The Final Frontier
By Jack Kinsella
The Bible has almost as much to say about heaven as it does about hell. What is heaven really like? Can we know on this side of eternity, or do we have to wait until we get our wings, cloud assignment and tub of cream cheese, first?
First, how many ‘heavens’ are there? The word ‘heaven’ has three meanings in Scripture. Genesis 1:6-8 calls the atmosphere surrounding the earth ‘heaven’.
Genesis 1:14-19 and Psalms 19:1 makes reference to outer space, the abode of the sun, moon and stars, as ‘heaven’.
And finally, heaven is the place where God has His Throne. It is from this ‘heaven’ that Jesus came to the earth.
“And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.” (John 3:13)
It is the place to which Jesus ascended after His resurrection.
The Scriptures tell us that heaven is the home of the Living God and of angels too numerous to count.
“But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels.” (Hebrews 12:22)
It is also the abode of the spirits of redeemed men.
“To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.” (Hebrews 12:23)
This heaven the Apostle Paul called the ‘third heaven’ (2nd Corinthians 12:2). The Bible tells us much about the characteristics of heaven, without ever once mentioning Philly Cream Cheese.
The part most people have the most trouble with is the holy nature of heaven. It is a place without sin or evil. While we like to imagine what that must be like, existence without sin or evil is so unimaginable to our carnal minds that it sounds boring.
Kraft Foods is running a series of commercials in which the boring existence of heaven is livened up a little bit with some Philly cream cheese for years now.
The commercial series is still running because it resonates in our thinking…what else IS there to do in heaven except sit on a cloud, play a harp, and pray for a little cream cheese to add some ‘sinful’ excitement to the place?
In truth, it is as impossible for the human mind to grasp existence without sin as it is for us to imagine a new prime color.
It is one reason that even some saved Christians are afraid to die, even if they only admit that fear to themselves. Sin and conflict is all we know, and existence without it, despite our abhorrence of it, doesn’t seem very interesting.
Heaven is a place of worship. The Book of the Revelation depicts heaven as a place of non-stop worship of God, and of the Lamb; by the twenty-four elders, by the four ‘beasts’ that surround God’s Throne, by the innumerable company of angels, and by the spirits of the redeemed.
If I dare to say so, even to the regenerated mind of this redeemed Christian, that sounds a little boring, too.
Heaven is also a place of unimaginable beauty. “Unimaginable” is a word that gets used a lot by we mortals to describe heaven. There’s a reason for that.
“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” (1st Corinthians 2:9)
Whether saved or lost, it is beyond the scope of human limitations to imagine what heaven is like.
But we know some concrete facts about heaven. We know, for example, that there are mansions there, prepared for us by Jesus Christ Himself;
“In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2)
We know that there are rivers (Revelation 22:1); trees (22:2); horses (Revelation 19:14); heavenly odors and constant music (Psalms 45:8).
Heaven is a place devoid of unpleasantness; Revelation 21:4 tells us that in heaven, there is no sorrow, no pain, and no death.
Heaven, the Scriptures say, is a place where everybody attains their earthly goal of being just like Jesus.
“For both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren.” (Hebrews 2:11)
In Heaven, we will recognize our loved ones and each other. Luke 10:20 tells us that our names are recorded in heaven and we will be known by our names.
Moses and Elijah were recognized by Peter even though he had never seen them before. (Matthew 17:3-4)
The rich man in hell that Jesus described in Luke 16:23 recognized and knew — by name — both Lazarus and Abraham. In heaven, we will have perfect recognition.
It is unreasonable to assume that I can recognize my friends and family now, here on earth, but once having reached heaven, I will know less than I do now.
The Scriptures promise I will know MORE, not less.
To my mind, heaven makes the same kind of picture that a billion dollars does. I know it exists, it know its a enormous number, but a billion dollars is not something that makes a picture in my mind.
It would take thirty-two years, working 24/7, just to COUNT a billion one dollar bills.
A billion dollars, even to a billionaire, gets lumped into the generic mental folder of ‘a lot’. We know what a billion dollars IS, in the abstract. But in practical terms, it’s more than you can imagine.
About the closest I can come to getting a practical mental image of heaven is by starting in reverse.
Many times in my mind’s eye, I return to the sand dunes along the beach, looking out at the Atlantic, listening the crashing of the surf, smelling the salt in the air, feeling the warm ocean breezes against my skin…it was to THIS place that God cast the devil and his angels as punishment for their rebellion.
The angels hate it here. The heavenly angels avoid it unless sent by God. The Scriptures say they are mystified by man’s love for the things of the world.
The fallen angels hate it — and us even more — because they were banished to the ‘cosmos diabolicus’ — at the center of which is that beautiful ocean beach I love so much.
To the angels that have seen heaven, that beautiful white-sand beach, crashing surf, warm ocean breezes and the smell of the sea-salt in the air is the worst place God could have banished them to.
We cannot imagine heaven, but we can imagine the most heavenly place on earth. And we have the testimony of the angels that the most heavenly place on earth is a horrific wasteland by comparison with heaven.
And heaven is filled with the Presence of the Lord. That indescribable feeling that we have with our Savior during those fleeting moments when He makes his Presence known to us in prayer is a permanent condition in heaven.
That little ‘witness’ we sometimes feel (I think of it as a spiritual ‘hug’) will be replaced with a perfect sense of fellowship with the Lord that will go on for eternity.
We can’t picture heaven. But we can know it is there. And we can know that we will one day see it, with our own eyes.
The Book of Job is, chronologically, one of the oldest books of the Bible, and dates to the time of Abraham. Job lived before Moses received the Law, before Judaism had developed as a religious structure, before there were rabbis, interpreters or teachers.
Job lived before Judaism introduced the religious concept of the resurrection of the dead or the existence of either heaven or hell.
What Job knew was revealed to him by God Himself;
“For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see FOR MYSELF; and MINE eyes shall behold, and NOT ANOTHER; though my reins be consumed within me.” (Job 19:25-27)
“I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:” (Deuteronomy 30:19)
Heaven is real. Hell is real. Salvation is real.
And so is judgment.