Where are They Now (present Heaven versus future Heaven)? (Deut. 26:15: Heaven is where God resides; Revelation 21; Phil. 1:23; Luke 16:19-31; Rev. 6:9-11)

Where are They Now (present Heaven versus future Heaven)? (Deut. 26:15: Heaven is where God resides; Revelation 21; Phil. 1:23; Luke 16:19-31; Rev. 6:9-11)

Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for and at Bethel Friends Church in Poland, OH on Sunday, January 15, 2023

Today, I want to talk about the present Heaven versus the eternal Heaven.

Jonathan Edwards, the great Puritan preacher, often spoke of Heaven. He said, “It becomes us to spend this life only as a journey toward heaven . .  . to which we should subordinate all other concerns of life. Why should we labor for or set our hearts on anything else, but that which is our proper end and true happiness?”[1]

So, let’s look at Heaven.

It is really difficult to talk about Heaven without looking up a lot of passages, but for flow I only want you to have to turn to one passage. In Revelation 6:9-11 we see a scene of martyrs interceding in Heaven. This is a scene in Heaven, and we can draw some conclusions from it.

Today, my theme is to teach on the present heaven versus future heaven with a goal to help us meditate on our eternal home.

Revelation 6:9–11 (ESV)

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

  1. Context of Revelation 6:9-11
    1. In a minute, we will draw applications from Rev. 6:9-11.
    2. This passage is the last book of the Bible and there is a lot going on here. There are differing views of Revelation. But let’s put this in the narrative of the Bible.
    3. In Genesis 1-2 everything was created good.
    4. In Genesis 3 sin entered the world. Ever since sin entered the world things have been fallen, depraved, messed up.
    5. So, that is the state we were left with all through the Old Testament.
    6. Then Jesus came and He died on the cross for our sins and rose again. That is the New Testament.
    7. Now, we are in the end of the Bible and also the future consummation of all things.
    8. Rev. 6 takes place during the tribulation period and that is the period when God is pouring out judgment on all the world.
    9. The tribulation period will be followed by the Millennial Reign and then the New Jerusalem which will be the new heavens and the new earth.
  2. Now let’s differentiate between the two Heavens.
    1. We find in Scripture that the future Heaven is not until the end of the Bible. In Revelation 21 we find the reference to the future Heaven and that is the new Jerusalem. We find other references throughout the Bible to the New Jerusalem and that is the eternal Heaven.
    2. We also find through the Bible references to the millennial reign. We find this in Rev. 20:2-6 as well as Old Testament passages. This is not the New Jerusalem, nor is it the current Heaven.
    3. When we think of passages concerning the resurrection of the body, that will be for the new Jerusalem and maybe the millennial reign. When we think of passages about Jesus wiping every tear from our eyes and no more crying, etc (Rev. 21) that is the New Jerusalem. A lot of what we will talk about in the coming weeks will concern the New Jerusalem and eternal Heaven, so today I want to talk more specifically about the current Heaven.
  3. For the rest of the message, I want to draw on 5 encouraging applications about the current Heaven. I will substantiate these applications from the Rev. 6:9-11 passage and a few others.
  1. We can be encouraged that we go straight to Heaven when we die (Luke 23:43; 2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23).
    1. Heaven is where God resides, and we will go straight to Heaven. We can know that we go to be with God because those saints are with God, and they are interceding for others.
    2. We also know in Luke 23:43 Jesus told the thief that that very day he would join Jesus in paradise.
    3. In 2 Cor. 5:8 Paul wrote about being absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.
    4. In Phil. 1:23 Paul also wrote about departing and joining Jesus.
    5. We go to be with God in Heaven when we die.
    6. Now, where is Heaven? Scientists at Yale, Princeton, and Stanford, among others, postulate that there are ten unobservable dimensions and likely an infinite number of imperceptible universes.[2]
    7. I find that fascinating. Heaven is in a realm that we are imperceptible to, but God is there.
    8. We see it happen in Scripture, such as 2 Kings 6:17 when Elisha’s servant’s eyes are opened in order to see God’s angels all around him.
  2. We can be encouraged that we will have consciousness in the immediate Heaven (1 Samuel 28:16-19; Luke 9:31; 16:19-31; Rev. 6:9-11).
    1. We see in Scripture that we will be conscious. If we simply think about this passage in Revelation, they are conscious and they are actually interceding for the persecuted church.
    2. We also see consciousness in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31.
  3. We can be encouraged that we will have contact with those who have gone before us (Luke 16:19-31; Rev. 6:9-11: they worship, not one merged identity.
  4. In the Rev. 6:9-11 passage they are worshipping together. We see the people together again in Rev. 7:9-10.
    1. We see a group of people together.
    2. There is no reason to think that when people die they are not reunited with their loved ones as well.
    3. By the way, these Scriptural examples are specific cases, it seems that Heaven is far greater than anything we can think or imagine.
    4. Worshipping Jesus is exciting, standing before His throne, but Heaven will be more than worship.
    5. Heaven will be fellowship; we see that indicated in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31.
    6. Paul desired Heaven more than earth so it must be greater than we can think of.
    7. In 2 Cor. 12 Paul wrote of some type of near-death experience and said that he saw things that he was not permitted to speak of. He also did not know whether he was in the body or out of the body.
    8. Now, is a good time for me to also say that it seems that the immediate Heaven is physical, not purely spiritual.
    9. Listen, the physical body is not bad, it is good. It is Christoplatonism to think that it is bad. Remember I shared that last Sunday. Greek philosophy, Platonism, impacted Christianity to think the physical is bad, but it isn’t.
    10. These descriptions in Rev. 6:9-11 and in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus give physical descriptions. They had voices to cry out. They were wearing white robes.
    11. “The rich man and Lazarus are depicted as having physical forms. The rich man had a tongue and a thirst that he wished to satisfy with water. Lazarus had a finger, and there was water available to him in Paradise, into which he might dip his finger. Of course, these references may be entirely figurative. But they might also suggest the possession of transitional physical forms, existing in a physical Paradise, to sustain and manifest human identity between death and resurrection.”[3]
    12. These bodies and this physical realm are still different than the New Jerusalem and the bodies are not our resurrected bodies, they may be temporary bodies, but it does seem physical.
    13. The physical can go in and out of the spiritual. We see that all throughout the Bible when God interacts with humanity. Of course, God is spiritual (John 4:24), but the angels are physical and they interact with our realm (Hebrews 13:2; Genesis 18; the Lord’s appearance to Abraham; Genesis 19 the angels visiting Lot).
    14. We also know that God is unchanging, that does not mean that Heaven is unchanging. God can change Heaven as He sees fit. This means Heaven can be a certain way now, but then transition when the New Jerusalem comes down from earth.
  5. We can be encouraged that in Heaven we will have a memory of life on earth, otherwise we would be a different person. (Luke 16:19-31).
    1. In the passage in Luke 16:19-31 the rich man and Lazarus had memories of their life on earth.
    2. I like how Randy Alcorn points out that without our memories we would be different people.
    3. Also, in 1 Samuel 28:16-19, Saul wrongfully tries to bring up the spirit of the dead prophet Samuel and Samuel remembered Saul and really was alert to what was going on.
  6. We can be encouraged that it is likely our past family members and friends are interceding for us now (Rev. 6:9-11).
    1. We see this in Rev. 6:9-11. They are interceding for the Christians on earth.
    2. Actually, their intercession is more valuable than our prayers because they are with Jesus and so they are righteous. James tells us that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective, and they are righteous or they wouldn’t be in Heaven (James 5:16).
    3. This means they are interceding for us, but that does not mean we should pray to them. We can pray straight to Jesus, why pray to anyone other than Jesus Who is Lord and God (Hebrews 4:14-16).
    4. Just imagine that your friends and family are in Heaven interceding for you, isn’t that amazing?

Conclusion:

So, we go straight to Heaven and then eventually to the New Jerusalem.

To illustrate, imagine you lived in a homeless shelter in Miami. One day you inherit a beautiful house overlooking Santa Barbara, California, and are given a wonderful job doing something you’ve always wanted to do. Many friends and family will live nearby.

As you fly toward Santa Barbara, you stop at the Dallas airport for a layover. Other family members you haven’t seen in years meet you. They will board the plane with you to Santa Barbara. Naturally you look forward to seeing them in Dallas, your first stop.

But if someone asks where you’re going, would you say “Dallas”? No. You would say Santa Barbara, because that’s your final destination. Dallas is just a temporary stop. At most you might say “I’m going to Santa Barbara, with a brief stop in Dallas.”[4] Similarly, the Heaven we will go to when we die, the present Heaven, is a temporary dwelling place, a stop along the way to our final destination: the New Earth. Another analogy is more precise but difficult to imagine, because for most of us it’s outside our experience. Imagine leaving the homeless shelter in Miami and flying to the intermediate location, Dallas, and then turning around and going back home to your place of origin, which has been completely renovated— a New Miami. In this New Miami, you would no longer live in a homeless shelter, but in a beautiful house in a glorious pollution-free, crime-free, sin-free city. So you would end up living not in a different home, but in a radically improved version of your old home. This is what the Bible promises us— we will live with Christ and each other forever, not in the intermediate, or present, Heaven, but on the New Earth, where God will be at home with his people.[5]

This heaven is all possible because of Jesus.

Do you know Jesus?

God created us to be with him. (Genesis 1-2)

Our sin separated us from God. (Genesis 3)

Sins cannot be removed by good deeds (Gen 4-Mal 4)

Paying the price for sin, Jesus died and rose again. (Matthew – Luke)

Everyone who trusts in him alone has eternal life. (John – Jude)

Life that’s eternal means we will be with Jesus forever. (Revelation 22:5)

[1] Alcorn, Randy (2011-12-08). Heaven (Alcorn, Randy) (Kindle Locations 352-354). Tyndale House Publishers. Kindle Edition.

[2] Alcorn, Randy (2011-12-08). Heaven (Alcorn, Randy) (Kindle Locations 997-1005). Tyndale House Publishers. Kindle Edition.

[3] Alcorn, Randy (2011-12-08). Heaven (Alcorn, Randy) (Kindle Locations 1443-1447). Tyndale House Publishers. Kindle Edition.

[4] http://www.epm.org/blog/2015/Apr/22/present-heaven-future-heaven

[5] Alcorn, Randy (2011-12-08). Heaven (Alcorn, Randy) (Kindle Locations 978-981). Tyndale House Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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