heaven

The Hope Of Salvation (1 Peter 1:1-9)

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Peter, an emissary of Jesus the Anointed One, to God’s chosen people living as aliens scattered among the unbelievers in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. I am sending this letter to those who have been elected by God the Father and made holy by God the Spirit that you may be obedient to Jesus the Anointed and purified by the sprinkling of His blood. May grace and peace beyond all reckoning be yours.

Blessed is God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One! Because He has raised Jesus the Anointed from death, through His great mercy we have been reborn into a living hope— reborn for an eternal inheritance, held in reserve in heaven, that is incorruptible, undefiled and unfading. Through faith, God’s power is standing watch (like a fortress around you), protecting you for a salvation that you will see completely at the end of things.

You should greatly rejoice in what is waiting for you, even if now for a little while you have to suffer various trials. Suffering tests your faith which is more valuable than gold (remember that gold, although it is perishable, is tested by fire) so that if it is found genuine, you can receive praise, honor, and glory when Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King, is revealed at last.

Although you haven’t seen Jesus, you still love Him. Although you don’t yet see Him, you do believe in Him and celebrate with a joy that is glorious and beyond words. You are receiving the salvation of your souls as the result of your faith.

(1 Peter 1:1-9, The Voice)

I want to focus on a particular section this morning: “Because He has raised Jesus the Anointed from death, through His great mercy we have been reborn into a living hope— reborn for an eternal inheritance, held in reserve in heaven, that is incorruptible, undefiled and unfading…  a salvation that you will see completely at the end of things.”

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When we went on 11-day vacation to see our family, it was meaningful, but not everything about it was great. 

•    We basically drove 4 1/2 days out of 11 •    It was rainy and cloudy for 3 of those days, and snowy and COLD for the last one. •    The van made funny noises whenever we hit a bump. •    It seemed like everybody around us was sick at some point. •    Fast food got old. Stomachs got tender. Tempers got short. •    There were accidents and re-routes and crowded roads. •    In other words, there were a lot of 1st world problems ☺ 

But we knew where we would end up. Home. And we are blessed that when we think of home, it has good associations for us. We know what awaits us: rest, remotes we know how to work, nerf guns, our own bed and pillows, puzzles of my choosing, our garden, our fire pit, my one and only Ohio State shirt… AJ was waiting for us. On trips when just I am gone, my family is waiting for me. Then there is this church, and the boys’ school, and our friends, and jobs we find meaningful, and a section of the world that is just stunningly beautiful.

The thought crossed my mind on our last day driving home, as I was driving 30 mph on the interstate in a blizzard, that if the conditions got bad enough maybe we should stay in a hotel one more night. But…no. 

We wanted to be home. 

Peter is writing about home to an audience for whom the journey was hard. Peter understood hardship – a lot of it was self-inflicted; see Scott’s sermon last week – but a lot of it wasn’t, and by the time he was martyred he would know pain and suffering even better. The early church lived in a time when their lives were on the line for the sake of the gospel. Peter leads with “you are aliens” – which they knew full well – and then prays for “grace and peace beyond all reckoning” – which they had to have to sustain them. 

Then he talks about home, the place where there true citizenship lies.  As opposed to my story, it’s a place they have not yet seen. It’s better than anything they can possible imagine. This “inheritance” is defined three ways in this passage:

•  Incorruptible – Even my home, as much as I love it, has problems: I would love to have trim around my doors that cats have not scratched to death, or a shower/tub unit that I had installed properly, or rooms that that never got messy. Corruption – the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics – is at work. Everything runs down, moving from order to chaos. In heaven, there will be no corruption. There will be no potholes and broken-down vehicles and stomach bug and family tensions and reality TV shows and Ohio State getting overlooked for the college football Final Four. 

There will be no need more sickness and death; no natural disasters or mass shootings; no broken or abusive relationships; no despair, or addictions, or loneliness. No more regret or grief or longing for what’s been lost because nothing pure will be impure. Nothing good will be missing, and nothing good will ever again be lost. I joke about trivial things, but now we are talking about relationships, love, joy, peace, truth, righteousness. God is preparing a place for us where these things will never lack or fade. 

•  Undefiled – When we were in New Orleans there were lots of cool things to see in a city with that kind of history, but it was a city defiled in many ways not just by floods but by self-indulgence and sin.  Our house had been under 5 feet of water after Hurricane Katrina; not quite everything was level. A neat shop with Cajun memorabilia also had T-shirts of nude torsos. The restaurant with a Zydeco band and shrimp grits was next to a store that sold brands of food plastered with the F word. 

In heaven, there will be no impurity; no contamination. Joy and beauty and goodness and truth and love will not only never fade, they will be unmarred.  In this life, we put our guard up all the time: “Guard your heart” (Proverbs 4:23); “Test all things” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). In New Orleans, you have to remember the advice from the book of Job to make a covenant with your eyes. In heaven, we won’t have to have our guard up because there will be no need – God’s power is the fortress around us and our existence that keeps everything safe. 

•  Unfading – There is often a sense in this life that the good things we have are fading. Time is ticking away, right? We left our visits with family thinking we just needed one more day. I kept turning around for one more glimpse of Lake Pontchartrain. We watch the healthy become sick; we see innocence die; all of the strong grow weak eventually. Our memories fade. We drove past my dad’s grave in Alabama, and it was a reminder that the near poignancy of his memory has faded over time. 

In heaven there will be no withering; everything will be as it should be and will not lose ground. We won’t have to cling to the moment or hold on to some fleeting glory because nothing good will diminish. With apologies to Bruce Springsteen, glory days will not pass us by. Sheila and I talk during and after vacation about how to stay connected because we can get so distracted by our business we lose track of each other. We have to do purposeful work not to lose ground relationally even in the best of experiences. Our true home will not be characterized by that kind of worry. No ground will be lost, because Jesus holds it, and His home is now ours.   

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There is a story told of a missionary named Henry Morrison who worked forty very hard years in Africa. When he became sick and had to return home to America, his boat was also carrying President Teddy Roosevelt, who received a grand reception after being on an African safari. Henry Morrison was bit resentful: "I have come back home after all this time and service to the church and there is no one, not even one person here to welcome me home." Then, as the story goes, a small voice came to Morrison reminding him, "You're not home yet."  (quoted from commentary at Precept Austin. http://www.preceptaustin.org/2_timothy_26)

"Through His great mercy we have been reborn into a living hope— reborn for an eternal inheritance, held in reserve in heaven, that is incorruptible, undefiled, unfading."

John records a vision of heaven in Revelation (21:10 – 22:17). Keep in mind it’s a vision; it’s going to use the best human language and imagery possible for John’s audience to understand a glory that Paul wouldn’t even talk about. The whole book is full of symbols and objects and numbers that are loaded with meaning, but even without knowing all the details, we can gain a sense of the majesty, goodness, and glory revealed as John writes about the hope of heaven at the end of all things.

He took me away in the Spirit and set me on top of a great, high mountain… he showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. It gleamed and shined with the glory of God; its radiance was like the most precious of jewels, like jasper, and it was as clear as crystal. It was surrounded with a wall, great and high. There were twelve gates. Assigned to each gate was a messenger… And the city wall sat perfectly on twelve foundation stones, and on them were inscribed the names of the twelve emissaries of the Lamb.

The walls were made of jasper, while the city itself was made of pure gold, yet it was as clear as glass. The foundation stones of the wall of the city were decorated with every kind of jewel... The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate expertly crafted from a single beautiful pearl. And the city street was pure gold, yet it was as transparent as glass.

And in the city, I found no temple because the Lord God, the All Powerful, and the Lamb are the temple. And in the city, there is no need for the sun to light the day or moon the night because the resplendent glory of the Lord provides the city with warm, beautiful light and the Lamb illumines every corner of the new Jerusalem. And all peoples of all the nations will walk by its unfailing light, and the rulers of the earth will stream into the city bringing with them the symbols of their grandeur and power.

During the day, its gates will not be closed; the darkness of night will never settle in. The glory and grandeur of the nations will be on display there, carried to the holy city by people from every corner of the world. Nothing that defiles or is defiled can enter into its glorious gates. Those who practice sacrilege or deception will never walk its streets. Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life can enter.

My heavenly guide brought me to the river of pure living waters, shimmering as brilliantly as crystal. It flowed out from the throne of God and of the Lamb, flowing down the middle and dividing the street of the holy city. On each bank of the river stood the tree of life, firmly planted, bearing twelve kinds of fruit and producing its sweet crop every month throughout the year. And the soothing leaves that grew on the tree of life provided precious healing for the nations.

No one or nothing will labor under any curse any longer. And the throne of God and of the Lamb will sit prominently in the city. God’s servants will continually serve and worship Him. They will be able to look upon His face, and His name will be written on their foreheads. Darkness will never again fall on this city. They will not require the light of a lamp or of the sun because the Lord God will be their illumination. By His light, they will reign throughout the ages.These words are faithful and true….

And the Anointed One, Jesus, said:  Look now, I am coming soon... I am the Alpha and Omega, the First One and the Last One, the beginning and the end.”

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SONGS ABOUT HEAVEN:

New Gaither Vocal Band  “Alpha And Omega”  “I Bowed On My Knees”   Matthew West “Heaven Is The Hope” Kathy Tricolli  “Goodbye For Now” Jeremy Camp “There Will Be A Day” Mercy Me “I Can Only Imagine”   “When I Finally Make It Home”   “Homesick” CeCe Winans  “Comforter” Michael English, “Heaven” Steven Curtis Chapman “With Hope” Jonny Lang “We’ll Meet At The River” Christ Tomlin “Home”  “I Will Rise” Julie Miller and/or Selah “All My Tears” Switchfoot “Where I Belong” Josh Garrells “Zion And Babylon” Phil Wickham  “Heaven Song”

Lots of versions of the following:  “O Victory In Jesus” “What A Day That Will Be” “I’ll Meet You In The Morning”

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Eternal Destiny (Pillars of Faith Series)

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“Eternal Destiny: We believe in the resurrection of the saved and the lost, and that both will stand before the judgment seat of Christ; the saved will enter into everlasting life in God’s presence, and the lost will be sent into everlasting death, devoid of the presence of God. (Matthew 25:31-46; Mark 9:43-48; 1 Corinthians 4:5; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:11-15; Revelation 21:8).”

Today we are going to talk about where we go when we die. There is a lot that could be said, but I want to focus on three key biblical claims. 

  1. After physical death, our conscious existence continues.
  2. We will wait for the final day of God’s judgment (Matthew 12:36) in a state of blessedness or despair (Luke 23).
  3. After the final day of God’s judgment, all people will be consigned to eternal death in Hell absent the presence of God, or raised in a glorified body (1 Corinthians 15; Philippians 3:21; 1 Corinthians 15:49) to eternal life, fully in the presence of God (Matthew 25) in a New Heaven and New Earth (Revelation 21).

 

AFTER DEATH, OUR CONSCIOUS EXISTENCE CONTINUES

In the Old Testament, there’s only one word which indicated an afterlife, and that is sheol. It was probably a Hebrew version of the commonly held belief in the Ancient Near East (ANE) of the underworld, “the House of Dust and Darkness.” It was the realm of departed spirits. In ANE thought, this was an unpleasant place for all people. The Jews also believed in a three-tiered heaven: the atmosphere (Genesis 1:7-8), outer space or the firmament, (Genesis 22:17), and a place where God lives (Job 22:12; 2 Corinthians 12:2-4). However, this was not part of the language of an afterlife as much as an identification of the realms of the universe.

Sheol was apparently sufficient for God’s purposes at this point in talking about the world to come. The writers of the Old Testament used this word 65 times to mean hell, grave or the pit (depending on the translation).

  • The rebellious sons of Korah “went down alive into the realm of the dead” after the ground opened up under their feet (Numbers 16)
  • Jacob and Abraham planned to meet family there (Genesis 37:35; Genesis 15:15)
  • God will deliver Israel from Sheol (Hosea 13:14)
  • God will redeem His people from Sheol (Psalm 49). Perhaps a decent analogy is that just like the Jews looked forward to living in the Promised Land in Caanan, they hoped for an equivalent land in the life to come.
  • When Daniel received a messenger from God, he was told, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2)

This perspective from Daniel introduces what we see more clearly in the New Testament through the teaching of Jesus and the writings in Scripture.

AFTER WE DIE, OUR EXISTENCE CONTINUES AS WE WAIT FOR THE FINAL DAY OF GOD’S JUDGMENT (MATTHEW 12:36) IN A STATE OF BLESSEDNESS OR DESPAIR (LUKE 23).

In the New Testament, the state of despair is called Hades; the state of blessedness is called Paradise. (Some theologians say Paradise is the ‘blessed’ part of Hades. I am separating them because I think it does better justice to the passages of Scripture that describe them.) Hades was the Greek term for the realm of the dead, an “eternal retirement” where the dead are less substantial (and less happy) versions of themselves. In Greek literature hades meant a variety of things:

  • a grave or tomb
  • the domain of the dead
  • place where dead spirits go

 Once again, biblical writers borrowed a well-known word to describe what happens after death. The New Testament writers use hades eleven times (Matthew 11:23, 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27; 1 Corinthians 15:55; Revelation 1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14) as a state of existence where those who are not saved wait until Jesus returns and the world is judged.

  •  "I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not prevail. (Matthew 16:18)
  • This is where Jesus went after his death - “[David] foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.” (Acts 2:31) When we say in the Apostles Creed that Jesus ‘descended into hell,’ it’s a reference to Hades (Matthew 12:40; Ephesians 4:9)
  • Death and Hades are linked together (Revelation 1:18; 6:8; 20:13-14), and are both judged and thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:13-14) at the end of human history.

Paradise (paradeisos – a garden or park) is a parallel place to Hades, a place in which those who have committed their lives to God dwell more fully in the presence of God as they wait for the end of human history. According to Strong’s Concordance, the Jews though it was neither in earth nor in heaven, but the souls of the righteous went there at death. We see this captured in the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16: 19-31.

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.  So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

There is disagreement about whether this is a parable or a real story, but there is agreement about an important truth here: after this life ends, Hades is not the only option – there is also a Paradise (here called “Abraham’s side”) that offers blessing and goodness. We see this mentioned more times in the New Testament:

  • When Jesus was talking to one of the thieves on the crosses, he referred to paradise (“Today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:42-43)
  • He told Mary Magdelene, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the My Father.” (John 20:17) If heaven is where God dwells, this implies that he had gone to Paradise without going to the heavenly abode “where God dwells.”
  • Paul was taken up into this paradise when he talks about a vision of the ‘third heaven” in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4.

So when we die, our existence continues either in the torment of Hades or the blessedness of Paradise as we all wait for the final day of judgment when God wraps up human history with the final judgment. After the judgment, we go to one of two final, eternal destinations - what we typically mean when we talk about Heaven or Hell.

AFTER THE FINAL DAY OF GOD’S JUDGMENT, ALL PEOPLE WILL BE CONSIGNED TO ETERNAL DEATH IN HELL ABSENT THE PRESENCE OF GOD, OR RAISED IN A GLORIFIED BODY (1 CORINTHIANS 15; PHILIPPIANS 3:21; 1 CORINTHIANS 15:49) TO ETERNAL LIFE, FULLY IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD (MATTHEW 25) IN A NEW HEAVEN AND NEW EARTH (REVELATION 21).

Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica:

God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9)

Gehenna is the word most commonly used in the New Testament as “hell.” Gehenna is found in 12 verses: Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28, 18:9, 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5; and James 3:6.*  It’s from the Hebrew ge-hinnom, or "valley of Hinnom." In this valley, idolatrous Jews burned their children in sacrifice to Molech during the Old Testament times. This valley eventually became the place where people threw all kinds of refuse, including the dead bodies of animals and of criminals. A fire burned continuously there.

  • Gehenna is used to describe the final, everlasting judgment of the wicked (Matthew 25:41;46).
  • This future, punishing world is also referred to as a place of fire (Matthew 13:42) and destruction (apollymi -Matthew 7:13-14; 10:28; Romans 9:22; 2 Peter 3:6, and olethron, in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).
  • It is a place of utter darkness and weeping/gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12; Luke 13:28). Different theologians have described Hell as characterized by guilt, regret, despair and destruction (of the self or of others), personal existence lacking goodness, full of ruin, waste, mental anguish, the loss of all that is beautiful and meaningful, and completely devoid of the presence of Christ. All common grace, all traces of the good and perfect gifts that comes from God will be gone.
  • It is a ‘second death’ (Revelation 2:11; Matthew 10:28).  Hell was made for the Devil and his angels; they are spiritual beings, so this would seem to be a punishment intended for the spiritual side of our human nature Matthew 25:41).  So it will be or those who are sent to hell. This punishment is a type of second death in which the soul suffers (Matthew 10:28). **

I like how C.S. Lewis summarizes:

“In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell, is itself a question: ‘What are you asking God to do?’ To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone [shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might]? Alas, I am afraid that is what He does… “  (C. S. Lewis)

CHRISTIANS WILL BE RAISED IN A GLORIFIED BODY (1 Corinthians 15; Philippians 3:21; 1 Corinthians 15:49) TO ETERNAL LIFE FULLY IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD (Matthew 25) IN A NEW HEAVEN AND A NEW EARTH (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1).

Paul said (Romans 8:23) that Christians eagerly await the redemption of our bodies. To the skeptics in Corinth who just weren’t convinced God could pull off a physical resurrection because of what they all knew happened to buried bodies, Paul supplied three analogies for the reality of bodily resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.

  • A seed and a full-grown plant (1 Corinthians 15:36) The physical, mortal body will be raised as a new and better kind of physical, immortal body.
  • Different kinds of flesh (1 Corinthians 15:39). Just as there are different kinds of flesh in this life, why not believe God can raise us into another kind of flesh in the next?
  • Different kinds of bodies (1 Corinthians 15:40-41) Just like celestial bodies differ in glory, the new body we receive will be a different kind of glory altogether.

He concludes with, “So also is the resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:42). Several paragraphs later he concludes:

Now listen to this: brothers and sisters, this present body is not able to inherit the kingdom of God any more than decay can inherit that which lasts forever. Stay close because I am going to tell you a mystery—something you may have trouble understanding: we will not all fall asleep in death, but we will all be transformed. It will all happen so fast, in a blink, a mere flutter of the eye. The last trumpet will call, and the dead will be raised from their graves with a body that does not, cannot decay. All of us will be changed! We’ll step out of our mortal clothes and slide into immortal bodies, replacing everything that is subject to death with eternal life. And, when we are all redressed with bodies that do not, cannot decay, when we put immortality over our mortal frames, then it will be as Scripture says: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is you victory?
O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:50-55)

So, where will Christians go after Paradise? When the New Testament speaks of heaven or the heavens, several words or phrases are used:***

  • Doxa – infinite worth, renown, or glory. “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.” (Romans 8:18)
  • Ouranos - the sky, or the dwelling place of God (“Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed by your name…” Matthew 6:9; 7:21; Ephesians 6:9; Ephesians 4:10; Revelation 21)
  • Hupselos - on high, lofty, highly esteemed (“ When [Jesus] had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven.” Hebrews 1:3)
  • Epouranios – in the heavenly realm, the sphere of spiritual activity (“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.”  Ephesians 1:3 as well as 1:20 ; 2:6 ; 3:10 ; 6:12)
  • Eternal Kingdom (“Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:11)

They all refer to the realm of God, but the important thing is that they describe the presence of God, not the location of God. In Heaven we will see Jesus face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2), and we will become as much like him as is possible for us (John 3:2). We will see his glory, power, and beauty in its fullness. As one hymn put it, it will be “joy unspeakable, and full of glory.” That just tells us about the experience of finally, fully being in the presence of Christ. If that was all we knew, it would be sufficient.

But the Bible tells us more.

Considering how all of creation has been groaning as it awaits God’s redemption (Romans 8:22), it makes sense that the earth itself will be made new. We will not fly away to some distant place. God will come to us (Revelation 21:3). This new Heaven and Earth will be the eternal home of God’s people. The Bible uses all kinds of imagery to try to capture this redeemed reality.

  • It’s a peaceable kingdom where predators and prey will get along, and children will play with the deadliest of animals (Isaiah 11).
  • It’s a banquet, a symbol suggesting fullness and fellowship and celebration (Revelation 19:9).
  • It’s a place where pavement is like transparent gold (Revelation 21:21), a symbol showing that the glory of heaven is immeasurably greater than what we can imagine.
  • It’s a place where we receive crowns (2 Timothy 4:8) symbols of reigning in the light of God’s splendor, power and glory.
  • It’s a place where we will get a new wardrobe that symbolizes the fact that we will be cleansed of all sin (Revelation 3:5)
  • It’s a Kingdom, where we, the children of the King, are finally home.

The classic passage on this is from John’s vision in Revelation:

I looked again and could hardly believe my eyes. Everything above me was new. Everything below me was new. Everything around me was new because the heaven and earth that had been passed away, and the sea was gone, completely. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride on her wedding day, adorned for her husband and for His eyes only.  

And I heard a great voice, coming from the throne. See, the home of God is with His people.
He will live among them;
They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them. The prophecies are fulfilled:
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; Mourning no more, crying no more, pain no more,
For the first things have gone away.” And the One who sat on the throne announced to His creation,See, I am making all things new…” 

No one or nothing will labor under any curse any longer. And the throne of God and of the Lamb will sit prominently in the city. God’s servants will continually serve and worship Him. They will be able to look upon His face, and His name will be written on their foreheads. Darkness will never again fall on this city. They will not require the light of a lamp or of the sun because the Lord God will be their illumination. By His light, they will reign throughout the ages.” (Revelation 21: 1-5; 22:3-5)

If theologians are correct, we will serve and reign on this new earth in a very practical, physical sense. Part of our ongoing, continuous worship of God will be that we will steward and enjoy the earth like God intended. I believe the language of the Bible suggests we will explore, create, paint, write, build, sing, laugh, emote, think, - we will become fully alive in a wholly good heaven and earth in the presence of the unfiltered goodness, truth and light of God.

We will be fully at peace with God, fully at peace with each other, fully at peace with God’s created, new world, that we will tend and work and explore and enjoy, and fully at peace within - our hopes fulfilled; our hearts no longer restless because they have found rest forever in Christ.

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 KEY SOURCES

 The Bible  :)

C.S. Lewis – assorted texts; also, I recommend The Great Divorce

Timothy Keller - sermons

N.T. Wright – assorted essays

Randy Alcorn – Heaven: Biblical Answers to Common Questions

Erwin Lutzer – One Minute After You Die

Ken Boa – Sense and Nonsense About Heaven and Hell

Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (carm.org)

 

 ENDNOTES 

* The langue of Hell in the Bible allows for but does not require physical torment. John Calvin, among many other theologians, thought the flames and darkness are the best human metaphors for the agony of an existence without Christ. The Bible also allows for but does not require the annihilation of those who are not saved – that is, the belief that souls are destroyed in hell (the eternal or everlasting nature of the punishment simply means the second, spiritual death is necessary and irrevocable).

** Tartarus was where the Greeks believed the really wicked people eventually landed. It was far below Hades, and was just a flat-out bad place to go (the Titans, rebels against the gods, were imprisoned there).. We see tartarus used only once in the New Testament, and it’s not a future intended for people: “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment” (2 Peter 2:4). 

*** The modern view of heaven began in the 1700’s with Emanuel Swedenborg. He said angels are perfected people, claimed there are three heavens, and thought we could learn a lot for people claiming to make personal visits to heaven. He claimed to have talked with angels about heaven and hell for thirteen years. This trend has escalated recently with all the NDE stories.  Biblically speaking, NDE’s are not stories of resurrections from heaven or hell; at best, they are returning from hades/paradise - a claim I think merits criticism. They are full of elements that are extra-biblical at best and anti-biblical at worst.

BONUS, LENGTHY QUOTE FROM N.T. WRIGHT

In our vision, after the last judgment, heaven and earth are joined as one, and the new Jerusalem descends to earth, adorned like a bride adorned for her husband, as God at last comes to dwell among human beings (Rev. 21:1-3). In this new heaven and new earth, righteousness finally finds a home (2 Peter 3:13). The whole cosmos will be lit up with God’s presence, and all on earth will be filled with joy. All whose names were written in the Book of Life will inherit this joy, and the nations at long last will walk by the light (Rev. 21:24). Led by Christ, all that live will bow the knee with joy before God, and He will be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28)…

Sadly, some will resist to the very end, and perversely choose the misery that comes from insisting on their own way over surrender to God’s love... It is absurd, and it is unreasonable, and it staggers belief, but it will be so. Some will refuse to repent, even at the cost of entry into the city of joy. By their own insistence, they will remain outside the city, wrapped in their pride, clinging to their sins (Rev. 22:15). Their lot is Gehenna, the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death (Rev. 21:8).

The whole universe is hurtling to Christ and to the light which fills all with joy… But what of those who refuse the light and with triumphant obstinacy refuse to surrender to it? Since the whole world will be filled with light, they will be pushed outside of it, to the borders, to the dark fringes where existence shades off into near non-existence. Their own swollen will, victorious to the end, will bind them hand and foot, and they will remain in the outer darkness, outside the cosmos of light, away from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power (Mt. 8:12, 2 Thess. 1:9). The lake of fire, the flame which burns but gives no light, and which was never meant for humanity but only for the devil and his angels (Mt. 25:41), was not built by God as a holding cell to punish people. But it is the only realm left for people who refuse to dwell in joyful penitence in the world God made. What other fate is left for them? If the whole universe is filled with God and they refuse to live with Him, where else can they go? All that is left for them is to remain in their self-chosen misery, at the intersection of God’s wrath against sin and their own refusal of His love. In that place, there is only weeping, and the gnashing of teeth.

Since Christ first entered the world through His incarnation, the universe has been in the process of separating and splitting apart. Since the Cross and Resurrection, it has been coming apart at the seams, as light separates from darkness, righteousness from sin, penitence from pride. At the last judgment, that separation will be complete, and all people will forever abide in what their deeds and hearts have chosen.

 – N. T Wright,  quoted in “Heaven and Hell in the Scriptures”

The Reality of The Kingdom of God

If you have ever traveled, you know that cultures are different. The deep south is not the same as the far north in the United States (everything is fried in butter; if they don’t know you, they might not be open). When we go to very different cultures we can experience “culture shock” because things are SO different: gestures, food, social expectations (being on time; making eye contact; physical greetings), driving habits, etc. In culture shock, we experience “a condition of disorientation affecting someone who is suddenly exposed to an unfamiliar culture or way of life or set of attitudes.”

When we commit our lives to Christ, there should be culture shock. We have moved spiritually. We are now citizens in a new country, with a  new leader (Christ), new customs, new language, new priorities. And then we balance this with remaining in our national country and being a citizen there. As Christians, we are all dual citizens, balancing what are at times two very different cultures.

So let’s talk about the culture of the Kingdom of God, and in the process address some things in our culture as well. I am going to present this as 4 questions and answers: How do we get into the Kingdom? What characterizes the Kingdom? When Will I experience the Kingdom? How will I experience the Kingdom?

 Q. How do you get in to the Kingdom of God?

A. Through a commitment to dedicate my life to the risen Jesus.

 When Jesus was talking with Nicodemus the following conversation took place:

  “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3:3-7 )

 Jesus was basically saying, “Nicodemus, you know that you need a physical birth to experience the physical world; human parent make human babies.  You need a spiritual birth to experience spiritual life. You need to a heavenly parent to make you a child of Heaven.” Later, Paul will compare this to adoption. When we commit our lives to worshipping and following Christ, we are brought into a new family, with a new Father in Heaven. We continue to honor our earthly mom and dad – it’s a commandment after all - but our ultimate allegiance is now to our Father in Heaven.  And receiving this adoption is as simple - and profound – as John 3:16, which is just 9 verses later (still part of the same conversation):

  “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

Believe (pistis in Greek) carries the idea of  “being persuaded to confidently, trustingly commit yourself.” We acknowledge that Jesus is God, that through his life, death and resurrection, our sins are forgiven, that Jesus alone has the power to save us, and that we respond to His loving sacrifice by offering our love and worship as well as the service of our lives in return.

We commit with heart, soul, mind and strength , and we enter the Kingdom of God as we accept Christ as King – the ultimate authority for life and godliness.  In new birth, we see that God brings life. In adoption, we see that God offers to make us one of His own. In kingship, we are reminded that the rule and reign of Christ has been set up in our life.

Q. What characterizes the Kingdom?

A. God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10)

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest (honorable), whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely (acceptable and prized), whatsoever things are of good report (repute); if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

 “The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

 “Make every effort to respond to God's promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.” (2 Peter 1:5-7)

 There’s just a partial list: Truth, honesty, honorable, justice, purity, loveliness, praise-worthiness, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, faithful, morally excellent, knowledgeable, self-controlled, enduring, godliness, mutual affection. That’s what characterizes the Kingdom.  That’s a compelling list. These things are available to us when we accept Christ as King thanks to the Spirit and the Word of God.

It doesn't’ mean that life will be easy or perfect. It’s just that the more we experience the work and presence of Christ in our life, the more these things will begin to characterize our life in Christ.

It also doesn’t mean we will do them perfectly, but we will pursue them, applaud them, and do our best with God’s grace to live them out, not for recognition, or for power, or to earn God’s love, but as a trusting, committed response to the covenant we as Christians make with Jesus. “I commit my life to you;  I trust that you can save me spiritually and that your path of spiritual transformation of my life is trustworthy. I will follow you. I want my character, my thoughts, my actions to be like yours.”

We pray for God to do something miraculous in us through His Spirit, we “study to show ourselves approved unto God” by rightly understanding and applying His Word to our lives (2 Timothy 2:15), and we surround ourselves with followers of Christ (Colossians 3:16)

Q. When will I experience the Kingdom of God?

A. If you are a follower of Christ, you are and you will.

“The kingdom of God comes—but not with signs that you can observe. People are not going to say, “Look! Here it is!” They’re not going to say, “Look! It’s over there!” You want to see the kingdom of God? The kingdom of God is already here among you (within your midst).” Luke 17:20-21)

The first-century Jews wanted a leader to throw off Roman rule and make Judea a nation. There was a cultural longing for national restoration, a nation in which everything centered around God. There would be safety within the borders; everyone would live within God’s law; God’s people would be powerful, and the long-awaited Kingdom would finally arrive.  I’ll be honest – that resonates with me. There’s something compelling about a safe, comfortable life. Wouldn’t it be nice if those outside the Kingdom loved and supported what was happening in the Kingdom?

But Jesus talked about the arrival of the Kingdom even as he spoke in a land of occupation and oppression. It was not a Kingdom of physical dominance – he specifically tells his servants not to fight (John 18:36). It’s not a Kingdom of cultural comfort. It’s a spiritual Kingdom that exists no matter what our surrounding circumstances look like.

But that’s just part one. There’s more.

"But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’” (Matt. 25:31-34)

The Kingdom is fulfilled within history [already], and will reach its fullness at the end of history [not yet].  For Christians, the Kingdom begins in this life and finds its fulfillment in the next.

Q. How will I experience it?

A. In a broken, longing, hopeful world.

On this side of heaven, we will always experience the spiritual kingdom of God in the midst of the physical kingdoms of the world. In the last two weeks, I saw the following:

  • a video of four men being slowly burned alive by ISIS
  • more Planned Parenthood videos that show the callous and calculating taking of human life
  • the increasing move in culture to marginalize and even vilify those who hold to Christian beliefs
  • the expose of Ashely Madison clients that included Christians in leadership
  • MTV’s video music awards last week that just showed the stark contrast between the values of the world vs. the Bible

 The beauty and hope of God’s Kingdom can be experienced in the midst of a very broken and lost world.

We lie, and gossip, and betray, and break hearts, and love poorly, and are not fair, and we are shallow and petty and desperately chasing after things that will never bring us hope or meaning or true joy and peace…. And yet the beauty and hope of God’s Kingdom can be experienced in the midst of a very broken and lost world.

  • When truth triumphs over lies
  • When purity is honored instead of demeaned
  • When repentance and forgiveness highlight grace
  • When joy emerges from despair
  • When an unexpected peace occurs in or around us
  • When we experience the beauty of patience and kindness
  • When those around us are faithful and enduring
  • When Christ reaches out to us sinners and draws us into His Kingdom

In Luke 14, when one of the disciples comments on how great it will be to feast in heaven, Jesus immediately tells a parable about a feast here on earth in which the poor and maimed and lame and blind are invited – in fact, compelled to come in. 

 “He [God, the Father] has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Colossians 1:13)

 The Kingdom is a feast, a celebration of the love and mercy of Christ to which the poor, the rich, the dirty, the clean, the smart and dumb, the blatant sinners and the careful sinners – in other words, all of us - are invited in to experience the goodness of life in the Kingdom in the presence of the King.