Robert Jeffress - The Truth About Heaven
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. Today we're looking at every believer's promise for eternity - heaven. What is heaven going to be like? Are we going to know one another in heaven? Is heaven an actual location or state of mind? Am I going to have a body or just a spirit? Well, people have lots of questions about this place called heaven, so today I invite you to take your Bibles and join me as we discover "The Truth about Heaven".
Today there is a great deal of interest in our culture about the subject of heaven. Which begs the question: why doesn't the Bible tell us more about the eternal state for believers? It's true that the Bible mentions heaven more than 550 times in the old and New Testaments, but frankly many of the questions we have about heaven aren't found in the Bible. Perhaps God knowing our finite minds realizes we're not capable of grasping all of the truths about heaven: or perhaps God realizes that if we really knew what awaits as believers on the other side of the grave: we'd have very difficult time concentrating on our present responsibilities. Maybe God knows if we really knew all of the great things he has planned for us we couldn't stand to live in this life. We'd be ready to get to the next life. But the truth is God has revealed just enough in the Bible about heaven to whet our appetite for it.
And as we conclude our series today on Bible prophecy, we're going to look at what we call the eternal state for believers. We're going to talk about what the Bible reveals to us about heaven. And so today what I'm going to attempt to do, is I'm going to answer the 10 most frequently asked questions about heaven. And what the Bible says in answer to those questions.
The first in the foundational question is: is heaven an actual place or is it simply a state of mind? Now, turn over to John 14:2-3: now this is Jesus teaching. He said, "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". That word "Place" is the Greek word topos, and it means a geographical location. It's as if Jesus were going out of his way to say: heaven is an actual place. I'm going to prepare - not a state of mind - for you, but a place for you. In heaven there are many places, and one day I'm going to take you to that place. And Jesus went on to say, "If this were not true, I would have told you". Jesus said heaven is an actual place, not just a state of mind.
Well that leads to a second question: well, where do Christians go then when they die? Where do we go when we die? Second Corinthians 5:8 is very clear that the moment a Christian dies, his spirit goes immediately into the presence of Jesus. And in that sense he is in heaven. But the heaven that a Christian immediately goes to is not his final and eternal home. The Bible says in 2 Peter 3:10 that one day this present heaven and earth are going to be destroyed by fire: and then what happens? Revelation 21:1 says, John says, "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". We go immediately when we die to be with the Lord, but that is not our final and eternal dwelling place. Ultimately, we will inhabit the new heaven, and the new earth that are yet to be constructed.
Well, that leads to a third question: are you saying then, pastor, that when people die they go to a kind of purgatory until the end of time? Not at all. Not at all. Turn over to Luke 16 for a moment to this passage we looked at a few weeks ago: the story of a rich man and Lazarus. Remember both of these men died, and remember Lazarus because of his righteousness, his dependence upon God was taken into the presence of the Lord, Abraham's bosom. But look at what happened to the rich man, verse 23, "And in hades the rich man lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom". Remember this passage says that when an unbeliever dies, he goes to this temporary place of torment hades, and ultimately he will be cast into the lake of fire. In the same way when a Christian dies, he goes immediately into the presence of Jesus and experiences blessings, while he awaits the new heaven and the new earth that will be his ultimate dwelling place. When a Christian dies he immediately begins experiencing the blessings of being in the Lord's presence. And when a non-Christian dies, he immediately begins experiencing the agony of being separated from God.
Question number four: what is the difference between the millennial kingdom and the new heaven and new earth described in Revelation 21 and 22? Some people get the millennium and heaven mixed up. What is the difference? Remember that Revelation 20 tells us that after Christ comes back to earth at his second coming, remember he bounds satan for 1,000 years, and he reigns on the throne of David for 1,000 years. It is during this time that the earth experiences a renovation. Not a re-creation. A renovation. Because satan has been bound, much of the curse of the earth will be lifted. Those who are living in their natural bodies during the millennium will live longer than they live right now. The earth's vegetation will increase. It will be a better earth. It will be a renovated earth, but it is still this present earth that has been improved somewhat. But then as 2 Peter 3 says, after the millennium, and after the white throne judgment, God will destroy this present heaven and earth.
And look at Revelation 21:1-3. John says, "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. And I saw the holy city New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God made ready as a bride adorned for her husband". Verse 3, "And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'behold the tabernacle of God is among men, and he shall dwell among them: and they shall be his people: and God himself shall be among them'". John says after the present heaven and earth were destroyed, he looked up and he saw this heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven to earth.
Now the center place of this new heaven and new earth is this city called the New Jerusalem. And John gives two chapters, chapters 21 and 22 of Revelation, to describe what this city is going to be like. It has 12 gates. It has a great wall. It has foundation stones. There'll be no night any longer. There'll not be any sea any longer. There'll be a tree of life that provides healing for the nations. I don't know what that means, but it's described there. But one of the distinguishing interesting aspects of this New Jerusalem is the size of the city. John describes it as being a city that is 1,500 miles long, wide, and high. Now that's one big city. And that's the New Jerusalem: and there's no reason, by the way, to think that's going to be the only place we live. It's just going to be the center place of the new heaven and the new earth.
That leads to a fifth question: what kind of bodies will we inhabit in the new heaven, and will we know one another in heaven? Our resurrected bodies, why, they're going to be so much better than what we have right now. And aren't you glad that's going to be true? Amen. But still our bodies are not going to be uniform, we're not all going to look like one another, our resurrected bodies are going to, in some ways, be similar to our current bodies. Remember in Luke 24 we find an occurrence of Jesus' post-resurrection experiences. He had died. He had been raised from the dead. He was in his new resurrection body. And you find that his resurrection body in many ways was similar to his earthly body. His disciples recognized him, took them a little while, but they recognized him. If you want to know what your resurrection body is going to be like, look at the body of Jesus Christ. In 1 John 3:10, remember what John said? He said, "Brethren, it has not yet appeared as to what we shall be like, but when he appears we shall be like him". The Bible says you and I are going to be just like Jesus in that new resurrection body.
Question number six: well, what age will we be in heaven? Some people have postulated that perhaps we're going to be the same age Jesus was when he started his ministry. We're all going to be 30 years old. That's complete conjecture. The fact is we don't know what age we will be in heaven. But now we get to the question everybody's interested in.
Number seven: will there be animals in heaven, and specifically will my pet be in heaven? Let's see what the Bible says about the place of animals in heaven. First of all, Isaiah 11 is a description of the millennium, the renovated earth, when Christ reigns for 1,000 years. And yes, the Bible teaches that there will be animals present during the millennium. Verse 6 says, "And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid, and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together: and a little boy will lead them. Also the cow and the bear will graze. Their young will lie down together: and the lion will eat straw like the ox". And on and on. Obviously there are animals present during the millennium. Furthermore, the Bible also says at the second coming of Christ that precedes the millennium there is some type of animal coming out of heaven there are horses that the Lord and those who belong to him come with him at the second coming.
But after Revelation 21 and 22, when you get to the destruction of the present heaven and earth, and the creation of the new heaven and earth you find no mention of animals in the New Jerusalem. No mention of them anywhere. Does that mean they're not here? Not necessarily. But the Word of God teaches that there is a difference between man and animal. And the basic difference is that eternality of man's soul compared to that of an animal. Animals and beasts are alike in this way - they die. There's no advantage to being a human over an animal in the fact that you don't escape death. Just like an animal dies, you die, and your body returns to dust. But here is the difference: the breath, the spirit of a man ascends to heaven. There is an eternality of man that is not true of animals. If there are animals in the new heaven and the new earth, they're going to be new animals that God has created, probably not our resurrected pets.
Number eight: will there be marriage in heaven? What does the Bible say about that? Turn over to Luke 20. That's the question the Bible answers very, very clearly. Look at verse 34 of Luke 20, "And Jesus said to them, 'the sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage: for neither can they die anymore, for they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection'". Now notice Jesus did not say: when we die, we become angels. Jesus is simply saying in our resurrected bodies we are like angels in this aspect. We're not going to marry, and therefore we're not going to procreate. We will not be married to other people in heaven.
Now, you know, to some people that's very upsetting the fact that their marriage is not going to continue in heaven. Other people are more upset that their pet's not going to be in heaven than they're not going to be married in heaven. It doesn't mean you're not going to know your mate. It doesn't mean you won't have a relationship with your mate as you do with other friends, but it will be a different kind of relationship. Now if the thought that you're not going to be married, or the thought that Fido isn't going to be with you in heaven causes you a lot of angst - remember this - heaven is going to be a place of complete joy. God knows exactly what you need to be happy, and there's not going to be anything lacking in heaven, the Bible tells us.
Well that begs the question then, question number nine: what are going to do in heaven? What are we going to spend eternity doing? Now we know the picture of, you know, floating on the cloud plucking the harp that's a mischaracterization of heaven: but you know what I have found is even some Christians, many Christians, don't understand exactly what we're going to be doing in heaven. The Bible says not only are we going to be worshipping we're going to be working in heaven. The fact is God created us to do more than worship. God created us to work. And the reason God created us to work is we are made in his image. God is a worker. He created us to work, and listen to me, worship and work are not mutually exclusive. You can be worshipping while you work. In Matthew 25 Jesus talked about the parable of the talents. And he was teaching us that dependent upon our faithfulness in this life, we will receive responsibilities in the next life. God will give us responsibilities to carry out throughout all eternity, and we will find fulfillment in doing that. We will be working in heaven.
Question number ten, and I get this all the time: are Christians in heaven right now aware of what's going on earth? Are Christians in heaven aware of what's going on earth? And I think the Bible answers that question with an affirming yes. At least to some extent people in heaven know what's happening on earth. Where do I find that in the Bible? Well think about Abraham in Luke 16. He was with the Lord, but he was aware of the rich man's suffering. Or in Revelation 6:10, the tribulation saints that is those Christians who have died because of their faith, their spirits are in heaven, are looking down at what is happening on earth during the Great Tribulation. And notice what they cry out: they said: oh Lord, how long will you refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?
So the Bible is clear at least to some extent that people in heaven are aware of what is happening on earth. Of course, that brings up a related question: well, does that mean then that Christians in heaven are going to experience grief in heaven when we see our loved ones being consigned to hell? Have you ever wondered that? I mean how is it going to be possible if I have a friend or a loved one who is suffering and being tormented in hell forever how could I ever possibly enjoy heaven? Revelation 21:4 John says, "And God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes". And this takes place after the Great White Throne judgment: after unbelievers are cast into the lake of fire. After that time, John says, God wipes away every tear from our eyes. How could that be possible if we know loved ones are suffering in hell?
In 2 Thessalonians 1 we find an interesting description of what happens when the Lord returns. You know when the Lord was here the first time on earth, Bible says he wept over the lost. He cried over Jerusalem. He was grieved over the prospect of people going to hell. But 2 Thessalonians 1 says when the Lord comes the second time, he will come dealing out retribution against unbelievers: and there'll be no tears: there'll be no grieving on his part as he renders judgment to unbelievers. And in 2 Thessalonians 1:10 it says: and after he does that, Christ will be marveled at among those who have believed. I think what the scripture is saying is this: when we see life from God's perspective: when we are with him and understand the true righteousness of God and the true awfulness of sin: and we realize that every person who is consigned to hell deserves to be there because they've rejected Christ that will cause every tear, every bit of remorse to be wiped away.
I don't understand that completely, but I like what J. I. Packer wrote one time when he said, "Other people's hell will not veto our heaven". The Bible says on that day God will wipe away every tear from our eyes: there shall no longer be any death, or mourning, or crying, or pain for the old things will have passed away. But the fact is God still has some very real responsibilities he wants us to carry out here on earth before we go to heaven. But the fact that this life is so unpleasant right now only is going to make heaven taste that much better. But listen to this, the reverse is also true. Knowing what awaits us makes this life more bearable. Paul said it this way: he said: for what we go through in this life, it is a light momentary affliction compared to the eternal glory that awaits us.
You know one of the greatest criticisms against the teaching of Bible prophecy very few churches today even talk about the subject of prophecy anymore: but one of the frequent criticisms is: "Well, Bible prophecy has nothing to do with everyday life". Haven't you heard people say: "Oh, they're so heavenly minded, they're no earthly good". Well look, the Bible never divorces the truth of the next life for my responsibility in this life. Listen to Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:11-12, "Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct in godliness, looking for, and hastening the coming day of the Lord".
I mean think about this, folks, shouldn't the truth of the rapture, the fact that we're going to be caught up one day to meet the Lord in the air: and we're going to leave everything behind shouldn't that affect our attitude toward our material possessions right now. Knowing we'd have to let go of it one day, shouldn't that loosen our grip on those material possession right now? Shouldn't the fact that one day there is going to be a Great White Throne judgment in which every unbeliever is going to be judged and cast into an eternal place of torment. Shouldn't that be a motivation right now for us to share the Gospel with our friends and family members, warning them of the future that awaits them? Shouldn't the fact that you and I are going to stand one day before the Judgment Seat of Christ, and give an account for every word, every action, every attitude shouldn't that have some impact on how we live right now?
C. S. Lewis talked about the value of being heavenly minded, of focusing on the future. I close with this. He said, "Hope is one of the theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not as some modern people think a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but it's one of those things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history, you'll find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next world. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think about the other world that they have become so ineffective in this one. Aim at heaven and you'll get earth thrown in. Aim at earth, and you'll get neither". Living in anticipation of that perfect ending that awaits every believer in Christ is the strongest motivation I know of for living a God-centered life beginning today.