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Chapter 1 The Promise of Heaven
The ancient creeds of the Church tell us "That the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." While these words may seem strange and foreign to our ears, they are the standard which the Bible itself sets for us. "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do; do all to the glory of God." Our goal as Christians is to know God as He knows us.
The promises of God almost stagger us in their tremendous richness and variety. Possibly this overwhelming list of promises about Heaven has caused men to withdraw in unbelief in our generation from either the teaching or contemplation of Heaven. Yet the promises in the Word of God are unmovable despite the changing tides of religious fashion and doctrinal emphasis. While we may not be able to grasp all the truths about our eternal destiny, we must if we will be faithful to Lord and His Word, try to understand and believe His promises about Heaven. Christ's invitation is: "Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34). In the midst of all our worldly pursuits and interests it is sometimes almost impossible to remember that this life is simply a testing ground, a place of training for the wonders of our eternal life with Christ.
We cannot at this stage in our journey see the reality of Heaven. Although we cannot fully understand the richness of His promises; we must in faith accept and believe His words . For the Word tells us that "without faith it is impossible to please God." To be a follower of Christ we must believe by faith, live by faith and walk by faith. Today most people believe only those things which they can see with their own eyes. Many of us in this cynical world are 'from Missouri:' "I'll believe it when I see it." Yet the paradox of the Christian life is that we are commanded to "Believe and then you will see it." The disciple Thomas did not initially believe the prophecies of Jesus about His death and resurrection. In mercy, Christ appeared to Thomas face to face and let him put his hand into His wounds to prove to him that He had truly risen from the dead. However, Jesus said, "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed: blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed" (John 20:29). The disciple John tells us why God gave us the Bible: "But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:31). After the wonderful miracle of the loaves and fishes the people anxiously followed Christ and asked, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent" (John 6:28,29). Jesus continued, "For I have come down from Heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:38,40).
The coming of Jesus Christ into the visible universe not only changed the map of the world regarding those things which pertain to eternity and Heaven, but He also effected a revolution in the standards by which we judge the things of earth. He introduced a completely different standard of morality into the cruel pagan world of the first century. The teaching and example of Christ provided the philosophical foundation for the spiritual liberation of man.
Life on earth, with its unresolved complexities, never seems just or fair. If "three score and ten" years are all there is in which-as the writer of the ancient Book of Job states "the wicked often prosper and the good often suffer evil," our futures truly look very bleak. However, both vision and intuition have convinced man there must be something beyond "dust to dust and ashes to ashes." We all hope for a day in which justice will be finally be realized,
An interesting discovery by sociologists shows that every known society has a belief in "god" and an afterlife where man will finally find justice. Whether they are native North American tribes or the most primitive stone-age tribes in New Guinea, all societies without exception reveal a profoundly deep belief in God and an eternal life which is affected by their behavior now. Obviously, this does not prove there is a Heaven, but the fact that such a universal belief exists adds to the burden of proof.
If our souls are eternal, as intuition, reason, and the Bible assure us, then the subject of where we will spend eternity should be of paramount importance to us. Christians, those who are "sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:26), are promised an eternal life where "we shall always be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Surely, it is essential that we study what God's Word has to tell us about the "many mansions" which Jesus said are waiting for those of us who accept Christ as our personal Savior (John 14:2).
Imagine that you would be leaving your country soon and would spend the next thirty years of your life in a remote new country you knew nothing about. Imagine that a book was supplied to you with reliable information about your new home. It contained a great deal of specific information about life in that new place, including precise details on how to get there. Would you read the book? Most of us would answer yes. However, though most people hope to spend eternity in a place called "Heaven," very few have ever studied or read the exciting details in the only reliable travel guide to Heaven there is-the Bible.
Why do you suppose we are reluctant to want to spend the time finding for ourselves what God has waiting for us on "the other side?" I think there are three reasons.
Everyone Wants to Go to Heaven, but Nobody Wants to Die
The subject of death and eternity is the last real taboo in conversation in our modern culture, even for Christians. if you doubt that statement, try a small experiment. At the next party you attend, in the middle of a conversation, mention the death of someone you are all familiar with and then ask if anyone has spent much time thinking about death personally. Watch their reaction. Usually, a deathly quiet will take over the robust conversation. While the subject of sex was the great conversational taboo for our Victorian ancestors, today, in our modern, "liberated" society, the one subject we studiously avoid is the fact that each of us will someday die and be faced with an eternity of Heaven or Hell.
We have more euphemisms and verbal evasions for death than our grandparents ever did to avoid openly discussing sex. A well-trained insurance man can spend two hours selling life insurance to you and never once use the words "death" or "die." We say that someone has passed on, expired, breathed his last, departed, gone to his eternal rest, to name just a few. We hate to say the word death.
Those Who Know the Truth About Heaven are Reluctant to Share
The second reason we do not know much about Heaven is that those whose job it is to prepare us for death-ministers, parents, even doctors-have as deep an aversion to the word death as we do. Christians who attend church Sunday after Sunday seldom hear a sermon of any depth about Heaven or Hell. We sing about it from our hymnbooks, but we do not hear any in-depth details from the pulpit. When was the last time you heard a serious Bible study on Heaven? Have you ever heard one?
Some Find the Bible Difficult to Study on their Own
A third reason people do not spend more time in trying to find out about their eternal home is that many Christians, both new Christians and those who accepted the Lord years ago, find the Bible hard to study on their own. Unlike a modern text which is arranged in sections and chapters, with all the facts on a given subject set out in outline form, a topical study in the Bible, such as the study of Heaven, will require you to study the entire sixty-six books. Unless you are willing to spend considerable amounts of time to learn how to study the Bible and how to use excellent Bible study helps such as commentaries and concordances, it would be difficult for you to find out all the facts the Bible reveals about Heaven or any subject.
It is this perceived need for a single book that would draw together all the different verses and commentary on Heaven that has prompted my own years of study on the subject.
In the following chapters I will attempt to organize the great scriptural truths about salvation, resurrection, rewards and our life in Heaven into a form which can be easily studied by anyone who has an interest in their eternal future. Beginning with the First Resurrection and the Rapture of the Church we will study the great promises which Christ has given to His followers. The Bible's prophecies will be examined about the Great Tribulation, our Resurrected Body and our life in the New Jerusalem, the home of the Church. Fascinating new research on Israel's historical search for their Messiah and their startling discovery of the Book of Ezekiel on stone tablets should prove interesting to those who love biblical research. In later chapters you will read exciting material on Israel's plans to rebuild the Third Temple and the prophecies of the coming Millennial Kingdom. Following a study on the rewards in Heaven we will turn to the wonderful truths about Angels, the Messengers of God. The concluding chapters cover the topic of the New Heaven and Earth which God will create after the Millennium and an overview of Questions You Always Wanted To Ask About Heaven. While it would take an encyclopedia to cover the vast subject of Heaven and the Messianic Kingdom, I trust that this book will act as a guide to your own continuing study of the tremendous promises which God has prepared for all who choose eternal life.