Heaven Ain’t What it Used to Be (and Hell is Changing Too)

Heaven-and-HellJeffrey Burton Russell is the author of a book entitled, Paradise Mislaid: How We Lost Heaven and How We Can Regain It. According to Russell, those who identify themselves as Christians in the United States have only a vague and superstitious concept of heaven. “It’s not that heaven is deteriorating,” says Russell, “but we are.”

The problem isn’t that people don’t believe in heaven. They do. According to a 2016 Gallup Poll, 71 % of Americans believe in heaven and 64% believe in hell. Those percentages have dropped some over the past 50 years, but they still remain quite high.   However, what people mean when they speak about heaven and hell has changed a lot.

Fifty years ago, most people had baseless superstitious ideas about heaven; those ideas included saved people becoming angels, floating on clouds, and playing harps. Today, many people choose to think of heaven as a vague condition of happiness, which may be temporary and lead to another plane of existence such as reincarnation. The Bible teaching that heaven and hell are realms in which souls will dwell for eternity is lost on modern America. And many Americans apparently consider themselves too sophisticated to believe that heaven and hell are places of reward and punishment, respectively.

The Bible is clear that God wants us to be motivated to go to heaven and to avoid hell (read 2 Peter 3:13-14 and Mark 9:43-48). To be properly motivated, it is crucial that we maintain a clear and correct understanding of heaven and hell. We must not trade Biblical concepts for the empty superstitions of popular culture. Here are some truths that need to be firmly believed.

1. Heaven and hell are both rewards. Heaven is a reward for the righteous and hell is a reward for the unrighteous. Jesus promised His disciples that if they would suffer persecution for His name they would receive a great “reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:12). Comparing Christianity to an athletic contest Paul wrote, “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown” (1 Corinthians 9:25). In Matthew 16:27, Jesus said, “the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.”

2. Heaven and hell are both permanent. In heaven, the saved will enjoy “an enduring possession” (Hebrews 10:34) described as “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away” (1 Peter 1:4). Heaven is an eternal home.  The saved will inhabit “a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). Hell, on the other hand, is described as everlasting punishment. At the Judgment, Jesus will send the unrighteous “into everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46). It is “the fire that shall never be quenched” (Mark 9:45). Those who go there will “be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

3. Heaven is a place of rest, but hell is a place where there is no rest. Heaven is described as “a rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9). But for those in hell, “the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night” (Revelation 14:11).

4. The saved will reign with Christ in heaven. In heaven, it’s not just that the saved are treated like royalty, they are royalty! God’s word promises that “If we endure, we shall also reign with Him” (2 Timothy 2:12), and that the saved “shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:9).

Heaven and hell will be as the Bible describes them, no matter how the concepts of men change. God’s children will so live as to gain “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven” (1 Peter 1:4)

 — Steve Klein

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Longing to go Home

Longing to go Home

Life is brief. “Certainly every man at his best state is but vapor” (Psalm 39:5).  Death is necessary.  “It is appointed unto man once to die” (Heb. 9:27).  We are but a moment’s sunlight, fading in the grass.

We view death as the enemy, and indeed, it is.  It brings separation, suffering and sorrow.  As Christians, we do not glorify death or minimize it in any way when we say that, horrible as death may be, we long for what is beyond it: A home with God.

Many of us have had the experience of being away from home for an extended period.  Invariably, there comes a point when we want to go home.  On trips to third world countries, the thing that bothers me the most is not the primitive conditions, the strange food, the lack of hot water, the tick bites, the police road blocks, or the cold nights in a tent or unheated building.  It’s the longing to be home with family.

In New York in the spring of 1927, Lillian Alling, a poor young immigrant girl, became very homesick and decided to return to her family in Russia.  Because she had saved only $100 and would not accept lifts from strangers, she set out to walk the 12,000 miles home.  Equipped with maps, a knapsack and an iron rod for protection, this fragile girl passed through Chicago, Winnipeg, British Columbia, the Yukon and Alaska, arriving in Nome in July of  1929.  It was just the halfway mark of her incredible journey.  Soon after leaving Nome, she was spotted approaching the far western tip of Alaska.  That was the last anyone on this continent is known to have seen or heard of her.  She apparently succeeded, as she had planned, in obtaining a boat and rowing across the 36 miles of the Bering Strait to Siberia.  She really wanted to go home, didn’t she?  Do we?  We should!

Listen to the way the apostle Paul describes the Christian’s desire to go to heaven in 2 Corinthians 5:1-2.  He writes, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.”  We groan, longing for home!

If you look carefully at the text in 2 Corinthians 5, you’ll see that Paul’s longing to go home was founded firmly in the confidence that he had a home to go to.  “We are confident,” he says, “yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).  This confidence was based on faith in God, and in the recognition of all that God has done to prepare us for the journey from mortality to life.  “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” “Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God” (2 Cor. 5:7, 5).

Nearly everybody will tell you that they want to go to heaven, but how many are willing to walk the long walk of faith to get there?  How many are willing to let God prepare them, rather than just assuming that they are prepared already? How many have a confident longing to go home?  Do you?

– Steve Klein

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The Saved and the Innocent: Making Heaven Brighter

fatherchildIt is hard to imagine a world so bright and glorious that even the sun and moon could add nothing to its illumination.  But there is such a world.  For Christians, it’s the world to come, and it’s called heaven.

As John saw the heavenly city, he described it as a place that “had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.  And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it” (Revelation 21:23-24).

There is something fascinating in that description.  God’s glory illuminates heaven.  There is no need of sun nor moon.  Yet, MORE glory and honor is brought into the city by those who inhabit it.  It’s as if, unable to be made more glorious by any physical source of light, heaven is somehow beautified by the light-filled beings who enter in.

Every human being who as ever lived will inhabit eternity…somewhere.  Those who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus will dwell eternally in heaven (Revelation 5:9).  Other beings will be there as well.  Angels to be sure, but also innocent children.

When a husband and wife, through the providence of God, conceive a child in this world, an immortal soul has its inception.  If the child passes from this life in the womb, or anytime before adulthood, the Scriptures indicate that the child is safe and will enter the heavenly abode — “for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:13-14).

It is a painful and traumatic experience to lose a child; it is an experience that my wife and I have had, and that my parents also went through.  But there is comfort in the hope of being with the child in the world to come.  When King David’s infant son died, he said, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:23).

The desire of a loving parent to spend eternity with an innocent child who has passed on can be very powerful.  In fact, it can change the entire trajectory of a person’s life.  And ultimately, it changes heaven itself.  In the glorious light of God’s presence, the sweet presence of innocent children will surely make heaven all the more extraordinary.

May every adult who has been touched by the loss of a child be inspired to seek the comfort that the child as found in heaven.

 — Steve Klein

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Have You Noticed The Robes?

whiterobesIn the book of Revelation, the apostle John is given the thrill of a lifetime — the opportunity to see into heaven itself.  In Revelation 7:9, he sees, “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands.”  The scene is fascinating.  It’s not just one thing catches your attention.  Everything does.  The throne.  The Lamb.  The size of the numberless multitude with palm branches.  And every one of them is clothed in a white robe.

But how could so many human souls have robes that are white when our own righteousness is like “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6)?  John is told how.  All of these people who are gathered around the throne of God in glistening white garments “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14).

Two things about the robes must not escape our notice:  First, the people in heaven had washed their robes.  Did you get that?  They had washed their own robes.  Nobody did it for them.  They had taken action.  Second, the robes had been made white in the blood of the Lamb.  There would have been no opportunity for anyone to wash their robes had the Lamb not provided His cleansing blood!  We have access by faith into grace.  God provides the blood through His grace (Ephesians 1:7).  We apply it to our souls in faithful obedience to the gospel.  “You have purified your souls in obeying the truth…” (1 Peter 1:22).

I long to stand before the throne of God adorned in a robe clean and white.  Don’t you?   The Lamb of God has provided the cleansing agent so that we might wash our robes!

So, with your mind’s eye, take a look again at what John saw.  Notice the robes!  All of the robes of all of the redeemed before God’s throne are white robes.  None are spotted.  None are stained.  Wouldn’t a dirty, stained or soiled robe be out of place in such a scene?  Wash your robe!  No matter how filthy and grimy it has become, no matter how long the stains have set in, not matter how you’ve failed in your efforts to conceal those embarrassing black blotches, no matter what a wretched sinner you have been, be assured of this one thing:

There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.

 – Steve Klein

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Heaven — The Ultimate Vacation Destination!

vacatinIt’s vacation time!  Schools are letting out for the summer across our nation.  Families are looking forward to vacations in the mountains or at the beach, and a fortunate few may even visit some exotic luxurious destination in a distant land.  But no vacation spot on earth can compare to the glories of heaven.

The Christian’s ultimate destination is heaven, which offers wonderful amenities and gorgeous vistas to be enjoyed with beautiful people for all eternity.  While heaven is not a physical place for fleshly bodies, it is a place that the Bible describes using earthly metaphors.  Imagine seeing an advertisement for a vacation spot that has these features and amenities:

  • You’ll stay in a mansion prepared by Jesus. In John 14:2 Jesus said, “In My Father’s house are many mansions…I go to prepare a place for you.”
  • Everything is new and nothing decays. The Lord promises that He will make “all things new” ( Revelation 21:5) and that nothing can destroy what we’ll possess (Matthew 6:20; Hebrews 10:34)
  • You feel great every day. There is no pain or sorrow! (Revelation 21:4-5)
  • You have a glorious body without diet and exercise! Philippians 3:20-21 promises that Christ “will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body.”
  • Your mansion is in a beautiful city, filled with beautiful people. The glory of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ illuminate the city, “and the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it” (Revelation 21:21-25).
  • And all of this can be yours at no cost to you! It is given freely for eternity! (Revelation 21:6-7)

Sounds great, doesn’t it?  Do you wanna go?

The good news is that if you have been born again, your reservation has already been made by God Himself.  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope…to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4).

If you’ve ever had to cancel a vacation reservation at the last minute because “something came up,” you know a little about disappointment.  Let’s make sure we keep our reservation in heaven.  Let us make going to heaven our greatest desire, and let us pursue that desire with our most diligent effort, no matter what comes up.  “Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless” (2 Peter 3:13-14).

– Steve Klein

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