The King Invites Us To Reign With HimErwin W. Lutzer | November 21, 2010
Selected highlights from this sermon
Imagine actually living with God. Well, after the Tribulation and the Great White Throne judgment, believers in Christ will be doing exactly that.
New Jerusalem will be the eternal home of the redeemed, and God Himself will dwell with His people. We will have direct, immediate access to God.
However, only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will be able to enter the holy city – and you only have this life to get into that book. Once your life has ended on Earth, there won’t be another chance. So, are you ready?
Welcome to eternity. This is the last in a series of messages entitled When He Shall Come [retitled The King is Coming] about events that will surround the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and a future in which all of us shall be involved.
If you were with us from the beginning, you know that we suggested that it was best to look at the return of Christ in two stages. First of all, Jesus Christ comes for His Church, and there’s the period of the great tribulation, the rise of antichrist, and then Jesus comes in glorious appearing and stands on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem with His people. And then there’s a thousand-year reign of Christ called the millennial kingdom. At the end of that Jesus Christ delivers the kingdom to the Father. The Father again appoints the Son to rule and to reign. But also if you were with us last time you know that we spoke about that terrifying judgment called the great white throne judgment when all the dead of all the ages who are unbelievers will be judged personally by God.
Well, today we come to a very happy scene. It’s the story of the New Jerusalem. It is the story of eternity, the story of heaven. There are three reasons why I am preaching this. First of all, it’s to give us some kind of a glimpse into eternity and what heaven will be like. I realize it is very inadequate. In some sense it’s like two infants in a womb talking about what they will be doing once they are born and are 25 years old. They have no idea. I mean, it’s a whole different realm, but we’re going to try because the Scriptures invite us to try to understand eternity and our role in it.
Secondly, I hope that those of you who are coming today with burdens—you are unemployed, you are going through a time of distress physically, you are in a lot of pain and a lot of heartache—remember that eternity is coming. I want you to be encouraged. I want you to live with eternity in mind.
Last night I called my mother, as I always do on Saturday evening, and my mother will be 102 years old in about a week’s time. And as I have frequently said, and you’ve probably heard me say it, at the age of 102 she will tell you she has no peer pressure. (laughter) But she asked me a question that she asks me every Saturday evening. She said, “What are you going to preach on tomorrow morning?” I said, “Mother, I am going to speak about heaven,” and immediately she said, “Oh, that will be glorious,” and then she began to quote a poem in German about the beauty and the glory of heaven. She’s looking forward to heaven. She’s very, very anxious, and actually thinks that God apparently has forgotten her address. (laughter) So I want you to live for eternity even before you are 102.
Another reason is we’re going to discuss who is in and who is out. Not everybody gets to live in the holy city. And this is not my decision. It’s not my wisdom. It is God’s, and we’re going to look at what God’s Word has to say about it.
Many years ago when I was a lot younger I memorized Revelation 21 and 22, but I did so in the King James Version of the Bible, so when I quote verses from time to time you may notice a little bit of difference—not a difference in meaning but maybe a difference in word order in the older version. So I am going to begin with Revelation 21, which is where you should turn to, and if you are listening by some other means, please find Revelation 21 in your Bible and I’ll introduce the first few verses.
John said, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a Bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” What a description!
Let’s begin right at verse one: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth.” Do you remember what we learned last time? It’s during that period between the millennial kingdom and eternity—the new heaven and the new earth—that you have the earth being totally destroyed. Theologians debate as to whether the Bible teaches it is going to be obliterated or simply remade by fire. Either way, this is a new heaven and a new earth–a brand new universe that is free from every single taint of sin and curse. And this New Jerusalem that comes down as a bride adorned for her husband is the eternal state of the redeemed. That is heaven.
When my father died two years ago, and when any one of us dies right now, we do not yet go there because we need our resurrected bodies, and the events that we’ve been talking about need to take place, and then we will be in that New Jerusalem that is coming down from God out of heaven as a bride. This bride is very, very beautiful.
You know James Vernon McGee was an old southern preacher that you sometimes still hear on the radio even though he passed away many years ago. But he used to say, “I believe that God does a miracle because every bride is beautiful on her wedding day.” Well, miracle or not, this bride certainly is full of bling, adorned for her husband. The New Jerusalem is sparkling, beautiful and scintillating beyond our imagination!
Now before we ask the question of who is occupied in this building, who lives in the New Jerusalem, let me isolate for you some things that aren’t going to be there, and this is going to be very joyful for those of you who are suffering.
You’ll notice it says in verse 4, “Is it not that God shall wipe all tears from their eyes?” Actually the Greek text says it like our translation says it–that God will wipe away every tear, as if to emphasize every single bit of sorrow, and every issue that causes you concern, and then the text also says he will wipe those tears out of your eyes as if God is getting at the very heart of what it is that troubled you here on earth so that you can put it away forever. It’s not as if God necessarily takes a handkerchief and wipes our tears. He gives us understanding. He takes away all causes for sorrow so that whether it is because of the regrets that we have had or because some people aren’t in heaven that we hoped would be there, either way the sorrow is gone and it is gone forever.
Furthermore, there will be no death, the Bible says. If you are a choir director, there is a possibility that you can continue your vocation in heaven. If you are a funeral director you are going to have to be retrofitted for something brand new. The whole idea is there is no sorrow, no parting, no goodbyes, and then it says, “no crying, no mourning, no grief” and finally for those of you who live with chronic pain (you ought to underline this in your Bible) “and there will not be any more pain for the former things are passed away.” Anybody happy because of that – no more pain? (applause)
Well, all of that is by way of introduction. Now let’s get right down to the issue. Who dwells in the holy city—the New Jerusalem? Well the answer, of course, is God and His people. I quoted it a moment ago. “Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them and they will be his people, and God himself shall be their God.” Wow!
You’ll notice that the older translations say that the tabernacle of God is with man, and here we have the dwelling place. Well, either translation is good. The word actually is tabernacle because that’s where God dwelt in the Old Testament times, you see, and so what the writer is really saying is that the tabernacle of God, the very dwelling place of God, now is with people. Now to understand that, let’s keep in mind that in Old Testament times (You recall it, don’t you?) God set up a whole structure by which people could come to Him. There was what was known as the tabernacle. There was an outer court. There was the holy place where priests could freely go, but then behind that there was the Holy of Holies where the priest could go on only one day a year, the Day of Atonement. God was trying to signify to people that He was fixing a way by which He could connect with people who are sinners without Him being contaminated. That is the big storyline of the Bible. How does God dwell with people when they are sinners and He Himself not be affected by their sin? So God says, “Even though I exist everywhere I’m going to be localized in the Holy of Holies. That’s where my glory is going to be seen.”
Now that tabernacle of God is now with men. That holy place–the Holy of Holies–was a cube. In a moment we’re going to be finding out that the city of Jerusalem is a cube, a much bigger cube. Why the connection? The connection is simply this–that we are going to be dwelling in the Holy of Holies throughout all eternity, in the very presence of God with no fear of being contaminated by sin because we will be holy and totally free of all sin forever. Does anybody like that? (applause) If you don’t like your sin you would have clapped. If you like it, you might not have clapped for that one.
Now imagine the presence of God directly. You see, that’s why it says that there is no temple in it (I’m in verse 22) for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it, and the Lamb is its lamp. Just imagine for a moment, folks. Think it through. This will be our first experience with uncreated light. You see, it has no need of the sun or of the moon because, after all, God is now the light, and that light is uncreated. That’s part of who God is, and here we will be in light, and the Scriptures make it clear that there is no need of the sun or moon. All direct immediate access to God is with no barrier in between—no need for a mediator.
If I mention to you the name of Joni Eareckson Tada you will remember that she has been a quadriplegic for possibly about 35 or 40 years. She has suffered greatly but blessed millions in what she has learned through her suffering. But I remember her saying, “The thing that I look forward to when I get to heaven is not that I will be able to park my wheelchair in the vestibule of heaven and be able to run to Jesus to worship Him.” She said, “What I will like the best, and what will be most meaningful to me, is instant continual communication with God without a hint of sin ever coming between us.”
That’s what it’s going to be like. Imagine a mind that is so pure that you wouldn’t mind if your wife and your family and your daughters and your children knew every single thought. There will be no guilt and no shame, and nothing but purity, for the pure in heart shall see God, so God is going to dwell with his people in the New Jerusalem.
Now very quickly we’ll say a word about its size, or we could say the description. You’ll notice in verse 18 we have another look at this beautiful city. He’s taken to a great and high mountain and shown the holy city, the New Jerusalem that came down from heaven, and having the glory of God. Its radiance was like a most rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates–oh you know. Did you notice it in verse 12? Peter is not at the gate. After all that, the text says that there are twelve gates and twelve angels. They are there, and you’ll notice that on the gates are the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. So you have a representative group from the Old Testament saints. Verse 14 says, “The wall of the city has twelve foundations and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles, so you have in this city still the distinction between Israel and the Church, but at the same time all of them are together in the New Jerusalem, all the saints of all ages enjoying God.
And now let me say a word about the size of the city. It says in verse 15, “The one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and its walls. The city lies foursquare.” Its length is the same as its width. He measured the city with a rod—12,000 stadia. That’s an old system of measurement. I Googled it last night to try to find out exactly how long it was and I discovered that there is disagreement because there were various measurements depending on the country and the location of where you were. But generally it was said that this particular stadia might even be over a mile long. If that’s true, then you have 12,000 miles or more—14,000 miles. And it says its length and its width and its height are all equal. Can you imagine a city that would go from Colorado to the Atlantic Ocean and from the northern part of the United States all the way to the Mexican border, and then be 1,500 miles high? Think of the condos that are there. Oh it’s got plenty of room. Plenty! And then furthermore, you know when it talks about streets, we always think about streets needing to be horizontal. We go from here to there. Imagine this. We are going to be in glorified bodies. Everyone that is there is in a glorified body now. The Bible says that we shall see Christ and that we shall be like Him when we see Him as He is. We’ll have the same kind of body that Jesus had. Do you know what that means? Think about it. It means that we will be able to go vertically just as easily as we’ll be able to go horizontally. So maybe the streets of the city are just as much up and down as they are across. Either way, it will not matter because at that time your thought or your desire to be somewhere will give you the strength to simply be there. It’ll be that effortless, that simple, and just imagine, you need no sleep ever because your body is eternal like Christ’s.
Now, as we continue I want you to notice the materials of the city but I’m not going to mention it, but if there’s a jeweler present it would very interesting for you to read verse 18 and following where you have all of the different many jewels and precious stones that are mentioned. And may I say that this may all be symbolic? You have to remember that John was seeing the holy city come down from heaven and he had to put it into words that he could understand and that we could understand. He had to do that so that we would get a glimpse of what it was like, and so he writes all of those beautiful arrangements. The only comment I’ll make here is to remember that God is into beauty. God is into architecture. You look at the way in which this city is constructed and you realize that God is a builder. In fact, it says that Abraham looked forward to a city, which has foundations whose builder and maker was God. So this is God’s city, built by Him for His dwelling place and for His people.
Let’s take a moment and ask ourselves what the privileges are of those who live within the city. What are the privileges? Well, first of all, notice that there’s going to be equality. Now you’ll notice it says that by its light (verse 24) the nations will walk and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. That’s dependent upon an ancient custom. When a king was submitting to his superior he brought whatever he had and laid it at the feet of the superior king. So you are going to have kings that are going to bring their glory, and whatever they had on earth they are going to bring it and lay it at the feet of Jesus. It says that the nations also will bring their glory and their honor into it. I imagine that even though the nations will be represented in heaven there will be no nationalism. There will be no feeling of superiority obviously because of sinlessness and because we’re all there with a common purpose, namely the worship and the service of Jesus.
So there’s going to be equality in the holy city, and then, for those of you who are into vitamins and health foods, catch this in chapter 22: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal flowing from the throne of God and through the land through the middle of the street.” You have to get this now. There is the throne of God. From the throne comes a river of water of life flowing right through Main Street—right in the middle of Main Street. That’s what it says, and on either side of the river there’s the tree of life. So we have to stop there. We can’t just continue. The tree of life! Do you remember where we encountered it before? It was in the book of Genesis. When Adam and Eve were there, there was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and God said, “Don’t eat of that tree.” They went against His word and they ate of that tree, and then God would not allow them back into Eden. There’s no going back to Eden, and God actually made sure that they wouldn’t go back. Why? It’s because if they were to eat of the tree of life, they would live forever as sinners. They would never die.
You say, “Oh, that would really be good.” I don’t think so. Just ask my mother. You know once you are aged you are longing for death and to be with God, and you’d be locked into this existence when God has something so much better planned for you, and so as a result of that, they did not eat of the tree of life, thankfully.
Now you can eat. You can eat from the tree of life, and what is more, the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Now for many of us that’s confusing. You say, “Well, you know, we have limitless energy and we have strength in heaven. Why is it that we need to eat? Well, here’s the deal. You don’t have to eat in heaven if you don’t want to, but I think that we do eat in heaven. And that should not be a surprise to you. Jesus, after He received His resurrection body, ate with the disciples. He ate fish along the Sea of Galilee, on the shore, and He ate with them. If we eat in heaven it will not be because we have to but we will eat because of the enjoyment of eating. Some of you can hardly wait. (laughter) Amen?
So there’s going to be health in heaven. It says that no one will ever hunger, nor will the sun beat upon any. What a glorious experience that will be, and then there will be service. We have to continue to read. It says in verse 3, “No longer will there be anything accursed but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it and his servants will worship him.” Now some translations may say His servants will serve Him. Why the difference? It’s because this word actually is the word service but it’s generally the kind of service that you do within a temple or a service that you do within a church–that kind of service–so it really is worship.
We are going to be busy serving the Lord and then, lest you think that that isn’t the case, verse 5 says, “And night will be no more. They will need no light of the lamp or the sun for the Lord God will be their light and they will reign forever and ever.” The expression in Greek is the strongest language that you could ever use for forever. Literally they will reign into the ages of the ages with no end at all in sight ever. Wow!
You know, the cartoon The Far Side. There was a drawing that the artist gave that I think typifies many people’s view of heaven. There was a cloud with a man sitting there with angels’ wings and he’s playing a harp, and when you look at his face it looks as if he’s just been marooned on an island and bored out of his mind for the rest of his life. And underneath it ways, “I wish I had brought a magazine.” My friend, that is not the way heaven is going to be. It’s not going to be us gathering in one long church service and we begin on page 1 of the hymnal and sing our way through, and after we finish singing our way through, we begin on page 1 again. It’ll be nothing like that. We are going to serve Him. It says that His name will be on our foreheads, and we will reign with Him forever and ever, because after all, we are heirs of God. We are joint heirs with Jesus Christ.
When D. L. Moody lost everything in the fire somebody said to him, “You lost everything,” and he said, “No, there’s a great deal that I haven’t lost.” The person said, “Oh, you’re wealthy?” He said, “No, no. He who overcomes, the Bible says, shall inherit all things.”
If your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, there is nothing that can happen to you on this earth that will be of any permanent damage because you have a place reserved in heaven. There’s a crown that only you can wear. There’s a room where only you can enter. There’s an assignment that only you can perform. You will be there reigning with Christ forever and ever.
No wonder Cowper wrote, “How thou canst think so well of me and be the God thou art is darkness to my intellect but sunshine to my heart.” We’ll reign with Him forever and ever.
Let me make a couple of comments about the lifestyle of the city. You read about the New Jerusalem and you say, “Well you know, that’s interesting. Gates, walls—why? Because if you read the entire text you’d discover that nowhere does it say that the gates are ever going to be closed. It says, in fact, that they are going to be open. There will be easy access. You see, you might have to go on assignment. We don’t know what all that reigning with Jesus really means. It could be responsibility for other planets. God is an infinite God. But another thing that that signifies is a city.
Now isn’t it interesting that the Bible began in a garden–the Garden of Eden? The Bible ends in a city. Why a city? Why not a farm? Why not a garden? It’s because, you see, a city is community, and so what you really have is the need for gates. Well, people connect. You know for years Rebecca and I have lived in a condo building, and sometimes the only time we really have met our neighbors is when we are going through the common entrance together. That is were we met. God says, “I want you to be connected to others. You are going to have a much larger family. Your mother will still be your mother in heaven–absolutely–and you will know her as your mother (or your father, your relatives, your children), but at the same time the kind of intimacy that you have between your mother and yourself and your family is now going to be extended to all the family of God. And we’ll be doing the same kind of things. I expect that we’re going to be doing projects together. We are going to be doing worship services together. We are going to be doing assignments together all in community there in heaven. And that’s why we end, actually, in a city. So you have such things as walls. You have a water source. You have travel. You have the beauty of architecture. And all of these things are going to be ours.
Now I hope that you take the time to read Revelation 21 and 22 on your own, but I need to say that no matter how John ever described it, it is really inadequate, but this is the best that we can do.
I am reminded of a little girl whose mother was reading her stories about Jesus one night from a picture book with Bible stories, and the next morning she said, “Oh, Mommy, I dreamed about Jesus, and you know, Mommy, He’s so much better than the pictures.” (applause) And I can assure you that it’s going to be so much better than this picture. We’re going to be encouraged but we won’t need the Word of God. We are going to be strengthened but we won’t have to exhibit faith. We will be there in God’s presence forever.
You see, that’s why the Bible says, “Eye has not seen, nor has ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for them who love him.” This is the best that we can do until eternity, but I’ll tell you once we’re there we’ll wonder why we wanted to live as long as we all desire to live. It’s going to be great.
Now I promised you that I would answer a question that is absolutely essential to you. And that is, who is in and who is out? Well, let’s take our Bibles now and I’m going to read from chapter 21. You’ll notice I’m picking it up in verse 8. After this glorious description of the New Jerusalem it says in Revelation 21:8, “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur which is the second death.” They will not be in the city.
Now essentially the same thing is over here in chapter 22. Verse 14 says, “Blessed are those who wash their robes so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and that they may enter the city by the gates.” By the way, there are no gatecrashers here. You are either on the list or you’re not. It says very clearly that only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will be there and there’s no need to wonder whether or not the secret service took care of that. You’ll notice it says, “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murders and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”
I’m speaking to you now, and some of you say, “Well, that certainly excludes me. I won’t make it into the holy city because this actually is quite characteristic of my life.” I have some news for you. This is the best news you will ever hear today. I promise you. It will never get any better than this. There are going to be people in heaven who committed all of these sins and worse, and they will be in heaven. You say, “Why the big distinction?” Well, it’s here in the text. That’s why we have to read our Bibles. It says in Revelation 22:12, “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me,” and then it says in verse 14, “Blessed are those who wash their robes so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.”
The issue really is not the greatness of your sin, however terrible it might be. God is able to take care of that. The issue is whether or not you have had your robes washed by Jesus, and you are clothed in His righteousness and not your own. That’s really the issue. And this gift of righteousness is a free gift. I want you to notice what the text says. What a wonderful way to end the scriptures! It says in verse 17, “And the Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come, let the one who desires take of the water of life without cost.”
If somebody tells you that you have to give money to go to heaven, that is not the Gospel. If you somebody tells you that you have to deserve going to heaven, that is not the Gospel. None of us deserve it. If somebody tells you that it comes through your participation in a church, somehow through baptism or through other means, that is not the Gospel. The Gospel is those who are thirsty come without money, without price, to freely receive the gift, and that is the gift of eternal life. It is the robes that have been washed by God so that you can enter through the gates into the city.
One day, D. L. Moody said that he was in a meeting and he was listening very carefully, and an old man stood up and said, “It took me 40 years to learn these three things.” And everybody who listened thought that was really good. If it took him 40 years, maybe we can get a jump on things by listening carefully. What the man said is, “Number one, I cannot earn my way to heaven. That’s the first thing I learned. (By the way have you learned that? It’s not a matter of your goodness. You won’t make it.) The second thing I learned is that God doesn’t expect me to earn my way to heaven. God knows we can’t. He knows it better than you do yourself.” And then he said, “The third thing I learned is that Jesus did it all for those who believe in and trust him.” (applause)
Is there today a hunger and thirst in your heart to know God and to know that you have the robe and that your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life? Because elsewhere in the previous chapter that’s what it says. It says, “Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” Then freely come to Jesus and receive the gift. Come as you are to receive it.
A number of years ago a very well-known pastor was dying. He had been very effective in ministry—actually the minister of a church and the president of a seminary at the same time. He wrote books, but as he was dying he was troubled. See, even Christians can be troubled at death, and some of his friends thought they’d encourage him by telling him that God did this and God did that through him. It gave him no peace or comfort, until someone reminded him that we are received into heaven totally independent of all the good that we have ever done, clothed in the righteous of Christ.
And that’s why we sing, “Clothed in his righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne.”
The terrors of law and of God with me
can have nothing to do;
My Savior’s obedience and blood
hide all my transgressions from view.
My name from the palms of His hands
eternity will not erase;
Impressed on his heart it remains,
in marks of indelible grace.
And that’s the way we’ll enter the holy city.
And so the Bible ends by saying, “He who testifies to these things says (and now Jesus is speaking), Surely I am coming soon.” Amen, Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.”
God says, “After that, I have nothing more to say,” and neither do I. (applause)
Let’s pray together.
Father, we have nothing to say, too. We are out of words. Why would You so honor us? Why would You send Jesus to purchase sinners? We pray that no one who has heard this message today would love his or her sin more than loving the savior. For those who do, wrestle with them. Show them their need to receive the free gift. I pray that even right now people might be praying and saying, “Lord Jesus, I receive the free gift of eternal life that I might know You and walk with You forever.” Do all that in our hearts, oh God, we pray. And for those of us who love You, may we always live with eternity in view.
Before I close, do you have to pray now in your heart? Receive Jesus even where you are seated, or no matter how you are listening. Say, “Jesus, be my savior. I thirst. I receive.”
We pray in His name. Amen.