Posts Tagged 'heaven'

Video Sermon – Lessons on Heaven

Have you ever wondered what heaven will be like?  Golden streets? Pearly gates? Seas of glass? Every house a mansion? Metaphors notwithstanding, Jesus taught about heaven in the Upper Room. Click on the link and learn about your forever home in eternity.

CLICK HERE

 

Panic Podcast – Our Great Salvation: Salvation in the Future Tense

We looked at salvation in the past (you were saved), and salvation in the present tense (you are being saved), and today I want to focus on our great salvation in the future tense (you will be saved).

 

The End of Death

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Harold Kushner got the worst news a father could get when his son was three years old. He had been diagnosed with a degenerative disease that meant the boy would live in almost constant pain until the of his death. He wasn’t expected lived past his teen years. This terrible situation made Kushner ask a question a lot of people have asked: Why God? In fact, years later, Harold Kushner would write a best selling book that examines the question of suffering, and you’ve likely either heard of it or read it: Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? Out of his family’s suffering, many people have found a measure of comfort in Kushner’s observations on the subject.

Somebody else who suffered greatly was Eliza Edmunds Hewitt. She was born on June 21, 1851 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She attended the Girls Normal School and was the valedictorian of her class when she graduated, and she became a teacher.

She led a charmed life, until the day of her suffering came. In no time, she was confined to bed with an awful spinal problem. She was in constant pain for years. Her grand children think her condition resulted from a very minor accident on the playground when she was child in school. Her whole life changed. No longer able to teach or walk or enjoy a normal life, Eliza Edmunds Hewitt could easily have become bitter and miserable, spending her lonely days and nights blaming God for the sorry state of her life. Instead of that, though, she put pen to paper and wrote words that we sing in church today:

Sing the wondrous love of Jesus,
Sing His mercy and His grace;
In the mansions bright and blessed,
He’ll prepare for us a place.

Refrain:

When we all get to heaven,
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
We’ll sing and shout the victory!

While we walk the pilgrim pathway,
Clouds will overspread the sky;
But when trav’ling days are over,
Not a shadow, not a sigh.

Let us then be true and faithful,
Trusting, serving every day;
Just one glimpse of Him in glory
Will the toils of life repay.

Onward to the prize before us!
Soon His beauty we’ll behold;
Soon the pearly gates will open;
We shall tread the streets of gold.

She would later recover somewhat and return to an almost normal life, although she would have recurrences of the pain until the day she died. It’s amazing that in the midst of a far less than ideal life, a woman like Eliza Hewitt could write songs about life in Heaven!

A lot of people think about heaven, though. They may not write books or songs about it, but they long for a day when their suffering will come to an end and a life without pain or struggle. Christians know Heaven is that place. Christians also know they have to die to get there. That’s a good news-bad news kind of thing. In considering our eventual end, what we’re really considering is our own personal eschatology. While most of us know that “eschatology” is a study of end-time events, it is also a term that describes how WE will end. So, let’s try to get a grasp on an issue we all think about, but world rather not talk about.

Death

We all die. In spite of Bible verses like this one, there’s not a person reading this who won’t die:

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55c-57 | NIV84)

It sure seems like there’s no victory over death! But of course, we know that’s not exactly what Paul is getting at in those verses. The fact is, sooner or later, we will all die. There is no escaping death.

Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27-28 | NIV84)

“Man is destined to die.” There it is, in black and white. Now we know that we human beings die only physically; our souls live on. Our Lord taught as much:

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. (Matthew 10:28a | NIV84)

In a very real sense, man is an immortal being the minute he is born into this world. His body may die, but he will continue on for all of eternity, in one location or another. But make no mistake about it, what kills the body is not cancer or heart disease or old age. Ultimately, sin is what kills the human body. Death is the result of sin entering the world.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 | NIV84)

An interesting thought, though, is this line of reasoning from the apostle Paul to the Romans in Romans 5. In that chapter, he taught that death entered the world through the act of one man, Adam. We are Adam’s descendant and therefore we inherit his ability to not only sin but also to die. But the Christian has been set free from that curse thanks to Christ’s death. We are no longer slaves to sin. Why, we might ask Paul, do Christians still die? Obviously death was originally the punishment (or as Paul wrote, the “wage”) for sin, but there is no possibility of any kind of punishment for the Christian. God’s wrath has been removed from us.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.(Romans 8:1-2 | NIV84)

The answer to that question takes us back to the cases of Harold Kushner and Eliza Hewitt and God’s remarkable ability to take an intolerable situation and turn it into something good and beneficial. For years, Kushner’s book has brought comfort and solace to countless people who have lost loved ones or who are going through some sort of tragedy. Generations of Christians have been uplifted and able to worship God as they sung the words to Eliza Hewitt’s hymns, written from her sick bed. God has done the same thing with death. For the Christian, what appears to be a disaster is really the means by which our salvation is consummated. Death becomes the doorway to eternal life with the Father. Death is merely a part of the sanctification process that will lead to our final resurrection.

The Intermediate State

But what happens after we die? Theologians refer this period immediately after death as our “intermediate state.” It’s called “intermediate” because it’s a temporary state. It’s that period of time after our physical death and before our resurrection. While our body remains in the grave when it dies, our soul and spirit will be made perfect when they are freed from the body and pass directly into glory.

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:6-8 | NIV84)

I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. (Philippians 1:23-24 | NIV84)

During this period, we will be conscious. Some religions teach “soul sleep,” but the Bible makes it clear that there is no such thing. After death and during this “intermediate state,” we are fully awake and fully aware of what’s happening and fully aware of where we are. For the believer, our destination is heaven, or “Abraham’s side” in the parable Jesus told. For the unrepentant sinner, the destination is a less than desirable location. What should be noted in this parable is that in either location, the soul/spirit is conscious.

The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. (Luke 16:22-23 | NIV84)

At the final resurrection, both parties receive their body and will spend eternity in a location based on God’s righteous judgment. The unrepentant sinner (the “rich man” in the parable) will spend an eternity of his own making, based on his rejection of God’s truth and the quality of the life he lived.

Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. (Matthew 11:21-22 | NIV84)

The believer (a fellow named “Lazarus” in the parable) enters his “final state” in his glorified body and will receive his inheritance or reward and will forever dwell in the New Heavens and the New Earth, Revelation 21, 22.

  • The Resurrection

Let’s take a closer look at our resurrection. Christians are very familiar with Christ’s Resurrection; we celebrate that event every Easter! But we are generally uninformed about our resurrection, even though it is spoken of many times in Scripture.

Basically, the Bible teaches that when Christ returns, the dead will be raised. The entirety of 1 Corinthians 15 deals with this very topic, and so do these verses:

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:2 | NIV84)

Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:24-26 | NIV84)

It’s hard to get your mind wrapped around this, but the resurrection of our bodies will be similar to that of Christ’s and at that time we will receive our eternal, glorified bodies. This is called the “redemption of our bodies,” meaning that our old, worn out bodies will be exchanged for our perfect ones. All this happens in an instant.

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23 | NIV84)

Both the saved and the unsaved will be raised, but there are different ideas as to the exact order of timing events. For now, the important thing to remember is that death is not the end for either the saved or the unsaved. Both will live on in eternity, in one location or the other, and each will receive a new “house” for their spirit/soul.

Heaven

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What is heaven? Is it a place? Is it an idea? Is it “up there”? Or is it “out there”? Lots of people have lots of ideas about this place known as heaven. All religions speak of a place where “true believers” go to after death. Depending on what religion you are a part of, heaven may be full of angels, clouds, virgins, harps, saints, flowers, and rolling hills. What Christians know about heaven comes from the Bible. But that doesn’t stop them from coming up with sentimental visions of a place that bears little resemblance to Biblical reality.

There’s an old joke about heaven that goes something like this:

Once upon a time, a Christian man died and went up to heaven. Upon arriving at the Pearly Gates, he was ushered into his eternal destination. An angel came up to him and took him on a walking tour around heaven. He was very impressed with the streets of gold and marveled at all the magnificent mansions he passed by. On and on they walked and the man was wondering where his mansion was. The angel told him his home was located on the outskirts of town. As they walked out of town, the angel stopped just in front of a small cabin. Pointing to the very humble structure, he informed the man, “And here is your place.”

The man was taken aback. Why wasn’t his eternal home a palatial palace like all the buildings he passed by. The angel grinned and said, “The engineers did the best they could with all the stuff you sent up before you arrived.”

Of course, this is only a joke. Or is some of it actually true? Let’s put our sentiment aside for a while and consider what the Bible has to say about heaven.

2 Kings 2:9 – 12

As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them apart. (2 Kings 2:11-12 | NIV84)

This is an incident involving Elijah and Elisha. There is a lot of speculation as to precisely what happened to the great prophet Elijah, but one this is certain: he didn’t die. What happened to him? Elijah was a man, but he was a man who walked in the presence of God. That fact is demonstrated by the appearance of a “fiery chariot.” Elijah was transported bodily upward away from the surface of the earth. But where did the prophet go? Jesus gives us a clue:

No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven–the Son of Man. (John 3:13a | NIV84)

According to Jesus, who should know, there is no way that Elijah went to the place He, Jesus, came from. So what did the Chronicler mean when he used the word “heaven”? In the Bible, the word “heaven” can describe any one of three places:

(1) God’s throne room. This is the “third heaven.” See 2 Corinthians 12:2, 3.

(2) The physical universe where the stars and planets and galaxies are. This is the “second heaven.”

(3) Earth’s atmosphere – the sky. This is the “first heaven.”

Elijah could not have gone bodily into the “third heaven,” as Jesus Himself indicated. It’s highly unlikely he was beamed up into the universe someplace since Elisha watched him ascend. Elijah, then, was taken up into our atmosphere, the so-called “first heaven.” Many Bible readers simply assume that at this point, the prophet was somehow made immoral and taken INTO heaven (the “third heaven”), the place where God resides. We know this didn’t happen because Jesus said it didn’t, and the Sons of the Prophets knew it didn’t, too. They knew that Elijah had simply been moved from one place to another.

“Look,” they said, “we your servants have fifty able men. Let them go and look for your master. Perhaps the Spirit of the Lord has picked him up and set him down on some mountain or in some valley.”“No,” Elisha replied, “do not send them.” (2 Kings 2:16 | NIV84)

Fifty men searched for days and couldn’t find Elijah, but that doesn’t mean he had vanished. In fact, Elijah was alive and still active long after the fiery chariot took him away. He actually wrote a letter to King Jehoram years after the events recorded here in 2 Kings 2:16. The text of the letter is found in 2 Chronicles 21:12 – 15, and begins like this:

Jehoram received a letter from Elijah the prophet, which said: “This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: ‘You have not walked in the ways of your father Jehoshaphat or of Asa king of Judah.’ (2 Chronicles 21:12 | NIV84)

Like a chess piece, the Lord simply plucked Elijah up and moved him to another location in Israel where he lived out the remainder of his years. The Lord graciously moved him out of the way and out of the limelight so that his successor, Elisha, could do the work to which he was called.

So the first thing we learn about heaven is that one must die to get there.

Matthew 6:19 – 21

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21 | NIV84)

Jesus is not telling us not to save for our retirement or not to acquire things during our lifetime on earth. For Him, as it should be for us, it was all about keeping life in the proper perspective. It’s fine to be prudent in our investments, but obsessing over them is wrong. It’s nice to have nice things if we can afford them, but to chase after material things at the expense of caring for our spiritual side creates a terrible imbalance. The most important aspect of our lives should be – yet seldom is – the spiritual aspect.

What did Jesus mean when He referred to “treasures in heaven?” Broadly speaking, Jesus is referring to things like holiness of character, obedience to God’s Word, service to God, and to our fellow man. In other words, spiritually speaking, we are preparing for our eternal life in heaven by living right (or righteously) while here on earth.

The life we live here in the flesh should be lived with an eye to our eternal life. Keeping a “heavenly perspective” will serve to keep our lives in balance.

Luke 10:10 – 20

I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:19-20 | NIV84)

Jesus had appointed 72 “missionaries” to go and preach His Gospel. They did this and more:

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” (Luke 10:17 | NIV84)

They, of course, were thrilled with the work they had done in Christ’s Name, and our Lord shared their joy. Then however, He brought them back down to earth with another bit of perspective necessary for living life in balance. These missionaries, and Christians today, ought to rejoice primarily in God’s grace; namely, the fact of salvation by grace. Accomplishing any good work for God is cause to rejoice, but nothing compares to being saved by grace. We ought always to remember and rejoice over the simple fact that our names are written in heaven.

John 14:1 – 4

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that 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. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

This advice was given to some very troubled disciples, and they had good reasons to be troubled. Jesus had just told them that He would be leaving them soon. He told them that a traitor was in their midst. And Jesus told Peter that he would fail Him before all was said and done. What our Lord told His disciples, and what He is telling us through His Word, is His remedy for anxiety.

When we, like the disciples, feel anxious, according to Jesus we should: Continue in our belief in God and in Him. No matter what circumstances we find ourselves in or how bleak the outlook may be, our hearts should never be troubled and our faith shouldn’t waver. Think about these disciples. Their leader was going to be leaving shortly. Trust in God is a sure remedy for anxious feelings.

Furthermore, our Lord talked about the kind of life all believers may expect to enjoy. The future for followers of Jesus will be marked by a reunion (or a joining) with Jesus Christ. He will not forget those who belong to Him, and at the right time He will come back or take them to be with Him.

Jesus indicated to His disciples that there are “many rooms” in heaven. The idea is that there is an infinite number of “dwelling places” in heaven, each one specifically prepared by Jesus for individual believers. These “dwelling places,” or “mansions,” as some translations read, will be permanent; they will be our homes for all of eternity.

This aspect of heaven has both a future aspect but also a present aspect. In the midst of hurried and harried lives, we can think ahead to heaven and our heavenly home and that should calm our nerves and give us a sense serenity.

Acts 1:7 – 11

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:7, 8 NIV)

While it is a good idea to pause periodically to think about heaven, Christians do have work to do in the here-and-now. Jesus told His disciples that nobody knows the future; nobody knows what’s going to happen in the days ahead, only God the Father does and He usually doesn’t let us in on His plans. While the disciples, past and present, wait for their Lord to return, their job is a simple one: to be witnesses for Jesus Christ. We are to take Christ’s message of forgiveness of sins and salvation by grace to as many places as we can get to and share it with as many people as will listen.

We know that our Lord will return someday. While we wait we are to busy ourselves with fulfilling the Great Commission. We don’t have the luxury of standing around, looking wistfully into heaven waiting for the Lord to step out on a cloud and call us home. No man knows when that will happen.

Hebrews 12:18 – 25

So see to it that you obey him who is speaking to you. For if the people of Israel did not escape when they refused to listen to Moses, the earthly messenger, how terrible our danger if we refuse to listen to God who speaks to us from heaven! (Hebrews 12:25 TLB)

Thoughts of our heavenly reward and of our heavenly home are useful for encouraging us when we may be tempted to become discouraged. But heaven may also be used as part of an overall admonition. The writer to the Hebrews does this.

So take a new grip with your tired hands, stand firm on your shaky legs, and mark out a straight, smooth path for your feet so that those who follow you, though weak and lame, will not fall and hurt themselves but become strong. (Hebrews 12:12, 13 TLB)

Christians need to remain strong in their faith, especially in light of the facts of who God is, what He has done, and where He comes from. Previous generations dealt with God, for example, at Mount Sinai, which was all well and good for them at that time, but that’s in the past.

But you have come right up into Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the gathering of countless happy angels; and to the church, composed of all those registered in heaven; and to God who is Judge of all; and to the spirits of the redeemed in heaven, already made perfect (Hebrews 12:22, 23 TLB)

No longer do believers deal with God, symbolically speaking, at Mount Sinai with all its attendant laws and regulations. That old order of things has passed away. Now we are able to approach God on Mount Zion, Jerusalem, where the Temple was built and Jesus crucified. From the hill of that city He ascended to heaven. The “city of the living God” on earth was a mere reflection of the heavenly Jerusalem, the place where saints who have been made perfect and angels dwell. It is also the place from where God judges.

Jesus is the reason why the old order has wasted away. The blood of Jesus, which provided atonement and forgiveness for sins, made this entrance into heaven possible.

So see to it that you obey him who is speaking to you. (Hebrews 12:25 TLB)

Considering, then, what Jesus’ shed blood has wrought, we Christians need to pay attention to what He says and do what He tells us to do. Our eternity in heaven depends upon it, in once sense.

When he spoke from Mount Sinai his voice shook the earth, but, “Next time,” he says, “I will not only shake the earth but the heavens too.” By this he means that he will sift out everything without solid foundations so that only unshakable things will be left. (Hebrews 12:26, 27 TLB)

When God spoke to previous generations of believers at Mount Sinai, the earth moved. But, as Haggai 2:6 says, the next time earth hears His voice, all creation will shake and a sifting – a sorting and reshuffling – of the universe will take place. God as Judge will review the material and spiritual worlds He Himself created, and His creation will either be destroyed or reformed. Anything that can be moved (“shaken”) will be destroyed. This refers to the things made for this present world order. But there are things that cannot be shaken, and these things will remain for all eternity; things like God, Christ, the Church, love and holiness.

It’s a powerful admonition to live right and live righteously. It’s also a powerful reason to not get too attached to the things of this world. They are so temporary in every sense of the word. It’s also a powerful reminder of something else. We are living in a “post-Christian” world where vast numbers of people live as though they have no soul. It would do us well to remember that when men and nations rage against God and seek to take His place on earth, God’s reaction is surprising:

The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them… (Psalm 2:4 NIV)

In God’s eyes, nothing is more ridiculous than a frail, puny man living in defiance of Him, His people, and His Word. William Arthur Tell wrote, There is a heaven to gain and hell to shun, and it is the Bible that tells us how to do just that. The Bible also tells us something else worth remembering. The Church of Jesus Christ, comprised of God’s saints from all generations, will emerge from the ashes of the old order intact, redeemed, and victorious. It may seem to you as though the Church in America today is weak or impotent and as carnal as can be. But we are not yet what we will be. In the end, as Jesus Himself indicated, the gates of shall not prevail against the true Church (Matthew 16:18).


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