Behold, A Throne: Heaven Is a World of Love

Sermon by David Strain on November 13, 2016

Revelation 21

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Please do take a copy of the holy Scriptures in your hands. You’ll find them in the pew racks in front of you. If you’re on one of the front rows, they’re under your seat. And turn with me to the book of Revelation chapter 21; page 1041. Revelation 21 on page 1041. Then once you have the Scriptures open before you, if you would please join me as we pray together!


O Lord, we pray for the work of the Holy Spirit to come to us as Your Word is read and preached and for a little while, as it were, to draw back the veil and to show us something and to give us a sense, a taste, of something of the world to come where we shall be with all of your people from across the ages and all over the world and with the great company of the angels gathered around the throne of God and of the Lamb to adore You forever. We long for that day and we pray as we hear the truth concerning that great reality tonight, we pray that Your Word would comfort our hearts while we labor and walk and wait and trust through this veil of tears til our journey, at last, is done and we come into Your nearer presence in joy. So come to us and minister to us by Your Word for Your own name’s sake. Amen.


Revelation chapter 21 at verse 1. This is the Word of Almighty God:


“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.’


And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also, he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty, I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.’


Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed – on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.


And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel's measurement. The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.


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. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day – and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.”


Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy, inerrant Word!


“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.”


That was, of course, Macbeth’s despairing soliloquy, his famous commentary, on what he believed was life’s pointlessness. Tomorrow and yesterday, he says, are empty things. Life is a “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Meaning and purpose are an illusion. For Shakespeare, Macbeth is a tragic figure, so fascinating precisely because in his context Macbeth was so extreme. His speech is as shocking and blunt, a declaration of hopelessness as Shakespeare could pen. But for most of us, Macbeth’s sentiments are commonplace and every day; sad, perhaps, but not terribly unusual. And what’s more, if you reject the Biblical doctrine of God and the Biblical view of life and history under God, Macbeth’s conclusions are nothing more than an inevitable and honest statement of the facts. If there is no God, if Jesus Christ is not who He claimed to be, then history really is bunk, after all, life signifies nothing, and we really are all walking shadows, a hopeless life, a hopeless life is the final logic of unbelief. Which is why Christians of all people ought to be the most hopeful, because, for us, every moment is tinctured with sacred purpose. Every day has a divine destiny. Because Jesus presides over history, tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow races toward glory and all our yesterdays are bright with sovereign design.


Our passage tonight is one place, perhaps the best place in the Scriptures, to explore the nature of our great hope. One place when the dark despair of our Macbeth moments makes us ask, “What’s the point?” it’s one place to turn. And if tonight you are not a Christian, it is one great place to see the consequences of our ideas. It’s one of the important tests we can use to measure truth claims. What are the consequences of these ideas? Where do they lead? Do they fill the heart with hope? Do they help make sense of reality in such a way that we can understand the world and yesterday and tomorrow and eternity? Well here in Revelation chapter 21, we get to see the consequences of our convictions, the great hope that ought to fill our hearts as Christian people. Here is the antidote for fear and a great remedy when the strength to persevere alludes us. We need, I think more than ever in these days, to fill our eyes with the vision of the new creation that John sets before us here.


Would you look at the passage with me, please? Revelation 21. It opens notice, with the arrival of the new creation. Verse 1, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth, had passed away.” Christians do not believe that heaven, as it now is, will be the way things will always be. At the close of history, all things will be made new. Eternity is not a disembodied ephemeral existence among the clouds. It is a new creation, a new heavens and a new earth, concrete and real, solid, tangible, and sensory. And I want us to see five things that John tells us about that new creation in our passage. There are many more to observe. We will consider five of them.


The New Creation is a City


First of all, notice that the new creation is a city; it is a city. Verse 2, “I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” Cities have, of course, been a major concern of the book of Revelation and for the apostle, John, haven’t they? The book opens, remember, with seven letters to churches in seven cities. The great symbol, as we’ve seen, for human civilization lived in rebellion against God is the great city of Babylon. But here we are being told that one day another city will come. Not the sprawling concrete jungles of our broken world full of violence and poverty and perversion. A new civilization, a new culture, a new community. Not Babylon; new Jerusalem. John describes it for us, notice, in the second half of the chapter. He says, verse 11, it has “the glory of God; it’s radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper clear as crystal.” Its streets are paved with gold; its gates are each a pearl.


Back in chapter 4, John you will remember, John saw a vision of John’s own throne. “He who sat there,” John told us, “had the appearance of jasper and carnelian.” And now we are being told the heavenly city bears the likeness of God Himself, the same sparkling beauty that put John in mind of precious stones that shines from the Lord on His throne suffuses the new creation. That’s why John calls it the holy city. The glory of God Himself shines from the city in the same way as it shines from the one who sits on the throne. And look at verses 12 and 14. John describes the walls and gates of the city. And notice carefully the multiples of 12 that are repeated here. Twelve gates, each one bearing the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Twelve foundations for the city; they’re for the city walls bearing names of each of the twelve apostles. Or 16 and 17, the city is 12,000 stadia in every dimension. Its walls are 144 cubits by human measurement. These are symbolic numbers of course. We’ve seen them several times already in the book of Revelation. They speak to us about the people of God – the twelve tribes, the twelve apostles, the 144,000 from chapter 14.


This World is Not Our Home

John’s point is that the New Jerusalem is constructed really not from bricks and mortar nor even from precious stones and jewels and gold. Those are images and metaphors evoking glory. No, the city of God, the new creation, will be constructed from people. An image, this is an image of the complete number, a vast, countless number of all the people of God across the ages made perfect at last in holiness, shining with the reflection, the mirror image of the glorious God who Himself presides over all from His throne. All the days of our earthly pilgrimage as Christians we have been looking for “a city who has foundations whose designer and builder is God” – Hebrews 11:10. Here, we know “we have no lasting city but we seek the city that is to come” – “Hebrews 13 at verse 14. And so we are to put down no roots here. This world is not our home. We are, as the apostle Peter puts it, “elect exiles of the dispersion, sojourners, and exiles who must abstain from the passions of our flesh.” We have no permanent address in the city of Babylon, although for a while we’re forced to live here. New Jerusalem, new Jerusalem is where our citizenship resides, in the holy city. The new creation is a city.


The New Creation is a Gift


Secondly, the new creation is a gift; it is a gift. Did you catch that in John’s description of his vision? Look again at verse 2. “I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” Or down again in verse 10, “the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” The home of God’s people in the new creation is a gift. To be sure, there’s a sense in which we contribute to its building when we share the Gospel or plant churches or lead someone to the Lord. As we said this morning, another brick is built into the temple city of the new Jerusalem. But we are being reminded here that our efforts ultimately have no power in themselves to actually accomplish the building of that great city to accomplish the salvation of sinners. No, we are, rather, instruments in the Redeemer’s hands. He’s the one who builds His Church and the gates of hell do not prevail against it. The holy city comes down out of heaven from God. It does not go up from earth to heaven from man. The kingdom of God is the work of God and the new creation is His gift, not our work product. And so we wait and work and witness with patience for that great day serving quietly and joyfully in faith until it comes.

The New Creation is a Wedding Celebration


Then thirdly, the new creation is a wedding celebration. Verse 2 again, “the holy city, new Jerusalem, comes down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” Or verse 9, the angel says to John, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” The Church is the bride of Christ whom God has prepared by His Spirit for the great wedding day. Christ has loved His Church and “given Himself up for her that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish,” Ephesians 5:25. Jesus died, in other words, to bring this moment that we are witnessing here in Revelation 21 to full realization. He has been working across the ages to sanctify and prepare His bride by His Word and Spirit til this day would dawn at last. That is what He is doing, actually, right now among us – preparing His bride for her wedding day; cleansing us from every spot or wrinkle or blemish til we are, at last, perfectly holy. And when that work is finally complete, the marriage supper will begin, sin will be no more, consummated joy will fill our hearts forever. Heaven will be the best of all wedding parties.


Heaven Is a World of Love

Jonathan Edwards in a great sermon on 1 Corinthians chapter 13 entitled, “Heaven Is a World of Love,” captures some of the implications of that great truth – this image of heaven as a wedding, the celebration of the marital love of the bridegroom, the Lord Jesus, with His bride, the Church. Here is the love of heaven. Listen to Edwards.


“This renders heaven, a world of love, for God is the fountain of love as the sun is the fountain of light and therefore the glorious presence of God in heaven fills heaven with love as the sun, placed in the midst of the hemisphere in the clear day, fills the world with light. The apostle tells us that ‘God is love’ and therefore seeing He is an infinite being it follows that He is an infinite fountain of love. Seeing He is an all-sufficient being, it follows that He is a full and overflowing and inexhaustible fountain of love. Seeing He is an unchangeable and eternal being, He is an unchangeable and eternal source of love. There, even in heaven, dwells that God from whom every stream of holy love, yea every drop that is or ever was proceeds, there dwells God the Father and so the Son who are united in infinitely dear and incomprehensible, mutual love. There is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of divine love, in whom the very essence of God as it were, all flows out or is breathed forth in love, and by whose immediate influence, all holy love is shed abroad in the hearts of all the Church. There in heaven this fountain of love, this eternal three in one, is set open without any obstacle to hinder access to it. There, this glorious God is manifested and shines forth in full glory in beams of love. There, the fountain overflows in streams and rivers of love and delight, enough for all to drink at and to swim in, yea so as to overflow the world as it were with a deluge of love.”


Heaven will be our eternal wedding day; a world of love of the sweetest communion between your heart and Almighty God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – forever. The world to come will be overflowed by, overrun by, it will be a deluge of love. The new creation will be a city, it will be a gift, it will be a glorious wedding celebration.


The New Creation Will be a Promise Perfectly Kept


Fourthly, it will be a promise perfectly kept. Look at verse 3. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, 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.” In the pristine dawn of the first creation, you remember how God walked with Adam in the cool of the day in the unfallen garden of the world. But we know that fellowship with God was shattered by the sin of our first parents. And yet as God prosecuted His great program of salvation for the nations, He would tell Abraham, “I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will be their God,” Genesis 17 and 7, and following. Likewise later in Exodus 6 at verse 7 He made the same promise to Israel. “I will take you to be my people and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God who has brought you ought from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” In Leviticus 26:11-12, He told the Hebrews in the wilderness, “I will make my dwelling among you and my soul shall not abhor you. I will walk among you and will be your God and you shall be my people.”


God With Us

Then later still in Jeremiah 30 at verse 22 in the face of divine judgment due to Israel for their sin, even then the promise was repeated, “And you shall be my people and I will be your God.” And in Ezekiel 36 after those judgments had fallen, God promised a new covenant. “I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers and you shall be my people and I shall be your God.” And then at last in the fullness of time in John chapter 1 at verse 14, we saw the fulfillment of those promises. We were told that Jesus Christ, the Word who is God, “made His dwelling among us having become flesh.” God Himself walked among us. Then later, Jesus told His disciples He would send them the Spirit of truth “who dwells with you and will be in you.” And after His resurrection, the Lord Jesus made the same promise yet again, “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”


Over and over again, God signals His saving purpose by renewing His promise to be with us and to dwell among us, to take us to be His people and Him to be our God. And we’ve already if we are Christians, we’ve already tasted something of the wonder and the joy of that reality through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We have been adopted into the family of God. His Spirit has come to dwell in our hearts. We have been united to Christ. He never leaves us nor forsakes us. And yet as Revelation 21 is telling us, what we now enjoy is only the outskirts of blessing. It is the margins of glory. We’re touching only the hem of Jesus’ garment here. But one day, those promises partially fulfilled here, will be perfectly fulfilled hereafter and every last remnant of sin’s consequences will evaporate like a morning fog on a summer day. His finger will wipe away the tears from our eyes, brush them from our cheeks. His presence will banish death. Mourning and crying will be replaced with roars of laughter and songs of joy. Pain will simply cease. These, John says, he calls them all “former things.” They’re going to pass away.



Our Heavenly Hope

You who mourn the loss of a loved one, gone ahead of you into Christ’s nearer presence, you who deal today with sickness and sore bodies, you who nurse those whose ailments are a constant source of grief who impair them, you who today weep and cry and hurt, all you suffering children of God one day soon these will all be so many “former things” that will have passed away. Like a rain cloud in front of a sun, it put us in the shade for a little while, but now when the great day, at last, has come, we bathe in the warmth of Christ’s radiance forever. The hope of heaven, the hope of heaven, ought to be one of the great preservings and strengthening truths that keeps us serving and praying and singing when sorrow and sickness and sin assail us. That is Paul’s point in Romans 8 at verse 18, isn’t it? “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. In this hope, we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Suffering here and now, that’s often our lot, suffering here and now, but the hope of unseen glory to come, Paul says, that hope enables us to wait for it patiently.


Or along the same lines, listen to the apostle Peter. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed,” 1 Peter chapter 4 at verse 12. His glory will be revealed one day soon. It’s what John is writing about in our chapter. His glory one day soon is going to be displayed and we will be glad when it comes. But our gladness now, even amidst fiery trials, helps to prepare us for that day.


What’s the message? Isn’t it simply that our ability to persevere through hardship is greatly diminished by our lack of heavenly-mindedness. Our ability to persevere through hardship is greatly diminished by our lack of heavenly-mindedness. When was the last time you dwelt on heaven, really stoked the fires of longing for heaven in your hearts, meditated on the language of Scripture concerning heaven? Brothers and sisters, we need to fan into flame our longing to be with Christ in the new creation. Long for heaven and you will endure with joy on earth. If heaven is your much-desired home, you’ll understand that every wearisome mile of your journey here brings you one step closer to your glorious destination and so you will press on.


The New Creation is Also a Temple


The new creation is a city, it is a gift, it is a wedding, it is a promise perfectly kept, then finally notice the new creation is also a temple. Look again at verses 15 to 27. In verse 15 the angel who speaks to John has a measuring rod to measure the holy city. Back in chapter 11 verse 1, John himself was given a measuring rod but then he was told to measure the temple of God. The imagery from both places actually is drawn from Ezekiel chapter 40 where the prophet sees an angel with a measuring reed who measures the temple of God. And so here to the city, new Jerusalem, is a temple city. And notice that the measurements in Revelation 21, did you see them, they form a perfect cube. Verse 16, it measures 12,000 stadia; its length and width and height are equal. It is four-square. The city is a cube. It’s designed, you see, to mirror the dimensions of the Most Holy Place in the temple. It too was a perfect cube. The city is the heavenly Holy of Holies, expanded now to immense scale. And whereas in the Old Testament only the high priest could ever enter, in the new creation the most intimate dwelling place of God will be right in the midst of His people and the gates of entry to it will never, never be shut. The city is the people, the people are the temple, the temple city of the church is the Most Holy Place where God resides in the full plenitude of His majesty and glory.


And the lists of precious stones that form the foundations of the city in verses 19 to 21 are designed to carry on that theme. They echo the precious stones inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel that were worn on the high priest’s breastplate. He would carry the names of God’s people symbolically with him into the Most Holy Place on the day of atonement every year. But now atonement has been made once and for all by the blood of Christ and God dwells among His people permanently, and so the whole city is surrounded and suffused by the presence of God. And so verse 22, there’s no need for a distinct, separate temple in the city. The people of God dwell in God’s presence and He dwells in them and among them. “The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb” we are told, are the temple. There’s no need for sun or moon or lamp like the lampstands in the temple in the Old Testament, the great symbols of God’s presence because God’s glory shines in all His people. The Lamb Himself is the lamp. The Old Testament temple and all its furnishings were mirrors of this ultimate reality – the city is the temple, the temple is the Church, and God suffuses all in all with His glorious presence.


The Global Church

And to this temple-city, John says, all the nations come bringing their worship, their offerings, their glory. No unclean thing enters the temple-city. The whole people of God from every tribe and language and nation, they come to adore the Lord and the Lamb. You remember Gentiles were shut out from the temple in the Old Testament but now in the new Jerusalem, there is neither Jew nor Greek, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free. All are one in Christ Jesus. And so at the end of all things, the global Church shall press into the city and come to adore the Lord and to lay before Him their glory and their honor that all the glory and honor might be His alone.


The Most Holy Place

And do mark the emphasis of the text carefully. You see it in verses 5 through 9 as well as at the end of chapter 21. The city is a holy place. It is the holy city. It is the temple of God. The Most Holy Place. No unclean thing will enter there. The cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters and liars, none of them are allowed to enter. Their place is the lake of fire in the outer darkness. The point here, rather, is that holiness is an absolute necessity for heaven. It is a holy city and the unholy may not enter. No one ever qualified for heaven because of their holy life. But no one ever went to heaven without a holy life. The world sells you the lie that holiness will be the end of your happiness. But our passage is telling us that we could never be happy in heaven without holiness. “Without holiness,” Hebrews 12:14, “Without holiness, no one shall see the Lord.” Do not think that heaven can be secured by signing a card or making a decision or having an experience or praying a prayer and then living, however, you, please. A profession of faith, a spiritual experience, a moment of commitment in your past is no basis for confidence that you will find a welcome in heaven to come, the home of righteousness. If you want to belong in the holy city, you must be a holy Christian. There are no other citizens in the world to come.


And so heaven is a city, it is a gift, it is a wedding celebration, it is a promise at last perfectly fulfilled and it is a holy temple to the Lord. How bleak life must be when you know nothing of the Lord Jesus Christ as the great and only sovereign over the years, the one who brings time to its inevitable conclusion in the paradise of God for all who follow Him. What a dull, hopeless existence to live without the hope of heaven. But if you know Jesus, however, bleak life here may get, however hard each day, you have a hope that this world’s woes cannot touch, a destiny that cannot be denied to you by anything in this veil of tears. The gates, we are told, of the heavenly city are flung wide and they never shut to all who trust in Christ, whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Will you enter those gates with thanksgiving and these courts with praise when that day comes or will you be left outside with the unclean things in the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth? Are you a citizen of the new Jerusalem through faith alone in the Lamb who is all the glory in Emmanuel’s land? Are you an elect exile, a sojourner passing through this world? If you are, if you are a citizen of the world to come, only a resident alien in Babylon but a citizen of new Jerusalem, then press on with hope. The evening is far spent; the day is at hand. Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning and that morning is coming soon!

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