Heaven

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  (Revelation 21:1-2)

It is said that “everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” Even though no one knows what heaven is really like, generally we all agree that it will be “a better place” than what we experience here on earth. Of that place, the Bible says, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4) Even when suspecting that heaven is a more desirable place than this life, many are reluctant to “cross the vale” to the other side. Why is that?

There may be many reasons why people want to postpone the inevitable (everyone will die sooner or later), but the major reason, I am sure, is uncertainty. There is uncertainty of what is on “the other side,” or if there is another side. What if when the lights go out, they never come back on again? Atheists pretend to be satisfied with that outcome, but somehow I doubt their sincerity.

Part of the uncertainty may be due to lack of knowledge of heaven. The mention of “heaven” congers up images of a place “up there” full of angels and people sitting around on clouds playing harps, singing and praising God endlessly – forever. I had a friend once who loved racing dirt bikes. He claimed to be a Christian, but had no interest in heaven, if there were no dirt trails for him to ride. However, there may well be dirt trails in heaven, but something tells me those kinds of interests will pale in comparison to what our experience will be in heaven.

First of all, let us modify our view of heaven. The Bible actually describes three heavens. The first heaven we would understand as the area between the earth (ground) and the stratosphere, i.e. the sky, where birds and airplanes fly. The second heaven would be outer space where the planets and stars reside. The third heaven is the realm of God. Speaking of himself, the Apostle Paul writes, “I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2, emphasis mine). Collectively, the Old Testament refers them as hashâmayim – “the heavens,” which could be anywhere and everywhere “up there.” However, the realm of God is “the heaven of heavens” – shâmeh hashâmayim. “Thou, even thou, art LORD alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee” (Nehemiah 9:6, emphasis mine).

Well, that is not a lot of help, and it is not exactly an enticing advertisement igniting a passion to go there. No wonder there is apprehension! However, (I could be wrong about this), the Bible nowhere speaks about people going to “heaven” when they die. Jesus spoke of two men that died (Luke 16:19-31).[1] One went to hell, the other “was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22). “Abraham’s bosom” is a place in the presence of and in the company of the great patriarch, Abraham. Jesus did not call that place “heaven.”

Those who do believe in an “afterlife” are uncertain of the qualifications for entrance into the heavenly realm. Most people assume, and most “faith systems” teach, that getting into heaven, or obtaining nirvana depends on the merits obtained by the individual while alive here on earth. However, no one knows how much “good” is good enough, or when one has reached that ultimate level of “goodness.” Those who care about such things try to do their best hoping that in the end, their good deeds outweigh the bad. Therefore, the prospect of dying falls to the bottom of the list of priorities; and hence the uncertainty about the eventuality and inevitability of death. Dying is one of those things over which we have no control, so we would rather not think about it, and hope for the best.

The Bible does say that the dead will be judged on their merits. “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works” (Revelation 20:12, emphasis mine). However, quality standards for entrance into heaven demand perfection. “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8, emphasis mine). One might look at this list and conclude that these charges do not apply, but let us take a closer look.

The Greek word translated “fearful” is deilos and it means “timid” or “faithless.” So, if someone is presented the Gospel message and rejects it for fear of what others may say, especially members of one’s own family, or is fearful of what one might lose in becoming a Christian, that person is “fearful” and disqualified for a place in heaven. Jesus said, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). “Unbelieving” needs no special explanation. “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6, emphasis mine). Jesus defined “murder” more narrowly than simply taking a life. Jesus considered unjustified anger against someone or slander, i.e., character assassination, on par with murder (Matthew 5:22). “Whoremongers” are sexual abusers of all sorts. Jesus said that if you even look on a woman with lust, or if you divorce a spouse for reason other than unfaithfulness, you are guilty of sexual abuse; in other words, you are a whoremonger (Matthew 5:28, 32). The Greek word translated “sorcerers” is pharmakeus from which we get our word “pharmacist” – a drug dispenser or drug user. An “idolater” worships or gives priority to other things above God. That could be anything: relationships, material possessions, self, sports, celebrities, etc. As for “liars,” who can claim innocence in this regard?

This short list of non-qualifiers readily demonstrates that no one meets the qualifications for entry into heaven. The Bible clearly affirms, “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10, emphasis mine); “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). There is no partial credit either. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10).

 From the beginning of Creation, sin separated fallen man from Holy God. In the Garden of Eden, God gave man dominion over all that He created (Genesis 1:26-28). God gave man only one prohibition. “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17, emphasis mine).

Death was not a part of God’s “very good” creation (Genesis 1:31). Humans, created in the image of God, are eternal beings. The warning, “thou shalt surely die” in the original Hebrew reads, “dying, you shall die.” It seems a curious way to put it, but since humans are made in the image of God, they do not cease to exist, so there must be more here than is readily apparent. Man’s spirit/soul is eternal, and man’s body was created to last forever. It appears that death comes in two ways. The first is physical death. Man’s original-equipment body, was meant to last forever, but sin, man’s disobedience, damaged the body’s ability to last eternally, so that from the moment of birth, we physically begin the dying process. The second death is the separation of man’s spirit/soul from God. Jesus said, “I AM … the life” (John 14:6). Apart from “the life” we die. So the Hebrew phrase, makes perfect sense – “dying [because our physical body is dying] you shall die [permanently, eternally separated from God].” Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s only command (Genesis 3:6) and due to that disobedience, all of mankind is under the curse “dying, thou shalt die” (Genesis 3:16-19). “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12, emphasis mine).

We will all die physically eventually, but we are all dead spiritually from conception, eternally separated from God who is our Life. “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5, emphasis mine). Our situation seems grim, but from the beginning, God provided a way.

The instigator of man’s disobedience, “the great dragon … that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world,” (Revelation 12:9), won the first skirmish in the battle for the souls of man, but God set a plan in motion to win back His most prized creation – you and me. “And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; [He] shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:14-15, emphasis mine).[2] That promise was realized when God took on the form of man in the person of Jesus Christ who took upon Himself the penalty of sin by His death on the cross. There Satan “bruised His heel,” but Jesus crushed his head when He conquered death by rising from the grave on the third day. The curse was broken.

One might wonder how the death of Jesus cancels the curse of death and closes the rift that separates sinful man from Holy God. Again we must look to the beginning. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:6-7), the couple realized that they were naked, and they felt fear and shame knowing they violated God’s commandment. After detailing the curse (Genesis 3:16-19), God (in the form of the pre-incarnate Christ)[3] slaughtered an innocent animal(s) to make coverings for their nakedness (Genesis 3:21). Allegorically, the sheading of the innocent blood of animals served to cover their sin. In Hebrew word kâphar, “to cover” is the word we know as “atonement.” Note that atonement “covers” sin; it does not remove it; therefore the practice of sacrificing animals became a perpetual ritual from then on.

We find the first example of this in Genesis 4:1-5 where Cain offered a sacrifice of his crops while Abel “brought of the firstlings of his flock.” God accepted Abel’s sacrifice, but He rejected Cain’s offering. Why? Because there was no shedding of blood in Cain’s sacrifice. This angered Cain, which incited the first recorded murder in the Bible, but before committing the act, God put Cain on notice: “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?” (Genesis 4:7). Had Cain offered the proper blood-sacrifice, his offering would have been accepted, but Cain chose deviate from God’s prescription. The next example we see of a blood sacrifice came about 1700 years later after the Flood (Genesis 6-9). After the Flood waters receded, and Noah and his family came out of the Ark, “And Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar” (Genesis 8:20, emphasis mine).

From these examples, we see that the practice of shedding of innocent blood started from the very beginning soon after Adam and Eve sinned and continued through the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob until the time it was codified into Law by Moses. The practice continued throughout the history of Israel until the time of Jesus. Why was blood required to make an atonement for sin? “God, as the sovereign author and proprietor of nature, reserved the blood to Himself and allowed men only one use of it – in the way of sacrifices.”[4] “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11, emphasis mine). However, the practice of sacrificing innocent animals could never, nor would ever, take away the sins of man, and it served only as a temporary covering at best. The separation between God and man remained because man sinned, and man must die to pay for his sin. “For the wages of sin is death …” (Romans 6:23). Animals did not sin. Their blood, though innocent of sin, could only serve as a temporary measure. Man’s blood could not satisfy the price of sin, because all men are guilty of sin – “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, emphasis mine).[5] The death of a sinful man cannot cover the sins of other sinful men and nullify the offence against Holy God.

God resolved the dilemma by taking upon Himself the image of His own creation and paying the wages of sin Himself. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made … And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-3, 14 emphasis mine). “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8, emphasis mine). Jesus, God in human form, paid the penalty for sin that you and I owe. That is called MERCY – not getting the punishment we deserve, i.e., death. “But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many” (Romans 5:15, emphasis mine). That is called GRACE – receiving the free gift of eternal life that we do not deserve.

However, although Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is sufficient to pay for the sins of all mankind, it is only effective or efficient for those who will believe and accept His free gift by faith. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, emphasis mine). For one to gain “everlasting life,” one must believe. “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6, emphasis mine). “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10, emphasis mine). No other requirement must be met. Because of our sinful nature, there is nothing we can do to earn a place in heaven. “For by grace [God’s unmerited favor] are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, emphasis mine). Salvation is the gift of God, and as with any gift, it must be accepted before it can be possessed.

The Philippian jailer asked, “… Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:30-31, emphasis mine). Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7, emphasis mine).

Heaven is yours for the asking, if you will believe. What does that mean? It means that you must acknowledge your sin (we are all sinners) before God and confess your need for the Savior. Ask God to forgive you of your sin. The Bible says that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Ask Jesus to be your Savior and accept His free gift. That is all you need to do. You do not need any special words or recite a special prayer. You can talk to God, just like you talk to your best friend. He knows your heart and He hears your heart’s cry. This is one prayer, one request, that God will always answer YES.

If you have done that, and you are sincere, then your place with God in heaven is secured forever, and nothing can take that away from you. Jesus said, “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29, emphasis mine). The Apostle Paul said, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). Once you belong to God, nothing can remove you from that position.

When you belong to God, you become part of God’s family; you are a child of God. As a child of God, you should desire to be among other family members – your brothers and sisters. You will find them in any good Bible-believing church – one that believes that the Bible is the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God, and teaches that unashamedly. As a child of God, you will have the desire to learn more about God and His Word, and you will want to read and study the Bible. You will not be “perfect” – none of us are – but your desire will be please God in all that you do. As a child of God, Jesus takes up residence in your heart by way of His Holy Spirit. Jesus promised, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26, emphasis mine). He will be that “inner voice” that will guide you, and direct you “in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3).

Jesus promised to return to earth to reign on earth as King of Kings and Lord of Lords for 1000 years. He is coming soon.[6] After the 1000 years, He will create a “new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21-22). Our eternal dwelling place will not be somewhere “out there” but here on a newly re-created earth which promises to be better than God’s original “very good” creation. In the meantime a “taste” of heaven can be enjoyed here and now when Jesus takes up residence in your heart. Why not invite Him in today? All you have to do is ask.

Notes:


[1]  “Good Guys Go to Hell” https://erniecarrasco.com/2017/04/30/good-guys-go-to-hell/

[2]  “Why Satan?” https://erniecarrasco.com/2014/11/02/why-satan/

[3]  “The First Sacrifice” https://erniecarrasco.com/2014/02/16/the-first-sacrifice/

[4]  Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown, A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, comment on Leviticus 17:11.

[5]  “Are You Good Enough?” https://erniecarrasco.com/2017/03/26/are-you-good-enough/

[6]  “Coming Soon!” https://erniecarrasco.com/2017/07/09/coming-soon/