Heavenly Questions (Revelation 21:1-5)Pastor Jon Truax, November 5, 2017
Part of the General series, preached at a Sunday Morning service
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Before I went on a planning retreat earlier this year, I passed out a survey to gauge interest in sermon topics. The number one response? Questions about heaven. This really didn’t surprise me because, whenever we have had “Open Forum” opportunities in the past, I could always count on at least one or two questions about heaven being asked.
I’m afraid, however, that you’ll have to be patient with me. I’m at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to answering questions about heaven! If you were to ask me about Yellowstone, or Florida, or now Hawaii, I would be able to share some direct insights with you, as I have been to those places. But when it comes to answering questions about heaven, I have no firsthand experience there. Nobody has, except Jesus. Here’s one of the things he said about that: “If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” (John 3:12-13) So anything I have to offer this morning is going to be a little tentative, but I’m endeavoring to draw from the Bible’s teachings on heaven. Some scriptures we may have to extrapolate from and make educated guesses.
Also, when it comes to our questions about heaven, we need to be prepared for the possibility that maybe we can’t understand fully on this side of heaven – we may just not have the mental or spiritual framework. It could be like describing colors to a person born blind, or teaching a dog about algebra, or explaining the world to a baby yet unborn.
Ok, so here we go with common questions about heaven. 1. First, do we immediately go to heaven when we die? Do we go right away?
A lot depends on what we mean by the word “heaven.” I hate to get technical right away, but we need to start by defining some terms. The Bible uses the word heaven to describe where God is, and the ultimate place that Christians will be with God forever. But there appears to be an intermediate state that exists between death and heaven. Heaven is the final destination of the Christian. It’s talked about in Revelation 21 and 22. Before we get there, we go through the Judgment of Revelation 20. Immediately after death is a spiritual reality where we are with Jesus, like He said to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise,” but we do not have resurrected bodies yet. Here are some things Paul says about this:
“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling— if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” (II Corinthians 5:1-4)
“For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the arch-angel’s call and the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.” (1 Th 4:16-17)
“Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” (1 Corinthians 15:50-53)
2. Can those in “Paradise” see us now?
The answer to this question would appear to be Yes. The author of Hebrews writes, after describing all the heroes of the faith from the Old Testament, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…” (Hebrews 12:1) Angels are also very aware of events taking place on earth, so yes, it would seem that the veil between earth and heaven is a curtain for us, but a window for them.
3. Will we know others in heaven? Will we feel sorrow for those in hell?
These two questions are related.
For the first one, I believe the answer here to be Yes. In Jesus’ account of Lazarus and the rich man, the rich man, even though he is in hell, remembers his five brothers and still cares about them. Moses and Elijah know who Jesus is when they appear to Him on the Mount of Transfiguration. A core part of who we are is our memories and our relationships here on earth. It is hard to say that we would be who we truly are if we were incomplete enough in heaven to be lacking our memories.
However, I have heard some preachers argue that we won’t know our loved ones in heaven because it would cause us to experience sorrow over those who are in Hell, and there is no pain or crying or tears in heaven as we heard this morning.
I think the answer to this lies not in God causing us to have amnesia about who we are and who we loved on earth, but in granting us His perspective on the Judgment as to why things are the way they are. So for the second answer, I would say No, at least not more than the grief that God Himself bears in heaven. We will have a deeper understanding, not less.
4. Will we know everything in heaven?
Probably not. Some people wonder if, in heaven, we will automatically know all that can be knowable. We will remain human beings in heaven, even if we are glorified human beings. Only God is omniscient. Therefore our knowledge will remain finite and limited, but expanded. I like the way Paul puts in: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Co 13:12)
5. Will there be animals in heaven?
Some of the questions we ask about heaven may not be questions that people in Bible times asked. For instance, I hear the question a lot, “Will my pet be in heaven?” I don’t know that people in ancient Israel had pets like we do. Livestock, sure - but they ate all their animals!
It sure seems likely that there will at least be animals in heaven. The Bible indicates this with passages about the “wolf and the lamb” dwelling together. (No Lion – Isaiah 11:6 and 65:25) And, since animals were a part of God’s original creation, it seems probable that they will be a part of His new creation.
About pets, we can only guess, but I do like C.S. Lewis’ answer. He believed that human masters can relate to their beloved pets in such a way that they are drawn up into our spiritual life, into our relationship with Christ. “Certain animals may have an immortality, not in themselves, but in the immortality of their masters.” The biggest objection to this reasoning is that it is philosophical; the Bible is silent on it. In fact, Solomon, who was only enlightened with a pre-Christ, Old Testament wisdom, pointed out our ignorance in Ecclesiastes: “Who knows whether the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth?” (Ec 3:21)
6. Will we be bored in heaven?
No! We won’t be bored because we will be with God, and God is infinite. We never come to the end of exploring Him. He is new every day. We do not know how time works in eternity, but it does not seem like it will pass as it does here on earth.
One of my favorite explanations as to why we won’t be bored in heaven is that the Bible describes heaven as a place prepared for us. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:2-3) “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34)
7. Will we be free to sin (capable of sin) in heaven?
This one presents us with a bit of a dilemma. If the answer is No, we seem to lack something: free will. If we answer Yes, we lack something else: security. How can we preserve both free will and sinlessness in heaven? I believe God Himself is our model and solution. God is both free and sinless. In heaven, we will learn and understand fully that sin is harmful and not in our best interest. It would be something that we would never desire. We will have a freedom from sin, from what makes us not ourselves. We will be free to be the true selves God designed us to be, free to be determined by God. This determination does not remove our freedom, but it is our freedom.
But on earth, we know that we do have sin, that we still struggle with sin, and God provided the answer to that sin through the forgiveness available in the cross of Christ, so that we may go to heaven when we die.
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1And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. 2And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. 4And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. 5And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. (KJV)