Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
September 17, 2000
Those are not pleasant words, but that is reality. Men have worked hard to distort that reality and make hell into something else or even deny it, but the truth will not be ignored when they step into eternity. Yet, there is hope for man because he does not have to go to Hell. God has provided the means for him to go to another eternal place – heaven.
While there are many that have sought to distort the reality of Hell, there are also those that advocate erroneous ideas about heaven. I pointed out last week that there are groups such as the Jehovah Witness that place their hope in an eternal earth. However the Scripture is clear that the true Christian’s hope it is not on the Earth.
In 2 Peter 3:10-18 the Day of the Lord is described including the destiny of the present heaven and earth. Verses 10 & 12 state they will be destroyed. “…the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (verse 10). “the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!” (verse 12). Peter uses this truth to prod us to righteous living saying in verse 11, “Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness . . . “. He answers his question in verse 14, “be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless.” In short, the Lord will return and the present earth and heavens will be destroyed. Therefore, we should live with that in mind and be prepared for eternity by living holy lives in peace and godliness. It is foolish to pursue the things of this world if they are going to burn up.
The same passage also describes the Christian’s hope in verse 13, “But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” Our call to holy living in not based on just the utilitarian idea that the things of this world are going to be burned up, therefore, there is no sense in spending our lives in pursuit of them. Our call to holy living is also based on preparation for life in a place where righteousness dwells. The longing of the redeemed is not for the things of this earth. We long for a new heaven and a new earth that will not suffer the corruption that the present heaven and earth are under.
It is interesting to note that creation itself longs for this, for it will be re-created as the final part of our redemption is played out. Paul tells us in Romans 8:18-25, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.”
We who know and love the Lord Jesus Christ and creation itself understand the corruption of our current world. We long for it to be changed. We yearn to be in a place where the sadness and tragedy that surround us will be gone and we will not have to deal with the physical suffering our deteriorating bodies give us. We want to be where we will not have the emotional turmoil of fear, rejection, grief and anguish and where we will have the intellectual capability to understand the things that leave our minds baffled, confused, uncertain. We long for that place we call “heaven.”
But, “heaven,” is thought of very differently by different people. The term “heaven” has greatly degenerated in our time. For most of our society, it has come to mean “a place or condition of utmost happiness” (Webster). It is used in connection with dreams, loves, lyrics, and fiction. “I’m in heaven when I am with my love . . . “. “I dreamed I died and went to heaven” followed by a description of what that would be (31 Flavors Ice Cream on every corner, it was free and you could eat all you wanted and never gain any weight – talk about fiction!). Different religions also think of it differently.
In Eastern Mysticism, which includes Hinduism, Buddhism, etc., heaven is not a place, but a condition called “nirvana,” in which one becomes united with the universe and self-consciousness ends. An attractive thought for those whose goal in life is to escape the cycle of reincarnation and the pain of living.
In Islam, heaven (or Paradise) for the men is described as a place where they will “recline on soft couches [drinking] cups of wine handed to them by the Huris, or maidens of paradise, of whom each man may marry as many as he pleases” (Anderson, pg 117). I do not know what happens to the women, though in view of their treatment within Islam, I do not believe it would be very pleasant.
In the cults also have some strange ideas about heaven. It gets a little complex in Mormonism, but the good Mormon becomes a God him/herself. He to rule over his own planet/world and she to be eternally pregnant giving birth to the souls that will inhabit the planet. I am not sure how many of you ladies find that idea attractive, but apparently some people do.
Let me expand on what I said about Jehovah Witnesses earlier. They hold that the reign of the invisible heavenly Kingdom of Christ Jesus began in 1914. (A real contrast to the visible coming of Jesus as King in Matt. 24:27-30 and Revelation 1:7 in which every eye shall see Him). Since they also believe that only 144,000 will reign with King Jesus in the heavenly spheres, then the earth must remain eternal for the rest of them to dwell on. As already mentioned, that is a contradiction to 2 Peter 3 that the present earth will be destroyed.
However, the question for us is not what do other religions and cults teach about heaven, it is what does the Bible teach about it?
First, lets examine the Biblical words for “heaven.” In the Old Testament, the Hebrew, shamayim, is used for heaven, and in the New Testament the word ouranoV/ouranos is used. Both words mean essentially the same thing. Shamayim literally means “the heights” and ouranoV/ouranos means “that which is raised up.” Heaven is “that which is above.” That is a good way to describe heaven because how else could something that is not located on the earth and is of more glory than the earth be described. It is above and beyond. It is something that is “higher.”
Scriptures speak of three things as “heaven” – something which is above. First, there are the atmospheric heavens, which is the air and sky. Second, there are the celestial heavens, which is space. This is the location of the sun, moon and stars. And third, there is the heaven that is not defined so much as a location we can physically locate (i.e. go the Andromeda Galaxy and turn left for 200,000 light years and you can’t miss it – on your right with the cute white picket fence), but rather it is defined as being the dwelling place of God. That encompasses a spiritual dimension since God is spirit (John 4:24). Since our interest this morning is our future destination, we will concentrate on the Heaven as the dwelling place of God and the ultimate destination of the redeemed.
We will be looking at several issues concerning heaven. First, that it is a real place, not an imaginary one. Second, what it is like in appearance? Third, what are its characteristics? Fourth, who/what will be there? And fifth, how can I get there?
1. Heaven is a real place.
It would seem that would be self evident that heaven is a real place, yet, in view of the teachings of other religions and cult groups, let us start by affirming this truth. Heaven is not an existential condition of utmost happiness. It is not a figment of our imaginations in wishful thinking. It is a real place where real beings exist and serve the Lord God, Creator of everything.
First, it is a place that is described as real by both the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 6) and Apostle John (Revelation 4). They both describe a real place with real creatures doing real things before God. (We will look at these passages in a few minutes).
Second, heaven is a location that is traveled to and from. Angels come from heaven and proceed back to it. In Daniel 10:12, an Angel is sent when Daniel’s prayer is heard. In Luke 1, the Angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee – Nazareth. Where does God dwell? Heaven. In Matt 28:2, an “angel of the Lord descended from heaven” and opened Jesus’ tomb. In Isaiah 14 (also Lk 10:18), Lucifer is seen as falling from heaven and boasting that he would ascend back into it.
Third, God refers to heaven in the same way as the earth. The clearest example of this is when Jesus calls Heaven God’s throne and contrasts it with the earth being His footstool (Mat 5:34,35) (See also Acts 7:49 & Isaiah 66:1).
Fourth, there are real creatures in heaven. We have already mentioned Angels. Jesus Himself refers to them in heaven in Mark 13:32 saying that not even “the angels which are in heaven” know the time of the Lord’s second coming. There are different types of angels there. Seraphim are specifically named in Isaiah 6, and there are others that are just generally referred to as the “Host of heaven” (Lk 2:13, etc.). We will describe more of these creatures in heaven later, for there are many, but suffice it to say right now, that heaven is a real place. It is described as a real place, real creatures travel to and from it, it is referred to in the same way as the real earth, and real creatures dwell there. It is not imaginary. It is real.
An old country song once talked about people that were so “heavenly minded they are no earthly good.” That is not a problem in our society or in the church. Our problem is that people are so earthly minded they are no heavenly good. Few people properly understand the reality of heaven and/or believe that the spiritual creatures mentioned do exist. They do! Heaven is real!
Next, what is the appearance of Heaven. We will look at both what is heaven like, and examine the end of Revelation to see what the new heaven, and in particular the new Jerusalem, will be like.
Let’s start with Isaiah 6:1-7
In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” Then one of the Seraphim flew to me, with a burning coal in his hand which he had taken from the altar with tongs. And he touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is forgiven.”
The majesty of heaven and the creatures described in this passage are impressive. Here we find the Lord is sitting on a throne, which is in a high and prominent position, with the train of His robe filling the temple (vs. 1). There is also an altar there with burning coal on it (vs 6) which may account for the smoke (vs 4). There are marvelous creatures busy about the business of worshiping God.
Revelation 4:2-11 adds to this.
Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance. And around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads. And from the throne proceed flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; and before the throne there was, as it were, a sea of glass like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. And the first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.” And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created.”
The book of Revelation gives additional descriptions. In 5:6-8 there is a Lamb standing as if slain who is given great honor for it is Jesus. In 5:11, we find there are myriads and myriads, and thousands and thousands of angels. In 8:3, articles of the temple are described including the Golden Altar, a golden censer and Incense (8:3).
All these things are part of heaven, the dwelling place of God. That is where the believer will be during the great Tribulation period, and where the marriage supper of the Lamb will take place in Rev. 19. But now go to Rev. 21, for that is where the description of the New Jerusalem is given, the city whose builder and maker is God, the city of the redeemed for eternity. Revelation 21:10f
And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are those of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west. And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And one who spoke with me had a gold measuring rod to measure the city, and its gates and its wall. And the city is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as the width; and he measured the city with the rod, fifteen hundred miles (12,000 Stadia); its length and width and height are equal. (Note, a stadia is about 600 ft, so this is actually about 1,400 miles, not 1,500. This is a cube that would cover an area about the same size as everything west of the Mississippi River in the Continental U.S. -which is 1,902,406. The New Jerusalem is about 1,858,000 sq miles, but it is that high too! About 2,533,321,000 cubic miles. A big place. It is approx. 1,400 miles from Canadian Border to Corpus Christi, Texas, and from San Francisco to Kansas City): And he measured its wall, seventy two yards, (144 Cubits) according to human measurements, which are also angelic measurements. And the material of the wall was jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation stone was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. And I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.
Skipping ahead to chapter 22: “And he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. And on either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His bond-servants shall serve Him; and they shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. And there shall no longer be any night; and they shall not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall illumine them; and they shall reign forever and ever.”
Sounds like quite a place!
But more important than what it looks like, with its huge size and unequaled splendor, are what characterizes it. Some might be content to just say it is majestic, but it is more than just that. Peter says it is a place “in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13). Why? Because is it where God dwells, and that the is major characteristic of Heaven. It is where God dwells and where He is worshiped. Nothing about heaven stands out more than that fact. The Lord God Creator of everything dwells in Heaven and all that are in His presence worship Him. Lets look at some of the creatures that are in heaven and see this.
Back in Isaiah 6 we saw the Seraphim standing behind God who is seated on the throne calling out to one another, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.”
In Revelation 4 we find the four living creatures around the throne calling out, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.” In Rev. 4:10-11 we find the 24 Elders casting their crowns before the throne of God and saying, “Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created.” In Rev. 5:11,12 we find the four living creature and the 24 elders and myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands of angels saying, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” In the next verse we find “every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them”… saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”
The overwhelming characteristic of heaven is the presence of God, and the overwhelming activity of heaven is the worship of Him. Who else do we find in heaven? In Revelation we find mentioned the Martyrs (Rev. 6:9 & 15:2-4), a great multitude of humans (Rev 7:9 & 19:1-7), and the armies of heaven (Rev 19:14).
Who dwells there after the judgements of Chapter 20 and the new heaven and the new earth and the New Jerusalem come. Rev. 21:3 stresses again the dominating presence of God, but it is also says, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘ Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer by any mourning, or crying, or pain; for the first things have passed away.’ And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are faithful and true.’ and He said to me, “it is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.'”
Not all will get to heaven. Salvation is not universal! It is reserved for only for those whose names are in the Lamb’s book of life. Revelation 21:27 summarizes this saying, and nothing unclean and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
That brings us to our final point. How can I enter Heaven? There is only one way. Your name must be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and only those who have repented from their sins and turned to stand solely on the promises of Jesus Christ can have their names written there. God became man in Jesus Christ. He lived a sinless life and then died on the cross in our place, He took upon Himself our sin. He rose from the dead on the third day proving His deity and breaking sins bondage. We can now live in view of an eternity to be spent with Him. Have you yielded your life to Him or are you still trying to do it on your own? Today is the day of salvation. You can get your life right with God today. Talk with myself or one of our church leaders today.
I started with 2 Peter and I want to end there. 2 Peter 3:13,14. “but according to His promise we are looking for a new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless . . . “ If we truly love the Lord Jesus Christ and are desirous of His return, we will live for Him now. May each of us be found heavenly minded so that on earth we are good.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times the word “heaven” is said. 2) Describe heaven and then discuss with your parents who goes to heaven and why?
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What will happen to the present heavens and earth? What is the hope of the redeemed and creation? What are some of the erroneous views of heaven by the cults and other religions? What do you think of these ideas? What do the Biblical words for “heaven” mean? What is in the first heaven? What is in the second heaven? What is in the third heaven? What Biblical evidence is there that Heaven exists as a real place? What are some of the things that strike you about the appearance of heaven as described in the Bible? What are some of the things that are found there? How big is the New Jerusalem described in Revelation 21? What is the chief characteristic of Heaven? What is the main activity of Heaven? Is that an activity that can be done to some degree now on earth? What creatures and people will we find in Heaven? What is required for a person to be able to enter Heaven? Have you met those requirements? What people will be excluded from Heaven? How should those who desire to go to Heaven live while on earth? Why? Does your life reflect that hope for going to Heaven? What was your view of Heaven prior to the sermon? How has your view changed?
The hope of a a new heaven and earth – 2 Peter 3:10-18
2. HEAVENLY VIEWS OF CULTS AND OTHER RELIGIONS
Eastern Mysticism (Hindu, Buddhist, etc.)
3. HEAVEN IS A REAL PLACE
4. WHAT IS THE APPEARANCE OF HEAVEN
Revelation 5:6-8, 11; 8:3
5. WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF HEAVEN –
Revelation 4 & 5
6: WHO IS IN HEAVEN?
Revelation 6:9; 15:2-4
Revelation 7:9; 19:1-7
Revelation 21:3f; 27f
7. HOW CAN I ENTER HEAVEN
A CALL TO HOLY LIVING – 2 Peter 3:13,14
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