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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Heaven — Make It Your Destination!

By James H. Railey
March 27, 2011

Shortly before the 19th-century American evangelist Dwight L. Moody died, he spoke these words: “Earth recedes; heaven opens before me.” This statement has become famous around the world.

Moody’s son, William L., was with his father and testified that the evangelist continued: “No, this is no dream, Will. It is beautiful. It is like a trance. If this is death, it is sweet. There is no valley here. God is calling me, and I must go.”

Such stories provide beautiful illustrations of the hope of the believer that this life is not all that there is and that there is a future for them in the very presence of God.

What is the biblical witness to the basis for this hope? The concept of heaven in the Bible includes the immediate destination of the believer after physical death and the believer’s ultimate eternal abode after the return of Jesus Christ.

Heaven after this life is over
We probably all have mental pictures of what heaven is like. Some of them we have cherished from childhood, and others have become more precious as we have passed through life. They most likely include images of angelic beings, blissful existence, and reunions with loved ones. The surroundings of heaven are typically viewed in our minds as being beautiful beyond description.

The main feature of heaven is the presence of God. The ancient Israelites were challenged to affirm this truth after entering the Promised Land whenever they presented the tithes of the land’s produce. They were to pray, “Look down from heaven, your holy dwelling place, and bless your people Israel and the land you have given us” (Deuteronomy 26:15, NIV).

God declared through Isaiah, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool” (Isaiah 66:1). It is from “heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind” (Psalm 33:13). Jesus frequently referred to the Father as being in heaven (Matthew 5:45; 7:21), and taught His followers to address their prayers to “our Father in heaven” (6:9).

Heaven is alive with the presence and praises of the angelic beings whom God created. When the prophet Isaiah had a vision of the Lord, angelic beings were seen worshipping and proclaiming God’s holiness (Isaiah 6:1-4).

The apostle John, caught up in the Spirit, witnessed the essence of heaven — worship of the worthy Lord (Revelation 4:6-10; 5:11-14). The magnificence of God elicits from angelic beings and redeemed humans exultations of praise. In heaven we will be released from the constraints of this earthly life to worship freely and fully.

The future for the believer after this life ends is this wonderful place, heaven. The apostle Peter declared that the new birth experience based on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead results in “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4).

As Jesus told the story of the rich man and Lazarus, He noted that upon his death Lazarus was taken by the angels to Abraham’s side, an idiom in Jewish thought for heaven, the place of God’s presence (Luke 16:22). Jesus promised the believing thief who was crucified alongside Him that “today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

The apostle Paul was convinced that “if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven” (2 Corinthians 5:1), and that to leave this life is to be at home with Christ (Philippians 1:23).

Jesus promised as He came to the end of His public ministry that He was going away to prepare a place of dwelling for His followers (John 14:1-3). What a comfort to us to know that this world is not our final residence! The trials and difficulties of the present find their answers and meaning in the future prepared for us with God.

The reward in heaven is great, Jesus assured us, for those who, like the prophets of old, are enduring persecutions and false charges (Matthew 5:12). We have a hope that is stored up for us in heaven, one that is not subject to being stolen or destroyed (Colossians 1:5; Matthew 6:20).

Heaven after the age is over
Paul, basing his argument on the historical reality of the physical resurrection of Jesus, taught of a future resurrection of the believing dead. His language is so powerful: “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44).

When this resurrection takes place in tandem with the return of Jesus, we will meet Him and will “live together with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:10). In heaven, death as a factor in human existence will have been fully defeated, and we will live forever in God’s presence (Luke 20:36; 1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

The mysteries of heaven are not yet fully revealed to us. Questions and misunderstandings abound. What will our transformed bodies be like? What activities will occupy us in heaven? These, and more, are the sort of concerns for which the Bible does not provide complete answers.

Perhaps the apostle John entertained some of the same kind of questions and chose to answer them this way: “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).

The promises of God for the future of His children even go beyond the great reward of going from this life to His presence and then being resurrected to live forever in His heaven.

The apostle Peter noted that this present world will pass away, but he assured the believer that “we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13). In Revelation 21 and 22, John provides picturesque language describing the ultimate future God has planned for those who follow Him.

Preparation for heaven
As the old spiritual phrased it, “This world is not our home; we are just passing through.” The writer of Hebrews told of the faith of Abraham as he pursued the promise of God, noting that “he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (11:10). The one who is truly a believer in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, holds this same hope — it will be worth everything when we enter the heaven God has prepared for us.

Heaven is so wonderful that we must do whatever is necessary to ensure that it is our destination. When an old bishop was asked the way to heaven, he replied: “Take the first turn to the right, and go straight forward.”

That first turn to the right is to accept the forgiveness for sins that God offers because of the work of Jesus on Calvary. The way straight forward, then, is to follow the instructions for godly living found in the Bible. Come, go with us to our Father’s house!

Dr. JAMES H. RAILEY is a professor of theology at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Mo.

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