The timing couldn't be better. Here on this beautiful Easter morning, we're right in the middle of John's vision of heaven. There is a lot going on here. Our focus today will be, of course, on the glory of heaven.
Let's start with a promise from Jesus. We read, in Luke 23:32-43:
Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. "And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
There is the power of God. In the great expanse of space and time, however the process work…we'll never know, because, as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13, we see as in a mirror dimly...we know from this passage in Luke it will be a very fast trip, passing from this life to the next. If you are in Christ, if you have been called by Jesus Christ to follow him and if you have answered that call, then heaven is your upward calling, and the moment after your earthly life passes, you will be with him in paradise. What a glorious promise that is. When we are chosen by Christ, we are chosen to spend eternity with him.
So the question is, what does that eternity look like? What is heaven like?
Let's look one last time at Revelation 4:4-11:
Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.
And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
Let's highlight some key points:
The twenty-four elders of verse four represent those believers who persevered in times of difficulty, trial, and tumult. As Paul put it in 2 Timothy 4:6-8, "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing." They represent all those who remain faithful to the person and teaching of Jesus Christ.
In verse five, the flashes of lightening and rumblings and peals of thunder represent two movements. The first is the most obvious…the awesome power and majesty of God. The second is a foreshadowing. Anytime in The Revelation to John thunder and lightning comes in, it means something big is going to happen. Here, it is that later in the vision God's wrath will be poured out on a sinful and rebellious world.
Clearly, those represented by the twenty-four elders, who have remained faithful, are saved from God's coming judgment on a sinful world. That's why John sees them in heaven.
The glassy sea, which is incorporated beautifully in verse 2 of the beloved hymn, "Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty," adds to the awesome splendor of the throne room of God.
Finally, there's a description of four living creatures. Most of the descriptions in The Book of Revelation are meant to stir the imagination, not inspire the artist's canvas. These four living creatures represent what is the strongest, noblest, wisest, and swiftest in God's created world. The purpose they serve is to remind us that, as amazing as they are, God is above and beyond them, completely separate from all created beings.
So here, in chapter four, John has been given a glimpse of heaven. What will we be doing in heaven?
Since we're devoted followers of Jesus Christ, and not kindergartners, Jesus gives John the more developed, more mature take on heaven. You know what I'm talking about right? I remember, a few months ago, after singer "Meat Loaf" died, someone said something along the lines that now he's lead singer in a great rock-and-roll band in heaven. C'mon, man. We've all heard things like, "In heaven, you can eat all you want and not gain weight." Things like that. Childish notions of what heaven is like. I don't know about you, but the last thing I want is for heaven to be a continuation of life here on earth. We've all heard people say things along the lines of, as the family gathers for a holiday meal, "Grandma's looking down from heaven, smiling, as she watches us enjoying this family holiday tradition." Some variation of that. It's kind of narcissistic. As if, now standing in the presence of the Risen Christ, in the glory of God's throne room, anybody would want to watch a bunch of people eating mashed potatoes and gravy.
Revelation 4 gives us a better vision.
What is the big thing Jesus shows John? All of the action in heaven is
directed toward worship. They are worshiping God. And then, as we'll see
next week, they worship the Lamb who was slain, who is Jesus, as he took upon himself the punishment for our sin, so we could stand in the Throne Room of God, with the twenty-four elders and the magnificent beasts, and cast our crowns upon the glassy sea in true worship and praise. Amen?
Heaven is worship. That's why we say our worship here in this life is preparing us for eternity. That's why, most of us, most of the time, don't want to play at our worship. Our worship in this life gives us a glimpse of what eternity will be like. All the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever. We will worship without ceasing.
Let's now wrap up this scene in the Throne Room of God:
Psalm 86:8-10 - "There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours. All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name. For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God."
Psalm 89:5-7 - "Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Lord, your
faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones! For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord? Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord, a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him?"
We will worship God in heaven because of the great things He has done. Holy, holy, holy, the Bible says. Because of God's holiness, sin has to be judged. Those who have rejected Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will be punished. Why? Because God is holy, and nothing unclean can stand in His holy presence.
Yet those who have been saved from the wrath to come by Jesus' death on the cross will not be corrupted. They will worship God in all His holiness because Jesus has called them and saved them. Remember, they were not perfect, but faithful. While God rejects sin, He welcomes into heaven those whose sin has been covered by Jesus' death on the cross. Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.
So, thinking back to Jesus' words from the cross to the man who put his trust in him, when Jesus says, "Today, you will be with me in paradise," we now fast forward to this promise in Revelation 4. When we think about heaven, we think about eternity with God. And when we think about eternity with God, it's a source of joy. There is no fear for those who follow Christ. No fear.
Finally, fearless, we will do a most amazing thing. As the worship crescendos, we will do a most amazing thing. We will cast our crowns before the throne. Remember, these are the crowns given the victor of a race. As we saw in 2 Timothy 4:7-8:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
The crown signifies the victory over sin won by Christ on the cross. Without the death of Jesus on the cross, and without persevering faith in him, the door to heaven would be closed. And here's the best part. When we get to heaven, we're going to be so caught up in the joy of our salvation, that we
will surrender our crowns. Can you imagine? We will be so lost in wonder… we'll be so lost in love…we'll be so lost in praise…that we will gladly surrender our crowns. The ultimate act of worship is to cast our crowns before the throne. The only thing that matters, in life and death, is that we belong to Jesus.
FATHER, ON THIS BEAUTIFUL EASTER MORNING, WE HAVE BEEN ELEVATED BEYOND THIS VILE AND BROKEN WORLD TO A GLORIOUS GLIMPSE OF HEAVEN. THANK YOU THAT YOU HAVE MERCY ON SINNERS LIKE US. THANK YOU THAT YOU HAVE PROMISED TO BROKEN PEOPLE WITH CONTRITE HEARTS THAT THEY WILL BE EMBRACED BY JESUS IN HEAVEN. THANK YOU THAT YOU HAVE ADDED US TO THE NUMBER OF THOSE WHO ARE SAVED. WITH EVERLASTING PRAISE, AND TO THE GLORY OF CHRIST, WE PRAY. AMEN.