What does the hereafter have to do with the here and now?
by DAVID JEREMIAH
AS THE APOSTLE JOHN gazed at the majesty and beauty of the throne of his eternal Creator, all he could comprehend was its diamond-like brilliance, its gemstone-like beauty, and its stormy grandeur. My friend, if the door to heaven were to open for you today and you could look through that door and see the throne in heaven, it would look the same now as then. It would thrill you with a joy that would never die. God is still seated on His throne, and His throne is a throne of glory and of grace. It’s the heart and hub of all our worship both now and forevermore.
If you visit the cathedral in Parma, Italy, and gaze upward into the cupola, you’ll see heaven. At least, you’ll see heaven as envisioned by the Renaissance artist Antonio da Correggio in his dramatic fresco, The Assumption of the Virgin. The painting is a wonder to behold, with its vortex of clouds encircling the dome with billows of gray and white. The cloudy layers are bedecked with humans and angels. At the center, a light bursts forth, and the Virgin Mary is being snatched upward toward it as Jesus turns to meet her. The shape of the dome gives the painting a three-dimensional effect that makes worshipers feel as if they’re looking through a hole in the roof and gazing into heaven itself.
The great Renaissance paintings of heaven helped shape our perceptions about the afterlife. When most people think of heaven, they’re likely to visualize clouds and wings and saints and beams of golden light and, maybe somewhere, the face of Jesus.
But another art form is reshaping Western views of heaven — television shows and movies. Many modern-day shows and movies have a unique way of portraying heaven. From the white fluffy clouds to the angel-like wings, what we learn from Hollywood can adversely skew our view of heaven.
As time passes, our cultural impressions of heaven are becoming more confused and conflicted. Perhaps that’s because our secular culture no longer accepts heaven as true. In his famous song, “Imagine,” John Lennon said, “Imagine there’s no heaven / It’s easy if you try / No hell below us / Above us only sky.” The late Professor Stephen Hawking once said, “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”
While surveys show most people in America still believe in an afterlife, they can’t figure out what it’s like, and everyone is asking: Is heaven fact or fiction?
Fact: The Bible Tells Us There Is a Heaven
As Christians, we deal in facts. The Bible declares: “And this is the truth: God has given us the gift of eternal life, and this life is in His Son” (1 John 5:11, The Voice). Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life” (John 5:24). In the next chapter, He repeated, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47).
This everlasting life is real, literal, physical, and tangible. When Jesus rose from the dead, He told His disciples to touch Him, for He was no ghost. He told them to feel His hands and side. He ate with them and spoke to them (Luke 24:39). And the Bible teaches that our resurrected bodies will be like His glorious body (Philippians 3:21).
Jesus returned to heaven to prepare a literal place for us (John 14:2), and this place includes a real city. The heroes of Scripture longed for a city with foundations, whose builder and maker is God. They desired a better country, a heavenly one (Hebrews 11:10, 16). The book of Revelation ends by describing the new heaven, the new earth, and the city of New Jerusalem. The Lord promises we will be there with Him and with our loved ones forever (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
The entire substance and structure of Scripture demands the reality of heaven, and without this great conclusion, the fabric of the Bible would collapse like a tower of blocks.
Why Is This Important?
Why is it important to understand this? Without heaven we are without hope. Sometimes as I’ve read about the sinking of the Titanic, I’ve shuddered at the terror of those who stood on the deck that night knowing that within a few hours they would perish in the dark and icy sea. Their impending doom was not just a faraway random thought; it dominated their minds and terrified their hearts.
When a culture rejects God, it takes its place on the deck of a sinking ship waiting for the inevitable moment of coming doom. When we stand opposed to the teaching of Scripture and insist there’s nothing beyond the grave, we abandon hope. The band may play and the lights may flicker awhile, but nothing lies ahead except despair.
What a change comes over us when we accept the biblical reality of heaven! It’s a revelation of joy. It’s the hope that anchors the soul. That is why Jesus told His disciples on the night of His arrest, “Let not your heart be troubled … In My Father’s house are many mansions … I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).
What Must We Do?
As Jesus spoke those words in John 14, one man doubted them — Thomas. He listened as Jesus went on to say in verse 4, “And where I go you know, and the way you know.”
“Lord,” said Thomas, interrupting Him, “we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” We’re thankful for that question, because it occasioned one of our Lord’s greatest statements: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).
Those three words — way, truth, life — tell us all we need to know about what we must do to go to heaven. We have a way to heaven. It’s Jesus. We know the truth about getting there. It’s Jesus. We have the sure hope of eternal life. It’s Jesus.
The important thing is to R.S.V.P. to God’s invitation by receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The Bible says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
When Do We Get There?
When, then, will God’s children finally be able to see the city He has prepared for us? In my book, Revealing the Mysteries of Heaven, I go into great detail about what happens to Christians when they die. Stated briefly, our bodies rest in the ground until the resurrection day, but our souls go immediately into the presence of the Lord in heaven, where, I believe, we will receive a sort of temporary body until ours is raised, glorified, and returned to us on the day of resurrection. In other words, we arrive in heaven the moment we die, escorted there by angels (Luke 16:22).
We never know when we awaken in the morning whether we may be in heaven by nightfall, for life on earth is uncertain. But according to the Bible, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Of course, I also believe the Lord may come at any moment and rapture us home. In either case — through death or rapture — we’re closer now to heaven than we’ve ever been before.
How Does This Change Me?
That leads to a final question: How does believing in heaven affect how we live now? Believing in the coming world makes all the difference in this one. It not only gives us the aforementioned hope, but it fuels our work for Christ. When we begin living in the light of eternity, we spread a larger shadow over earth — a shadow of influence, legacy, and witness. We want to take as many people as possible with us to heaven. Those who cast their eye to the future make the most progress in this life. They run toward the goal. They press toward the prize. They are world-changers, life-savers, soul-winners.
You don’t have to gaze into the dome of a great cathedral to learn about heaven, but into the pages of a great Book. And the more you learn of heaven, the more you’ll want to shout: “Hallelujah!”
In this excerpt printed with permission from his book Revealing the Mysteries of Heaven, David Jeremiah reminds us that studying the biblical doctrine of heaven not only stirs our hearts, it changes our thoughts, and determines how we live both today and for eternity.
DAVID JEREMIAH is the founder of Turning Point, an international ministry committed to providing Christians with sound Bible teaching through radio and television, the Internet, live events, and resource materials and books. He is the author of more than 50 books including Captured by Grace, I Never Thought I’d See the Day, Agents of the Apocalypse, Revealing the Mysteries of Heaven, A Life Beyond Amazing, The God You May Not Know, and Overcomer. David serves as the senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in San Diego, California, where he resides with his wife, Donna. They have four grown children and 12 grandchildren.