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Sun, Oct 18, 2015

Part 01

Series:Heaven
Duration:30 mins 9 secs

151018 Heaven Part 1

Introduction

          Different people have different perceptions of heaven.

          Some think it’s boring, on clouds, with harps.

          People also get there ideas about heaven from psychics like Jonathan Edwards who enables people in his studio audience to have ‘conversations’ with people who are deceased.

Future glory gives us present hope (1 Peter 1:3 living hope)

Well, it’s important that we try and understand as much as we can about heaven. Because it’s part of the hope that we have as Christians.

The intermediate heaven

What do you think happens the minute you die? If you’re a Christian. After your life has flashed before you, or whatever people believe that it is happens, and your heart stops beating, and as the doctors declare the time of death. What do you think happens?

A lot of people think that when you die, you die and go straight to heaven. The place that we see described in Revelation chapter 21. And then we get given our new bodies. Which some of us actually just can’t wait to get. Because we just can’t get our current bodies in shape. And there we are, in the new heavens and the new earth, with new bodies set for the rest of eternity.

But here’s the problem. The Bible talks about a day, when all the dead in Christ will rise. And all the dead in Christ will rise at the same time. So it’s not if I die before you, then I get my resurrected body first, and then you only get yours later when you die. It’s all at the same time. And that will happen around the time of Christ’s return.

So, if you think about it logically, there should be something that happens in the meantime.

How do we know there is such a thing?

The Bible tells us that there is something that happens in the meantime. There is a type of intermediate heaven. There’s something that happens before we get to the new heavens and the new earth, and before we get given our new bodies. There is something that is happening now. and it is called heaven. It is eternity. It is amazing and awesome and great. But for the sake of understanding the order of things, we’re going to call it the intermediate heaven.

One American author and pastor describes the intermediate state by telling you to imagine you’re a homeless person living in a homeless shelter. You’ve got no family, you’ve got nothing. When suddenly a lawyer arrives at the shelter with a letter, in a gold plated envelope. And you open the letter only to discover that you were related to some billionaire, who has now died, and you’ve inherited a mansion in Beverly Hills. So here you are, living in a homeless shelter in the back streets of Philadelphia. So you take an aeroplane to the airport in Beverly hills where you’ve arranged to meet the family. and the deal is before you go on to your new mansion, is to spend time with your new found family. And they treat you like an absolute king. You see, your reward has begun. You haven’t quite got to the Beverly Hills Mansion yet. But you are living it up as part of this family. It’s what is happening in the interim.

So our intermediate heaven is a bit like that. You’re not in your mansion yet. You’re not yet living in the new heavens and the new earth. But You are with Christ. You are with other Christian family.

So how do we know this? Where in the Bible does it actually talk about this intermediate heaven? It doesn’t use the word ‘intermediate’ heaven. But that’s what it’s been called by Biblical scholars.

The first passage that I would like to take you to tonight is Luke 23.

It’s at the time of the death of Jesus. He is on the cross. And there are two criminals. One on either side. So look from verse 39.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence?41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’

42 Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[d]

43 Jesus answered him,‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’

So what we do know from that passage is that Jesus says: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” From when he dies, he would be with Jesus in Paradise. Now if the resurrection of those in Christ was only going to happen much later in time. There’s something that will happen on the day you die. It’s happening for the thief. And it will happen for you too. Where you will be with Jesus in paradise. But before the second coming of Christ, and the judgement day and the resurrection of the dead.

The next passage is Philippians chapter 1. When Paul wrote this letter he was in prison. He wrote it to the church in Phillipi. And he’s encouraging them in the gospel. Encouraging them to be unified as partners in the gospel. Look at verse 21.

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

          For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. How many of us feel that way? Well, I think if we understood what heaven really was like, we may just feel that way. Paul had a realistic view of heaven. He talks about how he needs to go on living in the body, in other words stay alive here on earth. Because that will mean fruitful labour. In other words he knows that there is so much work to do for the gospel. So much work to do for eternity, that his going to eternity, must be delayed. As much as he wants to go there. He says in verse 23 “I’m torn between the two, I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

          So he knows that if he had to depart, if he had to die. He would be with Christ, and he wouldn’t remain in the body. He would leave his body. He can’t be referring to many years down the line, he is referring to being with Christ immediately. So he is referring to something that is happening between now and the new heavens and the new earth.

          But get this. He is referring to something that is much better than being here on earth. Something much better than trying to stay alive on this earth. He wouldn’t be torn if that weren’t the case.

          In 1 Thessalonians Paul refers to those who have fallen asleep. When he talks about the dead. Because their bodies will one day wake up. They will be resurrected. But in the meanwhile. What’s happened to those people? What’s happened to their souls? They are in the intermediate heaven.

          In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul talks about being away from the Body, but at home with the lord. He is talking about a time when his body is still dead in the ground, but he is with Jesus.

          It must be that he is referring to something that happens before his body is resurrected again.

What will it be like?

So, what will it be like? This intermediate heaven. If it’s not the ultimate heaven that we read about in Revelation. If we don’t have our resurrected bodies. If it’s this intermediate state. What’s it going to be like, and is it something worth getting excited about. Is it just going to be like God’s waiting room, where we all sit, waiting for the big day? And there are people who have been there for thousands of years. What’s it going to be like? Can we really get excited about being in a waiting room for a 1000 years or even 10,000 years.

          Well, from what we’ve looked at already. Paul longed for it. He longed for it so much that he said “…for me to die is gain.” And as we saw in that passage and in the Corinthian passage as well. Paul’s only reason for staying on this earth, isn’t because he wants to pursue the pleasures of this world. His reason for staying isn’t because he wants more money, or more power. His reason for staying on this earth, is so that he can do more work here to benefit the kingdom that awaits. But for him to die is gain.

          He’s talking about more than just sitting in some kind of waiting room. He’s talking about more than just sitting on some type of cloud. It’s going to be great.

          One of the reasons that Paul looks forward to it is because when he’s there, he’ll be with Jesus. In the intermediate heaven you will be with Jesus. Paul says it. That he will be with the Lord. And that passage that we looked at earlier with the thief on the cross. Jesus says to him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” So that’s something we can look forward to about the intermediate heaven. We will be with Jesus.

          There are sometimes when we travel, we’re not going to the place because of the place, but because of the people who are there. Eg. When we lived in Joburg, what we missed most about Cape Town wasn’t the place, although we did miss it, but we missed the people the most.

Our family and our friends.

When we get to heaven, and even the intermediate heaven, it’s going to be a great place, but what is even greater is who will be there. Jesus will be there.

          About 13 years ago, we visited my sister and her husband in Australia, the most exciting part about it was seeing them.

          Although heaven will be amazing, and beyond our wildest dreams. The most important part is that we will be in the presence of the Lord. In fact the place will be great, because it will be a place that is worthy of God’s presence. But like I say, we don’t know too much about the place in terms of the intermediate heaven, but we will be in the presence of Jesus.

          Now another question that we need to ask, is what will we be like?

          We’re not going to have our new bodies. In fact Paul describes us as being away from the body. So our bodies will still be in the ground. Or cremated whichever way you’ve chosen to go. But I think we can extract a few hints and tips from scripture as to what we are like as humans during that time. Lets have a look at the last book in the Bible.

          It’s the book of revelation. And Revelation is all about a vision that John has. They type of literature is apocalyptic. Which is by nature very symbolic. And it’s not always easy to tell which is symbolic and which isn’t. But I think this part of the vision gives us an accurate description of some people who are in the intermediate heaven. So I want to read you that section of Revelation 6, and then as I read through it, make a few comments about the intermediate heaven. Revelation 6:9-11.

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.

So, what is happening here, is that John in his vision here, is seeing souls that are in the intermediate heaven. And these particular souls, are ones who had been slain. They were martyrs. They were people who had died for their faith. So it seems like here we are getting a glimpse into the intermediate heaven. And the particular people that we are looking at here are people who have died for their faith.

And just take a moment to notice how they’ve been identified here. John doesn’t just say, “I saw some souls”. He says: I saw the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.

You see, in eternity, you’re still the same person. You’re not just plugged into some Matrix of souls, where we all just become these arbitory beings. These mindless clones, who have no individualism, or there’s nothing to them. Your identity in heaven is YOU. If you were a martyr on earth, that doesn’t get expunged, and removed. When you meet the Bible Characters like Stephen who died for his faith. He will still be Stephen who died for his faith.

When you get to chat to Billy Graham, the great evangelist. He will still be Billy Graham. In fact when I see you there, you’ll still be you. Someone described it this way:

We won’t be different people. We’ll be the same people, only better. The same people relocated.

10 They called out in a loud voice,

What does that tell us? It tells us that we will have human physical qualities. They were able to call out. And notice that they don’t call out. They call out in a loud voice.

          Early yesterday evening. Twickeham, and most South African lounges and pubs, were not quiet places. Why, because there was emotion. There was that rollercoaster ride of a rugby game. The fact that here in revelation, they’re calling out in a loud voice, means that there was emotion. There is emotion in the intermediate.

          Remember that the way that we were created, although it’s been marred by sin throughout our earthly lives. There will come a day when we will experience the full extent of what we were created for. So we will experience emotion.

          And what they ask God, shows us that we will still be able to think and rationalize. It’s not just this mindless experience.

‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?

          They’re able to think. They have an audience with God. They have a sense of justice, that those who killed them and opposed the gospel, need to be dealt with. So they’re able to be rational. They’re able to think. They’re able to remember their life on earth.

11 Then each of them was given a white robe,

          It doesn’t say, they were given a white robe and told to hold on to it until they get their resurrection bodies. They were told to wait. But not to wait to put on the robes. If you get given a robe, or if you get given clothes, what is the purpose of them? To wear them. To put on. Now I don’t know what you have in mind when you think of a soul as described here in Revelation. But they must have had some kind of physical form to be able to put on their robes.

          And then lastly, they experience time. So in verse 10, they’re asking “How long?” and then here in verse 11, look at what they were told.

and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters,[a]were killed just as they had been.

          Some people think that there is no time. And very possibly the way we experience time may be different. But there is time here in this passage.

          Now I’ve just pointed out a few things from this passage. We could go on, but we won’t.

          I don’t think we know fully what the intermediate heaven will be like. But these are a few glimpses that we get into the intermediate heaven.

Why should this matter?

And I guess the big question we need to be asking is “why does this matter?” It matters because knowing what awaits us in the future affects how we are in the present.

          Your perspective on heaven will determine how you live here on earth. Paul expressed it. Peter expressed it, in 1 Peter when he said in 1 Peter, when he talks about an inheritance that can never perish spoil or fade.

          Stephen expressed it when he was stoned and killed for his faith. Joseph expressed it wasn’t willing to give in to the temptations of Potiphar’s wife. James expressed when he was put to death by the sword of king Herod.

          Do you see this in your life? As an expression of eternal hope?

          Maybe your’e here tonight, and if you had to die, you won’t be going to heaven. The only way that can happen for you, is if you put your trust in Christ. Accept his forgiveness, and what he did for you on the cross.

 

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