By Nathan Bierma
Chapter 1: Hope in Crisis
Why don't we hope for heaven? Why are we too often content to live our lives without thinking about "the big picture"?" I think there are three reasons. First, we don't know what heaven will be like, and the images we do have, such as clouds and harps, are foreign and intimidating. Second, we don't know when heaven will come, and the self-proclaimed prophets who try to guess when the world will end always look ridiculous. Finally, we are numb, like a dental patient under novacaine, to an awareness of the afterlife - numbed by busy-ness, materialism, and entertainment. What we need is some curiosity about our world and the larger picture of cosmic history. More importantly, we need a new look at the biblical picture of heaven.
Chapter 2: Bringing Heaven Back Down To Earth: The New
The first verse of Revelation 21 is final piece of the puzzle of world history. Eternity comes in the form of a transformed universe. Our existence will be on a new earth, in perfect harmony with God. Sin has been bleached out of the cosmos. It makes sense when you think about it - God isn't giving up on his creation, just as he didn't give up on us when we fell into sin. God loves with a tough, stubborn love, and that goes for the earth he made. This should give us a new appreciation for the current earth, and a renewed commitment to be stewards of natural resources, although the creation will keep groaning until Christ comes again (Romans 8:21).
Chapter 3: Sword-Whacking: The New City
The second verse of Revelation 21 tells us something important about life on the New Earth. We won't just be wandering around aimlessly or continuously singing hymns. Heaven will be a city-like existence. There will be art, music, sports, buildings, government, books, television, and everything else humans have developed under the Cultural Mandate of Genesis 1:28. Richard Mouw, in his analysis of a parallel chapter, Isaiah 60, says that these things will be redeemed and transformed even as human beings are through salvation, and as the Earth is in verse 1 of Revelation 21. Swords will be beaten into plowshares. For now, we are to do some beating of swords of our own, both producing and transforming culture so that it glorifies God, rather than human pride, in anticipation of the ultimate redemption of culture.
Chapter 4: God With Us
The third verse of Revelation 21 tells us all we need to know: The dwelling of God will again be with humans, and will again be perfect. We've been estranged ever since the Garden of Eden, but what started at the Cross ends on the New Earth, with God and humanity in perfect harmony, complete shalom. As interesting as this business about the New Earth and the New City is, all we need to know is that we will be made completely and eternally right with God. In fact, this is what all those clouds, harps, and pearly gates are trying to express - how wonderful it is to be right with God forever.
Chapter 5: Living in the Hope of Heaven
We must incorporate this three-pronged model of redemption and eternity into our current existence - the redemption of nature, of culture, and of human beings. Currently, we seem occupied with only the third, the redemption of people. Thus all the obsession with evangelism, with saving souls. But we must broaden our consideration of what faith means to include living on the Earth and in society in a way that actively anticipates their transformation. When we do this, with daily awareness of the brokenness of creation, culture, and humanity, constantly measuring the gap between what they are and what God wants them to be, constantly living to close those gaps but constantly frustrated by how meager our efforts are, then we begin to get a sense of strong anticipation for everything to be made right, to forever resolved by our sovereign God. Then, and only then, I think, do we live in daily hope for heaven.