(January 2000 – Volume 6, Issue 1)
A few years ago a virtually unknown author, Betty Eadie, sprang to immediate celebrity status by writing the runaway best seller entitled Embraced by the Light. This was the most recent and popular book detailing the experiences of people who believe that they had died, gone to the next life and then returned to this world. Here are some of the things that Eadie said we have to look forward to after death:
- A nonjudgmental “savior of light” who will ultimately forgive everyone (universalism). We therefore have no reason to fear death.
- Returning home: Our human spirit has eternally existed in heaven. Some spirits have chosen to go to earth, either to fulfill some mission or to learn lessons that would help them mature. When we come to earth we often come as friends or family of these spirits that were close to us in Heaven.
- Jesus and God are totally separate beings — they are not one. There exists, then, more than one God.
- A oneness in the universe. There is a oneness between us and the plant world, as well as with God. We are all one (a combination of liberalism, Mormanism and New Age).
What is it that forms our view of eternity? Why do people believe what they believe about life after death? Increasingly a combination of books about matters such as these, superstition, myth, and personal conviction are shaping people’s understanding of the next world. As a result, most people wander around in a fog when it comes to life beyond. They ignore death, deny the possibility of judgment, hope for a forgetful God, and generally keep their fingers crossed as they near the exit door of this life. Surely there is a way for us to open the curtain of eternity just a bit and catch a true glimpse of what awaits us there. Of course such a way exists, not in the writings of a Betty Eadie, but in the infallable revelation of God. While we do not know a great many things of which we are curious, the Lord has chosen to reveal considerable information about our future.
Every person is born with at least two events scheduled in their day-timer. “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Death followed by judgment looms ahead for each of us.
Let’s talk about death for just a moment. Death serves as a constant reminder of the fact that we are sinners. In the first four and one half chapters of the book of Romans Paul argues convincingly that we were born rebels against God. By nature no one loves God, we all have rejected Him and want nothing to do with Him. Paul caps his whole argument in Romans 5:10 with a clear, impossible to misunderstand concept: Before salvation we were the enemies of God. Then the apostle immediately shows us that those who have been reconciled, those who have been redeemed, those who have been born again, have now become the friends of God. We were by nature born as the enemies of God but we are now his friends (5:10,11).
Paul desires to tell us more about how the friends of God should live, something he will do beginning with chapter six, but first there is one more issue the apostle wants on the table: sin and its connection with death. In Romans 5:12 we find that sin “invaded” the human race through the disobedience of Adam. It should be noted that sin did not gain access to mankind through the sins of Adam (the many hundreds of sins throughout his long life) but through sin, singular. The whole human race became infected by sin through one act of disobedience by one man.
As a result of this one sin death entered the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men (verse 12). No matter where you travel on this globe you run into two undeniable facts: People sin and people die. You can check any group of people, any tribe or nation, any nationality, and you will find people that sin. They cannot live up to their own standard, or their society’s, and they certainly cannot live up to God’s. They may re-label sin — calling it sickness, addiction, or misbehavior, but the fact remains that all sin.
This brings us to the subject of death. Why do we die? Paul cuts right to the heart of the question: We die because of sin. In other words, death is the fruit of sin; it is the natural result of sin. If there were no sin there would be no death. Death, then, has a marvelous ministry in this world: It serves as a constant reminder of sin and its corollary that we are all sinners. We are sinners first because we sinned in Adam, that is, we participate in his sin. But we are also sinners by choice, and death never lets us forget it. Death is God’s warning light on the dashboard of life indicating that we are sinners. Since none will escape death (unless the rapture occurs first) it is absolutely imperative that we be prepared for the next event on our calendar:
Death is inevitable, but it is not the end. Awaiting every human being at the porthole of death is the promise of judgment. For the Christian that judgment takes place at the Bema (or Judgment) Seat of Christ (II Corinthians 5:10). The bema seat, in ancient times, normally referred to the judgment seat from which athletes received their rewards. Paul uses this term to illustrate the judgment that awaits the Christian following the rapture. Believers will never be judged for their sins, which have been completely credited to Christ’s account (Romans 8:1), but they will win or lose rewards on the basis of how they have lived their lives for the glory of God (I Corinthians 3:10-15). It is worth noting that the Greek words usually used for “bad” or “evil” in the New Testament are kakos and poneros, both signifying something evil or sinful. However, in II Corinthians 5:10 Paul uses phaulos, meaning “worthless” or “rotten.” Paul is careful in his word selection not to imply that the Christian faces future judgment for sin. The child of God will never be judged for sin, but he can lose rewards for worthless actions and motives. The following chart will help us understand the details of this judgment:
“Bema”=reward seat —
seat where honor is bestowed.
After the rapture
In the heavenlies
I Thess. 4:17
II Cor. 5:10
II Cor. 5:1-19
Believers’ works brought to judgment
II Cor. 5:10
5 Areas Judged:
I Cor. 3
For the unbeliever a far different judgment awaits them. The Great White Throne Judgment, as it is often referred to because of the description of the throne from which the unsaved are judged, is most fully described in Revelation 20:11-15. The Great White Throne Judgment is the ultimate fulfillment of Hebrews 10:31, which states that it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. At this judgment the unbeliever will be forever cast from the loving presence of God to suffer eternally in the lake of fire. Once again, a chart would be helpful:
End of the Millennium
Unsaved dead of all the ages (Rev. 20:12-15)
1. Book of life
Eternal separation from God
THE GREAT WHITE THRONE JUDGMENT
For the believer death ushers us through the gates of heaven. While the astronauts are not going to find it in their travels, heaven is an actual place. We get the idea from Scripture that heaven is up (e.g. Jesus ascended into heaven in Acts 1:9-11). But heaven could be anywhere, and is not capable of being found. At any rate, we are not going to find it by conventional means.
What Is Heaven?
Is it a myth? A state of mind? Vermont in October? It is interesting to note how some of the thinkers in the past have viewed:
- Nietzsche, the German philosopher said, “The ‘kingdom of heaven’ is a condition of the heart — not something that comes ‘upon the earth’ or ‘after death.’”
- John Milton had his devil say in Paradise Lost, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”
- Ernest Hemingway described what many probably want in heaven in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald. “To me heaven would be a big bull ring with me holding two barrera seats and a trout stream outside that no one else was allowed to fish in and two lovely houses in the town; one where I would have my wife and children and be monogamous and love them truly and well and the other where I would have my nine beautiful mistresses on nine different floors.”
- Erich Fromm, the psychologist, was on target for many when he wrote, “Modern man, if he dared to be articulate about his concept of heaven, would describe a vision which would look like the biggest department store in the world, showing new things and gadgets, and himself having plenty of money with which to buy them. He would wander around open-mouthed in this heaven of gadgets and commodities, provided only that there were ever more and newer things to buy, and perhaps that his neighbors were just a little less privileged than he.”
So which is it, a state of mind, a place to fulfill our greatest sinful fantasies, or something quite different? Turning to the Word, what do we find?
The word “heaven” is found in the neighborhood of five hundred fifty times in the Scriptures, but it does not always refer to the heaven of eternity. Actually, there are three heavens (II Corinthians 12:2, I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago — whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows — such a man was caught up to the third heaven): Atmospheric (Isaiah 55:9), Planetary (Genesis 1:14, 16-17), and Divine (Isaiah 63:15).
The very first words of the Bible tell us, In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. But Jesus told His followers that He was going away to prepare a place for us (John 14:2). And Peter tells of a time when the present heavens and earth will be destroyed and replaced by a new heavens and earth (II Peter 3:10-13).
It is this new creation that will be our final and eternal home. The best description that we have of either the present heaven or the future is found in the book of the Revelation in which the word is found fifty plus times.
In Revelation 1:12-13 we find John attempting to describe the indescribable. In Revelation 7:15; 11:19; 15:5 there is a temple in heaven, but it appears to be the Lord Himself (21:22). Then in Revelation 20:11 we are told of the destruction of the current heavens and earth, which are replaced in 21:1-2 by the new heavens and earth. In addition we are given a description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:10, 11, 21-27, which will be the capital city of the universe in eternity. This city is what the Lord has been preparing for all of these ages (John 14:1ff). It will be our home forever.
The picture given of the New Jerusalem is, most likely, at least partially symbolic and should not be pressed too literally. Will we walk on streets of gold? Perhaps, but will it be gold as we know it, and does it matter? What matters is that we are with our Lord in a perfect world that defies description.
What Will Heaven BeLike?
We must distinguish here between the intermediate and the eternal state:
Intermediate state —
What is life like for the child of God that has died, before the eternal state is ushered in? We only know two or three things: We know that while the body returns to the earth the spirit of that one goes into the presence of the Lord (II Corinthians 5:1-9), which is a great gain for us (Philippians 1:21); and that we will be conscious, enjoying the first stage of eternal life (Luke 16:22,25).
Eternal state —
There is much that we do not know about our life in eternity. The Lord has chosen not to reveal many things, perhaps because there would be no way for us to understand and comprehend them. Additionally, we might not even appreciate, from our vantagepoint here, life in heaven.
But we do know at least eight things about our future in glory:
We will be at home with the Lord
(II Corinthians 5:8; John 14:1-3 and Philippians 1:23):
Dorothy said it well, “There’s no place like home.” For many of us that is true. We often spend the early years of our adult life trying to get away from home. After we have been gone for a time, we spend the rest of our lives longing to go back.
Why? What is so special about home? Why do most of us like to go home? Because of the people who are there. People who love us. People who know us best and still accept us.
So, when Jesus tells us he is building a home for us in eternity, He emphasizes that it is in order for us to be with Him there. When Paul thinks of death his focus is on being at home with the Lord.
The longer we live, and the further we roam, the more we long to go to our heavenly home. This longing intensifies as the saint grows older – it is one of the privileges of maturity that the younger child of God might not appreciate. Oh, how the older saint wants to go home.
We will be at rest
(Hebrews 4:9-11 and Revelation 14:13)
While we will be very active in heaven, serving and so forth, nevertheless, our activity will all be within the sphere of rest. The anxiousness and uncertainty of this life will be over. We will labor, but our labor will not exhaust, or “stress us out.” Perhaps the closest thing we have now is the difference between one who does a task because it is his duty, and one who does it because it is his passion.
We will live in comfort
The Bible clearly teaches that in this life we will have trouble. There are, no doubt, many hours of pleasure, comfort, rest, and enjoyment. But even the best of times are laced with the effects of sin. Even as God’s people, even if we are living holy lives, we have no guarantee that we will not suffer greatly in this life. But the next life is a different story. Like Lazarus, we will be comforted in heaven. Here we may suffer with a painful disease, or the loss of those we love, or frustration with the issues of life; but there we will be comforted. This comfort will be accompanied with joy (Revelation 21:4). God has planned for His people a perfect place of joy for all eternity.
We will be holy, sinless
We will retain our identity
(Matthew 17:1-4; 22:32 — example of Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration)
In our eternal holiness we will not lose our personalities or our identities. We will be ourselves, minus our sin nature and our sinful ways.
We will have full knowledge
(I Corinthians 13:12)
Paul is not implying that we will be omniscient in heaven. We will not arrive with the perfect knowledge that belongs to God alone. What he is saying is that all the barriers that now obstruct our view of truth will have been removed and we will see all things clearly for the first time — and will we be surprised!
We will have new bodies
(I Corinthians 15:35-53; Romans 8:23;
I Thessalonians 4:13-17 and II Corinthians 5:1)
The first Christians were as curious as we are about what we will be like in eternity. Paul could not give specifics but he did say that it is necessary for us to be changed (15:51-53), for our mortal bodies cannot endure the glories of heaven for even a moment. Paul is able to give four characteristics of our eternal bodies (verses 42-44): they are imperishable, glorified, powerful and spiritual.
We will be like Christ
(I John 3:2)
This verse serves as a capstone for our study of what we will be like in heaven. We do not possess all the answers. There are things we do not know. But we do know that when we see Him, we will be at home with Him, and that in some way we will be like Him. These truths take all the sting out of death and remove all the apprehension about eternity for the child of God.
What Will We Do In Heaven?
We will worship God (Revelation 4:9-11; 5:9-14; 7:9-12; 11:15-17; 14:6-7; 15:2-4 and 19:1-6).
Heaven will be preoccupied with the praise of God. If we are going to be praising God for eternity, hopefully we have started by now.
Charles Gabriel wrote: “When all my labors and trials are o’er, And I am safe on that beautiful shore, just to be near the dear Lord I adore will through the ages be glory for me. . . . When By His grace I shall look on His face, That will be glory, be glory for me.” This should be the heart of every child of God.
We will serve (Revelation 7:15 and 22:1-5).
There is no indication that we will spend eternity lying around on clouds playing harps. There will be plenty to do in heaven as we serve our Lord in a meaningful way.
We will fellowship (I Corinthians 13:12 and John 14:3).
When Paul sought to comfort the Christians at Thessalonica who had lost loved ones to death, he wrote about the rapture, assuring them that dead believers will one day be raised. Then he says in I Thessalonians 4:18, “Therefore comfort one another with these words.” To those missing their loved ones, Paul gives comfort implying that they will be reunited. Fellowship, both with the Lord and with fellow believers, will be sweet.
Why Don’t We Look Forward to Heaven?
We would all say we want to go to heaven but maybe not right now. Heaven is out of style. No one talks about heaven. Our modern evangelistic techniques focus on fulfillment and abundant living. Preaching that focuses on Hell is considered to be scare tactics. Preaching about heaven is pie-in-the-sky.
Few of us are concerned about eternity. We have ignored Jesus’ admonishment to lay up our treasures in heaven rather than on earth (Matthew 6:19-221), and Paul’s to set our affection on things above (Colossians 3:1).
Our treasures and affections are almost totally earth-bound, until death knocks on our door and we are suddenly jolted to our senses with the fact that we will be soon welcomed into the arms (or jaws) of eternity. Many are like Mark Twain who was reported as saying, “You take heaven; I’d rather go to Bermuda.” Unfortunately for Twain those are not the options.
Surely death is the great equalizer — God’s tool to get our attention and force us to face reality: This world is not our home, we are only passing through (as the old chorus tells us). God has placed eternity in our hearts, we know that there is something beyond (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
I agree with John MacArthur who wrote, “The Bible teaches that finding lasting and complete joy and comfort in this life is irrational, because it idolizes a sin-filled, decaying world and contradicts God’s goal, which is to make us like Christ in heaven.” This is why John warns us not to love this world (I John 2:15-17). The things of this world do not honor God and they are passing away, John tells us.
The early Christians had a better handle on this than many of us. They focused their hopes on heaven, they did not hold so tightly to life (II Corinthians 4:16-5:1 and Hebrews 11:10).
If we could but see the true ugliness of a sin-tainted world we would be repulsed rather than clinging with all our might. In reality, everything that is precious to us as Christians is in heaven: God, brothers and sisters, our inheritance (I Peter 1:3,4), our citizenship (Philippians 3:20), our reward, our treasure, our home.
The allegory of John Bunyan has arguably never been bettered. Few books written in 1678 are still in print three hundred and twenty years later. The final picture he paints of the sojourners Christian and Hopeful is so attractive that he tells us that he wished he could join them. “Now I saw in my dream, that these two men went in at the gate; and lo! As they entered, they were transfigured; and they had raiment put on, that shone like gold . . . I looked in after them, and behold, the City shone like the sun; the streets also were paved with gold: and in them walked many with crowns on their heads, palms in their hands, and golden harps . . . There were also of them that had wings, and they answered one another without intermission, saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord!’ And after that they shut up the gates, which then I had seen, I wished myself among them (What Angels Wish They Knew, page 201).
Some believe that the present heavens and earth will not be destroyed but purified and refashioned.