¨ By: John MacAuthur
¨ August 4, 2008
In Romans 12:12 Paul tells the Roman believers that they should be “rejoicing in hope.” He was referring to the hope of heaven, which ought to fill us with joy. In contrast, the preacher of Ecclesiastes said, “The day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth” (7:1). Although he was being cynical because life was meaningless to him, as Christians we can agree with what he said because we have the hope of heaven. Paul said, “To me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). The prospect of heaven made him joyful even in the face of death.
¨ A. The Inhabitants of Heaven
Heaven is the dwelling of God. Although God is present everywhere at all times, heaven is uniquely His home. Everything that is precious to us is in heaven: our Father, our Savior, our fellow believers, our name, our inheritance, our reward, our treasure, and our citizenship. Heaven is our home.
¨ 2. Holy angels
Isaiah 6 pictures the Lord exalted on His heavenly throne, surrounded by holy angels (vv. 1–2). Matthew 22:30 and Luke 15:10 also state that the angels dwell in heaven.
¨ 3. Saints
Heaven is where saints who have died now dwell and where believers who are alive will one day live.
Both Old and New Testament believers who have died are in heaven, waiting until the second coming when they will receive their glorified bodies. All those who in faith accepted God’s way of salvation—whether in Old or New Testament times—are now in the presence of God.
¨ WHERE HEAVEN IS
¨ Heaven is an actual place. But it is impossible to chart the longitude or latitude of heaven, because it cannot be located geographically, even in space. But it’s a place where people who have glorified bodies, like Christ’s resurrection body, will actually live. After His resurrection Christ could eat, drink, walk, and talk. He could be touched and recognized when He allowed Himself to be. Heaven is a place for real, not ethereal, people.
¨ A. The Direction
¨ Heaven is located upward. In 2 Corinthians 12:2 Paul says that he was caught up to the third heaven. Ephesians 4:8–10 points out that when Jesus came to earth, He descended, and when He returned to heaven, He ascended. Acts 1 tells us that Jesus ascended into heaven. While the disciples watched, two angels said, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (v. 11). Discussing the rapture, 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17 says the Lord will catch us up into heaven. When God examines His creatures, He looks down (Ps. 53:2); when man seeks God, he looks up (Ps. 121:1). The apostle John saw a door open in heaven and heard a voice inviting him to “come up” (Rev. 4:1). John pictured the New Jerusalem, the eternal home of the saints, as coming down out of heaven (Rev. 21:10).
¨ WHAT HEAVEN IS LIKE
¨ 1. By Ezekiel
¨ Our first view of heaven comes from the prophet Ezekiel. God wonderfully revealed to him by a vision what heaven is like. Ezekiel 1:4–28.
¨ That was Ezekiel’s description of God’s throne in heaven. We cannot fully understand all he described, and neither did he. But under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he attempted to describe what he saw: blazing light reflected off polished jewels and colored wheels of light mingled with angelic beings (the “living beings”). Around the throne of the eternal, glorious God, he saw a flashing, sparkling, spinning rainbow of brilliance. In referring to the faces of the angelic creatures some say the lion refers to majesty and power, the man to intelligence and will, the ox to patient service, and the eagle to swift judgment. Although it is difficult to interpret the specifics, we can say this is describing the sovereignty, majesty, and glory of God and the incredible beauty, symmetry, and perfection of His heaven. The wheels that moved in concert, the flashing lightning, the sparkling jewels, and the brilliant light all picture God’s glory. Ezekiel gave us a picture of heaven, but it’s beyond our ability to fathom.
¨ 2. By John
¨ In the book of Revelation we begin to see more of the details. The Greek word translated “heaven” occurs more than fifty times in the book. Twice God is called “the God of heaven” (11:13; 16:11). In chapter 4 John says,
¨ a) Heaven’s throne
¨ Ezekiel ended chapter 1 with a description of God’s throne and the inexplicable glory of heaven. John begins by describing that throne. Repeatedly in this passage he mentions the throne, which is the center of heaven and the focal point of God’s presence.
¨ (1) Its Occupant
¨ Verse 3 says, “He who was sitting was like a jasper stone.” Jasper is an opaque crystalline quartz of differing colors, especially shades of green. The jasper of ancient times was more transparent. Verse 3 adds that God was like “a sardius in appearance.” The red sardius may speak of God as Redeemer, the One who provided a blood sacrifice. If that is its significance, it highlights the glory of God’s redemptive character. Jasper and Sardius were the first and last of the twelve stones on the breastplate of the high priest (Ex. 28:17, 20). They represented Reuben, Jacob’s oldest son, and Benjamin, his youngest. Thus in a sense God pictures Himself as embracing Israel.
¨ (2) Its surroundings
¨ Sounding much like Ezekiel, John continues, “There was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance…And from the throne proceed flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder” (vv. 3–5). At Mount Sinai, when God came down to give the law, thunder and lightning accompanied Him (Ex. 19:16). The writers of Scripture, seeking to describe the indescribable, portray the presence of God as filled with thunder and lightning, blinding light, and a sparkling, dazzling array of colors and rainbows.
¨ That is a description of heaven. Heaven is the actual place where God dwells. In heaven is a throne from which comes flashing and sparkling light, and beneath it is a crystal clear, brilliant, sparkling sea of glass. It is described as sapphire in one passage because of the color reflecting off it and as clear in another because it picks up the color that sparkles from the presence of the One who occupies the throne. Ezekiel described it as the color of dazzling crystal stretched across the sky.
¨ Glimpses of Heaven?
¨ Heaven is not a land of shadows and mists. Some people who were supposedly dead and then resuscitated claim to have seen heaven. When asked what heaven was like, many have said it was like light at the end of a long tunnel. Books describing such experiences are popular. But heaven is not some light at end of a dark tunnel; its brilliance is magnificent beyond description!
¨ (3) Its observers
¨ In Revelation 4:4 John says, “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.” I believe those elders represent the new priesthood, the church in heaven. We will be reigning with God in the midst of a crystal sea that flashes and sparkles with His splendor. Verse 6 adds that around the throne were four living creatures—probably a reference to angelic beings, perhaps cherubim. Surrounding the throne is the angelic host and the redeemed church; occupying the throne is God Himself in all the glory of His majestic revelation.
¨ b) Heaven’s Temple
¨ The two major buildings of any ancient city were the palace and the temple. They represented human and divine rule. In heaven there is a throne, which portrays God as the majestic Sovereign, and a Temple, which portrays Him as One who should be worshiped. In Revelation 3:12 Christ says, “He who overcomes [referring to the Christian], I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore.” Believers will be the pillars of God’s Temple. In Revelation 7:15 one of the twenty-four elders, speaking of saints who have come out of the Great Tribulation, says, “They are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne shall spread His tabernacle over them.” Christians will serve God in that Temple. In Revelation 11:19 John says, “The temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm.” In chapter 15 John says, “I looked, and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened” (v. 5). Those passages make clear that there is a Temple in heaven.
¨ In Revelation 21:22, however, John says, “I saw no temple in it [the New Jerusalem], for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple.” The Temple of that city isn’t a place where God dwells—God Himself is the Temple. Attempting to reconcile Revelation 21:22 with the previous passages, some Bible scholars argue that though at present there is a Temple in heaven, when God constructs the new heavens and earth, there won’t be. However, I believe that Revelation 21:22 defines the Temple—it isn’t a building; it’s the Lord Himself. By saying that believers will be pillars in that Temple, Christ promised us a place forever in the presence of God.