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, Revelation 21:1-4
As new students steam onto campuses across the world, many of them wearing bookstore-special t-shirts that read “University of _________,” Est. 1890,” few have a grasp of the history on which their school stands. Understandably engrossed with youthful newness, they are focused more on the goal of the next four years than the oxidized plaques enshrining the last hundred.
A similar notion can be taken toward Revelation 21:1-4. Every inkling of human existence subconsciously gropes forward for this: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.” For the Christian, who is actually certain of such future hope, the comfort of heaven can become a bland default, like having the insurance of a fat nest egg. Yet it is the cruel backstory of this world that most prepares us to seek a better one.
A better world must be a categorically different world. The simplest summary of our world, our most characterizing accomplishment so to speak, is that we killed our own Creator, Jesus Christ. I don’t know about you, but a world that kills its own creator sounds to me like it needs to be replaced with a new one.
It cannot be a garden where people are able to not sin. It must be a city where people are not able to sin at all. According to Hebrews 11, this is not a hope for those who default to it, but who actively desire it:
having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth…they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city, vv. 13, 16
How do we know if we actually desire such future things? It is revealed in part by how much we lament the “former things” (v. 4). For those who grieve all the death, mourning, crying, and pain, who are wearied by the endless crucifying of flesh, heaven is a place of peace. There, God will not only literally wipe away tears, he will eliminate the very spring of sorrow behind the tears.
Yet far more importantly, heaven is a place of presence. There, “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” (v. 3). This is one of only a few direct quotes from God himself in the book of Revelation. It seems he’s so excited about this climactic union that he blurts it out like the parent of brand new baby. He speaks similarly three times in only eight verses.
Such divine redundancy captures the treasure of heaven. It is God himself.
Honestly, many days I seek heaven’s benefits more than heaven’s Best. Before my feet hit the floor, my mind is already filled with the tasks of the day, with what I need and what needs me. The occasional thought of heaven is really no more than hunching for a break from the chaotic shuffle.
What a crappy exchange of religious goods. When I go into a fast food drive-through, in exchange for my money I expect the convenience of the quick and detached. But imagine if the drive-through attendant not only hand-delivered my food, but got in the car with me. Or better yet, he opened my door and invited me to dine with him inside the restaurant. Once I got past the speechless awkwardness, I might say something like, “Um, I don’t think you understand the nature of our relationship here.”
When heaven becomes a detached default, I let my relationship with God digress into an exchange of religious goods. I say to God’s grand offer of himself forever, “Um, I don’t think you understand the nature of our relationship here.”
Heaven was not given just for my present convenience. God did not first offer his Son so that he could later offer me instant reprieve from the world’s backstory. Instead, he invites me to be the poor, the mourner, the meek, the hungry, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3-6). He beckons me to arrive with a lifetime of having said, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations” (Psalm 90:1).