The mention of the word heaven raises at once a number of questions. Is there really such a place? If so, where is it? What is heaven like? Will everyone go there, or just a certain privileged few? And then, some will ask, “Do we go there immediately at death, or does the soul ‘sleep’ for a while?”
For many people in this last part of the 20th century, these questions are not relevant. They scoff at the idea of life after death and ridicule belief in a heaven of eternal bliss and a hell of everlasting punishment. They are convinced that man’s existence ends at the grave.
Christians do believe in a beautiful place called heaven, and they look forward to eternal life within its gates. Based on their faith in God’s Word, they anticipate the joys that await them in their eternal home. This comforting thought brings healing to the wounds of their earthly existence and quenches their sorrows.
The place to find out about heaven is the Bible. The word heaven in its singular and plural forms occurs more than 600 times in Scripture.We are given much information about our eternal home, and in this lesson we will consider it carefully in two aspects: (1) the habitation of God, and (2) the home of departed saints.
THE HABITATION OF GOD
The Bible often speaks of heaven as God’s “habitation” and explicitly declares that He dwells there.
Thus says the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isa. 57:15).
Solomon also recognized heaven as God’s home when he prayed:
May You hear the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. Hear in heaven Your dwelling place; and when You hear, forgive (1 Ki. 8:30).
This does not mean that God is absent from earth. His presence is everywhere, but His dwelling place is in heaven. He abides there, and from that location He is present throughout all His creation. The Bible also teaches that heaven is the location of God’s throne. The psalmist declared:
The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all (Ps. 103:19).
God is king of the universe He created; the Bible speaks of “His throne” which He occupies in heaven. From there He rules over the affairs of men. Nebuchadnezzar, the mighty king of Babylon, learned of God’s sovereign rulership through firsthand experience. He had become self-centered and proud, and the Lord had temporarily chastened him by a period of severe mental illness. When it was all over, he prayed:
Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down (Dan. 4:37).
God, the Almighty King, rules in majesty over His entire creation. He holds all things together by His mighty power. He may permit evil men and the rulers of darkness to have their day, but He has not lost control of the world— not for one moment! Although the wicked may rebel against His laws and declare themselves masters of their own destiny, God from heaven is still in command.
Psalm 2 describes the empty efforts of the nations to rebel against the Lord God and against His Christ. These boasters say:
Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us (v.3).
But the psalmist went on to express the folly and madness of seeking to stand up against the Almighty:
He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure (vv.4-5).
Yes, God in heaven has only to speak the word, and all His enemies will be destroyed. When the Bible speaks of heaven as God’s throne, therefore, it means that this is the center of His administration, the seat of His authority, the place from which He issues His edicts, commands, and sovereign decrees.
The Bible also teaches that God accepts our worship and hears our prayers in heaven. The Lord told Solomon at the finishing of the temple:
If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chr. 7:14).
King David, the father of Solomon, had also learned that God hears the prayers of His people. David had earnestly sought God’s help, and the Lord had granted him victory over the Philistines. In gratitude he wrote:
In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, and my cry entered His ears (2 Sam. 22:7).
God has promised to listen to the prayers of His people. What a blessing that the same is true for Christians today! Whether we want to confess our sins to Him or just to praise Him, He will hear and respond.
In heaven, God not only accepts the worship of His people on earth, but He also receives the adoration of the heavenly hosts who dwell there with Him. In Hebrews 12:22, for example, we are told of an innumerable company of angels who abide in heaven. The Bible portrays them as constantly worshiping and serving God. They are continually going back and forth, from earth to heaven and from heaven to earth, fulfilling the Lord’s instructions.
Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation? (Heb. 1:14).
All of this activity centers around God’s throne. There they receive their orders, and there they return when their mission is accomplished.
Other angelic beings, the cherubim and seraphim, are with God in heaven. Creatures of service and worship, they attend His throne to extol His virtues, to guard His holiness, and to render praise through obedience.
Heaven is the habitation of God. From there He rules over all creation, hears the prayers of His people, and accepts the worship of His earthly subjects and His heavenly attendants.
THE HOME OF DEPARTED SAINTS
Not only is heaven God’s habitation, but it is also the place where His saints will dwell forever.We can rightly call heaven “our eternal home.” Death does not end all, the soul lives on. And for the believer, the soul at death immediately enters forever into the presence of God.
Some false religionists teach otherwise. They refer to those who die as being “asleep,” and by this they mean that their souls cease to exist until some time of future resurrection. But the term soul sleep, as used in this manner, is a misnomer—simply because a soul with no existence apart from the body could not be referred to as “sleeping.” If it doesn’t exist it’s gone! This means that at some future time God would find it necessary to re-create the entire individual. The body would first have to be resurrected; then it would need to be given a new soul. This is contrary to the teaching of God’s Word.
Death involves physical and spiritual separation— not annihilation! Physical death occurs when the soul is separated from the body. Spiritual death is the eternal separation of the soul from God. Although the believer in Christ may die physically, having his soul separated from his body, he can never die spiritually. He will never experience the separation of his soul from God.
My believing friend, this should be a special comfort to you. It means that your Christian loved ones who have died are not separated from the Lord and never will be. When they gave their hearts to Christ, they received life everlasting. Jesus said:
He who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life (Jn. 5:24).
Those who have died in Christ have entered into the presence of God, and even now they abide with Him in heaven. Jesus taught this truth in His words to Martha at the time of the resurrection of Lazarus. When Jesus arrived at Bethany, 4 days after Lazarus had died, Martha came out to meet Him and complained, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (Jn. 11:21). Then Christ, assuring Martha that her brother would rise again, stated this beautiful, comforting truth:
I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die (vv.25-26).
We may learn two important lessons from these words of Christ. First, even though believers may die physically, as Lazarus did, their bodies will someday be resurrected. Remember, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Second, through faith in Christ the child of God possesses eternal life. Therefore, in the deepest sense of the word, he will never die. That’s why Jesus could give the glorious promise, “Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.”
Yes, the body may perish, but the soul of the Christian lives on—never to be separated from God, the source of life. Those who teach that the soul of man ceases to exist at death deny a clear statement from the lips of our Lord Himself. Remember that Jesus said, “Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.”
IN CHRIST’S PRESENCE
When the believer dies, he departs from this life to go immediately into the presence of Christ. At the moment physical life is ended, therefore, the Christian meets Jesus face to face in his eternal home in heaven. The words of the Lord Jesus at Calvary emphasize this truth. As Christ hung on the accursed tree, one of the dying thieves expressed faith in Him, crying out, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Lk. 23:42). The Lord Jesus gave His word that they would meet again, and not way off in the far distant future. He promised, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (v.43).
The apostle Paul viewed the period between death and resurrection as a time of joy, blessing, and fellowship in the presence of Christ. He told the believers in Philippi:
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better (Phil. 1:21-23).
It’s plain to see that the apostle fully expected to be with the Lord the very moment he departed from this life. Because of this he could say, “To die is gain” and “to depart and be with Christ . . . is far better.”
In 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, he expressed again his sincere conviction that the day he would leave this body, he would join his Savior in heaven:
So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.
To give proper emphasis to the tenses used in the Greek, this last verse should read, “We are confident, I say, and willing, rather to be once-for-all away from home as far as the body is concerned, and to be oncefor- all at home with the Lord.”
Paul was not speaking here about the resurrection of the body. That will occur when the trumpet sounds for the rapture of the church. Rather, he spoke of what happens to the soul immediately following death. When a Christian dies, his soul is ushered into Christ’s presence in heaven. Death for the believer brings about an immediate, once-for-all change—from being in our body on earth to being with our Lord in our eternal home.
This is the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer of John 17, spoken shortly before His crucifixion:
Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world (v.24).
For the believer, this prayer finds fulfillment at death. He enters heaven and begins to experience all the wonderful blessings of being with the Lord.
In this lesson we have emphasized two important truths. First, heaven is the habitation of God. It’s where the Lord rules over all His creation, accepts the worship of His beings, and hears our prayers. Second, heaven is the home of departed saints, where we will abide forever in the presence of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Although our bodies may be buried in the grave to be resurrected at the rapture of the church, our souls go immediately to be with the Lord.
Not everyone, however, will enjoy the glories of heaven. There is one condition that must be met if you are to enter that eternal home. The only condition is faith in God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He said:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (Jn. 3:16).