How often have you heard someone say, "When I get to heaven I'll ask God this", or "In heaven I am going to do this". People always ask and dream about what its going to be like in heaven. I've been asked if there will be dinosaurs there, if our pets will be there, if we will know our spouses and loved ones there. Some say Heaven is up there, somewhere, others say it's a state, not a place. I don't know if I can answer these questions, in fact, I don't think anyone can.
Tonight we're going to look into what the bible says about heaven. Over the past few years I have discovered that I really did not know what Heaven really is. I thought I did. After discussing it with people I discovered that we all have a fairly similar idea about what Heaven is, and its very idealised. Some of it is biblical, but most of it is just conjecture based on what we have been told, and what we would like it to be. What we need to do is start from what the bible says.
There are reasons it is critical to understand heaven correctly. In some way our understanding of heaven affects the way we live now, how we treat the world we live in. In fact, Isaac Asimov said: "No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be." While He is not actually referring to heaven, but to the decision making process, it struck me that he had hit on something. It's crucial, I think, to understand heaven because it is our reward, the goal of our existence. If heaven is some nebulous place 'up there', then we needn't care a lot about the world, but if we are going to live on earth in a renewed world, then it would have huge implications about how we live now, and what we tell people about the world to come.
Another reason for understanding heaven, which is related, or rather flows on from here is that recently researchers have discovered that post modern human beings really despise being told that 'if you don't become a Christian you will go to hell'. Relational researchers concluded that it is to be considered a form of abuse, a form of mental rape. Personally, if someone came up and started blabbering on at me about how evil I was and how I was doomed to hell for eternity, I would probably be quite offended too. Not that this doesn't work sometimes, and should be discarded completely. It just doesn't get off on the right foot. Paul said love is NEVER rude, and this is worse than rude.
Instead of telling them what wrong with them, which they will find out in God's good time anyway, why can't we start with discussing with them about what will come? Why can't we talk about heaven instead of hell? Often because we aren't confident to talk about it, and we don't really understand it. Hopefully after this you will feel a bit more confident, and will be able to use this knowledge in practical ways, and not only that, but you feel reassured in yourself about the future.
Ok, let's get into it:
The first thing we really need to
know when we are talking about heaven is how the bible uses the word. Because
we are translating from the original languages to English, often there is only
one English word used to represent many Hebrew or Greek ones, many of which
mean some quite different things.
The two words used, are used in 3 ways. The words are shamayin and ouranos.
The first way they are used is cosmological, that is, to reflect the cosmos. This reflects the most common use of these two words. 'Heaven and Earth' designates the entire universe.
The place where the stars are set:
Matt 24:29 "Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken;"
Matt 6:26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
The place where lightening and rain come from:
Luke 17:24 For as the lightning flashes
and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of man be
in his day.
Luke 4:25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Eli'jah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land;
Secondly, it's used to indicate God, as a synonym:
Luke 15: 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 21 And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'
Matthew uses the expression "kingdom of heaven", which has a parallel in Luke as "the Kingdom of God", which follows along the same line. We understand the Kingdom of God/Heaven, not as a place, but a 'rule'. The Kingdom is the place where God rules, where He is King, where there is no evil, and Gods will is done.
Last but not least, heaven is the abode of God. The statement 'heavenly Father' carries this theme; God who is in Heaven.
Matt 5:16 In the same way, let your
light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory
to your Father in heaven
Matt 5:45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
Matt 6:9 "Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
The Angels come from heaven, and so does Jesus. It is where Jesus returned to in order to prepare a dwelling place for believers. It is the place where believers will spend eternity.
We can see from this that Heaven is a state, and it is a place. It is in some sense a state, if we think about the Kingdom of Heaven. The kingdom isn't a literal place, at least, not at the moment. The kingdom exists within us, so one could say that at this time, heaven is within us. In time the kingdom will become a place, that is, it will be in us and we will be in it, at the end.
Heaven is our goal, the place where we will spend eternity, so one thing we can be sure of, is that our existence is not purposeless. It has a purpose, a direction. It is not cyclic as the new-agers and eastern mystics would have it. Its not a state of being that one tries to attain by redoing life over and over as they would say. It is a promise that at the end of this life, heaven is where we will be.
OK, we know how the words are used but what is heaven? What is its nature? It is it in sky? Is it on the earth? Is it a bunch of clouds, or a huge mansion? We have touched on it. We have looked at the meanings if the words for heaven, the cosmos, a synonym for God, and the abode of God.
Here are some of the things that the Scriptures say about the nature of heaven. Firstly Heaven is the presence of God.
Rev 21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;
We will have personal intimate knowledge of God the like we have not been able to have since Adam, Rev 21 continues:
Rev 21:4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."
This indicates to me, not that we won't feel pain any more, partially because, pain is part of the human nervous system, mostly because the word used for pain here also indicates strife, or toil, or purposelessness, as it is in the passage results of human sin in Gen 3. The word there used for pain, pangs, and toil are all different forms of a Hebrew word, issabon, which means purposelessness. There will be no more toil, no more strife, and no more purposelessness in heaven. The goal and original intention of human existence was to live in a close, intimate, personal relationship with God. Originally this was symbolised by Eden, and now, Heaven.
There is going to be no evil in heaven, no sin. What is the nature of sin? Apart from anything else it is a lack of right relationship with the Creator. Heaven is a state and place, as we have seen, a place characterised by the presence of God. Because it is in the presence of God, there will be no evil; there will be no pointless frustration existence as there is now.
Other ways heaven is characterised is as the 'Sabbath rest' (Heb 4:9), the wedding of the lamb (Rev 9:7-9), a lovely home (John 14:9). None of these are particularly helpful at this time, as each one is probably a sermon on it is own. I mention them so you can bear them in mind as we go along.
Heaven, or Gods Kingdom is already here, but not yet fully here. The technical term for this is inaugurated eschatology. This means the end things have begun.
Read Eph 2:4-7:
Eph 2:4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved- 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
See, we are told here that we are raised up and seated in the heavenlies in Christ, right now! In a sense, the Ephesians were already in heaven. Paul also writes in 2 Cor 5:8 that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, which indicates to us that in another sense we have to die to be in heaven. So, heaven is already, but not yet.
What does this mean to us? Well, remembering that heaven begins on earth, for us, by union with Christ. By union with Christ we enter the Kingdom, and we are raised up to the heavenlies in Him. We, somehow, experience a foretaste of what is to come. Christ is, after all, the first fruits of what is to come.
Remember that we are told by Jesus, that when we are saved, He and the Father come and make a home in us. This is accomplished by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Because The Spirit lives in us, so does the Father and the Son. God rules then, in us. The Kingdom of God is within us, and therefore so is heaven. What makes you special in this screwed up world? You have within you, heaven. Even though most of the time it has to fight its way out. Heaven is a Spiritual reality at the moment, because God is a Spirit. We look forward to the day when it is a spiritual and a physical reality, when all creation is renewed and is under the rule of God.
Heaven, now, is revealed through our worship, our devotion and service to the King, our peace, knowing where we will end up, and what we have with in us. Jesus gave us 2 rules, and I think these rules sum up what heaven is, in part now, and more fully later. These two rules are called the golden rule and the platinum rule. Well, at least Dr N T Wright calls them that, and I think it's a good way to describe them.
The golden rule is the first rule,
and everyone knows it. It's a rule that virtually all people agree with, and
can follow. The rule is, do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke
Simple and easy to follow isn't it? This means to me, don't act in an unjust manner towards others. Don't act in ways that would cause you offence if it happened to you.
Jesus didn't stop there though. He went further. He said for those who know God, there is a platinum rule, one which supersedes the golden rule. Anyone can keep the golden rule. The platinum rule is in John 13: 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
What did Jesus do for us? He loved
us. He said, no greater love has a man than this that he lay down his life for
his brother. When we think of love we think of warm fuzzy feelings, a desire
to be with someone etc. That's not 'love' in this sense, that is Eros or phileo
love. Eros is sexual and Phileo 'brotherly' love. This is agape love. Paul tells
us it is the kind of love that is patient; kind; is not envious or boastful
or arrogant, or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable
or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.
Love is an attitude of service, or self depreciating service to others, be they family, friends, strangers or enemies.
Heaven is the Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of God is the place God rules, and LOVE is the motivation for all things. Heaven is now, because Heaven is within you and me. Heaven gets out of you and me and to the rest of creation when we follow the platinum rule, to do to others as Jesus has done for us, to agape them.
What kind of existence will this heaven be? Hopefully you have seen that it isn't going to be some nebulous existence in the clouds with angel's wings, playing the harp and singing hallelujah all day. Perhaps there are angels who do that, but we are not Angels, we are humans, created to live in this world, in harmony with it and our Creator.
I have just 3 little things to finish off. The burning questions.
Firstly, will physical pleasures exist? The answer is yes and no. There will be no marriage in heaven (Matt 22:30), and unless God changes the rules about sex, there will be no sex as it is restricted to a marital state (1 Cor 7:8-11). I am not holding tight to that one though : There are references to eating and drinking, which seem symbolic; however, it did seem that Jesus literally ate, so there is no reason to assume that the literal eating and drinking are not also symbolic.
Secondly, will existence become static? Will we stop growing, learning etc? I think we can be sure that we will continue to learn, and develop; after all, God is someone whom we will always be seeking to understand, even in the Kingdom. Just think though, in the absence of failure, frustration and inadequacy, rather than trying to develop to the point of being fruitful, we will rather, as John Baille says, develop in fruition. God is inexhaustible, which is one of the things that attract us to heaven, so as finite beings, we will always have something to learn.
As for growing old, well I am afraid I just don't know the answer to that. Time will obviously continue, as it is a condition of creation, so in that sense we will get older. But how it will affect us, we will have to wait and see.
Thirdly, will we remember loved ones, and recognise them? What about bad stuff about them? Quite simply, yes, we will recognise them, and know who they are. The bad things? This I doubt. I couldn't find anything specific; however, the idea of remembering sins or bad things would seem incompatible with Gods Sea of forgetfulness etc. I suspect we will see people for who they truly are, and as they will only be good, that's what we will see.
So why is it important to know about
heaven? So you can make informed decisions about the future. So you can tell
people the good news is that God has promised to put things the way they should
be, that He needed to send His Son to be King, to die, and be resurrected. That
the Jesus ascended into heaven and is our King, and by believing that you can
have heaven within you, and in the last day you can take your place in a world
the way its meant to be, a world so glorious its called heaven.
It's important to understand the nature of heaven, so that you know that when you apply the platinum rule in your life, you are bringing heaven to earth and giving all who come in contact with you a touch and a taste of heaven.