Foretastes of Heaven on Earth

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Revelation 21:1

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called “Real Answers about Heaven.” In the first message of the series we looked at heaven as the dwelling place of God, and then last week we looked at heaven in your heart. Today we will look at what the Bible says about foretastes of heaven on earth. We will be looking at a number of Scriptures throughout the message, but let’s begin with this verse here in Revelation. (Read Revelation 21:1 and pray.)

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What do you do when you’re planning to visit a place you’ve never been? You read up on it. You get a book, or you visit a website, or you get a travel brochure. You look at the pictures; you study the maps; you read about the various attractions and sights. And the more you read up about the place, the more excited you get about going there. You can’t wait to see and experience all these things for yourself. The travel brochure gives you foretastes of the trip to come, and it helps you to grow in your anticipation.

Well it’s the same way with heaven. The Bible tells us that God has given us various foretastes of heaven right here on earth. Some of these foretastes are in the past but recorded for us in Scripture. Other foretastes are all around us even now.

So that’s what we’re going do this morning. We’re going to look at the travel brochure for heaven! Together we are going to look at seven foretastes of heaven on earth that we find revealed for us in the Scriptures. They are: 1) the Garden of Eden, 2) the temple or tabernacle, 3) the church, 4) the Holy Spirit, 5) healings and miracles, 6) the old earth, and 7) your salvation.

1) The Garden of Eden – a foretaste of paradise
   – Genesis 2:9-10, 22; Luke 23:43; Revelation 21:9, 22:1-2

So let’s get started. First of all, the Garden of Eden: the Garden of Eden is a foretaste of heaven on earth, specifically, a foretaste of paradise.

The Garden of Eden was a perfect environment for Adam and Eve just as heaven will be a perfect environment for us. Adam and Eve were blessed with beautiful surroundings, abundant food and meaningful work. They lived in perfect relationship with each other and in perfect harmony with the animals and God’s creation. Most important of all they enjoyed sweet fellowship with God himself in the garden. They had everything they needed. They literally lived in paradise.

Jesus drew an explicit connection between the Garden of Eden and the afterlife when he told the thief on the cross: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43; see also 2 Corinthians 12:3, Revelation 2:7) What’s interesting is that a number of elements that we find in the Garden of Eden in the opening chapters of the Bible show up again in heaven in the closing chapters of the Bible.
For example we read about a river and the tree of life in the garden in Genesis 2: “In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters.” (Genesis 2:9-10) And what do we find in heaven when we get to the end of the Bible? A river and the tree of life! Revelation 22: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:1-2) A river and the tree of life are in both the Garden of Eden and in heaven.

We also find a wedding in both the garden and in heaven. We read in Genesis 2:22: “Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.” (Genesis 2:22) There’s the first bride and groom. And then we read in Revelation 21:9-10: “One of the seven angels … said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” (Revelation 21:9-10) And there’s the heavenly bride and groom. How beautiful that the Bible both begins and ends with a wedding!

And so we find in both the garden and in heaven a river (Genesis 2:9-10; Revelation 22:1), the tree of life (Genesis 2:9; Revelation 22:2), and a wedding (Genesis 2:22; Revelation 21:9). The Garden of Eden is a foretaste of heaven on earth. We are going to be living in paradise!

2) The temple or tabernacle – a foretaste of God living with us
   – Hebrews 8:5, 9:24; John 1:14; Revelation 21:3, 16, 22

A second foretaste of heaven on earth is the temple or tabernacle. This was a foretaste of God living with us. The whole point of the tabernacle and the temple was to provide a way for the God who lived in heaven also to live with his people on earth.

God gave Moses detailed instructions on how to build the tabernacle. Why? Because it was a foretaste of heaven. We read in the book of Hebrews that the priests “serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.’” (Hebrews 8:5)

When the Bible talks about Christ ascending to heaven, it also speaks of heaven in terms of the tabernacle. We read in Hebrews 9: “For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.” (Hebrews 9:24) The temple was modeled after the tabernacle, and the tabernacle was modeled after heaven. Why? Because the temple and the tabernacle are a foretaste of God living with us.

When Jesus came to earth, the Bible uses tabernacle imagery to describe his dwelling with us. For example, we read in John 1:14: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14) The word that is translated “made his dwelling with us” is the Greek word for “tabernacle.” You could even translate it: “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” (John 1:14) Jesus was God in the flesh living with man. The temple and tabernacle are both foretastes of God living with man.

Now when you get to the book of Revelation at the end of the Bible, you find that there is no temple in heaven. We read John’s words in Revelation 21:22: “I did not see a temple in the city.” (Revelation 21:22) So why is that? Why is there no temple in heaven?

If you go back five verses to verse 16 you find something very interesting. Revelation 21:16 says: “The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long.” (Revelation 21:16) The New Jerusalem is pictured here as a giant cube, as wide and high as it is long.

Well, do you know where else you find a perfect cube in the Bible? In the temple! The inner room of the temple or tabernacle was a perfect cube, as wide and high as it was long. This inner room was called the Most Holy Place, and this was where God dwelled in the temple. Only the high priest was allowed to enter the Most Holy Place and only once a year. But now Revelation 21:16 says the whole city of heaven is the Most Holy Place, and we are all invited in to live there forever.

Revelation 21:22 says: “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” (Revelation 21:22) Why is there no temple in heaven? Because the whole city is a temple! God is everywhere in heaven, and the barrier of sin that stood between us and God has been removed. As we read in Revelation 21:3: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.’” (Revelation 21:3) The temple or tabernacle was a foretaste of heaven on earth, specifically, a foretaste of God living with us.

3) The church – a foretaste of the worship and fellowship we will enjoy in heaven
   – Matthew 26:29; 1 Timothy 3:15; Hebrews 12:22-23; Revelation 19:9

A third foretaste of heaven on earth is the church. The church is a foretaste of the worship and fellowship we will enjoy in heaven. Heaven is God’s house, and the Bible calls the church “God’s household.” For example, we read in 1 Timothy 3:15 about “God’s household, which is the church of the living God.” (1 Timothy 3:15)

Elyse Fitzpatrick writes: “The church on earth is the doorstep of the church in heaven. No, it isn’t heaven on earth … it is still located here on this dark planet, with its roots in dirty soil, yet it is the shining portal through which we catch glimmers of golden light, hear whispers of the angelic choir’s refrains, and smell the aroma of baking bread … where we get glimpses, whiffs, whispers of [heaven].” (Elyse Fitzpatrick, Home: Heaven and the New Earth, Kindle location 2325, 2353)

The Bible clearly connects the church on earth with the church in heaven. For example we read this about heaven in Hebrews 12: “You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.” (Hebrews 12:22-23)

Every time we meet as a church, we experience a foretaste of the worship and fellowship we will enjoy in heaven. The two go together. As Jonathan Edwards writes: “Shall heaven be filled with praises for what was done on earth, and shall there be no praises on earth where it was done?” (Stephen Nichols, Heaven on Earth, p. 101)

One of the things we do as a church is share communion, and communion is yet another foretaste of heaven. Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper: “I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:29) Every time we share communion as a church, it is a foretaste of the great wedding feast we will share one day with Christ in heaven. (Revelation 19:9)

Owen Strachan writes: “The church today must remember that unlike every other institution and organization on this earth, it will transcend this world.… While this earthly age endures, the church is thus a foretaste of heaven. It is to model an unearthly way of life, with standards of holiness that may seem quite strange to the lost.” (Owen Strachan, On Heaven and Hell, Kindle location 5743) And so the church is a foretaste of heaven on earth, a foretaste of the worship and fellowship we will enjoy in heaven.

4) The Holy Spirit – a foretaste of your promised inheritance
   – Romans 8:16-17, 23; Ephesians 1:13-14

Next let’s talk about the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit is another foretaste of heaven we experience here on earth. The Holy Spirit is a foretaste of your promised inheritance. We looked at Romans 8:23 last week which talks about believers having “the firstfruits of the Spirit.” (Romans 8:23) Well, the word “firstfruits” implies that there’s more to come.

The Bible talks about the Holy Spirit as a deposit and a seal in your life. We read in Ephesians 1: “You also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14)

And so the Holy Spirit is a deposit; he is a down-payment, a guarantee of your promised inheritance in Christ. Anthony Hoekema writes: “We may say that in the possession of the Spirit we who are in Christ have a foretaste of the blessings of the age to come, and a pledge and guarantee of the resurrection of the body. Yet we have only the firstfruits. We look forward to the final consummation of the kingdom of God, when we shall enjoy these blessings to the full.” (Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, p. 67)

The Holy Spirit gives us assurance of our inheritance. We read in Romans 8: “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:16-17) The Holy Spirit assures you that you are a child of God. And if you are a child of God, then you are also an heir. The Holy Spirit is a foretaste of your promised inheritance in Christ.

5) Healings and miracles – a foretaste of God’s coming kingdom
   – Matthew 4:23, 6:10; Luke 11:20; Hebrews 6:4-5; Revelation 21:4

A fifth foretaste of heaven on earth is found in healings and miracles. Healings and miracles are a foretaste of God’s coming kingdom.

When Jesus first began his ministry, we read in Matthew 4:23 that he “went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” (Matthew 4:23) Jesus’ miracles and his message went together. He preached the good news of the kingdom, and he demonstrated it with his miracles.

God’s kingdom means his rule. In Christ God was pushing back the powers of darkness and exerting his perfect rule over creation. The miracles demonstrated that the kingdom of God was here in the person of Christ. As Jesus told the people in Luke 11:20: “If I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.” (Luke 11:20)

The book of Hebrews speaks about those “who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age.” (Hebrews 6:4-5) I like what Peter Kreeft says about this verse. He writes: “All healings on earth are previews of coming attractions,” and then he goes on to describe our sharing in the powers of the age to come as “appetizers.” (Peter Kreeft, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Heaven, pp. 55, 83)

Jesus taught us to pray: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) One day God’s kingdom will come in its fullness, and “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things [will have] passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) Until then, healings and miracles, indeed all answers to prayer, are a foretaste of heaven on earth. They are a foretaste of God’s coming kingdom.

6) The old earth – a foretaste of the new earth
   – Isaiah 65:17; Habakkuk 2:14; Revelation 21:1

So far we’ve looked at five foretastes of heaven on earth. Now let’s look at two more. The next one should be an obvious one, and yet we sometimes miss it entirely. Our planet itself is a foretaste of heaven on earth. Why? Because the old earth is a foretaste of the new earth. We read in Revelation 21:1: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.” (Revelation 21:1)

The fact that the new earth is called “new” means that it will be new. But the fact that it is called “earth” means that it will also be familiar. There will be both continuity and discontinuity. It will be different and yet the same, similar to Jesus’ resurrection body, which was still his body and yet different in some ways. Sometimes the disciples recognized him; sometimes they did not. It will be that way with the new earth, too.

Now there will clearly be differences between the old earth and the new earth. God says in Isaiah 65:17: “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” (Isaiah 65:17) Much of what was part of this old earth will not be remembered or come to mind. But I believe that refers mostly to the effects of sin in this world – that there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.

When God created the earth, he saw that it was good, and so much of that goodness will continue on in the new creation. But as beautiful as the old earth is, the beauty of the new earth will be even greater. Elyse Fitzpatrick writes: “This earth, as beautiful as it is, is merely the shadow of what is coming.” (Elyse Fitzpatrick, Home: Heaven and the New Earth, Kindle location 1285) I like the way Tony Reinke puts it: “Every pleasure in this life is a déjà vu of something greater we have never seen.” (Tony Reinke, https://twitter.com/TonyReinke/status/828625171380654081)

And so we should rightly view the good things of this earth as previews of an even better world to come. Stephen Witmer writes: “All the good things I have [here on earth] are just glimmers of where I’m heading. If I’m experiencing this kind of beauty in a fallen world, what pleasures will there be in the new creation that Jesus died to open up to me and will return to bring to me? Come, Lord Jesus!” (Stephen Witmer, Eternity Changes Everything, Kindle location 1313)

Some people wonder about that part in Revelation where it says there will be no sea in heaven. They love the ocean, and the thought that there might be no sea in heaven makes them sad. Well, I’ve got good news for you this morning. Many Bible scholars believe when John says in his vision of heaven that “there was no longer any sea,” (Revelation 21:1) that he’s not talking about the actual ocean. The sea in the Bible is often a symbol for evil and chaos in the world, and so this verse may simply be saying that there will be no more evil or chaos in the new earth, that God will restore all things to their proper order.

So there may be oceans in the new heaven and new earth after all! I think of passages like Habakkuk 2:14 which says: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14) Remember our principle for thinking about heaven from the first message in this series: “If it’s good and it’s possible, then either it will be there or something better.” Well oceans are good, and they’re possible, so either there will be oceans in heaven, or something better – if not the ocean, then perhaps whatever it was that the ocean stirred up in your heart, whatever longings it created, will be there instead.

So that’s our sixth foretaste of heaven on earth – the old earth is a foretaste of the new earth.

7) Your salvation – a foretaste of eternal life to come
   – John 5:24, 17:3; 1 John 5:11-12

And then finally our seventh foretaste of heaven on earth – your salvation is a foretaste of eternal life to come. We often think of eternal life as something that doesn’t start until heaven. But the Bible tells us that for the believer, eternal life starts now. Jesus said in John 5:24: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24) Notice Jesus says whoever believes in him has eternal life now. He has already crossed over from death to life.

Jesus says in John 17:3: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) If you know God and you know Jesus, then you already have eternal life. You don’t have to wait for heaven.

We read in 1 John 5: “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:11-12) It’s very simple. If you have Jesus, then you have life. If you don’t have Jesus, then you don’t have life. But if you have Jesus, you have life now! You have assurance of your salvation because you have eternal life now! And as one person has said: “Having assurance of salvation is like living in the suburbs of paradise. It’s the next best thing to actually being there.” (Stephen Witmer, Eternity Changes Everything, Kindle location 485; Witmer is paraphrasing Thomas Brooks who wrote: “Assurance is glory in the bud, it is the suburbs of paradise, it is a cluster of the land of promise.” Thomas Brooks, Heaven on Earth, Chapter 1)

How do you know you will live forever? Because you’ve already begun! For the believer in Jesus Christ, eternal life starts now. As E. Stanley Jones says: “Jesus Christ means to me eternal life. I don’t get it hereafter, I have it now in Him. I am sure of heaven, for I am sure of Him. To be in Him is to be in heaven wherever you are.” (E. Stanley Jones, The Word Became Flesh, p. 382) It’s like we sing in the hymn: “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. Oh what a foretaste of glory divine!” Your salvation is a foretaste of heaven on earth. It is a foretaste of eternal life to come.

CONCLUSION: So we’ve looked at the travel brochure for heaven, and you know what? It looks pretty good! And even though we’ve never been there, we already have an initial idea of the glories that await us because we have all of these wonderful foretastes of heaven right here on earth.

1) The Garden of Eden is a foretaste of paradise. 2) The temple or tabernacle is a foretaste of God living with us. 3) The church is a foretaste of the worship and fellowship we will enjoy in heaven. 4) The Holy Spirit is a foretaste of your promised inheritance. 5) Healings and miracles and answers to prayer are all a foretaste of God’s coming kingdom. 6) The old earth is a foretaste of the new earth. 7) And your salvation is a foretaste of eternal life to come.

Samuel Rutherford once wrote: “I wonder many times that ever a child of God should have a sad heart considering what his Lord is preparing for him.” (Samuel Rutherford, Religious Letters, Part Third, Letter XXXIV, p. 390) My prayer for you this morning is that you will grow in joy and gladness and your own anticipation of heaven as you learn to recognize these various foretastes of heaven on earth. And remember, these are just the foretastes! When you get to heaven, the realities will be even better.

© Ray Fowler

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