By Wayne T. Galloway
“The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ, shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16-17). What will it be like to “always be with the Lord”?
The Bible describes heaven as a wondrous place. Revelation 21:3 says of the new Jerusalem. “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and he shall dwell among them and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be among them, and he shall wipe away every tear, from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death: there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” Even with such beautiful descriptions we are still left wondering what heaven will be like. Who will be there and what assurance do I have of being there?
Heaven is the dwelling place of God. In both the Old and New Testaments there are many references to heaven as the abode of God (Isa. 63:15; Neh. 1:4; Dan. 2:37,44; Matt. 5:16). The root idea of habitation, tabernacle or dwelling place is in all seven words used in the Bible describing heaven. Thus in a particular way heaven is portrayed as the dwelling of God (cf. Psa. 33:14; 61:4: 65:4).
On the other hand, the Bible affirms that “heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain God” (1 Kgs. 8:27; cf. Acts 7:48) and that God is not limited by place. We learn from this that, heaven is not so much a description of a place as it is a description of the presence of God. Our going to heaven has less to do with going to a place and more to do with our being in God’s presence (1 Thess. 4:17; Rev. 21:3).
For Jesus heaven was synonymous with his Father’s presence. In Matthew 11:25 Jesus prayed, “Father, Lord of heaven and earth,” which sets heaven as the sphere where God the Father exercises lordship as he does on earth. God’s not being limited by space reflects his transcendence, but the fact that God dwells in heaven, that he is “God Most High” (Psa. 7:17), is not meant to overawe, or to suggest that God is remote (off in some far away place).
Intimacy with the Father is suggested in Jesus’ expression “My Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21; 10:32,33; 12:50; 18:10,19). And lest we think that Jesus thought that God was only intimate with him he spoke of God’s intimacy with us in the expression “your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16,45,48; 6:1; 7:11; 18:14: 23:9). Not only is he “the Son of the Most High” (Lk. 1:32) but we are “sons of the Most High” (Lk. 6:35).
Not only is God, the Father, in heaven but evidence indicates that the Son and the Holy Spirit are there too. The Son descended from heaven and became incarnate (Jn. 3:13, 37; 6:38,42). He has sat down on the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens (Heb. 8:1; 1 Pet. 3:22). Heaven is the scene of his present life and activity (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25; 9:24). Revelation describes him as the Lamb of heaven (21:22: 22: 1). It was from heaven that the Holy Spirit descended on Pentecost (1 Pet. 1:12).
There are angelic beings in heaven. These beings serve as messengers and servants of God (Matt. 18: 10; 22:30; 24:36; 28:2; Mk. 12:25; 13:32; Lk. 2:15). Included here are cherubim, seraphim, archangels, and the living beings of Ezekiel and Revelation. They are concerned with our salvation (1 Pet. 1:12). They come from and return to heaven (Matt. 28:2; Lk. 2:15; 22:43). In the visions of John they appear engaged in the worship of God (Rev. 5:11), in the revelations of God (7:lff: 10:1ff), in the blowing of trumpets of judgment (8:7ff), and in other announcements of doom (22:6).
There are other spirit beings that are associated with heaven who oppose the will of God. Included here is Satan and his angels. These have been banished from heaven as a consequence of the saving work of Christ (Lk. 10: 18; Jn. 12:31; Rev. 12:7-10; 20:10). God has committed them to pits of darkness and reserved them for judgment (2 Pet. 2:4).
The saints of God from all ages will be present in heaven. This is a specially qualified group of people washed white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 1:5; 5:9: 7:13-17). Their names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 3:5; 13:8: 20:12,15; 21:27).
These are specially privileged as citizens in the commonwealth of heaven. Paul states, “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). The idea of citizenship in the ancient world was associated with the privileges of being a subject of the Roman Empire. Paul, the Roman citizen, here points to the superior privileges enjoyed by the citizens of heaven. Such privileges are not for the unrighteous (1 Cor. 6:9, 10), but for those washed, sanctified and justified (1 Cor. 6:11).
Included within these special privileges is an eternal dwelling, a body built by God (2 Cor. 5:1-2), that fits us to be with the Lord forever (1 Thess. 4:17). In the presence of God there is a total absence of evil and its attendant circumstances (Rev. 21-3-4). There is access to the river of life and the tree of life (Rev. 22:1-5).
Becoming a citizen in this kingdom involves a conscious, deliberate decision more radical even than becoming a soldier in the legions of Caesar. Entrance into the Roman military was gained through a life-changing oath, in which the individual forfeited all other allegiances and loyalties. He committed himself without reservation to Caesar and his cause. His time, fortunes, concerns, and even life itself belonged to his king. He would live for him, labor for him, fight for him, and die for him. He had no claim on himself; his king and the empire were his reason for living. Nothing was held back.
1 Peter 1:3-9 describes entrance into God’s kingdom as being born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (v. 3; cf. Rom. 6; Col. 2:12; 1 Pet. 1:22-23; 3:21). This occurs through faith (v. 5; cf. Col. 2:12) and results in obe01lience even in trials (v. 6ff: Heb. 11:1-12:3). Nothing can be held back. I become and remain a citizen in God’s kingdom as a result of my dependence upon him and what he has done in Christ to deliver me. My allegiance to my king is evident in his Lordship over my life. It is so complete “it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).
Those in opposition to God will not be in heaven. ‘The devil and his angels will not be there (2 Pet. 2:4). The unrighteous will not be there (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Those not led by the Spirit will not be there (Gal. 5:19-21). The dogs, the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying will not be there (Rev. 22:15). All those who do not know God and who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, “away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power” (2 Thess. 1:8-9).
What a grand and glorious experience to be in the presence of God, with his heavenly beings and the saints of all the ages. I am unable to imagine what it will be like. Yet, even so, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 20, pp. 626-627
October 17, 1991