Those sitting under my preaching and teaching most likely will not be shocked at my next statement. When there are varying opinions on a biblical topic I try to be upfront with folks by telling them I’m biased in my beliefs. Matter of fact I believe we’re all biased to some degree no matter how hard we try to be objective on any given subject. As I’ve told others “we all come to the table with our own presuppositions.” I really try not to be so dogmatic about most issues, but in my mind there are some topics that are just simply black and white. On the subjects of death, heaven and hell I’m unbendable because I believe the Scriptures are clear regarding these matters.
There are several basic views of the afterlife along with a few variations within groups. Of course we have the atheists, agnostics, and humanist with their views ranging from “nonexistence” to “I don’t care.” There are also non-Christian semi-cultic views taught by Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses with their beliefs in multi-tiered heavens. Let’s not forget Jehovah Witnesses also teach the false doctrine of “annihilation” meaning there is no literal hell. Then there are those like Rob Bell of the Emergent Church Movement who believe in heaven but not necessarily a literal hell; their view of hell is best represented in the hardships and troubles we face in this life. These are all heretical views and we can also include the teachings of purgatory and the false doctrine of soul sleep.
When I’m dealing with someone who is full of questions and doubts concerning eternity I will often answer their questions with another set of questions. Usually the conversation goes something like this:
Parishioner: “Pastor Rod I’m really struggling with the death of my mother and the whole idea of heaven. Do you believe heaven is real?
Me: “Let me ask you a question. Do you believe God is real?”
Parishioner: “Yes, I believe God is real.”
Me: “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and in fact is God Himself?”
Parishioner: “Yes I believe Jesus is God.”
Me: “Do you believe the Bible is God’s Word and testimony to mankind?”
Me: “Then if you believe Jesus to be the son of God and the Bible is His Word do you in some way believe God can or would lie to you?”
Parishioner: “NO – because God is sinless and He can’t lie.”
Me: “You’re right – God doesn't lie and His Word contains the answers you seek.”
First, everyone living will die at some point or at least be “translated” at the return of Christ. It doesn't really matter if you believe in a “pre, mid, or post” rapture regarding the translating or glorification of the believers body, other than at some point it will be changed if you’re living during His return.
1 Corinthians 15:50-55 (ESV) I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
Second, when Christ Jesus was preparing His disciples for His departure from this earth He sought to comfort them with these words.
John 14:1-4 (ESV) “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.”
The Apostle Paul on the other hand speaks of the joy a believer has awaiting him/her at death. For the Christian death brings on a new sense of reality as he/she leaves this body of corruption and spiritually steps into the presence of God and His heaven.
Philippians 1:21-24 (ESV) For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.
There are numerous other passages which support the same idea as the Apostle Paul gave us in Philippians chapter 1. Notice the following passages and how the inhabitants of heaven are conscious and active in the worship and praise of God.
Revelation 4:1-4, 9-11 (ESV) After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2 At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. 3 And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. 4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. … 9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
Note also this passage from Revelation chapter 15, and let me remind you unconscious or hibernating people do not sing praises to God.
Revelation 15:2-3 (ESV) And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. 3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!
Matthew 11:28-29 (ESV) Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Hebrews 4:9-10 (ESV) So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
Revelation 22:3 (ESV) No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.
1 Corinthians 13:9-10 (NLT) Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! 10 But when full understanding comes, these partial things will become useless.
Revelation 21:27 (ESV) But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
In closing I share the story titled, “What’s Heaven like?” The author is unknown but it certainly makes me think about heaven on a more personal level.
Blessings in the Name of Christ,
What’s Heaven Like?
“As a boy, I thought of heaven as a city with domes, spires, and beautiful streets, inhabited by angels. By and by my little brother died, and I thought of heaven much as before, but with one inhabitant that I knew. Then another died, and then some of my acquaintances, so in time I began to think of heaven as containing several people that I knew. But it was not until one of my own little children died that I began to think I had treasure in heaven myself. Afterward another went, and yet another. By that time I had so many acquaintances and children in heaven that I no more thought of it as a city merely with streets of gold but as a place full of inhabitants. Now there are so many loved ones there I sometimes think I know more people in heaven than I do on earth.