Our Future With GodErwin W. Lutzer | November 22, 2015
Selected highlights from this sermon
A new heaven and a new Earth are coming. Those who have been saved by Christ, redeemed as the Bride of the Son of God, will enjoy the presence of God forever. But what will we do?
In this message, Pastor Lutzer gives us a glimpse as to what it will be like serving and worshiping the Lord for all of eternity…even ruling with Him.
Are you coming? Only the blood of Jesus can prepare you for His presence.
Today I have the privilege of speaking on the last of a series of messages titled The Mysteries of God. Today’s message is, in many respects, the best of all of the messages because we are going to enjoy this message in a way, perhaps, that we couldn’t enjoy when I spoke, for example, last week on whether or not God was a monster. In the messages we dealt with the eternality of God, and indeed other aspects of His decrees.
It’s not that I thought that we could really know God exhaustively in any way (That’s an eternal challenge.), but that we might know Him to the extent that we can, revealed in His Word. And even then, my messages only skimmed the surface of what we can know. After all, the Bible says very clearly that the people who know their God shall be strong and do exploits.
I want you to do exploits for God. I want that for myself, and Jesus said, “This is life eternal that you might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou has sent.” Could I say it in this last message? Make it your lifetime goal to know God as far as He can be known in this life. I hope that you have been encouraged to do that.
But today I want you to just kick back figuratively speaking. I want you to relax because this message is going to be, I believe, a great blessing. All that I can say about it is that I hope it blesses you in the way I intend to be blessed while preaching it. Do you realize the great privilege that it is for those of us who actually preach God’s Word who are blessed by the study of it, and then we communicate that to you?
When we are finished, I hope that you realize now why it’s so important for you to lay up treasures in heaven because it is eternity that motivates us to be generous here on earth. I hope that when this message is finished you’ll be able to say, “Now I understand why the suffering of this present world cannot be even compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us.” That’s the response I want you to have. I want you to leave here with great joy, but for those of you who don’t know Christ, with a tremendous warning.
Well, the passage actually is Revelation 21 and 22. I sure hope you have a Bible and will turn to it. I want you to see the text. Now these are two great chapters. As I was studying this week I realized that actually I could preach a series of six or eight messages on chapters 21 and 22, so we’re going to just hit the highlights. I hope that when this is over you read 21 and 22 a couple of times to let it all sink in. Thank you for joining me on this marvelous, encouraging journey.
Chapter 21 says: “Then 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.” Theologians are divided on the question of whether or not the new heaven and the new earth is brand new, and whether or not God totally obliterated and annihilated this earth, and then created a brand new one. Other theologians insist that even though it says in Peter that this present earth will be destroyed by fire, that God actually remakes it. He takes the curse and He does something with the curse. The curse disappears, and this earth becomes the basis of an eternal city, and an eternal heaven. Maybe that’s true. If it is true, I can tell you this. It is massively renovated. You wouldn’t recognize this earth over against the new heaven and the new earth, which comes down from above, and John sees a vision of it.
So with that by way of introduction what I’d like to do is to point out how we are going to enjoy heaven. And it is going to be an unbelievable experience. I’ve asked that the Holy Spirit of God help us to even get a bit of a glimpse as to what it’s going to be like because that in and of itself would be transforming.
First of all, notice that we are going to enjoy God. Listen to what the text says. “I saw the Holy City.” By the way, somebody said that this whole section can be seen as a contrast between two cities. You have chapters 17 and 18 on the total destruction of Babylon, which represents the world with all of its commerce. And now you have another city, the New Jerusalem. But notice: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Just that far for a moment! The tabernacle of God, the Holy of Holies, if you please, is now going to dwell among men and women, and by the way, there is really no temple therein, the Bible says later, because the Lord God and the Lamb are the temple of it. Imagine this! Fellowship with God without any mediation!
We have fellowship today with God through Jesus, and Jesus, of course, is going to be a part of this as we are going to see, but it will be us seeing God directly with our new bodies, able to finally behold Him. And forever we’re going to be identified as belonging to Him. “They shall be my people and I shall be their God.” God without mediation!
Not only that, the Bible says that God is going to comfort us. “He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes.” In fact, you know the Greek text actually says that He’s going to wipe away the tears out of our eyes. It’s as if God is going to get to the very root of our sorrow and take care of it. That doesn’t mean that He’s going to come with a box of Kleenex (chuckles) and wipe the tears from your eyes. John here is speaking about a lot of different symbolic ideas, but what he means is that there will be no more tears. Heaven is so beautiful that sometimes you can only think of it in terms of negatives, and so they are listed here:
• He will wipe away every tear.
• There shall be no mourning or crying or pain anymore.
• There shall be no death.
• The former things are passed away.
The hearse will have made its final journey. In heaven there will be no need for funeral directors. I don’t want to make too heavy a point on that because there’s won’t be a need for preachers either in heaven. (laughter) Maybe Tim Stafford gets to lead a choir and finally I get to sing in it (more laughter), but I won’t get to preach. It will all be over.
And so God is going to be with us. He is going to comfort us. He is going to satisfy us. It even gets better. You’ll notice it says: “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’” And I’ll continue to read in just a moment. It is done. Jesus on the cross said, “It is finished.” Now God says, “It is done. The old order has passed away. It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”
Notice this: “To the thirsty (That’s the passage I was thinking of.) I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” Again it’s symbolic of the fact that in heaven our needs are going to be different, but they will be fully and totally supplied. Earlier in Revelation we read this of the saints before God: “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore. The sun shall not strike them nor any scorching heat, for the lamb (Let this bless you.) in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd. He will guide them to springs of living water.” And once again we read, “And God shall wipe away all tears out of their eyes.” With all of that God is going to satisfy us.
More than that, we are going to actually be like God. I’m back now in chapter 21 where we were. You’ll notice it says: “The one who conquers (I’m in verse 7) will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” Dr. Donald Carson of Trinity Seminary who spoke about this, and I was greatly blessed by his message, points out that there’s a lot more meaning there that we realize. It isn’t son in order to somehow designate male over female because obviously daughters of God are involved. But he said that in ancient times sons generally had the same vocations as their fathers. Today that’s not true. He always asks the congregation what I’m going to ask you now. Come on you men! How many of you are in the same vocation as your father was? Could I see your hands please? Oh, notice just a sprinkling of hands – maybe two or three percent. But in ancient times if your dad was a baker, you were a baker. If your dad was a farmer, you were a farmer. If your dad was a carpenter, you were a carpenter.
And what God is saying when he says, “He will be my son,” is “He’s going to be like me.” Let me put it this way. We’re going to be as much like God, as it is possible for a human being to be. Of course, we’ll never be God.
You know, in this series I never even had time to explain to you that there are communicable attributes of God and those that are non-communicable. A communicable attribute, one that He can communicate to us, is something like love. God is love. We should love. God is merciful. We should be merciful. He’s filled with grace. We should be filled with grace.
Now He also has non-communicable attributes – all the omnis: omniscience, omnipresence. All of those can never be communicated to us. But imagine this! We are going to be so holy and so pure that first of all, we’re never going to have to ask for forgiveness for anything. Isn’t that great? (applause) You’re never going to have to ask your mate for forgiveness. That is heaven, I think, probably, come to think of it. (laughter)
Imagine our thoughts being so pure that we would not mind if our wives knew what we were thinking – all the details, our daughters, our mothers, the people in the church. It would not matter to us because the thoughts are so pure and they are so without shame that the innermost part of our being that has been made holy by God would be able to be in His presence, and never again would sin come between us.
You know Joni Eareckson Tada’s story. She’s been a quadriplegic for forty some years, and she said that when she gets to heaven the thing that she looks forward to is not so much that her wheelchair will be parked in the vestibule of heaven and sent somewhere below (chuckles). You can fill in all the details. She said what she looks forward to is being in the presence of God directly with no sin ever coming between.
And later on the Bible says that the New Jerusalem is the Bride of the Lamb. I have to skip to the verse here that talks about that – the Bride, the wife of the Lamb. That’s verse 9. Those of you who have never been married, I have a word for you. You may think in this life that you’ve lost out on the joys of marriage, and to some extent maybe you have, although history would testify that not all marriages are joyful. I thought I’d throw that in at no extra cost. But here’s what I want to say to you. Ten thousand years from now you will never believe that you were robbed of anything because you will be the wife of the Lamb, the Bride of the Lamb with every joy, every fulfillment, every bit of ecstasy that you could possibly imagine. You’re going to be part of that.
Now as we read this we come to a shocking contrast. Shocking! You’ll notice it says: “To the one who is thirsty, and the one who overcomes, he will be my son.” That’s, I think, verse 7. “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.” Wow! I’m not going to say too much about that because I will near the end of the sermon, and explain to those of you who are involved in those sins how you, too, can make it into the Holy City. What grace! We’ll comment on that in a moment.
So first of all, we’re going to enjoy God. And then we are going to enjoy one another. Now we get, of course, to the Holy City, and I don’t have time to tell you about its dimensions and the different kinds of jewels and precious stones. Remember this: John is trying to think of ways to describe what he saw, and he runs out of words so he uses analogies. For example, he doesn’t say that the New Jerusalem is a bride. He says, “It's like a bride.” He’s lost for words. He’s grappling to communicate with us the beauty of what he is seeing, so he sees this city.
Now it is generally believed that it is fifteen hundred miles or so square – a cube. There is a book written by a woman by the name of Janet Willis, who lost six children, and did a detailed study, and she comes to a different conclusion. I’m not going to talk about that as such because it would need more exposition, but it’s based on the book of Ezekiel. But let’s, for our purposes, continue to believe that it is a cube. There’s only one other cube in all the Old Testament. The only cube is the Holy of Holies, so this city now becomes the Holy of Holies, and we should not be surprised at that. It isn’t a temple. The Bible says there is no temple because God and the Lamb are the temple of it. But here you have the beauty of this city.
And notice the Scripture says that the Apostles and the Prophets are the foundation, the 12 Apostles and Prophets. The gates, I believe, are the 12 tribes of Israel. You have the Church, and you have ancient Israel for whom God had distinct purposes, but they arrived together here. And the gates of the city (I won’t take time to read it, but it’s there.) will never be closed.
When you go into this city you will not have to show your I.D. You know, you won’t have to be buzzed in. The gates are never closed of this city. Day and night they are open. And by the way, you never get tired. You never say, “I have to sleep.” There are no bedrooms in heaven – thank you – because we all have glorified bodies. And we recognize one another absolutely. We’re all going to recognize Bill Bertsche in heaven. (laughter) You’ll recognize your mother. You’ll recognize your wife. You’re not given in marriage the way we are here, of course, but we’ll recognize one another, and we will connect. I don’t think we’ll need nametags personally. That’s based on a different passage. I can’t prove it, but I don’t think we’ll need nametags. We’ll know each other intuitively.
And I think the reason it’s a city… You know the Bible begins in a garden and it ends in a city because in city life you live together in community. You know, Rebecca and I for many years lived in a condo, and the thing that we noticed was that we met people generally and always in elevators, and so forth. That was the means of connection. And I think that we are going to happen on other people without planning and we’ll know each other, and we’ll say, “My word, there’s Abraham. Abraham, come on over here. I want to ask you, what was that like taking that knife and being willing to kill your son?” And by the way, I hope to meet Isaac and spend a year or two with him.
Nobody’s going to say, “Well, you know, you are spending too much time with Abraham.” Hey, chill! (laughter) We have all of eternity. Everybody could meet with him for a hundred years and not exhaust eternity.
You have friends, as I do, that perhaps we’ve not seen for ten or fifteen years, and yet the minute we meet them, there’s a connection. We don’t even have to go back. It’s not a matter of relearning our friendship. We just pick up where we left off. And that’s the way it’s going to be in heaven, enjoying one other and reveling in the undeserved beautiful grace of God. We are going to enjoy one another.
That’s why the Bible says that when you are sorry at death, the death of a loved one, don’t sorrow as those who have no hope because we will meet again, and Jesus will be in the center of it all, but old relationships will reconnect.
Now we’re also going to enjoy ruling with Christ, and those of you who are artists, those of you who have vision and imagination, put this in your imagination bank. Chapter 22: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal.” Alright, it’s flowing from the throne of God. Establish that in your mind. It’s flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. All the way through Revelation - I saw the throne of God and of the Lamb.
This is a parenthesis. Can you believe people who don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus? Would we read in the Bible, “And I saw the throne of God, and this other creature that He once created?” Give me a break. The reason that it is the throne of God is the Lamb sits on it. God sits on it. It is obviously because Jesus has a right to be there on the throne of God with the Father. And the reason he keeps saying, you know, “of the throne of God and of the Lamb,” is because, thank God for the Lamb. It’s because of the Lamb that all this is happening - the Lamb of God who took away the sins of all who believe – the sins of the world.
But anyway, okay now, here you have God, and flowing from the throne of God “and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
That seems a little contradictory. Obviously the people who are in heaven, the nations that are represented, they don’t have any illnesses. What you have to understand is it is not so much a healing of the nations as the life giving of the nations. And I think the reason it’s there is because you have the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Old Testament. Where they sinned God says, “I’m giving you a new tree now, the Tree of Life,” symbolic of the fact that forever in heaven we will be invigorated. We will be given health-producing experiences. And as a result of that there will be these trees. Every aspect of beauty that is imaginable will be there.
A little girl was reading before she slept and looking at pictures of Jesus. And in the morning she said to her mother, “I dreamt about Jesus and He is so much more beautiful than the pictures.” All that we’re trying to do today is to paint a picture, but it will be more beautiful than the picture we’re trying to paint.
And then it isn’t finished yet. You’ll notice it says: “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God (There it is again.) and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.” Actually the Greek word is better translated serve Him. This verse of Scripture has given rise to the idea that heaven is one long eternal worship service. So we begin on page 1 of the hymnal. Then we go to page 2. We sing our way through, and what a hymnal it’s going to be. It’s going to be a certain kind of music. I thought I’d throw that in. And we sing all the way through and then we begin on page 1 again.
No! There’s going to be a lot of worship, but there’s going to be lots of service. Jesus is going to give us assignments that we will delightfully do. There has to be time for us to connect as human beings, as saints, to rehearse the blessings of God that took place on earth. And maybe God videoed some events that we’d like to recall just so that we remember the grace that plucked us out from the mud and put us on the marble.
And then, notice this: This is hard to read without tears coming to our eyes. “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,” and you’ll notice in verse 4, “They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads,” and “they shall reign with Him (verse 5) forever and ever.”
Calvin, the great theologian said these words, and I’m paraphrasing them perhaps, but they are the kinds of things that you ought to write down. You ought to take notes. If you don’t, explain that to Jesus, and if He’s fine with it, I’m fine with it too. (laughter) I want you to catch this. Calvin said that Jesus counts nothing as being His own but that He shares it with the saints. There’s nothing that belongs to Jesus that will not, at some point, belong to me. He shares it with the saints.
D. L. Moody, in that great fire in 1871 that we all know about – the Chicago Fire – lost his home. It was burned. He moved to Des Plaines for a while, but he came back and he looked at the ruins of his home. And somebody said, “Boy, you basically lost it all,” and he said, “Oh no, no, no, I have a lot more wealth than this house.” They said, “Oh really! I didn’t know that you were wealthy.” And he took out his pen and he wrote in the Bible, Revelation 1:7: “He who overcomes shall inherit all things.” Now I know our translation translates that a little differently, but that’s the sense. He who overcomes will inherit everything.
D. L. Moody could have taken out his pen and written Romans 8:32: “He who spared now his own son but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things (Heirs of God – joint heirs of Christ! Equal!) and will reign with him.” He overcomes. Jesus said, “To him I shall grant to sit with me on my throne even as I overcame and sat with my father on his throne.”
What are we going to rule over? I’ll give you a very profound answer. You’ve been waiting for this for years. I have no idea. But we’ll have those assignments. And seeing Jesus face to face is known in theology as the beatific vision. It is at that time that we will sing:
Face to face with Christ my Savior,
Face to face, oh can it be
When with rapture I behold Him,
Jesus Christ, who died for me.
Only faintly now I see him,
With a darkened veil between,
But another day is coming
When His glory shall be seen.
Imagine that day – face to face with Jesus!
Now, as we get to the end of the book of Revelation, we find out that there is a great invitation. You know, what are we going to be doing in heaven? Well, the answer is, of course, we’re going to be serving the Lord. We’re also going to be learning. Calvin said that the great ideas of God go on throughout all of eternity. What does the creed say? “What is the chief purpose of man? The chief goal of man is to know God and enjoy Him forever.”
We’re constantly going to be enlarging our knowledge of God, but now let’s look at the invitation. As we come to chapter 22, and I can only point out one or two verses, we have this. You’ll notice that Jesus says in verse 7 (I think it is): “And behold I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the word of the prophecy of this book.” You say, “Well, He hasn’t come yet.” Yeah, but two thousand years to Him is nothing. He will come, and when He comes it’s going to be soon.
And then He says in verse 12, “Behold I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me to repay everyone for what he has done. I am the Alpha and Omega, and the first and the last. Blessed are those who wash their robes so that they may have a right to the tree of life, that they may enter the city by the gates.” There’s nobody climbing over the wall of that city. “Outside are dogs…,” that is, those who live a very low life. I know that we don’t use this kind of terminology, but in the first century this was used. Dogs were scavengers, and it kind of covers all kinds of mischief and sin. “Outside are dogs, sorcerers, the sexually immoral, murderers, idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” What a distinction!
Now I want to point out that there are some people who are in the Holy City who have committed these sins. At one time they were adulterers. They were immoral. Perhaps they were into the occult and sorcery. You could have described them with all of these terms, and yet there they are. They are showing up in heaven. Why? Well, I read it, didn’t I? “Blessed are those who wash their robes and make themselves ready.”
So how do you get your robe washed? Well, the book of Revelation tells us. You know, in chapter 7 there’s that great multitude that no man could number, the Bible says. And John is asking, “Who are these people?” And the answer is they have come out of the great tribulation. And then it says they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
The symbolism of Revelation is interesting because if you washed your robe in blood I assume it would be red and not white. But we’re talking here about symbolism. The only way to have your robes washed is to come to Jesus, receive Him as Savior, accept what He did on your behalf so that He is your personal Savior. It doesn’t come through rituals; not even confession. It comes through the personal acceptance of the fact that you’re a sinner, and you don’t bring your own detergent to wash your robes. It’s not a matter of saying, “Well, you know, I gave money; I’m a good person.” Blah, blah, blah, blah! That’s all bringing your detergent to your need. They have their robes washed in the blood of the Lamb.
Is that true of you? Have you really received Jesus as your Savior, or does all of this somehow just go above you, and you let it float by? We’re serious here. I am not surprised, but I am (What shall we say?) struck (That’s a good word.) for the great disparity in the book of Revelation between those who are believers (and they get to be in all of this glory) and those who maintain their own goodness along with all the sins that are listed there. And it does not go well for them at all. No, they are outside of the city. And we read just moments ago what happens to them.
Now isn’t it interesting that the book of Revelation ends this way? Jesus goes on to say (and I have to skip now to verse 17) and John writes: “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 the water of life without price.” The gift of salvation, the washing of the robes has to be free because it’s all a gracious gift of God to which we can contribute nothing except as God works in our hearts and we receive that gift.
My works cannot make the blood of Christ better. They cannot make it worse. It is an objective way by which we come to God and have our robes washed in the blood of the Lamb.
You’ll notice that there’s a warning now. Don’t detract from these words. Don’t take them away. Don’t add to them. It’s really for the book of Revelation but it does apply to the entire Bible, but specifically this is a warning to those who would want to disagree with or deny the book of Revelation.
Verses 20-21: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all. Amen.”
We get to the end of the book and God says, in effect, “I have nothing more to say.” And right now I have nothing more to say. (applause) I agree with God here at this point. But the question is, “Do you have your robes washed in the blood of the Lamb?” It takes humility. It takes an acknowledgment of your sin. It takes embracing Christ totally to be your Savior so that regardless of your past, you are welcomed into the heavenly city.
In a moment, we are going to sing, and as we do, would you receive Christ as Savior? Would you let the songs that we sing be your prayer? And after the service I’m going to be here. We’re going to have prayer partners up here. We’d love to pray with you. You come and shake our hands and tell us what’s on your heart. We’re here to help you.
“Come,” said the Spirit, and today at Moody Church we say to you, “Come freely and receive the water of life that you might enter into the city.”
Father, we can only do so much. We cannot take people in that last step. That’s up to your blessed Spirit to show them their need, and to enable them to come without money, without price, without self-righteousness to receive Your gift. May they do that today we pray in Your blessed name, Amen.