Tuesday, October 16, 2018
Why Heaven Matters, And What Believers Can Expect To See And Do Once They Get There
Revelation 4:1-2 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.” 2 Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne.
The story of a King who was fascinated by heaven on earth
The story is told of how the King of Russia, Vladimir the Great, brought Christianity to his Russian homeland in the year 988 A.D. With a mixture of truth and fable, historians recount how this immoral, pagan prince was looking for a way to unite the empire over which he ruled. Vladimir felt the best way to achieve his goal was to select a singular religion.
Vladimir dispatched ambassadors to investigate major world religions at that time. Upon their return, each of Vladimir's ambassadors relayed their findings. Some noted that they saw laws and prohibitions on what to eat and what not to eat. Another said that the religion he witnessed did not seem to convey any real benefit to the people one way or another. However, there was one ambassador who is recorded saying these words to King Vladimir:
“We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendor or beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you. Only we know that God dwells there among men, and that their service surpasses the worship of all other places. We cannot forget that beauty.”
In our 21st century post-Christian culture, I wonder sometimes that whenever people visit our churches, should they not come away with a similar response: "We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth". How often have you heard it said: "That person is so heavenly minded they're no earthly good." The only response I can give is:
"Unless a Christian becomes more heavenly minded they cannot accomplish God's earthly good" (Matthew 5:16; Colossians 3:1-3).
Why Heaven Matters: How the Moral Aspect Of Our World Points To The World To Come
It is undeniable that our physical universe isn't just composed of physical matter composed of quarks, atoms and molecules. There is a moral dimension to our world. Put another way, we all are aware of the universal sense of right and wrong that functions universally and has done so prior to humanity's appearance upon this globe.
When the 20th century Christian writer and Oxford professor C.S. Lewis was atheist, he described how he would rail against all the injustice he saw in the world. When Lewis was converted to Christianity, he reflected back on complaints about injustice and noted that unless there was an ultimate standard of right and wrong (i.e. an ultimate good), then all his complaints about evil and injustice were but a waste of time.
The moral qualities of creation demand an explanation that lies beyond the mere physical and temporal constraints of this space-time realm in which we occupy. A moral law of which we're all deeply aware can only make sense if there is a Moral Law-giver - God. Moreover, the playing out of the moral and spiritual struggle between good and evil in this present age can only make sense if there is an eternity in which both unimaginable evil is sectioned off from a far greater, unimaginable good. Such thoughts as these provide on-ramps for directing our minds to consider the passages in the Bible that speak about Heaven and Hell.
In this particular post today, we want to focus upon the subject of Heaven and ask the following question:
Why is Heaven and immortality so central to understand life in general and Christianity in particular?
Today we will explore what the Book of Revelation and other scriptures have to teach us about Heaven.
What Believers Can Expect To See And Do In Heaven.
We could nickname the Apostle John as the man who saw heaven by virtue of the fact that no less than eleven heavenly visions are recorded through the book of Revelation.1 Out of all the 66 books of the Bible (with the exception of Matthew), the book of Revelation exceeds all other Biblical books, accounting for roughly 10% of the total times we find heaven mentioned in the Bible. Author John MacArthur observes that the overall subject of Heaven is found in some 582 occurrences in 550 verses.
The book of Revelation itself is a Christ-centered book. Revelation 1-3 depicts Christ and His church. With reference to Revelation 4-5, we discover Christ and His Heavenly Throne. John's particular vision of heaven in Revelation 4-5 is the second heavenly vision of the book.
With respect to what believers can expect to see when they get to the place called "Heaven", three observations are noted in Revelation 4:1-6 -
1. Thrill of seeing Jesus. Revelation 4:1
2. Throne of God. Revelation 4:2-3, 5-6
3. Throngs of saints. Revelation 4:4
The above three-fold summary of "what we will see in Heaven" threads its way through not only the vision we find in Revelation 4-5, but the other ten visions recorded in the book (see the end notes for verse references at the end of this post).
So then, in noting what we can expect to see in Heaven (mind you, other places in scripture spell out many other details, we're just getting a sketch of the details for now), the next question to consider is: "what can believers expect to do in Heaven?" Revelation 4:3-11 sketches out some of the amazing activities believers can look forward to in Heaven:
1. Gaze at the glory of God. Rev. 4:3-6
What is the glory of God? God's glory is the full display of all His goodness and greatness to His creatures. We find a rainbow encircling the throne of God, reminding us of His fidelity to His promises. Just as He promised Noah that He would never destroy the world again with a flood, such promise-keeping power operates in full measure in Heaven. All that believers hold to by faith will be made sight.
As we gaze at the glories of His grace, we find in Revelation 4:4-5 the glories of His majesty. The holiness of God, as expressed by the Holy Spirit in His seven-fold wonder (i.e. the "seven-spirits of God" and what is expressed in Isaiah 11:1-2) is just as prominent in Heaven as His grace. The mirrored sea before the throne recollects back to the wash basin of the priests God revealed to Moses in the design of the Tabernacle (see Exodus 25; 30:18; 38:8) and represents the mirror of God's Word into which the believer behold's the glory of God (see 1 Corinthians 13:12; James 1:23-25).
Then, in gazing at the glories of God's grace and holiness, we will behold the glories of His beauty. In Revelation 4:6-7 we see mysterious creatures, known elsewhere as "Cherubim" and "Seraphim" (compare Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 1). The beauty of these heavenly creatures are extolled, described as looking like four great creatures rolled-up into one. The beauty of these heavenly creatures - which occupy a level and rank of angelic existence not afforded to the numerous hosts of servant angels which serve God's people - are among the chiefest of God's beautiful created handiwork.
God's uncreated beauty is an attribute which points to the splendor, majesty, glory and excellency of His essence and existence. All other created entities, such as Cherubim, Seraphim, human beings and mountains, derive their beauty from God - who alone is His own sense and reference-point of what it means to be beautiful. As Ravi Zacharias has noted:
"God is the only entity which can account for His own existence, whereas all other entities, being created, must look outside of themselves to account for why they exist."
All the attributes possessed by God (grace, holiness, beauty, for example) are the universal, objective sources and reference points for whatever grace, holiness or beauty we may observe in creation or in the Christian life. God alone possesses such qualities in-and-of-Himself. Christian writers of old write of how the ultimate destiny of Christians is when in Heaven, their created intellects will apprehend the excellencies of the beauty of Almighty God in what is deemed "the Beatific Vision".
2. We Will Give Worship To God. Revelation 4:8-11
Revelation 4:8-11 details for us the sort of worship songs we will hear and sing in Heaven. Revelation 4:8 records -
"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.”
Then we find the next sample of joyous singing in Revelation 4:11 -
“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.”
The spill-over of worship and praise, from both angelic choirs and human-redeemed will reverberate and echo throughout eternity. We will gaze at God and glorify God in our worship. True worship of God is far from boring. A worshipper of anything is both captivated by the object of their affection and desires to somehow capture whatever they worship in the whole of their senses. True worship overflows into desiring others to enjoy the same sort of experience. To worship created things is idolatry, since such objects fail to deliver what only God alone could deliver - full satisfaction, full-life, full-love and fulfillment in the ultimate sense of the word.
Worship of God, in Christ, is what we were created for but lost, and what believers are redeemed for and gain. True worship leads to the desire to want to serve God in love and fulfillment of His purposes for them. So, let's notice one final activity that will characterize what believers will do in Heaven....
3. Get to reign with Jesus. Revelation 3:21; 4:4
Some may be surprised by this last activity. Why work? Why reigning? Throughout the Bible, we find references to the spiritual inheritance which Christians can expect to enjoy in Jesus Christ (for example, Ephesians 1:18-20). Such inheritance is not only positional and spiritual, but will, in eternity future, be physical and actual. The occupancy of 24 thrones in Revelation 4:4 by 24 human beings represents what believers can expect - reigning with Christ and casting our royal crowns at His feet in perpetual praise.
Just as God had placed Adam and Eve in the original Garden of Eden to work and tend it so as to exercise dominion over His creation as His co-regents, believers will resume that God-given mandate - only on a more grander scale. The details of what will all entail the believer's work of reigning with Christ is sketched-out elsewhere (for instance, 1 Corinthians 6:3; Ephesians 3:10-20; 1 Peter 2:9-11). Just as powerful worship of God in this present age motivates the believer to go and do God's bidding, the spill-over effect of gazing at God's glory and giving Him worship will translate into doing His will with unspeakable joy. Again, such thoughts as these are but skimming the surface. However, may we all be more inclined to look forward to seeing the Savior in the days to come.
1. Revelation 1; 4:8-11; 5:9-14; 7:10-13; 11:15-17; 12:10-12; 14:2-3; 15:3-4; 19:1-10; 21:1-9 and 22:16-21.