The Study of Last Things


"Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne.  And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance." Revelation 4:2-3


By WordExplain


We all have this idea in our mind about what Heaven is like.  A popular caricature is that we will lounge on clouds playing harps and singing.  While all three of those elements appear in Heaven, that is hardly an accurate description.  To understand Heaven, we must study the Scriptures.  Many who have a working knowledge of the Scriptures go directly to Revelation 21 and 22 for a description of Heaven.  But they make some assumptions that really are not adequate because they have not studied carefully the details. 

The biggest mistake when studying Revelation 21:1 - 22:5 is to assume that this passage is primarily describing Heaven.  While elements of this passage do refer to Heaven, most do not.  A small portion of the passage discusses New Heaven and New Earth, but most of it is devoted to New Jerusalem.  New Jerusalem presently is contained within Heaven, but it is not Heaven.  Twice John states that he observed New Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven (Rev. 21:2, 10) (emphasis mine).  That event will occur after the destruction of the old heaven and the old earth (Rev. 20:11; 21:1) and the creation of New Heaven and New Earth (Rev. 21:1).

What Scripture reveals to us is that after the existing heaven and earth have been destroyed (2 Pet. 3:7-12; Rev. 20:11; 21:1), and after the final judgment of the ungodly (Rev. 20:11-15), and after God’s creation of New Heaven and Earth (Isa. 65:17; 66:22; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1), God will cause New Jerusalem to descend out of Heaven into New Heaven on New Earth.  So does Rev. 21-22 discuss Heaven?  Well, yes and no.  Presently New Jerusalem is in Heaven, the abode of God, so right now, people in Heaven are, presumably, in New Jerusalem.  But throughout all of eternity, once God has created New Heaven and New Earth, New Jerusalem will not be in Heaven, but will have descended out of Heaven into the realm of New Heaven and Earth.

For the purposes of our discussion in WordExplain, I take the view that New Jerusalem is distinct from Heaven, the present abode of God, because that is how it will be throughout all eternity, once we reach the events described in Rev. 21-22.  So this document, which proposes to discuss Heaven in a certain amount of detail, will limit itself to those descriptions which we know presently are in Heaven.  But this document will exclude those details which describe New Jerusalem, since it will eventually come down out of Heaven into the realm of New Heaven and Earth and exist for eternity separate from Heaven, the place where God presently dwells.

And now, it would be helpful to define some terms:

*          Heaven.  The place where God presently lives (Dan. 2:18-19, 28; Rev. 4:1-3; 11:13, 19; 13:6; 16:11).  Heaven is bigger than New Jerusalem, for New Jerusalem is described as descending out of Heaven (Rev. 3:12; 21:2, 10).  Presumably Heaven will continue to exist throughout eternity, even though New Jerusalem will no longer be within it.

*          Heaven and Earth.  The existing atmosphere and deep space surrounding our present planet, Earth (Gen. 1:1; Ex. 20:11).  The Old Testament does not really distinguish between the heaven in which birds fly (Gen. 1:8-9, 20) and the heaven in which galaxies spin (Gen. 1:14-18).  Sometimes in English translations of the Old Testament the word heaven is used in the singular (Gen. 24:3, 7) and sometimes in the plural (heavens) (Psalm 19:1).  No significance should be placed regarding that fact, however, for the Hebrew word for heaven, shamayim, always occurs in the plural (421 times) and never in the singular.  (The Greek word for heaven in the New Testament, ouranos, is used 183 times in the singular and 90 times in the plural.  Of those 90 plural uses in the Greek New Testament, 64, or 71%, are found in the Gospels.)  The present heavens oftlineand earth will be destroyed, purging the universe of the last vestiges of sin (2 Pet. 3:7-12).

*          New Heaven and New Earth.  New Heaven is the new atmosphere and (hypothesized) new deep space surrounding New Earth, in which only righteousness exists (2 Pet. 3:13).  People will exist on New Earth and will have ready access to New Jerusalem, whose gates will always be open (Isa. 60:11; Rev. 21:24-26).

*          Jerusalem.  The Biblical earthly capital of the State of Israel (see 2 Samuel 5-6), also frequently referred to as Zion (Psalm 48).

*          New Jerusalem.  The heavenly city, the place Jesus is preparing for his followers (John 14:1-3), the future capital of Israel (Rev. 21:12) and the home of the Church (Rev. 21:14).  Apparently New Jerusalem orbits New Earth, suspended in New Heaven.

A.    Where is Heaven?  Answer.  We do not know where heaven is.  One thing we can say for certain is that heaven is up, not down.  For us earth-dwellers, down is the place of death (the grave) and Sheol and Hades (the place of the dead) (Gen. 37:35; Psalm 139:8; Eph. 4:9).  And for us earth-dwellers, up could be anywhere out there.  After all, we live on a spinning globe, and depending on where you are on that globe at a given point in time, up could be anywhere.  To demonstrate that heaven is up, let us briefly look at some examples.

1.                  When Jesus returned to heaven to be with his Father, he went up.  He ascended.  He “was carried up into heaven (Luke 24:50-51).” 

2.                  “He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight (Acts 1:9).” 

3.                  Two angels referred to Jesus “who has been taken up from you into heaven (Acts 1:11).”

4.                  Quoting Psalm 68:18, the Apostle Paul says of Jesus that “He ascended on high (Eph. 4:8).”

5.                  Paul repeats that Jesus “ascended” (Eph. 4:9).

6.                  Paul added that Jesus “ascended far above all the heavens” (Eph. 4:10).

7.                  Theologically, we can deduce that heaven exists outside our present universe. 

a.                  At the end of the age, the present universe will be destroyed in a fiery explosion in order to eliminate from God’s presence every vestige of evil (2 Pet. 3:7, 10-12).  God will create a new universe in which exists only righteousness (2 Pet. 3:13).  But God will not have to purge his own abode, heaven.  Heaven has not been contaminated by sin and evil, and it will not have to be destroyed by fire. 

b.                  This is remarkable from the standpoint of the following facts:

1)                  The original sin of Lucifer (“Star of the Morning; Son of the Dawn” – Isa. 14:12) took place while he was in heaven (Ezek. 28:12-17).

2)                  When Satan fell from heaven, he stayed around long enough to seduce one third of the angels to follow him in rebellion against God (Rev. 12:3-4).

3)                  Apparently, since his fall from heaven, Satan has had access to God.  Satan periodically must give account of himself to God in heaven (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-7).

4)                  Evidently he frequently goes to heaven there to accuse Christians on earth below who are not living Christ-like lives (Rev. 12:10).

5)                  At one point Satan and his demons will yet enter heaven to battle against Michael and his angels.  There will be war in heaven, but Satan and his angels will be unable to overpower Michael and his angels, and Satan and his angels will be permanently cast out of heaven (Rev. 12:7-9).

c.                   The point of the matter is this, that even though the first sin took place in heaven, and even though Satan has had access to heaven, and even though there will be war in heaven between the Satan and his angels and Michael and his angels, there is no evidence whatever that heaven has become contaminated by evil.  There is no record anywhere that heaven will need to be destroyed, in contrast to the inevitable destruction of the present heavens and earth, our present universe (2 Pet. 3:7-12; Rev. 20:11; 21:1).  Since the present, sin-cursed universe will be destroyed and replaced, but heaven will not be destroyed and replaced, we conclude that heaven, the abode of God, exists outside the present universe.

B.    What is Heaven?  Heaven is the present abode of God.  It is the place where God presently dwells.

1.                  When John the Baptist and Jesus were announcing that “the kingdom of the heavens” had drawn near, they meant, in the first place, that Jesus’ kingdom originated from God.  They also meant that it had drawn near both in the spatial and temporal sense.  It was near in time, and it was near spatially in the person of the King. 

2.                  But I believe there is another meaning.  As we shall see, New Jerusalem will apparently exist in eternity future as a satellite city orbiting New Earth.  New Jerusalem, the capital city of New Earth, will be the elevated headquarters of the eternal government of New Earth, whose co-regents are God and the Lamb.  It will be, indeed, a kingdom of the heavens, having come down out of Heaven, the abode of God, and existing in New Heaven, the atmosphere surrounding New Earth.

3.               Are Heaven and New Jerusalem one and the same?  The answer would appear to be, No.  New Jerusalem descends out of heaven (Rev. 3:12; 21:2, 10), so it cannot be heaven.

C.    What is Heaven like? 

1.                  Heaven as described in Ezekiel 28:11-19.  As in numerous Old Testament prophetic passages, this one has both a near and a far fulfillment.  The near referent is the human king of Tyre (Ezek. 28:12).  But Yahweh speaks to Ezekiel in words that go beyond mere man.  The king is said to have had “the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and beauty” (28:12).  He is said to have been “in Eden, the garden of God” (28:13).  He was “the anointed cherub who covers” (28:14, 16).  The language here is too grandiose and far-reaching to refer merely to a man.  So we conclude that the far referent is a glorious cherub who ultimately was cast to the ground because his “heart was lifted up” and his “wisdom” “corrupted because of his “beauty” and “splendor” (28:17).  That cherub is none other than Lucifer, the light-bearer – “star of the morning, son of the dawn” (Isa. 14:12).  We know him today as Satan, God’s chief adversary.  But we are not so much concerned here with what Satan did, but where he lived before he was demoted from his position; for he lived in heaven.  What can we learn about heaven from this passage.

a.                  There is a holy mountain of God in heaven (Ezek. 28:14, 16).  Mountains are places of grandeur, elevation, and awe.  This mountain is the seat of God’s government, the place, presumably, where His throne is located inside His temple (Rev. 7:15; 16:7), from which He issues His decrees and from which He governs the world and the universe-at-large.

1)                  It is no surprise that when God called Moses, ultimately the Law-Giver, to Himself for service, it was from a mountain, Mount Horeb, the mountain of God (Ex. 3:1-4, 12). 

2)                  It was from that same mountain, also known as Mount Sinai, that God forged a covenant relationship with the sons of Israel (Ex. 19; 24).

3)                  It is no accident that God has chosen to rule his chosen nation Israel from Mount Zion in Jerusalem.

4)                  The point is this: If, here on earth, God reveals Himself from a mountain, if he issues His laws from a mountain, if He governs through His anointed King, the Messiah, from Mount Zion (Psalm 2:6), why should we be surprised to learn that earthly Mount Zion is merely a copy of the original, heavenly Mount Zion up in New Jerusalem in heaven (Heb. 12:22; Rev. 14:1)? 

5)                  Where is heavenly Mount Zion located?  We know it is in heaven.  But is it also in New Jerusalem?  The earthly temple was connected with Mount Zion, located inside the confines of Jerusalem.  If the same holds true for the heavenly Mount Zion, it is located inside New Jerusalem, which is presently located within Heaven.  After God has created New Heaven and New Earth, New Jerusalem will come down out of heaven to orbit New Earth.  At that point, heavenly Mount Zion will no longer be in Heaven but will be eternally connected with New Earth.  If that is an accurate understanding, then we know one thing that will be entirely different.  There will be no temple in New Jerusalem, for the Lamb and God constitute its temple (Rev. 21:22).

6)                  Heavenly Mount Zion may be large, indeed.  It is no accident that the city of New Jerusalem measures twelve thousand stadia, or 1380 miles in height (Rev. 21:16).  It may be that heavenly Mount Zion occupies much of that space, height-wise.  Lest the reader ridicule the notion of a mountain that may tower hundreds of miles upward, let me remind you that on our present earth, Mount Everest reaches 4.5 miles above sea level.  Who are we to dictate the scale of features in heaven?  What do we know about the physics up there?

7)                  In conclusion, there is a mountain in heaven on which (or in which?) God resides.  It is the mountain of God, the heavenly Mount Zion.  On this mountain is God’s temple, which is large enough to contain, at a minimum, four hundred million angels (see comments on Rev. 5:11-14, below).

b.                  Stones of fire exist on or in this mountain.  Twice, Yahweh speaks of “stones of fire” on (or in) the mountain of God (Ezek. 28:14, 16).  Lucifer had walked among the stones of fire (Ezek. 28:14), and then, through his prideful sin (Ezek. 28:16) and subsequent actions, Lucifer had profaned the “many sacred places in and about the temple” (Brown Driver Briggs Lexicon #4) situated on Mount Zion up in heaven (Ezek. 28:18).  Consequently Yahweh destroyed him from the midst of the stones of fire” (Ezek. 28:16).  What are these stones of fire?

1)                  In the same context (Ezek. 28:13) it is mentioned that this “anointed cherub who covers” (Ezek. 28:14), was also “in Eden, the garden of God.”  “Every precious stone” was his covering.  These stones include ruby, topaz, diamond, beryl, onyx, jasper, lapis lazuli, turquoise, and emerald.  Interestingly, the enormous wall of New Jerusalem consists of jasper (Rev. 21:18; see also its effect – Rev. 21:11).  Its twelve foundation stones include jasper, sapphire, chalcedony, emerald, sardonyx, sardius, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, and amethyst (Rev. 21:19-20).  It is altogether possible, therefore, that the stones of fire (Ezek. 28:14, 16) consisted of precious stones.

2)                  There is in both Heaven and New Jerusalem, however, a different set of rules for chemistry and physics.  What is impossible on earth is possible in Heaven.  These precious stones, features of the extravagantly beautiful abode of God, were not only resplendent in their variegated hues, they were also blazing with fire!  Since Lucifer was the “anointed cherub who covers” (Ezek. 28:14), it seems that his task may have been to guard and protect the very place where God manifested Himself in His temple in heaven, much like the cherubim that workmen constructed for the ark of the covenant guarded God’s presence (Ex. 25:10-22; see also Ezek. 10:1-22; 11:22-23).  It is very possible that the walls, ceiling, and floor of God’s inner sanctum was lined with brilliant precious stones blazing with fire.  In his assignment, as created by God before he fell into sin, Lucifer, this beautiful (Ezek. 28:12) cherub had been anointed by God to guard His inner sanctum and presence.  There he walked among the stones of fire (Ezek. 28:14)!  But when Lucifer’s heart was lifted up because of his own personal beauty and splendor (Ezek. 28:17), and violence erupted within him (Ezek. 28:16), God cast him as profane from His Mountain and destroyed him from amidst the stones of fire.  Lucifer had become Satan, God’s adversary, and was banished from his job of guarding God’s presence in the inner sanctum.  From thenceforth he would occupy himself roaming around on the earth, occasionally to appear in heaven to give an accounting of his whereabouts (Job 1:6-7; 2:1-2).

3)                  If it be argued that the notion of precious stones continually burning without being destroyed or harming the occupants of God’s inner sanctum seems implausible, consider the following:

a)                  When the angel of Yahweh spoke to Moses, He did so from a bush that burned without ever being consumed (Ex. 3:1-2).

b)                  God miraculously permitted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, along with God’s angel, to exist briefly in a fire that was so hot the guards were killed (Dan. 3:19-27)!

c)                  Daniel saw God’s throne ablaze with fire.  He also saw a river of fire flowing from God’s throne (Daniel 7:9-10).  (See the ensuing discussion.)

2.                  Heaven as described in Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14.

a.                  There is another view of heaven, and it is somber indeed.  It is a scene of judgment, described in Daniel 7:9-10.  The judgment is prompted by the appearance of a fourth, terrible beast with ten horns.  The feature of this beast which apparently prompted the heavenly judgment is the appearance of an 11th horn which uprooted three of the ten.  This horn represents a man who utters great boasts (Dan. 7:7-8, 11).  That horn, we believe, represents the Antichrist, and the scene of judgment in heaven (Dan. 7:9-10) will result in the Antichrist and his regime being terminated.  The Antichrist will be cast into the burning fire (the Lake of Fire and Sulphur) (Dan. 7:11; Rev. 19:20).

b.                  The scene we will examine in Dan. 7:9-10 does not appear to be an “every day” occurrence in heaven.  I am not suggesting that God’s throne in heaven always appears this way; this occasion signifies a time of terrible judgment upon the earth below.

c.                   So what did Daniel see?

d.                  Daniel saw thrones being set up (Dan. 7:9).  This immediately signifies that something sobering, something judicial is about to take place.  The careful reader of Scripture will not be surprised at the reference to multiple thrones in heaven.  Even today there exist in heaven twenty four thrones, upon which sit twenty four elders (Rev. 4:4; 11:16) stationed around the central throne of God and the Lamb (Rev. 1:4; 3:21; 4:2-3, 5-6, 9-10; 5:1, 6-7, 11, 13; 6:16; 7:9-11, 15, 17; 8:3; 12:5; 14:3; 16:17; 19:4-5; 20:11-12; 21:3, 5).  There is coming a time, at the conclusion of the Great Tribulation, however, when a separate set of thrones will be set up.  Unnamed judges will sit on these thrones, judging, I believe, evil participants in the Great Tribulation (Rev. 20:4).  These are the multiple thrones, I believe, which Daniel witnessed being prepared in Dan. 7:9.

1)                  God Himself, described as “the Ancient of Days,” takes His seat (Dan. 7:9).  His clothing was as white as freshly fallen snow, and his hair was like pure, clean wool.

2)                  Of particular note is God’s throne (Dan. 7:9).  It was ablaze with flames.  And yet God could sit on the blazing throne without feeling any pain.  Nor was His clothing ignited by the flames!  These flames remind us that God is a holy God, and that He is a God of judgment who judges and incinerates evil (2 Pet. 3:7, 10-12; Rev. 20:9-10, 14-15).  Our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29)!

3)                  This throne had wheels (Dan. 7:9), signifying God’s mobility and omnipresence.  The wheels “were a burning fire,” reminiscent of Ezek. 10:2, 6.  Not only is God a consuming fire, but His fiery judgment can reach anywhere on earth, and anywhere in His universe.

4)                  As if this were not sobering enough, Daniel saw that “a river of fire was flowing and coming out from before Him” (Dan. 7:10)!  The river of fire speaks of the holiness and the judgment of God.  “The fire which engirds with flame the throne of God pours itself forth as a stream from God into the world, consuming all that is sinful and hostile to God in the world, and rendering the people and kingdom of God glorious.” (Kyle & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament Vol. 9: Ezekiel-Daniel).

5)                  Daniel further observed that “thousands upon thousands were attending Him, and myriads upon myriads were standing before Him (Dan. 7:10).  We are not told here who God’s attendants are, but we are told their number.  As in the New Testament, a myriad is ten thousand.  Multiple myriads amounts, at the least, to twenty thousand.  Twenty thousand times twenty thousand amounts to four hundred millions, not counting the thousands times thousands.  Centuries later, the Apostle John would see and hear myriads of myriads, and thousands and thousands of angels surrounding the throne of God, worshiping God and the Lamb (Rev. 5:11-14).

6)                  As Daniel witness this scene of judgment unfold, “the court sat, and the books were opened” (Dan. 7:10).  We are not told the identity of the judge or judges, nor are we explicitly informed of the verdict, but the result of the verdict is unmistakable.   Daniel wrote, “I kept looking because of the sound of the boastful words the horn was speaking; I kept looking until the beast was slain, and its body was destroyed and given to the burning fire” (Dan. 7:11; Rev. 19:20).

7)                  Daniel continued to observe that “one like a Son of Man was coming” “with the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:64) “up to the Ancient of Days” (Dan. 7:13).  This is the precise moment in time at which the Father will say to the Son, “Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Your possession” (Psalm 2:8).  The Son will ask, and to Him will be granted a kingdom in which “all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him” for eternity (Dan. 7:14). 

e.                  What can we conclude about heaven from Daniel 7?  God sits on a throne.  He is surrounded by in excess of four hundred million beings who are angels, as we learn from the New Testament.  In the New Testament, God’s throne is not so described, but during periods of judgment, it is a fearsome throne.  It is a throne ablaze with fire and burning wheels, and one from which a river of fire pours.  A kingdom and its king on earth are destroyed, and cast into the burning fire.  Jesus Christ, surrounded by clouds, will approach His Father’s throne and will be granted an eternal kingdom.

3.                  Heaven as Described in the Book of Revelation.  Following are descriptions that the Apostle John observed as he was transported in the Spirit up into heaven (Rev. 4:2).

a.                  John looked up and saw a door standing open in heaven (Rev. 4:1).  Evidently there is a portal into heaven.

b.                  There was a throne in heaven (Rev. 4:2) and Someone was sitting on it who looked like “a jasper stone and a sardius (Rev. 4:3).”

1)                  An emerald-like rainbow encircled the throne (Rev. 4:3).

2)                  Lightning and thunder were emitted from the throne (Rev. 4:5).

c.                   There were twenty-four elders seated on twenty-four thrones surrounding the main throne (Rev. 4:4). 

1)                  They were dressed in white and wore golden crowns (Rev. 4:4), which they subsequently cast before the main throne as they worshiped Him (Rev. 4:10-11).

2)                  These elders also worshiped the Lamb and sang a song of praise to Him.  They each held a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints (Rev. 5:8-10).

d.                  There were seven lamps burning before the main throne.  These are the seven spirits of God (Rev. 4:5).

e.                  Before the throne was what appeared to be a sea of glass, clear as crystal (Rev. 4:6).

f.                    In the center, surrounding the throne, were four living creatures, each having six wings, and each covered all over with eyes (Rev. 4:6). 

1)                  These intelligent creatures repeatedly praise and honor God.  One creature resembled a lion, another an ox, a third had a human-like face, and the fourth resembled a flying eagle (Rev. 4:7-9).

2)                  These four living creatures also worshiped the Lamb and sang a song of praise to Him.  They each held a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints (Rev. 5:8-10).

g.                  The One sitting on the throne held in His right hand a seven-sealed book or scroll of judgment (Rev. 5:1; cf. Rev. 6:1-17; 8:1).

h.                  There was only one person in all of heaven found worthy to open the seven-sealed book (Rev. 5:2-7).  That person is variously described as

1)                  The Lion of the tribe of Judah (Rev. 5:5)

2)                  The root of David (Rev. 5:5)

3)                  A Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God, sent out into all the earth (Rev. 5:6).

i.                    There were well in excess of 400 million angels surrounding the main throne praising Him who sat on the throne and the Lamb (Rev. 5:11-14). (A myriad is 10,000.  Myriads (plural) is, at a minimum, 20,000. “Myriads of myriads,” 20,000 times 20,000, is 400 million.  That figure does not take into account that myriads may be well more than merely 10,000 times 2.  Nor does it take into account the quantity of “thousands of thousands.”  In the perception of John, the number of angels was so great it was incalculable.)

j.                    Is there time in heaven?  Apparently so.  John records that the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for a half hour (Rev. 8:1).

k.                   Is there music in heaven?  Indeed, there is.

1)                  The Apostle John records what he saw and heard.  The four living creatures and twenty four elders, each holding a harp, fell down and worshiped the Lamb.  They sang a new song praising the Lamb for His redemption of men from the earth with His blood, making them a kingdom and priests who would reign for God upon earth (Rev. 5:8-10).  Observe that the text of the song is provided.  We learn that there is singing in heaven and that harps are used for accompaniment.

2)                  144,000 Jewish men will be sealed during the Tribulation period from the twelve tribes of Israel (Rev. 7:1-8).  Their task evidently will be to witness to people on the earth about Jesus, bringing them to faith in Him.  They will evidently be enormously successful, for their murdered converts appear in heaven (Rev. 7:9-17).  When their mission has been completed, these 144,000 will evidently themselves be put to death, and they themselves will also appear in heaven on Mount Zion (Rev. 14:1-5).  These 144,000 will sing a new song before God’s throne, the four living creatures, and the twenty four elders.  This was a marvelous song which only the 144,000 were able to learn (Rev. 14:3).  Appropriately, no text of their song is provided!  But we are told what their song will sound like.  Their song apparently will be an overwhelming rendition, for it will sound like Niagara Falls, loud thunder, and harpists playing upon their harps (Rev. 14:2)!  We learn that, at different periods of time, selective groups will sing in heaven.  We also learn that certain songs are exclusive.  Only a select group may sing a certain song.  We also learn that music in heaven can, on occasion, be an overwhelming sensory experience.  Our ears will be bombarded by an powerful and yet intricately melodic sound.  Our ears will be able to distinguish, in the same song at the same time, the roar of rushing waters, peals of thunder, and, of all things, harps.  The sound of Niagara Falls combined with thunder will not drown out the sound of harps!

3)                  The Apostle John again reports what he saw in heaven (Rev. 15:1-4).  He saw something that appeared to him to be a sea of glass mixed with fire.  He also witnessed a multitude of people who were standing on this burning glass sea, obviously unharmed.  They were holding the harps of God (Rev. 15:2). They had been killed on earth during the Tribulation period because of their faith in Jesus.  Through their faith they had conquered the Antichrist, his image, and his numbering system.  They sang “the Song of Moses ... and the Song of the Lamb” (Rev. 15:3).  The text of their song is recorded in Rev. 15:3-4.  God is praised for His mighty works, His righteous ways, and His sovereign rule over the nations on earth.  They praise God because the time is coming when all nations will come and worship Holy God, and His righteous acts will have been fully revealed!  That will happen initially in the Millennium, but completely and finally in New Jerusalem upon New Earth.  We learn again that selective choirs sing selective songs.  The songs are filled with praise for God because of the way in which He interacts with humans and changes human history to bring about the rule of righteousness and holiness.  We learn again that there are harps in heaven.

4)                  What kind of musical instruments exist in heaven? 

a)                  We have learned already that there are harps in heaven (Rev. 5:8; 14:2; 15:2).  A harp is a kitharas in Greek.  This word can be translated as either harp or lyre.  It is a musical instrument with strings, played by plucking the strings.  In modern orchestras, a harp is so big it cannot be carried, but rests on the floor.  These harps are not that big, but are rather hand-held (Rev. 5:8; 15:2).  On one occasion the harps are called harps of God (Rev. 15:2).  We do not know the significance of harps of God, but they are harps originating from and authorized by God Himself.  In Rev. 14:1-3 it is not stated specifically that the 144,000 played harps, but that is certainly the implication.  The phrase in Rev. 14:2, “And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of ... harpists playing on their harps” is a bit misleading.  The Greek word phōnē is used five times in this verse, and can be translated either voice or sound. The translators of NASB have rendered voice in the first instance and sound in the next four instances. In their defense, they have done so because, when phōnē refers to animate beings, it is typically translated voice, and when it refers to inanimate objects, phōnē is typically translated sound. There is no reason why it cannot be translated the same way each of the five times as follows: “And I heard a sound from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the sound which I heard was like the sound of harpists harping on their harps (literal translation by the author).”  In the very next verse we read that the 144,000, mentioned in Rev. 14:1, sang a new song.  The intervening verse (Rev. 14:2) logically is a description of the music emanating from these 144,000.  The 144,000 were singing, and they were accompanying themselves on harps, and Rev. 14:2  describes what their music sounded like.

b)                  A great deal of emphasis is placed upon trumpets in heaven.  The noun salpigx is the Greek word for trumpet (Rev. 8:2, 6, 13; 9:4; 11:15).  Seven angels were seen standing before God.  These angels were given seven trumpets (Rev. 8:2).  They prepared to sound (lit. to trumpet) their trumpets (Rev. 8:6).  An eagle warns the earth of the three remaining sounds of the trumpet which the three angels are about to trumpet (Rev. 8:13).  The sixth angel who had a trumpet was given another assignment (Rev. 9:13-14).  The Greek verb translated “sounded” is esalpisen, from salpidzo, the verbal form of salpigx, trumpet.  Here are the verbal references: Rev. 8:6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 13; 9:1, 13; 10:7; 11:15.  A literal translation (by the author) of the several passages might read as follows: “And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to trumpet them” (Rev. 8:6).  “The first trumpeted” (Rev. 8:7); “The second angel trumpeted” (Rev. 8:8); “The third angel trumpeted” (Rev. 8:10); “The fourth angel trumpeted”(Rev. 8:12); “the remaining sounds of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to trumpet” (Rev. 8:13); “Then the fifth angel trumpeted” (Rev. 9:1); “Then the sixth angel trumpeted” (Rev. 9:13); “but in the days of the sound of the seventh angel, when he is about to trumpet” (Rev. 10:7); “Then the seventh angel trumpeted” (Rev. 11:15).

5)                  There is substantial evidence for music in heaven – for singing, for songs, for harps or lyres, and for trumpets. 

l.                    There are voices heard in heaven, many of them loud (Rev. 10:8; 11:12, 15; 12:10; 14:2, 13; 18:4; 19:1).

m.                Elements of nature appear to exist in heaven. 

1)                  There are references to both lighting and thunder in heaven. References to lightning in heaven include Rev. 4:5; 11:19.  References to thunder in heaven include Rev. 4:5; 10:3-4.

2)                  There is fire in heaven.  This fire seems to emphasize both the holiness of God and the judgment of God. 

a)                  There are presently seven lamps of fire burning before the throne of God” (Rev. 4:5).  These seven lamps of fire represent the seven spirits of God.  Here fire represents the omniscient holiness of God.

b)                  An angel took a censer and filled it with fire from the altar which stood before the throne of God.  He threw the censer to the earth (Rev. 8:5).  Immediately thereafter the first angel blew his trumpet and the result was that hail and fire mixed with blood was thrown upon the earth.  The plague was so severe that a third of the earth was burned, as were a third of the trees and all the green grass (Rev. 8:6-7).  In rapid succession, a burning mountain was thrown into the sea, a star burning like a torch fell from heaven (Rev. 8:10), and a third of the sun and stars, which burn with fire, are catastrophically diminished (Rev. 8:12).  Here fire represents the fierce judgment of God.

c)                  The Tribulation martyrs, through their deaths victorious over the Antichrist and his regime, stand in heaven on something like a sea of glass mixed with fire (Rev. 15:2).  They are impervious to the fire because they are holy and righteous.  Their song is a song of holy God’s pending judgment of and victory over the evil forces of the world beneath them, where they were martyred.  The fire on which they stand portends the continuing wrath of God about to descend on the earth below (Rev. 15:1, 5-8; Rev. 16).

n.                  Does Satan ever appear in heaven?  Evidently he does.  He is evidently required to present himself, periodically, for an accounting along with other angels (Job 1:6; 2:1).  Not only that, but in a desperate attempt to overthrow God and take possession of His realm, Satan and his demon-angels will enter heaven to seize it.  They will be met with fierce resistance by Michael and his angels.  Michael and his angels will succeed in overpowering the Satanic angelic army, and will cast Satan and his followers out of heaven permanently (Rev. 12:7-9).

o.                  Saints, apostles, and prophets exist in heaven (Rev. 18:20)

p.                  There are animals in heaven.  Jesus will descend from heaven on a white horse (Rev. 19:11), and heavenly armies will descend with Him, also riding on white horses (Rev. 19:14).

q.                  Do people up in heaven wear clothes?  Remember that Adam and Eve in their pre-sin condition wore no clothes (Gen. 2:25), and those who are in heaven are freed from sin and its attendant curses.  So that is a valid question.

1)                  When the Apostle John saw Jesus, He was clothed in a foot-length robe with a golden sash across His chest (Rev. 1:13).

2)                  Those of the church of Sardis who have not “soiled their garments” will be considered worthy to walk with Jesus “in white” (Rev. 3:4).  Indeed, anyone who conquers will be “clothed in white garments” (Rev. 3:5).

3)                  The twenty four elders that John saw sitting on twenty four thrones in heaven were clothed in white garments, and they were wearing golden crowns (Rev. 4:4).

4)                  The souls of the martyred Tribulation saints will be seen underneath the altar up in heaven as they cry out for vengeance (Rev. 6:9-10).  To each will be given a white robe (Rev. 6:11).

5)                  Subsequent to their appearance underneath heaven’s altar, a vast number of these same Tribulation saints will be seen standing before the throne, clothed in their white robes, holding palm branches, loudly praising God and Jesus (Rev. 7:9-10, 13-14).

6)                  John saw the seven angels who had the seven plagues which they would pour out upon the earth from seven golden bowls.  These angels were clothed in bright, clean linen, accented with golden sashes around their chests (Rev. 15:6-7).  Their apparel seems to be similar to that of Jesus (Rev. 1:13).

7)                  The members of the Church in heaven, the Bride of Christ, are clothed in “fine linen, bright and clean.”  The fine linen signifies “the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:8).

8)                  When Jesus returns to earth from heaven as “The Word of God” and “King of kings and LORD of lords,” He too will be wearing a robe, but it will not be white, for it has been dipped in blood (Rev. 19:13, 16; cf. Isa. 63:1-3).

9)                  John observed that the armies from heaven accompanying Jesus on his return to conquer earth were wearing were “clothed in fine linen, white and clean” (Rev. 19:14).

10)         The answer is that people in heaven do wear clothes.  The only known prevailing color is white, which signifies righteousness.  The prevailing fabric is linen, and the prevailing accent metal and color is gold.  Evidently those who inhabit New Jerusalem will also wear robes (Rev. 22:14).

                        11)          Will we recognize other believers up in heaven? Frankly, the information we have on that topic is minimal. There are some clues, however.

                                       1)         On one occasion, Jesus took Peter, James and John with him up on a high mountain, where he was transfigured before them (Matt. 17:1-4). Moses and Elijah appeared to them. Peter recommended making three tents, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah (Matt. 17:4). The point is that the disciples recognized saints who lived centuries earlier. What we are not told is whether or not introductions were necessary. Where Scripture is silent, we must be also.

                                       2)         In 1 Cor. 13, Paul discussed the importance of using love in the exercise of one’s spiritual gifts. Paul acknowledged that our present knowledge and understanding is like looking into a very imperfect mirror. But the time is coming when we see Jesus face to face (at the Rapture). Then our knowledge and recognition will be full and complete (1 Cor. 13:12). Will we need introductions to people? I would think so, but I don’t really know. I do know that our ability to comprehend and remember will be vastly elevated. By the way, I think one of the grandest parts of eternity will be to talk with individual after individual and find out from them God’s unique grace in calling them, saving them, and using them in their lives! Talk about great fellowship!

D.    Christians and Their Destination

1.                  What happens to believers when they die? 

a.                  Apparently before Christ’s resurrection and ascension, they went to a comfortable section of Hades (Luke 16:22-26).

b.                  After Christ’s resurrection and ascension, believers who die go to heaven to be with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6-8).

2.                  Is Heaven the final destination of the righteous?  The answer appears to be No.  The final destination of the righteous is, in some instances New Jerusalem.  In other instances New Earth.  But all dwellers upon New Earth will have ready access to New Jerusalem, and, presumably, all dwellers in New Jerusalem will have ready access to New Earth.  We will seek to demonstrate these assertions by looking at the Scripture texts.

3.                  What is Worship like in Heaven?  The Content of Worship

a.                  Four living creatures are described as ceaselessly worshiping the Lord God Almighty (Rev. 4:8).  They thrice honor Him for His holiness.  They honor Him for His sovereignty – He has power and jurisdiction over everything!  They honor Him for His eternity.  He is the One who was being in the past, He is the One being in the present, and He is the One coming!  These living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the One sitting on the throne – the One living into the ages of the ages (Rev. 4:9).

b.                  When they do so, the twenty four elders fall down before the One sitting on the throne, who lives into the ages of the ages; and they cast down their crowns before the throne (Rev. 4:10); These twenty-four elders acknowledge that God is worthy to receive the glory and the honor and the power because He is the Creator!  He created all things; and it is on account of His will that they existed and were created (Rev. 4:11).

c.                   In Rev. 5:5-7, the Apostle John was told of the Lion of the tribe of Judah, root of David, who had conquered, qualifying Him to open a seven-sealed book of judgment.  Then John saw standing as if slain, in the middle of the throne and the four living creatures, and in the middle of the elders, a seven-horned, seven-eyed Lamb.  Obviously this is none other than Jesus Christ.  As a Lion, He had conquered sin, death, Satan, and Hades.  As a sacrificial Lamb He had died to pay for the sins of the world.  His seven horns depict His power; His seven eyes depict His omniscience; and together His seven horns and eyes depict the Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.  When Jesus took the book from the right hand of God, praise erupted from around the throne (Rev. 5:8-14)!  The four living beings and the twenty four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one of them holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which consists of the prayers of the saints.  They sang a new song of praise, incorporating the following points for worship:

1)                  Jesus’ sacrificial death:  Jesus was worthy to open up the seven-sealed book of judgment because He had been killed. 

2)                  Jesus’ vast and far-reaching redemption:  With His own blood He had redeemed out of the marketplace of slavery to sin, Satan, and death individuals for God from every clan and language and people and nation (Rev. 5:9).

3)                  Jesus’ instrumentality in establishing a Kingdom for God’s benefit:  Jesus made this multitude to be, for our God’s benefit, a kingdom, and priests.  This means that they constitute God’s kingdom, and their assignment in that kingdom is to serve as priests to draw others to God.  In the process this vast multitude will reign alongside Jesus in His Millennial Kingdom, and in the Eternal Kingdom on New Earth (Rev. 5:10; 20:4, 6; 22:5).

d.                  Millions upon millions of angels around the throne joined with the four living creatures and the twenty four elders (Rev. 5:11), thundering in a loud voice Jesus’ worthiness to inherit all wealth and praise: “Worthy is the Lamb, the one having been slain, to receive the power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and praise” (Rev. 5:12, author’s literal translation.)

e.                  All animate and inanimate entities in the entire universe ascribe praise and honor to God the Father and Christ the Lamb throughout eternity!  “And every created being in the heaven and upon the earth, and under the earth, and upon the sea, and the things in them – all” – John heard, saying, “To the One sitting upon the throne, and to the Lamb – [may there be] the praise and the honor and the glory and the might unto the ages of the ages!” (Rev. 5:13, author’s literal translation.)

f.                    “And the four living beings were saying, ‘Truly!’ 

g.                  And the elders fell down and worshiped!” (Rev. 5:14, author’s literal translation.)

h.                  Again, let it be said that John’s observation of this magnificent praise and worship took place in heaven.  It coincided, I believe, with the call of the Church up to heaven at the rapture (symbolized by John’s upward call into heaven (Rev. 4:1), and prior to or simultaneous with the introduction of the“Seal Judgments” of the Tribulation Period commencing in Rev. 6.  That having been said, there is no reason not to assume that this sort of praise will abound typically in New Jerusalem throughout eternity.  The citizens of New Jerusalem will participate joyously and enthusiastically in praising God and the Lamb, as will citizens of New Earth below, especially as they enter New Jerusalem and personally encounter God and the Lamb.  Vast throngs will gather and respectfully, yet exuberantly voice together their utter devotion to God for His creation and to the Lamb for His Salvation!

5.    What is Worship like in Heaven?  The Place of Worship. 

a.                  The most notable difference is the absence of a temple in New Jerusalem.  There are sixteen occurrences in thirteen verses in Revelation to the word temple (naos).  Two of those occurrences refer to the earthly temple in Jerusalem during the Tribulation (Rev. 11:1-2).  One instance speaks of a temple that does not exist in New Jerusalem, while another in the same verse explains that God and the Lamb are the temple in that eternal city (Rev. 21:22).  The remaining twelve occurrences all refer to the temple that exists in Heaven, the abode of God. 

b.                  Let us examine these twelve instances to learn about God’s temple in heaven.

1)                  God’s temple exists in heaven (Rev. 3:12). Jesus said to the Church in Philadelphia that He would make him who conquers “a pillar in the temple of my God, and he will not go out from it anymore.”  Jesus did not, of course, mean that He would turn people into literal pillars.  He meant rather that those believers who conquer will be made into integral and permanent worshipers and servers of God inside His temple and in His presence, wherever He might be.  (Remember that in eternity, God will localize Himself outside heaven and inside New Jerusalem, capital of New Earth!)

2)                  Evidently God’s throne in heaven is located inside His temple.  Saints who have been martyred during the Tribulation will take their places before the throne of God and “will serve Him day and night in His temple (Rev. 7:14-15).”

3)                  In John’s vision of what was up in heaven, the temple in heaven was opened up so John could see what was inside.  He was able to see the ark of God’s covenant inside the temple (Rev. 11:19).  Centuries earlier, God had given to Moses instructions for the construction of the tabernacle on earth (Exod. 25-27).  That earthly tabernacle was modeled after the real temple up in heaven.  Similarly, the ark of the covenant on earth was modeled after the real ark of the covenant up in heaven (Heb. 8:1-5; 9:11).  The earthly ark of the covenant contained the two tablets of stone on which were engraved the ten commandments (Heb. 9:3-4).  Presumably the heavenly ark of the covenant contains a representation of God’s covenant, including the ten commandments, but conceivably covenantal revelation much broader than that.

4)                  There are angels in the temple of God in heaven.  Periodically they exit to deliver messages (Rev. 14:15, 17) or perform their mission (Rev. 15:6-8).

5)                  There exists an altar in connection with the temple in heaven (Rev. 14:17-18). 

a)                  This altar is made of gold (Rev. 8:3; 9:13), and it stands before the throne of God within the temple (Rev. 8:3).  The prayers of the saints appear on this altar before God, along with a constantly burning fire (Rev. 8:5).  An angel periodically adds incense to the prayers of the saints on the altar (Rev. 8:3).

b)                  The altar has four horns (Rev. 9:13).

c)                  The altar is animate, able to speak.  It issues commands (Rev. 9:13-14), and it worships God (Rev. 16:7).

d)                  There is a period of time, evidently during the Tribulation period, when the souls of martyred Tribulation saints are housed underneath the altar.  They cry out to God for vengeance on those who have brutally murdered them on the earth.  They are told that they must wait until the number of martyrdoms has been completed.  Meanwhile they are comforted by being given a white robe (Rev. 6:9-11).

6)                  The temple in heaven is smaller than, and contained inside the “the tabernacle of testimony in heaven” (Rev. 15:5).  The word temple is naos, and refers to the specific chamber or edifice where God rules, seated upon His throne.  In Rev. 13:6, we are told that the beast, the antichrist, “opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme his name and His tabernacle (skene), that is, those who dwell (skenoo) in heaven.  Though there are some difficulties with this view, it seems that the term tabernacle (skene) refers to heaven itself, or is coterminous with heaven.  Those saints who live in heaven are said to live in the tabernacle of testimony in heaven.  (See also Rev. 7:15, where the tribulation saints are in comfort because God “will spread His tabernacle (skenoo) over them.”)

7)                  The temple in heaven evidently has a Holy of Holies.  In Rev. 15:5, we read, “the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened.” “Naos (temple) refers to the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctuary where God’s presence dwells, emphasizing that God is the source of the plagues. The tabernacle was sometimes referred to as the tabernacle of testimony (Ex. 38:21; Num. 1:50, 53; 10:11; Acts 7:44) because the most important item in it was the ark of the covenant, sometimes called the ark of the testimony (Ex. 25:22; 26:33–34; 30:6; Lev. 16:13; Num. 4:5; 7:89; Josh. 4:16). It was so named because it contained the testimony, the two stone tablets on which God had written the Ten Commandments (Ex. 25:16, 21; 40:20; cf. Ps. 78:5).” (John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Revelation 12-22, comments on Rev. 15:5).

E.    How Can I Be Sure I Will Go to Heaven?

1.                  This is the most fundamental, important question a man, woman, boy or girl can ask in his entire life.  It is a question worth asking and worth answering.

2.                  Not long ago I attended a funeral.  After the funeral I happened upon an acquaintance of mine.  I brought up the subject of the funeral.  “Was it a nice funeral?” she asked.  “Yes it was,” I replied.  Then I asked my friend a question.  “If you were to die, do you know where you would go, and do you how you can know?”  She replied, “I don’t know.  I’ve never thought of that before.”  I asked her another question, “Would you like to know?”  I paused and waited for an answer.  She hesitated a moment, and finally said, “Yes.”  I said, “I meet every week with inmates at our local county jail.  Because there is a transient population, I never know if I will see these men again or not.  So each week I tell them for things from the Bible that are very important for them to know and act upon.  Here they are:

a.                  “All of us are sinners.  The Bible tells us in Romans 3:23 ‘for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’  That means each one of us have violated God’s standards.  Each one of us has fallen short of God’s standard of goodness.  That is not good news.

b.                  “The second thing I tell them is this: ‘The wages of sin is death’ (Romans 6:23a).  That means that when we commit sins against God, we earn death as a payment.  That includes physical death, or coffin death, with which we are all familiar.  But death also includes spiritual death, being separated from God.  The worst kind of death is being separated from God forever in hell!  Now that is really bad news!”  She nodded her head.

c.                   “But now the news is good news!  The first bit of good news is this: God loves each and every one of us so much that He sent His Son down here to earth to die the death penalty for each of us!  We are told in Romans 5:8, ‘But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’  Jesus willing went to the cross and paid my death penalty for me, and yours for you.  That’s how much God loves us!

d.                  But how do we take advantage of God’s gift of forgiveness?  John 3:16 says, ‘For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.’  What God is looking for is trust.  He wants us to trust in His Son, because His Son is the one who died on the cross and rose again on the third day (Matt. 28:1-10).  If we trust in Jesus, God will forgive us our sins and will grant us eternal life!  That’s how we can know for sure we will go to heaven when we die!”

3.                  I left my friend with a decision to make.  I told her, “I hope and pray that you will trust in Jesus!”  That is the same hope and prayer I have for you, the reader.

4.                  Jesus told a woman named Martha, whose brother had died four days earlier, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.  Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).

5.                  Mary’s reply was decisive.  She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world” (John 11:27).

6.                  My friend the reader, I pray for the same response from you!

Prepared by James T. Bartsch,
Originally published February, 2008. Updated February 13, 2022

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This document and the Bible quotations herein are, unless otherwise indicated, based upon the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE , Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.


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WordExplain by James T. Bartsch

(Scripture quotations taken from the
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