Heaven: What is it?

Maybe you’ve heard the old saying that “Christians can be so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.”  But today, I don’t believe that is true.  The opposite seems to be more accurate: Christians don’t think of heaven enough!  We don’t study the Scripture enough to shape our way of thinking of the afterlife. In our rather diverse society, we must recover the notion tha the Bible must guide our thinking on the matter.

Listen to what pastor and author John Piper said about heaven:

“I believe with all my heart that in order to be useful in this world, we must fall in love with another world.  In order to transform this world for the glory of Christ we must be saturated with the glory and wisdom of another world.  In order to be changed from one degree of glory to another now we must hope fully in the grace that is about to be revealed to us soon.  In order to be the light of the world we must put our torch in the flame of heaven.”

It is quite possible for us to exist in this world, and even attend church most Sundays, and hear little about heaven.  In the following post, let’s consider two passages and ask the question: “What is heaven?”

First of all, it is a different place, unlike this world.  In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul discusses his trip to heaven.  Many think that this occurred when he was stoned and left for dead in Acts 14:19.  First of all, Paul calls it Paradise.  Jesus also called it Paradise when he said to the thief being crucified with him, who asked to the Lord to remember him.  Jesus said: “Today, you will be with Me in paradise.”  Paul says it was the “third heaven.” It is a spiritual place.  Paul does not know if he was in the body or out of the body. It is a high place.  Heaven is a place different from this earth, unlike anything we’ve experienced.  Psalm 148:4: “Praise Him, highest heavens, and the waters that are above the heavens!”  The scene of God’s throne in Isaiah depicts the Lord being surrounded by angels, who cry out “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Secondly, it is the place of God’s faithful.  Notice that it is the place of Abraham’s side.  Lazarus was brought there after he died.  Abraham is the father of many nations, the father of faith.  Abraham believed in God and God reckoned it to him as righteousness.  Abraham was the friend of God.  All those who have a similar faith are known as children of Abraham.  Galatians 3:29 tells us: “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Christianity is the fulfillment of Biblical Judaism.  As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:20: “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.” All of those who have trusted in Christ, from the point of anticipation in the Old Testament, to the point of faith in the New Testament up to our present time and until He returns, will be there.

Thirdly, it is a place of comfort.  Unlike his time on earth, where his poverty ruled his life, Lazarus was comforted there.  He was given relief.  He was made whole.  Luke 16:25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.”  In heaven there is no agony nor the causes of agony.  In the new heaven and earth, John the Apostle wrote: “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.”  (Revelation 21:4)  There, bodies will be whole.  There will be no cancer, no diabetes, and no depression.  It will be a place where there is no infirmity; only complete wholeness and holiness.

Fourthly, it is a place where wonderful things are spoken; too wonderful for Paul to repeat.  The vision and the sound would otherwise cause him to boast, but he was prohibited. 1 Corinthians 2:9: “However, as it is written: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’– There will be surprises in heaven.  I do not know if our pets will be there; they do not have souls.  But we will recognize others and be recognizable.  Whatever and whomever will be there, it is a place of joy, happiness and peace, surrounding the glory of God in Christ.

Fifthly, everyone wants to go there, but not everyone will be there.  As a pastor, I’m surprised at how regular people speak of their loved one who is now “out of suffering” or “in a much better place,” when sometimes there is no outward evidence of that person trusting Christ.  Jesus said many will say on that day: “Lord, Lord, did we not do this or that.”  And He will say to them, “Depart from Me, for I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:23)

I’m sure that the rich man, feeling confident in his Judaism, assumed that he would be at Abraham’s side. He may have attended synagogue.  He could have recited the Ten Commandments in order.  He could have given alms.  But he lived with no consciousness of God.  He believed that life was one continual party.  The rich man cared too much about worthless things and did not place enough care in things that mattered.

Notice the clear teaching that there is no second chance after death.  And there is no relief in hell.  The rich man is in agony.  He is conscious of his state.  He sees Abraham and Lazarus.  He asks for relief, but there is none.  He cannot communicate with his brothers who are still living.  He cannot convince Abraham of sending added testimony to them.

God has given us enough in the plain teaching of His word, what we are to believe about this life and the life hereafter.  And this story clearly shows that there are two places: Paradise and Hades, and arrival there is based your spiritual sobriety, to see your need for Christ.  Hebrews 9:27: “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment….”  The real question is are we prepared for death and that Day of Judgment?

Lastly, we must know how to get there.  Tom Curtis was a successful business man who lived in Florida in the 1980’s.  He had a family, a nice home and a fancy car.  But tragedy struck when his teenage boy was hanging out with his friends in the garage.  His son was splashed with gas and his friends lit a match.  Most of his body was burned beyond recognition.

The boy was rushed to the hospital.  In the ensuing weeks, the situation grew more and more difficult.  Before the son passed away, Tom talked with him.  The son said: “Dad, do you believe in Jesus?”  Tom said: “How can I believe in someone that is dead?”  The son said: “Dad, I’ve seen Him and He’s alive.”  Sometime afterwards, Tom became a Christian and has dedicated his life to seeing others come to faith.  He and his wife Carolyn operate SOS ministries in Florida.  Tom now tells people that there are three things that God cannot do.

He cannot lie. Titus 1:1: “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness– 2 a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time,”  The God we serve is the God of truth.  He cannot mislead.

He cannot change. Malachi 3: 6 “I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. 7 Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,”  God’s character is constant.  He is fair and just.

He cannot let anyone into heaven unless he is born again.  John 3:3-5: Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” 4 “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” 5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”

If you were to die tonight, where would you spend eternity?  That is the most important question.  Are you 50% sure?  75% sure or 100% sure that you are going to heaven when you die? God has made a way that you could be 100% sure.

Admit you’re a sinner and turn from your sin.  All of are guilty before a holy God.  We are 100 % in need of forgiveness of sin.  The 17th c. Puritan John Owen said: “Poor souls are apt to think that all those whom they read or hear of to be gone to heaven, went there because they were so good and so holy…. Yet not one of them, not any one that is now in heaven (Jesus Christ alone excepted), did ever arrive there any other way but by forgiveness of sins.”

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.  God has provided one way that we can be forgiven.  That is through the blood of His Son Jesus Christ.  1 Peter 3:18 tells us: “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;” Jesus death on the cross is the only sufficient way of paying for our sin.

It was on the cross that Jesus provided for our atonement.  No other place did He do this.  Peter tells us: “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed (1 Peter 2:24).”

Call upon Him.  Romans 10:13 tells us: “…for “Whoever will call upon the name of the LORD will be saved.”  It takes faith expressed to become one of God’s children. God wants us to communicate to Him and acknowledge our need for Him. Faith begins by humbly asking Christ to come in and rule your life.

Such expression usually includes a simple prayer, like the following: “Lord Jesus, I admit I am a sinner.  I believe you died on the cross for forgiveness of my sins; I ask that you forgive my sins, come into my heart and make my life new.  I receive you as my Savior.  Thank you, Jesus.  Amen.”

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