In Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven, Mark Twain wrote, “Singing hymns and waving palm branches through all eternity is pretty when you hear about it in the pulpit, but it’s as poor a way to put in valuable time as a body could contrive.” Twain was wrong on two counts. First, he was wrong about what occupies those who are in heaven. Second, he was mistaken about the believer’s location in eternity.
Today’s passage describes a whole new creation of a new heavens and a new earth. The world as we know it now will pass away. This might puzzle us, and some of the things John says about this new creation are hard to fathom. Indeed, it seems to be missing some of the aspects of the world that many consider beautiful: no sea (v. 1), no need for the sun or moon (v. 23), and no night (22:5). Other qualities seem mythical and maybe even clichéd, such as a jeweled city whose great street is made of gold that shines like transparent glass (v. 21).
The problem is not with John’s description but with our imagination. This city is real. We will dwell on a solid earth. Yet John is also expressing heavenly realities in earthly terms. He must use the imagery of what we already know to speak of that which we have not yet experienced.
Whatever this new heaven and earth is, it cannot be less than all that John describes and we can be sure that it is much more. We’re reminded of Paul’s words: “‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’—the things God has prepared for those who love him—these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:9–10).
Do you sometimes feel unmoved by biblical descriptions of the life to come? We can view it now only through the darkened glass of our own earthly experiences. The reality is far better than we can know. We can trust that God is preparing a place for us that will meet our every need and allow us to fellowship with Him (see John 14:1–4).