Revelation 21

The Right Side of Heaven

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Revelation 21

The Right Side of Heaven

Richard Niell Donovan

What is heaven going to be like? Someone asked a number of children for their opinions. You might find them interesting:

• Eric, eight years old, said, “Heaven is a place where there is a lot of money lying around. You could just pick it up, play with it, and buy things. I think I am going to buy a basketball and I am going to play basketball with my great-great-grandmother.”

• Scott said, “Heaven is up in the sky, and you could look down at circuses for free if you want to, except you have to ask God for permission first.”

• Tommy said, “I know what heaven is, but I don’t want to go there. I want to go to Disneyland.”

• Billy got into lots of mischief. His mother said, “Billy, how do you ever expect to get into heaven, acting like that?” Billy thought for a moment. Then he said, “Well, I’ll just run in and out and keep slamming the door until they say, ‘For goodness’ sake, either come in or stay out.’ Then I’ll go in.”

• But the little girl who understood it best looked at the stars one night, admiring their beauty. Then she turned to her father and said, “Dad, I have been thinking. If the wrong side of heaven is so beautiful, what will the right side be?”

I think that you have to be a needleworker to fully appreciate that comment. I am married to a needleworker. Needlework has a front side and a back side, or a right side and a wrong side. The front side has a beautiful design. The back side, especially if stitched by an inexperienced needleworker, may be a mass of colored thread—with no pattern or beauty to it.

But, if the needleworker is especially skilled, the back side of the needlework will have a pattern too. It won’t be as beautiful as the front side, but it will have its beauty too. The little girl, looking at the stars, saw great beauty—and understood that even greater beauty lay just on the other side.

Isn’t that a beautiful image! While you are thinking about that image, just think for a moment about what the little girl was saying about God. How great a creator he must be to have made the wrong side of heaven so beautiful.

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People have wondered about heaven all through the centuries. We have all wondered about death—and whether anything lay on the other side—and what heaven must look like—and whether we will get there—and who will be there to greet us. Death and heaven are the ultimate mysteries! We can think and imagine all we want. But we will really know what heaven is like only when we finally get there.

Except that God has given us a glimpse! John, the author of the book of Revelation, lived toward the end of the first century. Domitian, the Roman Emperor, had declared war on Christians because they refused to worship him. Roman soldiers were lining the roads with crosses upon which they crucified Christians. They had their weekend games at the Coliseum, where they fed Christians to the lions. All the Christians had to do was to say, “The Emperor is Lord!” and they would be spared. But they died by the thousands rather than betray their true Lord.

It was a terrible time. While Christians were dying bravely, they must have gotten discouraged. God wanted to encourage them, so he gave John a glimpse of heaven. John wrote about what he had seen.

John wrote about a great city, 1500 miles square, made of gold, transparent as glass.

• The walls were jasper;
• The foundations were jewels;
• The great gates were each carved from a single, huge pearl.
• The city needed no sun or moon, because God was its light.
• It needed no temple—no special place for people to come into God’s presence—because God’s presence filled the city.

Is that a scientific description of heaven? When we get there, will we be able to find the huge shells of the gigantic oysters from which the pearls were taken to carve the gates? I think not.

John, in his vision, saw a wondrous place. It was not like anything that he had ever seen. How can you describe something if it is unlike anything that you have ever seen?

How would you describe (this seaside town) to a person who had never seen anything but desert? You would have to “make do” with words that he could understand. You could call (this seaside town) a beautiful oasis. Technically, it is not an oasis, but that word would give him a tiny glimpse of Pacific Grove. To really understand Pacific Grove, he would have to come here. But we could tell him a little bit with the words that he does understand.

And so John saw things so wonderful that he could not really describe them. The best he could do was to talk about things that we do understand—gold and jewels. That gives us a little glimpse of the wonders that we stand to inherit. Beyond that, all John could have said was “Wow!”

But then we have to ask, “Is all this really true? Can Twentieth Century people believe a First Century vision? Aren’t we beyond that?

C.S. Lewis raises that question. He says:

“We are very shy nowadays of even mentioning Heaven.
We are afraid of the jeer about “pie in the sky…,”

But either there is “pie in the sky” or there is not.
If there is not (a heaven), then Christianity is false,
for this doctrine is woven into its whole fabric.

If there is (a heaven),
then this truth, like any other, must be faced,
whether it is useful at political meetings or not.”

I can tell you that I believe in heaven. I don’t know exactly what it will look like, but I am confident that it will be beautiful. I think that, maybe, in heaven all the houses will be on Ocean View Boulevard—and there won’t be any tour buses. There won’t be any locks on the doors. The flowers will always be in bloom. Neighbors will know each other and love each other and take care of each other. People will smile and say hello when they pass on the bike path. And God will drive away the fog with the glory of his presence.

That is what heaven would look like if I were designing it. I can hardly wait to see how God has designed it. Comparing his design to mine would be like comparing a Frank Lloyd Wright creation to a shoe box with a hole cut in the front. Once we have seen heaven, I think that we will wonder how we managed to tolerate living in (this seaside town).

There were moments, not long ago, when I thought that I would see heaven soon. I prefer to stay here for a while. My work isn’t done. My family needs me, and perhaps you need me too. I am glad to stay here longer, but I can assure you that I was not afraid. I am looking forward to seeing what God has prepared for me there. It seemed like a wonderful adventure.

I don’t think that everyone will go to heaven. John says:

“There will in no way enter into it anything profane, …
but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27).

I don’t try to say, “This person will make it,” or “This person won’t.” That isn’t my job—that is God’s job. My job is simply to tell you that Jesus opens the doors to heaven. He stands at the doors of our hearts and knocks, and he opens the doors of his home to all who answer.

Christ is standing at the door of your heart right now. He is knocking, and asking for permission to enter. He is waiting for your answer. He is waiting for you to let him into your heart so that he can give you a key to his home. Open the door. Say “yes” to Christ today.

Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.

Copyright 2006, Richard Niell Donovan