What Will Heaven Be Like?
Revelation 1:1 – 20
What Will Heaven Be Like?
Father, as the apostle John writes, may we be those who are blessed, because we hear your Word and take it to heart. Amen
Will heaven be a bit boring?
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”
Familiar words, for many of us! Perhaps the most-loved and well-known Christian hymn in the English language. And those first few lines are great!
God’s grace poured out on me. His undeserved kindness shown to me in Jesus Christ.
And no one wants to be lost, do they? So to be able sing, at the top of my voice, that I’ve been found, well that’s marvellous news and worth celebrating.
But then we get to the end of the song, and we sing these words about being in heaven with Jesus;,
“When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing his praise than when we’d first begun.”
And while I appreciate the concept;, it’s a picture we find in the Bible;, people gathered around the throne in heaven singing praise to Jesus,
Still, I have to admit, that sometimes when I sing those words, part of me thinks, “really?”
“We’re going to sing, for 10 thousand years, and even then, it will feel like we’ve barely even started.”
The Bible tells me that heaven is going to be wonderful;,
The promise of a new city, and the best thing about it, is that all those who trust in Jesus for forgiveness and relationship will be there with him
But maybe you’re a bit like me, and, spending eternity worshipping Jesus;,
Doesn’t always seem like the ultimate enjoyment!
If we’re perfectly honest, it might sound a bit boring.
Most of the things that I find enjoyment in are conspicuously absent from the Bible’s picture of heaven.
What the Bible says is the best bit about the new creation in Jesus;,
Being in his presence,
Enjoying his presence.
J C Ryle, bishop of Liverpool, once preached a sermon titled “Christ is all.” And he asked his congregation, why would you want to go to heaven, if you were not deeply in love with Christ, and longing to be with him?
If being with Jesus isn’t your greatest goal, your ultimate longing, then Ryle says, heaven’s “joys would be no joys for you.
Its happiness would be a happiness into which you could not enter.
Its employments would be a weariness and a burden to your heart. Oh, repent and change before it be too late!”
Now, COVID-19 and everything that’s come along with that, might make us long for heaven,
Or maybe we were already longing for heaven before we ever heard of Coronavirus!
But J C Ryle’s warning is to make sure that we’re longing for the right thing.
The Apostle Paul’s primary perspective on heaven is being “at home with the Lord”, 2 Corinthians 5, and being “with Christ”, Philippians 3.
So, if that’s the high point of the new creation, if that’s the bit most worth getting excited about, is it Jesus who we’re looking forward to?
Or maybe, does our picture of Jesus need to change, in order for us to long for heaven, and to think that being with him forever, outweighs any other of the many blessings that the Bible tells us will be ours for eternity,
Is there something more we need to learn about Jesus, or be reminded about him, so that we long for heaven, knowing it means being at home with him, rejoicing in his glory, and enjoying his presence, not just freed from the things we don’t like in this life,
What truth about who Jesus is, could sweep away any lingering thought, that heaven might be boring?
Well, here is a picture of Jesus, to help us long for heaven.
Here’s a picture of Jesus to help us long for heaven
The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place.
Literally it’s “the revelation, of Jesus Christ”, and so we could just as easily translate it “, about” Jesus, or “, concerning Jesus”
Here is a message for God’s people, his servants, about what must soon take place.
So, contrary to what we sometimes hear, Revelation is not about some cosmic wrestling match between Jesus and Satan and we don’t yet know the outcome, might go either way.
No, Revelation is about the logical steps, what must soon take place, since Jesus has triumphed over Satan on the cross.
And among the things that were soon to take place after the Apostle John received this vision, are things like chaos, pictured in chapters 8 to 11,
And persecution, in 12 to 14.
These are things that God’s people have experienced in different ways throughout history, and indeed experience today.
Our experience of these tends to be quite minor in comparison, and yet, it’s still sometimes enough to make us wonder, is following Jesus all the way to the end going to be worth it?
Is what comes next,
Is heaven, being with Jesus forever, really going to be so wonderful that I’ll think everything I went through to get there was worth it?
Well John wants us to have a right picture of Jesus, so we can be confident in the face of opposition and hardship now, and so that we long, to be with Jesus for all eternity.
You might know John is writing in a style that’s called “apocalyptic”, and apocalyptic literature is a bit like Impressionist art;, the goal is to create an impression, with broad brush strokes.
The impressionists were ridiculed in the art world of their day, and accused of not being able to communicate detail.
But they weren’t trying to communicate detail!
There’s drama and colour that’s intended to capture our attention, but zoom in too far and look for detail, and we’ll miss the point.
We’re supposed feel,
To respond emotionally.
If you’ve ever had to give a witness statement to the police, you’ll know that it can be hard to translate what you’ve seen, and what you felt into words.
How do you communicate power and the emotion, and shock and awe?
That’s where apocalyptic comes in!
Though I don’t recommend you try it if you do have to give a statement to the police!
Jesus is sovereign ruler over the earth (v 5 – 8)
The first part of the picture of Jesus, is that he’s a sovereign ruler. See verse 5, he is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth
This description seems quite tame compared to the picture of Jesus yet to come, but imagine coming face to face with this person. Because you will!
Firstborn in the ancient world was not so much about literally being born first, but being the one who controlled the inheritance.
And so to be the firstborn from the dead is to be in control, to have the power over life and death,
It says this is the person who gives life.
And so this title, links our resurrection with Jesus resurrection;
He was first,
We follow in his footsteps.
Imagine meeting someone who gave you life,
Who saved your life.
You see it on the TV sometimes, don’t you? A rescue worker meeting some person they saved.
We’ll probably see footage of Boris meeting the Intensive Care nurses who cared for him in hospital, and he’ll shake their hands, which is, something we’re going to be able to do in the future!
But imagine if that was you!
Maybe someone pulled you out of the ocean when you were drowning,
Or dived in front of a muggers knife, getting stabbed, to save your life, and based on how the word witness is used in Revelation, for Jesus to be described as the faithful witness means being faithful in ministry to the point of death.
But imagine this person didn’t just die to save you, but every person on earth!
Wouldn’t you do anything to be able to meet that person,
I mean, imagine the queue! Everyone would want to spend time with them.
But do you think you’d tire, of being in the presence of the person who is sovereign over life and death?
The person who died so that you could live?
And one who’s life and ministry was sufficient to give life to every person who’s ever lived?
At what point does being invited to spend time with that person get boring?
Oh, and add to that, that Jesus is the ruler of the kings of the earth, verse 5 still.
Think the G7, the 7 largest advanced economies of the world, Those leaders oversee 58 percent of global net wealth.
Jesus is ruler of them.
Nothing happens, no decision is made, no law is enacted, outside of his control.
Picture the United Nations. Every country on earth represented. And then imagine you met someone who is in control, of everything that happens, in every one of those countries.
To be in heaven will be to spend eternity with that person.
A tour of the Palace of Westminster is interesting, being in the seat of power, seeing how sovereignty, and authority, and influence are wielded.
But the tourists would flock to this wouldn’t they? If they realised.
Here is real power, and dominion, and authority.
This is almost just an introductory comment about Jesus, we haven’t even got to the mind-blowing picture in the next section, and yet already I feel, I’ve let my picture of Jesus become too small.
I feel somewhat ambivalent at times, about spending eternity with heaven with Jesus, because I’ve forgotten who Jesus is!
I’ve reduced him down to some kind of domestic version,
Forgetting he’s the one who rules over every king, and prime minister, and president on earth.
To spend eternity with Jesus in heaven, is to spend eternity with this Jesus!
The one for whom nothing is ever outside his control.
I see this one line about Jesus in the introduction to Revelation 1, basically the job title on Jesus’ business card, and instead of thinking, “I’m going to get bored singing his praises forever”, I’m now thinking, it’s going to take me the first 10 thousand years just to find words to express my wonder, at one who has himself defeated death,
Who holds the power of life and death for every creature in the universe,
And is sovereign over every government decision,
And budgetary measure,
From birth to death, and everything in between, nothing in the world happens without Jesus’ say so.
You will be able to ask him, about every single episode in your life, and he will tell you why it happened.
And as we saw in Romans 8 recently, in all things God works for the good of those who love him
So this Jesus, who rules over everything, sovereign over life and death and every nation, he’ll be able to explain to us, how what we saw only as hardship,
How he used that for our good,
For our salvation,
To make us more and more like him.
That’s the introduction John gives us to Jesus.
And if that were not mind-blowingly enough, we’re about to see an extraordinary picture of the one we will spend eternity in heaven with.
Notice the language of hearing and seeing in what John describes from verse 9.
This isn’t a dream. It’s a vison that he’s given. And it starts by hearing a voice;, as it turns out, the voice of Jesus.
So, verse 12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man.
Son of man means a human. Just like in the Chronicles of Narnia the human children are referred to as sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.
But Son of Man was also Jesus’ favourite way of referring to himself.
Instead of using a title like Messiah that was so frequently mis-understood, Jesus called himself the Son of Man.
Because of it’s generic meaning it was innocuous enough, but to those who would think carefully about Jesus’ words, they’d hear a significant claim.
Because 500 hundred years before Jesus, the prophet Daniel is given a vision, a vision of heaven,
And he records what he sees in chapter 7 of his book;
there before me was one, like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.
He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power;
all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
Talk about being an eye-witness to a moment in history!
This human, ascends to heaven surrounded by clouds, and is led into the very presence of God, that’s the Ancient of Days.
And then he’s given all authority and power, over all creation, for ever.
So it’s not just a poetic way for Jesus to call himself a human, is it? For Jesus to refer to himself like this, is to claim to be that one from Daniel 7.
And of course when we read the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ ascension to heaven, we get this same event from a different camera angle, this time the earthly perspective;, Jesus going to heaven, and hidden by the clouds.
Jesus is the man who reigns over creation
So for John to say, Jesus was like a Son of Man, is to definitively identify Jesus, as the man who rules over all of creation.
And actually, he’s already made that point back in verse 7;, Daniel’s prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus.
He’s the one with all power and authority.
But Daniel also told us that this Son of Man is worshiped, That is, he is a human, but he’s also God.
We sometimes use the word “incarnation” to describe God becoming human.
It comes from the Latin word “carnis” which means meat.
It’s that word where we get words like “chili con carne” Chili with meat.
To think about God, becoming meat, it’s a bit more fleshy, and earthy isn’t it?
Jesus is the eternal God with all authority,
Worthy to be worshipped by all nations and all creation for ever,
And he is a human, like you, like me.
He knows what our life and struggles and existence are like.
He understands you better than you understand yourself,
He knows what I need, more than I do myself.
This is the Jesus who’s waiting for you in heaven.
This is the one we get to spend eternity with.
Not some far-off, removed God, who can’t be known.
A God who became one of us, in order to draw us into relationship.
Jesus is our high priest
Which is why, Jesus is dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest.
One of the things we need to remember when we’re reading Revelation is that the imagery, lots of which seems very strange to us, typically comes out of the Old Testament.
The idea is not to think, “Well I imagine that the robe stands for this, and the sash represents something else”, and therefore to come up with an image of Jesus that we’ve created,
No we need to see where in the Bible these images have been used already.
And this image of Jesus outfit is not to tell us that he’s got great fashion sense, or because there’s gold that he’s really rich.
If we know our Old Testament, we’ll know that Jesus is pictured here as the high priest.
These are the clothes of the high priest, who would intercede for the people of Israel, before God.
He would stand in the holy place, by the lampstand and intercede for the people, praying for them.
And what’s Jesus doing now?
He is among the lampstands, verse 13, and we’re told down in verse 20, that the seven lampstands are the seven churches, the seven churches this letter is being sent to, which represent all God’s churches.
Do we see the picture?
Jesus is with, and among his churches, doing the work of the high priest, interceding for us.
Now it’s not that Jesus has to convince the Father, or remind his Father that we’re forgiven, or anything like that, but God has planned for Jesus to intercede for us, so that our sure status as forgiven and adopted children, because of his atoning death, is declared forever.
On whatever day we get to heaven, we will stand before this Jesus, who has daily, declared to our Father in heaven, “This one is forgiven.
My death is sufficient for this one.
Father, we have redeemed, and paid the price, for this dearly loved child.”
I can’t wait!
To be welcomed, and in the presence, of one who has spent every moment declaring your status as a forgiven and dearly loved child of God!
Can we get an inkling of what that is going to be like?!
Jesus is the mighty eternal God
John doesn’t slow down at all though, does he?
Verse 14, 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.
It’s not how Jesus is pictured in the Bible story books, is it?!
Brown hair, neatly trimmed beard, blue eyes, strangely!
But remember Daniel’s vision which we’ve thought about already, God, the Ancient of Days on his throne.
Have a listen to another part of that description of God;
“the Ancient of Days took his seat.
His clothing was as white as snow;
the hair of his head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire,
and its wheels were all ablaze.
10 A river of fire was flowing,
coming out from before him.
Dan 7:9 - 10
These days lots of us try and cover up gray hair, don’t we? But in the ancient world it was a sign of majesty and honour. And if you like, the whiter the hair, the more majesty and honour!
That’s God in Daniel’s vision,
And his clothes are white, as a demonstration of his purity.
So you can see the way that Jesus is presented in Revelation 1, is in the terms used to describe the Ancient of Days, God himself in the Old Testament.
If you’ve ever paid much attention to political cartoons, you’ll know that the cartoonist tends to pick just one or two characteristics of the person and show them in the drawing, and immediately we know who it is!
A pointy nose and a handbag meant Margaret Thatcher,
Messed up hair and a dishevelled suit is Boris Johnson, and so on.
Here is Jesus, drawn with the characteristics that are unmistakably God.
We can’t get around it!
Jesus is the eternal God!
And gentle Jesus meek and mild as we sometimes hear is not the full picture is it?
Yes, we see the purity, and honour and majesty of God out of Daniel 7, but John’s vision also dips into Daniel 10, to fill out the picture of Jesus’ power and might.
With eyes like blazing fire, feet like bronze glowing in a furnace, and a voice like the sound of rushing waters, this is not someone you want to oppose it it?
I once visited a factory were glass was being melted in a furnace. And the friend I was with pointed to the wall and said if that gave way, we would be utterly swept away and destroyed by the torrent of molten glass.
I felt pretty safe until he pointed to a section of wall that had collapsed a few weeks earlier!
But grasp something of that, John says, and imagine that strength and unstoppable force in someone’s feet.
It’s not to say that Jesus’ feet are liquid metal, but the power and might communicated by that image, belong to Jesus.
His enemies, and those who oppose his people, will discover that, as he punishes all who do evil,
But so will all who take refuge in him.
There is nowhere safer, than to be in the presence of this Jesus.
Jesus judges and protects
This is Jesus, who judges and protects.
See verse 16, 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword.
Again we’re told at the end of the chapter that the seven starts are the angels or messengers, probably the leaders, of the seven churches.
So, not only is Jesus among the churches, as we saw, he’s holding the leaders of his church in the palm of his hand.
He is fiercely protective of his people, and those he’s raised up to lead and shepherd them.
One of the things on my to do list for heaven, is to thank Jesus for holding those who have led and shephered me, because as he’s protected and guided them, they’ve protected and guided me.
This part of the picture shows us that getting to heaven is no, happy accident!
We persevere in our faith because we are preserved by the work of Jesus.
There’s also this darker aspect to the image, isn’t there?
The word John uses to describe the sword coming out of Jesus’ mouth is the word used in the Old Testament to describe the swords of the Amalekites, which God used, to bring his judgment.
What comes out of Jesus mouth, brings judgment.
And remember back in verse 10, Jesus’ voice was described as being like a trumpet.
Today, not everyone hears Jesus’ words do they?
Many hear but don’t listen.
That is not going to be the case forever.
One day everyone will hear his voice, and his Word will do its work of judgment.
It will be through Jesus’ words that wrongs will be righted,
That those who do evil will be punished.
And finally in this description, John says, His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
Once again this echoes descriptions of God in the Old Testament,
Especially how God’s glory was communicated;, his worth, and weightiness.
And this is who we will spend eternity in heaven with!
I remember hearing a very excitable African preacher, teaching in a London church, and saying to the generally quite un-expressive English people gathered there, “If your Jesus is boring – try mine!”
Of course, it’s the same Jesus, but you get his point, don’t you?!
And there’s nothing boring about this Jesus.
But is this, your Jesus?
Is this the picture you have, of the one in whose presence you will spend eternity?
Or has somehow your picture been condensed, to the point that, the joy of heaven with him has, little appeal?
You might have seen there are lots of audiobooks being made available during lockdown, and I was pleased to notice that C S Lewis’ semi biography, “Surprised by Joy” is free to listen to. You can go online and get that later.
But joy, according to Lewis is "an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.”
He’s saying there’s a desire within us, that can't be satisfied by any earthly experience, or person, or object, because it has its origin in, and it points to, God made known in Jesus.
We have been deliberately designed to long for this:,
This relationship, in his presence.
And nothing else will satisfy.
But when we’re united with him, face to face,
Ultimate satisfaction will be ours;,
We will know true joy,
In fact Lewis says elsewhere, “Joy is the serious business of Heaven.”
It won’t be boring, because we’ll be in the presence of this great God.
I hope this is a huge comfort to us, as we navigate these strange and difficult times.
The best thing about heaven, is not the absence of coronavirus, and daily death tolls, and the stress of living in lockdown,
The best thing about heaven, what makes heaven, heavenly, is the presence of this Jesus.
Friends, we will rejoice at spending eternity in heaven, not just because there’s no suffering or sickness,
Not because we’ll be freed from the frailties and frustrations of this life,
But because we’ll be with Christ, and as J C Ryle said, quoting the Apostle Paul, “Christ is all.”
If you’re a James Bond fan you’ll know that the Bond family crest contains the motto, “the world is not enough.”
Actually a Christian could say, “heaven is not enough.”
That is, heaven, on its own,
Heaven if Jesus were not there, is not enough.”
Not enough to satisfy,
Not enough to comfort,
Not enough to spur us on in difficult days.
But this Jesus,
Will capture us and enthrall us for all eternity, he will satisfy!
And at the end of the first 10,000 years, it will seem we’ve hardly begun.
Father, help us long for heaven,
Not just to be freed from the things of this life which distress us,
But because we long to be with Jesus, the sovereign ruler over all the earth, who yet became a man, and took on flesh, to know us, and save us.
Prepare us now, we pray, for the serious business of heaven; Joy in the presence of our glorious king Jesus. Amen