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I invite you to turn in your Bibles to the book of Revelation, chapter 21, and follow along as I read v2.
2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
A Christian was obsessed with the idea of taking her wealth with her to heaven. Now she knew the Bible teaches that you can’t take it with you, but she was so obsessed that she prayed and prayed that God would give her permission to take some of it with her.
Finally, her persistence in prayer paid off. God said, "Okay, enough all ready! You can take one suitcase to heaven."
The woman thought, "What do I take? What are the most valuable things that I can put into a suitcase?" Finally she made her decision and filled her suitcase full.
Then one day she died. When next we see her, she is slowly approaching the pearly gates rolling her suitcase behind her. St. Peter met her at the gate, saying, "Wait a minute. What do you think you’re doing? You’re not allowed to take anything into heaven."
She answered, "I have special permission from God Himself to take this suitcase into heaven."
Peter scratched his halo, and said, "That’s unheard of. I can’t imagine God letting you do that. Let me look inside your suitcase." So the woman rolled the suitcase over, Peter opened it up, and it was filled with gold bars.
Peter said, "Well, all right. If God said so, I suppose you can take that in if you want to. But why would you want to bring pavement into heaven?"
Now that is just a joke, but it makes a valid point. Values in heaven are different from values on earth. The New Jerusalem is not at all like the Old Jerusalem.
If you asked me about the old Jerusalem, I would probably reply that it is a city in the holy land, the ancient capital of Israel and the capital of the modern state of Israel. Jews call Jerusalem “the holy city.” Moslems call it “El Kuds” meaning “the holy.” Christians also have a certain reverence for Jerusalem because so much happened there that is important to our faith, but ultimately it is just a city, and we do not look toward any earthly city as a holy place; rather, we look heavenward, toward the New Jerusalem. The New Jerusalem is the goal of human history and the goal of the individual human life.
Human history began in paradise, the Garden of Eden; history ends in paradise, the New Jerusalem. In Rev. 21:6, Jesus says, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” What began in Christ in Genesis is finished in Christ in Revelation.
We can draw some fascinating parallels between the first and last books of the Bible: Genesis 1:1 says God created the heavens and the earth. Revelation 21:1 speaks of the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. Genesis 1:16 speaks of the sun in the sky being created. Rev 21:23 tells us that the new creation will not need any sun because the glory of God will light up that world. Genesis 1:10 speaks of the creation of the seas. Rev. 21:1 says there will be no more sea. The sea in the book of Revelation is a symbol for turmoil and trouble. None of that is found in the New Jerusalem. In Genesis, we read of the beginnings of sorrow and pain, In Rev, 21:4, we are assured that there will be no more sorrow and no more pain. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve learned about death, and death has been the curse and the fear of all humankind ever since. Rev. 21:4 says there will be no more death in the New Jerusalem
By now, you are probably saying that the New Jerusalem sounds like a wonderful place to be. How do I get there? When can I go?
Right now, the New Jerusalem is in heaven. That is implied in Rev. 21:2 when John the seer says, “And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” John has a vision of the end of time when heaven and earth are merged in Christ. But prior to that vision, in our time, the New Jerusalem is in heaven.
Last Sabbath, I was talking about questions people ask me as a minister. One question I am frequently asked is: What happens to me when I die? The answer is simple. If you have believed on Jesus, you go where Jesus is. You go immediately to heaven.
When we die, we are not put into a grave. All that we bury is the empty husk. Our soul goes on to be with Jesus in the New Jerusalem. My mother and I have had a running argument about this since my father died. My father, years before he died, told me his beliefs about life after death. He said the same thing I have been saying—when you die, you go to be with the lord and your body is just an abandoned husk. So, I took him at his word. When he died, I went to the funeral and saw him buried, and knew that was not him they were burying, and since then I have felt no need to visit his grave—because he is not there. My mother, on the other hand, when she was still able to drive, visited his grave frequently and talked to him at the grave and criticized me, saying, “I cannot believe you are a minister and don’t visit your father’s grave.” My reply is that it is because I am a minister, more importantly, because I am a Christian that I don’t visit graves much—because my father is not there.
You can see that my mother and I have a disagreement, but traditional Christian belief is that when you die in Christ, you go to be with Christ.
Now you might ask, well what about the others? Where do all those people go who don’t believe in Jesus? They don’t go to heaven, because that is where Jesus is and they don’t want to be where Jesus is. They go to the other place, they go to hell, by their own choice. They would not like heaven. Jesus is there; they do not want to have anything to do with Jesus; so, they go where they want to be.
The Purpose of God
Now that is the current state of things. It all hinges upon Jesus. You make your choice. Do you want to be with Jesus or not? And depending on the choice you make, that is where you go when you die.
But it will not always be that way. History had a beginning and will have an end. It had a beginning in Genesis, at the first moment of creation, at the first nanosecond of the Big Bang. It will have an end when this world as we know it is swallowed up in a new creation. Therefore, history has a direction. It is a common saying that history repeats itself, but it does not. Similar things may sometimes happen in history, but events are never the same. For example, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Russian Revolution were all revolutions, but they were entirely different events with different causes and different results. Thus, we should not think of history as a series of cycles repeated over and over. We should think of history as an arrow in time, and the arrow is going somewhere, the arrow has a target. God is working in human history, in events and circumstances, to achieve a purpose.
The purpose of the world and the point of the world is Jesus. Colossians 1:16 says “All things were created through him and for him.” The world was created “for him,” for Jesus. At the end of time, the world will center on Jesus. The world will be consummated and completed in Jesus.
Jesus is in the world now. He is influencing events. He is moving the world toward its final objective. “All things were created through him.” Jesus is the shaper and molder of time and space. He brings order out of chaos. He gives direction to the cosmos.
AND Jesus is the goal of the cosmos. The maker and shaper of the world is the goal of the world. Where are things going? Toward Jesus. What is the meaning of life? Jesus.
Now this is a law of nature, just like any other law of nature. We are not talking just spiritual things here. It is a reality that space and time are moving in a divine direction. For example, we say that gravity is a part of the pattern of nature. Objects are attracted to other objects. That is gravity. That is part of the way things work. Another part of the way things work is that all things in the cosmos are moving toward a final consummation.
Since omega is the last letter of the Greek alphabet, this final consummation is often described as omega, the end. It will be the end of this world. It will be the beginning of a new heaven and a new earth. But Christ himself is described as omega. This omega is the unification of the new creation with Christ.
John describes omega in terms of a marriage. In Rev 21:2, “The new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” is “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” “The new Jerusalem” is the people of God. At the end of time, this city is a bride, wearing her bridal clothes, ready to get married. This is the marriage, or union, of Christ with his people. This is the goal. This is where we are going—union in Christ.
But in our union with Christ we never cease to be ourselves and Christ never ceases to be Christ. This is where Christianity differs radically from the teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism. Hinduism and Buddhism teach that a person is reincarnated over and over until they become a perfected soul and then that soul merges into Brahma, the godhead, and disappears. The perfected soul is like a drop of water merging into the ocean. It is annihilated. It vanishes. That is the ultimate reward for a soul that works its way through hundreds of reincarnations to become a mahatma, a great soul, or so Hinduism and Buddhism teach. It does not seem like much of a reward to me for so many lifetimes spent working through karma. I am thankful that Christianity does not teach anything like that.
A believer is in Christ, we belong to the body of Christ. At the end of time, all time and space are merged into Christ. But we never lose our identity. Notice that Revelation does not use the drop of water in the ocean metaphor to describe our relationship to Christ. Instead it uses marriage.
When I do marriage counseling, I am fond of saying that in marriage two people become one, but they are still two people. In a sense, they are merged in a marriage, which is one thing, but they retain their separate identities. Each person has their own thoughts, emotions, attitudes that they bring to the marriage. And that is good. That is what makes each human marriage unique and valuable. It is our personal differences merged in marriage that make marriage a vibrant, living thing, and the marriage merger never does away with our individual personalities.
Many problems arise in marriage because the marriage partners do not realize that. They try to make over the other person into something that they are not. That never works. The old saying is: “If you don’t like him/her before you marry them, you are not going to like him/her after you marry them,” because they are not going to change that much. They are going to remain themselves.
The same occurs in our marriage to Christ. There is only one mystical body of Christ. We are members of that body now by faith. But at the end of time, we will be actually and physically merged into Christ. The whole universe will become Christ, but we will never lose our individual identity. You will still be you, and I will still be me.
That is what Christ intends. Christ wants his people to bring their unique personalities to this final merger because that is what will make the New Jerusalem the living and vibrant creation that God has always intended it to be.
In the New Jerusalem, we will still be ourselves, but we will be a better version of ourselves. Everything will be better because we will be living in and with and as a part of Jesus himself.
Rev. 21:3-4 says, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."
In that day, at the end of time, when we stand with Jesus in our marriage clothes, we shall be glad that “the first things have passed away.” We shall be glad that this old Jerusalem is no more—because we shall be so much better off in the New Jerusalem.
Right now, we are called to live in this world, and we should enjoy this life, but realize that this world only has meaning and value when it leads us on to another better world. That is what this world is about, going to the New Jerusalem. That is what we should be about, going to the New Jerusalem. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 9/23/05