Is life after death “pie in the sky” or a “sure a certain hope”? When we die are our lives at an end, or is there yet more to come? Its hard to think of a more important question to engage our minds. And the answer we come to will shape our whole lives this side of the grave, as well as after!
After all, if we exist for this life only, we might as well “eat, drink and be merry”! If death really is the end, then we might as well live for ourselves, maximise our possessions and make the pursuit of pleasure our number one objective. Certainly that’s the way millions of people in our country behave. Certainly that’s what thousands of people in our area believe.
But what if they are wrong – badly wrong? What if this life isn’t all there is? What if this world is just the entranceway to a world beyond? Most importantly, what if our life here now will shape how we spend eternity – what if our belief or behaviour in this world will determine whether our future existence is heavenly or hellish? It really is hard to think of a more important issue.
And its appropriate that we are thinking about this issue today, at the start of Advent. Traditionally, you see, Advent has been the season when the Church has thought about “The Last Things”. It’s the season when Christians around the world have considered the so-called ‘last things’ of death, judgement and the world to come.
Thankfully the Bible gives us valuable information on this all-important subject. God’s Word gives us vital knowledge of what we face beyond the grave, and how we can prepare rightly for it. And perhaps the most valuable passage is the one we read just now, from Revelation chapter 21. A passage that in verse 5 claims to contain “trustworthy and true” words from our Creator. Words of divine revelation rather than human speculation.
The world to come: A new creation
Many people, including many Christians, assume that when we die we go to heaven. But that’s only partly true – its only the first part of the story. Its certainly true that when Christians die our souls will go to Heaven, to a place Jesus called Paradise. A spiritual realm where we will enjoy the company of our Saviour.
But that won’t be our final resting place. Because verse 1 of our passage today teaches us that one day there will be “a new heaven and a new earth”. Heaven and earth will be united and they will both be renewed. The spiritual world will be integrated with the physical one to make something wonderful and new. You see, when Christ returns to earth and brings world history to a close, a whole New Creation will be born. Heaven and earth will become one.
So like sightseers on holiday, let’s take a tour this morning of God’s new creation, with Revelation 21 as our guidebook. We shall see what will (and won’t) be part of God’s new creation, and we’ll think about how we can all prepare for its arrival.
- A world without evil
If you have ever rented a house, you will know that at the end of your tenancy you are usually expected to give the house a “deep clean”. When your contract expires carpets and curtains all need to be shampooed, washed and hoovered.
Moving house also gives you an opportunity to de-junk. An opportunity to throw out all those things you accumulate over the years but don’t need. When Helen and I moved here from Lancashire last year, there was plenty that didn’t make the journey south with us. Plenty of things ended up on eBay or in the Bin!
The Bible tells us that one day, when Christ returns, God will perform a ‘deep clean’ on the world. Creation will be cleansed and everything evil thrown out. As verse 5 says this morning, “everything will be made new”, even better than before.
The previous verse describes the wonderful consequences of this cleansing of creation. In the new creation there will be “no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will pass away”.
Everything in this world that makes for sadness and suffering will have been taken away by God. He will “wipe every tear” from Christian’s eyes. There will be no need for doctors, dentists or undertakers in the new creation. No need for police forces or padlocks any more.
Everything that causes suffering and sadness in our world today will be gone forever. Verse 8 today uses hellish, fiery language to make clear that every unrepentant evil-doer will perish – that all the wicked who lack remorse will be judged by God.
We are even told in verse 1 that there will “no longer be any sea”. In the Bible the sea symbolises all the natural forces of chaos and confusion, the things that in this world bring us danger and fear. Such things will have no place in God’s everlasting kingdom. So next time you see a natural disaster on TV, read of a wars overseas or even walk past a graveyard, remember that their time is limited. Their clock is ticking. Christ is coming back, God’s new creation will begin, and evil will end one day.
- A world for God’s people
It’s a wonderful prospect, isn’t it? Many of us get excited in the run up to Christmas, or before a holiday abroad, or ahead of our birthday. But that should pale into insignificance compared to our anticipation of the world to come. But we can only have this hope if we know Christ. We can only be assured of a place in Christ’s coming kingdom if we know King Jesus for ourselves.
Unless we have come to Christ to have our sins forgiven and our hearts renewed, we are on the road to hell, not heaven. If someone remains an unrepentant rebel against God, they remain are part of the problem with our world, not part of its solution. In the gospels Jesus is quite clear that we either let him take the punishment for our sin at the Cross, or we face it ourselves. “No one comes to the Father”, he said, “except through me”.
However, if we are Christians here this morning, if we have come to the Father through faith in Christ, then we can be confident of our place in God’s glorious new creation. In numerous places the New Testament reassures us that every believer in Jesus, everyone who has come to him for forgiveness, has a glorious inheritance to look forward to in world come.
For example, passages like 1 Corinthians 15 reassure us that, even though our mortal bodies may have been buried or cremated, we will be given new, resurrected bodies for the New Creation. Just as Jesus’ mortal body was resurrected to a new and glorious body on Easter day, so too will we be given new bodies one day.
New bodies that will never grow old or decay. Bodies whose desires will no longer lead us into temptation. Bodies that will be more – not less – real and tangible than those we have now. The risen Jesus was not a ghost (he could be touched, and ate food) and nor will we be. I don’t think it’s fanciful to believe that in the New Creation we will work, rest and play, enjoying all the good things of this current life, and so much more. We won’t be bored – we won’t be just playing harps in the clouds!
We certainly won’t be lonely, either. A few chapters before today’s one, in chapter 7, the book of Revelation paints a beautiful picture of God’s people gathered around him in Heaven, awaiting their place in the New Creation. And this gathering of God’s people is enormous. A great multitude made up of every person who has trusted God’s promises and come to Christ throughout history. People from every tribe and tongue, from every corner of the earth, will populate God’s glorious new creation. Christian family and friends we have loved and lost will be with us in glory one day. God’s grand plan to gather a people for himself will finally be complete.
- A world with God
I don’t know how you eat your meals. Perhaps you are someone who eats the tastiest ingredient first or leaves it until the end? Are vegetables the first or last thing to disappear from your plate, I wonder?! Whatever your culinary habits, in describing the New Creation this morning, I have definitely left the best until last. Because however great it will be to live in a new world with God’s people, the best, most important ingredient of the new creation will be God’s presence there himself. He will live with his people.
As verse 3 of our passage today tells us, God’s dwelling place will be “among his people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and he himself will be with them”.
For a short while in Old Testament times, God dwelt with his people at the Jerusalem Temple. For another short period God’s Son dwelt among us when he walked on earth. And since Pentecost, God’s Holy Spirit has dwelt within every Christian’s heart.
But in the New Creation to come, God’s presence will be visible, uninhibited and unending. We will no longer live by faith, but by sight. We will see the one we worship, and delight in him forever. Reflect for a moment on the fact that God is the source of every good thing we enjoy, and you will realise how wonderful it will be to be with him forever. To gaze on God for eternity will be glorious – even better than the most beautiful portrait or most majestic landscape we’ve witnessed in this world.
Conclusion: Get ready for glory!
I hope the portrait of the new creation painted by Revelation 21 is attractive to you. We don’t know everything about God’s new creation, but it is a tantalising prospect – a wonderful hope.
Of course, many of us will have questions and doubts from time to time. Fears that the Bible’s promises of God’s coming kingdom are just “pie in the sky”. When those fears surface, can I encourage us to look at the life of Jesus and put our trust in him. Throughout his life he healed the sick, cast out demons and raised the dead. By those amazing acts in history, he has given us visual signs and tangible promises of the day when God’s kingdom will come in all its fullness. When we look at Jesus’ ministry in the past, we see God doing things on a small scale which he will one day do for all of creation.
Above all, we should ground our future hope on the death and resurrection of Jesus. Christ’s cross made it possible for us to be forgiven friends with God forever – through faith in him, we can book our place in glory. And Christ’s resurrection was an objective, historical event that shows us what God will do one day for everyone who’s put their faith in him. Christ’s resurrection is the ultimate evidence that death has been defeated.
As I finish, its worth reflecting on what this all means for our daily lives now. How should our behaviour be different from those who have no hope beyond the grave?
Surely our first priority should be to tell people about Christ. We need to hold out to non-Christian family and friends the forgiveness, life and hope that Jesus offers. One day we will all meet our maker. If we are Christians it will be a joyful encounter. If we are not, it will be a day of judgement. This makes evangelism an urgent necessity, a first priority for this church and every Christian congregation. I’m so pleased that last night’s Ladies wreath event included an explanation of the Christian Gospel, and please pray that our Christmas services will provide an opportunity to introduce Jesus to those who don’t yet know Him.
And secondly, the prospect of the world to come should inspire every Christians to live out our hope. Let’s hold on to and treasure our future hope when times are tough now, and let’s live like citizens of Christ’s Kingdom as we await its coming in full.
We’ve been reminded this morning, haven’t we, that the New Creation will be a world characterised by love, justice, goodness and peace. So let’s seek to live that way now. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit’s help to live that way today. Christ calls us to live as obedient children of a loving, heavenly Father. A Father we will one day see face to face. A Father who will one day dwell in our very midst.