The Nature and Wonder of Heaven

from Apr 20, 2015 Category: Articles

In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John records the vision he received on the island of Patmos. In that vision, Christ showed John many things, including the new heaven and the new earth:

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, 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, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:1–4)

We read that in heaven there will be no sea, which, if taken literally, might disappoint beach lovers. However, for the Hebrew, the sea was a symbol of violence. The seacoast in Israel was rocky and rough. Moreover, it was an entry point for attacking marauders, and violent weather came in off the Mediterranean. In all of Hebrew poetry, the sea is a negative symbol; the river, the fountain, and the well serve as positive images. So we understand John’s vision as indicating that there will be no more violent natural catastrophes.

Tears will also be absent in heaven. We associate tears with sorrow and grief. Many of us recall how, when we were children, our mothers comforted us when we were sad, wiping away our tears with her apron. We usually were brought to tears again the next day, and needed comfort all over again. However, when God wipes away our tears, they will never come back, because the things that now make us cry will be removed. There will be no more death, sorrow, or pain. These former things will have passed away.

As John continues his description, we encounter some startling dimensions of what heaven will be like and what it will not be like (vv. 18–21). We are told what will be there and what will not be there. We find streets of gold that is so fine and pure that it is translucent. We are told of gates constructed of magnificent pearls and a foundation adorned with precious jewels. Apocalyptic literature is imaginative, so we assume that these are symbolic representations of heaven, but I would not put it past God to construct a city just like the one described here.

John tells us more: “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (vv. 22–23). There will be no temple, sun, or moon. On this earth, a temple, or church, is the visible symbol of the presence of God, but in heaven there will be no need for a temple, because we will be in God’s actual presence. There will also be no need for created sources of light—sun, moon, or stars. The radiance of the glory of God and of the Lamb will illumine the whole city, and there will never be night because the glowing, brilliant, radiant glory of God never stops. Heaven will be aglow with the unvarnished, unveiled radiance of God.

What do we live for? By way of illustration, Jonathan Edwards described someone who saves money for years in order to go on a vacation. To get to his destination, he must travel, so the first night he stays at a wayside inn. However, the next day, instead of continuing on the journey to his desired destination, he decides to forgo it all and stay at the inn. We live our lives just that way. We hold on tenaciously to life in this world because we are not really convinced of the glory that the Father has established in heaven for His people. Every hope and joy that we look forward to—and then some—will abound in this wonderful place. Our greatest moment will be when we walk through the door and leave this world of tears and sorrow, this valley of death, and enter into the presence of the Lamb.

This excerpt is taken from R.C. Sproul’s Everyone’s a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology.