How the happiness of heaven can make us happy here
The sorrow that we feel when a believer dies is not a hopeless kind of sorrow, because we know they are now happy with the Lord. But heaven can seem very misty and distant to us as we trudge on in our own beleaguered lives. Even when we believe in Jesus and are washed from our sins in the blood of Christ, we do not always take the comfort that is available from all the implications and consequences of this. In the Bible, however, the amount of information Jesus gives us about heaven shows that if we can sharpen our focus and get a clearer grasp of where we are heading, then some of the happiness of heaven can infuse our lives here. James Durham’s commentary on the Book of Revelation includes his analysis of the various “steps” of happiness in heaven from Revelation 7. As the following updated extract shows, not only is heaven a happy place, but it can give us happiness on earth too.
Those who are in heaven have come out of great tribulation (Revelation 7:14). But the means of surviving to reach heaven is not their own innocence (for they needed washing), nor their own sufferings or works (for what made them white was “the blood of the Lamb”). It was by taking themselves only to Christ’s satisfaction that they attained this righteousness and the blessedness of heaven. Christ’s red blood can make blood-guilty souls white, it has such excellent virtue. While the rest of the world were worshipping idols, or following self-righteousness, these folk fled to Jesus Christ for refuge, and by His righteousness and satisfaction alone they are made white, pardoned of sin, and brought to heaven.
Their happiness in heaven is set out in these circumstances, or steps.
A happy place
They are “before the throne of God” and “in His temple” (verse 15). They begin to be in this place in His Church on earth, by fellowship in His ordinances. But their position there is completed in heaven this is completed, when they are presented before God’s throne in glory.
A happy activity
Their service and work, and the uninterruptedness of it, are happy. “They serve Him night and day” (verse 15), and have their place among the angels that stand by (Zechariah 3), freed from selfishness and the body of death. They are not doing this service by fits and starts, but constantly, like the priests who took turns to spend night and day in the temple (Psalm 134:1). This is a special part of their happiness – that the enmity which is in them now against the service of God, is then taken away, and their delight in His service is not marred. What a privilege they have! They need no priest, nor any intervening means to help them serve. What constancy they have! There is no intermission in their service, no whoring from God, but they do the will of God cheerfully and delightsomely.
A happy company
A third step of their happy condition is that they enjoy God’s company. “He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them” (verse 15). They are not at a distance from God, nor is He at a distance from them. He makes Himself familiarly known to them, and there is no intermission of their sense and joy in His presence. They do not have communion with God on and off, but He shall constantly and fully manifest Himself as dwelling in the same house with them, and they are in His company for ever.
A happy freedom
Another step of their happiness is that they have freedom from all crosses and natural defects and infirmities, and attacks from others. There is neither hunger nor thirst, nor scorching heat of the sun. That means no persecution, if we take it figuratively (as Matthew 13), or if we take it literally, no disturbance of the air or bad weather or anything hurtful to the body. Not only are there no sinful defects in heaven – there are no sinless defects either. Hunger, cold, weariness – there is nothing of that sort in heaven, nothing to temper their happiness or impair their blessedness, not the least upset from their natural infirmity internally, nor anything externally by annoyance of even the weather.
A happy receiving of the care of the Lamb
The main step of their happiness, which is the great reason for all the rest, and serves to confirm it all, is, “the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them …” (verse 17). The Lamb, Jesus Christ Himself, who is God on the throne, equal to the Father – His care over them will have no lack, but will supply all good.
For one thing, He shall feed them. This includes all the care over them and tenderness to them that is in Him. It also takes in all provision needful for their well-being, in providing for them, and feasting them, and keeping an eye on them so that they will come to no hurt, like a shepherd does with his flock (Psalm 23). He Himself will take them in His special guiding, without any ordinances or any ministers intervening.
For another thing, He shall feed them in the most excellent pastures, not puddles or streams, and not just any fountain, but “living fountains of waters,” which never dry up, and are able to quench all thirst, and cool all heat. Earthly consolations are only static cisterns, or streams at best, but at His right hand is fullness of joy, and pleasures for ever more (Psalm 16). They are fountains full of diversity and abundance of consolations, and they are inexhaustible.
Indeed, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (verse 17). God will put an end to all their misery. There shall be neither sigh nor tear there, nor cause of tears. Though in their life they were never without tears on their cheeks, yet no sooner shall they enter heaven, but God’s presence and a glimpse of His favour shall wipe them away so that they will never stick there any more, or be seen there again. There is nobody in the happy company in heaven who either actually weeps or has reason to weep or sorrow for ever.
How can this make us happy on earth?
God’s people, especially in difficult times, should be acquainting themselves with the happiness of glory. This is why the Lord goes to such pains to make it known, and reveal it, and put it on display. The Lord stirs up John, and other believers, to look at it and to believe it and to comfort themselves by it. Believing it will prevent us from fainting, insofar as heaven will make an end of all our difficulties. Believing it will help us to submit to what comes our way here, because that time of happiness is coming. And believing it will make our lives lively and comfortable. We can go empty-handed for the time being, when we can comfort ourselves with the happiness of heaven ahead of us.
If those who are in heaven are those who have “come out of tribulation,” then we can reason that tribulations, and even great tribulations, are the way to glory even for those whom God loves most. Jesus Christ Himself drank of the brook by the way (Psalm 110:7), and was made low before He was exalted. His members follow their Head in a conformity of suffering (Romans 8:28–29; Acts 14:22). Suffering would not seem so grim and terrible-like if we had a better realisation of what comes on the back of it. Let none of us think the worse of glory, or think that the happiness of God’s people is of less worth, because tribulations are in the way to it. Neither let anyone prize an easy life in this world with God’s curse.
Those who are in heaven have “washed their garments in the blood of the Lamb who came through tribulation.” Those who are most righteous, whether in active obedience (keeping the law) or in passive obedience (yielding their bodies to be burnt), have need of Christ’s satisfaction to make them white. These worthies kept themselves free from the pollutions of their time and shunned no suffering, but that was not the basis on which they appeared before God. Holiness is good, but when we seek to appear before God, we must seek to be found in Christ (Philippians 3:9). No merit of ours can bring us through either temporal or spiritual judgments. We get through by the washing of our garments in Christ’s blood.
What can we do to bring the happiness of heaven into our lives now?
- Labour to reach clarity on your right and your part to the happiness of heaven (that is, through Christ, by faith), and long to experience it.
- Back up your longings with endeavours to reach it. I fear sometimes that many of us, when we breathe our last, will realise that we mostly looked on heaven as if it was just a story.
- Mortify your members which are upon the earth (Colossians 3:5). What are all your idols when laid in the balance against the happiness of heaven? What happiness can be compared with enjoying God?
- Use the expectation of this future happiness to comfort yourself, if you have fled to Christ for refuge. Supposing you are in tribulation now, there is a time coming when you will get out of it. Supposing a body of death troubles you now, and needs, oppression, poverty, hunger, nakedness, etc., disadvantage you, yet when you come to heaven you will be troubled with none of these things. None are poor there, all are rich. None are naked, all are clothed with white robes. None are hungry, all are feasted and well fed.
- Seeing all this happiness comes through being washed in the Lamb’s blood, think much of believing! Make that knot sure, because that is what heaven hangs on. Loose that knot, and heaven will fall away from you. Make sure your calling and election, and seek to know that it is sure and beyond question.
Seeing this happiness is ahead, aim to make a good beginning in in it now. How can we do this?
- By serving God, and by holiness ceasing from sin. Those who serve God most uninterruptedly here have the closest resemblance to heaven.
- By enjoying God’s company. We can’t do this un-mediatedly, like they do in heaven, but we can do it by faith in Him, and by His Spirit in us, and by having our life lifted up to Him (Colossians 3:1–2).
- By being in Christ’s flock, under His care and tuition, fed by Him, and led by Him, and feeding on Him, and yielding ourselves up to Him.
- By having a contentedness with our situation in the world, as He is pleased to carve it out to us, learning in every state to be content (Philippians 4) in the enjoying of God and Christ’s care of us.
- By being weaned in our affections away from carnal and worldly pleasures, not indulging in these or thirsting for them.
- In a word, by striving to reach a greater length of holiness, and endeavouring to have fuller communion with God.
Lord, make us serious in seeking these things!
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