I have been thinking more about heaven lately. With the aging of my body and the decay of the surrounding world and with the resulting heartaches, heaven the return of my Savior have become more attractive.
Jesus also thought more about heaven with His approaching ordeal. It was by placing His eyes on heaven that He was able to endure:
- Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2-3)
It is too easy to “lose heart.” If Jesus was able to endure by fixing His eyes on “the joy set before him,” we should do no less. However, it is rare to hear a sermon or a teaching on hell, let alone heaven. Yet these teachings are desperately needed.
A dear friend is facing immanent death. However, her joy is infectious. How can this be? Well, she is looking steadily towards her final heavenly reward! We too must, even if death isn’t immanent.
How do we do this? By meditating on the Word of God and His blessed assurances! Paul was assured that when he’d leave this body, we will be with Him:
- If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 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 1:22-24)
Paul was convinced that he would go to be with his Savior:
- We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8)
Would being at home with the Lord be conscious and joyous? Evidently! Why else would Paul prefer to be with the Lord? In fact, in the Book of Revelation, we are given many portraits of Jesus’ saints worshipping Him (Rev. 7:14; 14:3).
But will some of us have to endure a painful purgatory? If anyone would have to endure such purging, it was the thief crucified alongside of Jesus. However, Jesus assured him:
- "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43)
No room for a purgatory there! Jesus told a parable about Lazarus and the Rich Man. The later went to a place of torment prior to the final judgment. We call this the “intermediate state,” because it follows death but precedes the final judgment. However, Lazarus was escorted to “Abraham’s bosom” by angels, where he was “comforted” (Luke 16:25)
Will we too be escorted by angels to this place of comfort? I love this idea. I am the nervous, worrying, and anxious type. I don’t like the idea of heading down some dark and foreboding tunnel upon death. However, it is not advisable to base our hope on a peripheral detail of a parable. This detail might not correspond to reality. Instead it might just serve the final point(s) of the parable. For example, in this parable, the rich man in hell is conversing across an impassible chasm with Abraham. Few would take this as the actual experience of this “place of torment.”
However, there are other verses that do provide a little support for the belief in an angelic escort. For example, Jesus indicated that children, at least, have guardian angels:
- "See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:10)
The Apostles also believed that we adults have guardian angels (Acts 12:15). If we do, then it would seem odd for God to remove them from us at the point of death.
In heaven, our deepest longings will be realized. The Psalmist couldn’t envision this on earth. With his eyes, he saw evil rewarded, while the faithful were tormented. He couldn’t contain his anger and disappointment until he entered the Temple where God gave him a revelation of the big picture of heaven. He then praised his God:
- I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:22-26)
We too need to focus on the grand panorama of history and where it is going. In this life, we are promised suffering and persecution (2 Cor. 4:10-11; John 15:18-20; 16:1-2). How then can we endure without this grand picture? It was a picture of which Jesus would remind His unsteady Apostles:
- "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
God revealed this to Daniel:
- “He [the Beast] will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws. The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time. But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.” (Daniel 7:25-27)
In this everlasting kingdom, suffering will be no more than a memory:
- He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces (Rev. 21:4); he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 25:8)
Psalm 23 gives us a picture of how He will “remove the disgrace”:
- You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Psalm 23:5-6)
Nevertheless, our Lord has carefully concealed the details of these overflowing blessings:
- However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"-- but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. (1 Corinthians 2:9-10)
Paul indicated that earthly marriage represents the intimacy of our heavenly one:
- For we are members of his [Christ’s] body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." [quoting Genesis 2:24] This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:30-32)
Of course, Paul wasn’t eluding to a physical intimacy (Matthew 22:28-30). Hosea also gives us a hint that our closeness with our Savior will be like a marriage:
- I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD. (Hosea 2:19-20)
This marriage will be forever, and it will be characterized by “righteousness…justice…love and compassion.” We will also be transformed to become like Him:
- But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20-21; Jude 24))
This transformation will be accompanied by seeing Him as He really is:
- Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
We will enjoy true fellowship, because we will understand Him. Now, we only see in part and, therefore, only adore Him in part:
- Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
We shall be glorified as He had revealed Himself on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 13:43). We shall also be made immortal:
- For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." (1 Corinthians 15:53-54)
Consequently, death and disease will be no more, but our roles will also be glorified. We will be “judging angels” (1 Cor. 6:2-3) and ministering God’s love to the nations:
- Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 22:1-5; Isaiah 2:2-4; 66; Zechariah 14)
And the nations that remain after the final war will be providing for us:
- "Foreigners will rebuild your walls, and their kings will serve you. Though in anger I struck you, in favor I will show you compassion. Your gates will always stand open, they will never be shut, day or night, so that men may bring you the wealth of the nations-- their kings led in triumphal procession.” (Isaiah 60:10-11)
- The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. (Revelation 21:24-26)
Meanwhile, we suffer. Why? To prepare us for Christ’s return:
- Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13)
I trust that I will be overjoyed when He is revealed. Why? The sufferings of the life have given me a longing for Him, as they should.