A BEAUTIFUL PLACE CALLED HEAVEN
T. PIERCE BROWN
How many hundreds of times we have sung, “There’s a beautiful place called heaven. It is hidden above the bright blue!” We are probably allowed a great deal of “poetic license” in our singing, for it is doubtful that any preacher or author could make a serious statement that the scriptures teach that heaven is hidden “out yonder somewhere beyond the stars” without being called in question.
But today I want to examine the thesis that the thing that is described in Revelation 21 is a PLACE at all! Do not misunderstand me! I can not conceive of heaven not existing in some PLACE. Neither can I conceive of the CHURCH not existing in some PLACE. But surely any student of the Bible knows that an adequate description of the church is NOT a description of the PLACE in which it meets. One may say, “The church is the place where the saved worship God” but does not mean by that some geographical locality, but a spiritual relationship.
Note first that the description we are about to read in Revelation 21 and 22 is that of “the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:20). Verses 8 and 10 show clearly that John is about to see a vision of the “bride, the wife of the Lamb, the holy city, New Jerusalem.”
Now, is the “bride” a place or a people in a place? Surely we have only one serious answer to that! Of all the various opinions about so many other things in the Book, surely there is no difference of opinion about that. The church refers to people. And surely there is almost unanimous agreement that “the bride of Christ” and “the New Jerusalem” refer to the church. Then, when we have a description (the better term would be “representation”) of the holy city, we should be aware that it a representation of the people of God rather than of a place.
You may ask, “So what?” One of the answers is, “We should be far more concerned with the quality of the people who are thinking of “going to heaven” than we are with the quality of the PLACE to which they think they are going! For exactly the same reason, we should be more concerned with the quality of the people who are “going to church” than we are with the quality of the building or PLACE to which they are going.
Surely we are aware that many times there is more emphasis put on building a beautiful church BUILDING than there is in building a beautiful church! I do not know which are causes and which are effects in every case, but I have little doubt that there is some sort of relationship between THAT sad state of affairs and our rather widespread habit of thinking of either the church or heaven primarily as a PLACE to go rather than as a people who will be some place. My judgment is, therefore, if we would preach about the “description” of heaven in Revelation more in terms of a representation of the PEOPLE rather than as a description of a PLACE, we would not only be giving a better exegesis of the passage, we would help the thinking of those who read or listen to be elevated from material to spiritual things. Are you a jewel of some kind in the walls of God’s people? Some are gold, silver and precious stones (1 Cor.3:12), and it appears that the wood, hay and stubble didn’t make it. What a loss!