Friday, January 24, 2014

What is Heaven Like?

I have never met anyone who really did not want to go to heaven. Once a preacher was preaching on heaven and asked, “Raise your hand if you want to go to heaven.” Everyone raised their hands except a little boy toward the front. The preacher was perplexed, stopped his message and said, “Son don’t you want to go to Heaven?” The little replied, “Yes Sir, but I thought you were getting a bus load to go right now.” We all want to go to Heaven, but some of us don’t want to get there too soon.

I read of a recent poll that suggests that nearly 80% of all Americans believe there is a place called heaven. Not only do most Americans believe in heaven, most people expect to go there when they die. If you asked anyone, "Do you think you will go to heaven when you die?" the vast majority of people would answer, "I hope so," or "I think so," or perhaps "I think I've got a good chance. Not very many people would say they aren't going to heaven and for many Heaven is a mystery! The only things we can know for certain about heaven are the things revealed in the Bible. Everything else is just speculation and hearsay. The Bible tells us everything we need to know and I believe it also tells us everything we can know for certain about heaven.

I. Where is heaven?
There is a story of Billy Graham in a city for a crusade. I'm not sure this is true or not but the story is that Billy was trying to find his way to a certain gas station but seemed to be lost. He stopped and asked a little boy for directions to the gas station. After he boy gave him the directions Billy said, "Son, come to the crusade tonight night and I'll tell you how to get to heaven." Then boy replied, "Sir you don't even know how to get to the gas station, how are are going to tell me how to get to heaven?"

The Bible speaks of three heavens. In 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 Paul said that he was caught up in a vision to the third heaven. What is that? The first heaven is the sky and atmosphere that we see and breathe. The second heaven would be outer space, the Cosmos and everything in it. The third heaven then would be the dwelling place of God or the presence of God. It is very important to know that heaven is a real place. Listen to the words of the Lord Jesus on the night before he was crucified, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3).

Twice in three verses Jesus calls heaven a place. He means that heaven ("my Father's house") is a real place. The place called heaven is just as real as the place you call home. It's a real place filled with real people, which is why the Bible sometimes compares heaven to a mansion with many rooms (John 14:1-3) and sometimes to an enormous city filled with people (Revelation 21).

The Bible also tells us that heaven is the dwelling place of God. His throne is there, the angels are there, and the Lord Jesus Christ is in heaven. Philippians 3:20 says very plainly that "our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ." That's why the Lord Jesus told the thief on the Cross, "Today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43).

The Bible hints that heaven is not as far away as we might think. Because heaven is a real place, we sometimes think it must be outside our present universe, which would mean that it is billions and billions of light years away. However, it's very clear that the early Christians understood that they would pass immediately from this life into the presence of Christ in heaven. Hebrews 12:22-24 tells us something amazing about what the gospel has done for us, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

The writer is here comparing Mt. Sinai with Mt. Zion. Under the old covenant no one could come near God except under very strict conditions. That's why the mountain shook with thunder and lightning. But now in Christ we have been brought near to heavenly realities. Think of what he is saying: We're not that far from heaven. We're not that far from the angels. We're not that far from our loved ones in heaven. We're not that far from God. We're not that far from Jesus himself. Heaven is a real place, it's where the Lord Jesus is right now, and it's not far away from us.

II. What is heaven like?
Because the Lord Jesus came from the Father to earth, He had firsthand knowledge of our glorious future home. Shortly before dying, He told His disciples that He was returning to His Father’s house to prepare a place for them and would come back to take them to their new home. Ever since that day, Christians throughout history have been waiting for His promised return.

Today, when believers die, their souls are ushered instantly into the Lord’s presence to experience all the joys and comforts of heaven (2 Cor. 5:6-9). Jesus will bring them with Him when He returns for His church, and their souls will be reunited with imperishable resurrected bodies (1 Thess. 4:13-17). Those of us who are alive at that time will be changed, our bodies will be transformed from weak, mortal, and sinful to glorious, immortal, and perfect. If you want to know what your new body will be like, look at Jesus’ body after His resurrection. He was not spirit but literal flesh and bone; the disciples could see and touch Him. He even ate with them (Luke 24:36-43). But the best thing about our new bodies is that they will be free of sin and its curse. Never again will we experience an inward struggle to obey our Lord. Nor will we ever live with the pain, suffering, and death that came as a result of the fall of mankind.

Many years after John heard Jesus promise to prepare a place for His followers, he was given a vision of the future. He saw a new heaven and earth that were completely cleansed of all sin. Standing on a high mountain, he watched the New Jerusalem come down out of heaven. The sight was beyond human description, but John did his best to put this amazing vision into earthly language (Rev. 21:1-22:5).

What we have are images and pictures of heaven and comparisons with life on earth. Most of us have heard that heaven is a place where the streets are paved with gold, the gates are made of pearl, and the walls made of precious jewels. Those images come from Revelation 21, which offers us a beautiful picture of heaven. 

I read of this story about a rich man who, on his death bed, negotiated with God to allow him to bring his earthly treasures with him when he came to heaven. God's reaction was that this was a most unusual request, but since this man had been exceptionally faithful, permission was granted to bring along just one suitcase. The time arrived, the man presented himself at the pearly gates, suitcase in hand- BOTH hands, actually, since he had stuffed it with as many bars of gold bullion as would fit. Peter said, "Sorry, you know the rules-you can't take it with you." But the man protested, "God said I could … one suitcase." "OK, Peter said, but I will have to examine the contents before you pass." He took the suitcase, opened it, saw the gold bars and asked "You brought PAVEMENT?" When John writes about a street paved with gold, He simply reports what he saw in his vision. Thus his words are literally true. But they are also meant to tell us that the things we value so highly in this life will be used to pave the roads in heaven.

So what is heaven like? It is God's dwelling place (Psalms 33:13). It is where Christ is today (Acts 1:11). It is where Christians go when they die (Philippians 1:21-23). It is where the Father's house is (John 14:2). It is a city designed and built by God (Hebrews 11:10), and it is a better country (Hebrews 11:16). It is place of great beauty (Revelation 21:1-5, 22:1-5). It is Paradise (Luke 23:43).

III. Who is in Heaven right now?
This question is not difficult to answer. God is in heaven because heaven is his dwelling place. The Lord Jesus has been in heaven ever since he ascended from the earth shortly after his resurrection (Acts 1:9-11). The Bible tells us that angels are in heaven. In fact there are myriads of angels-uncountable numbers of heavenly beings-all of them serving the Lord in various ways.

And the saints of God who died on this earth are in heaven. This would include the Old Testament Saints who by faith trusted in God's Word and looked forward to God's redemption at Calvary. It also includes every true believer who has genuinely trusted in Christ as Lord and Savior. I also think that children who died before the "age of accountability go to heaven and I would also include those born with such mental limitations that they cannot understand the gospel. The Bible teaches that the moment we die we go directly into the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul spoke of this in 2 Corinthians 5:7-8 and Philippians 1:21-23.

But not everyone who dies is in heaven now. Some people won't make it. The Bible speaks of the saved and the lost. The saved are those who trust Jesus Christ as their eternal Savior. The lost are those who do not trust Christ as Savior. This is the great dividing line of humanity, you are either saved or you are lost. And there is no middle category. You will either spend eternity in heaven or eternity in hell.

But I am sure of this one truth. No one will go to heaven except by the grace of God and through the merits of the blood of Jesus Christ. If a man says "No" to Jesus, he has no hope of heaven.

IV. Will we know each other in Heaven?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions about heaven. We will not know less in heaven than we know here. 1 Corinthians 13:12, "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." How does God know us? He knows us completely, intimately, thoroughly, inside and out, with nothing hidden but everything seen as it really is (Psalms 139:1-4; Hebrews 4:12). When we get to heaven we'll know each other as God knows us because all the imperfections of this life will be removed. In this life sin causes us to cover ourselves-not just physically but emotionally and spiritually. But when sin is finally lifted from us, then we can be ourselves with no shame, no pain, no embarrassment, and no covering up. We will know every person in heaven and all of them will be friends and loved ones to us. I'll be the same person then that I am now-only with all the imperfections and limitations of sin finally removed. This is a wonderful thought-that the essence of who we are will remain throughout eternity-yet vastly improved by God's grace. 

That helps me think about a related question that people sometimes ask: How old will we be in heaven? I read of a preacher who said that we will all be 33 years old because that's approximately how old Jesus was when he died. Of course there is no scriptural support for that statement. The truth is, there won't be any age in heaven in the sense we speak of age on the earth. Growing old is a function of the decaying effects of sin. I do not believe that babies who die in infancy will be babies for eternity nor do I believe that people who waste away of cancer will appear emaciated in heaven. It will be something else entirely - which I can barely explain and certainly do not understand.

In heaven we will know each other intimately. That's why Peter, James and John recognized Moses and Elijah, even though they had been dead for hundreds of years, on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9). I don't think they had nametags on. I think there was something about those two men that made Peter, James and John recognize them even though they had never seen them before.

That's why a spouse dies his or hers mate will be able to pick her husband or his wife out of a crowd of billions of people, even though they haven't seen them for many years since they died. How this can be I do not know, but I believe it to be true. In heaven there will be no strangers.

V. What will we do in heaven?
I had a cousin who said, "Worshipping God forever in heaven sounds boring.” Again, the Bible doesn't tell us everything we would like to know, but rest assured Heaven won't be boring! 

So what are those who are in Heaven now doing and what will we do for all eternity? We might get some insight from passages like Revelation 4, 6:9-11, 21:1-5, 22:1-5. We must keep in mind that the present heaven and the eternal heaven are not the same, yet many of the features are. While time does not permit to go into the details of these passages and while the circumstances in them are different, one thing we can see is the characteristics of Heaven. Many have had questions like “do people in heaven remember life on earth?” Luke 16:19-31 might provide some insight to that. We learn there that there is a consciousness, recognition and a remembrance. Another question that is often asked is “do people in heaven right now see what is happening on earth?” Again, Revelation 6 shows us that the inhabitants of heaven in that day know what is happening on the earth then, at least to some extent. Some have said can it be heaven for people now if they are aware of anything bad on the earth. But what we must remember that those in Heaven have the perspective of Heaven (Isaiah 66:24).

While there are many questions we just can’t answer, but we do know that in Heaven we will worship without distraction. Serve without exhaustion. Fellowship without fear, learn without fatigue and rest without boredom. The best part of heaven will be seeing Jesus himself face to face. We will worship the Son of God and celebrate his great victory over sin while the endless ages of eternity roll on and on. The best music you've ever heard will pale compared to the music of heaven. The most awesome worship you've experienced on earth is but a dim reflection of the praise we will render around the throne of God.

VI. How can I be sure I am going to heaven?
The Bible clearly states that after death, there are only two possible destinies for mankind—heaven or hell. In a story that vividly contrasted the comfort of eternal life with everlasting torment, Jesus explained that switching locations is impossible (Luke 16:19-31). You cannot buy your way out of hell and into heaven before you die and no one can pray you out of hell and into heaven after you die. Knowing this, we would be foolish to ignore God’s Word and risk relying on our own ideas about how to get to heaven. Many people think that eternal destiny is determined by behavior. If their good works outweigh the bad, they believe God will accept them. But the Lord says all our good works are like filthy rags in His sight (Isa. 64:6). Since every person on earth inherits a fallen nature, no one is qualified to enter God’s holy dwelling place. Our entrance into heaven has nothing to do with how good we are; what matters is how good Jesus is, and what He did for us. He lived an absolutely perfect life and paid the penalty for our sin by dying in our place. Those who believe this and accept His payment on their behalf are given a ticket to heaven which can never be revoked.

God has made it easy for you to go to heaven. He did the hard part when he sent his Son to die on the Cross for you. He paid the price for your sins so that you could one day stand before God in heaven. Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). He also said, "I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved" (John 10:9). Jesus is not only the way to Heaven; he is also the door to heaven. If you want to go to heaven, you've got to go through the door marked "Jesus Christ." There is no other entrance.

I heard a story of President Ronald Reagan, when asked, "Suppose you were to die and found yourself standing at the door of heaven. If God were to say, 'Why should I let you into heaven?' what answer would you give?" The President paused, thought for a moment, then replied, "Well, I guess I'd have to answer with John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life." That is indeed a good answer because your only hope of heaven is through the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Let me make this very personal. If you were to die, do you know for certain that you would go to heaven? I've already said that this is too important to say "I think so" or "I hope so." If you're wrong, you're going to be wrong for a long, long time.



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