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About this series
The Real Heaven
What the Bible Actually Says
What comes to mind when you think of heaven? Clouds? Harps? Angels? Singing? Now, honestly, does that really sound like a great way to spend eternity? The good news is, that is NOT what heaven is like. And when you discover what really awaits you there, it will radically change your view of your future and of heaven. In this 3 part series from Living on the Edge, Chip Ingram digs into scripture to reveal what our heavenly home will be like, what we’ll do there, what we’ll experience, and how we’re to prepare for eternity today. If you’ve secretly thought that heaven sounded kind of boring, well, think again. In this series, you will discover the amazing truth of what awaits you there.More from this series
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.
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?”
And so to do that, please pull out, I put some notes. And if you’ll pull those out, because I did a quick review, because it’s so different than what we think. 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. 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 experience is not about clouds and smoke machines and harps and just 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 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. 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. 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.
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.
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.”
Three things you might notice, number one, the souls under the altar. The word “soul,” we get our word psychology. The word is, in Greek, is “psyche.” It means the immaterial part of us, but also it often refers to a whole person, you know, how many souls were saved or lost or…
And so, whatever the real you is, the real you is there. Notice, second, that they are clothed with a white robe. So, they’re not disembodied spirits somehow. There is a covering and a robe.
And then 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. Isn’t it true? I mean, our behavior really is, when certain people are watching us, we behave in certain ways. And when other people are watching us or we don’t think anybody is watching, we behave in certain ways.
And intellectually, it’s really interesting, I mean, I’m with you on this, is that we all know that God is watching all the time, knows the secrets and motives of our heart. But somehow, we put that aside and forget that happens.
I remember as a young man in high school, my sister was one of the most amazing people I had ever met. I did not know at the time that she was a Christian. She had a friend and she had become a Christian, her sophomore year.
All I knew was when I came home, she had an interest in my life, we took some classes together, she was only about a year and four months older, but she was my hero. She was the nicest, kindest person.
And… you ever have someone who thinks way more of you than you know is true and you unconsciously find yourself trying to live up to it?
And I can tell you, multiple times in high school, I would be at a party and there would be some dope, and I would think, it wasn’t even like, “What would my parents think?” It wasn’t even like, you know, “Am I going to mess up my body for the basketball team?” It was, I had this picture of, “Oh,” I just could see my sister, Punky’s, eyes going, “Oh, Chip, I can’t believe you would ever do that.” Have you ever had that experience?
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.
I’ve already lost both my parents, my wife has had cancer. And she came through it. But I’ve had some really big windows of losing people that really, really, really matter. Early on, one of my sons was in an emergency room and we didn’t know if he would make it.
I want to tell you that the hope that God gives to us in heaven, as Christians is, “This isn’t all there is.” That there really is a place where you will be reunited. And it gives you tremendous perspective and tremendous hope. We do grieve and there is great loss. But our whole lives don’t have to fall apart when you’re a follower of Christ.
And so, bam, the heart attack happens, you’re ushered by angels, immediately you’re in God’s presence, you’re conscious, you participate in this great worship, you see some things that are happening on earth, you don’t know everything. You meet some people, you understand that they see you, you see them, you know one another.
And then seventh, you’ll be joined by all living Christians when Jesus raptures the Church from the earth to be judged for rewards at the Bema Seat or…
2 Corinthians 5:10 says, “For we will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” And that’s not for your sin, that’s been forgiven. That’s for: “What did you do with your life?” Rewards.
And then, fast forward, I’m giving you a quick overview. There’s a lot that happens between chapter 6 and chapter 19 but let’s go all the way over to chapter 19 because this is something that Jesus talked about with His disciples.
In chapter 19, there’s a thing called, “The marriage supper of the Lamb.” So shortly before, the context is God’s judgment is occurring. We’re up in heaven, the Tribulation is coming to an end, there’s going to be this great battle called Armageddon.
But before that, chapter 19, there’s what’s called, “The marriage supper of the Lamb.” All the New Testament Christians are going to be the bride with the Bridegroom.
So, we pick it up, chapter 19, “After this I heard the sound like the roar of a great multitude in heaven: ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are His judgments.’” And he’s talking about those judgments.
And then he skips down to verse 6, he says, “Then I heard the great sound like a multitude, like the roar of rushing waters, like loud peals of thunder, and shouting: ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given to her to wear.’ (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) And then the angel said to me, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ And he added, ‘These are the true words.’” And so, we have this experience with God. And, again, we get things so mystical. Jesus said to the disciples, “I’m going to come back. There’s going to be this time, I won’t eat of it again until we’re in My kingdom.”
And what we’re going to find is shortly after this meal and I don’t know what it’s going to be like but it’s got to be great. He’s going to come and He’s going to do something that down deep in your heart and my heart and everyone’s heart we really, really, really, really want to see happen and it’s our greatest frustration and yet when we talk about it, we often have this sort of intellectual thing that pushes back away from it. Because what happens now is that we always talk very rightly about God’s compassion and God’s love, but God is just. The definition of justice is people get what they deserve, retribution.
And all through Revelation, I wish I had time to just go through chapter by chapter by chapter by chapter and God extends and says, “Will you let Me forgive you? Will you let Me forgive you? Will you let Me forgive you? Now, come on, come on, let Me forgive you.” And people stiff-arm, stiff-arm, stiff-arm, stiff-arm, stiff-arm, and not only stiff-arm but they’re evil. And they attack the things of God.
What is happening now, what is it? Twenty-six million kids and people are slaves in our world. I mean…Can you imagine, when we talk about education and technology and how mankind has made progress and yet in the last century, fifty million people in Russia were killed by Stalin?
I was with a friend who went and did some missionary work that was… I mean, you talk about outside the box. There’s a place in Africa where there’s a lake and people, they come silently in the night across this lake and they steal the kids out of these huts and homes, and they go back over the lake and they’re near a border, and then they sell all the kids. You talk about a mission trip, he got with a group of people that goes back over and they steal them back. And it’s gruesome and it’s hard and they’re armed and people die.
Here’s what I want you to get, there is evil. There’s something built into our heart because you’re made in the image of God about justice.
I want you to see that as you’re in heaven talking with family, after you have enjoyed an amazing meal with your Savior, you await God’s judgment of the earth at the end of the Tribulation, you will be bodily resurrected and then you will reign and judge, with Christ, for a thousand years on the earth.
Notice chapter 20, are you still with me? Revelation? It says, “I saw thrones and those who were seated and those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshipped the beast or his image and not received the mark on their foreheads or on their hands.”
And notice this, “They came to life and they reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were over.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who have a part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will,” you might circle the word, “reign with Him for a thousand years.”
God made promises. And, unlike us, when God makes a promise, whether you read it in the Old or New Testament, He’s going to keep it. He made this outrageous promise to David about, “A descendent of yours will be on the throne forever.” He made this outrageous promise, regardless of the geopolitical issues that happened in the world to Abraham about a piece of land and about a nation and what He would do for that nation and those Jews and those people, not just by ethnic background, but by heart relationship, of what He would do for them.
And Jesus comes back and you can read a little bit before because it’s harsh and there’s judgment and there’s a battle and He makes everything right. And then for a thousand years, on this earth, there are those people who made it through that. There’s us, New Testament saints, there’s Old Testament saints. And for a thousand years, all those promises and all those rewards, it’s lived out.
And I read this and… I didn’t grow up reading the Bible, so I grew up as a real skeptic. And sometimes as I, early on at least, read the Bible, there were things that puzzled me. Like, “God, obviously, I don’t need to know, but why a thousand years? Why Christ? Why on the earth? Okay, I get: fulfill Your promises. I get that. But just, from a philosophical standpoint…”
And I thought to myself… my parents were schoolteachers and around our table it was education every night. You pushed in the plates and great books, great authors, what was happening in the news? That was just what they did at our house. And so, I grew up with all that.
And a part of the educational system is that if we could just educate everyone in all the world, if we, if people just could think rightly, if we could create an environment that’s healthy and unpolluted, both intellectually and emotionally and the environment, if all of that, see, man is basically good and what we need to do is have enough time, enough technology, and enough education to help people learn to do what is right, then mankind would really end well.
That’s been a core philosophy of why we do what we do. And what we view as basically our technology, in every generation, is to kill more and more and more people, and us try to be on a throne, and be in control.
And it’s interesting, at least from a philosophical standpoint, you have a thousand years and in a perfect environment where Jesus is King and He rules. And people who came out of that, they marry, they have children, Satan is locked up so there is no evil for a thousand years.
And at the end of a thousand years, God releases Satan and demonic activity for one last time to tempt. And it is amazing, a significant population, out of a perfect environment, with the best education, and the great relationships, with a thousand-year track record, turn away from the God who loves them to sit on their own throne and rule their own lives.
And I just thought, “Isn’t it like God just to say, ‘You know what? Let me explain to you the heart of man.’”
Remember Jesus? When people were asking Him some questions and He denied them and He said, “No, no, no, you don’t understand. I understand what’s in the heart of man.”
See, we all basically think we’re a little bit better than we are. In fact, we think we’re a lot better than we are. And yet, you find people that have been in desperate situations and you read of stories. When under the right circumstances and amazing duress, it is almost unthinkable what the human heart can do.
You read the stories of what happened in Nazi Germany and we all think that’s those other, evil people. That’s in the heart of human beings when threatened and control and power and greed. And God says, “I’m going to deal with that.”
In fact, there’s going to be justice. In fact, finally, you will witness the justice of God at the judgment of Satan, angels, and the wicked dead at the Great White Throne and there’s a cataclysmic end to it all.
And this is what He says, “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from His presence, there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before the throne, and the books were opened.
“And another book was opened that was called the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, recorded in the books. And the sea gave up its dead, death and Hades gave up its dead, each person was judged according to what he had done.
“And then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. And if anyone’s name was not found in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
And it’s interesting, we’ve gotten so sophisticated and I hear people talk about, you know, those old days, somewhere, somehow, where people talked about damnation and hell and people don’t talk about that anymore. The Bible does.
But C.S. Lewis, the great Atheist/Agnostic who came to Christ and wrote Narnia and many other things, Mere Christianity, his perspective is so right on. He said, “What people don’t understand is hell, the lock is on the inside of the door.”
Everyone who is in hell wants to be there. God is just. Anyone who longs, seeks for, wants to be with God, oh, He is loving! He sent His Son! Opportunity. He is forgiven.
Hell is a place for people who say, “I don’t want You, God.” And so, God says, “Thy will be done.” And to people who say, “Oh, God, help me, Your will be done.” I don’t know if you’ve ever been around people who have been through, I mean, gnarly, nasty, ugly, violent divorce.
But, I mean, it’s visceral. I mean, there is name calling and there are attorneys and they steal one another’s kids. I mean, it’s ugly, ugly, ugly, ugly.
That’s the way it is between mankind and God. It’s not like there’s a group of people in hell going, “Oh, I want to be there. I want to be there.” They don’t want anything to do with God or light or goodness. And God, in His mercy and grace to you and your dignity and mine, gives us the freedom to choose in love or to reject.
And you’re going to be in heaven and you’re going to realize that the things that bugged you way more than just bugged you, that viscerally it was so wrong, it was so evil. There will come a day when every wrong will be made right and there will be justice. There was forgiveness offered but there’s justice.
Every wrong is made right. Once and for all, everything is now fair. And we all want it fair. Human history, as we know it, has come to a close. It’s taken your breath away. And then there’s this moment where, out of the sky, a new heaven and a new earth.
Look at verse 1 of chapter 21. “Then I saw heaven, a new heaven and a new earth, for the first earth and the first heaven had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. And I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God,’” this is his point!
“Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. And they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.”
Now, okay, let’s stop. What you’ve experienced is what theologians call, “the intermediate state.” What we’re now going to talk about is what your experience will be like forever and ever and ever. Heaven, two words, is a country and a city. They look for a country, they hoped for a city whose architect is God.
Jerusalem comes down. God does this massive thing, where He makes a new earth, new heaven, new galaxies. Last time, all He did is speak and it happened. This is no big deal. And then there will be this city, it’s a huge city, it’s twenty stories high. And then there will be gates that are opened and there will be kings and countries and commerce and art and books to be written and songs to be sung and jobs to be created and nations that come together and treaties and life and work. And you doing what you were designed and made to do, at a level like never before.
Just as my body will be resurrected, so the earth will be restored.
The apostle Paul says, “We have natural or earthly bodies,” okay, they fit for this earth in a fallen situation. We’re going to have spiritual bodies that will fit the new heaven and the new earth. So, this earth is going to be, just like you’re going to be resurrected, well, we’ll still be able to recognize you, you still have your personality, you’ll have your memories. So will the earth.
My new body… well, what’s it going to be like? It’s going to be like Christ’s. 1 John 3, it says, “We do not know what we will be like, but this is what we know: When we see Him, we will be like Him.”
Now, we don’t become God but we’re going to have the same kind of spiritual body that He had. Well, what was His like? Jesus’ resurrected body ate and drank, it had flesh and bone, it had new capabilities.
This is a different view of heaven. I mean, this is like, you have meals together, Jesus said, “Could I have another piece of fish?” And He says, “Does a spirit have flesh and bones?” This is not some floating around. This is a new earth, a perfect earth, a perfect environment, you have a supernatural body, you’ll eat, you’ll drink, you’ll talk, you’ll have activities, you’ll run, you’ll walk. But there are some new capabilities.
Jesus went through walls and He was this place and then He was this place. This will be like Star Trek on spiritual steroids. Do I know exactly what it’s like? I don’t!
But here’s the deal, God gives us hints and inklings. Everything that you love most about the earth has been just a tiny little hint of what God is like. He wants to meet the deepest longings of your heart.
The best relationship, the best marriage, the best moment with a kid, the best moment on a walk, the most amazing sunrise, the best hike you’ve ever had, the best deal you’ve closed, the best shot you’ve made – all those are tiny little tastes of a creature made in the image of God and God wants you to now get to experience, what’s that like in a perfect environment? No sin, no false motives, no comparison. Well, it’s going to be a lot like the new you.
Second, it’s going to be a lot like the old earth. The new heaven and the new earth is familiar. Now, follow along. Genesis chapters 1 and 2, God visits the earth. Jesus came to the earth. There’s a new heaven and a new earth. You know, like, at Wimbledon? There’s center court? In the Bible, center court, even in all of Revelation, they keep talking about what? What’s happening on the earth!
God made mankind in a perfect environment and the perfect environment was the earth, it’s now a tainted, corrupted, fallen earth. And there’s going to be a new earth where you thrive. The old earth passed away, not annihilated. He’s going to cleanse it. But the things that you loved most about this earth will be there exponentially better, improved.
Like the old me passed away, so the old earth passes away. The Scripture says, “If any man, if any woman is in Christ,” right? “the old things pass away, behold, all things become new.” Well, my old Chip passed away but there’s a lot that looks a lot like the old Chip, right? It’s the same with the earth. The best.
The new earth is going to be new, better, different, but with continuity from the old earth. And here’s a little phrase, as I’ve studied this, has helped me the most. I was thinking about a heaven that’s where I want to be, where I want to do, in my life now, what positions me for the greatest possible experience.
As man was, so was the earth, right? Innocence. As man went, disobedience and sin, so went the earth. It groans for that day of redemption. As man will be, so will be the earth.
There are two really big questions you should be asking yourself. Question number one is, “Do I know for absolute certain, if I had a massive heart attack the moment I open my car door in the parking lot, do I know for certain that I have trusted what Christ’s work has done for me, by faith in His grace, received forgiveness, so that I would instantaneously be ushered by angels to heaven?”
Because there is an alternative that the Bible talks about. And it would break God’s heart. He has gone to extraordinary lengths.
Second question you ought to be asking yourself, us as believers, is, there’s only one throne in heaven, there’s only one throne in the universe. And there are two things that are pictured on that throne: The majesty, the glory, the holiness, and the power of God and the work of the Lamb, Christ. And the question all of us ought to ask ourselves, since we’re going to be worshipping around that and our priorities and time and energy and dreams will be aligned around who God really is then, how are we doing now?
Because your reigning, your reward, your experience is directly related to how you live that today. And the byproduct, by the way, is, since God created life to work that way, when that’s true, those relationships with other people, those relationships with things, the peace in your life, the longings that you want now, all that is aligned when He is not just a God you believe in, but He’s the personal Lord of your life. He really cares about you!
I mean, it’s like someone created and made things, imagine if you would, like a maze. And He says, “Here’s an open book test. Here’s all the ways. Here’s where to go. And by the way, you can stop here, it’s awesome, when you get here it’s even more awesome. And by the way, the end is beyond your wildest dreams. I don’t want anyone to miss it. So, here’s the test, here’s the Book, here’s the map.”
And a lot of people just say, [Chip covers his eyes with his hands] “I’d rather do it like this.” And then we can’t figure out why, when we hit walls and go over cliffs, and relationships break down, and money evaporates, and depression comes up, and life seems just out of control, we just say, “God, where are You?” And He’s saying, “It’s open book! Do it My way. Let Me help you. Let Me love you.”