SUNDAY STUDY: What Do You Think Of Heaven?

By T.A. McMahon of The Berean

If I could go back and correct anything attitude-wise about my walk with the Lord for nearly four decades, it would be that early on I would like to have had more of an eternal perspective. I didn’t exactly buy the lie that “to be too heavenly minded is to be no earthly good,” but in some ways my thoughts and actions reflected that idea. I’m much older now, which has certainly increased the amount of time I spend thinking about Heaven. I’m sure that happens to all of us seniors who know and love the Lord. Wanting to be with Him for eternity is an exciting desire soon to be realized by us, unless—better yet—the Lord hastens the event by His imminent return for His saints.

What then of those born-again young people starting out on life’s journey, looking ahead to college, careers, marriage, raising a family, and all the rest of the wonderful opportunities life can provide? For many, Heaven is a distant destination and a remote hope. Yes, it’s a nice idea, but that’s “way down the line of life,” according to the thinking of many. Some might even complain that spending one’s life occupied with thoughts of Heaven is a dreamer’s folly or indicates an escapist mentality that shies away from dealing with the truly important issues of life and might be considered impractical to the point of negligence.

People can and do make up their own ideas about Heaven, but all of us are better served by going to the One who created Heaven and who has revealed to us the truth about it and its purpose. That, of course, would be God and His Word. It behooves us to survey the Scriptures for the truth about Heaven—which God alone can and has provided.

First of all, Heaven is an actual place. It’s not some sort of wishful location where it will be “kinda nice to reside” after our life on earth is over. It’s not some sort of Pleasure Island, nor is it our Native American’s happy hunting ground, nor the Viking’s Valhalla, nor the eternal lakeside cottage we’ve always desired. Nothing to inspire self-gratification will be found there—nothing to fulfill the lust of the flesh—as that would greatly diminish the glorious wonders that God has prepared for the believer!

Heaven is a joyous mystery: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). It will be an environment of bliss that has no earthly comparison, and we are blessed to read of some earthly experiences that won’t be found there: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

Heaven is presented throughout Scripture as a place where those who are saved will receive rewards for their fruitful works on earth: “But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have showed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Hebrews 6:9-10).

One’s eternal treasure is generated by good works: “Charge them…that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to [share]; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19). Continually we are told “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal” (Matthew 6:19), but rather produce “a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth” (Luke 12:33). The comparison is between earthly goods that are temporal and heavenly treasure that is eternal. Jesus told the rich young man whose wealth had captured his heart, “Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me” (Matthew 19:21).

We don’t know what “treasure in Heaven” exactly means, but we do know that its value far and away exceeds anything our earthly life has or could produce. Beginning perhaps with the gracious words of Jesus, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” it will include rewards and crowns, as well as opportunities to rule and reign with our Savior and King during the Millennium (Revelation 20:6). Again, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”

Furthermore, whatever God has prepared, as supremely wonderful as it will be, it will nevertheless pale by comparison with our being in the presence of Jesus, whom we love and who loves us more than we can comprehend. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2-3).

No matter what Jesus has prepared, nothing could be better for believers than to be where He is. Paul was totally aware of that joyful expectation when he wrote, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot [know] not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better” (Philippians 1:21-23). It’s far better because our “life is hid with Christ in God” and when “Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:3-4). Being with Jesus forever is both the purpose and pinnacle of life. It is the believer’s raison d’être, his or her reason for living.

What then is the criterion for entrance into Heaven? When the religious leaders asked Jesus what they must do to work the works of God, He replied, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:28-29). That is the only condition that must be met. The Philippian jailer was instructed: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shall be saved” (Acts 16:31). Peter, as well, declared, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Believing the gospel—the good news that Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, paid the full penalty for one’s sins—reconciles one to God and makes him fit for eternal life with Christ. The psalmist writes, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath [Jesus] removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12), which Paul underscores in Romans 6:22: “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.”

Sin is still a factor in the temporal life of a believer, but its infinite penalty has been completely paid for and its power will cease at Heaven’s door. Again, one’s entrance into Heaven, a place where sin cannot appear, is only possible because of Jesus, “who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14).

The Bible does not present Heaven as a place for believers to move on to after they have done their best to shape up the world into the Kingdom of God. That’s not going to happen. The Kingdom of God will not be manifested on earth until the King himself returns, and He will return with those whose residence has been in Heaven while the earth and its inhabitants will have been subjected to worldwide destruction through God’s righteous judgment. “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24:21). The prophet Jeremiah refers to it as “the time of Jacob’s trouble” out of which a remnant of Israel will be saved (Jeremiah 30:7).

What does all the above say about one’s activities here on earth? For the most part, what the Scriptures teach has been marginalized if not outright rejected even by those who claim to be Christians. Mankind has attempted to set up its own utopian kingdom from the time of Babel to the Holy Roman Empire to Calvin’s “kingdom” in Geneva to Hitler’s Third Reich to the Kingdom Now and Take Dominion enthusiasts to the Christian Reconstructionists and Coalition on Revival proponents to many of today’s cults. Also of that biblically erroneous mentality are those Christians whose emphasis is on solving the world’s problems such as disease, hunger, poverty, illiteracy, immorality, and social injustice. Although some such organizations include sharing the gospel in their “good works” endeavors, the majority have drifted away from what Christ commanded: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you [always], even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:19-20). Since sin is at the heart of all the world’s problems, then even good works that avoid the salvation that only Christ provides, no matter how sincere, are antichrist endeavors.

Not only is the great commission being undermined by various forms of “works salvation” but a very significant emphasis of Scripture is being rejected: namely, that believers in Christ are to recognize that this planet is not our home but simply a starting point, intended for our temporal existence, which has, as the objective, to be with Jesus for all eternity. We are sojourners here, pilgrims, Heaven-bound to be with our Savior. “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour. Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world” (John 12:26; 17:24). We must not forget that Scripture tells us that this present universe is headed for termination following the thousand-year reign of Jesus: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10).

Those who take a dim view of Christians who are highly motivated by the hope of Heaven have not read the Scriptures, or, if they have, they must not believe them. Chapter 11 of Hebrews characterizes the heroes of the faith as “strangers and pilgrims on the earth,” who desired “a better country, that is, an heavenly [one],” and adds that the world was not worthy of them (Hebrews 11:13,16,38). The complaint is that a focus on Heaven results in a “do nothing” time here on earth.

Again, such complainers aren’t taking the Word of God at its word. Over and over we find verses exhorting us to holiness and fruitfulness as we look forward to Heaven: “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23); “That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to [give], willing to [share], laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life” (1 Timothy 6:18-19); “And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1 Peter 1:17). “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation [conduct] and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless” (2 Peter 3:11-14).

Jesus gave a number of parables that instruct us about how we, as believers, should regard Heaven. Therefore, we need to heed His words in order to keep from being sidetracked in our sojourning through this temporal life. “And the disciples came and said to him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given” (Matthew 13:10-11).

Those who would reject Christ would also reject Heaven. How important, therefore, should Heaven be in the lives of those who believe? Nothing here should supersede it. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46).

“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:1-2).

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34).

“For our [citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look  for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).

Amen and amen.