Heaven is only heaven because it is the place where God dwells. To “go to heaven” is to be ushered into the presence of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:8). In the same way that eternal life is more about a quality of fellowship than a quantity of lifespan (John 17:3), so heaven centers around a Person more than a place.
Jonathan Edwards aptly summarized that truth in these words:
The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows, but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams. But God is the ocean.
Above all else, it is God’s personal presence that makes heaven what it is. It is not heaven because it is beautiful and glorious; or because the saints of all the ages are there; or because angels lift up their voices in magnificent hymns of praise. On the contrary, it is only heaven, because the Triune God makes it His dwelling place. In the words of D. L. Moody, “It is not the jaspar walls and the pearly gates that are going to make heaven attractive. It is the being with God.”
In heaven, the redeemed will be reunited with their Redeemer. Spending eternity with Him in perfect fellowship, worship, and service is what makes eternity so glorious. His presence is heaven’s essence. Charles Spurgeon poignantly reiteraed the point like this:
Oh, to think of heaven without Christ! It is the same thing as thinking of hell. Heaven without Christ! It is day without the sun, existing without life, feasting without food, seeing without light. It involves a contradiction in terms. Heaven without Christ! Absurd. It is the sea without water, the earth without its fields, the heavens without their stars. There cannot be a heaven without Christ. He is the sum total of bliss, the fountain from which heaven flows, the element of which heaven is composed. Christ is heaven and heaven is Christ.
In the last chapter of the Bible (Revelation 22), the apostle John brings his description of the New Earth and the New Jerusalem to its climax. Appropriately, his focus centers on the glorious presence of God and of the Lamb. The eternal heaven is defined by the everlasting glory of the Triune God.
In the apostle John’s other writings, the concepts of life, light, and love are all intrinsically linked to God. In places like John 1:4 and John 5:26, the apostle explains that God is Life, in the sense of being the Giver and Source of all life. In 1 John 1:5, he writes that God is Light, speaking of His glorious holiness and perfection. And in 1 John 4:8, John records that God is Love, meaning that He is characterized by the infinite love which He demonstrated through the cross of Christ.
Those three realities will characterize the eternal heaven (e.g. the New Earth with its capital city, the New Jerusalem).
First, the New Jerusalem will be characterized by the life of God (Rev. 22:1–2). The river of life, containing the water of life, flows out from His throne (v. 1). Its banks are populated with the tree of life (v. 2), the fruit of which gives everlasting life to all who eat. The Source of this life is God Himself. In the New Jerusalem, every thirst is quenched with the water of life; and every hunger pain is satisfied by the tree of life. Though John is describing physical features, these elements also symbolize spiritual life. As Jesus prayed in John 17:3, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” For all of eternity, the redeemed will never experience any shortage or lack of any kind, because they will be with the fountain of living water, in the presence of God and of the Lamb.
Second, the New Jerusalem will be marked by the love of God (vv. 3–4). His judgment has been removed and His presence restored (v. 3). The separation between God and man that characterizes this sin-stain no longer remains. For eternity, believers will enjoy intimate fellowship with the King of kings. Yet, their love will not only be manifest in deep communion and heartfelt worship, but also in a desire to serve—being able to do so without any reluctance or deficiency. In John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” In heaven, those who love Him will keep His commandments perfectly.
Third, the New Jerusalem will be engulfed in the light of God (v. 5). In the final verse of his heavenly vision, John reiterates once more that the glory of heaven will shine with unsurpassed radiance and brilliance. The shadows of night have disappeared, and so has the need for a lamp. Even sunlight is no longer required. The radiance of God’s glory illumines everything and everyone. It is here—as they bathe in the wonder of His majesty—that the redeemed will “reign forever and ever” as the bond slaves of their heavenly Sovereign, worshipping Him in perfection for all of eternity.
What makes the New Jersualem so marvelous?
It is not its heavenly origin or its incredible dimensions. It is not the sparkling jewels or translucent gold. It is not the absence of night or the presence of angels. All of those things are amazing, but they are simply byproducts of the fact that God Himself is at the center of it all. His life sustains it all; His love makes it possible for us to enjoy; and His light illumines it with an indescribable radiance. The New Jerusalem is the centerpiece of the New Earth because the Triune God dwells there; and He is the centerpiece of all eternity.