We all know that no one lives forever. Each and every person will, eventually, one day die. Adam and Eve, our representatives, failed in the Garden and we will all suffer the same fate as them…death. But, have you ever thought about what happens to the Christian after they die? Have you ever thought about what will happen to this earth when Jesus Christ returns and establishes His forever kingdom and eradicates all effects of sin and the fall?
These concepts and ideas were looked at in depth this year at the student retreat called “The Far Country.” We spent the entire weekend considering that Christians really are pilgrims living in a foreign land who are all journeying to the far country, a better country, a country who designer and builder is God Himself!
Sadly, though, it seems that many, if not most, Christians haven’t ever really considered what heaven will be like. There is often times some thought of clouds, angels, wings and harps. It seems as if these ideas and concepts have been pulled mostly from pop culture, movies, books, and a little from the Bible. But, if we do look at the word, we can see that it does have plenty to say about the next life and what heaven will be like. Knowing and thinking about these things can seriously help the Christian live a God-honoring life of denial now knowing that all his or her desires will be fulfilled in the next life!
Immediately Present with the Lord
For example, did you know that as soon as the Christian dies he or she goes to be immediately with the Lord? There is no waiting place or holding tank. We see this truth taught by Jesus to the thief on the cross next to Him who repented and trusted in Him. Upon his profession, Jesus told him, “Today you will be with Me in paradise (Lk 23:43)!” Paul reinforces this teaching by saying that when one is absent from the body he will be present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8).
At this point, though, it is only the spirit (no bodies) of the person in heaven. This is seen in Revelation 6:9-11 where the spirits of those in the present heaven have retained their individual identities, are able to speak with the Lord Himself, have a sense of time, and even seem to be aware of what is taking place on earth.
This heaven into which those who die immediately enter is known as the Intermediate or Present Heaven in that it is not the Permanent Heaven. The Intermediate Heaven will last until such time as Christ returns boldly and bodily in the sky to execute His final judgement. At that time, all will change! He will bring with Him the spirits of the saints who have already died and will reunite them with their new resurrection bodies (1 Thess 4:13-17) after which those who are alive will be caught up together with them in their new resurrection bodies!
This is the beginning of the final judgment which is the final consummation of the kingdom of Jesus which was inaugurated at His first coming. At that time, according to Revelation, the new heavens and the new earth will come to pass (Rev 21:1-2). In its current state, even creation is groaning under the horrific effects of sin and the fall (Rom 8:22) and Christ is coming to restore and renew creation itself! It will be a return to Eden where all the redeemed will live in the presence of our God.
This is the Permanent Heaven also known as the New Heavens and the Earth. There is nothing mysterious about this place. Simply look outside your widow to get a slight foretaste of what this will be like. Imagine creation in full and perfect submission to God where there is no sin, no danger, no peril, no sadness and imagine it filled with a redeemed humanity from every tribe and tongue who are fully and satisfyingly loved by God such that they love and care for all others perfectly in a society living, working, playing, creating, and tending to all that God created for them and their pleasure. That is but a glimpse of what heaven will be like!
Heaven as Motivation
It was thinking about this future joy that enabled Jesus Himself to endure the cross and to despise the shame He underwent (Heb 12:2).
Thinking about what God has for us in the far country, the home for which all Christians have been created and to which they are headed, will enable us to navigate the foreign culture in which we now live with boldness.
We can despise the shame and we can endure and we can pick up the crosses we are called to carry because we have thought about what lies in front of us and it it motivating!
May God in His kindness cause each of us to ponder deeply and regularly our own mortality as we journey on our pilgrimage toward what lies ahead in regards to our physical and spiritual immortality on the New Heavens and Earth where Jesus Christ will dwell with us! As CS Lewis said, may we not be “like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because we cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday by the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Because we have thought long and hard and discussed with and encouraged other believers about our future home and Christ’s impending return (1 Thess 4:18), may we not be content to make the mud pies; rather, may we forgo them as we contemplate our coming holiday at the sea in the far country!