OUR GLORIOUS HOPE
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be
no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the
old order of things has passed away.
- Revelation 21:4
Life is hard--but God is good, and heaven is real.
No one doubts the first part of that sentence: Life is hard. Often while writing this chapter my mind has been preoccupied by the death and destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina along the southern coast of the United States. Like the devastating tsunami that struck South Asia only months before, hundreds of thousands were driven from their homes and forced to find shelter elsewhere, often fleeing with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. One family whom a church near us adopted arrived bruised and battered from wading for miles through debris-filled water, a story that could be duplicated thousands of times. Eventually that area will be rebuilt and Katrina may fade from our view, but in the meantime life is hard for those who have been affected--very hard.
Most of us probably will never experience a disaster of this magnitude--but we too know life is hard. Sometimes its harshness comes upon us suddenly and without warning; sometimes it stays with us most of our lives. In this book we have looked at some of life's heartaches and struggles, but no single volume can begin to deal with all of them. Life has its share of joys and laughter--but we also know life's road is often very rough. Temptations assail us; people disappoint us; illness and age weaken us; tragedies and sorrows ambush us; evil and injustice overpower us.
Life is hard--but God is good, and heaven is real!
Our Final Destination
One of the Bible's greatest truths is that we were not meant for this world alone. Death is not the end of life; it is only the gateway to eternity. We were meant to live forever, and death is only a transition from this life to the next. The question isn't whether or not there is life after death. The only question is where we will spend eternity--either with God in that place of endless joy the Bible calls heaven, or apart from Him in that place of endless despair theBible calls hell.
Why isn't death the end as it appears to be? Job lamented, "Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure. . . . Man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more" (Job 14:1-2, 10). Yet Job knew this isn't the whole story. Someday this life will end, but for the Christian death also marks a beginning--the beginning of a new life with God that will last forever. Paul put it this way: "'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him'--but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit" (1 Corinthians 2:9-10). In the midst of life's disappointments and sufferings, heaven is our glorious hope.
How Do We Know?
To many, however, any talk about heaven or eternal life is only wishful thinking. "Heaven is just a myth as far as I'm concerned," one man wrote me. "I'd like to think we'll live forever, but once we're dead, that's the end."
Is he right? How do we know heaven is real?
One reason is because of our inner yearning. Virtually every religion believes in some type of afterlife, and down inside we all sense there must be something beyond this life. This life is incomplete, and we yearn for its fulfillment. Where did this universal yearning come from? The Bible says God implanted it within us: "He has also set eternity in the hearts of men" (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We were made for God, and we yearn to be with Him forever. We can suppress this or convince ourselves it isn't true--but we still hope that life's injustices and evils will be made right someday.
We also know heaven is real because of God's promises. From one end of the Bible to the other, God assures us that we were made to live with Him forever. The psalmist declared, "Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever" (Psalm 23:6). Job affirmed, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God" (Job 19:25-26). Jesus promised, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies" (John 11:25). Paul taught, "Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands" (2 Corinthians 5:1).
There is, however, a third reason why we know heaven is real: because of Christ's death and resurrection for us. Why did Jesus Christ leave heaven's glory and enter this sin-infested world? For one reason: to make our eternal salvation possible. When God created Adam and Eve, His plan was that they would live in perfect harmony with Him forever. But Satan was determined to change that, and with his lies he lured them away from God. When that happened, death came upon the human race, and we are all its victims. Never forget: Death was Satan's greatest victory.
But by His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ reversed this. The Bible says Christ came to "free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death" (Hebrews 2:15). Think of it: Satan's greatest victory has now been turned into defeat! Death has now been put to death! No wonder the Bible says, "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? . . . Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:55, 57).
Christ's motive in coming to earth was love, and His goal was to destroy death and take us to be with the Father forever. Jesus' resurrection proves beyond all doubt that death is not the end, and ahead of us is heaven. Jesus promised, "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). This is our sure hope.
What Is Heaven Like?
If heaven is real, what is it like? I've never met a Christian who didn't want to know the answer to this question--including me! Even Jesus' disciples wondered; immediately after He taught them about heaven, Thomas protested, "Lord, we don't know where you are going" (John 14:5).
The Bible doesn't answer all our questions about heaven and what it will be like--because heaven is far more glorious than anything we can imagine. Heaven is like the most perfect and beautiful place we can conceive--only more so. Only in heaven will we know exactly what heaven is like. The writer of Revelation, searching for words to describe his glimpse of heaven's splendor, said that "it shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel. . . . The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass" (Revelation 21:11, 21). Paul wrote, "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" (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Nevertheless, the Bible doesn't leave us in the dark about heaven--and everything it tells us should make us want to go there. Let's look at four truths the Bible teaches about heaven and what will happen to us there.
With God Forever
First, the Bible says that in heaven we will be with God. Heaven is many things--but the most important is this: Heaven is God's dwelling place. It is the place where God lives! It's true that God is everywhere, but heaven is more than a place. It is a whole different dimension of existence, and God is in its midst, with Christ at His right hand. The Bible says, "We will be with the Lord forever" (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
Think of it: We will be with God forever! And because we will be with Him, we will be absolutely safe from all evil. Sorrow and suffering will never again touch us--never. One of the most moving passages in all the Bible is found in its next to last chapter: And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Revelation 21:3-4)
Home at Last
This leads us to a second great truth about Heaven: We will be home. The word "home" means different things to different people."I'll never go home again," a young man wrote me after recounting a childhood filled with strife and abuse. Then he added, "But I want it to be different for my children. I want them to have a real home." Down inside he knew home should be a place of happiness and peace, even if his wasn't.
The Bible says this world is not our final home--but we do have one, and that is heaven. The Bible calls us "aliens and strangers on earth" (Hebrews 11:13) and reminds us that "our citizenship is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20). Our heart's cry is like Paul's, who said he "would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8). From time to time our local newspaper prints obituaries that say the deceased "went to her heavenly home." I always know that person must have been a Christian.
Home is a place of peace and joy--and so is heaven. Home is a place of love and security--and so is heaven. Home is a place of welcome and rest--and so is heaven. The Bible says, "Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death" (Isaiah 57:2). When we die in Christ, we are at home with Him forever.
As a footnote, sometimes people say to me, "Well, I'm not sure I want to go to heaven. It sounds so boring!" But we won't be bored in heaven, for we will have all eternity to explore God's riches. The Bible also says God will have work for us to do, for we will serve Him and reign with Him--but without the weariness of our work here (Revelation 22:3, 5).
In addition, the Bible tells us that in heaven we will be like Christ. Someday God's plan to make us more like Christ will be complete, for "we will all be changed--in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet" (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).
What does this mean? First, it means we will have new bodies--bodies that will be like Christ's resurrection body. Do I know what we'll look like in heaven? No--but our new bodies will be perfect, beyond the reach of all illness and decay. They also will be recognizable to those we knew on earth. Our present bodies have been corrupted by sin, and we "groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Romans 8:23). But someday our wait will be over!
It also means our whole nature will be transformed. Someday we will be like Christ! Now we love imperfectly--but not then. Now our joy and peace are tempered by sorrow and turmoil--but not then. The Bible says, "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2). What a glorious promise!
All Things New
Finally, in heaven we will be part of a new creation. Sin hasn't only affected our bodies, it has also affected all creation. And just as we will be changed when God's kingdom is fully established, so too will all creation, for God will reverse every consequence of Adam's rebellion. In that day "the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God" (Romans 8:21). Perhaps this is what Isaiah envisioned when he wrote, "The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together" (Isaiah 11:6).
When will this take place? The Bible says it will happen when Christ comes again to establish His authority over all creation: "The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire. . . . But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness" (2 Peter 3:10, 13).
Shortly after his election as the next president, John F. Kennedy asked me to play golf with him in Florida, which I was honored to do. While driving us to the course he stopped the car and asked me if it was true that Jesus would return to earth some day. I was quite surprised at his question, and I was especially surprised he stopped the car to ask it. I assured him it was true, and that all Christian churches (including his own) affirmed it in their creeds. At his funeral only three years later, Cardinal Cushing read from 1 Thessalonians 4:16 about the coming again of Christ: "For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first."
Sometimes Christ's promise to return has been overlooked, but Christians have always turned to this great truth during difficult and uncertain times. When I was growing up, the horror of World War I and the despair of the Great Depression sent many Christians (including my mother) back to their Bibles, which led to a new emphasis on prophecy and the hope of Christ's return. During times of persecution Christians always have found comfort in Christ's promise to come back and destroy all evil. I have seldom spoken in a series of evangelistic meetings without including at least one message on Christ's return.
Christ's second coming reminds us that ultimately our hope is not in this world and its attempts to solve its problems, but in Christ's promise to establish His perfect rule over all the earth. As Jesus ascended into heaven at the end of His time on earth, the angels promised His disciples, "This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). Jesus warned, "You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him" (Matthew 24:44).
Christ's return can't be separated from another sobering truth, however, and that is the promise of God's judgment. Jesus said, "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another" (Matthew 25:31-32). Those who have rejected God's offer of salvation, He warned, "will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life" (Matthew 25:46). Paul declared to the pagan philosophers in Athens that God "has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead" (Acts 17:31). Their reaction was similar to that of many today whenever God's judgment is mentioned: "Some of them sneered, but others said, 'We want to hear you again on this subject'" (Acts 17:32).
But we ignore God's judgment at our peril. Some day God will judge all those who were responsible for the injustices and evils of this world. Those who have deliberately scorned God and rejected His way of salvation through Jesus Christ will also be judged. And just as God's judgment is a reality, so too is the place the Bible calls hell. Just as heaven is the final destination of all who have trusted Christ for their salvation, so hell (the Bible says) is the final destination of all who reject God's appointed means of salvation through Christ. This is a solemn and sobering truth; a seminary professor I once knew told his students, "Never preach about hell without tears in your eyes." Occasionally someone will write me saying that they look forward to hell, "because all my friends will be there." But the Bible paints a far different picture. It tells us that hell is a place of absolute loneliness and despair, and describes it as a place of "darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 25:30). Most of all, hell is separation from God. Not one word about hell in the Bible would ever make you want to go there.
And the good news is that you don't have to go there! Christ has provided the way of escape--and the reason (as we have seen) is because He endured hell's pain and loneliness in our place. God's promise is true: "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). Don't gamble with your eternal destiny, but make sure of your commitment to Christ today.
Equally devout Bible scholars disagree about some of the details of Christ's return--but one thing is certain: At the end of this present age, Christ will come again to establish His kingdom. Someday God's promise will be fulfilled: "I am making everything new!" (Revelation 21:5). Jesus repeatedly promised He would come again, not in the obscurity of Bethlehem but in glory and power over the whole earth. No wonder the Bible calls this "the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13). As she grew older, my mother said she never awakened in the morning without asking herself, "I wonder if this will be the day Jesus returns?" Our constant prayer should be that of John at the end of Revelation: "Come, Lord Jesus" (Revelation 22:20).
In the Meantime
Heaven is real--but what difference does it make right now? Is the old quip true, that Christians are so heavenly minded they aren't any earthly good? Definitely not--and in fact the opposite should be the case.
First, because heaven is real, we have hope: hope for the future,and hope for our lives right now. No matter what happens to us now,we know it won't last forever, and ahead of us is the joy of heaven.
At the beginning of this chapter, I wrote, "Life is hard--but God is good, and heaven is real." I was actually quoting a doctor friend of mine who sometimes tells this to his Christian patients, because he knows how easily we get caught up in our present problems and forget God's promise of heaven. Paul wrote, "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men" (1 Corinthians 15:19). But our hope isn't only for this life! In the midst of life's storms, our hope in God's promise of heaven is"an anchor for the soul, firm and secure" (Hebrews 6:19).
In addition, because heaven is real, our lives have meaning and purpose right now. Before he turned to God, the writer of Ecclesiastes concluded, "Everything is meaningless" (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Many today come to the same conclusion. But when we know Christ, we know life isn't meaningless, because God has a reason for keeping us here. Every day is a gift from Him and is another opportunity to love Him and serve Him. Heaven doesn't make this life less important; it makes it more important.
This leads to a final difference heaven should make: Because heaven is real, we should live every moment for Christ. Life is short; none of us knows how long we have. Live each day as if it were your last--for some day it will be. Peter wrote, "Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming" (2 Peter 3:11-12). If you are ever going to live for Christ, it should be now.
Is heaven your goal? Are you looking forward to going there? I know I am, and I pray you are too. What a glorious future God has prepared for us!
Don't let the burdens and hardships of this life distract you or discourage you, but keep your eyes firmly fixed on what God has promised at the end of our journey: heaven itself.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 For which cause
we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward
man is renewed day by day.
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;
While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
Praise God for the hope we have in Christ!