A Voice in the
"Thus says Jehovah, Heaven is My throne, and earth My footstool. Where, then, is the house that you would build for Me? And where is the place of My rest?" (Is66:1, Ac7:49)
"But will God truly dwell on the earth? Behold, the heavens and the Heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this house which I have built!" (1Ki8:27)
"Behold, the heavens and the Heaven of the heavens, and also the earth with all that is in it, belong to Jehovah your God." (De10:14)
In December of 2005 ABC's Barbara Walters hosted a TV special "Heaven: where is it?" She interviewed many theologians, from catholic to evangelical, agnostic atheists to the Dali Lama, as well as the average person on the street. She also had 'eyewitnesses' who had 'died' and come back: alleging to have -seen- 'heaven'.
Out of all those people, not-a-one expressed our opening Scripture passages; which we will come back to in a moment.
According to the Barbara Walters special, Heaven is a place of happiness with no cares, no pain, no fears; like a perfect garden, a place where we can eat whatever and as much as we like, and we don't get fat; cats and dogs that are 'happy'; where we will see all our loved ones who died before us. The 'eyewitnesses' with whom she closed the special described the traditional "white light" and -feelings- of serenity, calm and love.
When asked "how" a person gets to Heaven, most people either don't have a clue, or they come up with the concepts of 'works', of -doing- good things while in this life; somewhat with the flavor of reincarnation... if a person was good in this life, they will be reincarnated into heaven. When asked if an -unbeliever- (in the context of Christianity) would go to hell, the head of the NAE (National Association of Evangelicals) replied that such a person would not have 'assurance' of Heaven. (Please stay tuned: next month's article is "Hell: What is it?") But for the most part, nobody seemed to proclaim any sort of 'assurance' of going to Heaven. There was not a single Biblical Christian perspective presented, nor a single True Believer interviewed.
The whole show was about Heaven being some sort of 'unknowable' place; but not any understanding that: Heaven is God's dwelling, where God is, the place of His throne, and thus His power and authority. To them, "heaven" is merely a 'destination' one goes to after this life; -hoping- it to be a better 'place' than this present existence was.
As we begin, let us understand that there are more than one heaven; so we need to be clear as to 'which' heaven we are talking about.
To review from a Q/A from June,2004 "Heaven: Where is it?"
But if "flesh and blood is not able to inherit the Kingdom of God" (1Co15:50), and at the resurrection/rapture where the Believer is raised up to be with Jesus (1Th4:16-17) as Jesus comes to "receive" us to Himself (Jn14:3), the corruptible flesh is "changed" (1Co15:51) into a "spiritual" body (vs44) where we become "like Him" (1Jn3:2); is not the Believer's future, instead, in a different 'dimension'.
Science fiction often comes up with concepts they call a "parallel universe". They will depict it as being some sort of 'phase' anomaly, or quantum wormhole and time distortion by which atoms and molocules are rearranged into different temporal -physical- planes.
But Paul describes it as a difference between the physical and spiritual. (1Co15) And the spiritual coexists on this earth. Presently in our struggles to be Godly, "...we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against authorities, against the world’s rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual wickedness in the heavenlies." (Eph6:12) While we are flesh and blood, our struggles are -spiritually- based. (Romans ch7) For the present, satan has been given authority over the earth, as he made the claim to Jesus, and Jesus did not deny it: "Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish." (Lk4:5-6)
But that God is -also- in this spiritual realm around us is demonstrated in the incident where the Syrian army surrounded the town where Elisha was, wanting to capture Elisha because he has been telling Israel's king what Syria is planning to do and so pre-empts them, and Elisha asks God to open the eyes of his servant who is petrified with fear, such that he sees the whole area surrounded by God's "chariots of fire" (2Ki6:11-17)
Thus, if all the various heaven[s] "contain" God; in other words, God -is- 'in' all the various heavens; but we also know that the "third" Heaven is God's throne; can we not surmise that the Third Heaven is also all around us? ...only, in the 'spiritual' dimension, not accessible to "flesh and blood". If earth is God's "footstool", God is right 'here'. He is not waaay out 'there' someplace, out-of-reach. And thus, too, since Heaven is where God is, Heaven is also right 'here'.
There is one incident that lends strong credence to this (Heaven is 'here') idea. Jesus says: "Truly I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom." (Mt16:28) There are some who mis-apply this and teach "preterism": that all Scriptural prophecies were fulfilled before those early first century Believers had died. And they pin their beliefs around 70AD, for this and other reasons which are beyond the scope of this article.
But if we remember that the original Greek did not have chapter:verse designations, and we continue reading in the same context of the flowing narrative, in ch17 we see the account of the "transfiguration". Notice that Jesus and the three disciples go up to this high mountain. They see Jesus, Moses and Elijah in Heavenly glory; and hear the Father's voice, "This is My beloved Son..." (vs5) They are seeing Heaven, its glory; and they are -on- the mountain. Notice carefully, Jesus said He would be seen "in" His kingdom (16:28); and then when they see, they are also "on" the mountain. (17:1) What is Jesus' "kingdom" (that they had just seen), if not Heaven? By definition.
So then... Since we know that our traverse to Heaven happens either at death, or the rapture, we must first of all get it settled in our minds and hearts that we are not now going to fully understand Heaven, until we get there.
"Have the gates of death been disclosed to you? Or have you seen the gates of the shadow of death?" (Job38:17) We are not yet meant to know the details before the time. At present we know only "in part" (1Co13:9,12) And when Paul had a glimpse of the "Third Heaven" he says that he heard "unspeakable words", and that of the whole incident he wasn't even sure of the full realities of what he had experienced, but says, "God knows" (2Co12:1-4)
So, what -is- Heaven?
When Jesus speaks of Lazarus, He used a Jewish expression, "Abraham's bosom" as being a place of "comfort" (Lk16:22,25) But what is Abraham's bosom? In Jacob's dream he sees a ladder into the heavens with angels coming and going (Gen28:12) In the O.T. there is a common expression and understanding of a person, who was a believer in God, dying and going "to their fathers" (Ge15:15, 2Ki22:20, 1Ch17:11)
Paul saw things that were "unspeakable". When God presents Himself to Job, Job puts his "hand to his mouth" as he sees himself as "vile" (Job40:4) Israel sees a mountain engulfed in fire and smoke, with much trembling (Ex19:16-18) such that Israel told Moses, You go talk with God, and tell us what He says; but not us "that we not die" (Ex20:18-19) Isaiah sees God "high and lifted up" and bewails his own "unclean" lips. (Is6:1-5) Ezekiel sees the appearance of brightness and rainbows and falls on his face. (Ezek1:26-28) John sees a throne set in Heaven, with brightness and thunderings. (Rev4:2-5) And before the Great White Throne the "earth and heavens fled away" (Rev20:11) and by the time John has seen all this grandeur, he is so overcome he finds himself bowing a couple of times to the angel who has been showing him around, who replies, "Look out! No!" ... "Now see here! No!" (Rev19:10,22:8-9)
This bespeaks a place of more than merely "calm and serenity". To one who is yet flesh and blood (even a Believer), it is a place of awesome terror. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Heb10:31)
So, what of these eye-witness accounts of personal 'experience'? These people were clinically 'dead', left their bodies, experienced 'something', and then came back. What did they experience?
None of them...NOT-A-ONE...related anything approaching the Scriptural accounts that are recorded for us. None of them saw any-One sitting on His throne. They saw "white lights"...or like in the case of one particular (post-tribulational) false prophet a few years ago (who also claimed the Oslo accord of 1993 was the beginning of the "tribulation", and that Maitraya was -the- antichrist, and 2000 would be the rapture), in his testimony claimed that, during a clinically dead moment, he saw a (pagan) golden 'cross'..."waving its arms" streaming "rays of love" towards him.
So...what are they experiencing? Who is it who proclaimed his desire to be "like the Most High"? (Is14:14) Who is called the "shining one"? (Is14:12) and also is described as an "angel of light"? (2Co11:14) Even though sin is called "works of DARKNESS" (Rom13:12, Eph5:11), satan's deception is that he is the "angel of light". And something I have noticed on occasion, when being in the company of false-"christian" cults, like the Unification Church (moonies), or "no names church"; when one is in their presence, they 'ooze' a gushy, mushy 'sweetness'; something I've also noticed in some who are immersed in things like Yoga, massage and occult meditation. If a person is not a True Believer (like I was in their presence), I suspect it would be easy to confuse that 'sweetness' for "calm, tranquility and peace". So, satan takes from his own transformed essence (light), and combines it with this "sweetness" that typically characterizes these satan-based cults...put them together for these out-of-body experiences, and what else -would- they come back reporting? But therein is the deception. Being light, it looks, for everything, to the unbeliever, that they have experienced "God"....but what they have experienced is satan's messengers who appear -as- "ministers of righteousness" (2Co11:15) What of the accounts where they are alleged to have seen their previously-departed loved ones? Well, how would that differ any bit from necromancy?
It is NOT -God's- Heaven.
Throughout Scripture the terms "heaven" and God's "throne" typically are seen mentioned together. (1Ki22:19, Ps11:4, Is66:1, Mt5:34, Ac7:49, Rev4:2, 16:17) Job, Isaiah, Ezekial, Daniel, Paul, John; in seeing God's glory, do not record having seen any of the 'people' who passed before. Heaven is always shown as being about God and -His- throne. Abraham tells the "rich man" about the "great chasm", such that there is no passing back and forth. (Lk16:26) Any claims of "crossing over" are necromancy's false hocus-pocus.
You know... the "hocus" part of that expression comes from the word "hoax", meaning: to fool or deceive. That's what satan does: "leads astray" (Rev20:10)
What is the characteristic of Heaven? Since Heaven is God's throne, such a question assumes the companion question: What is the characteristic of God? The seraphim were calling out: "Holy, holy, holy, is Jehovah of Hosts; the whole earth full of His glory!" (Is6:3)
First of all, "holy" is a state of 'separation'. Separation from what? The uncleanness of sin; as Isaiah bewails, "Woe is me...I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips" (vs5) God is a jealous God who demands, "You shall have no other gods before Me" (Ex20:3) That is what "holiness" is. God -only-, and nobody else.
"Jehovah" is God's "memorial" name. I AM THAT I AM. (Ex3:14-15) "Jehovah is His name" (Am9:6) The eternally existing one. "...even from everlasting to everlasting, You are the Mighty God" (Ps90:2)
Jehovah of Hosts. Who are the hosts? When Jesus was born the angels announced His birth, and it says the "multitude of the heavenly host" praised God. (Lk2:13) Fulfilling: "Let all the angels of God do homage to Him" (Heb1:6) as they also proclaim, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!" (Rev5:12) Many people in their idolatry worship angels. (Col2:18) But God is above them; He is over them all.
And finally, "Glory": great honor, praise, distinction, renown, majestic beauty, splendor. "The heavens declare the glory of the mighty God" (Ps19:1) and the "glory of Jehovah is eternal" (Ps104:31)
And so... How does a person get there?
"Who shall go up into the hill of Jehovah? Or who shall stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart; who has not lifted up his soul to vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from Jehovah, and righteousness from the God of his salvation." (Ps24:3-5)
How does one get their hands cleaned of the filth of sin? By the "washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit" (Tit3:5) by which Jesus "loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood" (Rev1:5)
To become a "child of God" one must "receive" Jesus Christ. (Jn1:12) But this receiving and "believing" (Jn3:16) must be with a "pure heart", not merely paying lip service. When the psalm says "has not lifted up his soul to vanity": the term "vanity" in the O.T. was an expression of idolatry; the "vain" idols. (De32:21, 1Ki16:13, 2Ki17:15, Jer14:22) And the expression to "swear deceitfully"; "swearing" was an ancient expression of "allegiance". "You shall fear Jehovah your God and serve Him, and swear by His name." (De6:13)
To swear deceitfully is an O.T. expression for what we continually refer to, around here, as the "pretend christian". Paul speaks of: "But evil men and pretenders will grow worse and worse, leading astray and being led astray." (2Ti3:13) They make "-claims- for Jesus", but it is false. In their heart they are not "pure" before God. They recite the "repeat after me" prayers, go forward at the invitations and nod their heads in the affirmative to the questions asked of them...but it is all false.
Righteousness and salvation are from God. In the N.T. age Believers are called "the righteousness of God in [Christ]" (2Co5:21) We, who know the Lord, -are- the "glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish." (Eph5:27) Having received the "newness of life" (Rom6:4), the Believer's name is found written in the Book of Life. (Php4:3, Rev3:5, 21:27)
But for those whose names are "not found written in the Book of Life"? (Rev20:15, 22:19)
That's next month... "Hell: What is it?"
But for the Believer: what is Heaven?
"We are confident, yes, preferring rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord" (2Co5:8)