"Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed." (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)...
“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:10)
All of us are on our way, either to something that is infinitely better, or to something that is infinitely worse. People sometimes talk about “living your best life now.” That’s only possible if you are going to hell. If hell is your future, your best life is now.
But if you are going to heaven, your best life is to still to come. For a person outside Christ, this life is as good as it gets. But for a person in Christ, your pain in this world is the only pain you will ever experience. Your struggles in this world are the only struggles you will ever endure.
This is as tough as it gets for you, because your future is absolutely glorious! Without Christ this world is as near as you will get to heaven.
With Christ this world is as near as you will get to hell. It is better to suffer any illness, endure any sorrow, carry any burden and be in Christ, than it is to enjoy any lifestyle you can imagine without Him.
Today, I have the joy of lifting your eyes up to your future joy in heaven, so that you will find strength, courage and comfort to endure the difficulties of life that confront you today.
Lift Up Your Eyes and See
Please turn in your Bible to Revelation 7. The apostle John was suffering in a brutal prison on the island of Patmos. One Sunday, he tells us, he was “in the Spirit.” God’s Spirit came upon him and he was given a glimpse of heaven. God pulled back the curtain for this man who was suffering so much, and John saw heaven opened.
God gave this Revelation to John for us. That’s why he was told to write the vision down, and that’s why God has preserved it.
Lift up your eyes and see…
A great multitude in the presence of Christ
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages. (Revelation 7:9)
The work of evangelism had been hard. He had labored at the church in Ephesus, a town where there was so much idolatry, so much resistance to the Gospel—not an easy place to plant a church. And the first love of the Christians in Ephesus had cooled. The church was filled with activist people who worked hard, but their spiritual temperature was low.
Now John was isolated on an island prison—the Alcatraz of the ancient world. He was in prison and on an island, and the risen Christ draws near to Him by the Holy Spirit and says, “I have something that you have to see…’ What did John see? John looks, and in this vision, he sees a vast crowd of people that no one could number. They come from every nation.
If you’re the only Christian in your family or the only Christian in your class, you need to see this. If God has made you a light in a dark place at work, you need to take this in. If you’re laboring in the work of evangelism or laboring in the cause of mission and you’re discouraged, you need to come here often.
John saw people who had come from different walks of life, laboring in difficult circumstances, often isolated from other believers, and where are they now? The vast multi-cultural crowd is “standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9)—in the presence of Jesus Christ!
lift up your eyes and see…
People clothed in white robes
In white robes, with palm branches in their hands… (Revelation 7:9)
John is struck not only by how many people there are, but also by how clean they are. White robes, and not a stain on any one of them. And the palm branches that they carry are signs of joy and victory.
This is a scene of celebration. These people are “crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb’” (Revelation 7:10).
Then as John looks across the crowd he sees, at the center, the One who is called the Lamb of God. His glory is inexpressible. Round Him are the angels, and the elders and four living creatures, and they are all caught up in the joy of this worship that rises from the vast crowd.
Then suddenly one of the elders speaks to John. It must have been quite a shock to him. John has been watching. He is an observer, and then one of the elders right next to Jesus speaks to him and asks him a question, “Who are these, clothed in white robes and from where have they come?” (7:13).
John takes a page out of Ezekiel’s book. When the God asked him if dry bones could live, Ezekiel said, “Lord, you know” (Ezekiel 37:3). So, John said the same thing to the elder: “Sir, you know” (Revelation 7:14).
Then the elder speaks, and he tells us who the people in heaven are, and
what their experience in heaven is actually like. That’s what we are going to look at together…
The People in Heaven
the people in heaven…
They have been crushed.
“These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.” (Revelation 7:14)
It may that there is a reference here to seven years of tribulation that take place in the end times. But it cannot possibly be limited to that. God’s people endure suffering, trials and tribulation in every generation. Jesus said to his disciples, “In this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33).
All of us know what it is to face trouble in this world.
The elder is saying to John, “The people that you see here in the presence of Jesus, they are people who have been through great troubles. They know what it is to be crushed.”
This is very important for us today. In the last few weeks—just in our own congregation—we have wept with parents who lost a six-year-old child, and with students who lost their mother, after she was diagnosed with cancer just six months earlier.
We sometimes ask the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” I can’t answer that question, but I can tell you that the most godly people sometimes endure the most terrible suffering. Look at Jesus—utterly, unbearably crushed—the holy Son of God.
But look at Jesus now! He’s not on the cross now. He’s at the center, on the throne, sharing in the joy of His people. He is with them, and they are with Him. Everyone in this vast crowd has been crushed, but none of them are crushed now.
You may be facing a time of great crushing today. Some of you face great pressures in your work—a weight of responsibility lies on you, and other people don’t understand the weight. It never lifts and you feel as if you are tied to a whipping post.
Some of you struggle with depression—a darkness comes upon you, and it just won’t seem to lift. Your mind is always troubled. You feel crushed by the weight of it.
Some of you know the pain of difficulties at home with your husband, your wife, or with your own children. Once you went home to rest, now you only rest when you are away.
Look at the vast crowd in heaven. They’ve all been crushed, but they’re not crushed now. All of them have come out of great tribulation, but now they’re before the throne singing: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!” One day soon, you’ll be among them.
The people in heaven…
They have been cleansed.
“They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.” (Revelation 7:14)
The people in heaven are all people who needed to be washed. All of them came to a place where they understood that they need to be washed.
Think about John on his island prison. He was confined to what would have been a grubby cell. I don’t suppose that the Patmos penitentiary had a regular laundry service. What kind of clothes do you suppose he was wearing as he sees this vision? Filthy clothes…
But John sees the people of God, dressed in white robes—pure white, from top to toe. The robes speak of purity. There isn’t a hint of stain on any of these people.
This is really a picture of what Christ will do for our souls. Our souls get stained and soiled. They get grubby in this world because of our many sins. Sinful thoughts and sinful deeds bring great blots on the soul. They make you feel like you don’t belong in the presence of God.
You say in your more honest moments, “I find it difficult to see myself in heaven. I know my own heart.” We need to be washed. How? “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.”
The blood of the lamb
Some people think suffering makes you holy. But they didn’t wash their robes in the tribulation. Suffering, in itself, does not make you holy—it can bring out the best in us and it can bring out the worst in us—hidden sins and secret resentments. No one is made perfect through pain.
They washed their robes in “the blood of the Lamb.” Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. When He hung on that cross, His blood was shed, and when a person comes to Christ, in repentance and faith, the shed blood is applied to that person to make him or her clean.
The people in heaven are washed in the blood of the Lamb. What a statement that is! Blood usually makes horrible stains, but this blood takes our stains away!
The white robes are a wonderful picture of the purity that will be yours in heaven. The guilt of sin is removed from you now. When your sin is confessed to God and placed under the blood of Christ, its guilt is gone—as far as God is concerned.
The power of sin is broken for you now. That means there is no sin or temptation that you cannot overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit this week. But in this life, the presence of sin remains. You do not need to be a Christian for long and you do not need to know yourself terribly well to know that sin’s presence remains in us throughout our lifetimes.
Spurgeon talks about Christians who feel they’ve moved beyond sin…
Whenever I hear a brother talk of ceasing from conflict, I think how quiet the devils in his soul are keeping, and how they are chuckling at his folly. Sins swarm most where pride swears there is none. There is an ocean of sin within the heart of any one of us, and it only wants a trouble to stir the polluted mass, and we shall see what it is like. [i]
Who does the washing?
“They have washed their robes.” (Revelation 7:14)
Obviously it is Christ who washes the soul, and the Bible speaks about that in many places. But here we are told something else that we need to hear: “They have washed their robes.”
That means everyone in heaven has done something about their condition. They saw that they needed to be washed. They realized that, even at their best, their attempts at righteousness would only be like dirty rags.
Everyone in heaven believed that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. They came to Christ in repentance and faith and they prayed like David, “Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean, wash me and I will be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).
They washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Is this something you have done or not? At this point, you must be clear. If not, I plead with you to make it clear by coming to Jesus Christ today.
Have you come to the place of seeing your need of a Savior? Have you come to believe that Christ is the Savior you need, and have you come to Him in faith and repentance, asking Him to wash you and cleanse you?
Is there evidence of this in your life today? Are you pursuing a life of holiness today? That’s the evidence that you belong to Jesus. Without that, what right do you have to claim that you are His?
If there’s no evidence in your life today that you belong to Jesus, don’t be passive. Others are washing their robes in His blood. Why not you?
The people in heaven…
Now they are home.
“He who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.” (Revelation 7:15)
Everyone is in the shelter, and the shelter is God Himself. God spreads his wings over them, and brings them under His protection forever. Literally, this verse says, “He spreads his tent over them.” That is a beautiful picture of inclusion—you are not outside; you are inside.
There may be times when you don’t feel at home on earth, even among Christians. Some people don’t feel at home in their bodies. But in heaven you’ll feel completely at home. Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” All who are washed in His blood will feel at home in His presence.
The Life of Heaven
The life of heaven…
In heaven, you will serve God as you always wished you could.
“They are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple.” (Revelation 7:15)
Every Christian serves Christ, but none of us serves the Lord as we would like to serve Him. All who love Christ worship Him, but none of us worships as we would like to worship. Don’t you find yourself at times asking, “Why is my heart so sluggish? Why is my response to the grace of God so restrained, so calculating?”
Every Christian wants to serve Christ, but we find ourselves in conflict, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38). We throw ourselves into serving Christ and into living for Christ, and then we get tired or we become discouraged. We get bogged down in our unsolved problems and our unanswered questions…
But it will not always be so. In heaven you will serve God as you always wished you could. “Day and night” they serve Him. No tiredness there!
Here, we go through seasons of feeling distant from God, and we want to have a new and fresh experience of God. But in heaven you will be before His throne. You will be with Him, and you will enjoy Him forever!
the life of heaven…
In heaven, Christ will lead you into ever increasing joy.
“The Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water.” (Revelation 7:16)
You may think, “Heaven’s going to be a wonderful place where I’m going to discover all kinds of marvelous things.” Yes, it will be a wonderful place, but John is telling us, “It’s better than that.” What’s missing?
Christ is the great Shepherd of His people. He feeds them and that is why they are never hungry (7:16). And He leads them—Christ does this for us on earth, and He will do this for us in heaven, “the Lamb will… guide them to springs of living water!” The great joy of heaven is that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself will lead you into ever increasing delight.
Some of you have found a favorite place to vacation. You keep going back, and over the years, you’ve gotten to know it better and better. And after many years, you know most of what there is to know.
There’s no restaurant you haven’t eaten at, no shop you haven’t bought something at and no hotel you haven’t stayed in. You will never get to that place in heaven. Heaven will be an infinite world of new discoveries, and Jesus Christ will unfold them to you. Thomas Boston says…
The divine perfections will be an unbounded field, in which the glorified shall walk eternally, seeing more and more of God; since they can never come to the end of the infinite. They may bring their vessels to this ocean every moment, and fill them with new waters. [ii]
Donald Macleod, who spent his life teaching in seminary, noticed that some people thought heaven would be filled only with studying book of theology. He points out that life in the new heaven and the new earth will be more than life in the Garden of Eden. He says of the garden…
Paradise was no mere seminary. It offered scope for art, science, and technology as well as theology. The same will doubtless be true of the world to come. Not only the Creator but the creation, too will be an object of wonder to the redeemed. It will; challenge their intellects, fire their imaginations and stimulate their industry. The scenario is a thrilling one: brilliant minds in powerful bodies in a transformed universe. [iii]
This joy will go on increasing forever! Think about looking through a photo album: The joys you experience in life remain in your memory so that you continue to derive happiness from them—things that happened ten years ago or twenty years ago.
Jonathan Edwards asks, “Do you think it will be any less in heaven?” The joys of heaven will accumulate…
Their knowledge will increase to eternity; and if their knowledge, their holiness; for as they increase in the knowledge of God, they will see more of his excellency (beauty), and the more they see of his excellency (beauty) the more they will love him, and the more they love God, the more delight and happiness they will have in him. [iv]
Friends, we are talking about exponentially increasing joy! What will that be like after a million, million ages?
The life of heaven…
In heaven, all your wounds will finally be healed.
“God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:17)
Every tear! Literally, the tears will be wiped “out of their eyes.” This is telling us God removes, not only the tears, but also the source that produces the tears—even their tear ducts!
The baggage you carried—there’s nothing to carry now. It’s gone. The temptations you battled—there are no battles now. The pain you suffered—there’s no suffering now.
John sees the glory of heaven, the presence of Jesus, the glory of the new creation, but then like a drumbeat you have this repeated statement of what will not be there: No death; no mourning. No sins to confess; no temptations to overcome. No sickness to suffer; no pain to endure. No crosses to carry; no fears to face.
All your questions will be answered. All your doubts will be resolved. These people have been crushed, but look at them now! Their longings are fulfilled. Their needs are met. Their joy is complete. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. If you have been washed in the blood of Christ, it will not be long before you are there too.
Longing to Depart, Ready to Stay
Look at what lies ahead of you, and it will help you to face whatever you are facing today. Donald Macleod reminds us that heaven is our Father’s house, and he says…
What a grief it must be to God that so few of His children want to go home! Here we are, in enemy territory, amid the sufferings of the present time, beset by sin and seeing our Father’s name dishonored all around us and yet we want to stay!
He recalls Paul’s longing to depart and be with Christ, which the apostle says is “better by far.” But at the same time, Paul says, “I’ve got to be ready to stay and continue serving the church…”
This surely is the healthy Christian attitude: Willing to stay, for the sake of the work still to be done, but longing to get home.
Serving Christ will be your great delight in heaven, so find joy by serving Him now. Following Christ will lead you to springs of living water in heaven, so find life by following Christ now. Christ will wipe every tear from your eye in heaven, so find comfort by drawing near to Him now.
© Colin S. Smith
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