Finding a Home in Heaven
2 Peter 3:10–18
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Identify the Alpha and Omega.
2. Contrast the first heaven and earth with the second.
3. Teach one unbeliever about the differences between the first heaven and earth and the second heaven and earth.
How to Say It
Ezekiel. Ee-ZEEK-ee-ul or Ee-ZEEK-yul.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, May 7—Our Citizenship Is in Heaven (Philippians 3:17–21)
Tuesday, May 8—The Coming of the Kingdom (1 Corinthians 15:20–28)
Wednesday, May 9—Our Heavenly Dwelling (2 Corinthians 5:1–10)
Thursday, May 10—Longing for a New Home (Hebrews 11:10–16)
Friday, May 11—The Day of the Lord (2 Peter 3:10–18)
Saturday, May 12—New Heavens and a New Earth (Isaiah 65:17–19, 23–25)
Sunday, May 13—God Will Dwell Among Us (Revelation 21:1–8)
I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “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.”
Why Teach this Lesson?
Many hymns and choruses have been written about Heaven. It is spoken of as the true home for the Christian, as a place of rejoicing and gladness, and as a place for which there is great anticipation. But though Heaven is considered a wonderful place, many people really don’t want to go there just yet. Sometimes when Christians go to conduct worship services at nursing homes, they are told not to sing songs about death and Heaven because it would depress these folks, who are so close to that time in their life. But in actuality, some of the most energetic singing takes place when hymns such as “When We All Get to Heaven” or “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder” are sung.
Most of your students realize that Heaven is a desirable place to be. But some would prefer that Christ not come back just yet and take them there anytime soon! This lesson will help them examine why they feel that way.
A. Thank the Lord for Solid Ground
I grew up in Australia, and thus it was practically required that I have a passion for surfing. But any person who has ever had the pleasure of enjoying the sea is a person who also knows the wonderful security of terra firma: solid ground!
On a stormy day in 1989, I learned to appreciate solid ground in a way I never had before. The reports of cyclones (hurricanes) and helicopter rescues made others sense danger. But all my best mate and I could think about was big, fun waves. After only a few minutes in the surf, we realized that we had misjudged the situation!
Having drifted three-quarters of a mile up the coast, we were no longer staring back at the golden sands of the beach but at an unforgiving rocky wall. I suddenly lost all interest in surfing and developed a very healthy interest in just staying alive.
We struggled against the current and the waves for about two hours; the sun had set, the waves becoming only silhouettes. We were about a quarter of a mile offshore and could see only a few lights here and there. A huge set of waves loomed in the distance, blackening what was left of the horizon.
My friend made it over the waves, but I did not. The lip of one wave picked me up and slammed me down through the water and onto the rocky ocean floor. Somehow I made it back up to the surface only to have two more waves crash down and do the same thing all over again.
I genuinely thought I was going to die right there in the dark water. I decided all I could do was to make a desperate swim straight for the lights on the shore. Whether it was all rocks or sand, I didn’t care. I just wanted something solid and secure. My friend and pieces of my surfboard were waiting for me there as I crawled onto the beach. I laughed nervously at escaping death but then fell down and hugged and kissed the shore. It was so good! At that moment in my life there was simply nothing better than wonderfully solid ground.
Today’s lesson offers a similar message. The world is fraught with danger and suffering. But we know the shore is there, even though it is hard to see. If we persevere, by the grace of God we will emerge from the struggle victorious. The things causing our suffering will be put behind us in the end. We will stand firmly for all eternity on wonderfully solid ground.
B. Lesson Background
In Revelation 20 we read of Satan’s final downfall. Anyone who has ever suffered has felt the power of Satan, because all suffering finds its origin in Satan’s influences. That began with the fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden. Satan has set himself up in this world as the enemy of God. Satan actively seeks to destroy us all (1 Peter 5:8). Jesus came to put an end to Satan’s project (1 John 3:8). For all who experience Satan’s influences through our suffering, pain, and trials, the book of Revelation is a great comfort.
God understands what it means for us to suffer. Jesus, as “the Lamb, looking as if it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6), knows what it means to suffer and experience trial (also Mark 1:13; Luke 22:41-42). He knows our pain (Hebrews 4:15). The book of Revelation is his Word, and this book shows us that we are given what is necessary to overcome. In the book of Revelation, God tells us that he knows that we suffer. But he promises to destroy the source of our suffering: Satan. Those who embrace Jesus and this promise are able to remain faithful; they surely will be delivered to an eternal life—a life free from the trials and sufferings that Satan brings.
I. New Heaven and New Earth! (Revelation 21:1–5)
A. Changed Reality (vv. 1, 2)
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.
Our passage begins with an important contrast between what is new and what is first. As we consider what this image conveys, we should note that the word heaven as used here is a reference to what we call “the skies.” This is very much along the lines of the word expanse in Genesis 1:8. The image thus presents a contrast between what we see when we look out the window right now (what John calls the first) and what will be new.
The word translated new in our text can be interpreted in two ways. One way is as a reference to time, like when a recently purchased secondhand car is called “new.” (I may say that such a car is “new to me.”) Another way is to take new as a reference to quality, like when someone buys a brand new car that no one has ever owned before. Such a car has the quality of never having been used—it is “factory fresh.”
This particular word for new, based on the way John uses it, refers to quality. So when John uses the image of a new earth, we’re not to take that as a reference to an updated version of our own current earth. Rather, it refers to a new kind of earth altogether. The word new signals this change from corruptible to eternal (see also Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13).
The sea figures prominently as a symbol in Revelation. About 40 percent of all the references to the sea in the New Testament are in this book (if we don’t count “Sea of Galilee,” which is actually a lake). The sea in the ancient world is a place of mystery, danger, and vulnerability. Those of John’s day use the sea for industry and travel, but it is a strange place that is thought by some to span the gap between the worlds of “gods” and humans. Revelation uses the ancient ideas of the sea as both the thing between God and humans (Revelation 4:6), and as a place of great evil and fear (13:1). Revelation also uses the image of sea to show God’s absolute power over all evil (10:1–6). Jesus used the image of the disturbance of the sea as a sign of great turmoil (Luke 21:25).
So the comment there was no longer any sea makes a lot of sense in the context of the ancient culture. With the final passing away of this first, temporary world, the new world will be a place without fear and danger that the sea represents.
What Do You Think?
What are some of the figurative “seas” of life that you face now? How does anticipation of the great, last day help you overcome these?
Something Really New
The newspaper ad of a house for sale read, “3br, 2ba, newer kitch, ocn vu.” Anyone familiar with real-estate jargon can translate 3br into “three bedrooms” and 2ba into “two bathrooms.” Ocn vu is plain enough: it means that if you climb on a chair in one of the bathrooms and look out of the upper corner of the window, you can view the ocean in the distance—easily adding $10,000 to the price!
But what is a “newer kitch”? Kitch stands for kitchen, of course. But what about that slippery word newer? Newer than what? That bit of real-estate jargon means that the kitchen is not as old as the rest of the house. Thus it signifies that the house has had its kitchen redone sometime in the indefinite past.
John tells us that the dwelling place he saw in his vision will not be merely newer—as a piece of real estate that had been updated a while back. Rather, it will be qualitatively new—different in every important way from what we have known before. Everything that could remind us of the pain and sadness of this old, fallen world will be completely gone. Our new, heavenly dwelling place will be really new!
2. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
John’s use of geographic locations to depict the coming new world becomes more focused in this verse. As with the new heaven and new earth, the reference here is not to the renewal of the Jerusalem that exists in John’s day or even now. It is a reference to a brand new Jerusalem. There are two important points made about this new kind of Jerusalem: it comes from God and it is prepared.
The earthly Jerusalem has a special place in the history of God’s people. But as Christianity developed, early believers increasingly used the name Jerusalem to refer to the coming promise. For example, Paul can use the word Jerusalem to refer both to the city of his day and to the Jerusalem “that is above” (Galatians 4:25-26). The author of Hebrews uses the term Jerusalem in this latter sense (see Hebrews 12:22).
The reason Jerusalem is thought of in this way by first-century Christians is that this city was known in the Old Testament as the place of God’s temple, where God put his name (2 Chronicles 6:4–6). This was a place where God was present with his people in a special way. The early Christians drew upon this idea; thus Jerusalem could refer to the promise of eternal life with God. John uses the term in this way Revelation 3:12 (compare Isaiah 52:1; Hebrews 11:10, 16).
John further defines the idea of the new Jerusalem by saying that it is prepared as a bride. We came across this concept in the previous lesson. Revelation 19 uses wife or bride imagery to refer to the faithful. Here bride means the same thing. That is, the new Jerusalem that comes from God is in fact the gathering of the faithful who dwell with God in eternal peace. It is we who are the holy city of God.
B. Dwelling with God (vv. 3–5)
3. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “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.
Essentially, dwelling is a repetition of the ideas “holy city” and “new Jerusalem” mentioned in the previous verse. Older versions of the Bible use the word tabernacle instead of dwelling. God had given very specific instructions to Moses to set up a tabernacle and its furnishings (Exodus 26–27, 35–38). It was to be a focal point of God’s presence (Exodus 29:44–46). After Moses had carried out all that the Lord asked of him, “the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34). God was with his people in a special way.
Visual for Lesson 11
Probe your students’ understanding by asking, “How does the work of Christ assure us of life?”
It has been God’s desire all along to live with his people (compare Leviticus 26:11-12; Ezekiel 37:27; Zechariah 2:10; 2 Corinthians 6:16). Putting these ideas together reveals that John is making a point that is similar to his point in the previous verse: we are the dwelling place of God!
4, 5. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
With the passing of the first heaven and earth will also come the passing of Satan’s power and influence. And this is the hope to which we all cling: this world and its suffering are only temporary. Suffering tempts us to lose our focus on the eternal. Thus it is a great tool used by Satan to distract God’s people and tempt them to question their relationship to him.
People often find cause to blame God for their suffering. But in reality, suffering comes to all of us because we live in a world that has fallen to Satan’s temptation and is therefore subject to decay (Genesis 3:1–19; Romans 8:18–22). When a loved one is dying from a terrible disease, who does not long for that person’s healing? When we suffer physically, our perspective swiftly turns toward the physical and temporary. The tragedy of suffering drives our minds to obsess about the physical. Thus we become prime targets for the temptation to allow the temporary to dominate our thinking and values.
What Do You Think?
How do you as a Christian deal with death and sorrow? What help do you need in this regard? How have you helped others?
John’s solution is to help us understand that our future with the Lord is utterly free from suffering (compare Isaiah 25:8; 35:10; 65:19). And because John understands the deep and eternal significance of this for us, he reminds us that these are not his words but the Lord’s. The words are of the one who is seated on the throne!
We can have absolute confidence in our future, new life because these words are trustworthy and true. It is worth noting that John emphasizes the reliability of the message three times toward the end of this book (here and in Revelation 19:9; 22:6).
II. New Life or Second Death? (Revelation 21:6–8)
A. Life for the Godly (vv. 6, 7)
6. He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.
In this verse John again emphasizes the reliability of the message, only from a different angle. This time he embeds into the story the point of God’s activity in history. God is the one speaking, and he refers to himself as the Alpha and the Omega. Those are the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet. So when God calls himself the beginning and the end we understand it to be a repetition of Alpha and Omega. God is not, however, admitting that he himself has a beginning and an end. Rather, he announces that all beginnings and ends are in his control (Isaiah 44:6; 46:9-10; 48:12).
The second part of this verse offers two important ideas: a certain problem (spiritual thirst) and its solution (water of life). These two concepts are not unique to Revelation. They are found throughout the Bible (examples: Psalm 65:9; Isaiah 41:17-18; 55:1; Jeremiah 2:13; Zechariah 13:1). For clarity we can look to John’s Gospel. In John 7:37-38, Jesus speaks to the problem of spiritual thirst and then offers the solution in terms of believing on him. Here, those who are thirsty are those who understand their need for Jesus. See also John 4:13-14.
What Do You Think?
What are some inadequate ways you sought to have your spiritual thirst quenched in the past? What turned you around?
7. “He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.
He who overcomes is mentioned both here and in each of the seven “letters” of Revelation 2 and 3. The phrase comes from the Greek word for “the one who is victorious.” In Revelation 2 and 3 the overcomer is the person who has been able to remain faithful in spite of opposition to his or her faith. And the concept of overcoming is a key to the entire book of Revelation. We could even say that a purpose of Revelation is to enable its readers to overcome.
To overcome is the essence of faithfulness. The primary biblical example of this (other than Jesus) is Abraham. Abraham’s trust in God was repeatedly challenged. But Abraham’s unwavering belief that God would deliver on his promises proved Abraham to be faithful and the father of all who are faithful (Genesis 12:1–25:8; Romans 4:16–22). Faithfulness means overcoming any challenge to one’s relationship with the Lord. Thus the overcomer is the person who does not melt away when faith is under fire (1 Peter 4:12–19). Such a person stands firm, knowing that the Lord will always win.
But we must not assume that challenges to faith always come in the obvious form of persecution. Faith is tested by anything that threatens our relationship with God. Money problems, family issues, health problems, etc. can all erode the foundation of that relationship. In short, all of us are constantly being challenged in our faith. The good news is that every time we withstand a challenge, we become stronger in our faith. In this way we become true overcomers who remain faithful to God. Thus we will inherit all things and be forever God’s children.
What Do You Think?
What are some ways that our heavenly inheritance differs from an earthly inheritance? How do these differences comfort you?
Better or Bitter?
Louise Ashby, age 21, had a dream of becoming an actress and model. So she moved to Hollywood, California. That is the place where such dreams are supposed to come true. But it is also a place where physical beauty often is required for success.
Suddenly her dream crashed—literally—in a head-on auto accident. Following the brain surgery that saved her life, Ashby was in a coma. A week later came a lengthy surgery that started the reconstruction of her face. Her first look in a mirror revealed an unrecognizable person with a watermelon-sized head. Fourteen reconstructive surgeries and 238 small titanium plates later, she ended up with a million-dollar face. She was once more a physical beauty. You would never guess what she has had to overcome.
But today the beauty goes deeper. Ashby still models and acts, but she also became involved with an organization that offered counsel and financial help to children who need surgery to correct facial birth defects. She began to make frequent visits to UCLA’s Craniofacial Clinic, encouraging the patients there by telling them what she had overcome.
Ashby affirms that her ordeal made her stronger. That’s what happens when we overcome obstacles, whether in a physical or spiritual sense. Whatever spiritual challenges we must overcome in this life, we become stronger with the help of God. Rather than becoming bitter, we can become better—fit for eternity. Blessed are the overcomers! —C. R. B.
B. Death for the Ungodly (v. 8)
8. “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
This list of those who are doomed to an eternal death is another encouragement to readers. Removal of evil people removes their persecutions of Christians as well (compare Matthew 25:41). To the degree that the unbelieving will be doomed forever, those who are faithful will be blessed forever.
This list of ungodly people works like many lists in the New Testament: we are better off taking it as a whole rather than scrutinizing it on a point-by-point basis. As we read the list, we’re supposed to get an impression of the kind of person who is doomed to eternal death. These are people who live in rebellion against God.
Further, we must not forget that the book of Revelation was originally written to people suffering physical persecution. John himself is a prisoner in exile on the island of Patmos as he writes. In such a circumstance we can easily appreciate how the announcement of doom for those who bring pain and suffering to Christians will help strengthen the faith of the readers. That is, if you are being persecuted but you know that in the end you will be delivered and your persecutor will be punished, then it becomes a way for you to endure.
The second death idea is the counterpart of “the first heaven and the first earth” in verse 1. But note that John does not call this death a new death—he says second death. John will often use synonyms to refer to similar things in order to create a sense of distinct value. For example, John describes in Revelation 11 two witnesses of God. John uses “42 months” (11:2) to describe a time of persecution and “1260 days” (11:3) to refer to the time of their prophecy.
John describes this same time period in two different ways to show how the Christian experience is double-sided. On the one hand, we serve Christ and experience his peace; on the other hand, we live in a temporary world filled with pain and suffering. Thus the second death is an eternal death to which the unfaithful must go in the same way that the new Heaven and earth is an eternal destiny for the faithful.
What Do You Think?
When we read verse 8, we rejoice in the ultimate victory of God and the defeat of all evil. What are some other things this verse should cause us to do—or not do?
When we look at our earthly homes, we often think in terms of what they don’t have—we dwell upon what they lack. “It doesn’t have central air.” “It doesn’t have a basement.” “It doesn’t have an attached garage.” “It doesn’t have a sun room.” Too much thinking like this can lead to envy and unhappiness.
But what our heavenly homes will lack will be glorious indeed: these homes will lack all the evil people, attitudes, and practices that we see in Revelation 21:8. There won’t be any bad neighbors in Heaven! What a glorious encouragement this is.
Thought to Remember
Our final home is our final hope.
Lord, we are grateful for John’s glorious vision of future hope. We thirst for you and the hope of an eternity in your presence. We trust that you will deliver us. Help us to realize that kind of trust in this present life. In this way we will walk with you each day, and we will overcome all that tries to challenge our relationship with you. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Underwood, Jonathan ; Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing