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What's Heaven Like?, Part 1

From the series The Real Heaven

Imagine all the best things of life here on earth. Now, if possible, expand that by 1 million times. Better than anything you’ve experienced so far. Now, imagine living in that kind of environment forever. No struggle. No disease. No pain. No death. No injustice. No evil. Just the best of the best of the best - on spiritual steroids. That’s heaven. Chip gives us a glimpse of the life that awaits us there.

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Message Transcript

Well, 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.

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?”

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 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.

But God promises that there will be a new heaven and a new earth. That, 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 way life was always intended to be with one another and with God is the heaven the Bible talks about.

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 all 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.

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. Whoo. 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? If you’ve got a pen, pull it out. I’m going to take you through some notes. 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.

The second thing to happen is you immediately are in God’s presence. 2 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.

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.

Fifth, you’re aware, to some degree, of the activities and events on the earth. If you’ll just look at chapter 6, same book, Revelation. We’re going to just stay in Revelation.

You’re aware, in this worship service, it doesn’t go on forever. In fact, later it talks about there’s a break, they take a break for a half hour.

But you’re aware of at least of some of the things that are happening on the earth. Hebrews 11 and 12 talk about: we’re living this life before a great cloud of witnesses, but notice verses 9 and 10 of chapter 6. “When he opened, the angel, opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain, martyred, because of the Word of God and the testimony they maintained.

“And they called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until You judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge their blood?’ Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told, ‘Wait a little while,’ until the number of their fellow servants, and brothers, who were to be killed, as they would, had been completed.”

Notice, they know something because they are looking down on earth and saying, How long, O Lord, is this going to happen?”

The only way you can ask, “How long?” is if there is some awareness of what is happening on the earth. Now, we don’t know how much. But we know to some degree that there are some things happening.

You know, it’s very interesting, we really do care about who knows what we do. Do you realize that it well may be that your mom that is in heaven, your dad that’s in heaven, or a brother or a sister, they may be this great cloud of witnesses? It really has some impact, maybe, if we thought a bit more instead of heaven as some ethereal, floating around, people playing on electric harps. What if some people that really mattered were aware of, at least, some of the things that were happening? I wonder how that would impact how we lived.

The next thing that happens, because what you find is that Moses was recognizable, in Luke, I put the passage there, Luke 9:28 through 36. I mean, remember? The Transfiguration? When Moses and Elijah came, Peter didn’t say, “Gosh, I wonder who these guys are?” We’re able to recognize and know what’s going on with people.

You’ll know when you meet your mom, in fact, at least one thing of all these different books of people who come back, one of the common things is they meet people that were strong followers of Christ and you’ll recognize them and there’s relationship and they talk about things and it’s interesting. It gives me, actually, great hope.