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The promise of heaven

By Kenneth D. Barney

Heathens, as well as Christians, believe in another world. Some, who do not acknowledge the God of the Bible, bury weapons with dead warriors. Others provide food for the journey of the departed to their abode.

In the Old Testament, men who had a relationship with God had a concept of the future far different from the speculations of the heathen. In suffering Job declared he would see God even after his body was destroyed (Job 19:23-27). Death was often described as sleeping with, or being gathered to, their fathers (2 Kings 13:13; 22:20).

David described his home in the next world as "the house of the Lord" (Psalm 23:6). When he mourned the death of his infant son, he said, "I will go to him, but he will not return to me" (2 Samuel 12:23, NIV).

Jesus’ coming and the completion of the New Testament brought clear teaching about the future state of believers.

Jesus said a beggar named Lazarus died and was taken by the angels to "Abraham’s side" (Luke 16:22), where he was conscious, happy and free from former troubles.

Jesus promised the dying thief a place in "paradise" (Luke 23:43), which means "a park." This suggests surroundings like the Garden of Eden, man’s first home which he lost through sin. Eden means "delight" or "pleasure." Paul said he was "caught up to paradise" (2 Corinthians 12:4). This word also occurs with the promise that the overcomer will be privileged to eat from the tree of life, "which is in the paradise of God" (Revelation 2:7).

Jesus talked about His Father’s house and promised there are many mansions or dwelling places there. This speaks of security, comfort and happiness. Jesus called it a place and said He would prepare it when He returned to the Father. He promised to come back and take His children to His home. Part of the purpose of His return to earth will be to ensure that every believer will be where He is (John 14:2,3). He prayed for this just hours before His crucifixion (John 17:24).

Peter said we have an inheritance which "can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you" (1 Peter 1:4).

Old Testament Israelites had blue borders on their robes to remind them they were a heavenly people. Believers today do not need an outward sign, for we have the indwelling Holy Spirit, who is "a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession" (Ephesians 1:14).

Abraham looked forward "to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:10). Old Testament saints who died in faith went to a city God had prepared for them (Hebrews 11:16).

Just before Stephen breathed his last, he looked up and cried, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56).

Paul said the Lord will descend from heaven and He will take all believers, living and dead, to be forever with Him

(1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). He also said God will give us spiritual bodies so we can live in heaven (1 Corinthians 15:35-54). We could not exist there in our mortal flesh.

The Book of Revelation gives more details about heaven. Some of the best news concerns things that will not be there: no tears, no death, no sorrow, no pain (Revelation 21:4). A tree of life will be there. A tree of life was in Eden, but Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat its fruit. In heaven the redeemed will eat the fruit of the tree of life. The leaves of that tree will have healing qualities.

A river was in Eden (Genesis 2:10), and there is one in heaven where the water of life flows. On its banks is the tree of life (Revelation 22:1,2). Through the death of Jesus, God made a way for us to regain what was lost in Eden through sin. This time we will not be forced to leave paradise; we can stay forever and have unbroken fellowship with God. No tempter will deceive us.

Heaven is not a myth or a mental escape for people who cannot cope with life’s realities. It is a blessed hope that comforts in times of sorrow and bereavement.

As a pastor, I have stood with sorrowing Christians around an open casket and have given thanks for this hope. In sickness or in health, in happiness or sorrow, we are blessed to know that we shall dwell eternally in the house of the Lord when our earthly house is no longer livable.

The trials of the present cannot begin to be compared with the glory of the city we shall call home forever.


Kenneth D. Barney, an Assemblies of God minister, was adult editor in the Sunday School Curriculum and Literature Department at the Assemblies of God Headquarters before his retirement. He lives in Springfield, Mo.

 

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