April 10, 2005

HEAVENLY HAPPINESS

Be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create. Isaiah 65:18

When you think about where you’ll spend eternity, what comes to mind? Most people believe in existence after this life but aren’t very excited about it. If you fear that you might go to hell instead of heaven, you’re obviously not eager for eternity. But even if you believe you’ll go to heaven, the thought might still bore you more than it excites you.

You might picture heaven as an endless church service, and you’re not eager for sermons and songs that go on forever. Or you might imagine floating on a cloud, and you’d rather keep your feet on the ground. Or you might think of being flooded with white light, and you’d rather enjoy things in living color.

But the final destiny of those who trust Jesus is not white light or fluffy clouds or an everlasting church service. The new creation is literally heaven on earth: heaven comes down to earth (Revelation 21:, and earth becomes the paradise it’s meant to be. When our bodies are resurrected in a better form, the physical world will also be resurrected in a better form. Nothing good will be lost, only improved.

We won’t trade color for white light; colors will be more colorful than ever. We won’t float in clouds (except if we want to fly awhile); we’ll enjoy solid, lovely homes set in a splendid city or a beautiful countryside. We won’t sit in church forever; there won’t even be a temple or church building in heaven because direct contact with God will replace all sermons, sacraments, and special places of worship (Revelation 21:22).

Heaven on earth will be physical, and it will be fun. A lot of us, if asked what we expect to do in heaven, draw a blank. Nothing much comes to mind. But there will be lots of exciting things to do. God doesn’t promise everlasting boredom. He promises, “Everlasting joy will crown their heads.” He says, “Be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create” (Isaiah 35:10; 65:18). Let’s highlight four things about heavenly happiness: heaven on earth will be a place to rest, a place to play, a place to discover, and a place to succeed.

A Place to Rest

Heaven on earth will be a place to rest. Revelation 14:13 says, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord… they will rest from their labor.” Many Bible passages speak of rest, and an old classic about heaven is titled The Saints’ Everlasting Rest. The promise of rest gladdens people who are enslaved and overworked or face constant attack and feel worn down.

To some of us, though, everlasting rest might sound boring. We don’t want to lounge around forever with nothing to do. But don’t worry—heaven on earth will be rest not in the sense of inactivity or snoozing but in the sense that we’ll feel relaxed, refreshed, energized. We’ll never feel pressured, weary, or in danger. We’ll feel comfortable, secure, at home.

Jesus promises, “In my Father’s house are many mansions… I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2 KJV). If you belong to Jesus, he is preparing a home for you stronger and safer than any castle, more beautiful and pleasurable than any luxury hotel, more cozy and comfortable than the family room of your own house. In heaven on earth, you’ll feel at home, at rest, and you’ll be able to relax and rejoice.

Back in the time of Moses, the Israelites were first slaves, then nomads on the move with no land of their own. They needed rest; they needed a place to call home. God told Moses, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33:14). Later, when Israel had gained a homeland and enjoyed a golden age of security and prosperity, King Solomon said, “The Lord my God has given me rest on every side, and there is no adversary or disaster” (1 Kings 5:4). Was Israel’s rest a boring time of doing nothing? No, the people built beautiful buildings, pursued exploration and research, and enjoyed plenty of feasting and fun—“eating and drinking, and making merry” 1 Kings 4:20).

Israel’s golden age was a hint of eternal rest. In this life we often feel enslaved or restless, but when heaven comes to earth, our slavery and wandering will be over; we’ll have a place to call home forever. Never again will we face enemy attacks. Never again will sickness or shortages threaten us. We will be able to say even more truly than Solomon, “The Lord our God has given us rest on every side, and there is no adversary or disaster.” In that everlasting rest, we’ll surpass Israel’s golden age in achieving, exploring, and “making merry.”

For God’s people to “rest from their labors” in heaven is a bit like a happy, healthy retirement. Retiring from a tough job doesn’t mean that from then on you sit around doing nothing. It means freedom from deadlines and demands, and it means freedom to do the things you love to do. I know retired people in good health who say, “Now that we’re retired, we’re busier than ever.” They travel to places they’ve always wanted to see; they pursue hobbies they’ve always loved; they even take up games they never had time to play when they were working full time. They read new books and explore new interests they didn’t have time to explore in their working and childbearing years. They often work as volunteers because they enjoy helping others.

Heavenly rest is like that. Call it “active retirement” or “restful busyness,” but whatever we call it, all will be pleasure; nothing will be pressure. Everlasting rest will free us to play, to discover, and to succeed in ways that are exciting and satisfying beyond our best dreams.

A Place to Play

Now let’s focus on heaven on earth as a place to play. Isaiah 11:8 pictures babies playing with cobras and other poisonous snakes. If a baby wants a rattle, it can play with the nearest rattlesnake! Even if the vision of little ones playing with snakes is more symbolic than literal, one thing is clear: heaven on earth will be free of dangers and full of delightful playing. Jesus said the only way to enter the kingdom of heaven is to become like little children (Matthew 18:3), so maybe all believers will laugh and play like happy children. When God talks about the future Jerusalem, he says: “The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there” (Zechariah 8:5). Is it unholy to speak of fun and games in the holy city? Well, God obviously doesn’t think so. He’s the one who said it!

Is it unspiritual to speak of eternity with God as a matter of pleasure and partying? Jesus obviously doesn’t think so. He often compared the kingdom of heaven to a party. Jesus pictured God’s welcome of a repentant sinner as a huge feast with music and dancing (Luke 15:23-25). Jesus’ first miracle was changing water into wine so that a party could keep going instead of shutting down early (John 2:1-11).

When the Bible talks about heavenly harps (Revelation 5:8; 14:2; 15:2), you might think of solemn, stately music. But what if the harps and other instruments are for playing dance music? When the Bible speaks of wearing white robes (Revelation 7:9; 22:14), you might think of choir robes or other formal clothing. But what if the robes are party clothes? Jesus taught that we need the right clothing for heaven, not as stiff, starchy uniforms or as pajamas for sleep but as clothes provided by the king to fit in at his royal party (Matthew 22:12)!

Don’t get me wrong—there will be majesty and reverence in heaven. We will be more awestruck by God than ever before. But we will also be more glad and playful than ever. We sometimes think seriousness and fun are opposites. But the very best things are serious and fun at the same time. Think of a good wedding. A good wedding is a serious occasion where everybody dresses just right and does things in a stately manner. But a good wedding also has a lot of celebrating, laughter, feasting and fun. Heaven is the ultimate wedding celebration (Revelation 19:9), and the Lord who turned water to wine for a celebration will make sure the ultimate celebration never ends.

Some churches send the wrong signal; they seem allergic to fun. They act like grumpiness is next to godliness. But God is not so uptight. God turns “mourning into dancing” (Psalm 30:11). The new creation will be full of dancing. Jeremiah 31:4 says, “You will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful.” The Lord himself will lead the music: “he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

Many of heaven’s pleasures will be relational and spiritual (as we’ll see in a future message), but many will also be physical. Playing and dancing are physical, and the new creation will overflow with physical fun. Our eyes will drink in fabulous colors and sights. Our ears will thrill to music and other fantastic sounds. Our taste buds will savor delicious food and drink. Our noses will breathe in delightful aromas. Our skin will feel warm embraces, cool water, fresh breezes. If you love playing, partying, dancing, running, jumping, swimming, skating, skiing, skydiving, or flying, just imagine the fun of your new, improved body playing in a new, improved world. Heaven on earth will have more games and recreation than any resort, better food than any restaurant, more thrilling drama than any theatre.

If you love such pleasures more than you love God, you’ve got a problem. You could miss out on heaven unless you change. But if you love God and trust Jesus as Savior, you may be sure that the Lord who invented all pleasure is not grumpy or stingy. He loves to see his children playing and partying in his honor.

I remember my parents’ fiftieth anniversary. The whole family—all six children plus spouses and a crowd of grandkids—wanted to celebrate. Did we all get together in a room to say over and over what fine parents and grandparents they’ve been? No, the whole gang of us went to a resort. We stayed in beautiful mountain chalets, ate great food, splashed on waterslides, golfed, played board games, gobbled candy, told stories, and almost laughed our heads off. Did the fun and games dishonor my parents or distract from their fiftieth anniversary? No, Dad and Mom had a ball with the rest of us. They enjoyed seeing their whole clan having fun together.

We did more than play and joke, of course. We congratulated Dad and Mom and thanked them for all they’d done for us. We praised God for them and did some hugging and shed some tender tears. On the last evening of celebrating, a glorious double rainbow appeared over the mountains. We had our serious, awe-inspiring moments of deeper joy, but that didn’t rule out having fun. It was all part of a grand, delightful celebration.

That was a little taste of heaven. Our deepest joy will be God and his love. Our hearts will overflow with respect and love and praise for him. But we’ll do more than just sit in God’s throne room saying how wonderful he is. Worship doesn’t rule out fun; worship will be the main fun and the fountain for all the other fun. Our pleasure and laughter will be acts of worship. As the Bible says, “In thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11 KJV).

A Place to Discover

Heavenly happiness includes rest and play, and there’s more. The new creation will be a place to discover. If I call it a place to learn, to gain knowledge, to grow wise, that might sound too much like school, and some of us haven’t found school very exciting. Not everybody loves school—but everybody loves to discover. In the new creation we’ll be more like explorers discovering new frontiers than like students stuck in a desk.

Would you rather read about volcanoes, or actually step into a volcano without getting hurt? Would you rather take a test about dolphins, or swim with dolphins to learn their ways? Would you rather study fossils of dinosaurs and woolly mammoths, or look at live ones in the new creation? Would you rather hear a history lecture about history or talk with history’s heroes? Would you rather listen to a sermon about angels, or deal with angels firsthand? Would you rather attend a debate about why God allows certain things, or hear God himself reveal his purposes?

The new earth won’t have any boring lectures; we’ll be able to learn from exciting angels, from brilliant humans, and from the Lord himself. And we won’t just have super teachers; we’ll be super learners. If school is boring right now for some of us, we might blame dry teachers or subject material, but it might also be our own problem. We might lack the brain power to grasp a subject, or we might just lack interest in things that would be fascinating if we weren’t so deadheaded. In heaven on earth, we’ll have no such failings. We’ll have the curiosity of pre-schoolers, the minds of geniuses, the boldness of explorers.

I love reading biblical visions of the new Jerusalem, where prophets such as Ezekiel and John are shown around the city and the surrounding countryside by angels. I’m looking forward to getting my own tour. The new creation will be an exciting place. I’ve always loved waterfalls, and I’d like to visit every waterfall on earth—maybe even go over them unharmed, just for the fun of it. Who knows—we might even be able to check out God’s wonders in other worlds and galaxies. We’ll never run out of new places to explore and new things to discover.

The best discoveries of all will be found in God himself. Scripture says the earth will be as full of knowledge of the Lord as the sea is full of water (Isaiah 11:9). Even if we had nothing in the new creation but God, the discoveries would never end. God is infinitely interesting, full of secret splendors for us to enjoy as he lets us discover more of himself.

As we find out more and more secrets of God’s awesome being, we’ll also explore his wondrous world and know things far better than we do now. As the Bible says, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We will not be all-knowing; only God can know everything. But what we do discover will be known more directly, clearly, and fully than we can imagine with the minds we have now. And we will forever be discovering fresh wonders. What a thrill!

A Place to Succeed

Now let’s think about a fourth part of heavenly happiness: heaven on earth will be a place to succeed. Mingled with rest, play, and discovery will be work: successful, satisfying work.

If you hate your present job, you might think work and happiness don’t mix. But work can be wonderful if you’re doing something you love, if it’s achieving something significant, if it fits your abilities perfectly, if nothing goes wrong, if your efforts pay off and your work is a big success.

In the new creation, work will have no frustrations. You’ll be able to get anywhere you need to go without long commutes or traffic jams. You’ll never have equipment breakdowns or computer malfunctions. You’ll never have to look for lost keys or misplaced tools. You’ll cooperate with others in perfect teamwork, without any misunderstanding or quarreling.

There will be no wars or natural disasters to destroy your achievements, no crooks to rob you, no death to strike you down before you can enjoy the full fruit of your work. God says of his people in the new earth, “They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat… My chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands. They will not toil in vain” (Isaiah 65:21-23).

What sort of work will we do? When God first created humanity, he designed us for the great work of subduing the earth, developing his creation and bringing out the best in it. The Lord assigned Adam and Eve to care for the Garden of Eden and to rule God’s creatures on his behalf. Their job was a joy.

Then our first parents sinned and messed things up. Work became hard instead of happy. As a result, our work involves much struggle and frequent failure. We sometimes do more harm than good to the creation around us. And even when we achieve something, the fruit of our efforts can be snatched away.

But in the new creation, Jesus will again make us the rulers we’re meant to be. The Book of Revelation says that Jesus bought with his blood people of every nation, “and they will reign on the earth” (5:10). Jesus will make us worthy to rule with him, to succeed in everything, to bring out all the best in other creatures, and to enjoy the results.

When Jesus equips us to handle the responsibilities of ruling, all other created things will be in harmony with us and flourish. “The wilderness will rejoice and blossom” (Isaiah 35:1). “New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills” (Amos 9:13). We will be so full of God’s life-giving Spirit that everything we touch will prosper, everything we do will succeed. Not only will we govern earthly creatures, but the Bible seems to indicate that we will even have authority over angels and direct them in some way.

All things in the new earth will be perfectly obedient to us. Right now my mind controls only a little bit of matter, the matter in my own body. I can make my hand or foot move at a command from my mind, but I can’t make a mountain move or a desert bloom. But in the future, says Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft, “Our heavenly power over nature will be as great as our present power over our own bodies, because nature will then be our greater body.”

In our sinful state, we can’t be entrusted with such powers. “Our present powers over nature have been severely limited,” writes Kreeft. “We are spoiled children whose Father has taken away their dangerous toys. Imagine the chaos the world would be if it were inhabited by a billion evil magicians, each trying to be its own God… God will let nature obey our authority only when we obey His as perfectly as the Son obeys the Father.”

In short, when we become perfectly responsive to God, all of God’s creation will become perfectly responsive to us. Everything we do will succeed, for we will be doing exactly what God wants, and our wish will be creation’s command.

Can you imagine how much fun it will be to literally succeed at everything you try? Maybe you’ve had at least a taste of that feeling, a day now and then when everything clicked at work. Your mind was sharp, you came up with great ideas, your energy was high, and you achieved more than you expected. It feels great, doesn’t it, when everything goes your way? Days like that are rare in this fallen world, but heavenly work will be like that all the time—and even better!

God will give each of his children great responsibilities and enormous talents, and we will never run out of time to achieve the goals God sets for us. God might not give all of us the talent to be skilled at everything; some may specialize in one thing, others in another. But we will delight in each other abilities and savor working together.

As we work together to bring out the full potential of the new earth, the results will be magnificent. Heaven on earth will have the best of nature and the best of culture, the best of the country and the best of the city, the best of science and the best of art. The Bible pictures the wealth and achievements of all cultures being gathered in the capital city of a splendidly developed civilization (Revelation 21:24,26).

Whether we’re tending plants, caring for animals, creating music, governing cities, or whatever, our work of ruling creation with Christ will be glorious. It will be so energizing that it seems like rest, so fun that it seems like play, so fresh and creative that it seems like discovery. Jesus said, “I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). In full abundance of eternal life, relaxing, partying, exploring, and achieving blend together in glory to God and gladness for us.

Meanwhile, what about right now? God’s call is clear: turn from sin, embrace Christ, and set your heart on heavenly happiness. “And whatever you do”—in rest, recreation, education, or vocation—“do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossian 3:17).

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.