Living in the New JerusalemPastor Lutzer | June 8, 1997
Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them.
Selected highlights from this sermon
Miles tall. It’s beyond our capacity to even think in that scale, yet this is the New Jerusalem. And all of us who have believed on Christ for our salvation, whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, this is going to be our new home.
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Let’s suppose that you are in a hospital room. You have said your goodbyes. Your friends are walking in and out of the room on tiptoe because everybody knows what you intuitively know, though it’s been hard for you to talk about it. Soon you are going to be in eternity. Your bags are packed. You are ready to go. You had the presence of mind to give some guidance regarding your funeral. Even though within us we all believe that somehow we are immortal and we won’t be the ones to die, it is now inevitable, and soon you slip away into eternity. And your friends go to a funeral home and they are selecting a casket. And by then, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you will have already met Him face to face. You’ll be in His presence. You’ll recognize some of the people with whom you lived here on earth, some of the relatives. And you will now be in eternity. Now mind you that the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ is still in your future, because that happens when He returns to earth, but for now you are getting used to your surroundings.
Well, as you might know, this the fifth in a series of messages entitled One Minute After You Die. We’ve emphasized the continuity in some of the previous messages, the continuity between this life and the next, the fact that death is not the end of the road. It is just a bend in the road. And you are the same person over there as you are here with the same understanding, the same mind and aptitudes though transformed, no doubt, but eternity has no break in consciousness. You go from this life into the next. Immediately you are in that realm beyond.
Well, today we want to talk about some of the differences, specifically the New Jerusalem. We’re going to be speaking about some new experiences that we are going to have when we stop to think about heaven and eternity, so if you have your Bibles I want you to turn today to the book of Revelation, chapters 21 and 22. That will be the area in which we will be studying, and my message today, in many respects, will be quite simple. What I shall be doing is simply reading the Scripture for you, reminding you of what it says, and trusting the Holy Spirit of God to reveal to you and me its meaning, because it is surely beyond us. We can look at the words, but only the Holy Spirit can help us to grasp it, to get the concept, so be sure to concentrate and to think about what God has revealed.
What are four new experiences that we will have when we think about heaven? Four new ones! Well, first of all, a new home! A new home, and that is the New Jerusalem, which has been recreated, by the way. When you get to Revelation 21 and 22, you are really in eternity proper now. This is heaven as it will be forever.
And first of all, speaking of this city, notice the size. We’re going to begin in chapter 21, verses 15 and 16, and then we’ll be looking at some of the verses that surround this passage.
“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 (1,500 miles). Its length and width and height are equal.”
It could either be a pyramid or it could be a cube. If it’s a cube it would have 396,000 stories. If every story was 20 feet high, and most of you I think would be able to fit into a condo of that size… But just think of this; 396,000 stories, each of which has an area the size of about one-half the United States—1,500 miles by 1,500 miles. That’s a lot of condos.
Abraham will be there. Isaac will be there. The Bible talks about sitting down with Abraham in the Kingdom. The Old Testament saints will be there. The New Testament Apostles will be there. Peter, James and John and the other ones, except Judas (He won’t be there.), but the others are going to be there in heaven. You have the saints of all the ages in this age. They’re going to be there. The Donatists, bless them, most of them are going to be there. They are the little group that was exterminated through persecution when official Christendom wiped them out with the sword because they believed that one should be baptized upon profession of faith rather than infant baptism, because they actually believed that the church was to be distinct from the world, a radical idea. Terrible people! They must have been reading their Bibles. Where did they pick that up? But they’ll be there.
The Reformers will be there, and you and I will be there if we have trusted Christ as our Savior. A whole company! Jesus said, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” You say, “Yeah, it would be my luck though to be stuck on the thousandth floor, and all the activity is always in the downstairs lounge.” Well, I have some good news for you. No elevator is necessary because in heaven the “thought” will be the movement. If you want to go from floor 1,000 to the downstairs lounge, just think the thought and you will be there effortlessly. Never get tired! Never have to sleep! No night there, because you have a new indestructible body that will help you through the process and give you the strength to live forever and ever and ever and ever, and never, never become weary. What a place to be! That’s the dimensions of the city.
What about the building materials? Notice the text talks about two different kinds of building materials. Well, actually many building materials, but let’s look first of all at the high wall with its gates. I’ll pick it up in verse 10. The passage is so beautiful that we should not break it up: “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 it says also in verse 21: “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.”
Did you hear the story of the man who wanted to take some gold to heaven? It’s an apocryphal story, and he arrived there with a pail of gold, and Saint Peter said to him, “Why in the world would you bring pavement with you to heaven?” In other words, in heaven you’re going to be walking on that stuff. Why bring pavement to heaven? Transparent pure gold like glass!
But here are the gates. You say, “Well why does the city need gates?” Well, first of all, so that the redeemed can go in and out. It says in verse 24: “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.” In other words, it will be eternal day. Its gates shall never be closed. You don’t need a pass to get out. You won’t have to punch a card to come in. If you are redeemed, you can go in and out freely. I think you’ll want to spend most of your time inside, but you may be given an assignment that takes you outside, and there’ll be no hassle getting back in, even if you show up late.
Now, another thing that the gates do is they keep the wrong people out. Now notice! I’m not making this up. Some of you don’t bring your Bibles to church and you should because you should always check up on me whether or not this is stuff that I dream about. Notice it says in verse 26: “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.”
Notice it says in verse 15 of chapter 22: “Outside are the dogs (that is, the male prostitutes as it is defined in the Old Testament) and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood (lying).” Ouch!
Have you ever looked at the book entitled The Day America Told the Truth? Isn’t it true that about 90% of the people say that they lie quite regularly? Now the question is, “Could you believe the opinion poll?” That’s the problem I have, but nevertheless God says, “All those who love and practice lying are outside.” And the gates of the city are there to keep them out, not that they’ll be banging on the doors. This is symbolism. They’ll be someplace else that I’ll be talking about in the next message, but I want you to see here that this is a city where the redeemed can walk in and out and have freedom because this is their city now that they have inherited all things.
And in case you think I was making that up, notice what it says in chapter 21 where it speaks about the fact in verse 7, “He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”
Imagine it! What a place to be!
Now, you know, Peter talks about the fact that we have a place reserved in heaven for us. Reserved in heaven! Have you ever been to a place and you’ve reserved it ahead of time? I remember being in a restaurant with some seemingly important people. You always have to put that in quotes because the question is “important to whom?” But we had a reservation. Long line of people stretching out onto the street! We walked by them all because we had a reservation. We had a room. We didn’t have to wait in line.
Heaven! No waiting in line! You’ve got a place reserved.
That means that there’s a condo on which your name already appears. There is a crown that only you can wear. No one can snatch it from you unless, of course, you give it up through unfaithfulness here on earth. It is there in heaven reserved for you! That’s heaven.
The Old Testament begins in the garden, but it ends in a city. God loves cities. He loved Jerusalem so much that He says, “I’m going to make a New Jerusalem. I am going to recreate a Jerusalem and that will be the ‘forever’ city, the city of Jerusalem.” A new home! What a place it’s going to be.
You know sometimes, and you’ve probably heard me say people think that when Jesus said, “I’ve got to go and prepare a place for you,” that He’s been working on it. They say, “Well, He was a carpenter on earth, you know, in Nazareth, and now He’s in heaven, and He’s building these condos, and He’s working overtime to make sure that they are ready for us.” No, no, no! All created in a moment of time. Let them be, and boom—they are! New home! Do you like it, by the way? You’re a little quiet. Do you like it?
Number two, a new occupation. About 40,000 jobs in the United States! That’s how many different things people do to earn a living. Most people don’t like their job. Not enough pay! They don’t like where they work. It’s either too hot or too cold. They don’t like the people with whom they work. They don’t like the policy of the management. They get up in the morning and all that they do is think about how they can make it through because they know that they have to earn a living, and so they just go and they participate in this grind.
Well, my friends, heaven is going to be different than that. You know, of course, that the saints aren’t perfect. No church is perfect. Some people say Moody Church is very friendly. I hope they are right. Other people say, “I came and nobody talked to me.” Oh, all of the failings of the saints! The arguments over doctrine! The arguments over other kinds of issues. The church splits. The bitterness that sometimes is retained in the human heart! Some of you might even fit into that, and you are not committed to Christ today because He’s a stumbling block that you’ve never been able to get over, and I say it to you very lovingly, “Just get over it real fast because eternity is on its way.”
What are we going to finally do in heaven? Well, finally we’re going to be unified. We’re all going to believe the same thing, and we are going to worship God. Now you have your Bible open. Turn to Revelation 19. This gives you a picture of what the bride is doing, and how she’s worshiping the Lord. And though the passage is somewhat long, it really deserves to be read. It is so glorious and so beautiful.
“After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, (That’s you. Put your name there. I saw your name there. I saw you there. I saw you guys there. It says great multitude. The pastoral staff made it. They made it. You know there are some people who say, “You know, we want to belong to a small church. Just give us a little church.” Well, that’s okay, but I want you to know that you are headed for a big one. Can’t help it! You’re headed for a big one. A great multitude! There are going to be those who are going to say, “Oh, you know, we want a small little place.” Well, Jesus said, “Sorry, you’re in the great multitude.”) crying out, ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute (harlot) who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.’ Once more they cried out, ‘Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.’ And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, ‘Amen, Hallelujah!’ And from the throne came a voice saying, ‘Praise our God, all you servants, you who fear him, small and great.’ Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord God the Almighty reigns.’”
Well, I’m glad that we can agree on something, and in heaven we will. We’ll agree on a lot more than this. We will understand salvation is of the Lord, those of you who struggle with what the Apostle Paul wrote, and we all do. We’ll all rejoice and say that he was right. We’ll say that Jesus was right, and like we sometimes sing, “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be,” we are going to worship God together, and we’re going to serve Him.
It says in chapter 22, verse 3, “There shall no longer be any curse, and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it. His bondservant shall serve him. They shall see his face. His name shall be on their foreheads.” No night. No need of the light or of the lamp, or the sun because the Lord God… Imagine this! We read it too quickly, don’t we? “The Lord God shall illumine them, and they shall reign forever and ever.” Wow! Wow!
It’s not going to be that interminable church service like the Sunday school boy thought. We begin at hymn number one and then we sing all the way through the hymnal, and then we begin again at number one and we sing all the way through the hymnal. Some of you find a one-hour church service too long, and you’re not ready for heaven. Really! Seriously! You’re not ready! It’s a good thing He hasn’t taken you yet. In His presence forever and ever and ever, singing His praises, serving! I received a letter this week that said, “How do you know that we’ll continue some of the projects we have here on earth?” (chuckles) We’re going to be the same people over there.
Alright, a new home, a new occupation! Finally, you’re going to get the job you’ve always wanted. A new family! A new family! Now this is not found in Revelation but I want to read something to you that will just, I hope, be used of the Lord to illuminate your mind because some of you haven’t had a good family on earth. You know, you come from a family that rejected you, and you didn’t have a father, and you grew up in a place where Dad wasn’t around. And if Mother was around she wasn’t that great a help. And when you see these nuclear families get together every Thanksgiving, every Christmas (the same relatives come to the same place to talk about the same things), you say to yourself, “You know, why am I not included?” or you might resent the fact that you did not have a family like that. And so you say, “How are we going to fit in?” Well, the answer is this. Think this through. Just like you have an intimate family on earth, expand that intimacy to include those folks that loved so very, very much (those relatives that you could hardly wait to see at family picnics). Expand that group to also include all the other saints with the same kind of intimacy and joy in fellowship.
You say, “Well, wait a moment now. How do you get that out of a text?” Listen, one day some people came to Jesus when they were here, and they were trying to press through the crowd to get to Him. And they said, “You know, Your mother and Your brothers (And Christ had brothers in the flesh, by the way. The New Testament actually names them.) are trying to get to You.” And Jesus said these startling words: “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers,” and looking about on those who were sitting around Him, He said, “Behold my mother and my brothers, for whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Oh wow!
What Jesus is saying is, “You serve me on earth and you’ll be swept right into the inner sanctum of intimate fellowship and relationship in heaven.” So what God is going to do is He is going to take that whole idea of family that some of us have the privilege and join, though not all. Not all! I speak to hurting people today. I know that. But He’s going to take that relationship and it is going to be so unique that we will be Christ’s brothers and sisters, and even mothers. I read the text accurately. It’s in the third chapter in the book of Mark. I wasn’t making it up.
You say, “Well, what language are we going to speak in heaven?” Lots of jokes have been made about that, and last night I had a phone call that told me. And it wasn’t from heaven. It was a member of the pastoral staff who was at a meeting this past week who said that someone made this suggestion (And I like it. You can’t prove this from the Bible but I like it.) that in heaven we may all speak the languages that we spoke here on earth. It’s just that we will all understand each other in heaven. So you can speak to me in any language in which you grew up. And coming to the church this morning I said to Rebecca, “I like that idea because why should not Christ receive honor and praise and majesty from all the different languages of the earth forever and ever and ever?” And yet the unity will be there because we’ll be able to understand one another perfectly, and the communication will be evident.
A new home! A new occupation! A new family! The pain will be over.
Finally, a new order of reality. Yes, some things are going to remain the same, as we emphasized in a previous message, but believe me, some things are going to be different. I know that our children used to have a record that they played over and over again. And the one thing about children is that when they have a record that they like, the adults even learn the words, because you hear it so often. There are things that I could recite today from our past, and that is isn’t it true (I didn’t check on this), but didn’t our children always play a little record about all “won’t be’s” in heaven—the won’t be this, the won’t be that, and the won’t be that? Jerry, I don’t think you’ve had that song here recently.
Let’s look at all the “won’t be’s”—all the whole new order of reality. Chapter 21: “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.” In the Bible, the sea usually represents the nations. You have Daniel, you know, those beasts that are coming out of the sea. Usually, the turbulent nations! Usually the strife among nations. Well, that’s over. No more fighting in heaven!
There shall be no longer any death. Well, let’s look at verse 4: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more.” The hearse will have taken its last journey. There may be some vocations that translate to heaven. Being an undertaker is not one of them.
“There shall no longer be any mourning, nor crying (Think of all the buckets of tears that have been shed at any hour on Planet Earth, all the children who are weeping over parents who have abandoned them, children who are weeping because they do not have food. Think of the mothers who weep, the teenagers, the fathers, and no more of that!), no more pain (No more migraines, thank God! No more slipped discs), for the former things have passed away.”
Now people have read this and a popular question that is always asked is, “What about all these tears that are going to be wiped away?” First of all, why tears in heaven in the first place? Some people say, “It doesn’t fit.” It’s like war and peace. It’s like light and darkness. Tears and heaven just don’t go together. Oh yes, they do! Oh yes, they do!
Let me answer two questions. First of all, people say, “Why the tears?” And then, “Does God come along with a Kleenex and wipe everybody’s tears away?” First of all, why the tears? Primarily I think because of the way in which we live. You see, if it is true that this world is a test for where we shall be slotted in eternity, and whether we will get to rule with Christ in the extent of that rule, when we look back over the lives that we lived with all of the opportunities that were squandered and the sins that we so easily imbibed and embraced, and having come through at this point, of course, the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ, there will be tears. There will be tears in heaven.
“Why, oh why, did I not live for eternity when I lived on earth only for this very, very small sliver of time?” Then the question arises, is it possible for people to be happy in heaven with loved ones that are in hell, which is a topic we shall take up in another message?” Is it possible for a child, knowing that his mother will never be at the celebration? How can we be happy? I spoke to someone recently and this is a popular view. They said, “You know, the only answer is that God actually removes that part of our memory and we don’t remember that we had a son or a daughter or a child or a mother or a father who is not part of the celebration.” I want you to know that I think that is a wrong explanation. I can’t even imagine that God would solve a problem like this by increasing the sphere of human ignorance. He will not solve the problem by decreasing or shrinking the amount that we know, but rather by increasing the amount that we know. Do you know why? We’ll finally see things from His perspective, and agree that all things were done right.
Did you catch it a moment ago in chapter 19, verse 3? I know that this offends our sensibilities in an age of tolerance, in an age of which we simply think that everybody’s got to slide into heaven somehow, some way, and where most Americans actually think they are going to make it. But notice it says: “And a second time they said ‘Hallelujah’ because her smoke arises forever and ever.” We will rejoice, not only in the mercy of God. We will rejoice in the judgment of God, and we will see it from His standpoint and say, “Just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints.” And we’ll sing that forever. Of course, we don’t understand it now. You can’t grasp it now, but in that day we will.
I can do no better than to quote Jonathan Edwards again, a man who is certainly not a part of our twentieth century. But Jonathan Edwards says, “The saints in heaven will rejoice in the judgment of hell, not because the saints are unloving but because they are perfectly loving.” We will see things as God sees them, and so that’s why the tears will be wiped away. We will say, “Father, on earth we could not understand it. Now that we see it from the standpoint of eternity, we praise and we bless Your holy name,” and the Kleenex box is put away forever. No more tears! No more crying! Get on with eternity now. Get on with eternity! All that is past!
Well, notice what else there won’t be. In chapter 21, and we’re skipping now to verse 22, it says: “I saw no temple in it.” Some people have read that and they’ve said, “Now wait a moment. Earlier in the book of Revelation there’s a temple.” That’s true, but as long as the earth was in existence there was a temple. Now that the human beings on earth no longer exist, there is no temple. Why? It’s because temples were set up to worship God. That’s why, and notice that (Oh, I can’t grasp this but I can only read the text.) in heaven we will worship God directly. “I saw no temple in it for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” You are there in the glory of God, in the very presence of God. You are talking face-to-face with God as a man speaks with his friend. And we say, as Philip did in the New Testament, “Show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” And we shall see the Father and we shall be perfectly, perfectly satisfied.
No more abominations! We’ve already mentioned that. And no more hunger, thirst or heat. It says “no need for sunscreen in heaven.” That’s actually found in the seventh chapter, and the footnote refers to the sunscreen.
That’s the way it’s going to be. A new home! A new Jerusalem! A new occupation—worshipping God! Serving perfectly in a perfect environment! A new family! All the emotional needs that we were created to have filled, and some of you have never had those filled! All of those needs finally and perfectly met! And if you didn’t have a brother on earth, Jesus becomes your brother and takes the place, and now you have a father, and now you have a mother, and now you have cousins, because we’re all related. We’re all related, you see, and Jesus could not even give us His inheritance were it not for the fact that we were His relatives. That’s another study but that’s true. You see, we had to become His brother, and He had to become our brother, I should say, so that He could give us the inheritance.
So there’s going to be a new family, and then a whole new order or reality, a whole new way of seeing. Have I explained it well enough? No! No, I haven’t explained it well enough. I’ve not done it justice.
Do you remember that John Bunyan in The Pilgrim’s Progress said that when Hopeful and Christian were walking along they could see the holy city in the distance but it was too much for human eyes? And so they needed a special instrument by which they could see it, because they could not see it directly.
We have this marvelous, marvelous account in God’s Word, and we know the meaning of the words, and we try to grasp the concept, but it always eludes us. It is never what we really think it is. It is so much better. So much better!
Remember the story of the little boy who was brought up in an alcoholic home (and very, very poor), and in London he’d go from store to store, pressing his nose against the glass and looking at the toys, but he had none. And when he was in the hospital they brought him some toys and he said, “Now I can play with the toys and there’s no glass between.” That’s true. There’s no glass between.
Finally, the Scripture says that “we see through a glass darkly, but then face-to-face.” Now we see, thank God, but we see darkly. We don’t get it all! We don’t get it all but we try to because it is so much better than we could imagine it to be.
A little girl was reading stories of Jesus, and looking at a picture book of Jesus, and the miracles that Jesus performed. And that night she dreamt about Jesus. And in her dream she saw Him. And she said to her mother the next morning, “Oh, Mommy, Mommy, I dreamt about Jesus, and He’s a hundred times better than the pictures.” He’s a hundred times better than the pictures.
We who use human speech do our best, but we fail. We fail. We can’t grasp. All that in our future! But listen to me very carefully, and don’t miss this. Did you notice how often it says in Revelation 21 and 22), “I saw the Holy City”?
Someone said to me the other day, “Can you actually prove in the Bible that you have to be perfect to get to heaven?” Well, there are several passages that teach that, but look at this: “Nothing unclean, no one who practices abomination, lies shall come into it.” Verse 15 of chapter 22: “Outside are the dogs, the sorcerers, the immoral persons, the murderers, the idolaters (Isn’t that all of us to some degree?), everyone who loves and practices lying (We’ve all lied in some point of our life.).” And God says, “These kinds of people are the very kind who don’t make it.” They don’t make it!
Of course you have to be perfect to get to heaven! Imagine being in a holy city and being unholy. It is unthinkable. Unthinkable! So your problem is how in the world are you going to get holy enough from now till then to make it? (chuckles) Well, there’s only one way. There’s only one way, and that is to recognize that when Jesus died on the cross, His death was a sacrifice, so that God says to you, “If you cease believing in yourself, and trust Christ alone, I will credit you with His righteousness.” We are made the righteousness of God in Him. He can take your sin away, all the abominations that have been listed of people outside the gate, and a whole lot more that John didn’t bother listing, but that we could list. All of those have found in Christ cleansing and forgiveness and being washed away for those who believe in Him alone. Any person who thinks he’s going to make it on his own, he’s going to be (I can assure you.) outside the gate. Outside the gate! And he’ll be outside the gate forever and ever.
Have you trusted Him? I mean right now have you cleaved to Christ? Have you said, “Yes, I give up all attempts to save myself, and all the rituals that I depend upon and I see that I need His righteousness and I receive it as mine?” That’s the only way to get to heaven, and when you trust Him you become His brother, His sister, His mother. You are an heir of God and a joint-heir with Christ. You are all the things that you need to be to enter the Holy City.
And I can assure you, though I’ve never been there (I’ve never been to heaven), it’s going to be so much better—so much better than the pictures.
Let us pray.
Father, would You now inspire Your people to live in a way that would be a credit to the place where we are going? Help us to put away stupid, childish things, and to say, “Father, if this is my hope, and this is my focus, all that I am, all that I have and ever hope to be is Yours forever and ever.”
Father, help us to give up the foolishness of sin. And for those who have never trusted Christ, I urge, oh Father, by your Spirit, that You would prevail upon them and grant them the ability to look to Him even now and be saved.
And if that is your prayer you tell the Lord Jesus that at this moment. Make whatever adjustments you need to make in light of eternity. Trust Him. Trust Him!
Father, do in us all that You would desire in Jesus’ name, Amen.