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Heaven ought to be a precious subject for every child of God. It concerns the eternal future that God has planned for His own. Though it is an important topic, there is much that the Lord has chosen not to reveal about it, for His own wise reasons. Paul even speaks of a man (perhaps referring to himself) who had either a vision of heaven, or was transported there, and then was forbidden to speak of what he had heard (II Cor. 12:1-4). While we do not know all the details, the curtain has been drawn back sufficiently to give us a fascinating glimpse of what is in store for the people of God.
One author describes heaven as "that supernatural realm in which God dwells [and I would add, where His throne is] and over which He exercises direct control....It is in heaven where His will is perfectly done, that is, without sin (Matt. 6:10). On earth His control is indirect, and the wills of lost men and demons vigorously oppose Him. In heaven, every will is [willingly and] joyfully subject to God's own will" (from Lawrence Richards,
Expository Dictionary of Bible Words).
Paul calls this place "Paradise" or "the third heaven" (II Cor. 12:2, 4)--"third" because both earth's atmosphere and outer space are also called the "heavens." The writer of Hebrews refers to Paradise as "the city of the living God" and "the heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb. 12:22). The Apostle John calls it "the holy city, New Jerusalem" (Rev. 21:2). All of these terms depict aspects of what heaven is.
1) What is the normal expectation of every person living on earth (Gen. 3:19; Ps. 89:48)?
2) Though we face physical death, what important truth needs to be added to that (Jn. 5:28-29; Dan. 12:2)?
INSIGHT: John 5:29 is not teaching that people will be saved by their good deeds. We are not saved by doing good. Rather we are empowered to do good by being saved (Eph. 2:8-10). Good works are not the root of salvation, they are the fruit. Conversely, "those who have done evil" describes those who have never put their faith in Christ, and whose lives, as a result, are evil in the sight of God. There are two possible destinies for each person--a heaven to be gained and a hell to be shunned. The only means of salvation is the cross, and being born again (and thus fitted for the heavenly kingdom) through personal faith in Christ (Jn. 3:3, 16, 36; 6:28-29; 14:6).
3) If one is a believer, what can he (or she) expect to occur at the moment of death (II Cor. 5:8; cf. Lk. 23:42-43)?
4) Though death is the normal expectation of all, what other possibility is the Christian encouraged to look forward to (I Thess. 4:15-17)?
5) What is the fundamental thing about "heaven," whatever and wherever it is (Jn. 17:24; Phil. 1:23; cf. II Cor. 5:8; Lk. 23:43; I Thess. 4:17)?
6) What is one of the reasons the Lord Jesus has ascended to heaven ahead of us (Jn. 14:2)?
7) As a part of this, what is being set aside and safeguarded for us there (I Pet. 1:3-4)?
INSIGHT: The heavenly city is utterly magnificent, beyond our wildest imagination. According to the book of Revelation, there is gold everywhere. (The word is used about a dozen times by John in describing what he sees.)
8) But what is one odd characteristic of the gold of heaven (Rev. 21:21; cf. 15:2)?
9) This quality will allow for the full effect and enjoyment of another dominant characteristic. What is it (Rev. 21:23; 22:5; cf. Col. 1:12)?
INSIGHT: While there is an emphasis on the architecture of the place (with walls and gates adorned with precious stones (Rev. 21:18-21), there is also a definite garden quality to it. The word "Paradise" connotes a beautifully designed and luxurious park.
10) What two features are a significant part of this heavenly garden (Rev. 22:1-2)?
11) Will we be able to eat food in heaven (Rev. 22:2; cf. Christ in His glorified body, Lk. 24:41-43)?
INSIGHT: The tree of life, withdrawn in Eden (Gen. 2:9; 3:22-24), will reappear in heaven. Amazingly, it will produce different fruit, month by month! That the leaves of the tree of life give "healing" to the nations is not an indication of sickness present in heaven, since there is none (Rev. 21:4). The Greek word gives us our English word "therapeutic." Apparently the leaves will provide some kind of refreshment, or added strength and vitality to all who eat them.
INSIGHT: Notice the reference to time (months) in Revelation 22:2. This indicates heaven will provide endless time, not the absence of time--cf. 8:1; 20:10. Only God is able to live in timeless eternity. The idea that time will somehow cease comes from a misunderstanding of Revelation 10:6. In the original King James Version, an angel is made to say "that there should be time no longer. What is meant is not that all time will cease, but that the final phase of God's earthly judgment would no longer be delayed.
12) What important object is at the centre of all the heavenly magnificence (mentioned over and over in Revelation Chapter 4--see vs. 2, 4, 5, etc.)?
13) In addition to the Triune God, and the multitude of the redeemed, what else does the population of heaven include (Matt. 18:10; Heb. 12:22)?
14) What quality of life is emphasized for those who live in the presence of God (Ps. 16:11)?
15) What are five things that will be missing, in order for this to be true (Rev. 21:4)?
16) What kind of bodies will we possess in heaven (Phil. 3:20-21; I Jn. 3:2)?
INSIGHT: They are also called "incorruptible" (never-decaying, imperishable) and "immortal" (never-dying) bodies (I Cor. 15:50, 53). Will we be "old" or "young"? Though we are not told specifically, it is likely we shall have bodies of perfect, mature age, as Adam and Eve's were at creation. We shall be eternally "in our prime." This likely applies to those who die in infancy as well. They will be advanced to perfect physical maturity. As to what we shall wear, Revelation 19:8 teaches that the "wife" (or bride) of Christ, meaning those comprising His church, will be clothed in "fine linen, clean and bright," symbolic of "the righteous acts of the saints."
INSIGHT: Our glorified bodies may also possess unique abilities, such as the capability of transporting ourselves instantly from place to place. The power to do this is not the norm in our mortal existence, apart from God's miraculous intervention (e.g. Acts 8:39-40).
17) According to the following references to Christ in His glorified resurrection body, what might these supernatural abilities also include (Jn. 20:19, 26; Acts 1:9-11)?
18) Do you believe we will know one another in heaven?
INSIGHT: Even though we will all be physically perfect, we shall be distinctly different, and recognizable to one another. Peter, James and John were able to differentiate between Jesus, Moses and Elijah, on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:3-4). From this we can expect there'll be a thrilling time of reunion and fellowship over yonder, when we join together in the presence of Christ (I Thess. 4:14, 17).
INSIGHT: Distinct identities are tied to unique life experiences. (For example, Christ can be identified by the scars received on Calvary (Jn. 20:27; cf. Rev. 5:6).) If we are able to know each other, then it stands to reason we will be able to recall and discuss the events of this life together. For example, Paul says he expects to be able to identify and rejoice in individuals he had brought to Christ (I Thess. 2:19). And we will be able to ask Moses what it was like to cross the Red Sea, where "the song of Moses" was first sung (Rev. 15:3; cf. Exod. 15:1). Above all, there must be some memory of the reason for our salvation if we are to truly rejoice in our Saviour. Our song will be "You were slain [an earthly, historical event], and have redeemed us [another earthly experience]" (Rev. 5:9).
19) If all of this is so, how will we be able to recall our earthly lives, with all their painful trials and suffering, without being sad?
INSIGHT: Won't memories of the past make heaven rather depressing? And what about the specific statement in Isaiah 65:17: "For behold I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind." At a casual glance, this verse would seem to suggest that nothing of our past life will be remembered. However, it must be harmonized with the rest of Scripture. 1) To be precise, Isaiah is dealing with the old earth, not the people we knew. And he says things about the old earth will (literally) not come to heart." In other words, their remembrance will not lead to worry and anxiety. 2) Painful aspects of life quickly will dim to relative insignificance, or be overwhelmed by the joys of heaven--much as a mother puts behind her the pain of childbirth, in the joy of having a child. 3) The Lord will give us the ability to ponder painful realities (such as His judgment, and eternal hell) in a new way. That we will be able to see them as the outworking of God's perfect righteousness and wisdom, and rejoice in them for that, without personal pain. 4) In heaven the memory of our former life will perhaps be vivid at first, allowing for recognition of friends and family, and a continuity with our past life. Then, as eternity rolls along, those older memories may fade into insignificance as we build new ones with these same people we knew before.
20) One great activity that will give us joy is what (Rev. 5:8-9; 14:2-3; 15:2-3)?
21) In contrast with our present existence, what will be missing from heaven (Rev. 20:10; 21:27; cf. Matt. 25:41)?
22) According to God's Word, what will happen to the earth and heavens as we know them? And what will God do then (II Pet. 3:10-13; Rev. 21:1)?
INSIGHT: At that point, the heavenly city will descend to a perfect earth, and remain there forever (Rev. 21:2-3). The dimensions of the city are given (Rev. 21:16). It is about 1500 miles square. However, there is one oddity that remains unexplained. It will also be 1500 miles high! Whether this means the city will be shaped like a cube, or, as some believe, like a giant pyramid, we do not know. Perhaps if it is pyramid-shaped, the throne of God will be at the apex, and equally accessible from any direction.
23) While we have few details concerning what we will be doing, what general description is given of our activities in eternity (22:3)?
24) What other detail is given of what we will be doing (Rev. 5:10; 22:5)?
INSIGHT: This truth brings us full circle back to God's commission given to Adam in the beginning, that he have dominion over the earth, and rule it for God (Gen. 1:28). But that was a failed dominion, over what became a cursed earth. On the new earth, more beautiful than Eden, we will fulfil the purpose for which God originally created us, to rule His creation under His sovereign throne, with the heavenly city central to it all. And perhaps "Behold, I make all thingsnew" (Rev. 21:5) includes the animal kingdom as well!
INSIGHT: Regarding the concept of "ruling," Jesus gave a parable one day concerning our responsibilities in this life and how they relate to our rewards in the next (Lk. 19:11-27). In the story, the master's faithful servants are given a certain number "cities" to rule over, according to how faithful they have been (vs. 16-18). This is a made-up story, intended to illustrate the need for faithful service. Whether our reward will translate into actual cities we are responsible for is not certain. Perhaps it will.
25) If another person has greater rewards than we do, will this lead to dissatisfaction or envy? (Why? Or why not?)
INSIGHT: In our perfected state, the negative attitudes of our old sin nature (such as envy and jealousy) will be unknown. And each person's life will be abundantly filled, both with pleasures and responsibilities, to the level that individual is able to contain it. That we have more or less than others will be irrelevant. We will have exactly what is right for us, and fully satisfied and fulfilled by it! "Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee" (II Cor. 5:5).
26) As believers, what should our attitude be with regard to Christ's return (II Tim. 4:8)?
26b) And what should we be doing in the meantime (I Thess. 1:9-10)?
INSIGHT: We are to make use of the gifts God has given us to serve Him faithfully (I Pet. 4:10). In a parable related to the second coming, Jesus told of a nobleman who journeyed to a far country for a time, instructing his servants to "do business till I come" (Lk. 19:12-13).
27) What is one sobering truth Christians need to realize about eternity up ahead (I Cor. 3:14-15)?
28) What is a positive way we are to make use of the truths God has revealed about our future (I Thess. 5:9-11)?
For further research on the subject of heaven, check out these two excellent books:
Things to Come,
The Prophecy Knowledge Handbook.
The first, by Dwight Pentecost, is considered a standard text on prophecy. In the second, John Walvoord has assembled all the prophetic Scriptures in the Bible and commented on them. Both books are recommended.