This may sound strange, but as wonderful as we humans are and as deserving as we might be (!), Heaven does not exist first and foremost for us!!
Heaven exists for God’s Glory. Go right to the first verse of the Bible – Genesis 1:1 (if you can’t find that, this essay will be a little heavy going for you!!)
‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’. Have you ever asked yourself why did he chose to do that? He didn’t need to – in the Godhead he was not even alone! Was he bored?
What he did was create a place or places that could communicate himself! God brought out of himself a physical reality that might be experienced. Every land mass, every star, every mountain, every river, every reef, every tree, every animal and every bird – it all displayed his glory. But best of all, he then created man and woman – in his own image to enjoy the glories of this wonderful place.
What do the ‘heavens’ here mean?
There are three different yet still connected ideas which our Bible translates as ‘heavens’ and context helps us to determine which it is every time we come across the word.
First there is the idea of atmosphere. Isaiah 55:10 talks of rain and snow coming down from the heavens. Daniel 4:15 mentions dew from heavens falling on the earth. Jeremiah 4:25 says that all the birds of the heavens flew away. The idea of heaven here is clearly meaning the sky – the atmosphere.
The second idea is that of space. Genesis 1:14 ‘God said let there be lights in the expanse of the sky’. This is much broader than just the ‘sky’ as it obviously includes the stars and the planets and moons.
But those two are not really our primary concern – although it is worth noting that both (in some way) point us to the glory of the one who creates. Psalm 19 famously sings ‘The heavens declare the glory of God the skies proclaim the work of his hands.’ They do!
The third idea is that of ‘heaven’ itself. 2 Chronicles 2:6 call them the ‘highest heavens’. Hebrews 9:24 tells us that Christ entered heaven itself. The apostle Paul talks of the ‘third heaven’ in 2 Corinthians 12:2 – perhaps he is thinking that the atmosphere and space are the first two heavens!
Where is this place? Can we get an address? Unfortunately the Bible doesn’t say.
God’s dwelling place
What it does say is that heaven is the dwelling place of God. Isaiah 63:15 calls on God to look down from heaven, from his lofty throne. Psalm 23:6 calls us to dwell in the house of the Lord forever. In Matthew 6:9, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray by saying ‘Our Father in heaven’. Heaven is the dwelling place of God – wherever that might be.
Perhaps a better way to think about heaven is as God’s home.
I quite like visiting people’s places – I always feel as if I know them better when I’m allowed to cross over the threshold of their front step. A person’s home is often a statement of who the person really is.
Maybe that is a helpful picture of heaven – to think of it as God’s home. Not because we find out whether he stacks the dishwasher or not! But because it is where we see his holiness and justice most clearly revealed. Where we see the fullness of his being. Where we see his magnificence expressed. Where we see his splendour and beauty and glory perfectly understood.
Asaph in Psalm 73:24 calls on God to guide him and then take him into his glory. And those who are saved in Hebrews 2:10 are found as sons in glory because of Christ.
So heaven exists for God’s Glory.
So what went wrong?!
Simply put – God’s glory departed, yet it also returned – and then for good.
God’s glory departed
Return to Genesis 1 again. If God has created the heavens and the earth to demonstrate his glory – and the clearest demonstration of that glory is in man and woman created in his image. Then what on earth is the man and woman doing listening to a snake?!
When we read Genesis 3, it is pretty obvious that something has gone horribly wrong! The man and woman decide to ignore God and do other than what he asks and in doing that they diminish his glory. Tragedy! It makes sense that the man and woman are banished from the garden of all provision – they are sent out of what was effectively heaven.
In just a few short chapters we see their sons squabble, then one murders the other (which took sibling rivalry to a very unfortunate place!) and then a hop, skip and a jump away we find in Genesis 6 that man’s wickedness had multiplied across the earth and that ‘every inclination of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil all of the time’ – the earth was corrupt and full of violence. (Gen 6:5, 11)
This is our experience of the world. Creation is subject to frustration by its own choice and it is in bondage and it is decaying (Rom 8:20-21).
For all have sinned and fall short of….can you remember what comes next….
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
This is our experience of the world – and Satan loves it!
God’s glory returns
But, heaven is where God’s glory has been preserved and where it is protected. That is the reason why you and I can not just rock on up, knock on the door and invite ourselves in with meatloaf in hand!
As sinners, fallen, and evil to the core – we are banished from heaven in the same way that Adam and Eve were banished from the garden and a flaming sword put across the entrance.
So if heaven is where God’s glory is preserved, it follows that it is also from where God’s glory returns. The whole story of the Bible is the story of heaven returning. It is the story of God’s glory being restored in a richer, more wonderful way than what we could see even in the garden of Eden.
And he does that first in Christ. When God send his son Jesus, the heavenly hosts erupted – remember that from the Christmas story in Luke 2:14? When Jesus became flesh and made his dwelling among us we saw ‘the glory of the one and only God’ (John 1:14). As Jesus lives the perfect life he points people to the glory of God. As Jesus came to the cross he summed up his life and his work by praying to God, ‘Father, I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do’ (John 17:4). In his resurrection Jesus returns to glory, but promises believers that they too will receive and enter glory – as they sit with him in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6). And he calls all believers, while they wait for that day – to reflect the Lord’s glory, being transformed in Christlikeness, with ever increasing glory, by the power of the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:18). And so we wait.
God’s glory returns for good
Friends, our series from Revelation has pointed us back to what Jesus did to bring the glory of God to us. It has also pointed us forward to the day when Jesus returns, again from glory, but this time to take us with him in glory.
We start with Eden, a garden which displays the glory of God, and we finish with a city where the glory of God is the only thing people will see.
And it is good. That is not just a slice of heaven – that is the whole cake!!