Whom will Christians see in Heaven? Will it be God or Jesus? Both answers have been given throughout the history of the Church and they are still to be heard today. But will it be the one and not the other? Or even the one apart from the other? Let us explore.
It is not surprising that Christians turn to the last book of the Bible for descriptions of Heaven. Opening with “In the beginning” it cannot be a coincidence that it closes with their end. Its two final chapters collect and enhance glimpses of the eternal realm to be found in its earlier pages. Some of these will be noted here but a good cross-referencing system will show how many there are. The whole of the Bible should be read with the End in view. Its ultimate author is “the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev 22:13).
Using the expression “a new heaven and a new earth” the Apostle John describes Heaven as a universe with “no more sea” which is probably a way of noting that all the upheaval caused by evil has been obliterated (Isa 57:20, 21). But it also appears to him as a “holy city” whose name is “the new Jerusalem” (21:2). Heaven is all that the “Old Jerusalem” was intended to exemplify—and more!
Although Jerusalem is first mentioned in the Old Testament in Abraham’s time (Gen 14:17–20), its connection with David is what is in view in what John writes. David made it his capital and the focal point of Israel’s national and religious life by locating the Ark of the Covenant there in a tent, recalling the days of the Tabernacle (2 Sam 6:17).
It was therefore a sacred city before it had a temple built in it. In fact, there was an uneasy moment about having one there at all (see 1Chron. 17), and it was often a focus of dispute between the LORD and Israel especially as kings and priests were corrupting it (see Jer.7:1-15). As a judgment on such infidelity, city and temple were both destroyed— twice—by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. and then finally by the Romans in A.D. 70–as Jesus had predicted (Matt 24:1, 2).
In contrast, John saw a “new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God”. It was a “holy city”, a temple-shrine patterned after Ezekiel’s visions (40:1-48:35). Its foundation stones resembled Solomon’s Temple and its cube-like dimensions, the Holy of Holies (1 Kings 6:20–22). This city-temple is where God will live with his worshipping people, and they with him. It is flooded with his glory (1 Kings 6:11, 23), a light that exceeds that of sun and moon combined (v. 23). It shines through a lamp which is the Lamb. That metaphor has a significant bearing on the question with which we began.
The Tabernacle (and Temple) had a seven-branched golden candelabrum which stood just outside the veil before the Holy of Holies (Lev 24:1-4). It was to be kept alight by the priests and it came to be called “the lamp of God” (1 Sam 3:3). It symbolised God’s presence with his worshipping people but also his distance from them.
In his Gospel, John records that Jesus spoke of a “light” in a “lamp.” He said to his hearers that John the Baptist was “a burning and a shining lamp” in whose “light” they “were willing for a season to rejoice” (Rev 5:35; 10:41). John emitted rays of “the light of the world” (Rev 8:12 see also Rev 1:6–8) in everything that he said about Jesus. And so, just as the glory of Jesus shone in and through John, the glory of God who is “invisible” (1 Tim 1:17; 6:16) will shine through Jesus, the Lamb in Heaven. Even there he mediates between God and man but not as one who reconciles (that is done and cannot be repeated) but as one who reveals.
In the Gospel and the Apocalypse, John refers to Jesus as “the Lamb.” It is well known that he uses different nouns in doing so but what is of greater significance is the different way in which he links the term with “God.” In the Gospel, John refers to “the Lamb of God”: in the Apocalypse to “God and the Lamb”.
The Gospel’s focus on “the Lamb of God” is related to an atoning sacrifice that “takes away the sin of the world (Jn.1:29, 35) and that is echoed in the Apocalypse (see Rev 5:5, 9; 12:11; 13:9). But there the emphasis there is on the “Lamb” who is worthy to unseal the scroll of God’s purpose for all creation. He is “the lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David”, equipped with the fullness of the Spirit’s power and knowledge (seven horns and eyes) to carry it forward to its accomplishment. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
In the Book of Revelation, the slain Lamb is glorified and sitting on the throne he reigns with and for the Lord God Almighty (5:13). He judges in wrath (6:16), conquers Satan and his hosts (Rev 19:11) and banishes them to “the lake of fire.” He saves and shepherds his own eternally with tender care and brings them into the presence of God eternally (Rev 7:15–17; 22:1–4).
And so by way of answer to the question—“Who is it that Christians will see in heaven – God or Jesus?”—is it not totally inappropriate to think of seeing either without the other, or even either apart from the other. They are inseparable—God is triune.
The Apostle John said that “No one has ever seen God (John 1:18) and the Apostle Paul agreed but added that “no one can” do so (1 Tim 6:16). If any human being could, or did, it would mean total destruction because “No one can see my face and live” applies universally (Ex 33:20). But God who “dwells in light unapproachable” will be seen because he has revealed himself in Jesus and so he will be known in him and all who do so will live eternally.
It is therefore God in Jesus Christ that every Christian will see. But something of that order has already happened. By the Spirit’s regenerating power and reception of the gospel every believer has seen “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:6). They will therefore not be seeing God in Christ for the first time in Heaven. All believers will instantly recognise God in and through Jesus and he will own them as those whom he has known from before the foundation of the world.
But what a difference there will be No longer will that vision be “through a mirror dimly” but “face to face”—and for ever.
©Hywel R. Jones. All Rights Reserved.
- How To Subscribe To Heidelmedia
- The Heidelblog Resource Page
- How to support Heidelmedia: use the donate button below this post or on the front page.
- Heidelmedia Resources
- The Ecumenical Creeds
- The Reformed Confessions
- The Heidelberg Catechism
- Recovering the Reformed Confession (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008)
- Hywel Jones: Between Resurrection and Ascension: In Lockdown
- Office Hours: Hywel Jones On The Role Of The Holy Spirit In Sanctification
- Office Hours: Hywel Jones on Hebrews 8
- Office Hours: Hywel Jones on Preaching the Doctrine of Regeneration (You Need to Hear This)
- Audio: Hywel Jones on Counseling from Job
- Audio: Hywel Jones on Gen 2:8-3:6
- Audio: Hywel Jones on Gen 3:1
- For Jesus’ Sake: Hywel Jones’ Message to WSC Grads
- Hywel Jones on Christian Exclusivism
- Hywel Jones on Preaching Sola Fide
- Hywel Jones on the Apostle John’s Opposition to Idolatry