What is Heaven Like?

What Is Heaven Like?

Revelation 21:1-5

Dr. Jim Denison

When Ronald Reagan was running for Governor of California, a woman confronted him by his car one day and berated him severely. Finally she said, “I wouldn’t vote for you if you were St. Peter.” He smiled and replied, “No problem. If I were St. Peter, you wouldn’t be living in my district.”

What do we know about “St. Peter’s district”? We’re all fascinated with the subject. Every one of us has loved ones there; I assume we all would like to spend eternity there ourselves. So let’s ask the word of God to tell us about heaven.

But when we’re done, we need to ask a second question as well. I’ve realized through my study this week that I must also show you why it matters. Why heaven matters on earth.

I have prayed that the answer will be as powerful for you as it has been for me.

What is heaven?

So, what is heaven? What does God tell us about our eternal home?

First, he tells us that heaven is real. It is certain—no figment of religious imagination, no superstition, no “opiate of the people” (to quote Karl Marx). He revealed it in today’s Scripture to John: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth” (v. 1). According to God himself, heaven is real.

Second, heaven is a place (1-2). John “saw” it. He didn’t feel it, or dream of it, or hear about it. He saw it, and we only see things which are. Heaven is a place. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2; emphasis mine).

Where? “Up there?” Heaven is a place beyond our locating or understanding. Just as you couldn’t dig down into the earth and find hell, so you can’t rocket into the skies and find heaven. God is bigger, more awesome than that, and so is his heaven.

One of the Russian cosmonauts came back and said, “Some people say that God lives out there. I looked around, and I didn’t see any God out there.” Ruth Graham, Billy’s wife, says he looked in the wrong place. If he’d stepped outside the space ship without his space suit, he would have seen God very quickly.

Third, heaven is where God is (3). John reveals, “Now the dwelling of God is with men.” When we get to heaven, we get to God. Psalm 11:4 is clear: “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne.” Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven” (Matthew 6:9).

Heaven is a real place, where God is. It’s being with God.

Fourth, heaven is a blessed place (4). Because God is there, all that is perfect is there as well. There will be no death in heaven, thus no mourning or crying or pain. Our greatest enemy will trouble us no more. Think of that—no death, ever! Eternity with God in his blessed home.

It’s a place of incredible joy: “You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11). It’s a place of reward: “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20). And this reward is eternal: “An inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4).

Thus, heaven is a celebration, a party: “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Luke 14:15). We reign in heaven: “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3:21). In heaven, we’re royalty!

We’ll have perfect understanding there: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Our text summarizes the blessedness of heaven: “I am making all things new” (v. 5). No more Fall, nor sin, or death, or disease, or disaster; no more earthquakes or Y2K fears or tests or grades; no more. Everything new.

No wonder Jesus called heaven “paradise” (Luke 23:43). It is that, a place of blessing beyond all description: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what the Lord has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9; cf. Isaiah 64:4).

What will we be like?

First, let’s set aside a popular misconception: in heaven, people are not angels. God created angels before he created us, and we are completely different. When Jesus said that people in heaven are “like the angels” (Luke 20:36), he meant that we never die, like them. Not that we have wings and a halo. We are not angels.

But we do receive heavenly bodies: “The perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:53).

Will we recognize each other? Will we know each other? Yes, for these reasons. Jesus said that in heaven we will take our places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Matthew 8:11); on the Mount of Transfiguration, the disciples easily recognized Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:3-4); we will “know as we are known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). I like what one preacher said: “We won’t really know each other until we get to heaven!”

So, what is heaven? Most of all, it’s home. A home of eternal blessing, reward, and bliss, better than the best earth can offer us.

John Owen, the great Puritan, lay on his deathbed. His secretary wrote to a friend in his name, “I am still in the land of the living.” Owen saw it and said, “Change that and say, ‘I am yet in the land of the dying, but I hope soon to be in the land of the living.'” So can we all be.


What is Hell Like?

What Is Hell Like?

Luke 16.19-31

Dr. Jim Denison

This week I found out about a Y2K problem which has nothing to do with computers. How many times have you been to a cemetery and seen headstones already in place for the spouse of the deceased, with the birth year followed by 19–? Assuming the person lives another four months, what’s to be done? Some monument companies are trying to create epoxies to fill in the numbers, but without much luck so far. Others have no idea what they’ll do. One person said, Just fill in 1999 + 1, or 2 or 3, or whatever. It’s a Y2K problem etched in stone.

I don’t know when you and I will die, but I do know that we will, unless Jesus comes back first. When that happens, where do we go? So far in our Yearning 2 Know series we’ve studied death and heaven. Now we’ll look at the other place. This is probably one of the few sermons you’ve heard in a long time on hell.

I have prayed that it is the closest you’ll get to being there.

A hellish parable

First, let’s walk through Jesus’ parable together. We have two characters: a rich man and a very poor beggar. At opposite ends of the spectrum, here and in eternity. Here’s how the story goes.

We meet the rich man first. A very rich man. And religious as well.He is “dressed in purple and fine linen.” This means that his outer robe was dyed purple, while his inner robe was made of Egyptian woven linen. Jesus is literally describing the costliest clothing of his day; a $2,000 suit, we’d say.

He “lives in luxury every day.” The Greek says that he lives “lampros,” brilliantly, magnificently. Clearly he is one of the leading social figures of his time, well known and popular.

And he is obviously an observant Jew, calling out to “Father Abraham” (v. 24) as did the pious Jews of his day. No lawbreaking is mentioned here. Obviously he is a typically religious man. Rich and religious.

Our other character is “a beggar named Lazarus.”His name, ironically, means “God helps.” He is the only named character in all of Jesus’ parables. Society knew the rich man’s name, but we don’t. No one knew the beggar’s name, but we do. So does God.

He is “laid” at the gate (v. 20)—the Greek says he’s “thrown there.” He’s “covered with sores.” Luke uses a medical term here, perhaps for bedsores, because of his crippled condition. As a result, Lazarus is starving. “Longing to eat” means “longing without satisfaction.” People in Jesus’ day didn’t have paper or cloth napkins; they would wipe their hands on bread, then throw it out. He longs to eat these scraps, but is refused. Instead, the dogs eat them. Then they lick his sores. What a horrible life! But a realistic portrayal of many in Jesus’ day.

Now comes the first surprise in our story: Lazarus goes to heaven. No burial is mentioned. Likely his body is thrown outside the city on the trash heap known as Gehenna, where refuse was constantly burning. But not his soul: he is at “Abraham’s side,” a Jewish idiom for heaven. Carried there by the angels, in one of the greatest funeral processions of all time.

Then comes the second, even greater surprise: the rich man goes to hell. In Jesus’ day riches were a sure sign of God’s blessing. But Jesus had just said, “You cannot serve both God and Money” (16:13). And the Pharisees, who loved money, sneered at him (v. 14).

Now the rich man is buried, undoubtedly with much ceremony and speech-making. A vivid contrast to Lazarus’ body lying on the trash heap. Then comes the great irony: Lazarus’ body is on literal Gehenna, but the rich man’s soul is in eternal Gehenna, hell, a place of great “torment” (v. 23). Forever.

From Jesus’ sobering story we discover several crucial facts: our souls do not die with our bodies; our souls are conscious after death; the righteous are taken to a place of happiness immediately at death, while the wicked are consigned at once to punishment; wealth does not keep us from death or hell; there is a place of suffering beyond the grave—a hell; there is never any escape or end to hell; God gives us sufficient warning to prepare for death; and God will give us nothing further to warn us.

Now, from Jesus’ story, let’s ask some questions.

What is hell like?

First, what is hell?

It is a real place, mentioned 23 times in the New Testament, 15 times by Jesus himself. Jesus calls it a place of “torment” (v. 23). Hell is real, despite its unpopularity today. 62% of all Americans, including 52% of “born-again Christians, say that Satan does not exist. Only 4% of all Americans are worried about going to hell. But our ignorance and deceit do not change the fact that hell is real.

God’s word often describes hell as “fire” (v. 24). Jesus said, “The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:49-50). Jude 7 calls hell “the punishment of eternal fire.” Revelation 14:10 says, “He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever.” And Revelation 20:15 calls hell “the lake of fire.”

Hell is called “darkness”: “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 22:13; cf. Jude 6).

Using language from the literally trash heap Gehenna, Jesus said, “Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:49; cf. Isaiah 66:24).

Most of all, hell is separation from God (v. 26). Remember Jesus’ warning: “I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers'” (Matthew 7:23).