Robert Jeffress - Do People In Heaven Know What Is Happening On Earth?
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. The Bible describes heaven as a wonderful place, where there's no more death, no more pain, and no more tears, but how can we truly be happy in heaven when there's still so much suffering here on earth? And won't we feel sadness over the friends and family members whose rebellion condemn them to an eternity in hell? Those are two of the most common questions that people are asking about heaven, and today on Pathway to Victory, we're going to look at the Bible's very clear answer to the question, do people in heaven know what's happening on earth, on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Imagine for a moment that you're dead. It's kind of a sobering thought, isn't that? You're dead. You've died in a tragic car accident but to your relief, you awaken in front of the pearly gates. St. Peter is there to greet you. He has a clipboard. He looks over the list and gratefully your name is on it. He then hands you a key to your room. He hands you a white robe, a golden crown and a ticket. Now you understand the white robe and the golden crown, but you ask Peter, well, what's this ticket for? He said, oh, it's for the movie tonight. You're not gonna want to miss it. In fact, it is a double feature. The first movie is a tragedy. It stars your friend who was in the car with you who didn't make it here and is now in hell. In fact, it's a true horror story. But the other film is about you. It co-stars your mate and your children, your family members and friends and the climactic scene is your funeral. I think you're really going to like it. But you better get here early. It's a sold-out crowd. All of heaven is going to be here to see the film.
Now I'm pretty sure in movie in heaven, there won't be any movie theaters or feature length presentations about our life. But the question is, can people in heaven really know what is happening on earth or even in hell itself? And today we're going to answer that question as we continue our series, "A place called heaven". Today we're gonna answer the question, do people in heaven know what is happening on earth? And today I want to begin by actually answering that question first and then looking at the scripture. The answer is absolutely people in heaven do know what is happening on earth and underneath the earth. We can look at four key scripture passages that give us some insight on that subject.
First of all, consider Hebrews 12:1. This is a passage that is often used to say people in heaven are aware of what's happening on earth. The writer says, therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Who are these cloud of witnesses surrounding us? Remember, there are no chapter divisions in the original text. This refers back to chapter 11. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, Rahab, all of the men and women of faith are those cloud of witnesses. And right now, the Bible says they are in heaven. They are surrounding us.
Now some people actually use this verse to teach, well that means since they're surrounding us, they're like fans in the bleachers watching down as we live out our lives. Now that can kinda be disconcerting for a moment when you think about it. Do you really want to think of your grandmother or your great-grandmother in heaven watching every move you make? It's kind of disturbing, isn't it? Is that what this passage is teaching? I don't think so. I think this is one passage that really does not say people in heaven can tell what is happening on earth. What the writer is simply saying is considering these great men and women and the way they lived out their lives, we ought to demonstrate the same kind of faith in following their example.
However, there are three other passages at least in the Bible that indicate clearly people in heaven do know what is happening on earth. For example, consider the story of Abraham and the rich man that Jesus told in Luke chapter 16. We looked at that story a few weeks ago. Remember there were two men who lived two very different lives and they both died, a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. And the Bible says when they both died, immediately Lazarus went to heaven to Abraham's bosom. Not because he was poor. There's nothing righteous about being poor but because he had placed his faith in God. However, the rich man immediately ended up in hades and both the rich man and Lazarus were conscious of what was happening. But what is interesting in this story is that Abraham knew of the suffering of the rich man in hades and the rich man in hades was aware of the comfort that Lazarus was being offered in heaven.
Of course even if people in heaven know what's happening in hell, does that mean they know what's happening on the earth as well? And the answer is yes. Turn over to Revelation chapter 6. We see here the instance of the tribulation martyrs and the judgment on earth. Now, remember at the rapture of the church, which is the next event on God's prophetic timetable. At the rapture of the church, all Christians on the earth will be immediately taken to be with the Lord. We will meet the Lord in the air and only unbelievers will be left on the earth for the final seven years of earth's history. Yet during that seven-year time, some people will be miraculously saved, but they will pay a steep price for their salvation. They will have to give their lives as martyrs.
Right now in the Middle East, we see people being slaughtered for their faith in Christ. That will be widespread in the world during the Great Tribulation. Now look at what John said he saw in heaven during the tribulation, verse 9. And when the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the Word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained. Who are these? These are the people, Christians who were slain during the tribulation time. John saw them in heaven. Verse 10. And they cried out with a loud voice, saying, how long, o Lord, holy and true, will you refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth? That is, these tribulation saints could look down in heaven and see those who had killed them were still running unchecked throughout the world. And they were saying, God, how long are you going to allow this to continue? When are you going to bring judgment against those who rebel against you?
Now they couldn't say that unless they were aware of what was happening on the earth. You can turn over to Revelation chapter 19. Before the final judgment, God pours out on the earth. Before the climatic Battle of Armageddon, again, look at what these saints in heaven say. Verse 1 and 2. Hallelujah, salvation and glory and power belong to our God because his judgments are true and righteous. For he has judged the great harlot, Babylon, who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and he has avenged the blood of his bond-servants on her. The tribulation saints are able to see God pouring out his judgment on Babylon, the world system opposed to God because they were aware in heaven of what was happening on the earth.
Now, one final example. Heaven's saints and the salvation of the unsaved. In Luke chapter 15, Jesus was talking to the pharisees. He was saying, you know, you pharisees, you've got it all wrong. You hate sinners. Course to the pharisees, everybody was a sinner except themselves. The pharisees hated sinners. They did everything they could to keep sinners out of heaven. But Jesus said, God is not like you all. God doesn't hate sinners, he loves sinners and he rejoices when they come to salvation. In fact, this is what Jesus said in Luke 15:7. I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance. Verse 10, and in the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
I've read this a thousand times but I really didn't see it until this week. Who rejoices in heaven when the unsaved are saved? Well, we know God rejoices. I've always heard that the angels rejoice but that's not what this verse says. It doesn't say the angels rejoice. Maybe they do, maybe they don't. He says there is joy in the presence of the angels of God when a sinner repents. Who is it that is rejoicing in the presence of sinners? It's you and I, it's the residents of heaven. That is who rejoices when they see a sinner on earth repent. Yes, people in heaven are aware of what happens in the earth. But what about what happens in hell? Are citizens of heaven aware of the captives in hell? I mean, if they rejoice in the salvation of the unsaved, do they lament over the horrific punishment that awaits unbelievers? Is it possible that people in heaven could see the horrors of hell?
Well, to answer that question, let's first of all remind ourselves of why hell exists. Hell was not a part of God's original creation. Hell was necessitated by, first of all, the angels who rebelled against God and joined Lucifer in his revolt along with men and women who chose to rebel against God. You know, satan's purpose for the world is both sinister and simple. He's doing everything he can to rebel against the program and plan of God and unfortunately satan has many accomplices to help him in that. The angels originally who chose to follow him in his rebellion against God in heaven but also men and women who choose to rebel against their Creator.
But one day that rebellion will come to an end. One day God's going to create this world in its original state. Sin will no longer be present. The curse will be forever removed. And yet what does God do with those sinners who rebelled against him? Obviously God has to quarantine those who chose to rebel against him from his perfect creation. Otherwise the rebellion once again infects his creation. Hell exists as a place to quarantine those who have chosen to separate themselves from God. What is hell like? One thing I want you to understand about hell is just like heaven, hell is an actual physical location. Remember we saw that word, topos geographical location is used to describe heaven. It's not a state of mind, it's an actual location. The same is true about hell. Hell has an address.
In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, hell is described as being, quote, far away, Luke 16:23. Verse 24, consisting of flames. Verse 25, separated from heaven by a great chasm. Now let me just talk specifically about hell for a moment. Three horrific descriptions of hell that we find in the Bible. First of all, hell is a place of eternal, physical torment. It is a place not just of spiritual suffering but of physical suffering. Remember in Luke 16:24, the rich man cries out, father Abraham, have mercy on me, for I am in agony in this flame. Eventually after the Great White Throne judgment, the judgment of the unsaved, all of the residents of hell will be cast into the lake of fire, gehenna. And it says they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
There's a word that is translated forever and ever in your Greek New Testament. It is the word, aionios. Forever and ever. And interestingly, that word, aionios is also used to describe the eternality of heaven. The same word that describes the eternality of heaven is used to describe the eternality of hell. The fact is, just as the pleasures of those who love the Lord and know Christ as Savior, the pleasures of the saved will be unending in heaven. The horrors of hell for unbelievers will also be unending. Secondly, the Bible teaches hell is a place of indescribable loneliness. It is a place of complete darkness. You won't be able to see anything. All you'll be able to hear are the screams, the laments of those who are still confined to that place of eternal punishment. It is a place of absolute and indescribable loneliness.
Thirdly, hell is a place of no return. To me, that's perhaps the worst truth about hell. No one escapes. Again, Abraham says that in Luke 16:26. He says to the rich man, those who wish to come from here, that is heaven, to you are not able and none may cross over from where you are to us. What about those who repent? What about those who believe? Remember, in hell, everybody will become a believer but it's too late. It's too late. Hell is a place of no return. Well that leads to an interesting question. If in fact we are aware of the suffering of the unsaved in hell, how could we ever enjoy heaven? Have you ever wondered about that? Well, let's put a finer point on it. How could you ever enjoy heaven if your mate or one of your children was in hell and you knew it and you knew they were tormented and it would never never never end? How could that be heaven for anyone?
That's a great question. Some people have tried to answer that question by saying, well, God is going to purge our memories in heaven. People who believe that actually point to a scripture passage, Isaiah 65:17 that says, for behold, I create new heavens and a new earth and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind. And yet when you look at the context of that passage, when God says the former things will not come to mind, he's talking about his mind. And the former things he's referring to, according to this chapter, are the former sins of Israel. In other words, in the new heaven and new earth, God is not going to remember any longer the sins of his people. Isn't that what we do when we forgive someone? If you forgive somebody, doesn't mean you forget what they've done. Forgetting's impossible. That's a biological function. When you forgive somebody, you make the conscious choice not to hold their sin against them any longer. That's what God means when he says he will remember the former things no more.
There is nothing in scripture that indicates when we get to heaven, God suddenly does a memory wipe. In fact, everything argues to the contrary. Our life is a continuum. We will remember the things on earth. Our relationships will continue in heaven. Some people have said, well, the way we handle this problem of the suffering in hell is the fact that Christians will be preoccupied with the joys of heaven. We'll be so caught up with the joys in heaven that we won't be aware of what is happening in hell. Now some people say, well, wait a minute, pastor, the only reason we're able to enjoy life in spite of the suffering of others is because we're not like Jesus. But surely when we become like Jesus, we'll weep over those in hell. I mean, think about Jesus. I mean, he wept over the unsaved in Jerusalem. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, he lamented. That was when Jesus was on earth. But all scripture indicates Jesus is not weeping in heaven right now. He's not experiencing anything except unending joy in heaven.
We read from Psalm 16 just a few moments ago. The Psalmist talked about what it will be like when we will be in the presence of the Lord. Verse 11 says, God, you will make known to me the path of life. In your presence is fullness of joy. In your right hand there are pleasures forever. That's what it's going to be like in God's presence, unending pleasure and joy. Thirdly, some people have said, well, in heaven, we will understand the plan and the justice of God. That's how we'll handle the suffering in hell. For the first time ever, we will completely understand the plan and the justice of God.
In Thornton Wilder's book, "The Eighth Day", he compares our life to a beautiful tapesty. You know, if you look on the wrong side of a tapestry, all you see is a bunch of jumbled threads, mismatched colors, some are shorter than others. Some are knotted together. Nothing nice about looking at a tapestry on the wrong side. But when you look on the other side of that tapestry, it portrays a beautiful picture. The same thing is true about our life. Right now, as we look around at the details of our own life, they seem jumbled, they see disconnected. We look at tragedies that seem to make no sense. And yet one day, on the right side of heaven when we see our life, we will understand how God caused all things to work together for good to those who love him. And the same will be true when we see God's plan for the unsaved as well. We'll understand why those who are in hell deserve to be in hell.
I came across an interesting scripture this week. It's 2 Thessalonians 1:8 and 10. Paul claims that when we see Jesus Christ at the rapture dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus, we will curse him and say, Jesus, how could you be so unfair? That's not what it says. It says when we see Jesus dealing out retribution to those who've not accepted the Gospel, quote, Christ the judge will be marveled at among all who believed. We won't be second guessing Jesus when we see him. When we see him in all of his glory, we understand his holiness, we will understand his retribution against those who refuse to accept the Gospel. As horrific as hell will be for unbelievers, as J.I. Packer says, their hell will not veto our joy in heaven. And let me add to that. Nothing that happens on earth or in hell will diminish in the slightest degree the unending joy God has planned for us in that place called heaven.