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Heaven

November 2003 | by Peter Barnes

The word ‘heaven’ is found some 244 times in the New Testament. Yet, many people are vague about what heaven is, and how we get there.

For example, one often hears that heaven is ‘only a state of mind’. No doubt, heaven is a state of blessedness. But, in his prayer of dedication of the temple, Solomon refers to heaven as God’s dwelling place (1 Kings 8:30).

The psalmist says that God looks down from heaven (Psalm 33:13), and Jesus came down to earth from heaven (John 6:38). It hardly makes sense to say that God dwells in a state of mind or that Christ descended from one!

In John 14, Jesus pictures heaven as a house with many rooms. Twice he said he was going to prepare a place for his people (John 14:2-3).

Chief happiness

So, heaven is a real place — a place where the Lord is seen in the glory of his holiness. Christ prayed: ‘Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world’ (John 17:24).

Thomas Boston called this ‘the chief happiness of the saints in heaven’.

Anne Ross Cousin puts it thus:

The bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory,
But on my King of grace;
Not at the crown he giveth,
But on his pierced hand:
The Lamb is all the glory
Of Immanuel’s land.

Jesus promised that the pure in heart would see God (Matthew 5:8), while the apostle John wrote movingly: ‘Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is’ (1 John 3:2).

Seeing one another

Yet not only shall Christians be with Christ, and be made like Christ — they will also see one another. J. C. Ryle wrote: ‘Surely next to the thought of seeing Christ in heaven, there is no more blessed and happy thought than that of seeing one another’.

Lamenting the death of his week-old son, David declared: ‘I shall go to him, but he will not return to me’ (2 Samuel 12:23).

Martha believed that her brother Lazarus would rise again in the resurrection at the last day (John 11:24). As it was, Christ did more than she confessed, and raised Lazarus that very day! But in heaven, Christians will meet again or, indeed, for the first time.

This means that there will be plenty to do in heaven. George Bernard Shaw, an atheist who believed in two miserable substitutes — the Life Force and Soviet Communism — once declared that heaven was inane. It sounded dull, useless, and miserable.

Not so. In heaven all God’s people will worship God and the Lamb, and they shall sing the new song of praise to the Father and the Son (Revelation 4-5).

They will serve God day and night (Revelation 7:15). Talents will evidently be used and enhanced (Matthew 25:21, 23). Love and fellowship with God and his people will be perfected.

Gladness

Adoniram Judson, a missionary to Burma in the early nineteenth century, knew much about suffering, including imprisonment and illness. Regarding heaven, he wrote this: ‘When Christ calls me home, I shall go with the gladness of a boy bounding away from his school’.

From Judson we learn not how to regard school, but how we should view heaven!

At the end of his magisterial City of God, Augustine asked: ‘For what is our end but to reach that kingdom which has no end?’ What indeed?

It has been said that ‘a person may go to heaven without health, without wealth, without fame, without a great name, without learning, without a job, without culture, without beauty, without friends — without 10,000 other things. But he can never go to heaven without Christ’.

That is the point — no Christ, no life, no heaven.

But the goal of the Christian life is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever. No wonder the ageing William Romaine, when asked how he was, used to reply: ‘As well as I can be out of heaven’!

This article first appeared in

Australian Presbyterian.