Have you ever taken a moment to ask the question, “is this all there is?” This is one of the central questions behind everything in the book of Revelation.
There are images of throne rooms filled with bizarre creatures, watery chaos, and battles between abstract monsters representing the conflict all around us. And yet in the middle of these mysterious pictures, John encourages us with the promise that even when it looks like evil or brokenness will win the day, only God…only God…wins in the end.
There is a basic assumption that John carries with him every step of the way which is the answer to this deep question, “Is this all there is?” He looks in the eyes of those struggling with persecution for their faith. He looks in the eyes of those facing illness and sadness. He looks in the eyes of those working on their marriages. He looks in the eyes of those dreaming of a different future. He looks in the eyes of those who’ve lost loved ones.
He knows the heart of this deep question: “Is THIS all there is?” And the entire book of Revelation answers with a resounding no. This world, and the pain that sometimes comes along with it, is not all there is. That leads us to two important questions: 1.) What else is there beyond this world? 2.) Why does it matter?
In the closing chapters John sees a final vision.
“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” Revelation 21:1-2
All that is old and broken passes away. The chaos represented by the sea disappears. We are promised “something new.”
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:3-4
In this new reality, God dwells among the people: repairing all that is broken, comforting every pain, and wiping away every tear from their questioning eyes.
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:5
Everything is made new, and we can count on it with every fiber of our being. John not only says, “this is not all there is.” He says there is something far better waiting for those who trust in Christ. Everything that is bad and hard and difficult and uncertain and challenging and sad is limited. Everything that is good about this world, from knowing God to being comforted and loved, will last forever.
I love how J.R.R. Tolkein described this idea in a moving scene from his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Gandalf has just returned after being defeated by the Balrog, and one of the hobbits asks,
“Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?” Sam Gamgee
Gandalf assures him something significant has happened, pointing with hope to the future,
“A great Shadow has departed,” said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
There is a world to come, after the world we now inhabit is long gone, where everything sad is going to come untrue. It is a world where laughter and joy drown out all that is broken and decaying about this world.
It is SO important to know this is not all there is because we have a tendency to live as though this world is long and eternity is short. However the stark reality, as Cardinal John Henry Newman once said is, “time is short; eternity is long.
Throughout this chapter, John shows us the incredible good news that the longest part of our existence is incredible! I could go through every little symbolic detail, but at the most basic level John’s description of heaven is simply intended to make us go WOW…just as the Apostle Paul once said:
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18
Unfortunately, sometimes we miss being blown away by this because we get distracted by the warning that’s included:
“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” Revelation 21:8
Instead of being distracted by this warning, remember that this warning carries good news as well. Death, pain and destruction are not what you’re designed for. Why, then, does John include it? First notice he devotes far more room to describing the joy and beauty of heaven, but he also wants to be honest that there are other choices we can make and paths we can go down.
One of the things we know in our hearts is that this world is filled with chaos and difficulty. Many times in Revelation that’s represented by the sea, so let’s play with that imagine to understand John’s warning.
If you’re in a shipwreck and sinking at sea, there are lots of things that float by. There wood and other debris floating by, but those can only lead to destruction. Grabbing one is your choice, but it leads to death. The only solution for salvation and rescue is a solid raft, a solid rescue.
Jesus is that rescue. Jesus is the Coast Guard speeding to you over the waves. God isn’t sending you to destruction as an angry lighting bolt flinging deity. God is sending you the one thing that will rescue and save you. If you know this is coming, is it loving to say, “grab onto the stick and see what happens?”
Knowing this truth, John is reminding his congregations, “Don’t hold onto driftwood. Our time is short; eternity is long, and I promise you do NOT want to miss it!
How should this influence your life? What do we learn about heaven and how it should influence us from John’s description?
- Heaven is real. It is not just a “pie in the sky” reward for good behavior, but a promise that there is more to this world than meets the eye.
- John shows us the God of Christianity is opposed to suffering & pain. God’s designs for this world are not seen in suffering and tragedy. Instead they are seen in laughter, community, beauty, salvation, and grace.
- Time in this world is short, and eternity is long. Fortunately, this is incredibly good news, because this is an open invitation to everyone.
The last two verses here remind us of what this calls for. It calls for us to enter into the gates that are never shut. It calls us to enter into the Kingdom that Christ, the Lamb, invites us to join.
“I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.” Revelation 21:22-25
I want you to know and to trust that heaven is real. I want you to hold firmly to the fact that heaven is a real thing. Time is short; eternity is long, so make the decision to spend eternity in a place of incredible beauty, satisfaction, joy, and love. The invitation is yours. All you have to do is seek Christ and embrace the salvation that he alone gives.
If you’ve never done this and would like to, I would encourage you to pray this simple prayer, described by Adam Hamilton,
“Dear Lord, I would like to be one of your disciples. I would like to follow you. I accept the forgiveness and mercy you offer me. Wash me clean and make me new. Help me to follow you as I commit myself to you. I pray this to you, and in your name, Jesus. Amen.”
In the meantime, no matter what you face, no matter what difficulty you encounter, you can rest in the knowledge that everything sad will eventually come untrue in the light of God’s glorious future for everyone who trusts in him!