This is a series of seven mini-articles focussing on the idea that heaven will not be an abstract disembodied place above the stars but rather a glorious down-to-earth Kingdom, here on a restored planet earth, with Christ Jesus ruling and reigning from his throne in Jerusalem.
I remember a time, not so long ago, when heaven was depicted as sitting around on clouds, strumming harps and eating endless rounds of Philadelphia cheese sandwiches.
The subject of heaven was rarely preached or taught from the pulpit for fear it might seem…well…rather boring!
Fortunately a much more real and robust picture is presented these days of an earthly kingdom ruled by King Jesus down here on a restored planet earth. Heaven will invade earth as Jesus takes his place on the throne in Jerusalem and rules with perfect righteousness.
We see a glorious taste of this already, every time a soul is saved or a broken body healed, but the full expression and revelation of this Kingdom will be ushered in when Christ Jesus returns in power and glory.
God did not create the earth only to abandon it. He will certainly need to cleanse the earth and break the curse laid upon it but under the Lordship of Jesus the earth will thrive and blossom!
Zechariah 8:3 ‘This is what the Lord says: “I will return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth, and the mountain of the Lord Almighty will be called the Holy Mountain.”
Zechariah 8:7 “I will save my people from the countries of the east and the west. I will bring them back to live in Jerusalem, they will be my people and I will be faithful and righteous to them as their God.”
Zechariah 8:12 “The seed will grow well, the vine will yield its fruit, the ground will produce its crops and the heavens will drop their dew. I will give all these things as an inheritance to the remnant of this people.”
Our blessed hope is the return of Christ Jesus and the beautiful Kingdom that he will establish on this earth. This hope will bless us today and fill our hearts with joy and strengthen us in the times of darkness. This is not a message to be hidden away in the cupboard but rather it is a message to be proclaimed from the highest of rooftops!
Day 2 The Fruit Tree
A wise rabbi was once asked what he would do if he knew that the Messiah was returning the next day. He pondered for a moment and then replied that he would plant a fruit tree.
This rabbi wisely knew that the rule and reign of the Messiah would not be an abstract allegory somewhere up there in the clouds but a down-to-earth reality where fruit trees grow, flourish, bear fruit and give shade from the mid-day sun. Heaven will be real on earth.
Ezekiel 47:12 describes the fruit trees that will provide sustenance and health in the days to come.
Ezekiel 47:12 ‘Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.’
Some will be called to serve others by harvesting these endless crops of fruit and bringing them into the city. The fruit will not simply fly off the trees and land in our pantry, they will need to be harvested.
I appreciate that not everyone’s idea of heaven on earth is to labour in the orchards but for those of us who like to get our hands dirty then it will be a real joy to serve our King and the community.
I have often laboured in the fields in the heat of the day to bring in fruit harvests and it is hard work indeed! But with our glorified tireless resurrection bodies, the labour will be a joy and a rewarding pleasure.
No more aching backs from lifting the fruit boxes!
And there will be no fretting over a late frost destroying the blossom or the codling moth leaving its worms in the apples. Every fruit will be pitch perfect. And the eating of the fruit, with real taste and real juice, will be a veritable delight indeed!
Day 3 The Fishermen
The reign of Christ Jesus on earth will not bring to an end the stewardship, creativity, talent, skills and artistic abilities that we have developed and enjoyed up until now.
One of the most glorious of verses is found in Ezekiel 47:3-12 which describes the fishermen plying their trade along the shore.
Ezekiel 47:10 ‘Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets.’
Fishing may not be everybody’s cup of tea but I can identify with this verse because I worked as a fisherman for a few months, just south of Akko, when I was a young man.
The river that Ezekiel describes can be considered as a metaphor for the flow of the Holy Spirit and a fair number of sermons have been quite rightly preached regarding plunging into the depths of the Holy Spirit.
But yet Ezekiel 47:7-12 describes in too much detail the geography of the journey of this river to be considered merely as a metaphor. The description of the fishermen catching fish of many kinds with their nets strongly indicates the real life realities of these verses as well.
When Christ Jesus reigns from Jerusalem, some will be employed to catch fish and harvest the fruit trees for the provision of the peoples. Food will not fall out of the sky; we will have to work for our supper. The major difference though is that we will have glorified bodies and we will not grow weary from our labours.
There is a lovely verse in John 21:4-14 which describes the resurrected Jesus calling his disciples to bring their catch of fish to the shore. Jesus had prepared a fire of burning coals to cook some of the fish for breakfast. The point made here is that Jesus was cooking real fish, that the disciples could eat, rather than an abstract fishy metaphor. Jesus did not snap his divine fingers in order to cook the fish. He prepared the coals and lit the fire.
John 21:9 ‘When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread…v12 ‘Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast”.
Heaven on earth will be full to the brim with realities. Some will be called to catch the fish and harvest the fruit to provide for the table of others. Others will distribute these provisions and ensure that everyone is satisfied. Others will clear the tables and do the washing-up!
Bringing in the fishing nets at sunrise, with the hoopoes flying overhead, will be one of the real joys of life!
Day 4 The Father Provides
The Good Father has always been concerned with earthly concerns. When we are hungry he provides food, when we are cold he provides shelter.
When the Lord Jesus establishes his glorious kingdom on earth then he will not allow his children to live in tents or sleep on the bare earth. He has prepared the most beautiful of cities for us all to dwell in.
Revelation 22:3a ‘The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city and His servants will serve Him.’
The City of God will house His throne and it will simply radiate with His glory.
Revelation 21:10 ‘And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.’
God who is faithful will not promise us such a beautiful city in scripture and then, at the last moment, substitute a metaphorical tent. He who has promised a beautiful city will not provide a bed-roll instead. Jerusalem will be a testimony to His faithful promises and His tender care..
Those of us who have known homelessness and the psychological damage caused by the lack of a home will identify and appreciate this.
Abraham knew enough about living in tents that blew away with the next Saharan dust storm. He was seeking a more rooted and permanent dwelling place.
Hebrews 11:10 ‘For he was looking forward to the city with foundations whose architect and builder is God.
The Holy City, Jerusalem, will be firmly planted by God as the centre of this earth from where Jesus will rule and reign. His beloved children will live in this city and also travel the earth, according to God’s purposes and desires.
But wherever we may travel, our hearts will always be looking back to Jerusalem, the most beautiful golden city, radiant in all its glory!
Psalm 48:1 ‘Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise in the city of our God, his holy mountain. It is beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth.’
Day 5 The Golden Dwelling Place
The Biblical promise has always been that God will bring the most beautiful city, the New Jerusalem, that will come from heaven to earth as a dwelling place for both God and His beloved redeemed people. The absolute splendour of this city will be matched only by the purity of the Bride of Christ.
Revelation 21:2 ‘I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride, beautifully dressed for her husband.’
This is no ordinary city, this is Jerusalem, the delight of our heavenly Father.
Isaiah 65:18 ‘But be glad and rejoice for ever, in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight, and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people, the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.’
Indeed, both the city and the inhabitants are so glorious that their joined splendour converges into a common identity. The city and the people become almost one. God’s love for His people is revealed by the sparkling radiance of the Holy city that is to come.
In the world we see this phenomenon where a city and its inhabitants will become as one: Paris and the Parisians; Boston and the Bostonians, and so on.
When Christ Jesus returns in power and glory, he will bring with him the dwelling place that he has been preparing for many years now.
John 14:2 ‘In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.’
When Christ Jesus returns, he will bring all things together and this will include his beloved city Jerusalem opening its doors to his beloved redeemed people.
Ephesians 1:10a ‘…to bring all things in heaven and earth together under one head, even Christ.’
Consider the following three verses and see the common identity of the shining purity of God within both the city and the people.
Revelation 21:9 ‘…Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.’
Ephesians 5:27 ‘…to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish but holy and blameless.’
Isaiah 61:10 ‘I delight greatly in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.’
God will bring His beloved city and His beloved people together so that they may be one.
Day 6 A Real Metaphor?
A commentary I was reading recently was suggesting that the Holy City, the New Jerusalem of Revelation chapter twenty-one was only a spiritual picture of the people of God, the Bride of Christ, and not an actual city itself.
Once again I am troubled by the need that some have to turn everything into an abstract metaphor.
It is certainly true to say that God dwells in the heart of the believer.
Ephesians 3:17 ‘..so that Christ may dwell in your hearts forever.’
It is also true that God’s people come together to form a metaphorical building in their own right.
Ephesians 2:21 ‘In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the ord. and in him, you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.’
Paul is clearly using a metaphorical example to illustrate the coming together of God’s people through Christ Jesus.
However, this is not a description of the eternal City of God that is described so vividly in so many other parts of scripture.
Hebrews 12:22 ‘But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.’
We may experience this heavenly Jerusalem in the spiritual realm already. In the midst of worship and prayer we may taste of the heavenly City that is to come.
One day, when Christ Jesus returns in power and glory, this Holy City will actually descend to earth and we will be invited to enter its gates and become residents in its midst.
We will no longer be tasting of the heavenly City in the heavenly dimension but we will be actually walking down her golden streets. We will actually be able to kneel down and taste of her river, running as clear as crystal.
The City will not be a metaphor of this or that. It will be the real thing!
Revelation 21:2 ‘I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride, beautifully dressed for her husband.’
Day 7 A Down-To-Earth Heaven.
Many have moved from a vision of a disembodied abstract heaven up in the clouds where everyone twangs on harps all day long, to a much more down-to-earth vision of the reign of Christ Jesus on earth.
This has not diluted for one moment the sheer beauty of the Kingdom that is to come but simply made it more real…more actual. The expression ‘down-to-earth’ does not take away the sheer glory and indescribable beauty of what is to come.
Revelation 22:1 ‘Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, down the middle of the great street of the city.’
The new Jerusalem, with its golden streets and tree-lined crystal clear river, flowing from the throne of God, will be beyond words. One day we will walk along these gentle avenues and know that it has all been worthwhile.
Revelation 21:21 ‘The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass.’
The gold of the street of the city will be as real and as meaningful as the band of gold on the finger of a married person.
The Holy City is neither a metaphor nor a symbol nor an allegory, nor anything else, but the most beautiful city where God has chosen to dwell and where He has invited us to dwell with Him.
Psalm 84:10 ‘Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.’
This is real. This is worth persevering for. This is worth dying for.
This is where we belong.
Hasten the day….