What I Believe About Heaven-The Place
May 27th, 1990 @ 10:50 AM
WHAT I BELIEVE ABOUT HEAVEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-27-90 10:50 a.m.
We welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on television. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the message. Tyndale Publishing House has asked your pastor to prepare four messages on heaven. They are to be published in a book greatly and widely distributed. They have given me the subjects What I Believe about Heaven, the Place; What I Believe about Heaven, the People who [are] there; What I Believe about Heaven, the Pageantry–what we shall do; and What I Believe about Heaven-questions most frequently asked about that Holy City of God. So the first sermon today, What I Believe about Heaven, the Place. And because the messages are stenographically taken down and to be published, I have prepared them meticulously, minutely. The text for this message, the place is in John 14:1-3:
Let not your heart be troubled: you believe in God, believe also in Me.
In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.
What I Believe about Heaven: the Place. We are all profoundly, deeply possessed with an everlasting interest in heave. “Our citizenship is in heaven” [Philippians 3:20], “Our names are written in heaven” [Luke 10:20], “Our treasures are in heaven” [Matthew 6:20], And “Our eternal home is in heaven” [John 14:2].
I am a stranger here,
Heaven is my home;
Earth is a desert drear,
Heaven is my home;
Sorrows and dangers stand
Round me on every hand;
Heaven is my fatherland,
Heaven is my home.
[“I’m But a Stranger Here,” Thomas R. Taylor]
“The abode of God is in heaven” [Isaiah 63:15], the very name heaven is used as a synonym for God [Luke 15:18]. The prodigal son said to his father, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against thee” [Luke 15:21].
Heaven is the heart and soul of our Christian message and hope. It is our life beyond the veil of death. So poignantly do I remember one time, as a young minister, a young pastor of a village church, I attended the Green River Baptist Association. It was a convocation of messengers from sixty-five quarter-time churches, churches that had just services once a month. They were from the hill country, from the knob country. The association met outdoors, under the trees and we sat on split logs. And as the program progressed, somebody stood up and began to sing a song; then somebody else joined in, and finally all were standing, singing that song, shaking hands and weeping. And that song was this:
My heavenly home is bright and fair,
And I [feel like] travelling on;
No harm or death can enter there,
And I [feel like] travelling on;
Oh the Lord has been so good to me,
I feel like travelling on;
Until those mansions I can see,
I feel like travelling on.
[“I Feel Like Travelling On,” James D. Vaughan]
Heaven is the heart and the hope of the message of Christ—what is it like? We read in the Bible about heaven being opened. For example, in Ezekiel 1:1, in John 1:51, in Acts 7:56, in Acts 10:11, the viewer says, “I saw heaven opened.” But nowhere is there a record of what the viewer actually saw, except in the Revelation. Beginning at chapter 4 in the Apocalypse [Revelation 4:1] and in the chapters following, John, the sainted apostle of Christ, enters into that glorious realm, and he describes it for us. And in those chapters the word “heaven”—I counted them, the word “heaven” is used fifty-six times.
First, heaven is a place. Twice Jesus calls it a topos, “place.” You can’t translate it any other way. Twice, Jesus calls it a place in the passage that I have read our text, [John 14:2-3]; it is a real place. In the same passage, Jesus calls it an oikos, “a house, a dwelling, a home,” as real as the home in which you live and in the city in which you dwell.
There are some who say heaven is, quote, “a state of mind,” “a fancy,” “a dream,” “an abstraction,” “an idea,” “wishful thinking,” “a figure,” “a sentiment.” But would you consider this? The Bible says in Acts 1:11 that Jesus, after His resurrection, was taken up into heaven. Tell me, did Jesus go up into a state of mind, into an abstraction? No. Jesus went up to a real place, a real home, the final, and permanent and eternal assembly of God’s saints [John 14:2-3].
Jesus never taught us to say, “Our Father, who art in a state of mind or condition.” He never said, “I go to prepare an abstraction for you.” Ezekiel did not write, “I saw a fanciful dream opened unto me.” The martyr Stephen did not say, “Behold, I see sentimental figures opened and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God” [Acts 7:56]. These holy men of God saw, and Jesus went into a real place called heaven.
Number two: heaven is not only a place, but it is also a renewed world creation. Revelation 21:1-2 says, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth and a New Jerusalem.” There are two New Testament words for “new.” One is neos and the other is kainos. Neos is new under the aspect of time—neos refers to time; it is a word with reference to time. But kainos is “new” with the aspect of quality, of character; kainos is “new” with reference to kind, how it is. Kainos is the only word used in the Revelation: We have a new—a kainos—a new name [Revelation 2:17, 3:12]. We sing a new song—a kainos song [Revelation 5:9, 14:3]. We live in a new city [Revelation 3:12, 21:2]. And we possess and enjoy kainos things—new things [Revelation 21:5]. We dwell in a kainos earth—a new earth and a kainos heaven—a new heaven [Revelation 21:1].
Kainos, “new,” never refers to annihilation, but always to recreation and redemption. Matter, substance is indestructible. There is never a loss of any atom or particle of God’s creation. Ecclesiastes 1:4 avows that the earth, the substance of the earth, “abideth for ever.” In Genesis 1:1-2, the chaotic heaven and the chaotic earth are reformed or remade. In Genesis 6, 7, and 8 the flood overflowed the earth but did not annihilate it. Likewise, in 2 Peter 3:10-13, the world is purified by fire. It is not caused to cease to exist.
So Paul uses the word kainos to refer to us in our spiritual regeneration. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 he says, “If any one be in Christ, he is a kainos—he is a new creation: old things are passed away: and behold, all things are become kainos, new.” The same meaning in Galatians 6:15 and Ephesians 2:15 and Ephesians 4:24; when he refers to us who have been saved, regenerated. We are, the King James Version, “a new man.” We are a new somebody, a new people, a new person. We are in the same body, possessed of the same soul, but regenerated, transformed. We shall be like Jesus [Matthew 17:1-5]. The same body and soul, but transfigured; there’s no loss of continuity or identity. You will be you and I shall be I and we shall be we—the same persons. Thus it is that our world will be made kainos, new, purged from all moral and physical imperfection [2 Peter 3:10-13], and made the eternal abode of Christ’s living saints [John 14:2-3].
Not only is heaven a real place, and not only is this present world made new, but also we shall have a new home located in a new and beautiful city [Revelation 21:2-5]. A city will always rise and dominate a land; Paris is France, Rome is Italy, London is England, Jerusalem is Israel. Do you remember that John, the seer, was a Galilean; he was not a city dweller. He lived in the countryside of fruits and flowers. But the view he saw of the life that is yet to be was not in a lovely, lonely Garden of Eden, but in a vast interminable city—the New Jerusalem [Revelation 21:2-5, 9-27].
The ideal life God sets before us is the life of a city thronging with people. Zechariah 8:5 describes it with boys and girls playing in the streets thereof. God said in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for the man that he live alone.” Our happiness, by God’s creation, depends upon others. Paul wrote in Romans 14:7 that “no man liveth unto himself.” We are placed in this life in families, in groups, in churches, in towns, in cities. In this great city, the New Jerusalem, we shall have an eternity in which to see, know, get acquainted with, and enjoy each other [Revelation 21:2-3].
The revelation of a city of God goes back to Abraham. We read in Hebrews 11:10, “For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” This city is in strong contrast with the temporary tent in which Abraham dwelt [Hebrews 11:9]. And that city is the prayerful desire and hope of those pilgrim souls who live in that far away and ancient day. Hebrews 11:15-16 avows:
And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly;
wherefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them that city.
That’s the most amazing thing; that those pilgrims of that ancient day looked forward to a beautiful city of God. This heavenly city is the workmanship of Christ Himself! Jesus was a carpenter [Mark 6:3], He was a builder. And He said in John 14 in our text, He was going away to prepare for us mansions for our eternal home [John 14:2-3]. What a wonder those mansions, the work of His hands; what a wonder they must be! In six days, the Lord created the universe [Genesis 1:1-31; Exodus 20:11]: He has been already 2,000 years preparing our homes in heaven, where we’re going to live.
The Lord God loves detail; look at the wings of a butterfly. The Lord God loves beauty; look at a rainbow, a sunset, the blue of the azure sky. The Lord God loves color. Behold, the jewel foundations of the New Jerusalem [Revelation 21:14-20]. The Lord God loves music, listen to the orchestras of heaven and their new songs [Revelation 5:9, 14:3]. The Lord God loves a garden [Genesis 2:8, 3:8], walk through the new paradise; paradise is the spelled out Persian word for “garden.” The new paradise: walk through it, with its rivers and with its trees [Revelation 22:1-2].
We are invited, in Revelation, chapters 21 and 22 [Revelation 21-22] to share in a panoramic view of the city itself, in all its glory: our eternal home. First, he sees it from the outside. It is measured: a solid cube of golden construction [Revelation 21:16], 1,500 miles up, down and across. It is as large as from farthest Maine to farthest Florida. It is as large as from the Atlantic Ocean to the Rocky Mountains. It is as large as all of Western Europe and one half of Russia. Each street is one half the length of the diameter of the earth. The stories, one mile above the other, equal eight million miles of beautiful avenues. The [twelve] gates [Revelation 21:12, 21] upon the twelve jeweled foundations [Revelation 21:14, 19-20] proclaim security and accessibility from all parts of the earth. It proclaims God’s covenant relationship with His people Israel, and with His redeemed church, the bride of the Lamb.
After He describes the outside, He takes us inside. And oh, what a glory! But as we walk through those beautiful avenues, there are two things not present, two things are not there. There is no sun and no moon, it is illuminated by the presence of God; He is the source of uncreated light [Revelation 21:23].
Once in a while, you’d see that in the stories in the Bible. When Moses came down from the mount—from the presence of God—his face shown, reflecting the glory of the light of God [Exodus 34:29-30]. When our Lord Jesus was transfigured, His face, His raiment, His bodily form became iridescent [Matthew 17:2]; the uncreated light of the presence of God. And when Paul was on his way to Damascus, to hale into prison those that called upon the name of Jesus, he met our Lord in the way. And he was blinded by the glory of that light [Acts 9:3-9; Acts 22:11]; that is the light of heaven, uncreated. We shall see God’s face, and live [Revelation 22:3-5].
Second: there is no temple there [Revelation 21:22]. This is written—the Revelation, the Apocalypse—this is written by a man who lived in a day of beautiful temples in great cities. There was Herod’s temple in Jerusalem. There was the temple of Athena on the Acropolis in Athens. And of course, there was the temple of Artemis, Diana in Ephesus, one of the great wonders of the world. But here, in our New Jerusalem, in the home where we shall live, it is not needed. We shall live in the presence of God Himself [Revelation 21:2-3], and we shall look directly into the face of the Almighty with no veil in between [Revelation 22:3-4].
Now is all this a dream, a fancy, a capricious delusion, wishful thinking? No! God Himself reveals to us the reality of our heavenly home. First Corinthians 2:9 says, “Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man, the things God hath prepared for those who love Him.” But the next verse, “But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit” [1 Corinthians 2:10]; these things become real to us who have found hope in Jesus. The longing in our hearts becomes a faithful revelation and reality in the promise and in the omnipotence of God. When you are saved, the persuasion of the reality of a heavenly home is born in you the minute you open your heart to the faith, and the hope, and the love, and the grace of the Lord Jesus. That’s your home—not here, there! [John 14:2-3].
What lies between us, and our wonderings of age in this life, and our promised eternal home? Like Israel, from their 40 years of wandering in the desert [Joshua 5:6], they now approach the Promised Land, and they look at Canaan. What lies in between? The waters of the Jordan [Joshua 3:7-13]: the symbol of death. What lies between us and our heavenly home? The Jordan, death; and to go into our promised land and our heavenly home, we go through the waters of death [Joshua 3:14-17].
Isaac Watts was, I suppose, the greatest Christian hymn writer of all the ages, born in 1674. Isaac Watts wrote in a hymn, in a poem, of that river of death, the Jordan, that separates between us and our new city of Jerusalem [Revelation 21:2]:
There is a land of pure delight,
Where saints immortal reign,
Infinite day excludes the night,
And pleasures banish pain.
There everlasting spring abides,
And never withering flowers:
Death, like a narrow sea, divides
This heavenly land from ours.
Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood
Stand dressed in living green:
So to the Jews old Canaan stood,
While Jordan rolled between.
But timorous mortal start and shrink
To cross this narrow sea of death;
And linger, shivering on the brink,
And fear to launch away.
O could we make our doubts remove,
These gloomy doubts that rise,
And see the Canaan that we love
With unbeclouded eyes!
Could we but climb where Moses stood,
And view the landscape o’er,
Not Jordan’s stream, nor death’s cold flood,
Should fright us from the shore.
[“There is a Land of Pure Delight,” Isaac Watts, 1707]
By nature—fallen, we dread death. Actually, it’s just the stream that divides us from our home in heaven. That’s why Paul so triumphantly wrote, “O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory? Thanks be unto God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” [1 Corinthians 15:55, 57].
Heaven at last, I have reached the harbor
For whose calm I long have prayed.
Filled with awe I gaze and wonder
At the things my Lord has made.
Hark! Listen! I hear the angels singing,
Morning breaks, the night is passed,
And the heavenly bells are ringing,
“Welcome, pilgrim, home at last.”
That’s what God had purposed for us: that better thing [Hebrews 11:40] beyond the river of Jordan. Beyond the veil of death, we have come home. Oh, blessed be the name of our Lord!
And to you who have listened to this message on television, how we pray that you will open your heart, and your house, and your home to the blessed presence of the Lord Jesus. The greatest decision you could ever make is to accept Him as you Savior [Romans 10:8-13]. And if you don’t know how to accept Christ as your Lord, you call us. The number will be on the screen. There’ll be a godly man or woman there to show you how to receive the Lord Jesus and how to be saved. It’ll be the greatest, most meaningful commitment and decision that you’ve ever made in your life, and if you’ll do it, I’ll see you in heaven someday.
And to the great throng in the sanctuary of God this hour, as we sing our song of appeal, a family you, a coupe you or just one somebody you answering the call of God, come and stand by me. Pilgrim with me, join with me in our journey to that upper and better land God hath prepared for those who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9]. Come and a thousand times welcome while we stand and while we sing.
BELIEVE ABOUT HEAVEN THE PLACE
everlasting interest in heaven (Philippians
3:20, Luke 10:20, Matthew 6:20, John 14:2, Isaiah 63:15, Luke 15:18, 21)
Heaven is the heart and soul of our Christian message and hope
read in the Bible about heaven being opened (Ezekiel
1:1, John 1:51, Acts 7:56, 10:11, Revelation 4)
II. Heaven is a place
A. Topos – a
home as real as your home (John 14:2-3)
B. Some say heaven is a
state of mind (Acts 1:11)
III. Heaven is a renewed world creation
A. New heaven, new
earth, new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:1-2)
B. Two New Testament
words for “new”
1. Neos –
refers to time
– aspect of quality, character (Revelation 2:17,
3:12, 5:9, 14:3, 3:12, 21:29, 21:5, 21:1)
Never refers to annihilation, but always to recreation, redemption (Ecclesiastes 1:4, Genesis 1:1-2, Genesis 6-8, 2 Peter
Paul uses kainos to refer to our spiritual regeneration (2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 6:15, Ephesians 2:15,
IV. A new home in a new city
A. Ideal life God sets
before us (Zechariah 8:5, Genesis 2:18, Romans
of a city goes back to Abraham (Hebrews 11:10,
B. The workmanship of God
C. The description (Revelation 21, 22)
1. No sun and
moon; no temple