TWISTED: Re-Examining Popular Beliefs About Heaven, Hell, Angels and Demons
WEEK ONE: HEAVEN
Colossians 3:1-4 NIV 1Therefore, since you have been raised with Christ, strive for the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
October…falling leaves…autumn colors of mums and pumpkins. And, of course, what some have argued is the second largest holiday for American spending—Halloween. Since so much gets made of this holiday in our culture—whether YOU participate or not—and since there exists many varied beliefs about ghosts and goblins, death and the afterlife, demons and angels, hell and heaven, I want to use this month of October to take a biblical look at some of these topics.
The series is called TWISTED for one basic reason: Christians and non-Christians alike have formed opinions about certain vital—yet seldom studied—subjects like heaven, hell, angels, and demons. So, each week we are going to re-examine those beliefs from a biblical perspective. Our goal every week is the same: to have a more complete, biblical understanding of the reign and rule of God on this earth as well as heaven. Sound good?
Let’s talk HEAVEN. On the front end let me say that I am not fully qualified or equipped to preach on a subject of such a great, expansive, unseen realm known as heaven. Not only that, but we don’t have NEAR enough time in a 30-minute message to cover such a vast topic. But let’s hit some highlights to get our minds and hearts attuned to eternal things. Maybe this will lead to some of you desiring to grow deeper through a new Life Group!
What comes to your mind with the word HEAVEN? Pearly gates with St. Peter standing there? Streets of gold? Floating around on clouds playing harps and singing hymns? How often do YOU think of HEAVEN? [Confession: I don’t think about a place called heaven as much as I should, and I suspect you don’t either.] Why is that? With most people around the world believing in some sort of life after death, why do we not spend more time contemplating where we may spend eternity?
We have a terminal disease called “mortality.” The current death rate is 100%. None of us is getting out of here alive…unless Jesus comes back before we die, of course. That fact was never more clear than last week, when we said farewell to the oldest member of our church, Josephine Jones .
Dozens of family members traveled into Byhalia from near and far to pay their respects to a true treasure of this town. Many grandchildren shared stories of Grandma Jo and recounted how they were BETTER people whenever they were around her.
Then on Thursday, death struck both the old and the young. Donna Taggert Perkins’s husband and childhood sweetheart, Lynn Perkins, was found dead in his recliner at about 9 am. That same day, Casey Hopper, the 26-year-old son of Kim Hopper, owner of the Granite Shop here in Byhalia, was found dead from an apparent heart attack in his sleep. Death finds us all.
About the only time most of us think about death, heaven and hell might be at funerals. It’s interesting some of the things we hear at funerals, isn’t it? “God needed another angel, so He took So-and-so.” Or, “he’s floating around up there smiling down on us.” Or, “I guess she got her wings.” Many of the things we say at funerals are sweet sentiments and are never meant to cause any harm, even if they have no biblical basis.
Truth is, very few sermons are given on Heaven or Hell. Yes, we preach on HOW TO GET TO HEAVEN but not what heaven is or what we will do there. For instance, will we be in a perpetual worship service, playing harps and singing hymns? If so, some of us may say, “No thanks!”
Dr. Randy Alcorn, noted scholar, lecturer, and author of the book, Heaven, noted a Far Side cartoon that captured this common misconception well. A man with angel wings (which is also a misconception, BTW) is sitting on a single cloud doing nothing. The thought bubble reads, “Wish I’d brought a magazine.”
Will we know our loved ones? Randy points out the sentiments of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Fin about Heaven when he learned that his old buddy Tom Sawyer might not be there (according to Christian spinster Miss Watson). Old Huck said he didn’t want heaven either. In other words, he’d rather have Hell with Tom than Heaven without him. Maybe some of us secretly feel the same way. If we can’t know or see our loved ones in Heaven, then maybe we will pass.
I think one of the reasons we say such things is that we haven’t spent much time truly contemplating things of heaven. And yet, God commands us to set our hearts and our minds on Heaven. Alcorn rightly states that to long for Christ is to long for Heaven, for that is where we will be with him forever. Hebrews 11:16 points to the fact that God’s people are “longing for a better country—a heavenly one.” We are merely sojourners on this fallen planet. One day, in the fullness of time, Jesus WILL return to judge the living and the dead—the citizens of Jerusalem from the citizens of Fallen Babylon, ushering in a New Heaven and a New Earth.
In the opening verses of Ephesians 2, we are reminded that, not only are we saved from sin and made alive with Christ, but “GOD RAISED UP WITH CHRIST AND SEATED US WITH HIM IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS IN CHRIST JESUS.” What I find astounding is that this is NOT future tense language here. The tense and mood of the verb in Greek indicates something that the Subject (namely God) has already done for us as a whole with no respect to time. It’s a DONE DEAL! While we may not have fully realized what has been promised this side of heaven, God has already done it because of His grace and our faith in Jesus Christ!
For this reason, we should have our minds on the things of Christ. And if that is so, and if Christ reigns at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, then we should set our HEARTS and MINDS on things above, not on earth below.
Some folks think that Heaven is our default destination and that you really have to blow it to make it Hell. Not so! The Bible makes it clear that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). No one goes to Heaven automatically. Unless our sin problem is resolved, our default destination is Hell…eternal separation from God and all that is good and holy. And yet so many folks take a “wait and see” approach to their eternal destination…until it’s too late.
So, what does the Bible specifically say about a place called Heaven? In a minute we’re going to turn to how John sees Heaven in his vision given by Jesus Christ on the Island of Patmos. But first, let’s explore the biblical word, HEAVEN.
In Hebrew, the word first appears in the opening sentence of Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The word used here is shamayim and is almost always translated in the plural sense, heavens, or sky. In nearly every OT reference for shamayim, we are talking about the visible sky. In the ANE, earth was believed to have a dome-like firmament over it, separating the waters of heaven from the waters of earth.
The Greek word for HEAVEN is ouranos and, again, it typically refers to a physical atmosphere or the visible heavens. It can, however, refer to something more spiritual…less tangible…something more ideological, such as the case in Matthew 3:2 when John the Baptist says, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew records a general statement about Jesus’s ministry when he wrote, From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” At other times in the Gospels the phrase, Kingdom of God, is used instead of Kingdom of Heaven, but they mean the exact same thing—the reign and rule of God. It’s not so much a PLACE but a PRESENCE…the glorious reign of almighty God in the hearts and lives of his followers.
From a physical standpoint, we know there is an earth and a sky…heavens and earth. The psalmist sings, The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. I try to walk every morning before dawn. There’s a certain place on the walking track where I can look up and see a clear view of the stars in the sky. And I think of Psalm 19 almost every time! The heavens…the expanse of the sky…declare the glory of God.
So, too, does the earth. The prophet Isaiah puts it this way (55:12): You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
There is, in the very real sense, a physical heavens and earth, creation we read about in Genesis 1. But we also know the story in Genesis 3, don’t we? We decided WE knew better than God how to govern our lives. We violated our covenant with God, were banished from Paradise, and became enemies of God. Through our own human efforts we tried to restore Paradise Lost, but we couldn’t. It would take an act of God. SO GOD ACTED!
In the fullness of time, God sent his only pre-incarnate Son, the second Person of the Godhead, to become flesh and pay the penalty of death for OUR sins, thus making us RIGHT with God. Through Christ, we have been rescued from slavery to sin and death.
Yet even today, sin has its way on earth. Disease and violence still kill us. Natural and man-made disasters are commonplace. Hatred and racism still divide us. As Paul puts it in Romans 8:22àWe know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
But what about a future time, when death with be no more? What will heaven be like then? I’d like to close with a rather lengthy reading from Revelation 21 and into chapter 22. I want you to close your eyes and imagine in your mind’s eye what John saw. Listen to a description of God’s New Heaven and New Earth [READ REVELATION 21:1-22:5]
What an amazing description! But some may argue that John is simply seeing a vision and heaven doesn’t REALLY exist. It is possible that the description of this vision is metaphorical…a beautifully detailed description using human language to describe something that is…well…indescribable.
But Jesus himself made a promise about heaven. Remember it? We preachers describe it at almost every funeral. In John 14, Jesus is calming the fears of his disciples when he says this: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God a ; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And 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.
Heaven is real. It is the eternal dwelling place of God…AND of those who become disciples of Jesus Christ…those who’s names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Jesus deserves the reward of His suffering…and WE are that reward. I like what J.D. Walt said in one of this week’s Daily Texts: “Our creed is not, ‘Jesus Saves;’ the creed of the Christian community is ‘JESUS IS LORD!’”
The purpose of salvation is RESTORATION. Dead to Life. Separation from God to Eternal Presence with God. God is not so much interested in US getting into heaven but getting HEAVEN INTO US! And faith in Jesus is the ONLY way to righteousness with God…to become friends of God…peace with God and one another.
Well, I’m certain I didn’t add much more to your understanding of the ‘place’ called heaven, but hopefully called attention to the importance of living every day with a heavenly perspective. When we die, we are not now angels floating around on clouds. God doesn’t take us from earth because he NEEDS us in heaven, anymore than he NEEDS us on earth. God CHOOSES us on earth and in heaven, not to make us happy but to make us holy.
What we do on earth is, in some sense, a dress rehearsal for life beyond this life. That’s why celebrating the Lord’s Supper is so important. Jesus demonstrated the NEW COVENANT He was making with us through repurposing the bread and wine at the Passover meal. This is my body, broken for you…this is my blood of the New Covenant, poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.
In Luke 22, Jesus made it clear that he would not eat of this Passover meal again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God. Then we see in Revelation 19 a description of that very thing, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Listen:
6And I heard a sound like the roar of a great multitude, like the rushing of many waters, and like a mighty rumbling of thunder, crying out: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God, the Almighty, reigns. 7Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him the glory. For the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready. 8She was given clothing of fine linen, bright and pure.” For the fine linen she wears is the righteous acts of the saints. 9Then the angel told me to write, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”Rev. 19:6-9
Friends, do you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation? Do you confess your need of Him to take away your sins? Are you being conformed into His image as you seek to let heaven into you? Then I invite you to participate in this covenant meal with Jesus. And as you do, remember that this is only a dress rehearsal for the great banquet Jesus has prepared for us in heaven. AMEN.