How much of what is spoken of heaven is the heaven of the Bible?
How many of us as children were taught about a different kind of heaven by the adults in our lives? We would hear, uncle Pat is with aunt Tillie in heaven playing pinochle (pronounced: pee-nuckle); it’s a card game. Usually the card playing also includes having a martini. Or something like this is common, Grandpa Bob is watching over us from heaven. To which you would add, I hope Grandpa Bob will put in a good word into Jesus for me.
Some may balk, thinking I am being foolish. I am not. Think for yourself. How has heaven been portrayed to you? What is it like? Has it even been spoken of at all?
The next thing I would like us to consider is the inhabitants of heaven. Who is in heaven? Who goes to heaven? And how does one get there?
Well, the common thought is God is in heaven. Not necessarily the God described in the Bible. But any god of your own understanding is there.
Excluding those who claim to be atheists, I think it is fair to say that a great many people would answer, all people go to heaven. And you get there when you die. People might add this, almost everyone goes to heaven when they die, but people like Hitler do not go to heaven. The notion is most people are good or at least pretty good. And heaven is where good people or pretty good people go when they die, especially when they have a ‘good heart’ as the saying goes. Albeit the Bible says otherwise. (Rom.3:9-18)
Perhaps in contrast with my aforementioned earthy example, some would say the inhabitants of heaven sit around all day on a cloud, maybe playing a harp, next to a chubby cherub. In this vein, it was common in my youth to hear that people that died and went to heaven became angels, they got wings. A similar thing is seen with the ‘angel’ Clarence in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life ‘earning his wings’ by rescuing Jimmy Stewart.
Then there are the books written from those that had near death experiences. They saw a bright light. It was warm. They had a feeling of intense peace. Some spirit-being told them it was not their time and they had to go back. Now they are not afraid of dying.
The Christian acquainted with his Bible will exclaim, well none of this is according to the Bible. This is not the heaven of the Bible. This is not the heaven of the Bible believing Christian. This is not the real heaven. Quite right.
I can divide my life in two. Before I knew Christ savingly. And after I knew Christ savingly. I know the language of unbelief. And I know the language of belief. And I know the language of unbelief by those who profess belief.
So now I pose the very same question to my brothers and sisters who profess Christ, whatever happened to heaven?
I have been a born-again Christian since Sunday March 10th of 1991. And I have been a minister of a conservative Bible believing Presbyterian church since Sunday January 6th of 2002. Here is how Bible believing Christians forget and exchange the heaven of the Bible we profess to believe. And I include myself. Lord I believe. Help Thou my unbelief.
Heaven is forgotten when we spend little to no time thinking about it. Heaven is forgotten when our prayers do not contain our desires to be there. Heaven is forgotten when we do not speak to ourselves or to others about the glories and the joys and the longing of being in the immediate presence of the Triune God.
Heaven is forgotten when our thoughts, affections, words, and actions are absorbed with the things of this life and this world. Heaven is forgotten when the only time we think or speak of it is surrounding a funeral. And then as the thoughts of the grave are crowded out by the things of life, so too do our thoughts of the eternal estate with God in Christ and the souls of the saints vanish like a morning fog. Back with our faces to the earth.
You see in this way the earth has captured our hearts. The earth is our heaven. Oh, I do not mean by precept or profession. When called upon we still profess to believe and we sing on cue, the world is not my home I am just a passing through. But our practice betrays our profession.
Heaven is forgotten in our pulpits when ministers no longer include it in their sermons. And I mean regularly. If not weekly. As a minister I know why my fellow ministers omit speaking to their congregations of the heaven of the Bible. In order to speak of life after death you have to speak of death. You see it is true, you have to die to go to heaven, even the real heaven of the Bible. Death is a terribly unpopular subject, even as a platform to speak of heaven. And ministers are afraid of congregants. Even though they are too afraid to say so. This is the fear of man. The fear of being unliked and unpopular and thus unemployed.
Heaven is forgotten in our pulpits because the preaching of the blood of Christ is the purchase of our entrance. The Cross is an offense. But only the blood of Christ will cleanse our sins to enable us to enter a holy sinless place to live with a holy God. Many professing Christians do not want a weekly diet of the blood making us fit for heaven.
In its place is this. We exchange the work of Jesus Christ in the salvation of souls into man-centered, self-centered, and this world-centered pursuits. Earth has become our heaven.
What I mean is this. We no longer believe that Christ’s exclusive work is to reconcile us to God by His blood and then to conform us into His holy image by His Spirit using His word and then to take us home to a real holy heaven.
Professing Christians divide the purposes of Christ. There is the Savior from sin and for holiness and heaven Christ. We say this at least when our orthodoxy is challenged. But then there is also the therapy self-help this world Jesus. Jesus is there to help your finances, to restore your health, to give you child rearing advice, to make you happy, to give you your best life now. Did you catch that? Your best life ‘now’.
This is what has happened to heaven for professing Christians. It has been exchanged for now, here, this life. Earth-heaven. Now-heaven.
Jesus does make us happy. He can and he does restore broken hearts and broken families. But these things are the fruits of the true work of the true Christ. Salvation from sin. Salvation for holiness. Pick up our cross, deny ourselves, die to ourselves, and follow Christ as a pilgrim in this life, going to the Celestial City, which is our eternal home – heaven.
Certainly the plagues, the wars, the riots, all of the misery that we see all around us ought to remind natural man that God is and He has cursed creation for man’s sin, misery being the fruit of sin. These temporal miseries are a faint herald of the utter and unchangeable converse of heaven.
But these very things for the Believer ought to remind us of God’s privileges for those found in the Son of His love.
Our citizenship is in heaven. Our treasures are in heaven. Our true home is in heaven. Our Christ is in heaven. And we will be made like Him.
Heaven will be bereft of Satan, sin, and sorrow. Heaven will be a place of consummate holiness and joy. Christians will dwell in eternal security. The heavenly gates will always be open. The saints will forever exist in a world of light and love.
Heaven is the eternal Sabbath, the place, and the state where God’s people will glorify and enjoy God forever – in perfect worship of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And when we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.
What a glorious eternal future awaits every member of the pilgrim Church. At last we will be home.
Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)