“Our Risen Savior Gives Us a Heavenly Home”
(Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23 – Easter 6 – May 26, 2019)
Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23 – And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west. Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb… But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.
Dear Redeemed in our risen and reigning Savior, Jesus Christ:
“Mom, what will heaven be like?” a child asks.” “Oh, it will be the best place you could ever be, where we will get to live with Jesus. Everything will be just perfect there, and we will all be happy forever.” How many of us parents have answered that question in a similar way? Thankfully, our answer to that question does not depend on mere wishful thinking. God’s Word tells us all that we need to know at this point about what heaven will be like.
This week on Thursday, 40 days after Easter, we will celebrate Jesus’ Ascension into heaven. We remember His promise: “In My Father’s house are many mansions… I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” And we know the way to heaven, by faith in His saving work. Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:2-6). He went to the cross to save us from sin and death, and to open the gates of heaven for us. He proved it by rising to life and ascending to heaven ahead of us.
“Our Risen Savior Gives Us a Heavenly Home.” And as we read our text, we are invited to 1) Enter through its gates, to 2) Build on its foundation, and to 3) Worship in its glory.
1) Enter through its gates
Heaven is a very real place, just as real as the earth we now walk on, where we will live and walk with our Savior in perfect peace and joy forever. Yet the magnificence and beauty of heaven is far above earthly description. This is why so often, heaven must be pictured for us symbolically, using earthly pictures to describe things much greater than we have yet seen.
We see such symbolism as our text begins. In his vision, the apostle John says an angel “carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.”
In the Old Testament, when it came to the worship life of God’s people, they related to “holy Jerusalem.” It was holy because of God’s presence in the temple, where the people gathered to worship Him. But this “holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God” is a picture of the Church Triumphant, with all true believers in Christ finally gathered in His heavenly presence.
This is what the angel has just told John in the verse 9 before our text: “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” Scripture often speaks of Christ’s Church, all true believers, as His Bride. Jesus is the Bridegroom, who was slain like a sacrificial Lamb to take away the sins of His people and save His Bride. So John is seeing a picture of what it will be like when we all appear with our Savior, like a Bride happily united with her Bridegroom. In His heavenly home, Jesus’ glory will shine through His Church in a way that can only be described by comparing it with a brilliant light shining through “a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.” In heaven, we will share in our Savior’s resplendent glory forever and ever.
In his vision, John sees more details of the heavenly city: “Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west.” This picture reminds us how vital it is that we enter the heavenly city through her gates. We may enter God’s glorious presence only the way He provides.
As we read on in Revelation 21:27, it says of the heavenly city: “But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” God alone sets the standard for entering His holy presence. His Word says: “You shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). It says: “Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). Even one impure thought, word, or deed would disqualify us from heaven.
Those angels stationed at each of the twelve gates of the heavenly city remind us of this fact. Remember what happened when Adam and Eve stumbled at just one point, breaking God’s command? They severed the once perfect fellowship they had known with God in Paradise. Genesis 3:24 says: “So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.” God placed His angels to guard the gates of Eden; for sinners could not be allowed to eat of the tree of life and live forever. There is no place for sin in God’s Holy presence in heaven.
Yet the picture of the heavenly city shows that perfect fellowship with God is restored. For on the gates were “names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel.” The people of Israel were sinners just like us. Yet as God had promised, He sent a Savior among Israel. Christ came as the Lamb to be slain for the sins of all, to make us holy in God’s sight and restore us to perfect fellowship with Him. All true believers in Christ, in Old and New Testament times, are referred to as the true Israel by faith, “and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-29; Romans chs. 4, 9-11).
By faith in Christ we are numbered with “those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” We are members of His eternal Church, receiving all the blessings of His salvation. As our heavenly Bridegroom, Ephesians 5:25-27 says: “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” Our risen Savior has washed us in Baptism, cleansing away our sins and clothing us in the radiancy of His righteousness (Galatians 3:27).
Later in John’s vision, he hears Jesus say: “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“ (Revelation 22:14, ESV). So we can enter the heavenly city and God’s glorious presence, because in Christ we are “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2).
2) Build on its foundation
As we enter through the gates of the heavenly city through faith in Christ, we also see how important it is to build on its foundation – the foundation Christ gives.
In his vision John says: “Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” Ephesians 2:19-20 tells us that, as members of God’s household by faith, we are “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.”
“The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord.” The gates of hell cannot prevail against our rock-solid foundation (Matthew 16:18). Christ’s apostles and prophets were inspired by the Holy Spirit to record His saving truth (2 Timothy 3:15-16; 2 Peter 1:20-21). The fact that His holy writers are named on the foundations of the heavenly city shows how important His Word is for our spiritual and eternal security. If you remove the Word Christ gave through His holy writers, you remove the substance of our faith and our connection to Christ the one foundation.
This is why we must take great care not to build our faith on the crumbly spiritual foundations of this world. It is popular to treat differences in teachings as unimportant. People say, “Can’t we all just express faith together as one Church? Can’t we just agree to disagree in minor points?” But this is man-made unity – not the unity God’s Spirit gives as we actually believe, teach, and confess His truth together (Ephesians 4:3-5, 13-15; 1 Corinthians 1:10). False teachings never come from Christ, and they never help anyone. They are from Satan, whose goal is to erode the very foundations of our faith, even if it takes years and years of introducing “little” changes in teaching.
In heaven, there will be no more concern about such things. The heavenly city with its “great and high wall” resting on that unshakeable foundation reminds us that we will be surrounded with God’s everlasting protection from all harm and evil. There, all true believers in Christ will finally be gathered safe and sound, in perfect fellowship, in the Church Triumphant forever.
But as long as we live on earth, we must take care. Think of building your own house. While laying the foundation, who would say: “Let’s not be so concerned about the materials we use. Let’s just throw sand here and there to support the walls. It won’t make a difference with the overall structure.” That would be foolish. If we take such great care to build solid earthly foundations, how much more should we be concerned for eternal foundations, for ourselves and for others?
As Christ’s Bride, His Church on earth, we want to be faithful to Him. We love our heavenly Bridegroom, who shed His blood on the cross to save us. We do not want anything to come between us; we do not want to be united with falsehood. We want to speak His truth in love, and to build on the rock-solid foundation He gives us through His pure Word and Sacraments.
3) Worship in its glory
As we enter gates of the holy city by faith in Christ, and build on the foundation of His Word, finally we look forward to worshiping Him in heaven’s glory. Here John pictures that glory: “But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.”
In the Old Jerusalem, the temple was the place where believers sacrificed and worshiped, the place where God brought His saving grace to sinners, in the name of the coming Christ. In the New Testament Church, our risen Savior brings His salvation to us through His means of grace in Word and Sacrament. But in the heavenly city, there is no need for a worship structure or means of grace. For there, we will experience direct communion with “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb.” We will experience the constant, unending thrill of worship in His glorious presence.
Already, Jesus lights our way by the truth of His salvation (John 8:12). Already, we see Him by the eyes of faith; and even a weak faith is a saving faith, as it looks to Him as our Savior. But in heaven, faith will be changed to perfect sight. “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). And “when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).
Our ascended Savior shines like a thousand suns, filling heaven with His glory. And with heavenly bodies, we will reflect His glory. Already this is how God sees us, whose robes are washed white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14). But in heaven, this will be visible. Gathered around our Savior, we will shine in His resplendent glory, like a brilliant light shining through the many facets of a precious jewel, “clear as crystal.” And with perfect worship, “with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven,” we will sing His praises forevermore.
“Mom, what will heaven be like?” What a blessing it is to be able to answer that question with certainty. For our risen Savior is preparing a heavenly home for us. Never again will there be a threat of harm. Never again will loved ones depart. Imagine the greatest reunion of beloved family and friends. Imagine the joy of a Bride united with her Bridegroom, multiplied infinitely. Heaven is everything we have dreamed of and hoped for. Therefore we pray with the hymn:
O sweet and blessed country, The home of God’s elect!
O sweet and blessed country That eager hearts expect!
Jesus, in mercy bring us To that dear land of rest,
Who art, with God the Father And Spirit, ever blest. Amen.