“Be good, and when you die you’ll go to Heaven to live with Jesus.” I’ll bet millions of other little boys and girls have heard that same thing from well-intentioned moms. I didn’t realize until much later that I was getting some works based theology there, and I’m sure my mom didn’t intend it that way. She was just trying to get me to behave. But I woke up this morning recalling a dream in which someone asked me to write about Heaven and I remembered her instruction. I won’t claim the dream was a message from the Lord, but it did stick in my mind, so here goes.
I’m not going to spend any time on the theological orientation of her instructions. The Bible is clear: we get to Heaven by God’s grace, not our behavior. Even Jesus, who came from Heaven and was the world’s only perfect man had to sacrifice His life for us in order to get back. If being good wasn’t enough for Him, where does that leave us? No, hearing my mom’s voice again re-focused my interest in Heaven’s location and condition, not its price of admission. If we’re going there someday, then where is it? And more important, what’s it like?
Where Are We Going, Exactly?
Surprisingly, the Bible offers no clear answer to those questions. 410 references in the Old Testament and 273 in the New simply identify Heaven as God’s dwelling place. The Hebrew and Greek words rendered as Heaven in the English literally mean “sky.” In the Genesis creation account the Hebrew word for heaven refers to the earth’s atmosphere; the visible arch of the sky, where the clouds move. Same with the New Testament Greek. (Paul did use a form of the word that means “above the sky” to describe the extent of God’s influence over His creation in Phil 2:9). We’re told to store up treasure in Heaven (Matt 6:20), and that there is an inheritance reserved for us there (1 Peter 1:4). But no where is its location identified. Nor is there a description of its attributes or features.
Mansions in the Sky
We’re also told that Jesus went there (Acts 1:10) and that when believers die their spirits go to be with Him (2 Cor 5:8). He said He was going to His Father’s house to prepare a place for us and will return to take us there (John 14:1-3). That event is described in 1 Thes 4:16-17 where heaven, clouds, and air are all used. As in the English, three different Greek words are employed, and none of them tells us anything about our destination. The spirits of departed believers will be reunited with their newly perfected bodies, joining living believers (whose bodies are also perfected) all headed for this secret location. I believe we’re going there for 3 reasons:
To escape the Great Tribulation (Rev 3:10),
To receive our rewards (1 Cor 3:10-15), and
To practice using our new supernatural powers (1 John 3:2).
Meanwhile the Great Tribulation brings final judgment upon unbelievers and begins Earth’s restoration (2 Peter 3:10, Romans 8:18-22). The next time people on Earth see the Lord, He’ll be coming from Heaven with His armies (Rev 19:11). Since He promised that we’ll always be with Him (1 Thes 4:17), and since He’s coming here to establish a 1000 year Kingdom (Rev 20:4), and since we’re going to help administer His kingdom (Rev 20:6), we’ll be joining Him. This is born out in Rev 21 by the appearance of the New Jerusalem “coming down out of Heaven.”
Are We There Yet?
In reading about the New Jerusalem, we finally get a glimpse of our new home, and it’s a lot like the heaven we’ve heard about. Streets paved with gold, eternal life in the presence of the Lord, peace and tranquility forever. We read of it coming down out of Heaven, but never are we told that it actually reaches Earth. Apparently we come close but never touch down, perhaps like a huge low orbit satellite. People from Earth bring things to us, but no one impure can ever enter, even though our gates are always open. The Lord cannot dwell in the presence of sin, so only the perfected believers of the Church Age will live there (Rev 21:27). So New Jerusalem is the heaven promised us; the great “mansion in the sky” where we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Things will really change on Earth, too. The curse will end, restoring its “Garden of Eden” beauty, with long life again the order of the day. Folks there will work for a living (but enjoy it), have children, own their property, and live in peace, but even with Satan bound sin and death are evident, signifying natural beings (Isa 65:17-25). Sadly, as the 1000 years pass natural man’s sin nature causes steadily increasing decay and disobedience on earth, until at the end when Satan is released wholesale rebellion threatens the Kingdom. But Satan and his armies are destroyed, peace restored, and the Age of Man comes to an end.
And Then What Happens?
What follows the Millennium? God only knows. The Bible, being the handbook for the Age of Man speaks neither of events before its beginning nor after its end. It instructs us on only three things of eternal duration. God Himself (Isa 43:10), life for believers (John 3:16), and punishment for unbelievers (Matt 25:46). The rest is left for us to wonder about, and for God to reveal as it suits His purpose.