I went to a funeral yesterday, which had been postponed until after the birth of a baby. The safe arrival of a baby can bring joy amidst despair. It is good news. This was particularly true in the days before modern medicine when some mothers and babies didn’t survive child birth. It’s a significant event that is anticipated by the parents and their family and friends. But the birth we remember at Christmas was unique in bringing joy to both earth and heaven. We see that God changes despair into joy.
Joy on earth
At Christ’s birth the shepherds were told, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord” (Lk. 2:10-11NIV). This was good news for a nation that despaired for at least 500 years when they were ruled by foreign powers and lacked a proper king (Herod was not a Jew). They were looking for the promised Messiah to lead a rebellion against the Romans and bring them lasting peace and prosperity (Is. 9:6-7; Lk. 23:2-5). They also knew that their Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2, 4; Jn. 7:42).
God revealed to two elderly people that baby Jesus was the promised Messiah. Simeon could now die in peace (Lk. 2:29). Anna thanked God and told others who were looking forward to being freed from foreign domination (Lk. 2:38).
But the good news was not restricted to Jews in Israel. Gentile astrologers from east of Israel came to worship “the one who has been born king of the Jews” (Mt. 2:1-2).
On 22 July 2013 a son was born to Prince William and Kate Middleton The birth of an heir to the throne, such as Prince George, brings joy to a nation. Because Christ’s was a royal birth, there was joy in Israel. But what made this event different to the birth of Prince George?
Joy in heaven
Prince George was given a family name. Jesus was also given a family name (the same as Joshua: “Jesus” is from Greek, while “Joshua” is from Hebrew), but it was “because He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21). The Jews wanted to be delivered from Roman rule. But instead they are promised to be saved from their sins!
There was also joy in heaven at Christ’s birth – the angels praised God, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests” (Lk. 2:14). They also declare that Christ is the source of peace on earth. This peace is available to those who repent of their sins and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That’s how people are saved from their sins. This joy continues today because there is rejoicing in heaven when a sinner repents and turns to God (Lk. 15:7, 10).
From despair to joy
Through the birth of a baby, God changed the Jewish despair into joy. However, Jesus wasn’t only a Savior for the Jews, but for all the people of the world (Jn. 3:16; 4:42). Through Jesus joy is available to those who accept His gift of salvation and this joy extends to heaven.
Do you realise the significance of Christ’s birth? The significance of His life, death, resurrection and ascension? Have you caused rejoicing in heaven? Let’s remember these things at Christmas (Lk. 2:19).
Remember God can change despair into joy.
Written, December 2013
In the Bible, the words translated as “heaven” or “heavens” can mean either:
- The earth’s atmosphere
- The realm of the stars
- The dwelling place of God and the angels
The term the “heaven and earth” is mentioned in 26 verses of the NIV Bible. Most of these are describing what God created in the beginning of time (Gen. 14:19; Ps. 115:15, Isa. 37:16). It refers to the universe. The physical world of the earth, its atmosphere and the realm of the stars.
The term the “heavens and earth” is mentioned in 15 verses of the NIV Bible. Likewise most of these are describing what God created in the beginning of time (Gen. 1:1; Jer. 32:17; Acts 14:15). It refers to the universe. The physical world of the earth, its atmosphere and the realm of the stars.
New heavens and new earth
The term “new heavens and new earth” is mentioned in two verses (Isa. 65:17; 66:22). Isaiah lived until at least 680 BC, which is about 75 years before the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem when Daniel was captured and deported to Babylon (in 605 BC) and about 94 years before the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem (in 586 BC) and took more captives. The book of Isaiah is about God’s judgment and deliverance of the Jews. Isaiah predicted that the judgment was imminent (Ch. 1-39), but they would be eventually restored (Ch. 40-66). It ends with restored people living on a restored earth under the rule of the Messiah.
In this portion of the book, Isaiah is looking ahead to when the Jews would be in exile in Babylon. Isaiah 63:15 – 64:12 is a prayer of those in exile seeking deliverance from their captivity. The prayer is answered in Chapters 65-66, which mentions the new heavens and the new earth.
“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind” (Isa. 65:17NIV).
“‘As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,’ declares the Lord, ‘so will your name and descendants endure’” (Isa. 66:22).
This new creation is characterised by (Is. 65:17-25; 66:19-24):
- Longevity and no infant mortality (65:20)
- There will be death and therefore sin will be present (65:20), but Satan will be bound (Rev. 20:2-3).
- Children will be born (65:23)
- No war or calamity (65:23)
- Wild animals will be tame and not dangerous (65:25)
- Jews return to Jerusalem (66:20)
- Jewish worship and priesthood will be re-established, which implies that the temple will be rebuilt (66:21)
- All humanity will worship the Lord (66:23)
- Resurrected Christians will rule the world with Jesus Christ (Rev. 20:6)
So the Jews are promised a time of great blessing which has not yet occurred. When he spoke to Jews who rejected Christ, Peter called this the “times of refreshing” when God will “restore everything”, which was predicted by the Old Testament prophets (Acts 3:17-24). As it is referred to as a 1,000 year period in Revelation 20:1-7, this is often referred to as the Millennium.
Heaven and the Millennium
But those who trusted God before the death of Christ also go to heaven (God’s dwelling place). Although most of the promises they were given were physical (like the Millennium), they also had a heavenly hope. They realised that this earth was not their final home: “admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth” and “they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16a). Therefore, the verses in Isaiah probably include the eternal state of heaven. The main difference between the two is that there is sin in the Millennium, but not in heaven. Their temporal relationship is shown in the timeline. The Bible indicates that the sinful world vanishes after the Millennium and before the eternal state (Isa. 51:4-6; Rev. 20:11; 21:1).
A new heaven and a new earth
The term “a new heaven and a new earth” is also mentioned two verses (2 Pt. 3:13; Rev. 21:1). 2 Peter 3 comments on those who doubt God’s final judgment of the physical world. They are called scoffers (v.3). As the earth was devastated by a global flood in Noah’s time, in future the universe will be devastated by a fire (v.6-7, 10-12). At this time the sinful world is replaced by a sinless one (Mt. 24:35; 2 Pt. 3:10; Rev. 21:1). This judgement occurs before the “day of God”, which is the eternal state. It’s God’s final triumph over sin and evil. Christians are told to look forward to the “day of God” and “a new heaven and a new earth” – these terms are equivalent. They are told, “But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Pt. 3:13). They look forward to God’s new creation where there will be no sin (Rom. 8:21). In this sense, it will be like God’s original creation. The physical universe will be transformed and renewed in a similar manner to the bodies of believers (Rom. 8:20-23). So it seems as though the eternal state has a physical component.
Most of the book of Revelation describes future events. These include the second advent of Christ as a warrior who defeats all His enemies (19:11-20), and then as a king who reigns over the earth for 1,000 years (20:4-6). The final event is the new heaven and new earth, which is the eternal state (21:1-22:5). John says, “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Rev. 21:1).
This new creation is characterised by:
- God is present – it’s His home (22:3)
- No sadness, suffering or death and therefore no sin (21:4). It will be a place of harmony, peace and joy (Col. 3:20).
- Only Christians will be there – non-Christians are excluded (21:27). It’s their eternal home where they have a close relationship with the Lord (21:3, 7; 22:4).
- Christian will have new bodies, like that of the risen Lord (Phil. 3: 21).
- Christians will be worshipping and praising the Lord, serving Him and reigning with Him (22:3, 5)
It is also described in: “Heaven and hell: What is heaven like?”
Lessons for us
We can see that those who trust God are promised a future time of blessing. It’s what they longed for (Heb. 11:16a; 2 Pt. 3:12-13). They look ahead and forward, not behind and backwards. Are we anticipating a time without sin and being in the presence of our Savior?
In view of this we should “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him” (2 Pt. 3:14). It should change our behavior. Are we pure? Are we blameless? Are we holy? Are we at peace or is there strife?
Written, July 2013
As there will be people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” in heaven, it seems that some of these would not have heard about Jesus before they died (Rev. 5:9-10). I believe that infants go to heaven when they die because they are not accountable for their sin. We will look at other people in two categories, those who lived before and after Christ.
The Bible says that those who trusted God in Old Testament times go to heaven. Although most of the promises they were given were physical, they also had a heavenly hope. They realised that this earth was not their final home: “admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth” (Heb. 11:13NIV). Instead they were looking towards heaven: “they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16a). We are told that God “has prepared a city for them” (Heb. 11:16b). In particular, Abraham “was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10).
These people are commended in Hebrews as those who lived by faith. The Bible says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). The Jews were told, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13). This faith was based on a revelation from God.
“Enoch walked faithfully with God” (Gen. 5:22, 24). So did Noah (Gen. 6:9). This means they obeyed God. “Noah did everything just as God commanded him” (Gen. 6:22). “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Heb. 11:8). Job repented after God revealed His power through nature (Job 38-41; 42:6).
So those who trusted in God’s revelation to them before the formation of the Israelite nation go to heaven. In their case, God usually spoke directly to them.
God spoke to the Israelites “at many times and in various ways” (Heb. 1:1). It is stated that Moses accepted “disgrace for the sake of Christ” (Heb. 11:26). But as Moses lived about 1,450 years before Christ, this seems to be a figure of speech. It means that Moses choose to be loyal to God and to associate with his fellow Israelites. The reason given is that “he was looking ahead to his reward”. As Hebrews was probably written about 65AD, the writer knew that the Messiah was the one through whom God guaranteed their promised future.
So the Israelites who trusted in God’s revelation to them in Old Testament times go to heaven. In their case, the revelation was usually miracles and the law given through Moses.
We know God revealed Himself to the Israelites as they were His people during this period of time. But what about the Gentiles? The Israelites were told to follow the laws that God gave them through Moses so that other nations would come to know God: “Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?” (Dt. 4:6-8).
Rahab is a Gentile who trusted God (Heb. 11:31). She told the Israelite spies, “I know that the Lord has given you this land … for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Josh. 2:9-11). Because of what she had heard of the Exodus and the defeat of the Amorites, she realised that the God of the Israelites was greater than the Canaanite gods. So she rejected the Canaanite gods to follow the God of the Israelites.
Also Ruth the Moabite told her Israelite mother-in-law, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). Likewise, she rejected the gods of the Moabites to follow the God of the Israelites. God’s interest in the Gentiles is shown in the book of Jonah where Jonah was sent to Nineveh with a message of God’s judgment and the people repented of their sin (Jon. 3:1-10).
So the Gentiles who trusted in God’s revelation to them in Old Testament times go to heaven. God revealed Himself to them through the Israelites when they heard about their law and the miraculous preservation of their nation.
All the above are examples of people who go to heaven without hearing about Jesus. But the Bible says the following about Jesus, “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12NLT). And Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). This means that the only way to get into heaven is through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Before Christ’s death people were saved according to their acceptance of God’s revelation to them. It was based on the future work of Christ. So those who trusted in God’s revelation in Old Testament times go to heaven because their faith in God was equivalent to faith in Jesus Christ. They were saved on credit. “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of His blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished” (Rom. 3:25). In this way God overlooked the sins of those who trusted in Him before Christ’s death and resurrection.
In Romans, God reveals that we are all sinners (Rom. 3:23) and we can only get to heaven through trusting in Christ’s sacrifice for us (Rom. 3:22-26). But it also says that people are judged according to God’s revelation to them: “All who sin apart from the law (Gentiles) will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law (Jews) will be judged by the law” (Rom 2:12). The two main ways that God reveals himself to people who haven’t heard about Jesus are creation and conscience.
Firstly, the physical world demands a Creator. Its design requires a Designer. The laws of nature require a Lawmaker. By looking at our universe, anyone can know that there is a creator God. “The truth about God is known instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see His invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God” (Rom. 1:19-20NLT). Enough of God is revealed in His creation that there is no excuse for not believing in Him. Those who reject this revelation follow idols and practice sinful behaviour and suffer God’s judgment (Rom. 1:18-32).
Nature is a testimony of God. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Ps. 19:1-4). Also, Paul said “We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. In the past, He let all nations go their own way. Yet He has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; He provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” (Acts 14:15-17).
So if people haven’t heard about Jesus, they can be judged according to their response to the revelation of God in creation. If they turn from idolatry and seek the true God, then God may give them additional revelation. For example, Cornelius was a Gentile who sought God. So God sent Peter to tell him about Jesus and salvation (Acts 11:14). God can appear to people in many ways throughout their lives. He can send people to inform them (Rom. 10:14-15). Because God doesn’t want anyone to perish in hell and wants everyone to repent of their sin, we must trust that He has made a way for those people (2 Pt. 3:9).
Secondly, everyone is born with a conscience. We all have an instinctive knowledge of right and wrong. For example, most people know it is wrong to lie, steal, and commit adultery and murder. The Bible gives God’s standards for humanity. But for those who are ignorant of this it says: “They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right” (Rom. 2:15NLT). Anyone who has not heard about what the Bible says will be judged according to their conscience. God will say, “What did you think was right and wrong?” The next question is, “Did you always do the right and not the wrong?” By that standard, of course, everyone fails. The conscience proves that we are sinners like the law does for the Jew.
The issue is their response to a guilty conscience. If they were sorry for their behavior and would repent then they would probably go to heaven. This reasoning is based on the fact that God is just and wants all to be saved. He has made a way for all, but few accept it.
Like those who lived before Christ, the issue is whether they responded to God’s revelation to them. So through the creation and our conscience, God gives everyone the opportunity to turn to Him and be saved from the penalty of their sinfulness and go to heaven.
Lessons for us
Like the Israelites, a Christian’s behaviour can influence an unbeliever to repent and follow God and go to heaven. “Live such good lives among the pagans (your unbelieving neighbors, NLT) that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Pt. 2:12).
Although people can to be saved without hearing about Jesus, it isn’t likely to occur in very many instances. The usual way to go to heaven is to respond to hearing about Jesus. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:14). That’s why it’s important to tell people about Jesus as much as possible and support others in this work.
Today I visited my nephew in hospital. He was in a critical condition with head injuries after a motor cycle accident. As he lay in a coma I was reminded of the fragility of life and the contrast to spiritual life and heaven.
Accidents happen. When Jesus was on earth 18 people died when the tower of Siloam collapsed in Jerusalem (Lk. 13:4).
Physical life depends on an adequate supply of oxygenated blood to our vital organs. In the big picture, life is brief. It’s transient. The Bible says it’s like a cloud or mist that appears for a while and then disappears. It’s also like a shadow and grass and flowers (1 Ch. 29:15; Job 7:6-10; Jas. 4:14; 1 Pt. 1:24). Life is unpredictable: “you do not even know what will happen tomorrow” Jas. 4:14 NIV).
Spiritual life is the main theme of the Bible. It says, “repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away” (Acts 3:19NLT). This life is robust. It’s not interrupted by physical death (1 Th. 5:10). What a contrast to our physical lives!
Another difference is that there are no hospitals in heaven – God “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” (Rev. 21:4). Also, there are no cemeteries there. What a contrast to the sufferings experienced on earth (Rom. 8:18).
Can you look forward to a time when there will be no hospitals or cemeteries?
Written, July 2013
Infant death is agonizing and raises many questions. The Bible teaches that we are sinful from birth and childhood: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5; 58:3NIV). “Every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood (Gen. 8:21). We are all sinners (Rom. 3:10, 23). So infants are never innocent in the sense of being sinless. This is serious because spiritual death is a bigger issue than physical death. It leads to eternal separation from God, which is the opposite of eternal life (Jn. 3:16; Rom 6:23).
Three Bible verses teach that infants are not accountable for their sin. Firstly, when the Israelites rebelled and refused to enter Canaan, they were punished with all their army except Joshua and Caleb dying while they wandered 38 years in the desert. At this time God promised that their young children would enter Canaan, “And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it” (Dt. 1:39, Num. 14:31). Because they did not yet know good from bad, they were not responsible or accountable for the Israelites’ disobedience.
Secondly, when the king of Judah was being attacked by the kings of Syria and Israel, he was given a sign that his enemies would be defeated by Assyria. Isaiah was to have a son and before he “knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right” the land of the two kings will be laid waste (Isa. 7:14-16). Children who are not accountable do not know the difference between right and wrong or good and evil. They are not yet aware of their sinful condition or God’s cure.
Thirdly, when God rebuked Jonah, He similarly distinguished between young children and adults,“And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jon. 4:11).
God judges people who haven’t heard the gospel message according to their response to the revelation of His eternal power and divine nature in the universe He created (Rom. 1:19-21). If they can discern what God has made, they have no excuse. However, if they are unable to discern what God has made (which is true for infants), then they have an excuse and will be saved instead of judged.
At what age can a child respond to God’s revelation in creation (Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15-16)? It is the age at which they can understand the issue and respond to the work of the Holy Spirit in their life (Jn. 16:8-9). It is when they can recognize His works of creation and choose to accept, honor and thank Him (Rom. 1:21). Those who die at a younger age go to heaven rather than be condemned to spiritual death.
Jesus “is the atoning sacrifice for … the sins of the whole world’ (1 Jn. 2:2). As a loving and merciful God, it is reasonable to assume that He accepts Christ’s payment for the sin of those who are unable to understand God’s revelation and their sinful state such as babies and young children. After all, Abraham said, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). But once children reach the age of God-consciousness, they are accountable for their sin.
We will now look at some other Scriptures that are sometimes used to answer this question.
Age of accountability
As all the Israelites over the age of 20 died in the desert before they reached Canaan, except for Joshua and Caleb, some think this is the age of accountability for one’s sins (Num. 14:29). However, this was the age above which men served in the army (Num. 1:3; 26:2; Josh. 5:4, 6). They were punished, not because 20 was the age of accountability, but because instead of serving the Lord by taking possession of Canaan, they grumbled against the Lord.
When Bathsheba’s baby died, David stopped fasting and said “Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:23). Some believe that David believed that when he died he would go to heaven where his son would be. However, it is more likely that David was referring to death or the grave, not to heaven. There is little in the Old Testament about life after death. Job may have believed in a future resurrection (Job. 14:13-15) and the psalmists allude to an after-life (Ps. 16:10-11; 17:15; 49:14-15). The clearest passage is Daniel 12:2-3.
Some believe that when Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”, He was saying that the little children belong to the kingdom of heaven and so would go to heaven if they died (Mt. 19:14; Mk. 10:14; Lk. 18:16). However, the verse seems to be explained in the following verse as “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mk. 10:15; Lk. 18:17). In the case of Matthew this thought is given in Mt. 18:3. The emphasis is that child-like faith is required to enter the kingdom of God, not that young children belong to the kingdom of heaven.
So infants go to heaven when they die, but what about us? We can join them in future by realizing our sinfulness and believing that Jesus Christ has taken the penalty for our sin (Acts 16:31).
Written, November 2012
The good thief went to “Paradise (Lk. 23:43). Lazarus went to “Abraham’s bosom” (Lk. 16:22NKJV). Are they two different places? Are they intermediate heavens or the real thing? And where do Christians go who die today?
Paul wrote that he had been “caught up to the third heaven”, which was “paradise” (2 Cor. 12:2-4NIV). In the New Testament, the Greek word “ouranos” (Strongs #3772) is translated as “heaven” or “heavens” and is used in three contexts: the earth’s atmosphere (Mt. 6:26), the realm of the stars (Heb. 11:12) and God’s dwelling place (Mt. 6:9; 12:50). So “paradise” is another name for the “heaven” where God is; they are synonyms. Furthermore, the term “third heaven” doesn’t mean that there are three levels or stages of heaven.
When Jesus died He committed His spirit to God the Father who lives in heaven (Lk. 23:46). This was soon after He told the good thief, “today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk. 23:43). So Jesus and the good thief both went to heaven after they died. As their bodies were placed in graves, the part of them that went to heaven was their spirit and soul.
When Lazarus died, “angels carried him to Abraham’s side” (Lk. 16:22). For a Jew to be with Abraham would be a place of bliss. If the setting of the story is after Christ’s resurrection, “Abraham’s side” is synonymous with heaven. If the setting is earlier, then we need to look at the Old Testament. At the end of his life on earth, “Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind” (2 Ki. 2:11). Although Elijah went to heaven without dying, this seems to indicate that at this time heaven would also be the destiny of the soul of the righteous after death, which supports “Abraham’s side” being synonymous with heaven. On the other hand, some say that the righteous of the Old Testament only went to heaven at Christ’s ascension. However, the passages they use to support this view are addressing Christ’s ascension and incarnation (Eph. 4:8-10) and His resurrection (Acts 2:27, 31), not events in the spirit world.
The three phases of the Christian’s life is described in 2 Corinthians 5:1-9. They are:
- When alive on earth, their spirit and soul are united with their body. This phase is ended by death when the spirit and soul separate from the body (Eccl. 12:6-7).
- Between death and the rapture, the spirit and soul are with Christ in heaven and the remains of the body are on earth.
- At the rapture, the body is resurrected and changed and reunited with the spirit and soul in heaven.
For the believer, death is described as being “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). Paul said that “to die is gain” because it meant being “with Christ” (Phil. 1:21-23). Therefore, when Christians die their spirit and soul immediately go to be with Christ in heaven.
Written, June 2012
The idea of seven heavens is found in Islam, Judaism and Hinduism. In Islam and Judaism, the divine throne is said to be in or above the seventh heaven. In Hinduism, the god Brahma lives in the seventh heaven. However, none of these ideas are mentioned in the Bible.
It is thought that the myth of seven heavens came from ancient astrologists who could identify seven great heavenly objects (the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) and assumed that each was moving in a separate heaven, in a series of layers above the earth. These were the only objects that people could see in the sky that moved with respect to the fixed stars. They gave us the names of the week: Sunday after the sun, Monday after the moon, and Tuesday to Friday after the Norse versions of Mars, Mercury, Jupiter and Venus, and Saturday after Saturn.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word “samayim” (Strongs #8064) is translated as “heaven” or “heavens” and has the following meanings according to the context in which the word is used:
- The earth’s atmosphere: “the rain had stopped falling from the sky” (Gen. 8:2NIV).
- The realm of the stars: “the stars in the sky” (Gen. 22:17).
- The dwelling place of God and the angels: “Hear from heaven, your [God’s] dwelling place” (2 Chron. 6:21).
Another expression representing the dwelling place of God is “the highest heaven” (literally the heaven of heavens): “To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it” (Dt. 10:14). This expression doesn’t represent multiple heavens, but the uniqueness of God’s home compared to the atmosphere and the stars.
In the New Testament, the Greek word “ouranos” (Strongs #3772) is translated as “heaven” or “heavens” and has the following meanings according to the context in which the word is used:
- The earth’s atmosphere: “the birds of the air” (Mt. 6:26).
- The realm of the stars: “the stars in the sky” (Heb. 11:12).
- The dwelling place of God and the angels: “Father in heaven” (Mt. 6:9; 12:50).
- God: “I have sinned against heaven [referring to God, by metonymy] and against you” (Lk. 15:18).
Christ’s incarnation and ascension is described as: “He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens” (Eph. 4:10). This expression doesn’t represent multiple heavens, but the uniqueness of God’s home compared to the atmosphere and the stars.
Paul said that he was “caught up to the third heaven”, which was “paradise” (2 Cor. 12:2-4). If God’s dwelling place is the third heaven, then the other two heavens are the earth’s atmosphere and the universe beyond the earth.
So, the Bible refers to three different heavens, not seven heavens. These are three usages of the word “heaven”, not a series of layers above the earth. God dwells in the “highest heaven”, which is unique (Lk. 2:14). It is not necessarily physically uppermost or furthest from the earth, but it is superior and supreme. That is why Jesus is “exalted above the heavens”; He is greater than anything in the atmosphere and the rest of the universe (Heb. 7:26). Today, we mainly use the word “heaven” for God’s dwelling place.
Written, April 2012
Although sin separates us from a holy and sinless God, we can be grateful that our sins can be forgiven and forgotten (Ps. 32:5; 130:3-4; Heb. 10:17). Before answering the question, we should realise that there are two main types of confession and forgiveness in Scripture. One is when an unbeliever comes into faith in Christ and the other is when they confess sins committed subsequently as a believer.
In the first case, we face Jesus Christ as the judge and the penalty of our sins is spiritual death, which leads to hell. When this person confesses their sins they are forgiven by God because Christ’s death paid the penalty for their sinspast, present and future. Their destiny changes from hell to heaven and they can enjoy daily fellowship with God. This can be called judicial, unconditional or positional forgiveness, which happens once in a believer’s life (Rom. 8:1-2; Heb. 10:14).
In the second case, the person has sinned, but is spiritually alive. This is the situation in the case of the question. As part of God’s family on earth, they are separated from God the Father in terms of daily fellowship, but they are not separated from going to heaven as the penalty for their sin has already been paid. When this person confesses their sins they are forgiven by God because Christ’s death paid the penalty for all their sins and their daily fellowship with God our Father is restored. This can be called parental, conditional or practical forgiveness, which should occur regularly in a believer’s life (1 Jn. 1:5-2:2). This is the kind of forgiveness that the Lord’s disciples were to practise: “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Mt. 6:12, 14-15NIV). It includes forgiving others: God cannot forgive us when we are unwilling to forgive one another (Mk. 11:25; Lk. 6:37). If we fail to forgive one another, we will miss being rewarded when we get to heaven (Mt. 18:35).
The two types of forgiveness were illustrated when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet (Jn. 13:2-10). As they wore open sandals, the disciples needed to wash their feet regularly after walking on dusty roads even though they may have bathed recently. The bath was like judicial forgiveness and the feet washing was like parental forgiveness.
William MacDonald summarized the differences between the two types of forgiveness as follows:
|Judicial forgiveness||Parental forgiveness|
|Person’s status||Sinner (unbeliever)
|Child of God (believer) (1 Jn. 3:2)|
|RelationshipTo God||Judge (Ps. 96:13)||Father (Gal. 4:6)|
|Result of sin||Eternal death (Rom. 6:23)||Broken fellowship (1 Jn. 1:6)
Prayers hindered (Ps. 66:18)
|Role of Christ||Savior (1 Tim. 1:15)||High Priest (Heb. 4:4-16)
Advocate (1 Jn. 2:1)
|Means of forgiveness||Faith (Acts 16:31)||Confession (1 Jn. 1:9)|
|Consequence averted||Hell (Jn. 5:24)||Discipline (1 Cor. 11:31-32)
Loss of reward (1 Cor. 3:15)
|Outcome||New relationship (Jn. 1:12)||Renewed fellowship (Ps. 32:5)|
|Frequency||Once (Jn. 13:10)||Many times (Jn. 13:8)|
Therefore, although a Christian’s unconfessed sins affects their relationship with God, they are still a child of God whose ultimate destiny is heaven.
Written, February 2012
In Scripture, the word translated “heaven” has three meanings: the atmosphere/sky, the universe, and the dwelling place of God and the angels. The meaning is determined from the context in which the Hebrew or Greek word is used. In this article we are looking at the heaven where God is.
Revelation 21:1 – 22:5 is the main Biblical passage about the eternal state, which we call heaven. This passage describes the change from time to eternity.
Everything is new
Chapter 21 begins: Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away (21:1NIV). Here we see that God will create a new heaven and a new earth. The creation of the first heaven and earth is described as the beginning of the Bible (Gen. 1:1-2:4). The change described in Genesis was from eternity to time, while that in Revelation is from our temporal world where there is past, present and future to eternity where time is meaningless. Of course, the heaven that will be renewed is not the place where God lives, but the universe that has been affected by the sin of mankind.
When we become a Christian, our soul is redeemed. It’s like a new life has begun – it has been called being born again (2 Cor. 5:17). It’s a new spiritual creation that is not completed until our bodies are also redeemed at the rapture. In fact all of God’s creation is looking forward to when Christ returns to the Earth when it will be changed and redeemed. In this part of Revelation we read about the final change into the eternal state. The old universe is transformed and replaced with the new. It will be free from death and decay, which are the results of sin (Rom. 8:20-21). It will be paradise, like in the Garden of Eden before sin entered. Also, believers will have new bodies, like that of the risen Lord (Phil. 3: 21).
God says I am making everything new! (21:5). Then He says It is done. When He has created the new universe, redemption is complete. God has finished His great plan of salvation. So, what is heaven like? It’s different to anything that we have experienced. One of the reasons it’s so hard to describe is that it is not just another place but another dimension, another creation.
No more …
The Bible says that in heaven, He (God) 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. (21:4) and No longer will there be any curse (22:3)
In heaven there will be no more: pain, crying, sorrow or death (21:4). No more sin or its consequences – the curse of God (22:3). Everything that caused pain and sadness on earth will not be present in heaven. The old sinful world has passed away, and Satan, his demons and those who chose to follow him will have been cast away from God’s presence (Rev. 20:10-15).
Besides no more crying, sighing, or dying; there will be: No hospitals or graves! No aging or wrinkles. Nothing will ruin, rot, or rust. There will be no thirsting, or hungering. No itching, no blindness, no deafness, no diabetes, no cancer, or heart attacks, or scars, no witchcraft, no drugs, no alcohol, or tobacco! No divorce, child abductions, accidents…and no more bills! What a place to look forward to!
So pain is replaced by peace and joy. Heaven is a place of relief. There will be no need to worry. As we found out earlier, it’s different to anything that we have experienced.
John wrote The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city (22:3) This is the city in heaven, which we will look at shortly.
“The throne” is mentioned four times in this passage and 39 times in Revelation. When John was taken to heaven, the first thing he saw was the awesome throne of God the Father (Rev. 4). The throne is central in heaven and in the book of Revelation. From it God reigns over the whole universe; both physical and spiritual. He is the Lord God Almighty (21:22).
“The Lamb” is mentioned four times in this passage and 26 times in Revelation. In heaven John “saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre before the throne” (Rev. 5:6). It symbolises that the Lord Jesus Christ was a sacrifice for our sin. He receives honor and praise because he died so that many people can be in heaven. He paid the price for their entry.
So heaven is God’s home.
The home of the redeemed
An angel told John, Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb (21:9)
“The bride” is mentioned twice in this passage and 4 times in this context in Revelation. It refers to “God’s people” or those whose names are written in the “book of life” (Rev. 19:7; 22:17). This metaphor illustrates the close intimacy we will have with the Lord in heaven, who is the bridegroom. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads (22:4) – just as a bride bears her husband’s name and sees his face, the redeemed have a close relationship with the Lord.
This intimacy is also shown by Him calling us His children (21:7). God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God (21:3). Like in the Garden of Eden, they will be able to walk with God in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8). It will be Immanuel, “God with us” and us with God; forever.
Paul wrote about the rapture: “After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Th. 4:17). Heaven is being with the Lord forever.
So heaven is also the home of the redeemed, our common home with the Lord.
The new Jerusalem – city of light
Jesus told the disciples “I am going there to prepare a place for you” (Jn. 14:2). This place is described in our passage as a spectacular city. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband (21:2) and One of the … angels … came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God (21:9-10).
As the city comes down towards the earth from heaven where God lives, we see that in the eternal state the distinction between heaven and earth loses its significance. God now lives with the redeemed and the redeemed live with Him.
It (the city) shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal (21:11). Is this literal or symbolic? I think it is both at the same time. God loves to use literal things as symbols. For example, the prophecy of Joel in the Old Testament opens with a vivid description of a plague of locusts that ate up every green thing. Joel describes them in dramatic and accurate terms but his description soon becomes a description of the invasion of a great army from Babylon that would come into the land. So the plague was also symbolic of the invasion.
God also pictures something invisible by means of a literal event. For instance, the sun is literal, but it can be a symbol of light, knowledge and truth. Likewise, fire is literal, but it can be symbolic of torment, torture and judgment.
Revelation is an unusual blending of the literal and the symbolic– many events and things in it are both literal and symbolic. Fortunately, most all of these symbols are given to us elsewhere in the Bible.
The New Jerusalem seems to be a great visible magnificent city which will also illustrate activities and relationships of the redeemed (21:12 – 22:3). What can it symbolise?
|City||A community; filled with people who interact with each other|
|High wall||Protection; separation from others; intimacy|
|Brilliant appearance (eternal light, no darkness)||God is light|
|12 Gates (entry and egress; always open)||None of God’s people will ever be shut out from His presence; Widespread service|
|Names of tribes of Israel on the gates||A reminder that salvation came from the Jews (Jn. 4:22)|
|12 layers of foundations||Stability; permanence|
|Names of the apostles on the foundations||Taught the gospel; enabled it to spread across the world.|
|Number 12||The number of government (12 tribes; 12 apostles)|
|Shape (maybe a pyramid; symmetry)||Perfect proportions; harmony|
|Building materials (precious gemstones)||Valuable|
|Pearl gates (beauty out of pain)||Christ sacrificed His life for the redeemed (a pearl of great value; Mt. 13:45)|
|River||Holy Spirit (Jn. 7:38-39)|
|Tree of life||Jesus; spiritual nourishment|
What a wonderful place! A place of great beauty.
What will we be doing?
You may wonder if we don’t have to work to pay the bills, what will we do in heaven? Here are three things that are mentioned in Revelation.
First, offering thanks and praise. Worship and praise to God characterise all the descriptions of heaven in Revelation (Chs: 4, 5, 7, 11, 15, 19). For example, after God has dealt with sin and the fall, He will be honored universally (Phil. 2:10-11; Rev 5:13). Second, serving the Lord (22:3). The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him (22:3). We will be active. Third, reigning with the Lord (22:5). As God reigns over the whole universe, I’m sure there is a lot to look after.
So in heaven we will be worshipping, serving and reigning.
Before the eternal state begins, Jesus promised to return for His people at the rapture and then to return in power and glory to judge the sinful world and usher in his millennial reign over the earth. Although believers look forward to this time, we don’t know when it will occur. Later in Revelation 22, Jesus says three times “I am coming soon”.
But you may think, John wrote Revelation about 1,900 years ago and the Lord hasn’t come yet. Remember, we have just looked at our destiny and the transition from time into eternity. For us, this transition happens the minute we die, which could be very soon. Although there may be some time before the events described in Revelation occur, it will not be long before each of us leaves time and enters eternity. In this sense, heaven and hell could be a breath away.
Lessons for us
John has given us a glimpse into what Heaven is like. In the Bible, future events are always foretold in order to bring about changes in our present actions. What does this mean to us today?
Firstly, will you be there? The Bible clearly states that heaven is only for God’s people; those who have trusted in Christ’s sacrifice for their sin. The rest are said to be outside suffering in the lake of fire. They are unbelievers and their names are not written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 20:12; 21:27). If this is your case, please consider God’s gift of salvation and eternal life in heaven. The Bible says that God loved the people of the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him will not perish in hell but have eternal life in heaven (Jn. 3:16).
Christians have a wonderful destination. Knowing our destination is important because it provides direction for the journey of life, makes it meaningful, and fortifies us when the journey is difficult. It doesn’t matter what we face, if we have the hope of heaven, we don’t have to give in to fear.
All the above is a promised inheritance for the redeemed; it’s also called “the heavenly prize” (21:7; Phil. 3:14). Peter calls it a living hope for an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade (1 Pt.1:4).
Heaven means being forever with the Lord; Paul says it’s being “at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:6). Peter wrote: “we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Pt. 3:13). Are we all looking forward to heaven?
Written, May 2010
See the other article in this series:
- What is hell like?
What a difference a touch makes!
About two thousand years ago God became a human in the form of Jesus Christ and lived on earth amongst us (Jn. 1:14). Jesus had a body like ours so He could help us (Heb. 2:14-18). His relationships and contacts with humanity may be illustrated by those He touched and what He allowed to touch Him. Touch is one of the five senses we use in our world. It involves physical contact, which can range from comfort to confrontation.
Touched By Jesus: Remembered Forever
A healing touch: Although Jesus could heal with a spoken word, He often touched the person He healed. This was not the investigative touch of the paramedic or the medical practitioner, but a touch of compassion.
When Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was seriously ill with a fever, Jesus took her by the hand and helped her up (Mk. 1:30-31). He also put his hands on and healed a crippled woman (Lk. 13:10-13). When others who were sick were brought to Jesus at Capernaum, He put His hands on each one and healed them (Lk. 4:40).
Jesus had compassion on the blind and touched them and restored their sight (Mt. 9:27-30; 20:30-34; Mk. 8:22-25). He also touched a man who was deaf and dumb and restored his hearing and speech (Mk. 7:32-35). Even when Jesus was arrested, He touched the ear of Malchus and healed it (Lk. 22:50-51; Jn. 18:10).
Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched a leper and healed him. After He commanded an evil spirit to come out of a boy, He took the boy by the hand and lifted him to his feet (Mk. 1:40-42; 9:17-27).
In His compassion Jesus even touched the dead. He took Jairus’ daughter by the hand and raised her from the dead and touched the coffin of the son of the widow of Nain and he came back to life (Mk. 5:22-42; Lk. 7:11-15).
A touch of comfort: When Peter, James and John were terrified of a bright cloud and God’s voice, “Jesus came and touched them” and told them to get up and not be afraid (Mt. 17:5-7). This was a touch of comfort and encouragement. Although many people were urged by the religious leaders to reject Jesus, He had compassion for people and longed to protect them like a hen cares for her chickens (Mt. 23:37).
A touch of blessing: Parents brought their little children to Jesus so He could touch them and pray seeking divine protection (Mk. 10:13,16; Lk. 18:15). This was a touch of blessing.
On two occasions Jesus fed multitudes of people. Firstly, five loaves and two fish fed over 5,000 people and secondly, seven loaves and a few fish, fed over 4,000 people (Mt. 14:15-21; 15:32-38). This was done by offering a prayer of thanks and blessing and breaking the loaves before they were used miraculously to feed the crowd.
A touch of authority: In another instance Jesus showed His power when he drove the merchants and money changers from the temple (Mt. 21:12-13). This was a touch of authority from the one “whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42).
What Touched Jesus?
Sinners touched Him: When Jesus sat down to eat dinner with Simon the Pharisee, a sinful woman knelt behind Him at His feet and cried washing His feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. The woman then kissed His feet and poured expensive perfume over them (Lk. 7:36-39). This was an amazing act of admiration and sacrifice from a person who was despised by many.
Although he was “without sin,” Jesus ate with dishonest tax collectors and notorious sinners (Heb. 4:15; Mt. 9:10-11; Mk. 2:15-16). Of course, He always ate with sinners while here on earth, otherwise He would have eaten alone (Rom. 3:23).
A touch of faith: After Jesus had healed many people at Galilee, the other sick people were pushing forward to touch Him (Mk. 3:10). One woman was instantly healed when she touched His clothes; her faith in Christ’s healing power had made her well (Lk. 8:42-48). In fact, all who touched His clothes at Gennesaret were healed (Mt. 14:36). Of course, this healing was not due to the clothes but to the person wearing them. The people correctly realized that it was Jesus who did the miracles.
A submissive touch: As Son of God, Jesus had great power and could ask for the help of thousands of angels (Mt. 26:53). For example, when the crowd wanted to push Him off a cliff, He walked right through them and went on His way (Lk. 4:29-30). Another time they tried to arrest Jesus, but no one laid a hand on Him because His time had not yet come (Jn. 7:30).
Rather than acting like a powerful leader, Jesus often took the role of a humble servant. For example, He washed the disciples’ feet and said they should behave this way to each other (Jn. 13:4-5,14-17). This was a touch of humility and submission.
Later He gave a piece of bread to Judas and allowed Judas to betray Him with a kiss (Jn. 13:21-26; Mt. 26:48-49). So what was usually a touch of hospitality and affection was used by Judas for treachery.
Christ’s greatest act of submission was His cruel death by crucifixion (Phil. 2:8). Jesus allowed men to arrest Him and when questioned by the Jewish religious leaders, He allowed men to spit in His face and strike His face with their fists (Mt. 26:50,67; Jn. 18:22). Later the Roman governor had Him flogged with a lead-tipped whip (Mt. 27:26). At the hands of the Roman soldiers He was touched by thorns on His head, spat on again, struck on the head repeatedly, had nails driven through His hands and His feet to hold Him to the cross between two criminals, and had His side pierced with a spear (Mt. 27:29-30; Lk. 23:33; Jn. 19:34). Finally, He was wrapped in burial clothes and placed in a stony tomb.
What Are You Touching?
A touch of heaven on earth can help you and others. Do you touch the Bible to grow in faith? Do you touch the bread and wine to remember Christ?
Believers are Christ’s hands today. Do you serve others humbly and allow them to serve you (1 Tim. 5:10)? Do you have contact with sinners so you can lead them to the friend of sinners (Mt. 11:19)?
Published, November 2001
According to the Bible, an inheritance awaits God’s people in heaven. Are you looking forward to it?
Our physical world has four dimensions, three in space and one in time. As a scientist, I sometimes visualize the spiritual world as having extra dimensions that are not visible to us. Scientists use such techniques to describe the properties of fundamental particles such as atoms.
The Bible provides glimpses of the spiritual world, including the eternal destiny of the believer. But our language and experience mainly relate to the physical world, so these glimpses appear in figures of speech, such as metaphors, to help us visualize our eternal destiny.
Christ told His followers that He was going to His Father’s house to prepare a place for them. This promise was given so that they would not worry about the future (Jn. 14:1-3).
Paul says he was “taken up to paradise,” but was unable to express more specifically what was revealed to him (2 Cor. 12:4 NIV). The word “paradise” conveys an image of the Garden of Eden – a perfect, sinless place that is better than anything that we could ever imagine. Utopia!
God’s people are destined to be with Him in heaven and they are described as having their “citizenship in heaven” in Philippians 3:20. This same verse also tells us that heaven is where Christ lives.
Believers have the prospect of living together with Christ (Jn. 14:3; 1 Th. 5:10). They will go to be with Him at death or at the rapture. After death they are said to be “at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). So heaven is where Christ lives and it is also the believer’s home.
When Christ returns for His followers, the Christians who have already died will rise from the dead first and then those who “are still alive” will be “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” in order to be “with the Lord forever” (1 Th. 4:16-18).
At this time it is said that believers “will all be changed” as their bodies will be transformed to be like Christ’s resurrection body (1 Cor. 15:49-51; Phil. 3:21). As a result of this radical change they receive new bodies fit for heaven, that do not decay or die (Rom. 8:18-23; 1 Cor. 15:49-54).
Some of the most widely celebrated events on earth are the Olympic games and the World Cup football (soccer) series. But Christians can participate in a much greater celebration in heaven. It will be a great wedding feast, with all God’s people, millions and millions, honoring Him and Christ with gladness and rejoicing. Those present are referred to as “blessed” (Rev. 19:6-9). In heaven there will be continual worship and praise of God for His great acts of creation and salvation (Rev. 4:1-5:14).
Although the opportunity is available to all, Christ taught that, relatively speaking, “few” will accept the invitation to share in this great celebration (Mt. 22:1-14). The names of those who do are recorded in the Book of Life (Rev. 20:15).
According to the Bible, an inheritance awaits God’s people in heaven that is both glorious and eternal (Eph. 1:18; Heb. 9:15). It “can never perish, spoil or fade” (1 Pet. 1:4). Three aspects of this inheritance are: receiving rewards, seeing God glorified, and reigning with Christ.
1. Receiving rewards: Jesus told many parables about the kingdom of heaven, including how His servants will be rewarded according to their faithfulness (Mt. 25:14-28; Lk. 19:12-24). As His servants today, Christians are accountable to God. When they appear before the judgment seat of Christ, their performance will be assessed and rewards given for what they have done for the Lord (1 Cor. 3:12-15; 2 Cor. 5:10).
His promise is this: “I am coming soon! My reward is with Me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done” (Rev. 22:12). In his first letter, Peter states that when Christ returns, believers “will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Pet. 5:4).
2. Seeing God glorified: Before he was martyred for his faith, Stephen “looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55). We don’t know what he saw, but when John saw a vision of Jesus on the island of Patmos, it was so awesome that he fell down like a dead person (Rev. 1:17).
Christians who are suffering are encouraged to rejoice in spite of it, because this will prepare them for even greater happiness when He makes His glorious return (1 Pet. 4:13). Also, they will see Christ “as He is” when He appears in power and glory (1 Jn. 3:2).
Believers will not only see God’s glory, but they will also share in it! Paul was confident of sharing in Christ’s glory when it is revealed (1 Pet. 5:1) and looked forward to sharing in the glory of God (Rom. 5:2; Col. 1:27). An aspect of this is shown in the third example of the Christian’s inheritance – the reign.
3. Reigning with Christ: According to the Bible, believers will “reign on the earth” with Jesus Christ “for a thousand years” (Rev. 5:10; 20:6). They are described as being given a place beside Christ in heaven (Eph. 2:6), and when He returns to earth in great power. This is the believer’s “blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Ti. 2:13).
We all have a place on earth that we refer to as our home. But God wants us all to be able to call heaven our home as well. That’s why He gives us these glimpses of the place He’s preparing for us.
Have you accepted His invitation to be with Him there forever? When Jesus was asked about the way to get to this place He said that He is “the way” (Jn. 14:6). Are you following Him?
Visualizing heaven can help us endure the disappointments of life. Those who are faithful look ahead to their destiny with hope (Heb. 11:10,16). Are you looking forward to the place God is preparing for you?
Published, April 2000
About 4,000 years ago Abraham received some special promises when God spoke to him. The bible contains many other promises as well and in this article we look at some key promises given for Christians today. As Abraham had to listen in order to hear God’s promises to him, we should read the Bible to know God’s promises for us.
A survey of the New Testament
The Greek word for promise is “epangalia”. This article is based on a survey of every occurrence of this word and its close derivatives in the New Testament that relate to God’s promises—this was 60 verses, which are all referenced below. I am assuming that these verses indicate God’s key promises for Christians living between the day of Pentecost and the rapture. We will look at the context of these verses to help discover—what message did they convey to those of the early church and what is their message for us?
The topics that relate to the word “promise” in these verses are listed in the table below. It is interesting that half of the verses relate to promises given to Abraham and his descendants—the majority of these being in the books of Romans, Galatians and Hebrews. This is not surprising as a majority of the early Christians were Jewish and the Old Testament was the only Scripture that the early church possessed. Therefore, God often used illustrations from the Old Testament. Also, these books deal with topics of those times, such as the fact that justification by faith and not works is taught in the Old Testament, and with the trap of legalistic Judaism.
Key promises mentioned in the New Testament
|Given to Abraham and his descendants||32||53|
|Second coming or end times||6||10|
|Children of God||1||2|
|All God’s promises||2||3|
Old Testament promises mentioned in the New Testament
The greatest occurrence of the word “epangalia” in the New Testament relates to the promises given to Abraham and his descendants (Acts 7:5,17; Rom. 4:20-21; 9:4, 8, 9; Gal. 3:16; Eph. 2:12; Heb. 6:13; 7:6; 11:9,13,17,33). The three main messages in these passages are summarised below:
Firstly, God keeps His promises—Isaac was born “as the result of a promise” (Gal. 4:23NIV). “And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised” (Heb. 6:15). This happened because of Abraham’s faith and God’s power (Heb 11:11).
This was an important message for the early church, particularly in times of persecution. They knew that their sins had been forgiven and they had a home in heaven. This gave them hope and security. It is also important for us during difficult and disappointing times—if we can’t trust in God, who can we trust? No-one. In a post-modern world, characterised by change and instability, it can be difficult to trust in God. When our faith is weak we act as though God is a part of creation; but of course God is not like us—He is reliable and always keeps His promises.
Secondly, Jesus was the promised Messiah (Acts 13:23,32; 26:6; Heb. 11:39). Paul wrote, “For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs” (Rom 15:8). The remainder of this sentence says Christ came so that the Gentiles would also praise God. When sinners put their faith in Christ, they share in the promises given to Abraham (Gal. 3:29; 4:28).
As already mentioned a majority of the early Christians were Jewish. When they realised that Jesus was the Messiah, they converted from Judaism to Christianity and this truth about Jesus would have featured in evangelism to the Jews. For example, on the day of Pentecost Peter proclaimed, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” and Stephen told the Jewish Council, the Sanhedrin, “you betrayed and murdered the Messiah”.
The message for us is that all God’s promises are fulfilled through Jesus (2 Cor. 1:20). Paul writes that we are blessed with every spiritual blessing because we belong to Christ. The promises in the Old Testament look ahead to Christ and those for the future rely on His great sacrifice for the sin of the world.
Finally, God’s promise of salvation (and eternal life) is a gift to be received by faith, not something to be earnt. In Romans 4 Paul shows how the gospel is in harmony with the Old Testament—God accepted Abraham because Abraham had faith in Him (Rom 4:13-14)—“The promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring–not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all” (Rom 4:16). The Old Testament law was only a temporary measure until the coming of Christ (Gal. 3:17-19, 21-22). So, eternal life is guaranteed to those who have faith in God like Abraham did (Heb. 11:11).
The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the Jews in the times of the early church. They endeavored to live in strict accordance with the Old Testament law as interpreted and amplified by the scribes and their tradition and they believed in salvation by works. Consequently, the message of salvation by faith and not works was a vital distinction between Christianity and Judaism.
This truth is also important for us as it is fundamental to the Christian faith. Salvation is a gift that God promises to those who receive it by faith. There is no way we can earn our salvation. As a result of this salvation all believers are assured of participating in and receiving the remaining promises.
The second most prevalent topic associated with the word “epangalia” in the New Testament is that of eternal life. When we accept Christ as Savior, we receive eternal life which is valuable now and when we get to heaven. Eternal life enables us to live for Christ today and to look forward to life after death (1 Jn. 2:25; 1 Tim. 4:8). Eternal life is one of the “better promises” in the new covenant that came though Christ (Heb. 8:6). It is shared by all believers—there is no distinction based on race or any other difference between believers (Eph. 3:6).
As Paul wrote concerning “a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time”, people who followed God in Old Testament times will be included in those who share eternal life (Tit. 1:2).
Heaven, the place of eternal rest is still available to all who believe in Christ (2 Tim 1:1; Heb 4:1; 6:17). It is an “eternal inheritance” for all those who have been freed from the penalty of their sins by Christ’s death (Heb 6:12; 9:15; Jas. 2:5). All believers have eternal life and are looking forward to new bodies, the marriage supper of the Lamb and living with the Lord.
Heaven also includes rewards given at the judgement seat of Christ for service done for the Lord. For example, those who persevere under trials are promised “the crown of life”, which may be a deeper appreciation of eternal life in heaven (Jas. 1:12).
As God promises eternal life as a gift to sinners who receive it by faith it is guaranteed to all believers (Rom 4:16). We can be confident of this based on God’s Word, because we can’t earn salvation by good works.
Some in the early church thought Jews were privileged and so they looked down on Gentiles. But the fact that they both had eternal life and were indwelt by the Holy Spirit illustrated that there should be no barrier between them—Christianity is multinational! The same applies today—we should accept all true Christians as Christ would—regardless of differences in race, in status, or in gender.
The Holy Spirit
The word “epangalia” in the New Testament is also often associated with the topic of the Holy Spirit. Before His ascension, Christ promised His disciples that the Holy Spirit would come as had been promised in the Old Testament (Is. 44:3; Ezek. 36:27; Lk. 24:49; Acts 1:4). The Holy Spirit is God and He gives believers a divine power. This happened initially on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:33). This promise was for all believers, whether they were Jews (“you and your children”) or Gentiles (“all who are far off”) (Acts 2:39).
The Holy Spirit indwells a believer when they trust in the good news of God’s offer of salvation—“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession” (Eph 1:13). This pattern—hearing the message, believing it, and then receiving the Holy Spirit—was evident when Peter spoke at Cornelius’ house. The gift of the Holy Spirit is part of the blessings that were promised to Abraham (Gal. 3:14).
These verses also teach that the Holy Spirit is a sign that we belong to God and that He will protect us and will keep His promises.
This promise is equally important to the early church and to us. The New Testament is full of the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers and they are instructed to “be filled with the Spirit”. He is God with us on a continual basis—God speaks to us today through the Holy Spirit. He is a great helper and teacher and will remind us of relevant Scripture.
Second coming or end times
The second coming of Christ and other future events are also often associated with the word “epangalia” in the New Testament. The book of Hebrews was written for those struggling with leaving Judaism for Christianity, who were encouraged to preserver until they received the reward that God had promised (Heb. 10:36). This reward is explained in the next verse as being when Christ returns to take Christians to be with Himself at the rapture. It is important that our present circumstances do not cause us to forget about the wonderful future that God has promised us—“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful” (Heb 10:23). God is reliable and will keep His promises.
Scoffers say, “Where is this ‘coming’ He promised?”—they do not believe that God is coming to judge the world (2 Pt. 3:4). So, why has there been a long delay in the coming of God’s judgement? The reason is that He is patient, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:9). He is giving people every opportunity to be saved. He waited 120 years before He sent the flood and has waited thousands of years before destroying the world with fire.
God has promised many awesome demonstrations of His power after He takes the believers to be with Himself during the rapture (Heb. 12:26). But, believers are to look forward to “a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Pt. 3:13). This is the eternal state after God has triumphed over Satan and evil.
This expectation can help believers through life’s struggles—whether they live in the first century or today. It gives them an eternal perspective.
Children of God
The promises of 2 Corthinians 7:1, mentioned in the previous verses, include that believers are “sons and daughters” of God the Father and that God welcomes those who stand against evil. There are two relationships here: between a child and a parent and between siblings. As a result of this promise, we receive blessings from God and from one another.
A parent has special care for their child who they nurture and encourage from infancy to adolescence and then to adulthood—that’s how God cares for us. Meanwhile a child is to obey their parents—and Christians are to obey and imitate God.
Although siblings can be rivals, they share a common family and the same parents. As a consequence of this relationship, most of us help and care for others in our family. Likewise believers, who follow the same Savior and share the same destiny, should care for one another.
The illustration of being children of God applies to the early church and to today. All believers need to appreciate they serve a loving Father. However the situation regarding relationships between believers has changed in the past 1,900 years. The early church was small and all believers fellowshipped with one another, except when dictators such as Diotrephes had their way. Today there are different Christian denominations and we need to remember we are children in a global family comprising believers from all Christian denominations, not just the one we happen to support. The Bible emphasises that God has no favorites, nor should we.
All God’s promises
The remaining instances of the word “epangalia” in the New Testament are two verses that relate to all of God’s promises. We mentioned earlier that all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20).
God has given us everything we need to live for Him including “His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Pt. 1:4). It is estimated that there are at least 30,000 promises in the Bible. They are “very great” because they help us do such things as:
- “participate in the divine nature”—as we appreciate what God has promised, we become more like Him, and
- “escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires”—God’s promises can help us resist temptation—when temptations come we should claim the promises.
Application to us
These promises can have a strong influence on our lives when we remember:
- We follow a God who keeps His promises—look back at history. Our God is reliable and trustworthy.
- All of God’s promises are fulfilled in Christ – Christ has “better promises” than any others in the world because they are given by the God who made the universe and continues to sustain it.
- Salvation is a gift to be received by faith, not something to be earnt—this is a fundamental of the Christian faith.
- The Holy Spirit is God with us on a continual basis—we should be more aware of His presence as all our power to live for Christ comes from the Holy Spirit.
- We are children of God—we have a global family and should welcome fellowship with other believers. The early church was not restricted to a small community—it witnessed in Jerusalem, then Judea the southern section of Palestine, then Samaria in central Palestine and then to the ends of the earth. Like evangelism, our fellowship should spread out across the land. Paul had to be reminded by the Lord when he was in Corinth; “I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city”. We need to be aware of other believers in our community who are also a part of the body of Christ and not avoid them or isolate ourselves from them.
- We should be looking forward to Christ’s return to fulfil His promises concerning the future. This includes eternal life in heaven and seeing Jesus exalted to the highest place and seeing every knee bow before Him and hearing every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and singing together with all creation, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”
- God doesn’t reveal His promises to us unless we read them in the Bible—so we need to: read them, understand them, meditate on them, and store them in our memories. If you have trouble sleeping at night, then be like David who wrote, “I lie awake at night thinking of your promises” (Ps. 119:148). Then we can say, “I have hidden your word in my heart” (Ps. 119:11). As a consequence you will realise that they are great promises and they will become precious to you, and The Holy Spirit will recall them when you need refreshment and encouragement—“Your promise revives me; it comforts me in all my troubles” (Ps. 119:50).
Written, March 2003
Revelation is the major prophetic book in the New Testament. It is the best reference that Christians have on future events because:
- the Bible is a progressive revelation of God’s dealings with humanity;
- John wrote down what was revealed to him by God (Revelation 1:19); and
- It is the Bible’s final prophecy – the words are not to be changed in any way (by addition or subtraction) (Revelation 22:18-19).
The timing of future events is evident from the sequence of topics in the book of Revelation (see below).
At present the church is on earth (Revelation 2-3) and the next event is the “rapture” when all believers (dead and alive) will be resurrected to heaven. The rapture is not mentioned specifically in Revelation; but in Revelation 4, the church is in heaven. While the church is in heaven (Revelation 4-5), there will be a period of tribulation on earth (Revelation 6-18), which will end with the “appearing” of the Lord Jesus Christ in great power and glory (Revelation 19:11-21). This will be followed by the 1,000 year reign of the Lord on the earth (the millennium) (Revelation 20:1-10), and then the eternal state of the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21-22).
The key to understanding the second coming of the Lord is that the second coming is associated with a series of events, not one event and these occur over a period of time, not all at once. From the order of events in Matthew 24:15-31 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 5:11, it is clear the “rapture” is before the tribulation and the “appearing” is at the end of the tribulation. Jesus said the great distress (tribulation) occurs immediately before His second advent (Mat.24:21-31). Also, the judgements in Rev. 6 – 18 are associated with the great tribulation (Rev. 7:14), and they conclude with Christ appearing as “King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16).
“The Tribulation” will be a time of suffering for those on the earth. The church is not mentioned during this period because it is in heaven (Revelation 6-18). Instead there are 144,000 Jewish witnesses (Rev. 7 and 14), a Jewish temple (Rev. 11:1-13), and Jewish persecution (Rev 12). Also, the advice “Whoever has ears, let them hear” is addressed to Christian churches in Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22 whereas in Revelation 13:9, it is addressed to believers, but there is no mention of the church.
As the following events haven’t happened yet, they are still in the future, as they were for John in 95 AD when he called them “what will take place later” (Rev. 1:19):
- At the Rapture, all true Christians will be taken from the earth.
- There will be a Jewish temple in Jerusalem during the tribulation (Rev. 11:1-13), whereas this has not been the case since it was destroyed in AD70.
- At the Appearing, Jesus Christ will return to the earth and defeat all His enemies (Rev. 19:11-21).
- During the millennium, Satan will be bound so he can’t deceive people (Rev. 20:1-3).
Learning from the past
Prophecy about the future will be fulfilled literally, just as has prophecy of the past. For example, when the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah predicted that the Jewish captivity would be 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11-12), it turned out that this prediction was literal, not symbolic.
Since the prophecies about Christ’s first coming were fulfilled literally, then the prophecies relating to His second Coming will also be fulfilled literally. Although symbols and figures of speech are used in giving both of these prophecies, this does not affect their historical and prophetic fulfillment.
Written, March 2010
In this Series we have seen that Paul visited Thessalonica and in response to his preaching a church was established. Because he was unable to visit them for some time, he wrote a letter to encourage these new believers. In chapter 4 Paul told them how to live to please God. They were to avoid sexual immorality and excel in holiness and brotherly love. In this part we will look at the Second Coming, a major theme mentioned in each chapter (1 Th. 1:9-10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:17; 5:23). The Thessalonians knew of the Second Coming as part of the gospel message. In fact, some were so sure it would be soon that they gave up their jobs to prepare for it (1 Th. 5:14; 2 Th. 3:6-12). Further teaching was needed on this topic.
Death Is Like Sleep
“We do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 NIV).
The Thessalonians who were expecting the Lord to return any day (1 Th. 1:10) must have been worried about those who had already died. Would they see their loved ones before the final resurrection at the end of time (Jn. 11:24)? Also Paul had probably taught them that Christ was coming back to reign and that Christians would reign with Him (Rev. 20:6). Would those who had already died miss this? Paul wrote this passage to allay their fears.
He used “asleep” three times to describe the state of the believer after death (13,14,15). When someone is “asleep” or resting, we can have contact with them again after they wake. This metaphor teaches us that death is not the end; as waking follows sleep, resurrection follows death. Paul said they were “asleep in Jesus” (4:14), meaning they were in His care. The soul and spirit don’t sleep in death, as they are “at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).
When a believer dies, there is sorrow but not despair, because there is the hope of heaven and reunion (4:13). The basis of our hope is the resurrection of the Lord (4:14). Paul wrote elsewhere: “Since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22). Because Christ rose, so will all believers who have died. We are assured of this because God will bring them with Jesus (4:14). When will this be? When Jesus returns in power and glory. The dead won’t miss the glory of the coming kingdom.
A Period Of Time
The “coming” of the Lord “down from heaven” (4:15-16) is derived from the word parousia. It means both “arrival” or “coming” and “presence with.” It is the opposite of absence. In the Bible, parousia is associated with: the Rapture, when Christ returns for all true believers (1 Th. 4:15); the Judgment Seat of Christ, when rewards are given to believers for service (1 Th. 2:19; 5:23); and the appearing, when Christ returns to earth in great power and glory (1 Th. 3:13; 2 Th. 2:8). The Second Coming (or “presence”) of the Lord will be a series of events that occurs over a period of time, not all at once.
This sequence of future events can be inferred from The Revelation: the Church on earth (Rev. 2-3); the Rapture, that is Christ’s return to take all believers (dead and alive) home to be with Him; the Church in heaven (Rev. 4-5); the Tribulation on earth (Rev. 6-18); the appearing, that is Christ’s return to earth in great power (Rev. 19); the Millennium, a 1,000 year kingdom (Rev. 20); and the new heaven and new earth, a new eternal universe (Rev. 21-22).
When we think of the Lord’s coming, we should think of a period of time, not an isolated event. For example, Christ’s first coming to earth (“presence”) was over a period of 33 years; that’s how long He was physically present on earth. In fact, one of His names is “Immanuel – which means ‘God with us’” (Mt. 1:23).
“According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 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. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).
The Rapture (4:15) was a new revelation, referred to as a mystery or truth previously unknown (1 Cor. 15:51). Two categories of Christians are mentioned – those living and the dead. The bodies of the dead will not be left behind at the Rapture. The sequence of events is in four steps. First is the Lord’s return, when Jesus will come down from heaven with a loud command, the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God. The command is probably addressed to the dead (Jn. 5:28-29; 11:43). Second is the resurrection of the dead, when the “dead in Christ” will rise first, with God recreating from the remains of dust the bodies of all who have died. Third is the transformation of the living believers who will be “caught up” (rapturo in Latin) together with the dead. Fourth is the reunion, when we will meet the Lord in the air to be with Him forever. Jesus summarized the Rapture this way: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am” (Jn. 14:3).
The truth of resurrection was not the mystery, since it appeared in the Old Testament; the change of the living believers at the Lord’s return was the mystery. Paul described this sudden change: “We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1 Cor. 15:51-53).
Paul also wrote that “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body” (Phil. 3:20-21). When He returns, our bodies will be transformed to be like His resurrection body – suited to heaven, not subject to sickness, decay or death, and free from sin and its effects. This is called the “redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). The Bible doesn’t say whether it will be a secret or a public event. Because it takes place in a flash, some say it won’t be seen by unbelievers. Others say it will be heard. Paul’s answer to their concerns was this: When the Lord returns, your loved ones who have died will not miss His appearing or the Millennium.
The Day Of The Lord
“About times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-4).
The “day of the Lord” is not a 24- hour period. In the New Testament, it refers to God’s future time of judgment of the world (Acts 2:20; 1 Th. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10). It will be characterized by gloom, darkness and destruction. The sun moon and stars will be darkened (Mt. 24:29; Rev. 6:12). There will be judgments on God’s enemies as described by the seals, trumpets and bowls in the Revelation. The “day of the Lord” is used to describe events in the Tribulation, the appearing and the final destruction of the heavens and earth with fire.
The “day of the Lord” will be a time of judgment of unbelievers; note the words “them” and “they” (5:3). Paul gives three characteristics of that time: it will be unexpected, destructive and inevitable.
First, Jesus said it will be unexpected: “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed” (Lk. 17:26-30). Life will go on as usual until God removes His people, and then His judgment will come on the earth.
Second, He also said it will be destructive, and described it as follows: “For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equaled again” (Mt. 24:21). The great distress only ends when the Lord comes in great power and glory (Mt. 24:29-31).
Third, it will be inevitable, like the labor preceding birth. Once it starts a woman can’t change her mind, and birth follows soon after. Paul said the world cannot escape God’s terrible judgments.
Salvation Instead Of Suffering
“But you … are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:4-5).
Paul said that there is a way of escape. The words “you,” “we” and “us” (5:4,5,9,10) tell us that Christians will not go through these judgments. Paul contrasted two groups: Unbelievers are in darkness and night, while believers are in light and day. In Scripture, “light” represents what is good and true, while “darkness” represents what is evil and false (Acts 26:18; 2 Cor. 6:14; 1 Jn. 1:5-7). He said that only those in darkness will experience these judgments. “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him” (1 Th. 5:9-10).
Verses 9-10 tell us that instead of suffering judgment, believers will receive salvation; they will be with Christ where there is no sin. Other verses also show that Christians will not experience the suffering described in the “day of the Lord” or the Tribulation (Rom. 5:9; 1 Th. 1:10; 2 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 3:10). Instead, we will be raptured, that is taken away as Noah was taken away from destruction of the flood and Lot from the destruction of Sodom.
Living In View Of The Second Coming
“Let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet” (1 Thessalonians 5:6-8).
Paul urged believers to live consistently as children of the day and of the light, alert and self-controlled. We should be expecting Christ’s return at any moment, living for Him and not being lazy, careless, distracted, self-indulgent, or living in sinful behavior. We should also be sober, seeking to further the kingdom of God instead of our own entertainment, being self-controlled and not losing control of our behavior.
He then said believers should exercise faith, love and hope like armor that protects us from losing control. Faith involves depending on God. Our love for the Lord and for each other can help us live for God today. And Christ’s return is our hope. The prospect of heaven helps us live for God today.
Paul’s passages on the Rapture and the day of the Lord have similar conclusions: “Encourage one another with these words” (1 Th. 4:18). “Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Th. 5:11).
Lessons For Us
The second coming of the Lord is a series of events over a period of time. The Rapture will be a great reunion of believers both dead and alive. Like the first century Christians, we should expect it to occur at any moment. Are we encouraging each other as we eagerly wait for it?
Published, May 2009
See the next article in this series:
- Living as a Christian
There is little information in the Old Testament about Adam and Eve after they were banished from the Garden of Eden. Instead, we read about their descendants. For example, Cain was ungodly while Abel was godly (Gen 4:1-16). Cain’s ungodly line is described first (Gen. 4:17-24) and then the godly line is described from Seth to Shem (Gen. 4:25-5:32). When Enosh was born “people began to call on the name of the Lord” (Gen. 4:26 NIV). As Adam is mentioned in the godly line – “Adam lived a total of 930 years, and then he died” (Gen. 5:5) – the Bible implies that Adam and Eve trusted in God.
Adam is listed in Christ’s human genealogy, which traces the lineage from the first human being through Abraham and David, to Heli, who was probably Mary’s father (Lk. 3:23-38). There is no evidence in the Old Testament that any of the men mentioned in this list were ungodly. This is consistent with the statement above that Adam trusted God. Of course, Adam heads everyone’s family tree, including the ungodly!
Because Adam and Eve knew God very well before their fall into sin, they probably knew Him well after the fall. They also knew God’s promise that Satan would be defeated (Gen. 3:15). The first recorded instance of animal death was when God made garments for them from animal skins (Gen. 3:21). The fact that an animal died to provide a covering for them might have been used to teach them of the need to approach God with the blood of a sacrifice, which we know was a foretaste of Christ’s sacrifice. As Abel demonstrated his faith in God with animal sacrifices, presumably Adam and Eve also offered these to God (Gen. 4:4; Heb. 11:4).
All Old Testament believers – such as Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David – who died before Christ were saved in Christ by faith (Jn. 5:46; Heb. 11; 1 Pet. 1:10-12), just as believers are saved today. They are now in heaven (2 Ki. 2:11; Heb. 11:5). For these reasons, I believe Adam and Eve are in heaven.
Published, December 2008
We all experience pain and disease at some time in life. Pain is the response by our nervous system to an abnormal situation; it is like an alarm. If the alarm doesn’t operate, then we can hurt ourselves without knowing it. Disease is a lack of health that is often associated with a depressed immune system. So pain and disease are reactions by our bodies to the circumstances we face.
Pain and disease began when Adam and Eve sinned and they are part of the trouble that is inevitable in the sinful world (Gen. 3:16-19; Jn. 16:33). In fact, “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Rom. 8:22 NIV).
Job, the most righteous man on earth in his time, was a good example to his wife and to Satan when God allowed him to endure pain and disease (Job 2:6-10). Jesus is the only one with a record of power over pain and disease. He healed people who “were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed” (Mt. 4:24).
God permits pain and disease to shape believers so they become more like Him (Heb. 12:5-11). They should not grumble or be discouraged during these times (1 Cor. 10:10), but rejoice because it develops Christian character (Jas. 1:2-4,12). God is training them through the pain and disease so they might rely on Him and be able to comfort those who are suffering (2 Cor. 1:3-9).
The ultimate solution to pain and disease depends on our relationship with God, because those who trust Him go to heaven where there is no pain or disease (Lk. 16:19-31; Rev. 21:4). The eternal glory of heaven far outweighs the believer’s temporary pain and disease here on earth (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17). However, those who do not accept God’s offer of salvation will suffer for eternity.
Published, July 2006
A Father’s Day message
This Father’s Day, let’s look at three examples of fathers – in the Godhead, the family and the Church.
Father In Heaven
God is everyone’s Father because He created humanity in His image (Gen. 1:26-27). But not all are His children: Jesus told unbelievers that their father was the devil: “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire” (Jn. 8:44 NIV).
Believers have been adopted as sons into God’s family: “God sent His Son … to redeem … that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts … who calls out ‘Abba, Father.’ … Since you are a son, God has made you also an heir” (Gal. 4:4-7; Rom. 8:15,23; 9:4). Believers are God’s spiritual children. He provides their needs, guides their lives, and offers them a wonderful inheritance. His presence and promises bring strength and security.
Believers are to depend on God like children depend on their parents. That’s why they call Him “Abba, Father.” The English equivalent for “Abba” is “Dad.” It expresses the close personal relationship between believers and their heavenly Father. In New Testament times servants were forbidden to use this word when addressing the head of the household, as it was reserved for family members. Jesus used the same word “Abba” when He prayed to His Father in the garden of Gethsemane (Mk. 14:36).
Believers should respect and revere their heavenly Father and obey His commands (1 Pet. 2:17; 1 Jn. 5:3). He should also be the object of their prayers, praise and thanksgiving (Eph. 5:20; Eph. 3:14-19; 1 Pet. 1:3).
Fathers In The Family
A father is a provider and leader for those in his household. The Bible says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). This describes a father’s role in the family – to train, instruct, discipline and correct his children. He is to be their coach, but not treat them in such a way as to cause anger or discouragement (Col. 3:21). The training should be “of the Lord,” which means in accordance with God’s will as it is revealed in the Bible. Earthly fathers should be models of the heavenly Father.
Children should honor and respect their parents and obey them “in the Lord.” This means obeying them in all matters that are in accordance with God’s will (Eph. 6:1-2; 1 Tim. 3:4). This is important because their relationship with their earthly father can influence their relationship with their heavenly Father.
Fathers In The Church
During a missionary journey to the city of Thessalonica, Paul, Silas and Timothy preached, taught, and established a church. After leaving, Paul wrote them a letter that said, “You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom and glory” (1 Th. 2:10-12). They set an example for leadership in the local church by caring for the congregation as “a father deals with his own children.” This involved encouraging, comforting and urging them to live lives worthy of God. They were coaches and mentors of the congregation.
They also established elders to continue this work after they left (1 Th. 5:12-14). The elders were told to do four things. First, they were to “warn those who are idle.” Some had stopped working and were busy bodies. They needed to be warned to get back to work and stop being lazy and living off charity. Second, they were to “encourage the timid.” Those who were shy, introverted or afraid needed friends to bring them out of their shell. Third, they were also to “help the weak.” Those weak in the faith needed support and reminders of God’s power. Finally, they were to “be patient with everyone.” They were not to get angry or irritated when provoked, but be sympathetic and accept those with different convictions on debatable matters.
Elders should also be models of the heavenly Father in the local church. The congregation should respect them, “hold them in the highest regard in love” and obey them (Heb. 13:17).
Fathers And Children
We are all children, and some of us are fathers. As children of God, in the family and in the church, the Bible says we should respect our fathers and hold them in highest regard, valuing our close relationship with them. They help us grow physically, emotionally and spiritually. Those who are fathers are to be like coaches and mentors in the family and in the church. May we all respect and serve each other faithfully in accordance with these biblical principles.
A video entitled “Raised From The Dead” claims to be a 21st-century miracle resurrection story. Is it true?
This video, sold in bookstores and on the Internet, claims that in 2001, a Nigerian man died from injuries due to a car accident, and then came back to life two days later after being taken to a church. The man reported that during this time he had been taken by angels to heaven and hell, before God sent him back to warn people of hell.
The account is unusual because, although the man was said to be critically injured, after being taken to a hospital he was able to demand transfer to his hometown hospital, a 1.5 hour drive away. Then he was taken to a clinic, a mortuary and a church. No proof is given regarding the accident or the man’s injuries, and the only evidence of death is a clinic certificate and verbal report. Although the man’s family, a doctor and a mortician claim he was dead, the evidence is not conclusive.
The claim of being taken to heaven and hell goes against Bible teaching. As the man himself said on one occasion, “It may have been a dream.” Heaven is the eternal destiny of believers while hell is the eternal destiny of unbelievers. After death people go to one or the other, not both. The Bible says there is a great chasm between heaven and hell and no one from either side can cross over (Lk. 16:26). For example, Lazarus went to heaven and the rich man went to hell (Lk. 16:19-31). The reason the rich man was in hell was because he rejected the message given in the Old Testament.
The phrase, “women received back their dead” (Heb. 11:35), quoted in the video to support the alleged miracle, refers to events in the Old Testament such as the son of the widow of Zarephath and the Shunammite’s son (1 Ki. 17:17-24; 2 Ki. 4:18-37). On these occasions God used a prophet, either Elijah or Elisha, to raise a boy back to life.
Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter (Mk. 5:22-24, 35-43), the son of the widow of Nain (Lk. 7:11-17), and Lazarus (Jn. 11:1-44; 12:1-2). In the second case it occurred during the funeral and in the third case it happened after the burial. When Jesus died many godly men and women were raised from their tombs (Mt. 27:52-53). Three days later, Jesus was resurrected from the tomb (Jn. 20:1-31 ). Peter said, “We are all witnesses of this fact.” Paul said that Jesus appeared to more than 500 followers at the same time (Acts 2:32; 1 Cor. 15:6). Dorcas was raised after Peter prayed (Acts 9:36-42). Eutychus died after falling from the third story of a building, but came alive after Paul put his arms around him (Acts 20:9-12). All these New Testament instances of people being raised from death involved either Jesus or an apostle.
This video promotes a gospel of works. It states that a person is in hell for stealing, not for rejecting Christ’s work of salvation, and the man who died would go to hell because of angry words spoken to his wife. The video supported this with Jesus’ statement that God will not forgive our sins if we do not forgive others and only the merciful will obtain mercy (Mt. 5:7; 6:14-15). These verses are taken out of context; they do not refer to salvation, which is an unconditional gift received by faith in Christ, not a goal achieved by works (Eph. 2:8-9). Instead, they are part of the Sermon on the Mount giving the Lord’s disciples principles for daily living (Mt. 5:1,2). They teach that forgiveness is necessary for believers to maintain fellowship with God, and that believers will be rewarded according to their compassion displayed (1 Jn. 1:9; 1 Cor. 3:12-15). The man said to have been raised from the dead was afraid that he would sin again and not go to heaven. He had no assurance of salvation.
The video says that this miracle was a sign from God to lead us to Jesus. However, our faith in Christ is not based on modern miracles, but on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as documented in the Scriptures. The way to heaven is through believing the message of the Bible, not a so-called modern miracle.
Published, May 2006
How our view of the future can influence the present
Some people are optimistic about the future – they see advances in science and technology, so they hope for the best that can happen. Others are pessimistic – they see damage to the environment and social and economic breakdown, so they fear the worst that can happen.
The bad news is that there is a lot of evil and despair in the world and some people are frightened by the future. But there is good news as well: it is clear from the Bible that God offers hope for the future if we follow Him.
Let’s consider some facts about the future, their consequences, and the impact they can have in our daily lives.
We All Have A Future
How can those facing death due to a terminal illness or an accident have a future? Like a criminal facing execution, they seem to be in a hopeless situation. But Jesus actually told a criminal facing execution, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk. 23:43 NIV). This gives us a clue – no matter what the circumstances, there can be a bright future for those who trust in God.
The Bible teaches that there is a future beyond our current lives. Death is not the end of our existence, but a doorway between this life and a future destiny. So in this sense, we all have a future.
This is illustrated by the example of the rich man and Lazarus, whose lives are shown to continue after death, with consciousness, communication and memory (Lk. 16:19-31). They were in two different places – heaven and hell – and the rich man wanted his brothers warned so they would not end up in the place of torment. This wish was denied, illustrating that decisions made on earth can have eternal consequences.
Also, God will raise everyone from death (Acts 24:15). In fact, there are two resurrections, the first for God’s people and the second for the judgment of those who have rejected God (Rev. 20:5-6).
Paul looked forward so much for this future that he considered dying better than living, because it meant he would be with Christ (Phil. 1:21-23). Elsewhere he wrote, if we have hope in Christ only for this life, we are the most miserable people in the world (1 Cor. 15:19). This is because it would mean that there was no raising from death and no hope beyond death (1 Th. 4:13).
Lasting Hope Comes From God
The Bible was written so “we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). In the Old Testament God promised this to His followers: “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” And again He says, “There is hope for your future” (Jer. 29:11; 31:17). So, if they followed God and not false prophets, they were assured of a future filled with hope.
In the New Testament, He is described as “the God of hope” because He is the source of hope, and those separate from Him are said to be “without hope” (Rom. 15:13; Eph. 2:12). The believer’s hope is in God because He has given them a hope that lives on, and an inheritance that awaits them in heaven (1 Pet. 1:3-5,21).
The “hope” of the Scriptures is a confident expectation of a future event, not just a possibility or a desire. This is because God has a perfect record for keeping His promises.
A New Heaven And A New Earth
The eternal inheritance of Christians is to be “with the Lord forever” in paradise, and they will all be transformed to be like Christ (1 Th. 4:17; Phil. 3:20-21). Their main purpose in heaven will be to celebrate, praise and worship Jesus Christ and God – it will be like a great wedding feast (Rev. 19:6-9). At this time they will receive rewards, they will see God glorified, and they will reign with Him (Rev. 22:12; 1 Jn. 3:2-3; Rev. 20:6). God is in the business of destroying the effects of sin such as decay, sadness, evil and death. He wants to renew all His creation. At the end of time He says, “I am making everything new” (Rev. 21:5).
One of my favorite verses is: “We are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Pet. 3:13). It is described as a place where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). What a great prospect to be a part of this!
It is important to realize that this aspect of the future of believers does not depend on their efforts or their success in life. It is a gift to be accepted from God (Eph. 2:8-9).
The Fruit Of Hope
Our view of the future affects our daily lives by influencing our attitudes, feelings and behavior. Hope is a vital attitude for the Christian that is associated with faith and love and that should result in encouragement for the journey of life (1 Cor. 13:7,13). Its fruit include security, strength, perseverance, holiness, an eternal perspective and joy.
- Security: The hope that God offers us is described as being like “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Heb. 6:18-19). It is also likened to a helmet and believers are “shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Th. 5:8; 1 Pet. 1:5).
- Strength: The Old Testament promised, “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isa. 40:31).In the New Testament Paul wrote: “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe” (Eph. 1:18-19). So God’s great and mighty power is available to believers.Those whose hope was in the Lord remained strong in the faith. For example, when everyone deserted Paul, he said, “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength.” This was his hope: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:16-18).
- Perseverance: Paul praised the Thessalonians for their “endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th. 1:3). Then, after considering the resurrection body he wrote, “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).Knowing some of God’s plans gives us purpose and motivation to persevere and to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Believers are urged “to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Heb. 10:23,36).
- Holiness: After writing about the hope of eternal life, Peter urged believers to live a holy life: “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’”(1 Pet. 1:14-15). This means purifying ourselves from everything that contaminates body or spirit and working toward complete purity out of reverence for God (2 Cor. 7:1).The hope of being like Jesus when He appears makes us keep ourselves holy, just as Christ is holy (1 Jn. 3:2-3). In view of our heavenly home, “we make it our goal to please him” (2 Cor. 5:9).
- Eternal Perspective: Since heaven is the believers’ home, they are to live as foreigners on earth (1 Pet. 1:17). They are urged “as foreigners and strangers on this earth, to abstain from sinful desires” and to live such good lives that others will come to glorify God (1 Pet. 2:11-12).Similarly, the Old Testament people of faith lived as strangers on earth as they were looking forward to the heavenly place that God had promised to prepare for them (Heb. 11:9-10, 13-16).So, we are to put our hope in God and not in idols such as money (1 Tim. 6:17-18; Mt. 6:19-21); and we are to “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen” (2 Cor. 4:18). This means focusing on eternal things rather than those that are only temporary.
- Joy: Consideration of the believers’ lasting hope and eternal inheritance leads to great joy even if they are enduring trials. Christians are said to be “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” because they can see the end result of their faith, their complete salvation (1 Pet. 1:6-9).
- Your Future:Is there hope for your future? The Bible says if you are without God, you are without hope for the future. In this case, your only hope is in this life, which can be very disappointing. Why not make heaven your eternal home? Then you will be with Christ when He returns, and will share in the coming new world.If you are a believer, are you letting the fruit of hope grow in your life as you anticipate what God has in store for you? This should be evident as security, strength, perseverance, holiness, an eternal perspective and most of all joy. Are you always ready to explain your hope to others (1 Pet. 3:15)? You should be.