I think everyone wants good news. But, there’s different kinds of good news. If you were to bring in a puppy and tell my kids, ‘Hey, I have good news, I brought you a puppy!,’ they would be ecstatic. But, if you were to bring in a puppy and say to me, ‘Hey Anthony, I have good news, I brought you a puppy!,’ that would not be good news. I definitely don’t want a puppy.
And sometimes the good news we’re offered doesn’t look like good news at all. It’s like in the movies, when the protagonist is running from the bad guys and it looks like they have him trapped this time, but then a mysterious van pulls up and the door slides open and a man in a mask, says something cliche like, ‘Come with me if you want to live!’ He doesn’t know who this mysterious hero is. And he has no idea where the van is going to take him. But, he always gets in the van because he knows that if he doesn’t he’s going to be caught by the bad guys.
Many of us come to faith like that. We get the brokenness and sin in this world and when the van pulls up and Jesus is inside, we’re thrilled to follow Jesus for the hope of getting away from this world, but we don’t really have any idea where we are going. We know it’s a safe place and a nice place, but we don’t know much else.
Today, we’re continuing with part 2 of our message titled, Good News for Eternity, because I want you to know where it is that the Bible teaches you are going. Last week we discussed what eternity looks like from God’s perspective. And we discussed judgment and the first side of judgment, which is the doctrine of hell. But, today I’d like to show you three truths about heaven, not just for knowledge sake, but that I believe will give you hope to persevere fearlessly in life now.
The first truth is that,
Heaven is Perfected
You didn’t hear me wrong; heaven is not just perfect, but perfected.
We see this unfold in the Revelation that the Apostle John recieved from Jesus. John writes,
Revelation 19:11–16 (CSB) — Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse. Its rider [Jesus] is called Faithful and True, and he judges and makes war with justice. His eyes were like a fiery flame, and many crowns were on his head. He had a name written that no one knows except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called the Word of God. The armies that were in heaven followed him on white horses, wearing pure white linen. A sharp sword came from his mouth, so that he might strike the nations with it. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will also trample the winepress of the fierce anger of God, the Almighty. And he has a name written on his robe and on his thigh: King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
What we see here is that Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords has come to cleanse the earth of sin and evil forces.
Revelation 19:17-21 (CSB) — Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and he called out in a loud voice, saying to all the birds flying high overhead, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of military commanders, the flesh of the mighty, the flesh of horses and of their riders, and the flesh of everyone, both free and slave, small and great.” Then I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and against his army. But the beast was taken prisoner, and along with it the false prophet, who had performed the signs in its presence. He deceived those who accepted the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image with these signs. Both of them were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. The rest were killed with the sword that came from the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds ate their fill of their flesh.
This is where the cleansing or perfecting begins. The beast and false prophet are cast into the lake of fire.
But, who are they?
There’s a lot of speculation about who the beast and the false prophet are. Early Christians figured Caesar was the beast. During the Reformation, John Calvin and other reformers saw the Pope of
the Catholic church as the Beast. And there have been lots of other options over the years.
What seems clear through church history is that every generation equates different world leaders as the beast, who you may have also heard called the antichrist.
And that makes sense. In Daniel 7, Daniel describes four beasts that come up out of the sea, each one representing a Kingdom from Daniel’s day that oppressed God’s people. The four beasts are a lion, a bear, a leopard, and a different beast with ferocious teeth and 10 horns.
In the Revelation, John combines all four of Daniel’s beasts into one beast when he introduces the beast in Revelation 13:
Revelation 13:1–2 (CSB) — And I saw a beast coming up out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads. On its horns were ten crowns, and on its heads were blasphemous names. The beast I saw was like a leopard, its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth.
John combines the beasts into one to show that the very concept of antichrist and the very concept of a false prophet are done away with in the end.
In other words, the beast is a symbol of rebellion against God. And the false prophet is a symbol of lies and deceit. When the earth is being perfected, all opposition to God and all lies and deceit are done away with.
So, all untruth and all opposition to Christ is done away with in the end as the creation is cleansed. Then John continues,
Revelation 20:1-10 (CSB) — Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven holding the key to the abyss and a great chain in his hand. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the abyss, closed it, and put a seal on it so that he would no longer deceive the nations until the thousand years were completed. After that, he must be released for a short time. Then I saw thrones, and people seated on them who were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and who had not accepted the mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle. Their number is like the sand of the sea. They came up across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the encampment of the saints, the beloved city. Then fire came down from heaven and consumed them. The devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet are, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
So, the next thing that happens at the end is Satan is released from bondage.
Satan rallies people together who don’t follow Jesus and he will try to deceive the nations one last time. But, the armies that Satan, the deceiver, amasses are devastated by fire from the sky and Satan himself is thrown into the lake of fire alongside the beast and the false prophet.
So now, untruth, opposition to Christ, and deceit have all been destroyed. Jesus is cleansing the creation. John continues,
Revelation 20:11–14 (CSB) — Then I saw a great white throne and one seated on it. Earth and heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. I also saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life, and the dead were judged according to their works by what was written in the books. Then the sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them; each one was judged according to their works. Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.
Notice what happens here. The people who had died came out of the grave to be judged.
That’s what John means by, ‘death and Hades gave up the dead that wee in them.’ But, the first thing cast into the lake of fire is actually death itself, and Hades, which means grave. They are cast into the lake of fire, never to be seen again. These are figures to explain that no one will die anymore. There is no longer need for a grave.
When John says that the sea gave up the dead that were in them, he is talking about evil divine beings that betrayed God and were chained in the depths of the sea. In ancient literature, the sea is always a source of evil. Notice the beast and the false prophet came out of the sea. The sea is the place that divine beings that betrayed God reside and in the end, they are cast into the pit. You’ll actually see in a few minutes that the see itself is gone on the new earth, because there is no longer a need for it without the rebellious divine beings.
Finally, John wrote,
Revelation 20:15 (CSB) — And anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
Finally, after all the evil forces in the world are judged and cast into the lake of fire, after opposition to Jesus, all false teaching, and all deceit are been done away with, even the rebellious divine beings are destroyed.
Then the final cleansing happens; all of the people who did not turn to Jesus in life are cast into the lake of fire.
Notice what has happened here. Everything has been cleansed. The world was a place full of lies, deceit, and evil influences, but now it has been purified.
What I want you to see is that heaven is not just a perfect place, but a perfected place.
Heaven is not just a perfect place, but a perfected place. God doesn’t actually take his followers to a new world. He perfects this world.
The earth is still the earth, but it’s a perfected earth, a cleansed and purified earth.
And I think there’s a hopeful note for us in this. This is the good news. Although we are on the earth today and we still struggle with our imperfections. We don’t know all things as we ought to know. We don’t see all things as we ought to see. We don’t always love as we ought to love. We don’t always obey God as we ought to obey. We are imperfect, but just like the rest of creation, we are being perfected.
And one day when lies, deceit, and temptation of evil are all cast into the lake of fire, we will be finally and eternally perfected.
John goes on to say this:
Revelation 21:1–5 (CSB) — 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. I also saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away. Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new.” He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.”
After the creation had been perfected, John says he looked and saw that the earth was new and the heaven was new—that is, the universe was new. Notice there is no more sea—no more abode for evil divine beings to deceive humanity.
And a side note about this passage. We assume that heaven is a new place because Jesus said, ‘I go to prepare a place for you,’ but notice here, the place is the holy city, the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven. Jesus specifically says that he ‘prepared’ it for his bride, which is the church. The place that Jesus is preparing for us is brought to this earth.
But, he doesn’t mean here that it’s a different heaven. Notice, verse 5, ‘Look I am making everything new.’ Jesus isn’t destroying the old earth entirely. He is redeeming it, rejuvenating it, purifying it, sanctifying it. He is making it new.
Heaven is not just a perfect place, but a perfected place.
That’s an important concept to understand, because heaven is so hard to imagine. And I think that’s because we don’t have a good understanding of the nature of heaven. But, it’s clear here that life in heaven is somewhat like life now. There is still an earth and a universe, but it’s a perfected earth and universe.
You will not be a spirit floating around the sky, but you will be a real person.
John Eldredge wrote,
Nearly every Christian I have spoken with has some idea that eternity is an unending church service…we have settled on an image of the never-ending sing-along in the sky, one great hymn after another, forever and ever, amen…And our heart sinks.
We know there has to be something more. So, we ask questions like, ‘Will I remember my former life?’ and ‘Will I remember my family and friends?’ and ‘Will I recognize people in heaven?’
And the answer is, yes! God isn’t going to destroy the whole planet and he isn’t going to destroy your whole being either. You will remain with the rest of creation, but you will be a perfected version of yourself living in a perfected version of this world.
I think that’s hopeful, because it demystifies eternity. Death isn’t something to be feared if I know that I will awake in paradise as a perfected version of myself and in a perfected world.
I know that I will awake in a place where there are no lies, no opposition to the goodness of God, and most importantly, no temptation to do things that are immoral and shameful.
Further, John says that we will no longer experience sadness or grief or pain of any kind. Those are characteristics of the world that we live in now in this life, but when we get to heaven we will see that ‘the previous things have passed away.’ No more sadness and no more pain.
So, we see that heaven is not just perfect, but it is this life and this world, perfected.
The next characteristic of heaven is that…
Heaven is Paradise
Paradise is a really interesting word. It comes from the Greek Word παράδεισος which translates into English as either Garden or Paradise.
I hope that inspired an image in your mind. In the Old Testament, this word is used for the gardens or parks that belong to a King. They are a place of refuge where choice fruits are grown and where there are plenty of wild animals for the King to hunt. A King’s paradise has courtyards for entertaining guests or hosting weddings and other parties for the people.
When the Jews used this term in Jesus’s day, they had one particular garden paradise in mind. That was the garden to the East of Eden. It was the perfect garden that the Lord God made for Adam and Eve in the story of creation. Paradise is the perfect place on the earth where all the choicest fruits grow, including the tree in the middle of the garden that is called the tree of life.
If you know the story, Adam and Even were exiled from the Garden after they disobeyed God by eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They were sent out into the world where there were thorns and thistles in the ground. They were sent out where they had to work tirelessly to get just enough to live. The world outside of paradise was a place of pain, where sin and death reigned.
Now many have undertaken the task of finding the Garden, but to no avail. People have said that maybe the Garden was in the Sahara dessert that is today completely dried up so that no trace of it remains. But, Jewish tradition says that God took the Garden Paradise off of the earth and that he preserved it in a safe place in the heavenly realms to be brought back to earth at the end of days for the enjoyment of His redeemed people.
In other words, the Jews believed that eternal paradise, or heaven as Christians tend to call it, is the Garden that God created in Genesis 2.
That’s why Jesus said to the thief on the cross,
Luke 23:43 (CSB) — Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise [the Garden].
And the Apostle Paul says of his vision of heaven,
2 Corinthians 12:3 (ESV) — And I know that this man was caught up into paradise [the Garden]…
And Jesus said,
Revelation 2:7 (CSB) — To the one who conquers, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise [the Garden] of God.
You see, humanity began in a garden, in paradise. And we are destined to return to paradise to eat from the tree of life and to enjoy life eternally with Christ our savior and redeemer.
The Garden Paradise is the place that Jesus goes to prepare for us. And the Garden Paradise is the place that Jesus brings back—not as it was in Adam and Eve’s days, but as it was meant to be. Jesus brings back the Garden as a City paradise, the New Jerusalem.
The poet John Milton understood this. He wrote a work you’ve probably heard of called Paradise Lost. It’s a super weird book and a lot of fun to read. I recommend you get a modern paraphrase and have some fun with it. But, when he wrote the sequel to Paradise Lost, he titled it Paradise Regained. See, he didn’t title it Mysterious Paradise or A New Kind of Paradise. He titled it Paradise Regained, because he understood that what God began in the beginning, he brings to it’s fullness in the end.
To so many people, the concept of heaven sounds boring. I don’t think it’s so much that people prefer sin to righteous living. I don’t think it’s that at all. It’s just that we’ve been conditioned to think of heaven in the abstract.
We’re promised that it will be eternal bliss and satisfaction and that it will be a place where there is no pain. But, we are never told about the wondrous things that await us in heaven.
Well, let’s look at the original paradise to see what God had in mind for humankind.
Genesis 1:28–29 (CSB) — God blessed them [humankind], and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.” God also said, “Look, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the surface of the entire earth and every tree whose fruit contains seed.
Paradise was created for us to enjoy and have control over. Humanity was supposed to build the Garden paradise into a great city paradise that stretched over all the earth.
The garden was supposed to be expanded to fill the entire earth so that the entire planet would be subdued by humankind. It was to be a wondrous place where human creativity reigned as they enjoyed the fruits of their labor upon the earth.
That purpose is coming back when paradise returns. Heaven is paradise over all the earth. Heaven isn’t a boring place where we will sit and chant or sing songs all day. Heaven is a place where we will explore the wonder of the planet and maybe even the universe God has given to humankind.
Randy Alcorn said it this way,
(Heaven) — Where our minds rarely go is to the eternal state, where we’ll spend eternity… where we’ll live forever after the culminating event of human history that’s linked to Christ’s return—our resurrection. We’ll reign over a resurrected universe, centered on a resurrected earth…We will eat, drink, work, play, worship, discover, invent, and travel. Civilization will be resurrected, including human cultures with distinctive ethnic traits. There will be both resurrected nature and human culture. Together these elements combine to distinguish the eternal state, where God will come down and live with his people.
Many people fear death, not only because of pain, but because they know they are venturing into the unknown, the mystery of the universe. But, the good news for eternity is that it’s not a mystery. We know how the story ends. Our story began in a beautiful garden paradise and it ends in a worldwide paradise.
So, that leads us to our final point. Heaven is perfected, heaven is paradise, and…
Heaven is Providence
By that I mean that heaven is a place where God provides everything that we could never accomplish on our own. You can see it in the last point. Adam and Eve failed to build the Garden on earth, so Jesus goes and prepares the Garden for us.
But, there’s still questions that need to be asked about heaven. People ask, ‘If Adam and Eve sinned and were kicked out of the first paradise, could that happen again?’ ‘What if someone sins after entering into eternal paradise?’ ‘What then?’
That’s a really good question and I think it’s answered by our passage. John wrote,
Revelation 21:5–6 (CSB) — Then the one seated on the throne [Jesus] said, “Look, I am making everything new.” … Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”
See, the garden, the first paradise was created and humankind was charged by God to build paradise all over the earth.
But, they failed. We failed.
So, this is the Gospel, the good news for eternity, that God stepped in to do what we fail to do.
Isn’t that the good news? … that God created us to experience Him and His good creation for all eternity, but we have all defied God, sinned against God and man, and are completely incapable of getting right with God? … but, God stepped in to do what we could not do when Jesus came to die for our sins, our shortcomings?
Jesus took God’s wrath upon Himself so that we could be restored to God and there is nothing we must do to work our way back to God, because Jesus has already done it all.
And God has taken care of paradise also. It’s not our job to build it any more.
The new paradise doesn’t need to be built; it’s already built. Jesus built it. “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”
That’s even what Jesus said would happen when he was here on earth. He said,
John 14:3 (CSB) — If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also.
Jesus prepared paradise for us so that we can be with Him where He has gone—to heaven, to paradise.
So, the answer to the question, ‘What if we mess it up?’ is that we can’t mess it up. Jesus has already accomplished it. We can’t mess it up. Jesus has already provided everything we need, not just for life now, but for life everlasting.
That’s what is meant by providence. That God provides because we can’t do it.
I’m going to challenge you to commit today to take a…
If you are here and providence sounds really good right now. Maybe you feel weak and powerless to change your life and your circumstances. If so, then you are in exactly the place you need to be, because Jesus provides everything for life now, and for life everlasting.
As I said there’s nothing you do, because Jesus has already done everything. All we ask is that you do three simple things. We call it the ABC’s.
We ask that you are honest with yourself and with God and that you A, admit that you have sinned against God, that you aren’t just suffering from the lack of paradise in this world, but that you, alongside all of humanity have contributed to the lack of paradise in this world.
And then, B, believe that Jesus has done everything necessary to bring you back into paradise so that on the Day of the Lord when Jesus returns for His church and He judges the world, whether their names were written in the lamb’s book of life or not, believe that Jesus has written down your name in that book.
And finally, C, commit. What you believe inevitably must become action. Our actions are always a product of the things we believe and so we ask that, if you believe that God has secured you within His Kingdom and has promised to you an eternity in paradise, then commit to live in that Kingdom now; commit to follow Jesus with the rest of your life.
If you would commit to Jesus for the first time today we ask you to check the box that says ‘Commit to Jesus’ on your Next Step card.
There’s lots of steps you could take today. But, maybe you are one that is concerned that you family members or friends—your Oikos—will not be with you in paradise. I want to give you three simple questions to start a conversation.
1. I learned _____ about heaven at church today. What do you believe about heaven?
2. I don’t think I’m good enough to go to heaven. Do you think you are?
3. What do you think heaven is like?
Your Next Step could be to ask these questions of someone in your life. Most people claim to believe in heaven and hell so it shouldn’t be too difficult of a conversation.