What I Believe About Heaven-The Place
May 27th, 1990 @ 8:15 AM
WHAT I BELIEVE ABOUT HEAVEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-27-90 8:15 a.m.
And the message today, What I Believe about Heaven, the Place. The text is in the fourteenth chapter of John:
Let not your heart be troubled: ye 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 ye may be also.
What I Believe about Heaven, the Place.
We all possess a deepening, everlasting interest in heaven. “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. “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: the prodigal said to his 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.
One time, as a student in the seminary, in Kentucky, I attended the hill country, the knob country of an association of sixty quarter–time churches. And they were seated on split logs under a grove, out in the open. And as the program progressed, somebody stood up and started singing. And then other people stood up, and others stood up. And as they stood up and sang, they shook hands with one another, with many, many tears. And the song they sang:
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]
This is the hope and the message of the Christian faith.
What is heaven like? We read in the Bible about heaven being opened. In Ezekiel 1:1, in John 1:51, in Acts 7:56, in Acts 10:11, the writer says, “I saw heaven open.” But nowhere is there a record of what the viewer actually saw, except in the Revelation. Beginning at chapter 4 in the Revelation [Revelation 4:1], and in the chapters following, there is a description of what heaven is like after you enter it. And in these chapters, the word “heaven” is used fifty-four times.
First: heaven is a place. Twice Jesus calls it a topos, “place.” In the passage of our text, John 14:2-3, it is a real place. In the same passage, Jesus calls it a house, an oikos; it is a dwelling, it is a home. It is as real as your home where you live, and the city in which you dwell. Some say that heaven is, quote, “a state of mind,” or, quote, “a fancy,” or, quote, “a dream,” or, quote, “an abstraction,” or, quote, “an idea,” or, quote, “wishful thinking,” or, quote, “a figure,” or, quote, “a sentiment.” But consider this: the Bible says in Acts 1:11 that Jesus, after His resurrection, was taken up into heaven. Did Jesus go up into a state of mind, or into an abstraction? No, Jesus went to a real place, a real home; the final and permanent and eternal home of the saints of God.
Jesus never taught us to say, “Our Father who art in a state of mind or a condition.” Jesus 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.” These holy men of God saw and Jesus went into a real place called heaven [Acts 1:11, 7:56].
Second: heaven is not only a place, but also heaven is a renewed world creation. Revelation 21:1-2 says, “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 with reference to time, kainos is new with reference to quality, to character. Now, kainos is the only word used in the Revelation. We have a new, a kainos, a new name, Revelation 2:17 and 3:12. We have a new song, Revelation 5:9, Revelation 14:3. We live in a new city, Revelation 3:12, [21:2]. We possess and enjoy new things, Revelation 21:5. And we dwell in a new earth under a new heaven, Revelation 21:1. Kainos, the word “new,” kainos never refers to annihilation, but always to re-creation, to redemption.
Matter, substance, is indestructible. There is never a loss of an atom or a particle of creation in all the universe. Ecclesiastes 1:4 avows, “The earth abideth for ever.” In Genesis 1:1-2, the chaotic earth and the chaotic heaven are re-formed, they are remade; they’re not annihilated. In Genesis 6, 7, and 8, the Flood overflowed the earth, but it did not annihilate it. In 2 Peter 3:10-13, the world is purified by fire: it does not cease to exist. So Paul uses the word kainos to refer to our spiritual regeneration. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If any man be in Christ, he is a kainos, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold all things are become kainos, they are become new.” In Galatians 6:15, in Ephesians 2:15, in Ephesians 4:24, Paul writes of the kainos man, the new man, the saved man, the regenerated man. We are in the same body after we become Christians. After we’ve been saved, after we’ve been regenerated [John 3:3, 7], we’re in the same body. We possess the same soul, but we are transformed. We shall be like Jesus: the same body and the same soul, but transfigured [1 Corinthians 15:52]. There is no loss of continuity or identity. You will be you, and I shall be I, and we shall be we in this new world of God’s re-creation. You’ll be the same person. Thus our world will be made kainos, new, purged from all moral and physical imperfection, and made the eternal abode of Christ’s living saints [Romans 8:21].
Number three: heaven is not only a real place, and it is not only the re-creation of this present world and universe, but also our new home in heaven is located in a beautiful city. A city will always rise and dominate the land: Paris is France, Rome is Italy, London is England, Jerusalem is Israel. John was a Galilean; he was not a city-dweller. He lived in the countryside of fruits and flowers. But he saw the life to be in a, not in a lovely, lonely garden of Eden, but in a vast and interminable city: the New Jerusalem [Revelation 21:2-3]. The ideal life God sets before us is the life of a city, thronging with people. Zechariah 8:5 describes the city, saying he saw, “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 writes in Romans 14:7 that, “No man liveth to himself.” We are placed in families; God placed us 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, and enjoy each other.
The revelation of a city of God goes back to Abraham. Hebrews 11:10 avows, “For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” It was a city. He looked for a city. It was a city in contrast with a temporary tent in which Abraham lived. And that city, the city of God, is the prayerful desire of those pilgrim souls who lived in that 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, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them that city.
Our home is in a beautiful city. The 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 He was going away to prepare for us mansions for our eternal home [John 14:1-3]. What a wonder those mansions must be! In six days the Lord created the universe [Exodus 20:11]: He has been already two thousand years preparing our homes in heaven.
The Lord God loved detail: look at the wing 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: look at the jeweled foundations of the New Jerusalem [Revelation 21:19-20]. The Lord God loves music: listen to the orchestras of heaven and their new songs [Revelation 5:9; 14:3]. And the Lord God loves a garden [Genesis 2:8; 3:8]: walk through the new paradise, that’s the Persian word for “garden,” and see its waters and its trees.
We are invited, in Revelation 21 and 22, to share in a panoramic view of the city itself, and all its glory—our eternal home [1 Thessalonians 4:17]. First we see the outside; he describes the outside of this beautiful new city. It is measured; it is a solid cube [Revelation 21:16] of golden construction one thousand five hundred miles up and down and across. It is as large as from the farthest Maine to the farthest Florida. It is as large as from the Atlantic ocean to the Rocky Mountains. It is as large as all Western Europe and one-half of Russia. Each street is one-half the length of the diameter of the earth. The stories of the city, one mile above each other, equals eight million miles of avenues. The three gates [Revelation 21:12-13], upon the twelve jeweled foundations proclaim security and accessibility from all parts of the earth. It proclaims God’s covenant relationship with His people Israel, and with the redeemed church of the Lamb of God.
After he describes the outside of our heavenly home, the new city, then he describes the inside; we go inside. And two things are not there: there is no sun and no moon. It is illuminated by the presence of God [Revelation 21:23]. He is the source of uncreated light. For example, the face of Moses shone; it was brilliant when he walked down from the mount talking to God [Exodus 34:35]. For example, on the Mount of Transfiguration, the garments and the face and the form of our Lord became bright like the sun [Matthew 17:2]. Or look again; when Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was blinded by the glory of that light [Acts 9:3-9]. This is the presence of God. We shall see God’s face and live [Revelation 22:3-5].
Not only is there no sun or moon there, but there is no temple there [Revelation 21:22-23]. This is written by a man who lived in a day of incomparably impressive and beautiful temples: Herod’s temple in Jerusalem, the temple of Athena on the Acropolis in Athens, and of course the temple of Artemis, Diana, in Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. But here in our heavenly home, we don’t need a temple: God Himself is there, and we shall look directly into the face of the Almighty [Revelation 21:22-23].
In closing, is all this a dream, a fancy, a capricious delusion? No, no. God reveals to us the reality of our heavenly home. First Corinthians 2:9 avows, “Eye hath not seen, neither hath ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which 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 that belong to the heavenly kingdom the Lord is preparing for us are a part of the longing of our hearts. And they become a faithful revelation and reality in the promise and omnipotence of God. When you are saved, there is created in you a persuasion that God has some beautiful and better place for us.
What lies between us and our wanderings of age in this life, and our promised and eternal home? What separates us from it? Like Israel from their forty-year wanderings in the wilderness [Joshua 5:6], and now they approach the Promised Land, what lies in between? The flowing of the river Jordan [Joshua 3:1-17]; and that is a picture of death. What lies between us and heaven? The Jordan, the Promised Land on the other side, our death.
I suppose Isaac Watts is the greatest hymn writer the Christian faith has ever known. He was born in 1674. And he writes this song, this poem, about crossing Jordan, facing death, and entering our promised inheritance. This is his writing:
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 souls 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]
As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, “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]. That’s heaven.
Heav’n at last—I’ve 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 past,
And the heavenly bells are ringing
Welcome, pilgrim, home at last.
[from “Heaven at Last,” Morton B. Wharton, 1905]
That’s the glorious hope and promise of the gospel and grace of the Son of God; that better thing God hath prepared for us who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9]. And it’s just the cold waters of death that separate in between. And Jesus stands on the other side to welcome us home. Our home is in heaven [Philippians 3:20].
Now, son, let’s sing us a song. And while we sing the song of appeal, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, to give your heart, and soul, and life, and faith, and love to the Lord Jesus [Romans 10:9-10], you come and stand by me. “Pastor, the Lord has spoken to my heart today; and I’m answering with my life.” On the first note of the first stanza come, and welcome, while all of us stand and sing our hymn of appeal.