"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14: 1-3).
It is natural for us to wonder deeply about our future beyond this world. Some would say that there is no future, that the second law of thermodynamics reigns supreme, and death has the last word. Yet it is the consistant witness of Scripture, and indeed the very foundation of the Christian hope, that Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again from the dead...and that we who have lived and died trusting in him shall also share in his eternal life. To envision that life beyond this life requires imagination...since none of us have actually been there. Jesus, however, does give us some clues...and they seem to match up with John's figurative and visionary language in Revelation 21.
It is there that John describes what he calls “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:1-2). Notice the destination and direction of the heavenly city. John does not describe God’s people going up, but God’s Holy City (the dwelling place of God and his people), coming down from heaven to earth; for now “the home of God is among men” (3). The direction is down! God came down to speak with Moses in the burning bush. God came down when the Son of God was born in Bethlehem’s stable. God came down when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon his people. And God will come down again…this time to permanently dwell among us.
Why is this significant? Well, it tells us that heaven is not a permanent vacation from life here on earth. The crew of the space shuttle Discovery just returned to earth after a month in orbit on the International Space Station. That’s a long time in the sky, and a long way from home; but it was not a permanent assignment. Eventually, they came down. They always do! Jesus tells us that we will be with him in his Father's house...and to the thief on the cross he says, "Today, you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). In other words, we will experience a spiritual life with Christ after death... and it will be glorious. But our final destination is not a disembodied existence...but a new resurrection bodily existence not unlike our Lord's risen life (see John 11: 25; 1 Corinthians 15: 35-58). Just as astronauts routinely visit the International Space Station...and then return to earth...so John speaks of the City of God, his people, coming down out of heaven.
There is a future for this earth and for this cosmos (cf. Isaiah 65: 17-25, Rev. 21:1-2) and that future includes you and me. Just as Christ was raised from death, so the whole creation will be given new life, and all who welcome his appearing. The familiar hymn has it right: "This is my Father's world: the battle is not done; Jesus who died shall be satisfied, and earth and heaven be one
The International Space Station is an impressive structure...a massive laboratory in the sky which is growing with each new module...but it's a shack when compared to the Father's house. Consider the measurements of the Holy City in Rev. 21: 16b as described by the angel in John's vision. "The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width; and he measured the city with his rod, fifteen hundred miles" (literally -- 12,000 stadia): a city with walls 1500 miles long and 1500 miles high! That's the distance from LA to Kansas City; or from New York to London. The ISS orbits at 250 miles above the earth; but the walls of the City of God are six times higher than that! Admittedly, these are dimensions beyond human comprehension...but the message is clear: our Father's house is big...very big, and he has plenty of room for each one of us.
I've made several references to the International Space Station...but there is one more important way that this home in the sky may help us envision the life beyond this life according to God's word: it will be a gathering place of many nations in which old feuds and antagonisms are supplanted by love and the experience of profound reconciliation in Christ. In Rev. 21, John mentions that "on the gates [of the City of God] are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelities.... and the wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb" (Rev. 21: 12, 14). At the close of the chapter, John adds that "the nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it" (Rev. 21: 24). If the International Space Station serves as a meeting place of many nations 250 miles above our heads, how much more will the City of God be a reuniting city in which the old divisions and hostilities that exist among nations, peoples, and even in the church will be gone! It is therefore our responsibility to live into this future reality today, and to recommit ourselves to the work of reconciliation in Christ. Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, male and female -- the good news, Paul says, is that "we are all one in Christ Jesus" (see Gal. 3:28).
Father, we pray that we might have a life rich in joy and power, with a constant clear vision of never-ending life before us...a world without tears, a world without death, a world without pain, a world without hatred or division, a world without end...in the name of our Crucified and Risen Lord. Amen!