Tag Archives: heaven

What Awaits Us in Heaven?

Thankfully the Bible isn’t silent about this subject.  Things will be different, for sure.  Paul says, “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when what is perfect comes, the partial will be set aside.  …For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will know fully, just as I have been fully known (1 Corinthians 9-10, 12).  Thus it appears when I die I’ll figuratively step out of a fog into the brightest morning I can possibly imagine.  The best mirrors in Paul’s day were polished and buffed brass so one was better off gazing into a pond’s surface.  Still, neither reflected one’s true image very accurately.  Heaven’s truly beyond words but obviously it’ll be a case of night instantly turning to day.  Our entire perception of reality will change.  Dallas Willard wrote, “When we pass through what we call death, we do not lose the world.  Indeed, we see it for the first time as it really is.”  What we consider normal is in fact a gross distortion of what God intended to be normal.  When Jesus cried out from the cross, Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing (Luke 23:34), He was referring to all of us.  Our vision’s severely limited because of the curse brought upon mankind by Adam & Eve’s sin.

 

So what’s Paul getting at with the “fully known” stuff?  Well, evidently many spiritual entities (“a great cloud of witnesses”, we’re told) know all about us as individuals.  Hebrews 12:22-24 hints at who they are: But you have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the assembly and congregation of the first-born, who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous, who have been made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks of something better than Abel’s does.”  That’s a very impressive list of persons who see everything as it really is; who know at this moment what all God’s adopted children will one day know.  In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul intimates God blessed him with a brief glimpse of heaven; that he was allowed to stand in the visible presence of those beings whereupon he gathered they fully knew him.  God blessed Paul with an insight into the next world so we could find comfort in what he dutifully reported.  For one thing, we have no secrets.  “…No creature is hidden from God, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account (Hebrews 4:13).  In other words, the transparency we all should strive for will be ours in heaven.  We won’t drift around in some kind of hazy dreamlike state, either.  We’ll be more “awake” than ever before.  We’ll be anything but asleep.  What we will be is mind-blowing to ponder.  Jesus said of souls in heaven, In fact, they can no longer die, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, since they are sons of the resurrection (Luke 20:36).

 

According to Jesus those who belong to God have nothing whatsoever to fear about death.  He taught, Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Instead, fear the one who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28).  Christ also said I tell you the solemn truth, if anyone obeys my teaching, he will never see death (John 8:51).  And, as He informed the distraught Martha before calling forth the deceased Lazarus out of his tomb, “…I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in me will live even if he dies, and the one who lives and believes in me will never die (John 11:25-26).  (I suspect Jesus wept that day because He knew Lazarus’ loved ones would eventually have to suffer through the painful grieving process all over again down the line.)  Our Savior’s attitude towards His own death tells us much, too.  While He certainly didn’t relish the ghastly torture He’d be forced to endure beforehand, He viewed finally taking His last earth-bound breath as a liberating event.  He told His disciples on the day of His arrest, Do not let your hearts be distressed or lacking in courage.  You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’  If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I am (John 14:27-29).  Those aren’t the words of a man who’s petrified of death!

 

Don’t forget that in the midst of slowly suffocating and bleeding to death our Lord still had the grace to tell one of the thieves dying next to Him, “…I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43).  Now, do you know any human being who’d take the time to tell a convicted criminal a bald-faced lie while writhing in excruciating agony?  I don’t.  What Christ told that thief is something all believers can take to the bank.  Paradise is our destination!  The truth of the matter is the New Testament teaches us repeatedly that, in the grand scheme of things, all Christians will be much better off when they’re dead!  Paul wrote, For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain (Philippians 1:21) and “…I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far…” (Philippians 1:23).  Please don’t misunderstand what Paul’s saying.  He’s not advocating suicide or intentionally putting oneself in harm’s way.  He explained in a letter to his associate that Jesus “…has broken the power of death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel!  For this gospel I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher.  Because of this, in fact, I suffer as I do.  But I am not ashamed, because I know the one in whom my faith is set and I am convinced that he is able to protect what has been entrusted to me until that day (2 Timothy 1:10-12).  As royal ambassadors of our Lord and heralds of the Good News our continued existence on this planet has a purpose.  We’re important.  Ducking out early of our own accord isn’t an option.  We’re to leave when God says it’s our time to go home.

 

Back to the question I posed initially: “What awaits us in heaven?”  It’s definitely worth asking.  As I’ve aged it’s become blatantly obvious that, little by little, my body’s wearing out.  I used to be able to work outside right through a Texas summer.  Now just being in the heat for an hour saps all my energy.  I know in time parts of my body will let me down.  However, I won’t have to lug those deteriorating limbs and organs into heaven.  Willard wrote, “When we pass through the stage normally called ‘death,’ we’ll not lose anything but the limitations and powers that specifically correspond to our present mastery over our body, and to our availability and vulnerability to and through it  We’ll no longer be able to act and be acted upon by means of it.”  What will remain intact is our personality, our non-material core identity.  Plus we’ll retain our knowledge of (and relationships with) other souls who’ve been a part of our earthly life.  Will I miss family members and friends who never accepted Christ?  Will I be devastated if my two grown, unsaved children don’t join me?  My heart says I will.  God says otherwise.  In heaven “He will wipe away every tear from their [my] eyes, and death will not exist anymore – or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist (Revelation 21:4).  Therefore I must trust God will grant me a level of understanding I can’t fathom at this juncture.  I have more faith in my Heavenly Father than I do in my emotions.  As Abraham said to God, Will not the judge of the whole earth do what is right? (Genesis 18:25).  God did what was right back then and He’ll always do what’s right.  Therefore I’m content to leave the whole issue up to Him.

 

When I’m asked how a merciful God could allow a single soul to languish forever in oblivion my answer is heaven would be hellish for those who never desired to go there in the first place.  In other words, it’s not God’s fault they won’t be with Him in paradise.  Those who aren’t saved don’t think they need saving.  The Holy Word tells us“…He [God] does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).  But many folks abhor the very idea of being under anybody, even God Almighty.  Because they possess the autonomy of free will, God lets them exercise it without Him interfering.  Love can’t work coercively, only persuasively.  Forced love is a contradiction in terms.  If a person despised God before death they’ll most likely hate Him even more afterwards but they’ll be where they chose to be.  As C.S. Lewis opined, “The door of hell is locked on the inside.”

 

As usual, we can learn from Jesus.  In all His post-resurrection appearances He had a body and it was not only publicly observable but interacted with physical realities.  His body was significantly different from before, though, because it wasn’t restricted by time or space.  Walls and doors were no barriers to Christ because His was now a spiritual body.  Paul wrote, If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44).  Jesus proved that in God’s universe matter is subservient to mind/spirit.  I believe one of the many reasons He lingered on earth after He strolled out of His tomb was to give us a preview of what awaits us on the other side of death.  Christians should derive great comfort from that.  This truly is not where we belong.  But our citizenship is in heaven – and we also await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself (Philippians 3:20-21).  In heaven we’ll have bodies impervious to illness or injury.  We’ll be able to run like gazelles and never grow tired.  No aches.  No pains.  Nothing to hold us back.  Now, that’s what I call “Good News!”

 

Our Lord modeled for us the “new and improved” body we’ll have in the next life.  And we’ll have lots of things to do.  Laziness will be a thing of the past because we’ll be preoccupied with learning due to there being so much to learn.  The transformation that began when the Holy Spirit came to dwell within us when we got saved will continue in God’s kingdom.  We’ll be in the very presence of our Savior and our goal will be to become more and more like Him in every respect.  While aging down here is a matter of losing abilities, up there it’ll be a matter of constantly accumulating them.  We’ll never cease to grow in knowledge, wisdom and holiness.  Some fear they’ll be confused, discombobulated or even scared when they inhale their first breath of heavenly air.  But their anxiety is unfounded.  Nothing in Scripture indicates we’ll have any cause to be frightened or unsettled.  We won’t be left in the dark.  As Willard wrote, “You wouldn’t do that, if you could help it, to anyone you loved.  And neither will God.”  When the beggar Lazarus died Jesus said he “…was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side (Luke 16:22).  Thus we can expect the same gentle, reassuring treatment.  The many “near-death experiences” that’ve been documented imply our personal identity will continue on sans interruption.  Those who rejected Christ will continue on, too, but they’ll do so without the God they denied.  The Lord will let them have it “their way.”  They’ll be their own God at last.  Yet too late they’ll become cognizant of just how woefully impotent they actually are.

 

Eventually those who belong to Him will be enabled to efficiently and righteously reign with Christ.  Any worries about there not being enough room for us is foolishness.  Astronomers estimate there are ten thousand million galaxies in our section of the universe alone with each harboring billions of planets.  Perhaps we’ll be charged with overseeing/observing some of them.  As Jesus’ parable of the talents reveals, once we’ve demonstrated we can be trusted to take care of a few valuable things we’ll be entrusted with taking care of many valuable things.  Now, I can’t imagine I’m anywhere near capable of being placed in charge of what goes on in a small village, much less an entire planet!  I suspect I’ll first need to gather tons of education and practical experience under my belt before that day arrives.  Yet I must remind myself of the awesome, glorious environment I’ll be living in while I learn.  The greatest joys I’ve known in my life usually happen when I’m being creative.  In heaven I’ll eternally be an apprentice of the ultimate Creator!  Because of what the Bible tells me about Christ, I can surmise with surety that He and I will create amazing, incredible things together.  And I’ll never be abandoned to fend for myself.  The greatest advisor/counselor of all will be close at hand.  The last thing our Savior told us before He ascended to the right hand of the Father was, And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).  He’s with me now.  He’ll be with me then, too.

 

What we should all look forward to experiencing in God’s kingdom is perfect peace.  Peace of any sort on terra firma is rare and fleeting, indeed, so the promise of existing in a place where there’s no strife, no anger, no hostility and no heartbreaking tragedies to disrupt our serenity is an immensely encouraging one.  J.I. Packer wrote, “Christians inherit in fact the destiny which fairy tales envisage in fancy: we (yes, you and I, the silly saved sinners) live, and live happily, and by God’s endless mercy will live happily ever after.”  But nothing beats what our Lord had to say concerning this intriguing subject: Those who overcome will be welcomed to sit with me on my throne, as I too overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.  Those capable of hearing should listen to what the Spirit is saying to my people (Revelation 3:21-22).  All adopted children of God should not only listen to but believe His words.  For it’s in the hope His words provide that our comfort and contentment lie.

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Angels are Watching and Waiting

The Bible teaches us many things about angels. One of their primary tasks is to observe what goes on down here daily. That’s another good reason for them remaining invisible. I don’t think a lot of us would be comfy with being constantly aware of an entity that’s always making notes about how we conduct our business. That’s what made Orwell’s “1984” (featuring an ever-present Big Brother) so unnerving and claustrophobic. Yet angels are spiritual hall monitors whether we approve or not. I suspect that our behavior, both individually and collectively, is a source of unending befuddlement and fascination to the heavenly host. In 1 Corinthians 4 Paul states we’ve become “a spectacle” to them. In the Apostle’s time the word “spectacle” was used in conjunction with the arenas where crowds were entertained by the sight of wild animals being slaughtered, gladiators fighting to the death and, later, Christians torn apart by hungry lions. So Paul knew what he was implying by picturing this world as one vast arena. While Western believers don’t live under the threat of being killed in such a hideous way, we do know seeking to do God’s will places us in direct conflict with the forces of evil that despise our faith and strive to destroy us. Thus, in some small way, we can relate to the early Christians’ peril. We also revere those brave martyrs for the inspiration they provide. Revelation 12:11 tells us “they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die.”

It’s important to note that the angels looked on as these atrocities occurred. No doubt they longed to step in and rescue those courageous men and women who often accepted their demise with joy. But the great I AM didn’t allow the angels to intervene any more than He permitted them to spare Jesus from the agony of separation from Him on the cross. The angel onlookers were in position to wield their power but the orders to make their move never came. Why? It’s due to the fact that God’s moment of complete victory over Satan’s forces of evil has yet to arrive. As the Bible emphasizes, God’s ways don’t often jive with ours, giving rise to questions like: “Why does He allow evil to flourish?” “Since He’s in control of everything why doesn’t He lower the boom on Lucifer this instant?” “Why put up with the myriad of maladies that plague humanity?” “Why permit natural disasters to generate widespread havoc among His children?” On and on. However, His Word reiterates that He has a plan and it’s right on schedule. He’s holding His army of angels back from delivering us from the evils of this world until He gives them the green light. We’ve been assured that that glorious day is coming. Christ himself told us the wheat and the weeds, the righteous and unrighteous, will exist side by side until the harvest and we’re to exercise patience, faith and trust until then. Our pride insists we’re entitled to an answer for every conundrum we encounter but that just ain’t the way things are. As the Quaker philosopher Elton Trueblood wrote, “If a man wishes to avoid the disturbing effect of paradoxes, the best advice is for him to leave the Christian faith alone.”

The angels have witnessed good stuff, too. They’ve seen Christ’s church grow from a tiny seed into a major source of spiritual enlightenment to the world. They haven’t missed a thing and have learned bit by bit that “the purpose of this enlightenment is that through the church the multifaceted wisdom of God should now be disclosed to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 3:10) You might say, “Hold on. Doesn’t it say now? What’s up with that?” Once again it’s a matter of linguistics. In the context of when that verse was penned the word “now” covers the entire era of the church so what it doesn’t mean is “this second.” And, as overseers, the angels have been thrilled to see how our graceful, loving and powerful Savior has changed countless lives over the years. Keep in mind time doesn’t exist for them or God so when something will happen is a figurative concept exclusive to humans. I truly wonder what they think of us. Our incessant obsession with sex must baffle them utterly and our inability to control our emotions probably causes them to scratch their haloes out of sheer frustration. Yet, as the quoted scripture implies, maybe our craziness only deepens their understanding of God’s immaculate wisdom. Therefore if they’re learning more about the Creator by watching us then we as Christians should be more mindful of the decisions we make. There are a bunch of angels peering over our shoulders and they only answer to God about what they see. It’s also vital we remember they’re not to be feared. They’re on our side.

This information should be sobering to believers and make us realize our actions and attitudes towards spreading the Gospel is the bedrock concern of the angelic host that surrounds us. We have a duty we dare not shirk. When Paul wrote to Timothy he spelled out a long list of things his brother in Christ should be doing and then added, “Before God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, I solemnly charge you to carry out these commands without prejudice or favoritism of any kind.” (1 Timothy 5:21) The Apostle was advising his bro that the angels were vigilantly watching how he conducted himself as a servant of the Lord. That means they’re observing us, too. That in itself should be motivation for us all to straighten up and fly right. The angels are as close as your shadow. It goes without saying that when we step out of our comfort zone and share the good news about Jesus Christ to those who don’t know Him the angels smile. If, as Luke 15:10 states, “…there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents,” then each and every one of us has the potential to send waves of happiness rippling through what Hebrews 12:1 calls “a great cloud of witnesses.” I figure if we could hear but a fragment of their voices as they rejoice we’d all become dedicated evangelists within a nanosecond.

There’s an out-of-print book by Vance Havner entitled, “Though I Walk Through the Valley.” In it he related the story of a pastor in a small rural community who stayed up all night working on a sermon for his tiny congregation. The next morning his wife asked why he exhausted himself spending so much time on a message so few would hear and even less would appreciate. He rubbed his tired eyes and said to her, “You forget, my dear, how large my audience will be!” To that anecdote Havner added, “Nothing is trivial here if heaven looks on. We shall play a better game if, ‘seeing we are encompassed,’ we remember who is in the grandstand.” In other words, even in our darkest, loneliest hours when we’re tempted to pity ourselves and gripe that nothing we do or say can possibly make any difference or when we feel we’ve been abandoned by all, the angels are faithfully standing near to hold out a comforting hand and listen to what we have to say. They’re always on the clock. I quote Billy Graham: “Our valleys may be filled with foes and tears; but we can lift our eyes to the hills to see God and the angels, heaven’s spectators, who support us according to God’s infinite wisdom as they prepare our welcome home.”

So that’s the watching part of the angels’ job description. The waiting part pertains to when our souls leave this mortal coil. On the first Easter morning an angel arrived at the garden tomb where Jesus’ body had rested, dramatically shoved aside the heavy stone from the entrance and let the dawn’s fresh air fill the musty sepulcher. At that moment the empty vault ceased to be a sad hole in a cliff; rather it was transformed into a life-affirming place that radiated the glory of God Almighty. It instantly stopped being a dank prison and became a universal reminder of the celestial light that dissipates the shadows of death. Christ’s resurrection changed everything everywhere. No poet nor playwright has ever been able to form adequate sentences to efficiently describe the height and depth, the length and breadth of the glory to which the world awakened when our precious Savior strolled from His cold gravesite into the stillness of the morning, alive once more. Death couldn’t hold Him and the devil hung his head in defeat. Jesus’ resurrection accomplished many profound things, the least of which was to give those who’ve surrendered their lives to Him a preview of what they’ll one day experience themselves. Just as angels were involved in the Lord’s victory over death, so will angels assist us in handling the conclusion of our mortality. The Bible tells us death is no more than a thin veil separating us from the spiritual world and, because of Christ’s sacrifice, we have no reason to be afraid of it. God surrounds death with the assurance of angelic help to bring warm sunshine flooding into the darkness of that transitional experience we all must go through. I suspect that we Christians will wonder what all the fuss was about because in the blink of an eye we’ll discover, to our delighted amazement, that we’re indeed heirs of the kingdom of God.

In a nutshell, death, as it pertains to a believer, is like the cutting of a rope that holds us captive in this fallen world so the angels can transport our souls to our heavenly home. Dr. Larry Crabb wrote an excellent book called “66 Love Letters” throughout which he engages in a running conversation with God regarding what He desires believers learn from each book in the Holy Word. In it God repeatedly refers to what awaits us in the next life as the best non-stop “party” imaginable. For example, God tells Crabb the message He’s conveying to all of us in 2 Samuel is this: “Whether you make those who abuse you eat dirt or you forgive them, whether you fail miserably or act nobly, live with this confidence: I will defeat all evil, both the evil in you and the evil in the world. There will be a party. And you’ll be there. So will David. I gave my word to him, and I give my word to you.” I don’t know about you but I trust the Creator of the universe is also a brilliant party planner and I can’t wait to taste His punch and hors d’oeuvres.

If you still harbor trepidation about death take comfort in the Bible story of the beggar Lazarus in Luke 16. Jesus said he was “carried by the angels” to heaven. Like him, you’ll be escorted through the Pearly Gates by angels and delivered directly into the throne room of God. The same angels who watched over you as you trod terra firma will be at your side during your final great test as a human being. Make no mistake, death is a serious crisis to endure and I’m not making light of its profundity. It’s a scary proposition. In 1 Corinthians 15:26 Paul wrote, “The last enemy to be eliminated is death.” And, since no one other than Jesus ever came back from the grave (Okay, his pal Lazarus did, but he wasn’t talking), there exists an intimidating mystery hovering over the unknown that haunts our consideration of death because we’ve all been to funerals and we’ve seen firsthand that the end of our physical run really is the end. However, God promises the angels will be there when the curtain falls. Could it be that the “rod and staff” alluded to in the 23rd Psalm that accompany us through the “valley of the shadow of death” are holy angels? Methinks they may be one and the same.

Death wasn’t in the original plan. Humans were created to live, not die. But the default of Adam and Eve came with a steep price and they couldn’t undo what their sin brought into the Garden. Without God’s grace, received through His Son, death’s a gruesome specter. I’ve attended funerals held for non-believers and trudged away with a sense of futility and sadness that doesn’t subside for days. On the other hand, a funeral for a Christian usually instills hope and sometimes joy, knowing the deceased is now more alive than ever before. Those services also heighten my appreciation for what Christ did for me. His death and resurrection created a path through enemy territory for my soul to safely journey upon that wasn’t there before. When I expire my soul will leave my body and rise through the atmosphere. The Scripture says that Satan is “the prince of the power of the air” which leads me to ponder that he and his demons will give it one last college try to lure me into betraying my Lord. But Jesus, by passing through the devil’s realm and establishing a beachhead on the other side, thwarted the evil one’s final temptation. And I won’t have to traverse that treacherous trail alone. The angels will be with me. Therefore I cannot view death as a tragedy. With an angel on each arm I’ll skip out of time into eternity with a song of praise on my lips.

Visit any bookstore and you’ll find plenty of books written by people who’ve had a near-death experience and were permanently altered by it. Throughout history there’ve been deathbed revelations preserved telling of individuals who saw the Savior beckoning with open arms and hearing the voices of angels as the person exhaled for the last time. Survivors who were Christians became solidly convinced heaven is a real place. A number of unbelievers who had that happen to them changed their opinion 180 degrees about Jesus because of what they witnessed. Today dying patients are given so much sedation we don’t hear as many stories of people peering upward into paradise as before but we have enough evidence to conclude that, for those who’re saved, death is a glorious happening. The Bible assures us heaven’s no fantasy or illusion. The angels will take us there. In addition, they’re commissioned by the Father to provide comfort and peace to the friends and loved ones who’ll miss us. Isaiah 61:2 states God will “console all who mourn.” I’ve found the promises in God’s Word to be of great solace when I’ve lost people close to me and I wouldn’t trade those guarantees for anything. The truth is that Christians shouldn’t view death the same as others do. Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4:13; “Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest who have no hope.” And, referring to his and his fellow believers’ eventual demise, he said in 2 Corinthians 5:8; “Thus we are full of courage and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” Obviously we have no cause to be ashamed of looking forward to heaven.

People who’ve been in the room with believers in their final moments more often than not report those folks die with expressions of triumph on their faces. Little wonder the Bible tells us “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (Psalms 116:15) And it’s no surprise that David expressed the unforgettable line, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…” (Psalms 23:4) Despite all assurances, however, I doubt any of us are 100% immune from hanging onto at least some apprehension about what it’ll be like to die. Hearing about it is one thing, going through it yourself is quite another. I urge us all to lean on verses like Revelation 14:13; “Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead, those who die in the Lord from this moment on!’” Realize that you’re so incredibly important to and loved by God He was willing to let His Son lay down His life for you. 1 Corinthians 15:58 reads, “So then, dear brothers and sisters, be firm. Do not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” Your life has a purpose. Put all your faith in Christ. He’s got the whole world in His hands.

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