Remember the 1985 movie Cocoon where Don Ameche, Wilfred Brimley, and some other oldsters find the alien cocoons in the swimming pool and are strengthened and rejuvenated by the life force emanating from them? The upshot of the story is that some of the elderly humans accept an offer from the aliens to return with them to a planet where they will never get sick, age, or die. Sound pretty far-fetched?
When I was a boy growing up in the Lutheran church I thought if you made it to heaven you would spend eternity sitting on a cloud in a white robe endlessly praying and reading from the Bible and catechism. It would be like one monotonous eternal church service. Well, the church I attended was sour and dour–droning pipe organ, dark wood pews that made your butt sore, dim lighting, red velvet offering bags, that dank churchy smell, stone-faced robed pastor with minimal communication skills, and snippy old women with bluish gray hair that looked like that stuff you see on Christmas trees. As I sat there in those services in my suit and tie and black wingtips, hair slicked back with Vitalis, I couldn’t help but think heaven would really suck.
But, oh well, it beat going to hell.
However as we see in the last two chapters of the Apocalypse, and actually throughout scripture, the eternal hope of the believer is a very earthy hope. As westerners we have been influenced by elements of Platonic dualistic (gnostic) philosophy that separates the spiritual from the physical into distinct compartments. But the Hebrew mindset out of which the language of the Bible flows is much more holistic than Greek philosophy. In eternity God brings His presence into a new heavens and earth where resurrected believers live forever in bodies–not as incorporeal spirits. There will be nothing boring, sour, dour, and monotonous about life in the eternal state. Let’s just take a few minutes, then, and look at some of the blessings mentioned in the final two chapters of Revelation and then make some applications.
The first three verses show the New Jerusalem descending to earth adorned as a bride. Later in the chapter we are told that the city in fact is the bride (vv. 9-10). In verse 3 we are told that God will dwell in the midst of this city–or with His people. The depiction of the city given throughout the rest of the chapter, with its gates, foundation stones, dimensions, and adornment of jewels and gold, speak of safety and security because God is in the midst.
We are told in Hebrews 11:9-10 that clear back when Abraham was living as a sojourner in tents he longed for a city with foundations whose builder and maker is God. That building is in fact what we see depicted here in symbol: the bride of Christ descending to earth with God dwelling within. Abraham’s vulnerability as a nomadic herdsman is a type of our earthly wandering. He wanted to live in his own walled city, where he would not need to sleep with one eye open all the time, lest predators attack his flocks or robbers pillage his family and goods.
Verses 25-26 of chapter 21 tell us the gates to this city are never shut. There is no need to worry about bad guys because there will be no devil and no sin. Here in our little town we went for years without locking the doors at night. Being right on the Canadian border we have the city, county, and state police in force, along with the border patrol, customs, FBI, and a half dozen other federal agencies. But in recent years even here we have started locking the doors. Some people go too far, though. I know this lady here who nagged her husband for months to install this beautiful antique wooden screen door that looks just like what we had on our front doors as kids–you know, the ones you used to get yelled at for when you let them slam? So we went over there last week on a warm sunny day and she had the front door shut and locked. When we asked her about this she said she leaves all the doors to the house shut and locked all the time for fear that someone might sneak in and steal something while she is out watering the flowers at the other end of the property. Well in the eternal state there will be no need for that.
Anyone who lives in a big city in this fallen world would be considered a moron if they did not worry about being attacked or ripped off. That is why you lock not only the doors to your house but also your vehicle. It is why people lock those club things on their steering wheels and take the face plate to their stereo into the house. Recently up here we have had thieves at the local parks breaking out car windows and snatching purses left on the seats. Just last week a local officer noticed an open car window with a purse inside, so he found the lady down on the beach and told her to put the purse in the trunk and lock her car doors.
When you get into the new heavens and earth you will be part of that holy city because you are part of the bride of Christ–which is God’s building and dwelling place. God’s glorious presence will be there, and there will be no sin or evil anymore. You will never have to worry about someone swiping anything from you (and I have had everything from tools to lawn mowers to cars stolen from my various residences). You will not have to worry about rapists, murderers, and child molesters. You ladies will not need to look behind you as you walk down the street or have your keys out and ready as you walk to your car in the dark parking lot at night. You will not wake up and wonder if that noise is just a tree brushing against the house in the wind or a burglar looking for a way in. All of these fears and anxieties which have become ingrained in our thoughts and behaviors in this fallen world will not enter your frame of reference ever again in the new heavens and earth.
There will be no sorrow and death in the world to come. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away (21:4).
I am really sore today. Two days ago I cut and ripped out an old floor that has been there for a hundred years. Last time I did something like this I ended up with a pulled groin. I am getting older and the carcass just doesn’t cooperate or bounce back like it used to. I am dying slowly, and so are you. It sucks, I know, but you are going to get sick and your body is going to wear out. Maybe your mind will go and you will forget things and talk to yourself as I do. Maybe you will make your exit via heart attack or cancer. In the meantime you will see others precede you in death, and you will shed tears when they suffer. You will mourn their loss and feel sad because you miss them. You will look at young people and realize that before they know it they will be like you, looking back over a life that flew by too quickly and saying with the writer of Ecclesiastes: Vanity of vanities; all is vanity under the sun.
And all that would be true if you did not have the truths of these last two chapters of Revelation to give you hope. In the eternal heavens and earth no one will get sick and die, and no one will pull muscles or forget that guy’s name who…
Uh..where was I?
No cancer, heart disease, natural disasters, economic collapse, no fighting or war. Oh, and your dog will not get hit by a car and killed either. (And that goes also for the believer I know who recently mourned the death of his pet parakeet.) No reason for tears of anything but joy. Even if you have loved ones who rejected Christ, somehow God’s presence and blessing will displace any grief in your heart.
The only other thing I want to point out from chapter 22 is the part about the river and fruit trees. Trees planted by water are symbolic of spiritual life and fruitfulness (Psalm 1; John 4), and I am sure that is the primary meaning here. But is is also true that in the new heavens and earth even though eating will not be necessary for survival it will be possible for pleasure. Clear water will have never tasted so good. In fact every sensual experience of this life will magnified to the nth degree. The smells, tastes, sounds sights, and feel of things will be so much better. There might be colors we have never seen and music far beyond anything we have ever heard in terms of beauty. Imagine the smell of cut grass and flowers in the eternal state? You will not need to sleep in a resurrection body, but perhaps a liesurely nap might be one of the pleasurable experiences in that glorious eternal world.
Sexual expression as we know it might not be available, since there will apparently be no marriage in heaven. But who’s to say there might not be an experience that goes far beyond that in terms of pleasure and personal connection? My own belief is that when we get to the eternal state my wife will love me and I will love her. We will look back together over this journey we have taken and see the hand of God each step of the way. Don’t short sell any of this–for eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man those things the Lord has prepared for those who love Him.
You will have an entire universe to travel through and visit. You like trips and vacations? Well there will be no limit to the options available to you in that day.
Like animals? I believe there will be angelic beings and various animal species in the new heavens and earth. I am not sure your old dog Butch will be there but there will be animals for our pleasure and companionship. And while there will be no death there, which would preclude the slaughter of animals, who’s to say you will not be able to enjoy a nice steak or rack of ribs? If God was able to miraculously produce flour and oil in Elijah’s day, or fish and bread for five-thousand people, He will have no problem providing you with a fillet Mignon grilled to order.
There might be sports activities too, or recreational pursuits like fishing (catch and release, of course). I certainly hope to step to the plate in my resurrection body and knock one over the fence; and I definitley will want to watch good wrestling and even take to the mat myself.
So as you anticipate eternity rid your mind of these boorish images of sitting on a cloud in a white robe playing a harp. The entire creation is groaning for the redemption of the sons of God–and when it happens it will be great. We all agree on this, no matter what eschatological scheme we have adopted.
That concludes this series on Revelation. We of necessity got bogged down a little on details because we really had to as we plodded through the chapters. Please remember there really is no division between the doctrinal and the devotional. It is all profitable. My hope is that you have been edified spiritually and encouraged to dig deeper in God’s word. Thanks to all who have followed the posts and to those who took the time to comment–even those who disagree with my conclusions. I plan to take a couple days off now and return with something a little lighter. If there is any topic or portion of scripture you would like to see covered, or any question you would like to see addressed, please respond with a comment to that effect or use the contact link to send me a message.
No, this is not your best life now. The best is yet to come.