- July 23, 2008
• Revelation 21:1-5,22-27; 22:1-5
I remember a conversation I had with an elderly Christian man when I was a mere 24 years old. We’d been discussing a wide range of topics on a cool June evening and we came to the topic of the afterlife. Both of us being Christians, we were thinking in terms of heaven and what it would be like. After a while I said, “It all sounds pretty good, but I don’t know if I’m quite ready for it. I have a lot of living I still want to do.”
His gentle reply was that he, too, had felt that way when he was younger, but now that he was on up in years his view had changed. He’d seen so many people die whom he missed that he was eager for a heavenly reunion and to see God. While I’m not ready to die at this moment, the more I’ve aged, the more I’ve come to appreciate his perspective. Heaven will be a wonderful place for believers in Jesus and it will be a God-centered place as well. Today’s study will help your learners appreciate the beauty, joy, and glory of heaven that is described in the Book of Revelation.
New (Rev. 21:1-5)
After a lot of imagery that is frightening, John offers us an exciting image of the new heaven and new earth that is to come. Now God is dwelling with God’s people and all the things that have caused us grief and pain will be absent. Every tear shall be wiped away and all things will be made new.
When we live in this world that has pain and sorrow, it is encouraging for us to remember that there is a place in heaven for believers, and it is new and glorious. What’s more, it is completely God-centered. The passage says that, “They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” (Rev 21.3b). This verse points to the wondrous intimacy with God that believers will experience in heaven. This is an assuring promise that need not be limited to heaven – remind your learners that intimacy with God can happen in the here and now as we nurture our relationship with God through spiritual formation.
We can better endure those things that cause us sorrow and pain by remembering that those are only temporary and will be absent from heaven. Ask your learners how they might be encouraged through hard times by remembering this promise.
We will have a complete and unhindered intimate relationship with God in heaven, but we can begin to experience that relationship even now. Ask your learners to think about what steps they can take this week to draw closer to God.
Ask your learners to think about how a new car or new house smells and feels. Think about how fresh paint makes a house seem new and bright. Then encourage them by saying that as good as those experiences may be, they will ultimately pale in comparison to the wonder of the new heaven and the new earth.
Glorious (Rev. 21:22-27)
John described the glory of heaven as the glory God Himself brings to it and the glory brought in by the kings of the earth. His descriptions illustrate that the very light of heaven will be from God’s glory, and of it there will be no end. No night will descend upon heaven, and it will be a place of peace – there is not even a need to shut the gates of the city. Further, heaven will be a place of purity and righteousness.
The wonder of this glory is staggering. A student of the Bible will recall God’s pillar of fire that guided Israel during the Exodus, and John is harkening back to this Shekinah glory of God’s presence that brings illumination to all who follow. In heaven this glory will be so close that all will be illuminated.
In the midst of this glorious heaven, John’s references to the nations indicate that our unique cultures will play a role in contributing to the glory of the holy city – but this will be without competition or prejudice as we know it on earth today.
Ask your learners to imagine how it will be to have God’s presence so close and strong that it illuminates our everyday living. What will this be like? Is it possible to live in the glow of God’s glory in our lives here and now?
Ask your learners to reflect on the diversity of heaven. Do you think there will be dissension over the songs being sung? Or about the diversity of races and cultures represented?
Joyful (Rev. 22:1-5)
In this final scene for today’s study we see the river of living water – crystal clear – that nourishes the tree of life. Bearing fruit twelve months out of the year, this tree of life is a source of healing for all the nations. This tree removes the curse that came by way of Adam and Eve eating from another tree – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The final abatement of the curse is the source of ultimate joy for all believers as they dwell in God’s home.
We can rejoice that all we have lost due to sin and the curse upon humans will be restored in heaven, and it will be a place of great joy. Ask your learners to imagine the implications of the removal of the curse of sin. For example, what would the removal of the curse do to affect the way we relate to one another? What happens to jealousy, pride, greed, and hatred? Or, what would the removal of the curse do to affect our bodies? What happens to cancer, heart disease, and other human maladies?