Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Who Will Rule Heaven?

Over recent years there have been many books written and movies made that give accounts of near-death experiences that include claims of visiting Heaven and speaking with loved ones who have passed on. Some of these are encouraging. But, many of these accounts describe a Heaven that is significantly inconsistent with the Bible's descriptions. And, if Christians are given a choice between what someone says they saw over God's Word, Faith requires that we choose the Bible 100% of the time.

In fact, the Bible also has its accounts of people visiting Heaven. These Biblical accounts are very different from some of the “accounts” we hear about today. The two primary differences are the dramatic impact of the visible presence of God, and reference to the royalty of His children. If lacking one or both of these Biblical truths, the Christian's antennae should go up. By the way, I’m not saying that in all cases where an account differs with the Bible that the person did not see what they saw. It may be they saw a prophetic and/or figurative vision, just not the literal Heaven described in the Bible.

Two posts ago we studied the nature of the eternal and physical New Heaven and New Earth and how we will reside and physically thrive in both for eternity. In my last post, we studied scripture that clearly points to how in eternity we will be supernatural beings capable of feats that make fictional superheroes seem small. But, in this post, I am saving the best for last. The greatest aspect of our eternal homes is the gift of God’s constant and visible presence (Father, Jesus and Holy Spirit). And, with that gift also comes the inheritance of His Kingdom and royal identity. 

First, regarding God’s visible presence, Isaiah was arguably one of the greatest prophets of all time. And, when he saw and heard the presence of God on His throne in Isaiah 6, he was reduced to incoherent groveling and declared himself “ruined.” When John received his vision of Heaven recorded in Revelation, he could not stop from repeatedly speaking about the glories and wonder of the blinding majesty of Jesus Christ. It literally wrecked him. What does it say when a modern "account" lacks such observations?

God’s visible presence is the very essence of Heaven just as His absence is the very essence of Hell. His visible presence is the one thing He destined us to enjoy for eternity, more so than anything else. He designed every part of us to savor communion with Him. In Philippians 1:23, Paul spoke of being emotionally torn between staying here and passing on, “I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Notice that he did not declare value in departing to simply be in Heaven and walk streets of gold. His focus was entirely on the greatest eternal desire of actually being with Jesus. Martin Luther put it best when he said, “I had rather be in Hell with Christ, than be in Heaven without Him.” Amen! But, as Isaiah, John and even Moses attested, God’s awesome presence is more than we can physically handle seeing in our present fallen form. Until God renews us physically, the vision of Him is more than our fallen flesh can handle. In fact, it is too amazing a gift for our fallen eyes to fully comprehend and currently appreciate.

Speaking of appreciating gifts, God is the source of all good gifts (James 1:17). And, in the New Heaven and New Earth He will continue to give us, His children, good gifts. Anticipating and enjoying these gifts brings pleasure to our Heavenly Father, just like enjoying gifts from our Earthly fathers brings pleasure to them. The difference between the current Earth and the New Earth is that today, our flesh is constantly tempted to turn God’s gifts into objects of worship. It is not idolatry to enjoy a gift from God since He finds joy in that. In fact, enjoying gifts from God with a grateful heart draws us closer to Him. It is when we become preoccupied with the gift such that we walk away from God or ignore Him, that our approach to the gift becomes a problem. And, “accounts” of Heaven that praise the gift of Heaven over the dramatic and amazing visible presence of the Giver should draw immediate concerns.

In the New Heaven and the New Earth, we will have no such capacity to turn people or things into idols. We will find grateful joy in God’s gifts, and, in doing so, we will find our joy in Him. This is because we will constantly realize, as we so often fail to today, that all the joys of God’s gifts are derived from God Himself. As Randy Alcorn put it, “Flowers are beautiful for one reason – God is beautiful. Rainbows are stunning because God is stunning. Puppies are delightful because God is delightful. Sports are fun because God is fun. Study is rewarding because God is rewarding. Work is fulfilling because God is fulfilling.” And, Heaven is literally breathtaking, because God is so breathtaking. Heaven can’t be boring because God is there and He is the source of everything that we find fascinating both today and forever.

Further, physical reunion with our Father leads to other gifts, especially our inheritance as God’s children. As children of the King and His Bride, we inherit His Kingdom. We thereby inherit a royal identity. Just as Adam and Eve were purposed to be king and queen over the earth and rule it, God’s plan for renewal is quite similar. Jesus Christ is the renewed Adamic King, and we, the Church, are His Bride, the renewed Eve. Jesus is our King, and we are his collective Queen. We are presently co-heirs and we rule along with Him. In fact, the Bible is filled with both present tense references (Ephesians 2:6) and future tense references to our crowns, our royalty and our eternal inheritance of God’s Kingdom. What does it say when a modern "account" lacks such an obvious fact? In addition to other books of the Bible, the final book, Revelation, is probably the most filled with such references to our royalty:

  • Revelation 2:10, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
  • Revelation 2:26, “The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations.”
  • Revelation 3:11, “I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.”
  • Revelation 3:21, “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on His throne.”
  • Revelation 5:10, “and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
  • Revelation 22:5, “And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”
Our inheritance is probably summed up most clearly in Romans 8:16-17, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” And Jesus expanded on that (in the present tense) in Luke 22:29-30, “and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

This last verse begs the question of over whom will we rule? We will rule over angels, each other and possibly beings newly created specifically for such purposes. We will rule over animals, forests, fields, mountains and all of creation. We will rule over everything except God Himself. That is what heirs of God’s Kingdom do.

In conclusion, although being with Jesus is beyond enough, with the understanding of a perfectly New Earth permanently joined with a New Heaven, a perfectly immortal body with unimaginable supernatural abilities, God’s visible presence, our crowning into royalty and our receipt of an inheritance of God’s eternal Kingdom, can there be any place you would rather be?