Did you know…“Nearly nine out of 10 people in the United States say they believe in heaven, according to a recent ABC News poll.” The pollster went on to ask this: “But what exactly do people think of when they think of an afterlife and what do they believe is required to get there?” …Isn’t it interesting that people believe in the PLACE but struggle with the DOOR. It has always been that way.
Never out of print since its first publishing in 1678, one of the very important pieces of English literature from the jailed John Bunyan, was The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come. John was persecuted for meeting with other believers – that put him at odds with the ruling Church of England. From his cell, he wrote… The story was written as a Christian allegory divided into two parts – the first part released in February 1678, and a second Part in 1684. The story opens with the main character named “Christian” and records his journey from his hometown to the “Celestial city”. Christian travels weighed down by a great burden (the knowledge of his sin), exposed from his reading of “the book in his hand” (the Bible). Feeling lost, he is directed by once called “Evangelist” toward the light, and that requires the forsaking of family and friends – for they will not follow the directions given to him. Friends like Obstinate and Pliable go along to try to draw him back, but Christian refuses. He is stuck for a time in a bog, but Help rescues him. He is diverted for a time by “Mr. Worldly Wiseman” and his friends, but he continues toward his goal when Evangelist rescues him on the way to a self-righteous visit to Legality’s home. Many other struggles ensue. One especially notable diversion was a time when Christian and a traveling companion called Hopeful met a lad named Ignorance, who believed that he would be allowed into the Celestial City through his own good deeds and not solely as a gift of God’s grace – a belief that caused Ignorance’s destruction. Crossing the dangerous Enchanted Ground and preparing for the River of Death, Christian makes his way, helped by Hopeful. The Second Part of is much more than a mere sequel to the earlier volume. This part was focused on the pilgrimage of Christian’s wife and their sons (along with a maiden named Mercy). The frailty of believers along the journey is explored as they struggle through the Christian life. On the whole, it is an excellent look into the walk of a believer from a time when the Christian world view was pervasive. Follow the story all the way through, and you will conclude that john Bunyan’s Christian believed the journey, with all its hardships, to be utterly worth it. He sacrificed, and was imperiled, but he always knew the journey was LEADING SOMEPLACE INCREDIBLE…. And so do believers that study God’s Word today.
Key Principle: Heaven is our encouragement through the storms of life. Its promises are rich and its coming is certain – because God told us about the place!
Heaven is not described many places in the Bible. Paul spoke of it in the context of the Jewish reflection of the three heavens: “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago– whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows– such a man was caught up to the third heaven.” (2 Cor. 12:2). The three included the firmament (atmospheric heaven), where such as the “fowls of the heaven” (Gen 2:19; 7:3, 7:23) dwell. It is this atmospheric heaven that is referred to as “with doors” – a natural expression of an agricultural society dependent upon the rain. In fact, one of the Hebrew words commonly used fro heaven is “shemayim”, which can be literally translated “there is water there”. Other terms like “shahak” are rendered in our English text as “sky” or “clouds”. Beyond that is the “starry heaven” (the astronomical heavens) where God spread out the planets (Deu 17:3; Jer 8:2; Mat 24:29). In that case, the Hebrew writer preferred the word “rakia” which was a term that referred to stretching out a tent as it was assembled and camp was set up. It is a great term, because it reflects how God looks at the world that He stretched out across the galaxies – a vast but temporary covering for the family of men. The “third heaven” is referred to as the Divine abode (Deu 10:14; Kg1 8:27; Psa 115:16; Psa 148:4; Co2 12:2).
It is the third Heaven we think of when we speak of the place today – the place of spiritual excitement and thrill of God’s magnificent presence. It is referred to as the place of “everlasting blessing”, but it also has many allusions in the Word:
- Jesus referred to Heaven as a PLACE, not simply a “state of mind” as some suggest. He called it simply His “Father’s house” (John 14:2), “Paradise” (Luke 23:43) and the “kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 25:1). He mentioned amid His teachings that His followers will “sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” and alludes to the place as “in Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22; Matthew 8:11).
- The Apostles referred to the “eternal inheritance” (1 Peter 1:4; Hebrews 9:15), the “eternal kingdom” (2 Peter 1:11), the “better country” (Hebrews 11:14-16) and sometimes “the heavenly Jerusalem” (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 3:12). The Apostles spoke of “reigning with Christ” (2 Timothy 2:12) and enjoying “rest” (Hebrews 4:10-11). The unending nature was often referred to in expressions like “life everlasting” and “an eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). The positive nature of the place was underscored in references that it will be devoid of suffering and evil (2 Corinthians 5:1-2) away from the wicked (2 Timothy 4:18) – a place of unending JOY (2 Corinthians 4:16-18; 1 Peter 1:4, 5:10; 1 John 3:2).
“Six Encouragements from Heaven’s Gates”
Turn your eyes for a few moments to one of the great passages of Scripture that describes what is going on in the house of Jesus’ Father. It is the vast throne room of Heaven. To set the scene, we have dropped in after the believers in Jesus have been brought up to be with their Savior. The church’s work, as we saw in our last study, was completed. This is a glimpse forward in time, and the Father is receiving the praise of the Redeemed of the Church Age. The redeemed have been judged for their works as believers – and they are now in God’s presence – telling God that He has done all things well. Here is the description:
Encouragement number on is that Heaven is RESTRICTED – a place with a door.
It is a place one must ENTER, and that is by invitation. In John’s case, it is offered to him in order to give us a glimpse: Revelation 4:1 After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.”
Why would a door on Heaven be an encouragement? Because Heaven is the place where God has limited the access to those He lets in. Wait, Pastor… shouldn’t we be MORE excited if it was the place for EVERYONE? I MEAN, IF God lets EVERYONE in… doesn’t that seem like a happier end to the story. That is what we are led to believe… the tolerance message has deeply scored even Jesus’ redeemed.
Clark H. Pinnock (1937—2010) was a Canadian theology professor and author who died last summer. In his book A Wideness in God’s Mercy, Pinnock contended for a position known as inclusivism. He wrote:
“…we are asked to believe that God endlessly tortures sinners by the million, sinners who perish because the Father has decided not to elect them to salvation [while they were alive on earth], though he could have done so, and whose torments are supposed to gladden the hearts of believers in heaven. The problems with this doctrine are both extensive and profound.” …”How can Christians possibly project a deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness whose ways include inflicting everlasting torture upon his creatures, however sinful they may have been? Surely a God who would do such a thing is more nearly like Satan than like God, at least by any ordinary moral standards, and by the gospel itself.”
It sounds so cruel that God would do the things Pinnock charges. It seems so reasonable to the modern mind to simply scowl at verses in the Bible that suggest such things, relegating them to angry musings of ancient Jews. On closer inspection though, a moral system that precludes judgment is not a moral system at all. A moral system that offers no reward and no punishment is the socialist view of Heaven – everyone gets the same thing… no one is truly responsible for anything.
Consider this: What if you created an entire race of beings. What if you placed them in a beautiful place and offered them peace, blessing and a daily walk with you that would offer them wholeness and intimate security. What if they then decided to follow after one that hates you, and one that has created nothing but rebellion and evil. What if that one offered them victory, but delivered misery and servitude. What if he enslaved your creation…and it broke your heart.
What if you offered your most precious relationship – your only son – to go and pay for their rebellion with his own blood? What if you stood horrified as the object of your affection on earth was bruised, crushed and mistreated by those he came to offer a renewal of your love? What if he paid all the penalty of the rebellion for your lost creation through his perfect self-sacrifice?
Now fast forward. What if the creation decided it didn’t LIKE the gift you gave. What if they decided they had a better plan? What if their plan included religious invocations they made up, traditions they required obedience to that were not part of any requirement you gave them? What if they decided that your gift was not as good as what they could invent, and some who carried faithfully your message were tortured and killed by them. What if they wreaked havoc and evil and put your name on it. What if they openly lied about your Word and your promises – and blamed you for not letting them all have a free pass for their sin?(RS)
Consider these wise words: “Neither the Christian Ministry, nor the Christian church, are responsible for the doctrine of eternal perdition. It is given in charge to the ministry, and to the Church, by the Lord Christ Himself, in His last commission, as a truth to be preached to every creature.” William Shedd.
Heaven is a place God prepared for those who are DECLARED RIGHTEOUS found in His BOOK OF LIFE. Though many people have come to a belief that suggests they will be declared righteous because the DID MORE RIGHT THINGS THAN WRONG. John Bunyan personified that belief in his character IGNORANCE – believing he could EARN points to go to Heaven by doing right – but that isn’t God’s way to get there. They are simply ignorant of God’s Word. He has been clear.
I am encouraged that Heaven is a place with a DOOR, because Heaven’s owner has made clear how to enter. He wrote: 1 John 5:11-12: And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. The one who has the Son has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life. He said it is possible for us to lay our head down on our pillow and KNOW that we will be in Heaven – and it doesn’t depend on our GOOD DEEDS outweighing our bad ones. I am encouraged, and I can sleep better!
Second, Heaven is LASTING a place where the spiritual and eternal dimensions are the essence – not the physical and temporal.
Revelation 4:2 says: “ Immediately I was in the Spirit…” I am encouraged that though Heaven cannot be easily perceived by us in this world, it exists along with this world as a permanent and REAL place, with real occupants. I am encouraged that the physical world, with its pollution and decay is not the end of things. I am encouraged that this body that I live inside is not my final home. I am encouraged that Heaven offers me a NEW and LASTING PLACE, and its natural inhabitants are incredibly impressive when we get a glimpse. When the angels of the “Heavenly Host” were revealed to the shepherds at the announcement of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, Heavenly beings were unmasked before men:
Third, Heaven is CLARIFYING – a place where God the Father shows a display of Who He is:
How exciting to know that the God of the Universe, to whom we have prayed and sought throughout this life, will be made plain right before us! Revelation 4:2b “…and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. 3 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. (skip to verse 5)… 5 Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. 6 and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal…”
Can you imagine this great appearance? God is personified upon Heaven’s throne. What He truly is cannot be grasped by man – but this is the image He chose to project of Himself. Look at this picture and smile. In our fallen world where evil rages and good men and women are mocked – in a world where the moral choices are weakening like ours, God alone will not cave in to popular opinion. He will not allow His integrity to slip and slide about.
- God is good. He is distinct from any shadow of evil.
- He is absolutely pure, and entirely distinct.
- His power is unbounded (Pantokrator, translated “Almighty” is all-powerful).
- He is always the God of NOW – He was and is, and is to come.
- He does not change and does not weaken.
- He was at the beginning, and He will triumph over all – the last One standing.
- The Psalmist reminds that (Psa 45:6) “Thy throne, O God, [is] for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom [is] a right sceptre.
- He is unmoved by winds of political fortune.
- He is unshaken by the deeds of men.
- He has set up and removed the rulers of kingdoms.
- Men can swear He did not make them, and rather blame the universe on a biological accident.
- Man can shake both his fists at the Almighty.
- Man can hate and blame His church.
- No matter – All will be righted before His throne. His throne is set on high!
Before we leave our gaze on Him, look at the “Crystal Sea” placed before the throne. It appeared to John to be a broad, flat and smooth place. The term translated SEA could also be a container – as the laver was called in Solomon’s Temple. It was like the large water container that stood before the inner building of the First Temple, just outside the porch of the Most Holy Place – a vast water pool now called a laver that was used to cleanse the priests. That same idea was later used in the imagery of the New Testament – a parallel use:
Eph 5:25-27 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; (26) That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, (27) That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. Surprisingly, the laver imagery was used in Ephesians as an image of the WORD OF GOD. Here, John may be using the sea as a descriptive image (what it LOOKED LIKE)– but it may be that it is a symbolic one (AN IMAGE OF GOD”S WORD going out before His throne). Could it be that the THRONE of God was depicted as standing on the promises of God! Psalm 119:89 For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven.
- Remember this, when we stand before His throne – all doubt will vanish.
- No more will God’s Word be debated and questioned.
- Not one voice will dare mock, misquote or muzzle the Word of God – His throne is built upon it!
I love that about Heaven – it clarifies everything!
Fourth, Heaven is ENLIGHTENING – a place where the dark things of the Spirit of God are clearly seen in all the Spirit’s marvelous facets:
Standing before the throne of the Father is the enlightening work of the Holy Spirit. He has seven titles in Isaiah 11, all of which help turn on the light of God’s person and work. Rev. 4:5b “…And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God;
Gaze at the lamps, the seven Spirits of God (cp. Isa. 11):
- The Spirit of the LORD – the lamp that shows us God is our MASTER.
- The Spirit of wisdom – the lamp that shows us how to LIVE for God.
- The Spirit of understanding – the lamp that shows us how to DISCERN truth.
- The Spirit of counsel – the lamp that offers DIRECTION amidst uncertain days.
- The Spirit of strength – the lamp that pulls from God’s STRENGTH into our bodies.
- The Spirit of knowledge –the lamp that makes CLEAR the unclear.
- The Spirit of the fear of the LORD –the lamp that REMINDS us of God’s Holy fierceness.
Heaven lights up with truth flooded from the Spirit doing a work in us! Heaven is not darkness- it is light!
Fifth, Heaven is FOCUSED – a place where the Holy Seraphim cry out God’s Holiness continuously:
Listen to the sound of Heaven. It is not many voices shouting orders and running the universe. It is calm. It is singular. It is deliberate. The message is unmistakable…
4:6b “…and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. 7 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. 8 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.” 9 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,
Encircling the throne are four living beings (zôa- “living ones” –we derive our word “zoology” from this word). John finds these guardian voices intriguing. They are full of eyes indicating their ceaseless vigilance and intense intelligence. They have supernatural discernment… and they see in every direction…taking in God and everything else. Theologians suggest the four faces represent “the noblest, strongest, wisest and swiftest beings in nature”.
Angels were created before the earth, and sang at it’s creation (Job 38:4-7). They don’t die (Lk. 20:36), and there are a large number of them. (Dan. 7:10). They are considered a “higher form” than man. Note Heb. 2:6-7). They are primary servants of the throne room in heaven. (Isa. 6; Dan 7). They appear to be beings of hierarchy.
Now stop and listen: HOLY, HOLY, HOLY. A message intended to make God’s distinctiveness clear to all who stand before Him! All focus is on HIM!
Sixth, Heaven is a HAPPY – place where those who have been redeemed offer praise to the God that sent their Savior (4:9-11) and cast victory crowns to their Father who led them to overcome! (4:10):
4:4 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…10 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, 11 “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”
Though the elders sit on thrones, God alone is the Sovereign of Heaven. Elders bow, fall before Him who sits on the throne. They are seen casting crowns – their life accomplishments before Him – and they are REJOICING AT THE PROSPECT! How different than this world where men strive to gain the treasures of accomplishment for themselves to be happy.
All Heaven showers praise on God because He is the center of everything. No matter how godless this world may seem – our God has a plan and He is working His plan out for His purpose. I said it in our last study, but it bears repeating on this final message in Revelation 4. Beloved, there is a day coming soon, when the next great move in the Heavens will change things dramatically here on earth. It is not EARTH that forces HEAVEN – it is the other way around. We are NOT primarily physical beings… we are spiritual beings. The physical world is the illusory one… it will vanish one day like a mirage on a hot roadway. I am not making it up… the Bible made it plain long ago. It is the HOPE of every believer. It is our SUSTAINING TRUTH… we are not at home here on this earth, and we need not feel like we have missed a thing when we turn from things offered here that would not delight our Savior.
- We have a home.
- We have a future.
- No amount of suffering can take that from you.
- No word of cancer can remove that solemn promise.
- No painful rejection by one that you have faithfully loved can mar that reality.
- Because we have a SAVIOR, we have a HOME.
Heaven is our encouragement through the storms of life. Its promises are rich and its coming is certain – because God told us about the place! Keep your eyes fixed above.