Last Sunday we began the second half of our sermon series on “Heaven and Hell” by identifying the three different heavens that are presented in Scripture. The first of these was called Abraham’s Bosom, and was the designated area in Sheol where the Old Testament saints went following their earthly death. After His crucifixion Jesus briefly visited this place and liberated those righteous souls who had been waiting there - people such as Noah, Jacob, and David. He led them to the present heaven, thereby leaving Abraham’s bosom (the past
The second heaven discussed in the Bible is the one we think of today. It is the present heaven. All believers who have died since the resurrection and ascension of Christ around 2,000 years ago have gone immediately to be with the Lord in the present heaven. This will continue to be the destination for the souls of deceased Christians until the establishment of the future heaven following the millennial reign of Jesus. If you have been born again and were to die today, you would go to the present heaven.
The third heaven in the Bible is described in detail in the final two chapters of Revelation, though it is also mentioned elsewhere in other books. It is called the New Heavens and New Earth, and is the future and final heaven where all of God’s children will dwell with Him forever. Many Christians do not make a clear distinction between the future and present and heaven, which leads to a basic misunderstanding of the theology of heaven.
This morning we are going to learn some basic truths found in the Bible relating to the present heaven. What is it like? Where is it? What will the people there be like and what will they do?
I. WITH ME IN PARADISE
3 And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows— 4 was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. - 2 Corinthians 12:3-4
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’ - Revelation 2:7
The Word of God does not provide us with many details about the physical characteristics of the present heaven. This has led to much speculation and imagination. Some have pictured it as an open expanse in the blue skies above, where the redeemed endlessly strum upon harps and sing praises to God. This flawed view has actually led some to believe that Heaven will be extremely boring and monotonous. Sadly, there are Christians who dread going to Heaven because of these unbiblical and distorted descriptions. They couldn’t be farther from the truth!
On the cross, Jesus described Heaven as Paradise. Though He might have been referring to the past heaven in that particular instance, elsewhere the Bible clearly uses the word paradise as a synonym for the present heaven. The word paradise in the Greek is paradeiso which means “park”. While our understanding of a park has changed over time, in those days it was basically a garden. A park or garden is a peaceful place where people go to find solace, comfort, joy, and beauty. Scripture even states that the tree of life is there. Perhaps we should begin thinking about the present heaven in this way - as a garden park, seeing that its how Jesus described it.
II. THE THRONE ROOM
So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. - Mark 16:19
Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. - Revelation 4:2
Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus ascended into the present heaven where He sat down at the right hand of God. During the apostle John’s revelation, he saw a throne in the present heaven where God the Father was seated and various creatures/angels worshiped Him. Stephen the martyr, in the moments before his death, looked up into Heaven and saw Jesus standing at God’s right hand. These passages indicate that God currently dwells in the present heaven with Jesus present beside Him, both enthroned on high. The throne room of God is
certainly one of the greatest features of the present heaven.
III. IN THE CLOUDS
9 And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. 11 They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven. - Acts 1:9-11
17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. - 1 Thessalonians 4:17
The disciples stood watching as Jesus ascended up into Heaven. They saw Him being lifted up into the clouds eventually disappearing from their sight. The angels promised that when He returned, Jesus would come back in the same way. During the rapture, we are told that Jesus will appear in the clouds and call His children to meet Him in the air. These verses, and many others, seem to suggest that the present heaven is somewhere in the sky, perhaps in distant space. Regardless of its locality, God is omnipresent and is always near to us. Though the Bible does not give the exact coordinates, there is an obvious and intentional contrast made between Hell down below and Heaven up above.
IV. BODIES AND SOULS
6 Remember Him before the silver cord is broken and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed; 7 then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it. - Ecclesiastes 12:6-7
2 And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. - Matthew 17:2-3
Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads. - Revelation 4:4
One of the major distinctions between the present heaven and the future heaven is the nature of our physical bodies. The Bible teaches that, when a person dies here on earth, their body is laid in the grave but their spirit immediately goes to be with the Lord in Heaven. At some point during the last days (perhaps at the rapture of the Church), the bodies of these believers will be resurrected and reunited with their spirits. These will be glorified bodies. From that time forward, God’s children will dwell with Him both in body and spirit. In the meantime however, do the righteous have bodies in the present heaven or are they only disembodied spirits?
First, let us remember that Jesus rose physically from the grave and ascended into Heaven bodily. If Jesus already has a body in the present heaven, perhaps we will too. During the transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus in bodily form and were recognizable to the apostles. In his apocalyptic vision, John saw men (elders) wearing clothing and crowns seated in the throne room around God. These and other passages seem to suggest that, though they might not yet be the final resurrected and glorified bodies, the righteous seem to have temporary bodies or some physical form that allows them to maintain their identity and to
function as a person in the present heaven.
V. WATCHING AND WAITING
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, - Hebrews 12:1
9 When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; 10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be
killed even as they had been, would be completed also. - Revelation 6:9-11
Those who are in the present heaven are described as witnesses who seem to be very aware of what is happening on the earth. They are not just casually watching, but instead appear to be very concerned about the affairs of those still living. It is as if they are cheering us on from their vantage point on high. In Revelation (before the second coming), the martyrs who have been killed for the cause of Christ during the Tribulation plead with the Lord to exact vengeance on their murderers. They seem to be growing impatient, which indicates that they are sensitive to time. The occupants of the present heaven are both watching and waiting.
There are a few other observations that can be made from these Tribulation martyrs. First, they remember who they were on earth and how they died. This suggests that they had retained memories from their previous life. They were still the same people as they had been, only now they were in Heaven. Second, they ask God a question and receive an answer. This reveals that they did not know everything, and were able to gain new information. In other words, they were able to learn.
While there is much we don’t know about the present heaven, the Bible does give us a few wonderful details. These are enough to whet our appetites and feed our imaginations. Here is a brief summation of today’s message.
The present heaven is an intermediate state where believers go between the time of their physical death and the appearance of the New Heavens and New Earth. It is a heavenly paradise, filled with indescribable beauty. The throne room of God is located there, where Jesus Himself currently sits at the right hand of the Father. The redeemed in this glorious place enjoy comfort, peace, and rest. Each seems to have a functional, individual body though it isn’t their final resurrected and glorified body. In addition, people in the present heaven have the same identities that they had while on earth and even remember the details of their former lives. They appear to be watching and quite concerned about those who are still living down below. Wow!
Next week we will discover what Scripture says about the future heaven. Until then, may God bless you!