We’re in a series called Heaven and men have been fascinated, mankind, fascinated with heaven for centuries. Artists, whether it’s the top of the Sistine Chapel or whether it’s in a cave or you can go to any culture and people have a very vivid idea of what they think the afterlife is, and especially the part of going to heaven.
You know, poets rhyme about it, you know, Milton wrote this Paradise Lost. And, in fact, now, if you want to know about heaven, it has become a hot topic. And if there was ever at time to write a book on heaven, it’s now.
If you go through the bookstores, this is Amazon, thirty-six books right now about heaven alone. And I just scanned them and there’s, you know, original titles like, Heaven, Proof of Heaven, Heaven is For Real. And then there’s a whole genre of biblical answers to heaven or waking up in heaven, Ten True Stories About Heaven, Heaven is for Real and So is Hell, Heaven Beyond Your Wildest Expectations, Ten - there are ten different stories about people who have been there and back. My Journey to Heaven, My Son Went to Heaven, My Daughter Went to Heaven, Everyone is Going to Heaven.
In fact, heaven … someone thinks it’s Texas. That’s a book. Look, I lived in Texas, it’s pretty good but it’s not heaven. Heaven: I Went and Saw God, page after page, Ninety Minutes in Heaven, Twenty-three minutes in Hell, Forty-five Minutes Somewhere in Between, What’s Heaven Like? My Gifted Daughter Went there and She’s Telling the Rest of Us.
Now, I’m not exactly sure and I’m not trying to spoof other than it seems like someone went to heaven or maybe they went to heaven and they tell us a story and it sold a lot of books and afterwards, there’s a lot of people that went afterwards.
Here’s my point: What do you think heaven is like? More important, what information are you going to trust? And God very may well have, because the apostle Paul did, He may have some people in these near death experiences have some very valid experiences.
But which ones are valid and which ones aren’t? And what part of the bright shining light… or this happened or that happened?
How in the world can you know what it’s really like and what’s true and what’s just the figment of people’s imagination or what might even be a delusion? And so we’re talking about, “What exactly is heaven like?”
Most of us at least, we’ve seen movies or, there are always the cloud machines. For some reason, you can never see people’s feet in heaven. Everyone plays the harp. It’s the one instrument. Everyone wears white. Usually there is always music like, “[Chip sings].” Right?
And for those of you that aren’t worship pastors or great musicians, there’s, in an honest moment, you’re thinking, “Like, singing, like, forever and ever and ever and then forever and ever and ever. It might be great but I’m just not sure if that’s all there is to heaven, how…? I mean - the alternative, this is way better than the alternative - but is that really what it’s like?”
And what I want to tell you is that it’s not like that. Our views of heaven are very skewed and unbiblical. It’s a very real place. In fact, you’ll notice that when you look at heaven is, by definition, God’s abode where God is, there are three eras of man where God’s abode and connection is with men in different ways.
And the first one you see in Genesis chapters 1 and 2. There was a perfect environment on a perfect earth. God delegates to mankind on this perfect earth to rule. And He visits, God, from heaven in this perfect environment with our first parents. And He had dreams for them to be co-creators and great relationship in an ideal, wonderful environment.
And they didn’t sit around and play harps, there were animals and life, there was work to do, there was creativity. And then sin entered in so chapters 3, of Genesis, through chapter 20 talks about fallen mankind and we have glimmers and tastes of what it was like in a sunset or a beautiful mountain or the birth of a baby.
But the world that we have now is, it’s tainted. It’s fallen. It’s decayed. The original earth didn’t have tsunamis and tornados and earthquakes and…
But God promises that not just when we die today, this intermediate state, the theologians call it, where, if you died today, you would go. But there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Actually, heaven will come down on a new earth and you’ll notice, resurrected mankind on a new earth where God’s original plan gets kicked back in and the experience is not about clouds and smoke machines and harps and worship, but a city that has been prepared by Jesus called Jerusalem, that comes on a new earth that is better and purer and jobs and life and culture and music and scientific inventions and galaxies.
And the way life was always intended to be with one another and with God is the heaven the Bible talks about.
And so what you need to understand is it’s very interesting as you study all of Scripture that we’ll talk about heaven and what happens when we die, before the new heaven and the new earth. But God started where there’s a place where He wants to be with His people. That’s the theme of Scripture.
This Creator God that spoke all the world into existence, it’s about relationship. He wants to be with His people. At one time, He came and visited and walked, the pre-incarnate Christ would talk and have conversation and share in a perfect environment, and love and acceptance.
He cared so much that after sin, He came and lived a perfect life and demonstrated to us by His life and His words what God is like, and promised to prepare a place. And then He died to break that curse and pay for the sin of people of all time. And then rose from the dead and offers, “To whosoever will believe,” to be ushered with Him forever.
And then the new heaven and the new earth, it’s: He will be our God and He’ll be with us and, literally, no separation.
So the earth is central. Real life, concrete, real people doing things, gifts… And then there’s this correlation between what we do now and how it impacts our experience in heaven. It’s a little bit different than some of the movies that we’ve seen and some of the thoughts that have been real vague.
And so what I want to do is I want to take you on a journey and tell you what heaven is like. Now, the journey that I’m going to spend most of my time on, I obviously wasn’t there and we have limited information about what happened in Genesis chapter 1 and 2 when God visited.
But in the next section here, we have some very specific information about what heaven is like right now. And then, in our next time together, we’ll talk about actual, real relationships and job and works and life. What really happens in the new heaven and the new earth?
But I was praying about this and I thought, “God, this is actually so much of it, new to me, I wonder what would happen if we could at least hypothetically grasp and understand: One minute after you die, as a believer and follower of Jesus Christ, what would your life be like until Christ returns, judges all things for all time, and then sets up a new heaven and a new earth? I mean, what would that be like?”
So, are you ready? I want you to assume two things. The first one you may not have to assume. The second one, I sure hope everyone has to assume. Assumption number one: Regardless of your spiritual background today, we have all kind of people come and visit the church, I want you to assume that you’re a follower, a believer in Christ. At a certain day at a certain time, you have turned from your sin, you received Jesus as your Savior, His Spirit lives within you. So then the moment you would die, you would be ushered into God’s presence.
The second thing I want you to assume is that, right now, we’ll just make this the moment. Right here, in about three seconds, you’re going to have a massive heart attack. What would happen to you immediately after that massive heart attack one minute later and until all comes together?
You ready? Can you assume that with me? And what you’re going to see is what the Bible teaches heaven is like, and is what the theologians call, “The intermediate state.”
Well, are you ready? Number one, the first thing that’s going to happen is angels are going to usher your soul to heaven. Luke 16:22 says, “Now, the poor man died and was carried away by angels to Abraham’s bosom. And the rich man also died and was buried there.”
And so what we find is there is this role of the angels is the moment, your body is there, your soul and spirit, and the angels will usher you into heaven. You get an escort. In fact, if you’ve read anything about the Auca Indians, there were five missionaries many years ago that died. Jim Elliot and five others were slain. Nate Saint.
And they were the fiercest tribe. Their lifestyle was one of murder. They murdered all the other tribes, they murdered one another, it was actually probably as evil a group of people on the face of the earth, and these five missionaries began to pray for them, had a heart for them, they flew into the jungle, they dropped gifts. Eventually they went down to meet them and they tried to help them, and they were all killed.
This is a wild story. If you’ve never read the Jim Elliot story, you should read it. Their wives, are you ready for this? Their wives, after their husbands died, got together and said, “Our husbands can’t waste their life.” Their wives, then, went back to that jungle to reach that same tribe and eventually there was this miraculous revival. That tribe came to Christ.
The actual people who speared them to death were living and then as they became Christians and began to grow, they began to tell the story of that day and how after they killed them, they had this weird experience of there was all this singing in the trees. And these white figures that came over the bodies and ushered them into the sky.
See, God really wants to be with you and cares about you and as a believer and follower of Jesus, the first thing that happens is you get an escort to heaven.
The second thing to happen is you immediately are in God’s presence. II Corinthians 5, the apostle Paul says this, “Therefore being always of good courage and knowing that while we’re at home in the body, we’re absent from the Lord,” the body, physical body. “For we walk by faith, and not by sight. We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”
So the Bible teaches that one minute after you die, you’re ushered by angels, there are no stops, there’s no soul sleep, there are no intermediate places that you go at any time. You are immediately ushered into the presence of God. You will see God, you will see Jesus.
Third thing that happens is that you are conscious and in command of your faculties, thinking, feeling, speech, and memories. We go back to the very words of Jesus, describing this rich man who finds himself separated from God and this great chasm and then the beggar who was a follower of Christ and they can think, they feel, they dialogue, they recognize one another, they are aware of their past.
So when you die, as a believer, it’s not like you have this disembodied spirit that’s floating all around and you don’t know what’s happening. You are conscious, you think, your personality, your soul, the real you is in the presence of God.
Fourth, you participate in magnificent worship with angels and believers before the throne of God. Now, here’s where I’m going to ask you to do a little work with me. I don’t want you to take my word for it. I want you to turn to Revelation chapter 4. There are two big things I want you to get. This is happening in heaven right now. The second is, this is not what heaven is like forever. When you read this passage, at least for my early years as a Christian, the first decade or so, I would read this couple passages and I thought, “I guess this is all there is and God’s plan.”
Now, it’s magnificent, it’s amazing, but it’s just part of it. Are you ready? Revelation chapter 4, this is happening in heaven right now. So if someone you loved has died, this is part of their experience. It’s not all of it, but this is part of their experience.
And as the angels have taken you into God’s presence, you have your faculties, your feelings, your thoughts; you know what happened in the past. And here is where you’re at, chapter 4. “After this I looked,” John is giving a snapshot of heaven by Jesus, “and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I heard first speaking to me was like a trumpet, and it said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you and what must take place after this.’
“At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian and a rainbow resembling an emerald, encircling the throne. And surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders, and they were dressed in white and they had crowns of gold on their heads.
“And from the throne came flashes of lightning and rumblings and peals of thunder. And before the throne, seven lamps were blazing.” Is there a word that seems to be repeated so far? Throne, throne, throne. What do people do from thrones? They rule.
The very first snapshot of heaven, there is someone in control of everything. Not just this little planet, the galaxies, everything. And it’s overwhelming!
And then notice, in the center, around the throne are four living creatures. And they were covered with eyes in front and in back. Well, eyes, perception, soaking in. And they are flying. And notice, what are they saying? “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” We learn, number one, God is holy. Number two, He is all-powerful. And three, He is eternal. He is forever and ever. He is the uncreated One. He is the infinite reference point. He’s the center and the focus of all of life – past, present, and future.
“Holy” is He is not like any of us. He is not a ramped up, more loving, kind of a father or person. There is no category for Him. That’s what “holy” means – separated, different. And you will bow before Him. And you will have a simultaneous experience of being drawn and loved and being overwhelmed and afraid all at the same time because of His great power and holiness, and yet His affection for you.
Whenever the four living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, and to Him who lives forever, the twenty-four elders would fall down before Him, and they sit on the throne and they worship Him who lives forever and ever.
And then something happens about their life and what they did and what they achieved, and I don’t know if you’ve ever gone to a special party or something is for someone that you kind of know and it’s one of those deals where you don’t know whether you’re supposed to bring a gift or not. And so you think you probably shouldn’t. And then you get there and it’s a pretty important person, and everyone else is giving gifts to this person and you realize you don’t have one.
You know that feeling? You been there? That’s what people who have died, ushered into the presence of God, they were genuinely forgiven and saved by faith, but basically spent most all of their life living for themselves, there are no rewards, they have nothing to give. But these elders do. Paul talks about crowns and rewards and this opportunity and they worship.
Skipping down to chapter 5, there’s something else in the center of the throne, verse 6. “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. And He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God, sent out unto all the earth. And He came and he took this scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne, and as He took it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb,” speaking of Christ.
“Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, and this was the prayers of the saints,” and now they sing and the picture of Jesus at the center of the throne, at the center of worship, who opens these scrolls, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals because You were slain, and with Your blood, you purchased men for God.” Where from? America? No. “Every tribe, language, people, and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,” and notice the future, “and they will reign on,” where? Earth!
This is a worship service. This is amazing. And then they’re going to say, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor,” and there’s this worship service. I want you to know, bam! Heart attack. Angels. Whoo. Usher. Presence of God. Awareness. You get it. You come before and there’s a throne and you are overwhelmed.
And then as you read this more carefully, there are thousands and then tens of thousands of angels and anything you ever thought about God gets clarified and He is holy and He’s majestic and He is awesome and He’s powerful. And you recognize thrones are where people rule and every ounce of where you’ve ruled your own life and I’ve ruled mine, every ounce of where you had responsibility that this has got to be that way and I’m going to make this or that happen.
All of that just gets faded out and you realize, “I had some responsibility, I am now in the presence of the One who is the ruler over all, who is sovereign and holy,” and there’s a level of beauty that’s breathtaking and a level of power that causes you… And apart from your relationship and being covered with the blood of Christ and being forgiven, you’re in absolute awe and ecstasy at the same time.
And that’s part of what happens but that’s not all of heaven. That’s what’s happening right now.