Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Where Has Heaven Gone?


By Dennis Pollock

Jesus declared: “In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). The concept of heaven has nearly disappeared from the church. We hear sermons about faith, love, success, prosperity, healing, relationships, and happiness, but when is the last time you heard a sermon that was devoted to the subject of heaven? A Time Magazine cover story made the point that hardly any modern mainline minister ever preaches about heaven any more. A United Methodist spokesman called heaven too controversial to discuss. A preacher from Washington considered the matter of heaven to be a geographical issue undeserving of his attention.

I believe there are three reasons for this apathy. First, most of the church has embraced a “here and now” gospel. The emphasis is upon what God can do for you in your present situation. Got family problems, job problems, loneliness, depression, or hurting feet? Jesus can fix all of that. Give your life to Him and watch Him work! Talking much about heaven is scornfully viewed as “pie in the sky by and by” theology, and utterly impractical and irrelevant to twenty-first century middle class American life. Fearing to lose the interest of their ambitious yuppies, cautious pastors carefully craft sermons that will combine the best of therapy and positive thinking, and enable their congregations to charge out of the church building with a “can-do” spirit.

Some people have suggested that there are certain believers that are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good. I would reply, “Where is such a creature?” Perhaps in times past there have been such people, but I have met few. For every one individual in such a state, there must be thousands of professing Christians who are so earthly minded they are of no heavenly good.

Second, because we all instinctively realize that heaven is seen at its best advantage during times of great suffering, church leaders are loathe to address the issue. The idea of Christian suffering is thought almost heretical in many quarters, and in the others it is still not especially popular. Since Jesus is making life so much fun down here, who wants to think about heaven?

And third, due primarily to ignorance of the Scriptures and lack of Scriptural reasoning, heaven is considered even by some of the most devout Christians as not very exciting. Many believe heaven will be like a long church service where we will sing hymns and praise choruses for eternity. Now I am a lover of praise and worship, but I have to admit, if that was what heaven entailed, I wouldn’t be too excited about it either. Many of us have had the experience of being in a church service where the worship time was carried on fifteen or twenty minutes longer than it should have been. The joy and sweetness of God’s presence that you felt in the early stages was devoured by the tiredness and tedium brought about by six songs too many. Then to think of spending eternity in such a situation – not exactly something to look forward to!

The Biblical View

Anyone reading through the New Testament, with an eye toward heavenly references, would be quickly struck by this thought: these guys really believed in heaven! Just the references to heaven by Jesus in the gospels would be enough to preach on for years. Our Lord could never seem to mention the Father without reminding us where He lives:

  1. Our Father which art in heaven… (Matthew 6:9)
  2. Glorify your Father in heaven… (Matthew 5:16)
  3. That you may be sons of your Father in heaven… (Matthew 5:45)
  4. Just as your Father in heaven is perfect… (Matthew 5:48)

Jesus not only constantly reminded us of the Father’s address; He also continually exhorts us to be heavenly minded, telling us to lay up our treasures in heaven, and encouraging us that when we are persecuted for righteousness sake, our reward is great in heaven. If for no other reason, the doctrine of heaven should be preached, taught, and discussed because our Lord had so much to say about it.

Heaven & Suffering

Clearly heaven is most longed for in the hearts of God’s people during times of great suffering. Some mock such desire, and suggest that the idea of a place where pain, death, and misery have been done away with is merely a crutch for the weak. This would be true if heaven were no more than a fantasy. But since the greatest authority on things outside of this world, Jesus Christ, has declared its reality, it cannot be wishful thinking to long for such a place. It would be a most peculiar individual who didn’t yearn for heaven during times of intense physical or emotional pain. The fact that the Bible paints heaven in such beautiful colors indicates that our Heavenly Father in fact wants us to think about heaven all the time, and all the more when we face our most difficult days. A vibrant view of heaven is good for you!

Hope has received a bum rap in the church for quite a long time now. Many consider hope a rather wimpy virtue. Love is great, faith is dynamic, but hope is … well kind of puny, more fitting for those who don’t have much going on in their lives. This view could not be further from the truth. The Bible is filled with good things to say about hope. Hebrews tell us that we are Christ’s house “if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:6).

Hope is a powerful antidote to the pressures and problems that face us in the present. It steadfastly looks to the future and declares that though the present may not look so good, the future is bright indeed. You may be thinking that this sounds a lot like faith. Hope and faith are cousins – they look similar but they are not identical.

Faith is that which takes God at His word. It appropriates the promises of God and marks them down as good as done. But hope is that ability to peer into the future and rejoice over what faith has declared to be certain. Faith believes; hope rejoices.

Consider a little boy riding a broken down bicycle to school every day. The paint is worn, the fenders are bent, and the chain makes a terrible rattling sound. He gets teased over his pathetic bike by the other kids. But his dad informs him that he will be getting a brand new bike for Christmas. Because his dad is utterly honest and trustworthy the boy immediately believes the dad, and knows that he will keep his promise. This is faith.

A few days before Christmas the boy happens to see, under some blankets in the garage, the tires of the bike that will soon be his. His heart pounding, he goes to his room and spends hours daydreaming of the day when he will be riding it. When he rides his old bike to school, the teasing of his classmates means nothing to him. He knows that within a short time he will be riding a bicycle far better than any of theirs. He spends his days at school with a huge smile all over his freckled face. This is hope.

Hope doesn’t just take God at His word; hope rejoices with “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” Faith says, “Done,” while hope says, “Yippeee!” God not only wants us to believe in heaven; He wants us thrilled with the prospect. He wants this not simply because it will make us happier, but also because it will make us holier.

Let me use one more illustration. Have you ever had the misfortune to be on the losing side of a lopsided softball game? After the first inning the score is 11 to 1, in favor of the other team. You say to yourself, “We’ll get it back the next inning.” But after the second inning the score has gone to 27 to 2. At this point you know full well you have already lost the game. But you have a problem. There are still five more innings to play. What happens? You quickly lose interest in the game. You get sloppy, you joke, you goof off. There is no point in trying your best; the game is over and everybody knows it. The mercy about such games is that they do come to an end. Soon you forget your humiliation. Sadly, there are many who feel that way about life. Before they get very far, the pains and pressures, the failures and disappointments mount up, and they see themselves as having already lost in only the second inning.

Hope annihilates such thinking. The knowledge that your Creator loves you, has accepted you, and has an amazing eternity of bliss and beauty gives you the resources to keep going, and to view your failures and struggles as only temporary setbacks. If God is for us, who can be against us? An informed knowledge of heaven is an indispensable component of such a hope.

More Tangible Than You Think

There are two erroneous concepts of heaven that have done a terrible injustice to that place which our Lord is preparing for us. The first is that heaven is not a tangible place; it is some ethereal mystical region totally foreign to anything we have ever known. The second is that heaven will be eternally boring. The Bible tells us quite the contrary. Heaven is a physical place! It would have to be, for we will be dwelling there in physical bodies. Anthony Hoekema writes, “Resurrected bodies are not intended just to float in space, or to flit from cloud to cloud. They call for a new earth on which to live and to work, glorifying God. The doctrine of the resurrection of the body, in fact, makes no sense whatever apart from the doctrine of the new earth.” Much of the church has assumed we will be floating through space playing a harp for all eternity. Far from it!

When you understand the nature of heaven (God’s promised new earth, combined with the holy city, New Jerusalem) it becomes apparent that it will be anything but boring. We are told that we will reign forever with Jesus. Not that we will sing forever; we will reign forever. And if we will reign, there must be cities and nations and industry and people that we will be reigning over. God is a creative God. Who knows what new projects and peoples He is planning for His promised new earth?

Often if you ask teenagers if they are excited about Jesus coming back they will respond, “Well, I want that, but I want to live my life first.” They mean that they would feel shortchanged if they could never marry, have children, buy a house, raise a family, and enjoy the pleasures of an earthly life. Such an attitude is understandable, but it is based on a fallacy. The things our God is preparing for us will so outshine any earthly pleasures we have known, that if a Christian teen were to die and begin to partake of this glorious life, and then be offered the chance to come back, he would protest with all he had, begging for the privilege to stay with Christ.

Such is the future our Lord Jesus has purchased for us when He died for our sins on the cross and rose again the third day. He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might live with God forever in a place where pain and misery have been forever banished. And death shall be no more.



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