“Preparing for Heaven”
Hello, and welcome to “Key to the Kingdom.” My name is Bret McCasland. When someone says the word heaven, what comes to your mind? Do you think about the skies above the earth? Do you think about a mythical place that really does not exist? Or do you think about the planets and stars somewhere in outer space? Oh, heaven takes on lots of different meanings. And for those who are aware of the Bible and its message, heaven is a familiar term. It refers to the reward of being a child of God and a disciple of Jesus Christ. Heaven is viewed by some as God's dwelling place and where Jesus sits at His Father's right hand. Oh, in the minds of many, heaven is the eternal home reserved for those who have received God's free gift of salvation; and for them, heaven is a certain reality and it is greatly anticipated. Well, the next four lessons on “Key to the Kingdom,” we will focus on the subject of heaven. Each one will stand independently, as new things are addressed. They will focus on different aspects of heaven, as we study from the Bible. We will look at many passages and consider God's promise of an eternal home. Now, this will be a little bit different from the normal approach we take on our weekly broadcast. There will not be a two minute “Key Moment” or illustration connected with these lessons. Even though many Bible passages will be read and studied, there will be others for you to consider on your own. My hope is that this short series will remind us of the eternal home that awaits those who are part of God's family. I also hope these lessons will provide a basis from which we can do additional study and research. Above all, may these lessons give us some things to consider, as we live our lives in preparation for and anticipation of the Lord's return. With those things in mind, I invite you now to open your heart and your Bible, as we study together.
When talking about religious matters, oftentimes the subject of heaven is brought up; and perhaps you have been a part of such conversations. When I was visiting with some people, not long ago, about heaven, one man said, “Well, heaven is what you make it here upon the earth.” Another man suggested, “Well, heaven is just a place in the sky.” And then someone else offered, “Heaven is not even real.” On this program, I oftentimes refer to heaven, and those references are associated with the eternal reward reserved for those who receive God's free gift of salvation. And perhaps you may have heard me make such statements. Well, heaven is referred to in a variety of ways. And until we experience it firsthand, there are many things we will never fully understand. In fact, as we carefully study God's Word, we might even change our view on heaven or perhaps learn some additional things about heaven, which we did not already know. Well, during the next four lessons, we will look at several Bible passages seeking to know more about one's future home with the Lord. Each one of these lessons will offer teaching from the Bible about different aspects of heaven; and I hope you will join us for each one. Well, today we begin by thinking about preparing for heaven. The first thing I want to mention is heaven is God's throne and Jesus' home. Some people have it in mind that heaven is a myth which does not even exist. Others suggest it is a concept of bouncing around on white puffy clouds, high above the earth and looking down up on it. Well, that is not what we find in the Bible. I'm going to be reading quite a few passages from the book called Revelation, the last book in the Bible. And the Revelation is simply the Apostle John's version of what he saw as he was granted a look into heaven, into that heavenly throne room scene, and he writes down those words. We begin with what John saw in Revelation chapter 4, verses 1 through 3. <After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. The voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this." At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the One who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian.> The Spirit of God called upon John to see for himself the glories of heaven. And John did not keep that to himself -and I'm glad he did not- as he wrote down what he saw. He gives us an idea, in terms that we can understand, of a little bit of what heaven is like. John begins with that throne in heaven, mentioned some 40 times in the book. It is described as a literal throne, and it is the place from which God oversees His creation. We are familiar, perhaps, with pictures and words and statutes of someone sitting upon a throne ruling over a group of people, or perhaps an entire nation. And that person is sitting, perhaps, in a high back chair with their arms outstretched on the arms of that chair, and there they are looking, with a majestic sort of look, over those people or that nation. And that seems to be the idea conveyed here in Revelation, chapter 4; that God, with that beautiful appearance of jasper and carnelian, is sitting upon that throne and ruling over His kingdom. Well, toward the end of his vision he wrote these words, in chapter 22 verse 1. <Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.> The water of life, and all of the activities of heaven, originate from God's throne. Everything begins from the throne of God, as He offers His blessing and provision to all of that heavenly kingdom. In chapter 4, John also saw various ones bowing down before that throne, to worship and to honor the One who was seated upon it. And from there God's presence extended throughout the world, His blessings continued to flow to all people. In the Gospel of John, chapter 1 verse 33, Jesus referred to Himself as coming down from heaven; and we know that He did, as He carried out His public ministry here up on the earth. He also made the statement, in chapter 3 and verse 13 of the Gospel of John, “No one has ever gone into heaven, except the One who came from heaven, the Son of Man.” And no doubt, He is referring to Himself, as Jesus was there with the Father in heaven at the very beginning, at the creation. He came down to this earth and carried out His ministry; and then after His resurrection from the dead, He returned to His rightful place at His Father's right hand. We know that from Acts chapter 1, verse 11. He ascended back into heaven where He continues to reign with His Father, on the throne. Yes, Jesus was with the Father in the beginning and He continues to be so, even now. And these passages, along with others, indicate that indeed heaven is the home of God. It is there where He blesses all nations. His blessings continue to pour out; and Jesus is with Him, as well. The second thing I want us to think about, in regards to heaven, is that heaven is a city. When we think about the city in which we live, we know it to be a place of many homes. People have places of residence. This is where they live. We consider the various things which take place within those city limits. We think about the governing authorities that rule over that particular city. We consider the various activities going on in the schools and the places to worship and the parks and the gymnasiums and the shopping centers and everything else that makes up life within that city. Well, that seems to be the idea about heaven; and it is conveyed in a couple of passages of Scripture in the letter called Hebrews. The Hebrew author is writing to some people who are anticipating and longing for a better place than what they have up on the earth. And he writes this, in verse 16 of chapter 11: <They were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.> He continues on in that same line, in chapter 12 verses 22 and 23: <You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, to the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly.> In those passages, heaven is referred to as a city where there are far too many angels to count. It is God’s city. It is the city He has prepared for all of those who belong to Him. We find a fuller description of that city in Revelation chapter 21. Let's notice these verses, beginning in verse 15 and reading through verse 17. <The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long. The angel measured the wall using human measurement, and it was 144 cubits thick.> Well, we can translate that 12,000 stadia into 1,400 miles, and then the 144 cubits into 200 feet. Now, what does all of that say to us; that, heaven is a huge place, 1,400 miles long and 1,400 miles wide and 1,400 miles tall, and the gates of the city are some 200 feet thick. That's hard to imagine, isn't it? John goes on to write that the city is made of pure gold, as pure as glass (verse 18). It is also called the New Jerusalem, and it is forever filled with God's presence. Well, what's John doing here? He is describing the city of heaven in terms and in words we can understand. But the point is clear, heaven is a real place. Heaven is far more sufficient to provide for God's people for all eternity, than we could even begin to imagine. And then one of the very best things of all is God is sitting up on His throne and He is ruling over the city of heaven, and His blessings flow from that throne. Well, there is something else I want us to notice there, in Revelation 21; the Holy City, called heaven, shines with God's glory. It includes those high walls and those gates which are made of precious jewels. There is a street of pure gold, transparent as glass. And it is, again, more beautiful than we could imagine. There's one passage here, in Revelation 21, that gives us a rather full and unique description of heaven. Let's notice the first four verses of that 21st chapter. John writes, <Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."> Oh, isn't that a majestic passage of Scripture! And there are three specific things I want us to notice from those four verses. Number one, God's new city is called a new heaven and a new earth. The old has been replaced with something new. We notice in verse 1, the first heaven and the first earth has passed away. Jesus referred to the new heaven and the new earth as a new world, in Matthew chapter 19 verse 28. And so the new heaven, the new earth, of which we are familiar, it is no more. It has been replaced with something new. The second thing we notice is that this new city is coming down out of heaven. I don't know exactly what that will look like, but no doubt it will be special. And John describes that new city coming down as a bride, beautifully prepared for her husband. Perhaps most all of us have been a part of a marriage or wedding ceremony. And that bride has prepared herself in every way possible to present herself to her husband. No expense has been spared, in regards to making herself beautiful and pretty, and all of the makeup and the hair and the dress and everything else is absolutely perfect. And that groom, who will soon become a husband, is waiting with great anticipation to see that beautifully dressed bride. That seems to be the image that we have here, that this city of heaven is beautiful; it is absolutely perfect, as it comes down. We notice there that heaven is not something we go to, but heaven is coming down. Oftentimes we might hear the words or may even say the words, “Well, when you die, do you plan to go to heaven?” or, “When you die, are you prepared to go to heaven?” Well, those words ‘go to heaven’ are not even found in the Bible. Nowhere do we find it that we are going to heaven; instead, as we just read, heaven comes down. And again, there is no way for us to fully understand what John is referring to when he makes that statement. Well, here's the third thing I want us to notice from those first four verses: God is coming to be with His people. And that's good to know, isn't it? Well, certainly God's presence is with us, even now; that, God watches over us and His presence is no farther than our right hand. But this seems to be a more full expression of God's presence, living among His people. He will dwell among us and we will dwell with Him. And with that, there will be no more sorrow or sadness or pain or death, and our tears will be wiped away. Oh, the things we want to avoid most, here up on this earth, will not even be present in heaven. All of that pain and sorrow and sadness will be wiped away. And what a beautiful sight that will be. What is the most beautiful place you have ever visited or perhaps lived? You think about that beautiful place in your mind's eye, beautiful mountains, perhaps the ocean, and you think that's absolutely gorgeous and I want to spend the rest of my days right here in this most beautiful place on the face of this earth. Well, that is something that inspires us and keeps us going from one day to the next. But the most beautiful place, that far out shines anything we could imagine here, is what John is describing in regards to heaven. Let's keep reading here in Revelation 21, with verses 5 through 6. <He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then He said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.”> Well, here is another mention of God's throne, and from that throne all blessings flow; but, there was something exciting, something very different that happens. Did you notice the phrase, God makes everything new! And that's interesting, isn't it? According to this verse, God does not make new things, but He makes all things new. In other words, God reworks what is present and He makes it new. It is the final restoration of all things. God's creation is still in existence, today. We live here up on the earth, and there are many blessings that we enjoy as a result of that. But there is coming a time when He will make it new, as it was perhaps in the Garden of Eden; that, God remakes it brand new as it was in the beginning. He eliminates all of the pain and the suffering and the abuse that perhaps people have given to His creation throughout the years, and He makes all things new. That goes back to what John wrote in verse 2, where he saw the Holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. And that seems to be in line with the words of 2nd Peter chapter 3, verses 10 through 13: <But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment. Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what kind of holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, He will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth He has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.> Well, again, those words remind us of what John wrote there in Revelation chapter 21; that, the heavens will pass away, things will be burned up or purified or made new and everything will be perfect once again. And this new world will replace the sin and the evil and the ugliness of the world in which we currently live. And then we notice God's righteousness and His glory will rule throughout. It will be reinstated, as it was at the very beginning, as God, Himself, dwells among His people. Oh, what an amazing glimpse into the throne room of God. The glory of God shines through out and all of the blessings flow from that throne. Well, our time for today is just about over, and we will continue our study on heaven in the next three episodes; and I invite you to join us for each and every one. There is one final thought, however, with which I want us to end, and that is this: Are you prepared to spend an eternity with the Lord in heaven? Oh, I hope and I pray that you are prepared. We don't know when the Lord will return, but we can be assured that He is coming back to reclaim all of those who belong to Him. And that will be a great day! That will be an exciting day, as we will encounter God and we will begin to experience just some of the things that we have studied in our lesson today. But I pray that you are prepared for that day, that you have received that free gift of salvation and that you are walking as a faithful follower and disciple of Jesus Christ, God's one and only Son. Oh, my desire for you today is that you make those proper preparations, if you haven't done so already, and that you are prepared to spend an eternity with the Lord in heaven.
Thank you for joining us for today's message. Remember, this is the first of a four part series on what the Bible tells us about heaven. The other three will follow in the next few weeks. If you would like to hear this first lesson on heaven, again, you can find it on our website, at keytothekingdom.com. Feel free to access it in one of a variety of ways, without any cost or commitment. A free phone app can be downloaded onto smart-phones, and it will provide immediate access to the website, too. Short video messages and one minute devotional thoughts are available, which might provide a word of encouragement or blessing. Facebook® is another option you may want to consider. We try to make good use of this social media tool by providing Biblical messages that will assist you in your walk with the Lord. I hope you will find and follow us, then share that site with others. Again, I want to say thank you for being a part of today's broadcast. And please, join us again next week, as we study lesson number two on the subject of heaven, here on “Key to the Kingdom.”