Heaven

Heaven

People often mention the word ‘Heaven’ in their conversation, but it is usually in connection with expressions of surprise or exclamations of disbelief as in, for example, Heavens above’, ‘Good heavens’, ‘Heaven forbid’, ‘For heaven’s sake’, or ‘Heaven knows’. Again, it may be used as an adjective to describe something excellent or wonderful like, ‘That piece of cake was heavenly’. But ask them to tell you something about Heaven and it is unlikely they will be able to do so without lapsing into fantasy. Even Christians have difficulty in articulating their thoughts! Their idea of Heaven is perhaps rather vague.

In spite of the fact that we proclaim our deep desire to be in Heaven, many are unsure as to what it is, where it is and how long we will be there. Some seem to think that we will be there for ever. That is certainly true if, based on the words of the hymn by Charles J. Butler, ‘Where Jesus is, ‘tis Heaven there’, we equate Heaven as being in the presence of Jesus. But it is not true that we shall spend eternity in the present Heaven because we shall leave that place and come back to earth for the millennial reign, and eternity will be spent in what John, in Revelation chapter 21 and verse 1, calls ‘a new heaven and a new earth’; further, in verse 2 he mentions ‘new Jerusalem’. The intention of this article is to explore some of the information we have about the present Heaven, i.e., Heaven as it is today. Many hymns speak of Heaven but our dependence must be on what scripture teaches and not be based on, nor corrupted by, hymnology. The lyrics may be inspiring but they are not divinely inspired; they abound with poetic licence.

We are told in Genesis chapter 1 verse 1, ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth’. The word here used for ‘heaven’ is plural, in fact it is dual, perhaps indicating that the heaven we see around us (the sky, sun, moon and stars), and the greater, more expansive universal heaven, were both created at this point, whereas there is also an uncreated Heaven, the abode of God, or the third heaven referred to by the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians chapter 12 and verse 2. Heaven is geographically the opposite of earth and theologically the opposite of Hell. The basic meaning of the Greek word used for heaven is ‘to lift up’, ‘to mount up’, or, ‘to go up’, with the idea of moving upwards towards a destination. So, Heaven is a place, located above, as in John chapter 8 verse 23, where Jesus speaks to the Pharisees and says, ‘Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world’. Hell is located ‘under the earth’ as in ‘things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth’, (Phil. 2:10).

Heaven – Where is it?
We remember, of course, the beautiful words of the Lord Jesus Christ in John chapter 14 verse 3 when He said, ‘I go and prepare a place for you’. He was on Earth when He said that and we know that later He ascended to Heaven, (Acts 1:10). While there it is His task to prepare a place of abode for the saints. This dwelling place cannot be in the aerial heavens, nor in the universal heavens, but must be in the dwelling place of God (the third Heaven). This place is also referred to in the Bible as ‘the Heaven of heavens’, ‘Heaven itself’, and as ‘the presence of God’. I believe that as long as God has existed – eternally, so has this Heaven existed – eternally, without ever having been created. Heaven is not just a spiritual concept but an actual place, where we will joyfully be in the presence of the Lord Jesus.

Heaven – How do I get there?
Getting to Heaven is primarily a matter of salvation through faith. It is necessary to believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and to have one’s sins forgiven. Without this there is no prospect of Heaven for sin cannot enter there. Wonderfully, God in grace has made provision in the death of His Son at Calvary, and so undeserving, yet believing sinners are cleansed by His blood and able to enter therein, accepted in Him.

There are two means of access. One is by way of the Rapture when all believers alive on Earth at that time will be caught away to meet the Lord in the air. After that initial meeting those raptured will be transported to Heaven and shall thereafter be forever with the Lord. This will be an amazing occasion to be involved in and as a bonus it means that such shall never die and so avoid the sorrows that death inevitably brings. The other means of access is by death. By this means believers ‘pass over’ and as they bid farewell to Earth they are immediately in Heaven itself. We do not have a choice as to how to go but I am sure that our preference would undoubtedly be to arrive by Rapture, thus sparing loved ones on Earth the sorrows of bereavement, and ourselves the pains of death. The one who dies will, in the words of John in chapter 6 verse 21 of his Gospel, be ‘immediately at the land whither they went’. Another encouraging aspect of Heaven is not only are we invited there but we are wanted there. In John chapter 17 verse 24, the Lord Jesus in prayer to His Father says, ‘Father, I will that they also, whom Thou has given Me, be with Me where I am; that they may behold my glory’. As we behold His glory we shall respond to it in praise, thanksgiving and worship, and eternity will not exhaust the theme.

To ‘pass over’ by either way will be an amazing experience as we are reminded in the words of the hymn by Jim Hill:

There is coming a day,
When no heart aches shall come,
No more clouds in the sky,
No more tears to dim the eye,
All is peace for evermore,
On that happy golden shore,
What a day, glorious day,
that will be.
What a day that will be,
When my Jesus I shall see,
And I look upon His face,
The One who saved me
by His grace
When he takes me by the hand,
And leads me through
the Promised Land
What a day, glorious day,
that will be.

Heaven – What’s it like there?
Eyrl Davies has written a book with an interesting title: Heaven is a Far Better Place, and so indeed it is. Everything about the place is hugely different and vastly superior to our present experience. Like the Queen of Sheba, who travelled many miles to meet King Solomon, I imagine we will be overcome by the beauties, glories, and joys of that place. As she said, ‘It was a true report that I heard in mine own land… howbeit I believed not the words until I came and mine eyes had seen it: and, behold, the half was not told me’. The writer of the account adds, ‘When the Queen of Sheba had seen . . . there was no spirit left in her’, (1 Kings 10:4-6). For us too it will be breath-taking!

Many of the descriptions given of our future abode refer to places other than Heaven (like the Millennial Earth, the New Heaven and New Earth and of course the New Jerusalem). Nevertheless, I am sure that the characteristics so described will be true of the part (the temporary Heaven itself) as well as of the whole (our future abode). It should, of course, be noted that there is no suggestion of any sort of Purgatory in the temporary, present Heaven. The work of purgation was finished at Calvary nearly 2000 years ago and needs no repetition by anyone. We can use these descriptions to help us understand the sorts of things we should expect. There will be, according to Revelation chapter 21 verse 4, ‘no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away’. All of these earthly things must flee from the presence of the God who makes all things new. The greatest and most outstanding glory of the place is the Lord Jesus Himself. He occupies the central place and all praise, worship and glory are, rightly, accorded to Him.

Heaven – Who else will be there?
Scripture is clear that as well as Persons of the Godhead there will be present angels and archangels, as well as the spirits of the redeemed. These will of course include family and friends who have gone before. We shall without doubt recognize them and rejoice once again in their company. While they and we will be ‘unclothed’, i.e., without our natural bodies. Left on Earth and as yet without our spiritual bodies, we will be able to see, recognise, hear, feel, speak, sing, remember, reflect and think ahead.

As Sidlow Baxter puts it, in his book The Other Side of Death, ‘The disembodied state neither extinguishes nor diminishes human consciousness, but rather intensifies it’. Heaven is a place for continuous fellowship as well as loving service to the glory of our blessed Lord.

Heaven – Anticipating it
Another worldly saying is, ‘Heaven on earth’ and this is more true than many suspect. Here on Earth the enjoyable anticipation of an upcoming event is often spoiled as the event itself fails to meet those expectations. There is no question that what we shall have ultimately in Heaven will be greater than any expectations we may entertain. So there is every reason why we should live daily in the good of our scriptural anticipations. The blessings of Heaven which can be enjoyed ahead of time on Earth include, love, joy, peace, contact with the Lord Jesus and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. The Epistle to the Ephesians suggests that we are already seated in heavenly places in Christ. In the Christian experience we are as good as there already.

Heaven – But will you be there?
The most important of the questions about Heaven is not in a detailed description of the place but is whether or not you will be there. Thankfully, provision has been made for you and your responsibility is to repent of your sin, be born again and enjoy the prospect of being with the Lord for ever. Someone has rightly said that to be Heaven-bound we must be Heaven-born, i.e., born again, or born from above. We look forward to that wonderful day when He will come down from Heaven to take His people back up there to enjoy the blessings we have spoken of, and so much more.

Heaven – Home at Last
John Bunyan thought of the experience of ‘passing over’ as going through a country he called Beulah Land. In 1876 Edgar P. Stites wrote his beautiful hymn ‘Beulah Land’ the refrain of which is:

O Beulah Land, sweet
Beulah Land,
As on thy highest mount I stand,
I look away across the sea,
Where mansions are
prepared for me,
And view the shining glory shore,
My heaven, my Home
for evermore.

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