of the city, the apostle enters to the inside, and as he walks through one of the gates, he looks and, behold, it is made out of solid pearl [Revelation 21:21]; pearl, the only gem made by a suffering, wounded little animal. We enter heaven through suffering, atonement, sacrifice [Matthew 27:32-50], and it is described as a place where there are no more tears [Revelation 21:4]. What would that mean to one who had never cried? It is a place where there are no more sorrows [Revelation 21:4]. What would that mean to one who had never been brokenhearted? It is a place where death is no more [Revelation 21:4]. What would that mean to one who had never laid his beloved dead away, had never stood by an open grave? A place where there is no more pain [Revelation 21:4]. What would that mean to one who had never been ill and suffered?
It is entered through gates of pearl, and the streets are pure gold [Revelation 21:21]; no defilement there. Righteous saints of God, washed in the blood of the Lamb [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5], mingle there [Revelation 21:24]. And it has no temple, for the Lord God is the sanctuary Himself, and He fills the city! [Revelation 21:22]. And they have no need of the sun or the moon or of any light, for the Lord God giveth them light [Revelation 21:23]. It is a prism of inherent beauty and glory and light. What is glory? It is iridescence. It is shining. It is brilliant. It is light. It is the shekinah, the garments of God, as Moses’ face shined when he came down from the mountain, he had been with the Lord [Exodus 34:29-30,35]; as the face of our Lord shined in the transfiguration, the deity of God showing through [Matthew 17:2]; as Paul was blinded by the glory of that light, the iridescence, the light of God [Acts 22:6-11; Acts 9:3-8]; and as he describes the city, through the midst of it, through the heart of it, the river of the tree, the river of life. And on either side the tree of life in proliferation, blooming and the leaves of the trees, the trees of life on either side, the leaves for the healing of the people [Revelation 22:1-2]. Think of it. Our blind will see, and our old will be young, and our crippled will walk, and no one shall be sick, or be infirm, or be ill, or be hurt, or lie on beds of pain. And the leaves are for the healing of the people [Revelation 22:2].
One of the greatest preachers of all time was Richard Baxter, a man who suffered so much, persecuted, imprisoned, but a man of mighty Scripture and of preaching, a man of God. And he lay in his last illness dying and suffered so grievously as he lay dying. And one evening a dear friend came by to see him and walking in, saw him dying. And the friend said, “Richard, how are you doing?” And the great preacher replied, “Oh, sir, I am almost well,” and died.
Think of stepping on shore, and finding it heaven.
Think of grasping a hand and finding it God’s.
Think of breathing new air and finding it celestial.
Think of feeling transformed and finding it immortality.
Think of waking up and finding it home.
[“Finally Home,” Robert Salle]
And after he describes the outside of the city and the inside of the city, then he describes the people [Revelation 21:24-27]. For after all, it is they who make heaven.
One of the most moving testimonies I ever heard in my life was by an old, old man. And he said, “You know, when I was a little boy I used to think of heaven as a faraway place, made out of gold with domes and turrets, and spires and mansions, and a world of light, tenuous angels, none of whom I knew, all strangers to me.” And he said, “When I was a boy my little brother died, and I thought of heaven as a place of gold, and pearl, and walls, and balustrades, and domes, and turrets, and spires, and angels, and one little tiny face whom I knew.”
Then he re-counted the years that had passed. His mother died. His father died. His wife died. His children died. His friends all preceded him. Then he said, “When I think of heaven now, I never think of the gold, or the pearl, or the domes, or the spires, nor even of the angels. But I think of the sweet family and the many friends who wait there for me.”
Heaven is the great rendezvous, the great assize of God’s children. And in a moment, just let me say what we do in heaven. I do not know of a caricature that is more unbiblical and removed from the truth as when a cartoonist will draw a picture of some fellow, and he’s on a cloud with wings and strumming a harp, that’s heaven. Oh, oh! Here it says, “And His servants shall serve Him” [Revelation 22:3]. And I haven’t time to go through the Scriptures of the employment that God has for us. Oh! We shall be assigned responsibilities and places, and governments, and offices. The great city is where our home is [John 14:1-3; Revelation 21:1-3], and we shall administer, according to the Word of God, the entire universe, everything that is in it [Revelation 3:21]. God’s solar system’s an infinitude of the worlds about us, the governments of the universe will be given in our hands, and the administration of God’s creation will be turned over to us [2 Timothy 2:12]. And Lee Roy, oh! We shall gather together in services, and you never heard such singing even at the church. Ah! David will be there with his harp [1 Samuel 16:23], and Gabriel will be there with his trumpet [1 Thessalonians 4:16], and Handel will be there with his organ, and Asap will be there with his choirs, and some of the rest of us who can’t sing are going to be there with loud sounding cymbals praising God! Oh, what it’s going to be like! I close.
Do you know the climax of it all? It’s an astonishing array as he describes the outside of the city and the inside of the city and then the people that are there. And the climax of it all—and we shall see His face; and His name shall be in our foreheads [Revelation 22:4]. We will see Jesus someday; that’s the climax of the revelation of our heavenly home. Jesus is there and we shall see His face and live. That’s why the verse begins, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the old first heaven and the old first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea” [Revelation 21:1]. Why that? “And there was no more sea.” Why, it’s explicable. John was on a little tiny, rocky isle, sent there to die of exposure or starvation [Revelation 1:9], alone. And between him and his beloved Ephesus, the church he pastored and the people dear to his heart, there was that ocean, that sea in between. And John wrote, but in glory there will be no more separation, no sea to divide between [Revelation 21:1]. We’ll be with our Lord and one another. And we’ll see His face and live [Revelation 22:4], standing on the shore of that sea, looking to the other side.
There is not a more beautiful poem or more precious in the English language than that sentiment that Alfred, Lord Tennyson placed in these words:
Sunset, an evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
To full for sound or foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless [deep]
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell
And after that the dark!
But may there be no sadness of farewell
When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see—
I know I shall see—
… my Pilot face to face
“And they shall see His face” [Revelation 22:4]—
… my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.
[“Crossing the Bar,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson]
On the other side, where there shall be no more sea [Revelation 21:1].
And our Lord, comfort our hearts in the day of the valley of the shadow of death [Psalm 23:1-4]. Comfort our hearts through the pilgrimage of our life [2 Corinthians 1:3-4], as we stand on the shore and wistfully look across to the other side. God is there. Our Savior is there. God’s saints are there. These we have loved and lost for a while, they’re there. And someday, with Thee and one another, world without end we shall praise Thee and love Thee forever and ever. Amen.
THE WORLD BEYOND THE SKIES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Bible speaks of three heavens
1. First heaven – of the birds and clouds
2. Second heaven – of the stars, planets, universe above
3. Third heaven – beyond and above, the heaven of God’s throne
B. St. Isaac’s Cathedral, Leningrad – instead of the high altar, a picture of Russian cosmonauts Gagarin and Titov
C. Affluent business executive whose life was in this world, lost his only son – he underscored everywhere in Bible there was a passage about heaven
D. When I was a youth and asked about heaven, I’d change the subject – older pastor encouraged me to speak to them about their long journey(Hebrews 13:14)
E. Hymn, “Home of the Soul”
A. The twelve foundations(Revelation 21:14, 19-20)
1. Diamond, sapphire, chalcedony, emerald and on up to amethyst
2. If this is the foundation, what must the wall be? the city? the palace?the throne?the inside?
B. The wall – made out of solid diamond, 250 feethigh(Revelation 21:11)
1. Twelve gates, each named for a tribe of a patriarch of Israel (Revelation 21:12)
2. Twelve foundations, the twelve apostles(Revelation 21:14)
3. A picture of all the redeemed of God, from the Old and New Covenant
C. The city
1. Size – 12,000 stadia, furlongs, which is 1,500 miles, in length, breadth and height
2. Color – a proliferation of iridescence
3. Proportion – a perfect cube, like the Holy of Holies, everything symmetrical(Revelation 21:16, 1 Kings 6:20)III. The inside
A. Apostle enters through the gates made of solid pearl(Revelation 21:21)
1. Pearl is a gem of suffering and hurt – through tribulation and trial we enter into the kingdom of God(Revelation 21:4)
B. Streets of pure gold(Revelation 21:24)
C. There is no temple, for the city itself is a sanctuary – God’s presence fills all in all
D. There is no sun or moon – the glory of God lights the city(Revelation 21:22-23)
1. Face of Moses (Exodus 34:29-30, 35)
2. Face of Jesus on Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-2)
3. Paul on the Damascus road (Acts 9:1-4)
E. The river of life and the tree of life(Revelation 22:1-2)
1. Richard Baxter’s last words
2. Poem, “Finally Home”IV. The citizens(Revelation 21:24-27)
A. Old man’s changed conception of heaven
1. Heaven is the great assize of God’s children
B. Vast assignments and multiple activities(Revelation 22:3)
1. Man’s assignments in the garden of Eden (Genesis 1:28, 2:15)
2. Parable of the pounds(Luke 19:15-19)
B. Praise, thanksgiving, adoration, music(Revelation 7:15)
C. “And they shall see His faceâ€¦” (Revelation 22:4, Exodus 33:20)
1. No more separation, no sea to divide in between(Revelation 1:9, 21:1)
2. Poem, “Crossing the Bar”