When I began the publication of A BURNING FIRE fifteen years and eighteen volumes ago the first lesson was on the subject of heaven. After all, heaven is the goal, holding priority for us in everything we do in this life. This is our one hope. It seemed appropriate to me to include in this study of the home a lesson on heaven, our ultimate and eternal spiritual home which God has provided for the redeemed and the faithful.
Heaven is mentioned over six hundred times in the Bible. To be sure, it does not always refer to the same thing or same place. For instance, in Luke 15:21 when the prodigal son was making his confession of wrongdoing (sinning against heaven), and Matthew 21:25, when Jesus asked regarding the baptism of John whether is was from heaven or men, heaven is used to refer to God and His authority.
In Deuteronomy 1:28 and 9:1 heaven refers to something of great height, “cities walled to heaven,” or “fenced up to heaven.”
Repeatedly, heaven refers to the abode of the Father, “Our Father which art in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9), as one example.
In Matthew 5:12 Jesus said, “great is your reward in heaven...,” meaning the place of reward and the abode of the blessed. Like many other matters, the meaning is determined by the context. It is in this last sense that we think of heaven as home. How many, many songs we sing that speak of heaven, and heaven as home. Heaven is called the home of the soul. We must needs go home by the way of the cross. We think of the home over there. We ask the Lord to lead me gently home. When we request, “O, give me a home,” it is this home for which we long more than any other.
Heaven as Seen by the Jews
In the Jewish mind there were three heavens, possibly four (a disputed but unimportant matter). Genesis 1:7,8 speaks of the air, where birds fly, storms rage, clouds form. Genesis 1:17, heaven refers to space, the place of the sun, moon, stars, and planets. As mentioned, it often refers to the dwelling place of God. Then we have the location of heaven in Paul’s vision, recorded in Second Corinthians 12:1-4. Paul called it the "third heaven." meaning the Hadean realm and Paradise. He was caught up “into paradise." Paradise was where Jesus went when He died, but that was not the abode of the Father for He had not yet ascended to the Father even after His resurrection (John 20:17).
From the earliest Biblical history men knew something better was over there (Enos, Enoch). Revelation from God guarantees a life beyond, but where? Our hope is not limited to this life (First Corinthians 15:19). Heavenly reward is still future. Hebrews 13:14, “Here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” The heaven for which we hope is part of the good news. We can lay up treasures in heaven that perish not (Matthew 16:19-21).
What Will Heaven Be Like?
While this is not our major concern in this lesson, let me answer by saying it will be like nothing that we can adequately describe because of its grandeur. Literal language is simply too tame and commonplace to be adequate. But we can be sure that however heaven will be, it will be to our liking.
There are many questions regarding heaven for which specific answers are not given us. They only provoke speculation, which may be interesting but uncertain, and we cannot become dogmatic about unlearned, and untaught questions.
Do we go immediately to heaven upon physical death? On this question we can be reasonably certain, and the answer is that we (our spirits) go to the unseen state of the dead, the intermediate state between death and the resurrection, called Hades, which is composed of Paradise (Abraham’s bosom), and also a place of torments, where the rich man went at his death (Luke 16). There are those who contend we go directly to heaven at death. It really does not concern me too much either way, but the more consistent position must consider the timing of the judgment. Entrance into heaven follows the judgment.
Who will and will not go there? This is determined by our individual response to the call of Christ. We must be born again (John 3:3-5). Those who obey shall be saved (Second Thessalonians 1:6-9), and those who don't, won’t. No thieves will go there (Luke 12:33), or such as those listed in First Corinthians 6:10, nor unclean persons (Revelation 2 1:27), spiritually unclean, unwashed by the blood of the Lamb. Revelations 21:8 and Galatians 6:l9ff mentions others who will not go there.
Sometimes brethren are criticized with such words, “Do you think you are the only ones going to heaven?” We can confidently say that nobody is promised to go there that rejects the gospel and refuses to obey it. It is open to “whosoever will.” The trouble is with the whosoever that will not obey but contend they will go there anyway.
Will we recognize each other in heaven? We can only say that even though the Holy Spirit does not directly address this question, recognition is strongly implied. Future life implies memory that connects with the former life. Inhabitants of the realm beyond the grave are reported as conscious of their whereabouts. They were conversing with each other in recognition regarding the past. The thief requested, “Lord, remember me...” (Luke 23:42). The rich man knew Lazarus and Abraham, and Abraham knew them both. Moses and Elijah were identified at the transfiguration of Christ long after they had died.
I would not suggest we shall recognize one another by physical features, heaven being a spiritual realm, and we will have a spiritual body (First Corinthians 15:44). But how does one spirit recognize another? I confess this goes beyond my ability to comprehend.
Paul said he would be present with the Lord and his Corinthian brethren, which implies recognition (Second Corinthians 4:14). The Thessalonians were taught the redeemed would be raised together, implying recognition (First Thessalonians 4:13-18). David said he could go to his son (Second Samuel 12:23), implying he would know that event. Beyond this, I risk no more.
Some have complained that if we do recognize others we would be miserable if someone we loved was not there. First, I want to be sure they are there and must do all I can to help them get there. And I want to get there myself. But had you rather miss those absent or ignore those who are there? Take God’s Word for it. Heaven will be pleasant, regardless of what we may or may not know or recognize.
Will There Be Degrees of Reward and Punishment?
Again, indications are in the affirmative. Luke 12:42-48 speaks of few stripes and many stripes. Matthew 11:21-24 mentions the judgment being more tolerable for some than others. The parable of the talents indicates different rewards (Matthew 25:14-31). We shall be judged according to our works, and they differ (Revelation 20:13). We shall enjoy the joy according to our spiritual maturity and capacity. Paul says it will be very far better (Philippians 1:23), so let us leave it there.
Heaven Is A Real Place
Heaven is not simply a state of mind (John 14:1-4). It is a “place,” a spiritual place. It is called a holy city (Revelation 22:19). It is where Christ went to prepare (John 14), to which He ascended (Acts 1), and called the Father’s house (John 14).
A spiritual place may be only expressed in material terms, like twelve foundations, gates, gems, twelve thousand furlongs, etc. These terms are figurative, like the street of gold, the perfect cube. But the important thing to remember is that God is there (Revelation 2 1:3). “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and he their God.” (The relationship of these words with the church is a subject we will not enter here, but has application.)
More About Heaven and What It Will Be
Heaven is presented as a place of worship, beauty, perfect happiness, security, and an eternal existence with God. It is a new place, free of sin, no pain, no death, no sorrow, no tears, no night (Revelation 21:4). Second Peter three specifies the end of the present heaven and earth, and a new habitation, a place fit for the abode of the redeemed. It will be joyful, eternal, blissful, and an existence that is good and pure. There will be the location of the tree of life, the paradise of God (Revelation 2:7). It was from this tree that man was barred when he sinned in Eden (Genesis 3:23). It is not a literal tree, but a figure and symbol of life. What a wonderful home awaits us.
Heaven is described as a place of reward, a “crown of life" (Revelation 2:10), and a “crown of righteousness” (Second Timothy 4:6-8), where the soul never dies.
Heaven is in the presence of God, therefore, the fullness of joy. “In thy presence is fullness of joy" (Psalm 16:11). Jesus is there (Hebrews 9:24). He has entered into heaven itself.
Heaven is called a “better country” (Hebrews 11:16), a place of security (Matthew 20), that shall last forever (Matthew 25:46). There is no curse there (Revelation 22:1-3), and those who are there are identified with God.
Paul in Romans 2:7 shows heaven to be a place of glory, honor, immortality, peace, and eternal life. God will be on the throne (Revelation 22:3). It is that Sabbath rest, spoken of in Hebrews 4:9, “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.” In Revelation 14:13, those there will be blessed. Revelation 7:15.16, “Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple, and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.”
The mention of the temple implies heaven will be a place of worship. Who was worshipping in Revelation 7:14 but those whose robes had been washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb?
Heaven Is A Gift; An Inheritance
God forbid that we ever think that we can earn, merit, or deserve heaven. Heaven is an inheritance to God’s children (First Peter 1:4), and given to us (Matthew 25:34). To be sure, there are conditions we must meet first. We are invited to go there (Revelation 22:17; Acts 10:34,35), and we can go there provided we do as God commands us. Even when we obey, we earn nothing. We are given access into His grace. We do well to ask, will a religion that won’t even take you to worship in this life, take you to heaven?
1. Why do we refer to heaven as home?
2. How many times is heaven mentioned in the Bible?
3. What were the heavens considered by the Jews?
4. Try to describe heaven.
5. Do you think we shall know each other in heaven? Why?
6. Who is promised heaven?
7. Do we go immediately to heaven or to Hades?
8. Are there degrees of reward and punishment? Give reason for your answer.
9. Can we ever earn heaven?
10. What are some of the terms Scripture uses to describe heaven?
11. Why is heaven called a Sabbath rest? (Hebrews 4:1,3,8,9,11).