Robert Jeffress - Is Heaven A Real Place?
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. Is heaven a real place or simply a figment of somebody's imagination? If heaven is a physical destination, where is it located? And what will it be like to live in this place forever? Today on Pathway to Victory, we'll turn to passages in both the old and New Testaments to discover what the Bible teaches about our eternal home. We're answering the question, is heaven a real place or a state of mind on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
One morning in early 1971 famed beetle John Lennon sat down at his Steinway piano and composed what became the anthem for the ages. It's a song entitled, "Imagine". And in that one word tribute to utopian ideals Lennon asked us to imagine what it would be like if there were no heaven, or for that matter no hell. Of course critics would say just because an atheist like Lennon doesn't imagine heaven to be real doesn't mean it isn't real. Of course atheists would say just because Christians imagine heaven to be real doesn't make it real either. Fair enough. But where do we go to find out if heaven or for that matter hell are actual places or just figments of our imagination?
Well for those of us who believe that this book is the inspired truth from God's own breath the Bible is the place we turn to find out is heaven a real place or is it simply a state of mind. And that's the question we're going to answer today as we continue our series: A Place Called Heaven. Now to whom should we turn to in the Bible to find out if heaven is really real or not? It seems like a good place to start would be with the only person who has actually lived in heaven and has come to earth to tell us what is really there. His name is Jesus Christ, and if you have your Bibles this morning as we begin to answer this question: is heaven a real place or simply a state of mind, let's turn to John 14. Look at verse 1-3, verses 1-3, the teaching of John 14.
Jesus said, "Let not your heart be troubled: believe in God, believe also in me. For in my Father's house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, I would have told you for 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 to myself that where I am there you may be also". I want you to notice three key words in this passage that help us answer the question: is heaven a real place? First of all, the word "Topos". Topos in Greek literally it is translated "Places". Heaven is a place. Jesus says this three times in verses 2-3, "I go to prepare a place for you".
Now this Greek word topos is the root word for our word "Topography". When we talk about topography: that is the act of detailing the actual physical features of land on a map. When Jesus said heaven is a place, he is saying heaven is an exact, geographical location. That's why I titled this series: a place called heaven. That comes from the lips of Jesus himself. The second word is the Greek word "Mone": that is, "In my father's house are many 'mone'". It's translated "Dwelling places". This word means the habitat, the lodging, the domicile of a person. Again, underscoring the fact that heaven is a real place. "In my father's house are many dwelling places". And then the third significant word here is the word "Prepare". "I go to prepare a place for you". Guess what. You don't have to prepare a state of mind. No, this indicates Jesus is in heaven right now preparing a future residence for us. It's an actual geographical location.
Now that should be enough to settle the issue whether heaven is a real place, but let me tie a bow on it by having you turn to Acts 1:9-11. Remember after Jesus was crucified on the third day he arose from the dead: he spent 40 days on the earth in his new resurrection body, but at the end of those 40 days he fulfilled his promise to ascend back to his Father in Heaven and his followers gathered with him on the Mount of Olives. And it was at that geographical location, the Mount of Olives, overlooking the City of Jerusalem that Luke records what happened. Verse 9, "And he", that is Jesus, "was lifted up while they", that is the disciples, "were looking on, and a cloud received him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while he was departing, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them, and they also said, 'men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come in just the same way as you have watched him go into heaven'".
Now this is so simple but it's so profound at the same time. Jesus was at an actual geographical location, the Mount of Olives, and he ascended into this place called heaven. Just as Jesus was literally and visibly brought from earth to heaven one day Jesus is literally and visibly going to return from heaven back to earth. Heaven is a geographical location. But of course that brings up the question: well where then is this place called heaven? Where is it? Can you locate it on a map? Where is this place called heaven? Well we have a few clues in the Bible about where this place called heaven is. Now there are only clues, but we can put some things together if we look at the clues.
First of all, the Bible seems to indicate heaven is up. Wherever it is, it's up. How do we know this? Satan told us so. Now I know, you can't depend on satan for a lot of things: most of the time he is a liar, but, you know, just kind of like a broken clock is right at least twice a day, satan is right about a few things. In Isaiah 14:13 when satan mounted his rebellion against God, he said, "I, Lucifer, will ascend to heaven. I will raise my throne above the stars of God". Wherever the throne of God is, it's up. He said: I'm going to ascend to where you are, God. Go back to Acts 1:9 for a moment. The Bible says, doctor Luke records Jesus was lifted where? Up. He went up, while they, the disciples, were looking on and a cloud received him out of their sight. So we can say heaven, wherever it is, is up.
Secondly, the Bible indicates heaven is north. Now, we can't make too much out of this, but there is some indication it's north. Of course north is a different direction depending on where you're standing, but north is where heaven is. Again, go back to Lucifer in Isaiah 14:13, "And I, Lucifer, will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north". Even Job said in Job 37:22, "Out of the north comes golden splendor, around God is awesome majesty".
Heaven is up: in some sense it tends to be north, but some people wonder: well, is this place called heaven a place that actually exists in a time/space situation even though it may be a gazillion miles away? Is it a place in this universe or is perhaps heaven existing in some other dimension that we can't even see right now? Kind of like that fifth dimension, unknown to man that Rod Serling used to talk about in the twilight zone. Is that what heaven is? It's just a whole other realm of existence that we can't see right now?
Well to answer that question, and this is the foundation of this message, we need to understand the difference between the present heaven and the future heaven. This will help you understand the Bible: it will help you understand what awaits you as well and your loved ones who are Christians. There is a difference between the present heaven and the future heaven. Let's talk about the present heaven for just a moment. Right now in the present world there are actually three heavens the Bible talks about. The first heaven is the earth's atmosphere. That is the air we breathe. That's where the birds and the jet liners fly, the earth's atmosphere. That's the first heaven.
The second heaven in the Bible is outer space where the stars, the planets, the galaxies exist, but there is a third heaven right now that is the abode of God. It's where God is, the presence of God. That's the third heaven. By the way, in 2 Corinthians 12 Paul said that he had an experience in which he at least was caught up to the third heaven where God is. By the way this third heaven is the place you and I go when we die. If we're a Christian we go into the presence, the abode of God. But that is all part of the present heaven, the third heaven, and even though we as Christians go to be with God that is not our permanent eternal dwelling place.
As we're going to see in just a few moments heaven for us, our final residence is not up there, it's right down here on the earth. And that leads me to the future heaven that God is preparing for us right now. There is a future heaven, a fourth heaven if you will, that Jesus is constructing for us right now. Right now, Jesus said, I'm going to be with the Father, I am preparing a place for you. Right now Jesus is overseeing what I call the ultimate in prefab housing. He's building a city for us to live in. It's called the New Jerusalem, and one day that city that is being built where God is going to descend out of the third heaven and come down to a newly recreated earth.
Turn over to Revelation 21. Look at what John sees in Revelation 21:1-2. John says, "I saw a new heaven and a new earth for the first heaven and the first earth passed away and there's no longer any sea, and I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem", that's what Jesus is working on now, "The New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God made ready as a bride adorned for her husband". The new heaven, the New Jerusalem that Jesus is creating for us is going to come out of the current heaven and rest on the newly recreated earth, and that is our future and permanent home right here on earth.
Now let me give you some characteristics of this future heaven that will be our eternal place, and all of this comes straight from scripture. Revelation 21-22. First of all, John says our future home will be new. Look at verse 1, "I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth passed away and there is no longer any sea". After the millennium, the 1.000-year reign of Christ and the white throne judgment talked about in Revelation 20, after all unbelievers are judged at the end of Revelation 20 in the white space of your Bible between the end of chapter 20 and the beginning of chapter 21 there is a great destruction of the present heaven and earth. They passed away, John says in verse 1. It's already happened when we get to chapter 21 verse 1.
Why is it important that God completely destroy this present heaven and earth? Why can't he, you know, just have a little renovation project of this earth, make it a little bit better, kind of do a few upgrades here and there? There is one reason God has to destroy everything around us. It's a little three-letter word: sin. Sin has infected and ruined everything in this world. The whole direction of everything in this world is downward. Everything is deteriorating. Your body is deteriorating. Can I get an amen on that? I mean don't you feel that? I certainly feel it, but it's not just our bodies that deteriorate, it's everything in this world is deteriorating as well, and it's because we've been infected with the sin virus, but God is going to remove that for the new heaven and new earth, and all of it will be a fulfillment of Isaiah 65:17. "For behold I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind".
Secondly, the new heaven, our eternal place, will be a physical location. You know, we are not disembodied spirits. Once we die, we inhabit a new body. We are created to be physical beings as well as spiritual beings and therefore since we are physical beings we need a physical location in which to live.
Thirdly, this new place called heaven is going to be familiar to us. You know if we injected most of you with truth serum and asked you: are you excited about going to heaven? Many of you would say: ah, I'm not sure how excited I am about heaven because, after all, I mean it seems so unfamiliar. We don't know much about it. We're not sure what it's going to be like. The fact is we like the familiar. We get a little bit upset about the idea of moving to a new location that we don't know much about or we don't know the people there: an unfamiliar destination. But the fact is heaven is going to be a very familiar place because it's going to be this world not some other world in which we'll live for eternity.
Number four, heaven will have no oceans. Look at verse 1 again of chapter 21, "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea". Do you realize the oceans take up 71% of the space on our planet? There'll be no oceans. I didn't say no water, but no oceans.
Next the new heaven will have no sun or moon. Look at verse 23, "And the city", the New Jerusalem, "Has no need for the sun or the moon to shine on it for the glory of God has illumined it and its lamp is the lamb". Next the new heaven and new earth will be free from sin. Not only will the oceans and the lights in the sky be missing, there'll no longer be any sin. Furthermore everybody will know the Lord at that time. Habakkuk 2:14 says, "For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea".
The next truth about the new heaven is it will have a capital. There will be a capital, the centerpiece of the new heaven and earth called the New Jerusalem. It's interesting even from the Old Testament the focus of heaven was a focus on a city, not just some undefined space up there. It was an actual city. And it's going to be unlike any city we have ever seen or visited. Let me mention several things about this city which is, by the way, your future residence. One mathematician calculated that if the New Jerusalem is shaped like a cube, it would have enough room for 20 billion residents if each individual residence were a massive 75 acres. There would also be plenty of room left over for parks, and streets, and other features that you'd likely see in any major city. That's the size of the New Jerusalem.
You know today if you live in a gated community the gates are shut, they're locked at night. If you don't, you at least lock your door, don't you? Even the happiest place in all the world, Disneyland, locks its gates at night. But in the New Jerusalem there'll be no locking the gates. You won't have to lock your windows, lock your doors. You can leave the windows open of your car, you can leave your keys in the car and nothing will happen because sin and sinners will be eliminated forever. And notice the splendor of the New Jerusalem. As John describes it, it is more beautiful even than the Emerald City of the fictitious Land of Oz.
We see in verses 10 and 11, the holy city, Jerusalem, "Coming down out of heaven from God having the glory of God, her brilliance was like a very costly stone, and a stone of crystal clear jasper". And then chapter 22 verse 1, "And the angel showed me a river of the water of life clear as crystal coming from the throne of God and of the lamb". I said there wasn't going to be an ocean in heaven, but there's going to be plenty of clear, fresh water pouring from the throne of God. And look at verse 2, "And on either side of this river was the tree of life bearing 12 kings of fruit, yielding its fruit every month, and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations".
Do you remember the tree of life? Last time we saw it was in the book of Genesis in the Garden of Eden. And after Adam and Eve rebelled against God, God banished them from the garden. Why? So that they would not eat of that tree of life. Had they eaten of the tree of life after they sinned, they would have been forever doomed in their sin. It was an act of mercy that God banished them from the garden. But not in the new heaven and new earth we see that tree of life again bearing fruit every month and the leaves are for the healing of the nations. You know what that means? I don't have a clue what it means, but one thing I do know for sure is it's telling us there is no sickness in heaven. No sickness because there's no sin.
And by the way something else that's not in heaven, chapter 21 verse 22, "I did not see a temple either because God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple". If you go to Jerusalem right now even though the temple has been pretty much destroyed, you can see it was the focal point of the City of Jerusalem: but in the New Jerusalem there'll be no house of worship, there'll be no temple, there'll be no First Baptist Church, it won't be necessary because God and his son will represent the temple of God: and it is in God's presence that we will live, and work, and play, and worship him forever.
The Bible says right now Jesus is in heaven preparing a place for you. You know the greatest thing about that are those two words "For you". God is creating heaven right now with you in mind. C. S. Lewis said it this way: your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone because you were made for it. Made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for hand. There's a contemporary Christian song, "I can only imagine". The truth is that place God is preparing for you right now is beyond our wildest imagination. Don't you want to go? "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 you may be also".