By Lee Forsythe
Fifty-two percent of France does not believe in heaven., Eleven percent of Americans do not either. That percentage increases with a college education (23%), but, interestingly, decreases as people grow older (10%). Many are too occupied with the “here” to give much thought to the “hereafter.” But heaven is a necessary inspiration to us, an encouragement to persist through sickness, financial problems, and even death. Let us notice what heaven is and then discuss who will be there.
Heaven is a perfect place. When the apostles were stunned by Jesus’ prophecy of Peter’s denial, Judas’ betrayal, and his own impending death, Jesus told them of a better place. “Stop letting your hearts be troubled; keep on believing in God, and also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places; if there were not, I would have told you, for I am going away to make ready a place for you. And if I go and make it ready for you, I will come back and take you to be face to face with me, so that you may always be right where I am” (John 14:1-3, Charles Williams). Some believe that heaven is on earth or a state of mind, but Jesus was leaving earth “I go” to prepare a “place.” His words offered stability to the apostles even when their world was falling apart. Heaven would only help by believing deeply (notice “believe” in vv. 1 [2x’s], 10, 11 [2x’s], 12, 29), “believe not only in certain doctrines, but in Jesus himselfin him as able to carry out every promise that he has made.”, They could have peace because of their ultimate victory in heaven.
Heaven is a permanent place. When Jesus spoke of the idea of heaven he often used the phrase “everlasting life”, and “eternal life. It is more than quantity of life, because the wicked will suffer “everlasting punishment” (Matt. 26:46). It is quantity plus the quality of living life as God intended, to the fullest extent possible. Although eternal life is a present possession (Jn. 3:36, “has everlasting life”), it will be fully realized in heaven. A place where we will not be pilgrims (1 Pet. 2:11), nor does it “fade not away” (1 Pet. 1: 4). It will be our “homeland” (Heb. 11:15) forever. We will not be upset by houses failing to sell, furniture being scratched or broken, and, most importantly, saying heartbreaking goodbyes.
Heaven is a place where we will have a perfect body. Who cannot identify with Paul as he cries out, “0 wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7: 24) Paul is not saying that the body, per se, is evil, but that Satan uses the desires of the body to try to destroy us. As Jesus said, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). Paul continues in Romans 8:23, ” … even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (cf. v. 11). In heaven our glorified bodies will be like Jesus (Phil. 3:20-21). Our “spiritual bodies” (1 Cor. 14:42-49) will be incorruptible (not subject to decay or sickness), glorious (as opposed to dishonor), and powerful (contrasted with the weakness of the fleshly body). It is comforting to think we will never have to go to a doctor, suffer the limits of old age, or finally “wear out.” Our bodies will be perfectly suited for eternity.
Heaven will be a place of perfect fellowship. Although the word “heaven” is used some 284 times in the New Testament, only about 15 speak of heaven as our future abode.’ Most of the “heaven” references are to the air where the birds fly, the place of the stars, the dwelling place of God and his angels, or in the phrase “kingdom of heaven” (31 times). Instead of “heaven” the Bible often uses the concept of being with God. This “face to face” relationship is the best part of the “treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:20, 19:21, Lk. 12:33; Heb. 10:34). A place without people is not home. A while back I visited my grandparent’s old home place. They had been dead for years, but the house still stood. The giant oak that we spent many evenings under was still there. Wonderful memories came to mind. But memories are not as good as being with my grandparents. This is what makes heaven special. We will have intimate fellowship with God. “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God” (Rev. 21: 3).
Who Will Be In Heaven?
Infants will be in heaven. When David had lost his child he said, “Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Sam. 12: 23). Some would suggest that David was talking about the grave, but why would this console David? David clearly anticipated being with God after death (Psa. 17:15; especially 16: 10) and, thus, he would be reunited with his child. This thought has comforted many a grieving parent, including my wife and me. Several years ago we stood and watched our daughter of six and a half weeks die of congestive heart failure. The pain was intense, but we knew Lana would never feel another needle, experience pain, or cry a single tear. She would be with God.
Young children will be in heaven. Paul claimed that he “was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died” (Rom. 7:9). There was a time when Paul was innocent, incapable of understanding God’s law (Mosaical). But when he reached the age where he could understand, he died spiritually. The “age of accountability” is dependent upon the maturity level of the child. If one dies before he reaches that age, he will go to heaven.
The mentally incompetent will be in heaven. Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”(Matt. 28: 19). “Discipline” involves teaching. One must be able to comprehend the gospel and believe in Jesus (John 8:24). Without faith, baptism is merely a dunking in water (John 3:5). A special problem arises with those who are mentally competent but put off obedience unto God. Then some tragedy occurs and they lose their mental competency. They would be judged for the time they were “accountable” (2 Cor. 5: 10).
The redeemed who remain faithful will be in heaven. Jesus said, “I am the way (both the revealer and the redeemer), the truth (reliable, trustworthy), and the life (spiritual life). No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). By the blood of Jesus we are redeemed (Eph. 1:7) and made fit for the kingdom of God. It is only because of this forgiveness that we can have fellowship with a perfect God (Rom. 3:25-26; 1 John 1:5). A person does not need money, education, or to be of a particular nationality to go to heaven. He only needs a humble (Matt. 5:3), receptive heart (Lk. 8:15) that is willing to obey the word of God (Matt. 7:24-25). Although only a few are willing to obey (Matt. 7:14), John depicts heaven as “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” (Rev. 7:9). Imagine how incredible it will be to stand with that group!
But heaven is not for everyone. Some might say with Machiavelli, “I desire to go to Hell, not to Heaven. In Hell I shall enjoy the company of popes, kings, and princes, but in Heaven are only beggars, monks, hermits, and apostles.”. No, he will not enjoy hell and heaven is far more that he envisions. It is the most wonderful place we could imagine (Rev. 21 & 22) with the best people whoever lived (Matt. 8:11; Heb. 12:22-24). Yet the best part is that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, along with all the heavenly hosts, will be there. It is no wonder that Paul would write, “For we who are in this tent (physical body) groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed (spirit without the body), but further clothed (spiritual body), that mortality may be swallowed up by life” (2 Cor. 5:4).
If we are troubled or afraid, let us meditate more deeply on heaven and receive the peace that Jesus promised (John 14:27). Problems, the apostles learned, were “light . . . for a moment,” but they work “for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17). Let us not be satisfied with a description of heaven, but let us live that we may experience heaven. Heaven inspired the apostles. May it inspire us as well.
Rosten, Leo. Religions Of America. New York: Simon and Schuster (1975), pp. 341-342.
Charles Spurgeon. The Treasury Of The Bible, Grand Rap-ids: Baker (1981), VI, p. 511.
Matt. 19:29; Lk. 18:30; In. 3:16; 4:14; 5:24; 6:27, 40, 47; 12:50.
Matt. 25: 46; Mk. 10:30; In. 3:15, 36; 5:39; 6:54; 10:28; 12:25; 17:2, 3.
Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker, pg. 595: Phil. 3:20; Lk. 10:20; Heb. 12:23; 2 Cor. 5:1; Matt. 5: 12; Lk. 6:23; Matt. 6:20; Lk. 12:33; Col. 1:5; 1 Pet. 1:4; Lk. 19: 38; Rev. 3:12; 21:2, 10. To these Thayer (465) would add: Matt. 19:21; Mk. 10:21; Lk. 18:22; Heb. 10:34.
Quoted by Bergan Evans, Dictionary of Quotations, 310, supposedly on his deathbed. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1975, pp. 341-342.
Guardian of Truth XL: 1 p. 20-21
January 4, 1996