What is heaven?
On our program today we are going to give the biblical answer to that important question.
Those who are familiar with Old Testament Scriptures will remember the story of the visit of the queen of Sheba with Solomon. The queen of Sheba had heard of Solomon’s greatness and glory and wisdom. Her subjects had tried to give her an idea of what it was like. They spoke vividly and strongly of Solomon’s glory. But she simply could not believe it. So we read, in I Kings 10, that she determined to go see for herself. When she came, she listened to the wisdom of Solomon, who told her all that was in her heart. She asked him many different questions and she saw all of his glory, his apparel, and all the things attending his kingdom. And beholding all the glory of king Solomon, she exclaimed, “The half was not told me.” That will be the experience of those who go to heaven. The half of what heaven is cannot be told to you.
What is heaven? What is it like? What will we do there? What will it be like to stand before God and behold His glory and listen as He answers all the questions of our heart and tells us all that is in our heart?
You must live a holy life in true faith and repentance and go and see for yourself. Heaven is far beyond our ability to comprehend now. It is exalted in glory. All of heaven radiates with the holiness and goodness of God. There is no sin, no sorrow, there. There is the enjoyment of everlasting and perfect peace, joy, and praise.
Yet today, belonging to Jesus Christ by a gift of God, we know that in death we shall be there to praise and to glorify God forever.
God’s Word tells us that this life is only preparatory for the life which is to come, either eternal life or eternal death, either heaven or hell. The Word of God is very plain. Death is not the end. After death we must stand before God. And there we shall receive our eternal reward, whether that be heaven or hell. There is heaven and there is hell. And all men, women, young people, and children go either, by the grace and love of God, to be with Jesus Christ, or, in the way of unbelief and unrepentant sin, to the lake of fire. In death the body, as we read in Ecclesiastes 12:7, returns to the dust from whence it was taken, and the spirit to God who gave it. This life, then, is only temporary. This life is only preparatory for the life, the eternal life, that is to come. Your soul will, and your soul must, exist after death. And it shall exist either in the torments of hell or in the bliss of heaven. To go to heaven is possible only by grace, through faith, in a life of repentance and trust and service to Jesus Christ.
You see, there is no in between. And there are no exceptions. You and I will not simply cease to be in death. It is not so that in death a person is reincarnated or that, perhaps, at death a person goes to a place of suffering and after that suffering is over he goes into another place. It is not so that at death we simply go on to the next level or go to some distant planet in the universe. That is all folly. That is all superstition. The Word of God declares in Hebrews 9:27, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.”
You must know where you are going. That is possible by the grace of God, by faith in His Word, the Bible, by faith in Jesus Christ, the gift of God. Heaven is given to those who, by God’s love, love God, and His Son Jesus Christ, to those who already begin the life of heaven now, having the life of the risen and exalted Jesus Christ in their hearts and belonging to Him.
We are going to lift up our hearts and minds to contemplate heaven, the most majestic and sacred truth that could ever enter our minds.
We read in Lamentations 3:41, “Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.” To lift up one’s heart is an act of worship. It is to spread forth one’s hands abroad to God in the heavens, to heaven where God is known. If you read Lamentations 3 you will find that the prophet Jeremiah is exhorting those who are lowly and humbled under their sin and those who have undergone a divine inspection in their heart and whose ways who have been examined by God. He is speaking to them to lift up their hearts unto heaven where God is. The prophet is encouraging those who are awakened by the grace of God out of the deadness of sin; those who, by the grace of God, consider their never-dying souls; those who are conscious of their sins and yet, with uplifted hearts, turn toward God who dwells in heaven.
We shall then consider heaven as the wonderful reality taught to us in the Bible.
Let us answer the question today, What is heaven?
Perhaps, before we answer the question, what is heaven, we need to ask another question. Where is heaven?
In answer to that, the Bible tells us that heaven is spiritual. Heaven is real. Only it is in a different realm than that of the earth. We read in the Bible of the heavenly realm and of the earthly realm. The earthly realm is the realm of the physical, the material, the visible to our eyes, the realm that we can see, touch, smell, hear, and taste. And the Bible tells us that it is this realm of the earthly that is corruptible, that is, under the curse of sin and death due to the sin of man.
Heaven, on the other hand, is spiritual. It is heavenly. We cannot see it with these eyes. We cannot hear it with our present ears. We cannot feel it with our hands. We cannot taste or smell it. Heaven is not made of anything of this earth. Paul told the Greek philosophers in Acts 17:24, “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands.” Paul there is standing before the Greek philosophers on Mars’ Hill. The Greeks had made houses of stone for their gods. And they would give their gods various gifts: fruits and meat to eat. Perhaps the ancient idolaters would even provide their idol gods with swords and canoes and all sorts of equipment for the after-life. They conceived of the realm of the gods in terms of this earthly life. And Paul says, That is not the case; it is folly. Heaven is spiritual. Heaven is the place created by the eternal and the living God. It is the place where the angels live. It is the place, as we read in Hebrews, where the spirits of just men made perfect now dwell. It is a sanctuary, it is glorious, it is high, and it is fair.
The difference between the heavenly and the earthly, the Bible tells us, is in terms of glory. Heaven is exalted. Heaven is high and lifted up – not in the physical sense, not that it is higher in altitude. But it is high, lifted up, in majesty, lifted up in the glory of God, lifted up in the holiness of God. We read in Psalm 113:5, “Who is like unto the LORD our God, who dwelleth on high?” High in majesty. We read again, “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place” (Is. 57:15). And again, in Isaiah 63:15, we read, “Look down from heaven, and behold from the habitation of thy holiness and of thy glory.” Heaven is the place of God’s holiness and glory. Heaven is pure, holy, glorious. God must give you new eyes before you can see it.
There is another truth here – the difference between heaven that now is and the heaven that shall be. There is a heaven right now where the saints are in their glorified souls. And there is also the final heaven, or what the Bible calls the new heaven and the new earth, where we shall be not only with our glorified souls but also with glorified bodies. The heaven that now is, the Bible says, shall be changed when Christ comes to make the new heaven and the new earth, when Christ comes at the end of the world, when He comes to judge all men and to destroy this world of sin, and to create out of it the final heaven and the final earth. We read, Isaiah 65:17, “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.” Again, in Matthew 24, the Lord said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”
Heaven, right now, is where God, the angels, and all the glorified saints exist. And, although it is glorious, that heaven is not the final state that God has in mind. The saints who are now there are not in their glorified bodies. That heaven will pass away. It will be completed when Christ returns to make all things new, to create out of this earth and out of heaven the new Jerusalem. You may read of that in Revelation 21.
Now, let us go to our question: What is heaven?
Everywhere the Bible answers: Heaven is God’s dwelling place. It is the place where we shall have perfect fellowship with the living and true God. That truth is like a golden thread running throughout all of the Scriptures. Repeatedly we are told that heaven is exactly this: It is God’s dwelling. It is where God’s presence is fully revealed and God’s presence is fully enjoyed, at least as much as a creature can ever enjoy the blessed fellowship of the living God.
The Bible uses these terms to describe heaven: Thy holy habitation, Thy dwelling place, His holy dwelling, the height of His sanctuary. It speaks of God who dwells in the heavens. Heaven is the dwelling place of God, where the intimate life of God and life with God is to be enjoyed. The word “dwell” is such a rich word, you know. It means much more than simply to live. When you say that this is where I dwell, you are not saying simply that that is where you are. But the word “dwell” conveys the idea of fellowship. Where you dwell is where you reveal who you are. You open up. You show your love, you share the intimate parts of your life. So, heaven is God’s dwelling, the place where the presence and fellowship, the love and grace of God are made known. That is what makes heaven heaven. That is all the glory of heaven, the things that we cannot imagine. The Bible speaks to us of His throne and of gates of pearl and streets of gold and the tree of life, and of the light that shall be there – all of those things exist to reflect the glory of God’s own presence.
That is really why the Bible does not tell us much about heaven. Not only because right now it is beyond our ability to comprehend, but also because God wants us to understand that heaven, as to its very heart, is God’s dwelling. There is one central thing that makes heaven so blessed, so majestic, so awful in its splendor. That one thing is this: we shall see God. Blessed, we read, are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. That is, they shall be brought as close as a creature made of God can be brought to know and to love and to adore God. We shall all know the Lord, Hebrews 8. We shall stand before Him. I Corinthians 13:11 tells us that now we see through a glass darkly. We catch a glimpse, we catch an outline of all that God has revealed about heaven to us, of the love of God, and all the wonders of belonging to Him perfectly and living with Him fully. And when we think of it, tears come to our eyes, especially when we see our unworthy selves.
But, in heaven, the full light of God’s love and grace will flood our souls. The full impact of His blessedness will overwhelm us. And we will sing, “My God, how wonderful Thou art; Thy majesty how bright. How beautiful Thy mercy seat in depths of burning light.”
That surely means that if you do not love God now and do not know what it is to walk with Him now, and if it does not thrill your heart to be with Him now, heaven can mean nothing to you. For those whose hearts are not changed, changed to bow before the living Word of God in faith and obedience, heaven has no attraction. Heaven has an attraction only when we are changed, to humble ourselves before God in repentance; only when, by the grace of God, we are taught to obey God, to trust God, to live unto God and for God and to worship God. If that has not happened to you, you do not want to go to heaven. Heaven would be torment, hell to you.
You see, death does not change anything. The great change of a person is not death. The great change of which the Bible speaks is called “regeneration” – what Jesus called being “born again by the Spirit of God.” That is when heaven begins. I say heaven begins at regeneration because when we are born again Christ gives to us eternal life, life that shall never die. Jesus said ( John 11), He that believeth in Me shall never die. The true change, the beginning of heavenly life, is when that life of Christ is placed in our hearts by a wonder of God’s Spirit and grace. Heaven shall be the perfection of that. You see, that is why I said that the true change is not in death. Death simply confirms things. Death makes permanent, death makes perfect that which is already begun in this life. Heaven consists, then, of the uninterrupted and full and rich fellowship with the living God. We shall stand before His throne. We shall cast our crowns of salvation before Him. We shall cry out, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God almighty.” We shall take the words of the psalmist and say, “How precious also are Thy thoughts unto me, O God. How great is the sum of them.” That is heaven. It is the dwelling of God.
Let us conclude our message today by putting this question before ourselves: What, then, holds sway in our heart? Does God? Does His Word? Does fellowship with God? Is that the only thing that matters to us? Is that the root and the heart of our life, to have fellowship with Him, and to have fellowship with Him in His holy Word? What captures our mind at its roots? The earthly things, good times, pride, honor, possessions? Or God? For those who love the Lord God through Jesus Christ, heaven will be the perfection of what God has already given them. Now God has given to us, as sinners, that eternal life in Jesus Christ which consists, Jesus said, in knowing God (John 17:3). Then, in heaven, we shall have that life perfected.
Is that what you want, the perfection of what God has already planted in your heart? Then you will yearn for heaven, the time when you shall have perfect fellowship with Him forever. All sorrow and all sighing and all our sin will be forever gone. And we shall stand in the light of His blessed presence.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word. We pray that Thou wilt sanctify it unto our heart. Cause us, O Lord, to live, already now, the heavenly life in faith and trust in Jesus Christ. In His name do we pray, Amen.