Heavenly Father, you've given us our daily bread and not just our meals for the day physically but a spiritual meal right out of this book. And we pray that as we study it this morning, as we learn about heaven, as we learn about the place the Lord Jesus said he prepared for us, Lord I pray that we'd start getting more and more excited about what's up there. In Jesus' name. Amen.
How many of you have ever been to Disneyland? Show of hands. See, we should probably reverse that. Who hasn't been to Disneyland. Really, a few of you haven't. Well we'll pray for you. Well Disneyland is called the Magic Kingdom, that's what Walt Disney called it. Disneyland opened nine days before I was born. And on opening day 35,000 people thronged into the Magic Kingdom to shake hands with Mickey and Donald and Goofy and Gnarly and whoever else was there. And he was so excited, Walt Disney, he called the Magic Kingdom. But it was anything but magical, on the day that it opened traffic was backed up in 1955, people came, they were mad because it was hot outside, it was in July. And they ran out of refreshments in Disneyland halfway through the day, Mark Twain's steamboat almost capsized on its maiden voyage. It was not a good day. In fact, Walt Disney and his crew for years to come referred to opening day as Black Sunday. Now Disneyland is fun, it's exciting, it's fun to go there, but at the end of the day you're exhausted, and broke, and it was all just a memory. Well we want to turn this morning not to the Magic Kingdom but the Master's Kingdom, the eternal unspoiled perfect place that will not be a memory but an ongoing reality for those who trust Christ.
Now we've been doing this series for seven weeks. And what have we covered so far? Well we've covered the death of a believer and the hope that we have in death. We talked about the reunion we're going to have with other people who are in Christ. We spoke about our condition prior to the bodily resurrection. We spent a couple weeks talking about the resurrection body itself and the capabilities of that body. We even spent a week talking about the death of children, the death of infants. In all of those we have yet to talk about heaven. We haven't touched on the rewards we're going to get in heaven, called the bema seat of Christ, we haven't touched at all about the throneroom of God which we look at today. We haven't considered the marriage supper of the Lamb which is a future event. We certainly haven't considered the millennium, the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth. And then after that the eternal age, the eternal state of the new heaven, the new earth and the new Jerusalem. All of those future events we know turn our hearts toward this morning.
When it comes to heaven, most people really don't live with the thought of heaven at all. I mean if you talk and look at the average life, heaven isn't even on the radar screen except when a person dies, then suddenly it's all talk about heaven. Heaven, heaven, heaven; but in life who's thinking about heaven, even believers rarely talk about heaven even though we're going to spend forever there, we ought to have some consideration. What fills the pulpits of most churches is talk about the here and now. How do I live now? How do I stay married now and raise children now? How do I manage my finances now? And all of that is certainly important, but there should be some consideration for heaven.
Time magazine did an article, it was called "Does Heaven Exist?" David Wells from Gordon Conwell seminary said in that article, "We would expect to hear of it (that is heaven) in evangelical churches. But I don't hear it at all. I don't think heaven is even a blip on the Christian screen, from one end of the denominational screen to the other." Now that's wrong, that's sad, because the Bible often encourages us to consider our future. Colossians chapter 3 verse 1, "If you then be risen with Christ, set your affection on things above not on the things of the earth." Listen to it in the New Living translation, "Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits at God's right hand in the place of honor and power. Let heaven fill your thoughts, do not only think about things down here on earth." Well that's exactly what we want to do this morning and the next few weeks is fill our thoughts with the truths of our future in heaven. What does it look like? What will it sound like? What will we see? No better place to start than Revelation chapter 4 because this begins John's extended tour of heaven. Chapter 4 and 5 is all what he saw, all what he heard.
What will heaven be like? Well, listen to this little letter from a reader to Ann Landers' column. It says, "Dear Ann Landers, Our cocker spaniel Rags died yesterday. He was fifteen years old and everyone adored him. Our son asked, ‘Is Rags in heaven?' So I asked our clergyman how to respond. He said, "Tell him no, animals don't go to heaven." I believe this is an insensitive response to a nine-year-old, can you give me a better one? Signed, San Juan." So Ann Landers answers backs, "Dear San Juan, I checked with several authorities and the best reply came from Andrew McKenna who's not a theologian but vice chairman of the Board of Directors of Notre Dame University. He said (now listen to this) he said, ‘Tell the boy is anything you want it to be.' Assure him that he will see everyone he wants to see in heaven, including his pets.'" Now I'm not here to answer the question ‘Do your pets go to heaven?' This morning I'm not going to deal with that topic, all right? But I share this with you because that is how most people think about heaven. ‘What's heaven like?' ‘Well it's whatever you want heaven to be.' No it's not. Heaven is everything God made it to be. And so we want to see what God made it to be like. So we turn to Revelation chapter 4 and we're just going to get a peek this morning, we're just going to look through the portal this morning as we see what John saw. "After these things," verse 1, "I looked and behold a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me saying, ‘Come up here and I will show you things which must take place after this.' Immediately I was in the Spirit and behold a throne set in heaven and one sat on the throne and he who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance and there was a rainbow around the throne in appearance like an emerald."
Now this morning we only have time for just a few thoughts, and that's why I've only chosen three verses to introduce this whole theme now of heaven. There's a few things I want you to see from our text. First of all, heaven is a real place. It's not a made-up ethereal metaphor of a certain condition that we will, it's a real place. When the Bible speaks about heaven, when Jesus spoke about heaven, when Paul, John, Peter all spoke about heaven, they spoke of it as a real place. Now I would ike you to notice some of the language that we read here. John said, "I looked." I looked, twelve times in Revelation that phrase is used, ‘I looked.' Another thirty-four times in Revelation John writes ‘I saw.' Another twelve times in Revelation John says, ‘I heard.' So his senses are engaged. He's a spectator of things that he looks at and sees and he hears. All of that to say heaven is not false, heaven's a real place.
Now you know, there were two people in the New Testament that saw heaven, two of them. What are their names? Paul is one and John is the second. Paul said he was caught up into the third heaven but he didn't tell us anything about that visit, right? He says, "I heard inexpressible words, it's a shame, it's against the law for me to even say anything." So he just zips up the whole cool experience of heaven. John, on the other hand, writes everything. Commanded by Jesus Christ to reveal, to tell. John tells us about his extended visit to heaven.
Now, rather than trying to squeeze these verses into some symbolic metaphorical condition, it's best to see it as a real place. This is what he saw, this is what he heard. And I'd rather believe what Jesus says he saw and heard than those people who say, "Well heaven is not real, it's just a projection, it's a wish fulfillment made up by weak people who are trying to cope with the hardships of this life." I'd much rather believe what John says he saw and heard than all of those lame jokes about Peter standing at the gate of heaven with a clipboard checking you off as you go in. I'd much rather believe what John said he saw and heard than even books written about their experience of life after death and those books seem to contradict each other. This is God's revelation, in chapter 1 of Revelation, God gives the revelation to his son Jesus who gives it to a messenger, an angel, who gives it to John. That's why it's called The Revelation. So John said, "I saw a door standing open in heaven." Now that word heaven appears in the Bible 532 times. That's in the singular. In the plural, heavens, it appears another 171 times. So over 700 hundred times in the Bible, heaven is mentioned. Heaven is metioned. It's a huge important topic and it's your future home.
Paul says in Philippians, "For we are citizens of heaven." That's home sweet home. It hink we should change the lyrics to "Sweet Home Alabama." Sweet home up in heaven, Lord I'm coming home to you. Can you hear it? That's your home.
Why is it your home? Your father's there, your Savior's there, the Holy Spirit's there, everybody in Christ who has died is there, your reward is there. So it's home. That's why Paul said, "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain." Because when a believer dies, what does he gain? Heaven. Heaven. That's the reward.
Now since we're opening up the topic of heaven this morning with John 4, let me tell you this, when the Bible in those over 700 times it mentions heaven, it speaks about heaven three different ways. Sometimes it speaks about heaven with the atmosphere. We call this the first heaven, this is the terrestrial heaven, the troposphere. It's the breathable layer of atmosphere around the earth. It's what you see during the day. The Bible sometimes speaks of heaven just as the atmosphere around the earth. Isaiah 55 for example, "AS the rain comes down and the snow from heaven." That's from the atmosphere, that's the first heaven, the terrestrial heaven. The second heaven is the celestial heaven, it's what you see at night. It's the planets, the stars, the moon. The Bible sometimes speaks of the heavens meaning the, beyond the atmosphere, what you see up in space. Psalm 19, "The heavens declare the glory of God, the firmament show his handiwork, night unto night they reveal knowledge." So this is space, this is what James T. Kirk called The Final Frontier. It's the second heaven. But then, the Bible sometimes speaks of the third heaven. Now this is The Heaven. This is Heaven with a capital H, this where God hangs out, this is where God dwells. And so Paul said, II Corinthians 12, "I was caught up into the third heaven." This is the heaven that John sees in Revelation chapter 4. Psalm 33 agrees with that, "The Lord looks from heaven, he sees all the sons of men, from his place of his dwelling he looks on all the inhabitants of the earth."
That's why it was ridiculous the day that a cosmonaut who went up into outer space and went to the moon stood in front of a group and an audience and said boldly, "I went to space. I went to the moon. I did not see God." Well he didn't go far enough. He only made it to the first heavens and the second heaven, he didn't make it to the third heaven. There was an American astronaut in the audience who said to his buddy next to him, "If he would have stepped out of his spacesuit he would have seen God."
Now some of you who are sharp Bible students and you like to ask questions, and I love people who do that, maybe right about now you're thinking, "Now wait a minute, if God is omnipresent (everywhere present, as the Bible says He is), then how can God dwell in heaven? In fact, how can any being who's omnipresent (God) be said to dwell any particular place?" Now that's exactly what even Solomon remarked on when he built the temple in Jerusalem and he prayed and he said, "Behold, even heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain you, much loess this temple which I have built." Well, when we say that God dwells in heaven, we don't mean that heaven contains God completely. It's just that heaven is the unique place of his habitation, it's uniquely his home. It's home base, it's HQ, Headquarters, the base of operations, it's the place where his throne is, the place from which he operates. That's why when we pray we say, "Our Father in heaven." That's uniquely the place of his dwelling.
Now I'm going to throw something else into the mix because this will be important later on. I don't want to confuse you but I'll throw it in. Though heaven is real, heaven doesn't seem to be permanent. What I mean by that is that even this heaven seems later on to be replaced. Now listen carefully, both Old Testament and New Testament; Isaiah, Peter, John, all speak about not just a new earth but behold a new heaven and a new earth seems to indicate that there's going to be phases of the eternal glory. Some of those thigns we want to discuss in the next few weeks, these different phases. Even Jesus said, "Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away." So what does that mean to us practically? It means your home, it's going to be gone. Calvary of Albuquerque, it's going to be gone. The United States? Gone. Himalyas? Gone. Swiss Alps? Gone. And so God's going to make new things in the future, a new earth. It's as if God is saying, "You think this is cool, wait til you see what I've got coming." New heaven, new earth. Now why would God ever make a new heaven? What's wrong with heaven as it is? Earth we understand, it's been polluted by sin, etcetera. Why a new heaven? Well that's a question I'll answer in the next few weeks. I want to leave you hanging a little bit this morning. Let's go back to our text. Heaven is a real place, number one. Number two, the second thing I want to point out is that heaven has a relative position. I want you to notice this, verse 1, "After these things I looked and behold a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying ‘Come up here.'" Where is heaven? I was asked that question last week, "Where is heaven?" Simple answer: heaven is up. In fact, in the Bible that's always the orientation when speaking of heaven, it's up.
Our word heaven, the original word comes, it's an Anglo-Saxon word, heaven comes from heave-on. Now I know you don't say, "Well when you die you go to heave-on" because it just sounds weird, so we say heaven. But heaven comes from heave-on and heave-on means to be lifted up or uplifted, that's the original term in the Anglo-Saxon origin. But the term heaven goes all the way back to the Old Testament. The Hebrew word shemi-im, shemi-im, same connotation, it means the heights. Now I know in Albuqurque, the Heights has a whole different meaning than a lot of other places. But it just means topographically the place that is higher than the rest. In the New Testament, the word heaven is urinos in the Greek. And urinos is the word that inspired the seventh planet in our solar system, Uranus. The seventh planet from the sun. Again, it means to be up and away, the idea of heaven.
Well that orientation we find throughout the Bible. Here's a few examples: In Deuteronomy 26 verse 15 listen to how the Israelites were to pray. They would say, "Look down from your holy habitation (from heaven) and bless your people Israel and the land that you have given to us." Look down from heaven. In Acts chapter 1 verse 11 the disciples stood and watched Jesus, their mouths were hanging open as Jesus ascended. Which way were they looking? Up. An angel finally had to come and say, "You men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? The same Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven will so come in like manner as you've seen him go into heaven." Ephesians 4 verse 10, "He who descended (came from heaven, the incarnation) is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens. At the rapture of the church it's a combination of Jesus coming down and those who are on the earth going up. I Thessalonians 4, "The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, with the trumpet of God and the dead in Christ will rise first and then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord." And this orientation continues all the way through to the very end when in the eternal state we see the new Jerusalem. Revelation 21 verse 2 says, "I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven." So heaven is up. It's called up in the Bible. How far up? Well here's a clue n Psalm 8, "You have set your glory above the heavens." Above the troposphere, above the atmosphere, above the stratosphere, above the mesosphere, above the exosphere, ionosphere, whatever –sphere out; beyond all of that out and up is heaven. "You set your glory above the heavens." Now let's just take a little imaginary journey, let's just play with this: Last night if you saw the moon, it's pretty beautiful, it's not quite full, it's a waning gibbus it's called, it's about ninety percent full. But it's pretty big in the sky. The moon is about 200,000 miles from us, give or take a few. You could actually walk to the moon, if there was a bridge to the moon, you could make it there in about twenty-seven years if you went twenty-four miles a day on foot. If you could walk twenty-four miles a day, you'd get there in twenty-seven years, 200,000 miles. However, if you could go up toward the moon at the speed of light you'd make it there in 1.5 seconds. But you've got to be going 186,000 miles per second. One and a half seconds you go up, go to the moon. If you kept going up you could make it to Venus in two minutes and eighteen seconds going the speed of light. You could make it to Mercury in four and a half minutes. You could go to Jupiter in thirty-five minutes and eighteen seconds. You go by Saturn, keep going up, up, up, in one hour and eleven seconds. You'd go by Pluto in four hours. That's going the speed of light. If you kept going up, up, up; out, out, out, and made it to the nearest neighbor star Alpha Centauri, it would take you 4.3 years going the speed of light, 4.3 light years away from the Earth. And if you were to go through your galaxy, the Milky Way galaxy going the speed of light, (get this) it would take you a hundred thousand years to go from one end to the other end of just your galaxy. And once you get to the other end of your galaxy, you haven't even made it out of the front yard because scientists say there are as many as, one source suggests, five hundred billion more galaxies. So, how long does it take to get to heaven? If it's that far up, how far? Instantly, right? To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Jesus didn't tell the thief on the cross, "In a hundred billion years you'll be with me in Paradise." It's, "Today you'll be with me in Paradise." So, I understand that perhaps it's a bit naïve and erroneous to start measuring the third heaven, distances like this, because it's in a whole different dimension. But in the very least when you say heaven is up, we mean it's up above the common place experiences of the earth, the common place conditions of the earth; it's up. That's the orientation.
And notice how John was there. He said, "Immediately I was in the Spirit and behold a throne." So he was transported to heaven by the Spirit, it could mean that. It could mean I was in a spiritual ecstatic state, it could mean that. It could also be a clue to the believer's condition in heaven prior to the bodily resurrection, there in spirit experiencing all these things. Something else to notice before we move this toward a close: Notice when John was taken to heaven, it was just John. There was no suitcase that John packed. He didn't say, "God, can I take my laptop and my cell phone? I just want to text a few people. Maybe a cup of Starbucks because I don't know what's going on up in heaven." It's just John, there's no baggage. I say that because it's true, you can't take it with you. "Naked I came into the world," Job said, "Naked I will leave." You can't take anything with you. All of the preparations, all that you do for heaven are done here and when that time comes you go alone. That's why Jesus said, "Don't store up for yourselves treasures on earth, store up for yourselves treasures in heaven." You can start storing them up now so that they're there when you get there.
All right, let's go to the third and final section of this today. Heaven is real, it's a real place. Heaven has a relative position, it's always up in the scripture. The third thing I want you to notice is that heaven highlights a remarkable person, and this is to me the greatest thing about heaven. Verse 2, "Immediately I was in the Spirit, and behold" (and whenever you read behold it means, it's like saying, Wow! Check this out!) Behold a throne set in heaven and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance and there was a rainbow around the throne and the appearance of an emerald." Now what's the first thing to catch John's eye when he gets there? A throne. By the way, the word throne is mentioned in chapter 4 alone thirteen times, twelve times it refers to God's throne. And when you see that word, don't think of a piece of furniture, as much as a symbol of authority for the One who sits on it. This is home base for God, this is headquarters, this is where he exercises his sovereignty from, his throne. Now what I'd like to get you to do in your thinking is not to think of heaven so much as a place, though it is a place and though it's a real place, I'd like you to start thinking of heaven more in terms of, not of a place but of personalities. Let me give you an example, this is a little booklet by Don Baker, it's just simply called "Heaven." Here's his experience, he writes, "I've always been fascinated with heaven. When I was younger though I thought of heaven only as a great shining city with vast walls and magnificent domes and soaring spires and with nobody in it but white-robed angels who were total strangers to me. And then my beloved pastor died and then my grandfather died and then my father died and then my son died and then my father-in-law died and then one by one my dear friends began dying, three of them this past week." He continues to write, "Heaven is no longer walls and domes and spires, but people. People who are loved and missed, people who are precious and whose faces I long to see. Heaven is like home in many respects, it's not what we have in our home that makes it precious but whom." That's how I'd like you to think about heaven, in terms of not what but whom. And the ultimate whom is God himself. Folks listen, the main attraction in heaven will be God. That's what gets John's attention, he sees the throne and one who sat on it. So though you'll be in heaven if you trust Christ, if he is your Savior, if not you won't be but if you do you will be. But it's not just you in heaven, it's not just about the people that you know in heaven, it's not just about are your pets in heaven; the real big main attraction central focus of heaven is going to be God. Heaven's supreme delight will be unbroken fellowship with God, real fellowship. Listen to Revelation 21 verse 3 as I read it to you, "Behold the tabernacle of God is with men and he will dwell with them and they will be his people." It's like saying, "Hey look, God lives in the neighborhood. His house is right here, right down the street. He is with us." John continues, "God himself will be with them and he will be their God." Now the word dwell, skenao in the Greek, means to pitch a tent, to pitch a tent. The idea is to hang out with, the idea is to enjoy the company of, fellowship. Now I know, I know that we enjoy a certain level of fellowship with God now, we call that a personal relationship with God. But you don't see him now, you don't hear him audibly now. I know Jesus said, "Where two or three gather in my name, I'm in their midst," I know that. I know that he said, "Behold I am with you always even unto the end of the age." I know that. It's very different right now than it will be. Right now it's very limited. As Paul said in I Corinthians 13, "We see through a glass darkly but then we will see face to face." Face to face, you see right now when you pray, it's something like, "Our Father in heaven." But you won't be praying like that then, you won't even be praying. It's, it's, you'll be in heaven. It's like right there, "Father", right there. Right now we say, "I hear God speaking to me, he spoke to me this morning." Sometimes we're not sure, "Was that God's voice, was that my mother's tapes playing? What was that?" No mistake in heaven. You'll hear, you'll look, you'll see, and it will be face to face. Revelation 22, "The throne of God and the Lamb are in it and they shall see his face." Do you see how different that experience will be than this one? "We live by faith," the Bible says, right now not by sight." Not in heaven, you'll live by sight not by faith. Full fellowship, unbroken eternal fellowship.
Now real briefly notice John then goes on to describe God. And it's an interesting description because he says nothing of his form, nothing of his features, he just describes God in terms of what he knows on the earth, the gems that are so brilliant and resplendent, it's like a light show. "And he who sat there was like a jasper." What's that like? It's not like the modern jasper which is a bit clouded and little green. The ancient jasper we believe was crystal clear. Probably what John saw was a diamond refracting all the brilliant colors of the rainbow. That's the clearest gem we have. And back in Revelation 21, the word jasper is used and this is what it says, "I saw jasper as clear as crystal." So he probably saw this brilliant diamond-like appearance of God. Second, "And like a sardius stone." Sardius stone is ruby red, maybe it would be better to say it was blood red. And most theologians this infers the redemptive nature of God, the blood that was shed to get people to heaven, providing sacrifice for us. "And then I saw a rainbow like an emerald," a rainbow dominated by a green hue. So think of it, John gets to heaven and he sees a throne and it's like the ultimate light show, the ultimate light show. Now if you have ever heard of this term, I'm going to throw it out, some of you have heard of it if you've read some theology books, theologians call this, some do, the beatific vision. I don't know if you've ever heard that term, the beatific vision. And the beatific vision was an old theological term that describes direct contact with God. The definition of it is those in heaven beholding God or perceiving God face to face, being able to see and hear, the beatific vision. Thomas Aquinis said the beatific vision is the ultimate experience of any human being. In fact Charles Spurgeon himself preached a sermon entitled the beatific vision. Here's a snippet, "The thing for which I pray above all others would be forever to behold his face forever to know that I am his, forever to dwell with Him. Yes, one short glimpse, one transitory vision of his glory, one brief glance at his exalted and beaming countenance would repay almost a whole world of trouble." It's like, all the bad stuff, you see God, it's like, "Oh, who cares? It's gone," in an instant, this is Spurgeon. So it's safe to say that heaven will display the glory of God. And I mean fully display the glory of God, a hundred percent, uncut, unedited, take your breath away, "Huh, Wow!" Seeing the glory of God.
And here's what I want to end with: this glorious brilliant sovereign resplendent being that John sees? He's your Father. He's your Father. Jesus said, "In my Father's house (that's heaven) are many mansions." And he's your Father, you have a relationship with him, the glorious all-consuming one is your father. You're going to be living at God's house, you're going to be moving in with Him. And know something about your Father, he's going to have a lot of kids in his house, a lot of us children running around in heaven. But that doesn't mean that heaven is going to be impersonal, God isn't like the busy dad, gone all day, home late at night, never sees his kids, absent father. Even though heaven is real and heaven is big, that will not take any of the intimacy away from it. And the Bible often will describe heaven as that intimate face-to-face closeness with God. And friends, folks, I don't think we're ever going to get tired of it, I don't think we'll ever get used to it. I don't think we'll ever be in heaven after a couple thousand years saying, "You know this God thing is getting a little old now, we've been here a long time, is there anything else?" Because the Bible describes heaven as always new, "Behold I make all things new," and it's a continual idea.
So this is his kingdom, this is the Master's kingdom. It's a lot better than the Magic Kingdom, better than a memory, better than an e-ticket in Disneyland (if you can remember that far back). This is the kingdom of the Lamb, it's a lot better than the kingdom of the mouse. This I the kingdom your Father has prepared for you. Now, understand this, God's purpose in creating you is to get you there. Get you there. The way that he gets you there, the only way to get there isn't by making up heaven what you want it to be or being a good person or making up your own way to get there, there's only one way to get there: it has to be God's way. If it's his heaven, it's his house, you can't just decide to go there unless he invites you and he has invited you. And the provision he has made for you to get there is for you to just simply believe in his son, receive His Son as the payment for your sin, as your Savior, as your Lord; and you'll get to heaven. And if you haven't done that I want today to be the day you do that. If you haven't done that, I don't care if you were raised religiously, if you haven't made personally Christ your Savior, then you make that decision today.
Let's pray. Heavenly Father, we do pray that many more would become citizens of heaven. Lord, you said that there is a becoming process, "As many as received him to them he gave the right to become children of God." So Lord, I pray that more men and more women, young and middle-aged and old would make a decision to make Jesus their Savior. It's in His precious name we pray.