"Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come,
you who are blessed by My Father, enter the kingdom
prepared for you from the foundation of the world'"
"When a mortal man speaks anything of that eternal blessedness of
the Saints in glory, he is like a blind man discoursing about the light
which he has never seen, and so cannot distinctly speak anything concerning
it."1 Likewise, for one to write of those things which are only vaguely
described in Scripture is similar for a man to write a travel guide for
a land he has never visited or seen. It is to attempt to describe the indescribable
with words which cannot come close to expressing the glory of heaven. Paul
wrote these words: "Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard,
and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for
those who love Him" (I Corinthians 2:9). Some question whether these
words directly refer to heaven: they may not, but from all that we do know,
they are certainly true of heaven and of the indescribable nature of that
glorious place. Things which eye has not seen: can you imagine it? Men's
eyes have seen abundant treasures upon the earth. Men have seen golden thrones,
palaces, exquisite diamonds, rubies, and pearls. Men can conceive of handfuls
of diamonds, fields of jewels, and buildings of gold, glittering in the
noonday sun, but men cannot imagine the glory of heaven. It is beyond our
imagination. Such is the task before us: to speak of the glory of heaven
using words that cannot describe it; to try to picture for you that which
cannot even be conceived by your heart.
Why be so concerned about heaven? What purposes will be served by doing so? There are several reasons which make it profitable to both hear and think about heaven: 1) The doctrine of heaven serves to comfort true believers on earth who are weary and struggling or under persecution. 2) Hearing of heaven should stir up believers to witness to friends and neighbors on earth who are not followers of Jesus Christ. Meditating on the glory of heaven and the frightening alternative should be one of the greatest incentives to evangelism there can be. And 3) The concept of rewards for obedience and of punishment for disobedience is a major theme throughout all of Scripture. Why would God do this if it were not to urge otherwise senseless men to consider eternity before it is too late? Hearing about heaven then is an incentive to the ungodly to turn to God now while there is still time. We will speak in more detail of these later. Let us now try to understand what the Bible tells us about what heaven is like.
A DESCRIPTION OF HEAVEN
Heaven is a place of unspeakable glory where the elect of God live with one another in the immediate presence of God and of the Lamb and where they behold Him in all His glory face to face. It is a place where the curse of sin and all of its effects have been removed forever from all who dwell there; they, being made joint heirs with Christ, inherit all things and live with unmixed joy in a state of perfect happiness incapable of being described or exaggerated forever and ever.
Heaven is called by Jesus Christ "a kingdom." "Come you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34). It is called "the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). This tells us that the exceeding glory of this kingdom far outweighs the glory of all earthly kingdoms combined. This is a heavenly kingdom where Christ is King. Not only that, but those who live there with the Blessed One are declared by Christ to be "priests to His God and Father" (Revelation 1:6) and proclaimed by Peter as "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession" (I Peter 2:9). What kingdom is like unto this kingdom? What earthly kingdom can be compared to it? There are none.
Heaven is called "the third heaven" (II Corinthians 12:2) and "the heaven of heavens" (Deuteronomy 10:14) to show its great eminency. By this it is distinguished from the sky above, the atmospheric heaven, which is also called heaven, and the starry heaven containing all the celestial orbs: the sun, the stars, the planets, and moons of the universe. Think how vast and great are the starry heavens above. The heaven of heavens is far greater still. Here we see only the objects of creation. There God's children will see, worship, and dwell with the God who created the universe and everything in it.
In the parable of the unrighteous steward, Christ refers to heaven as "the eternal dwellings" or as one version translates it "the everlasting habitations" (Luke 16:9). This tells us that heaven is a place, not a dream or an illusion. It is a place where glorified saints and angelic beings live together with God. We are told that God "has prepared a city for them" and we are given a preview of the glory of this city in the book of Revelation: "Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, or a stone of crystal-clear jasper...the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone...And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass...the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb" (Revelation 21:11, 18, 19, 21, 23). It is also a place that remains forever. It is called "eternal" or "everlasting" and of its inhabitants it is said, "neither can they die anymore, for they are like the angels, and are sons of God" (Luke 20:36). Those who go to heaven live in that glorious city for all eternity.
When Christ was dying on the cross the penitent thief next to Him made a request of the Lord: "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!" Christ responded to him: "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:42, 43). Heaven is called Paradise. Men often refer to an exotic, tropical island as "paradise," yet this paradise will make all earthly paradises look meager and barren.
In Luke 16 heaven is also called Abraham's bosom. Christopher Love helps us understand this expression better: "Dives saw Lazarus in Abraham's bosom. And it is so called, because as the bosom is the receipt of love, and the friend of your bosom is your dearest friend, so in glory they are said to be in Abraham's bosom to show that God will love and shelter His elect, as a friend will do to this dearest friend, the friend of his bosom."2 This is Paradise indeed!
Lastly, heaven is called "the joy of your master." The servant who acted wisely with his master's talents is welcomed into the kingdom of God with these words: "Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master" (Matthew 25:23). Psalm 16:11 tells us: "In Thy presence is fulness of joy; in Thy right hand there are pleasures forever."
These expressions have given us a view of heaven which is like looking through a colored glass at a far distant kingdom which we cannot see clearly. Now we will look at the blessedness of heaven from two different perspectives. The first one will show us what those in heaven will be free from. The second will give us a better understanding of what the eternal blessedness of the soul consists.
The occupants of heaven shall be freed from sin itself, from the causes of sin, and from the consequences of sin. First, those who enter glory to live forever with God in heaven shall be free from sin itself. Sin is the cause of all the misery in the world. Sin is the reason we experience pain, sorrow, sickness, and even death. Paul mourns over sin and expresses in strongest language his desire to be rid of it: "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?" (Romans 7:24). The true child of God longs to be where he will sin no more: a place where he will never commit another sin; a place where he will never even have another sinful thought. Sin is the greatest enemy of the one who loves holiness. Here sin makes war upon you as the flesh lusts against the Spirit (Galatians 5:17). As the hymnwriter asks: Would you be free from your burden of sin? Bunyan's Pilgrim fled the city of destruction seeking relief from the great burden of sin which he carried about with him. Heaven is the place where sin will be no more. This is pictured beautifully in Revelation 21:3-4: "And God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." Why are there tears? Why is there death? Why do men mourn, cry, and feel pain? It is all because of sin. Sin brings all of those evils upon man. In heaven men shall be free from sin.
Second, in heaven men shall be free from the causes of sin. There are three primary causes of sin: your sinful nature, the temptations of the devil, and the lure of the world. Your sinful nature is the source of the sins which you commit. James tells us: "Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived it gives birth to sin" (James 1:14-15). Your sinful nature spews out poison, filth, and vileness every day of your life in this world. If the devil were chained up and not allowed to touch or tempt you, you would continue to sin because of the principle of sin which indwells you: "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh" (Romans 7:18). In heaven your vile body shall be made like unto His glorious body and you cannot sin.
In heaven you will be free from the temptations of the devil. Here men are assaulted daily by the enemy of their souls. Here "your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (I Peter 5:8). On earth the devil seeks to sift you as wheat as he sought to do to Peter. Soon the devil shall be thrown into the lake of fire and be tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation 20:10). Soon, if you are a true believer in Jesus Christ, "the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet" (Romans 16:20). In heaven there shall be no more devil to tempt saints to sin anymore.
In heaven men shall be free from the lusts of the world. These are described by John as "the lusts of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life" (I John 2:16). Here the world system seeks to press you into it's mold. Christians are constantly being bombarded by the ungodly influences of lust, greed, pride, etc. These ungodly influences working hand-in-hand with your corrupt nature bring much grief to your soul. In heaven the godly shall be free of the evil influence of the world for they will have overcome the world for all time through the blood of Jesus Christ.
Finally, in heaven men will be free from the consequences of sin. The primary consequence of sin is eternal punishment in hell. Scripture makes it clear that a person at death goes to either heaven or hell. There is no in between state or place, no purgatory, no other option. Those who go to heaven are spared the wrath of God which falls upon those in hell. They are delivered from "the wrath to come" (I Thes-salonians 1:10). Physical death which opens the door into eternity is also one of the consequences of sin. Death came originally, as a direct penal infliction upon man because of his sin for "the sting of death is sin" (I Corinthians 15:56), "but thanks be to God, who gives us the vic-tory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Death is swallowed up in victory" so that the child of God can boldly say, "Oh, death where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" (I Corinthians 15:54, 55, 57).
We shall now look at what the eternal blessedness of the soul consists of in heaven. Paul said, "Now we see through a glass darkly" (I Corinthians 13:12). Certainly, the picture we now try to describe is dark indeed compared to the true glory of heaven. Who can imagine the things we now try to describe? "We shall never understand glory fully till we are in heaven. Let me give you some dark views only, some imperfect lineaments of that state of glory at which the saints shall arrive after death."3 The blessedness of the soul in glory consists of at least three things: 1) the seeing of God, 2) the perfection of graces in the believer, and 3) fulness of joy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). The saints in heaven shall see God in all His majesty. They shall behold the infinite glory of the Almighty One in as great a capacity as they are capable of. They shall not behold Him only at a distance, but "face to face" (I Corinthians 13:12). This is what the blessedness of the saints in glory chiefly consists of: the beholding of God. Yet it is impossible that a finite man should comprehend God. Revelation 22:5 describes some of the glory of seeing God: "And there shall no longer be any night; and they shall not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall illumine them." The glory of God will swallow up the light of the sun as the brilliance of the sun now dispels the darkness of night.
The Father will not directly manifest Himself to those in heaven for we are told in the Scriptures that God is invisible: "Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen" (I Timothy 1:17). It is said of Christ that "He is the image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15). The Father will not need to manifest Himself in any other way than through the glory and majesty of the exalted Christ. The Lord told His disciples on the night before He died: "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). Jonathan Edwards described the believer's seeing Christ in glory this way: "The seeing God in the glorified body of Christ, is the most perfect way of seeing God with the bodily eyes that can be; for in seeing a real body, which one of the Persons of the Trinity has assumed to be His body, and in which He dwells forever as his own, the divine majesty and excellency appear as much as it is possible for them to appear in outward form or shape...They shall see Him, as appearing in His glorified human nature, with their bodily eyes; and this will be a most glorious sight. The loveliness of Christ as thus appearing will be a most ravishing thing to them; for though the bodies of the saints shall appear with an exceeding beauty and glory, yet the body of Christ will without doubt immensely surpass them, as much as the brightness of the sun does that of the stars. The glorified body of Christ will be the masterpiece of all God's workmanship in the whole material universe. There shall be in his glorious countenance the manifestations of His glorious spiritual perfections, His majesty, His holiness, His surpassing grace, and love, and meekness. The eye will never be wearied with beholding this glorious sight."4
Not only will they see Christ face to face, but they will walk with Him and talk with Him. Christ shall treat them as brothers and shall speak to them as His intimate friends. Just before His crucifixion, Christ told His disciples: "No longer do I call you slaves, for a slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15). If Christ could say this to His disciples while they were still clothed in their sinful natures, do you think He will not admit them nearer to Him in heaven when they have been fully purged of all stain and iniquity and stand before His throne spotless clothed in His blood? Certainly he will. The Scriptures speak of God's living with and among His people in glorious terms: "Behold the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them...and they shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads" (Revelation 21:3; 22:4).
Secondly, those who are admitted to heaven shall enjoy the perfection of all their graces. We shall look at three graces particularly: 1) the grace of knowledge, 2) the grace of holiness, and 3) the grace of love.
First, the grace of knowledge shall be perfected in glory. "For now we know in part, and prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away...For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known" (I Corinthians 13:9-10, 12). Now our knowledge of divine things is shallow and indistinct. We do not perceive things clearly. We are sluggish in our understandings. Then we shall know, as Christ now knows us. The grace of knowledge shall be perfected in the godly in heaven. The godly shall understand more fully Christ as Mediator between God and men. They shall understand the mystery of the incarnation, of God becoming man. To as great a degree as possible, those in glory shall understand the mystery of the Trinity. They shall understand the plan of salvation and how divine providence worked in all the circumstances of their lives. There all the difficulties, trials, and dark providences of life shall be seen as a glorious entity which will testify to the truth that "all things work together for good to those who love God" (Romans 8:28). They shall understand the excellencies of Christ to as full a degree as they are capable. The knowledge of God shall be full, yet God shall not be fully known, for man can never completely comprehend the Godhead.
The grace of holiness shall be perfected in all who are received into glory. "We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him" (I John 3:2). Holiness is the transcendent beauty of God and the angels. Holiness is primary among the attributes of God. "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts" (Isaiah 6:3) is the cry of the seraphim who constantly attend Him in glory. In heaven holiness will be perfected in the believer. Sin shall be no more. Then the words of God shall fully be brought to pass: "You shall be holy, for I am holy" (I Peter 1:16). Holiness is the fervent desire of the saint as he travels through this world of sin. There the saints shall be as the angels of God. There, as much as can be, they shall be like Christ Himself. They shall be holy.
In heaven the grace of love shall be perfected. On earth love to God is expressed in fits and spasms. Sinful flesh and self-interest dampen and hinder love to God. We cannot love God as we ought or even as we would like to. Although the spirit in the child of God desires with all that is within him to do what the Scripture says, to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deuteronomy 6:5), it cannot be done perfectly here. But as he in his heart desires to do so, God accepts the desire in the believer as if the action were done perfectly. In heaven, unhindered love shall flow forth to God as none have ever experienced on earth. God shall be loved completely and fully and the saints shall love one another without carnality or selfishness being present.
Thirdly, those who are in heaven shall experience fulness of joy. "In Thy presence is fulness of joy; in Thy right hand are pleasures forever" (Psalm 16:11). Fulness of joy could be described as experiencing the bountiful love of God to them as the waters of an ocean. Others, who have a far greater understanding of this than I do, have described it in this way: "From this glorious manifestation of God's love will flow infinite joy into the souls of the blessed; therefore heaven is called 'entering into the joy of our Lord' (Matthew 25:21). The seeing of God, loving God, and being beloved of God will cause a jubilation of spirit, and create such holy raptures of joy in the saints, that are unspeakable and full of glory."5 "They shall see in Him all that love desires. Love desires the love of the beloved. So the saints in glory shall see God's transcendent love to them; God will make ineffable manifestations of His love to them. They shall see as much love in God towards them as they desire; they neither will nor can crave any more...When they see God so glorious, and at the same time see how greatly God loves them, what delight will it not cause in the soul! Love desires union. They shall therefore see this glorious God united to them, and see themselves united to Him. They shall see that He is their Father, and that they are His children. They shall see God gloriously present with them; God with them; and God in them; and they in God. Love desires the possession of its object. Therefore they shall see God, even their own God; when they behold this transcendent glory of God, they shall see Him as their own."6 The one in glory shall enjoy God as far as their capacity allows.
The Psalmist wrote of the great blessing attending the worship of God in His temple: "How blessed are those who dwell in Thy house! They are ever praising Thee...For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord gives grace and glory; no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly" (Psalm 84:4, 11). Those in heaven shall rightly say: "How blessed are those who stand in Thy very presence!" If the Lord withholds nothing on earth from those who walk uprightly, shall He then withhold any of the glory of heaven from His redeemed?
Here we enjoy God primarily through His Word, ordinances of worship, and prayer. There we shall enjoy Him "face to face." "Here you have God in expectation, but there you shall have Him in possession."7 There the saints in glory shall be filled with joy through the eternal enjoyment of the manifestation of God in all His attributes. It will greatly add to the joy and rejoicing of those in glory when they contemplate God's mercy shown to them in salvation and how they deserved to be among the damned, but were spared the torments of hell solely because of God's sovereign mercy given to them. Ministers will rejoice with those whom they led to the knowledge of Christ and the fruits of their labors will be fully seen there. Paul writes of this joy in I Thessalonians 2:19: "For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming?" Other things will undoubtedly contribute to their joy, such as their being with loved ones and the saints of all the ages, the contemplating of God's providences toward them on earth, being in the heavenly city, but the greatest joy of all will come from being in His presence!
Christians and non-Christians often have questions about life after death and very often the questions are the same. In this section we shall look at several common questions people ask about heaven. We shall explore these issues: 1) What happens when a Christian dies? 2) Will those in heaven know each other? 3) Will those in heaven sorrow over loved ones who are in hell? And 4) Are there different degrees of glory and rewards in heaven?
What happens when a Christian dies? Does he go to heaven immediately upon death or does he lie in the grave in a state of soul sleep awaiting the resurrection? Is he conscious or unconscious?
Christ and the Scriptures give us a clear answer to this question. In Luke 16 the Lord Jesus tells us of two men who died, one was ungodly and the other was a godly man named Lazarus. Both were conscious immediately after death. Our purpose here is to inquire into what happened to Lazarus, the godly man, at the time of his physical death. Christ tells us: "Now it came about that the poor man (Lazarus) died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom" (Luke 16:22). Angels met Lazarus upon his departure from this earthly life and carried him into glory. While Lazarus' body lay rotting in the grave, his soul was transported by the wings of holy angels into heaven. Christ confirms this very thing in his response to the thief on the cross when He told the thief: "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). Some might doubt that the Paradise Christ referred to was really heaven; however, Paul uses the same word to describe the third heaven saying that he "was caught up into Paradise, and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak" (II Corinthians 12:4). The true follower of Christ goes to be with Christ in heaven immediately after death.
Paul speaks of this issue in several places. One is found in Philippians 1:21-23: "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed in both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better." And in a similar passage: "Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord...we are of good courage, I say, and prefer to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord" (II Corinthians 5:6 & 8). Several observations can be made from these Scriptures. The first is that Paul considered dying to be gain to him. How could this be true if all death meant was that he would lie in a grave unconscious and rot for thousands of years? Paul also tells us that when he departed this life he would go to be with Christ and that to do so was "very much better" than continuing to live here. In II Corinthians, Paul contrasts living in the body and therefore being apart from Christ, with dying (being absent from the body) and being with Christ. For Paul, and all true godly persons, death means that the soul goes to be with Christ, carried there by holy angels while the physical body lies in the grave to await the resurrection and the reuniting of soul and body. Oh, how this should comfort the godly who are ill and near death! How this should be of great assurance to those godly ones who may now have a fear of death. Death brings a glorious transition to the believer. Death ushers him into the presence of Christ and glory! Oh, then you who are godly, do not fear death as an enemy, but be willing to welcome it as a friend when your appointed time comes. Death is the key that unlocks the door to everlasting happiness for the saint.
Will those in heaven recognize their friends, relations, and those they knew on earth there? Shall believers not know anyone when they get to glory? Shall the godly know all those in glory or just those whom they knew on earth?
Let me answer first from inference. If the damned in hell were to be shown to recognize the godly in heaven, then would you not think that the godly should at least know each other there? Let us look again at Luke 16:22-24: "And the rich man died and was buried. And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus...'" Dives, the rich man in hell, recognized Lazarus, whom he knew in his lifetime, and also Abraham, whom he had never seen or met. Certainly, the glorified saints in heaven know as much as the damned in hell do, don't they? By inference we conclude that the godly do know each other in heaven.
When Christ stood on the mount of transfiguration Moses and Elijah appeared with Him and were immediately recognized by Peter: "And Elijah appeared to them along with Moses; and they were conversing with Jesus. And Peter answered and said to Jesus, 'Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah'" (Mark 9:4-5). If Peter and the apostles knew glorified saints in heaven when they were yet mortal and on the earth, then much more so will the godly recognize their friends and even those whom they never knew on earth when they come to glory; for Abraham also recognized Dives, a man in hell, whom he had never met on earth and Abraham even knew details of his life (Luke 16:25-26). Christ speaks of the damned on judgment day weeping when they "see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being cast out" (Luke 13:28).
Thus we have abundant evidence that the glorified saints will know not only their earthly acquaintances, but will know all those in glory as soon as they arrive there. If you are godly, you shall see Moses, and know him, and he will know you; you shall see Paul, Noah, Peter, the prophets and the apostles and know them, and they shall know you. Husband and wife shall know each other. Sons and daughters shall see their fathers and mothers. Ministers shall see those whom they led to Christ on earth. This will greatly heighten the joy of saints as they rejoice forever with all the saints of all the ages. What a wonderful day that will be for the godly!
Will those in heaven sorrow and weep for persons whom they knew and loved in this world who are being tormented in hell? We have already established that those in heaven both see and recognize those in hell. Both Abraham and Lazarus knew Dives and were able to see him being tormented in hell. That hell is visible from the gates of heaven is confirmed in Isaiah 66:23-24: "'All mankind will come to bow down before Me' says the Lord. 'Then they shall go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm shall not die and their fire shall not be quenched; and they shall be an abhorrence to all mankind.'" Those in hell are said to be an abhorrence to all those who worship God in heaven. This may seem strange at first until we probe into why this is.
Revelation 16:5-7 gives us a look into the portals of heaven as we see angels and glorified saints praising God for His judgment of the wicked on earth: "And I heard the angel of the waters saying, 'Righteous art Thou who art and who wast, O Holy One, because Thou didst judge these things; for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and Thou hast given them blood to drink. They deserve it.' And I heard the altar saying, 'Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Thy judgments.'" Angels and saints in heaven rejoice in the punishment of the wicked, not because it is punishment for punishment's sake, but because it is perfectly just and righteous punishment, fully deserved by those who are suffering it. They will rejoice in seeing the justice and power of God glorified in this manner.
The saints in heaven have a far greater concern for the glory of God than the most zealous believer on earth. Jonathan Edwards spoke of the reaction of the saints in glory to the sufferings of the wicked in hell in his sermon The End of the Wicked Contemplated by the Righteous: "The saints in glory will see how the damned are tormented; they will see God's threatenings fulfilled, and His wrath executed upon them. When they see it, it will be no occasion of grief to them...It will be an occasion of their rejoicing, as the glory of God will appear in it. The glory of God appears in all His works: and therefore there is no work of God which the saints in glory shall behold and contemplate, but what will be an occasion of rejoicing to them. God glorifies Himself in the eternal damnation of the ungodly men...The saints in heaven will be perfect in their love to God: their hearts will be a flame of love to God, and therefore they will greatly value the glory of God, and will exceedingly delight in seeing Him glorified...They will therefore greatly rejoice in all that contributes to that glory. The glory of God will in their esteem be of greater consequence, than the welfare of thousands and millions of souls."8
Other Scriptures bear out this teaching: that those in heaven will, in fact, rejoice at the just sufferings of the damned: "Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her" (Revelation 18:20). "'Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; because His judgments are true and righteous; for he has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and has avenged the blood of His bondservants on her.' And a second time they said, 'Hallelujah! Her smoke rises up forever and ever'" (Revelation 19:1-3). Likewise Moses rejoiced and sang God's praises when he saw God's glory manifested in the destruction of Pharaoh and all his forces (Exodus 15:1-12) and Proverbs 21:15 tells us: "The execution of justice is joy for the righteous."
It is not from a lack of love that the saints in heaven will rejoice at the punishment of the wicked, but because their love has been perfected and they now see things just as God does. They will then hate sin with a perfect hatred and see the absolute vileness of the practitioners of sin who rejected the councils of God and they will abhor them. Saints in heaven love what God loves and hate what God hates. Edwards continues: "However the saints in heaven may have loved the damned while here, especially those of them who were near and dear to them in this world, they will have no love for them hereafter."9
Christians here on earth are to love, pray for, and seek the salvation of all because there exists the possibility that even the most wicked man might receive the grace of God and be saved. In eternity no such possibility exists. The ungodly there are in the same condition as the demons are here: unredeemable and beyond hope. Do you weep oceans of tears for demons now? Do you pray fervently that they might be saved? Why not? Is it not because they are thoroughly evil and beyond all hope of salvation? So it is with the ungodly there. There the Scripture will be fulfilled which says, "Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and let the one who is filthy, still be filthy" (Revelation 22:11). There the ungodly will be seen by the saints through holy eyes for what they are and will be for all eternity: wrongdoers, filthy, vile, haters of God. And through holy eyes "a reprobate is despised" (Psalm 15:4).
Are there different degrees of glory in heaven? Do those who labor more for God's kingdom and glory here on earth receive a greater degree of honor and glory there? If so, will this not cause problems as it does here?
The first evidence we have of different degrees of glory comes from what is sometimes called the law of contraries. Are there different degrees of torment in hell? If so, then, by the law of contraries, we could logically deduct that there will be different degrees of glory in heaven. In Luke 12:47-48 we are told of those who will "receive many lashes" and whose who "will receive but few." There are different degrees of punishment in hell, thus we conclude that likewise there will be different degrees of blessedness in heaven.
II Corinthians 5:10 and I Corinthians 3:8 tell us the basis for the difference: "For we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, whether good or bad." "Each will receive his own reward according to his own labor." It is apparent that free rewards are promised to believers in glory which will be equivalent to what we have done in our labors for the Lord here on earth. The Scripture speaks of the one who receives "a prophet's reward" (Matthew 10:41) which seems to distinguish it as being different than the ordinary reward. Christ taught His disciples that whoever gave to them "a cup of water to drink" in His name would not lose his reward (Mark 9:41). This would not be possible if there were no recognition of good works in heaven.
Other Scriptures state quite clearly that a difference will be made between believers in glory. Daniel is told that "those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever" (Daniel 12:3). And Paul compares the difference between the sun, moon, and stars and applies it to believers in glory: "There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead" (I Corinthians 15:41-42). Paul is saying that just as one star shines more brightly than another in the sky, so one saint shall shine with more heavenly glory than another when the dead are raised to receive the things done in the body. One shall be more glorious than another based on how they have lived, what they have done for Christ, while living on earth. This is plainly taught in the parable of the talents as well, where one man was put in authority over ten cities and another over five (Luke 19:12-19).
"The saints are like so many vessels of different sizes cast into a sea of happiness where every vessel is full: this is eternal life, for a man to have his capacity filled. But after all tis left to God's sovereign pleasure, tis His prerogative to determine the largeness of the vessel."10 Each person will be filled to their capacity with blessedness and joy. None will lack anything. But there will be those who have a greater capacity for joy than others. Christopher Love explains: "Though there be degrees of glory, yet this doth not imply, that there shall be defects or want (lack) of glory in heaven to any glorified persons, but every person shall be as full of glory as he can hold, or is capable of. Perkins explains it by a clear demonstration. Take a little vessel and a great vessel, and cast both these into the sea, both these vessels will be full, yet there is not in the little vessel as in the great, though both are full. So, saith he, the godly are like two vessels, yet one, by reason of the enjoyment of God, is more capacious (spacious) to take in more of God than the other is, yet the least saint shall be full of glory; he that hath least glory, shall have glory sufficient, though not glory equal with some glorified saints: so that degrees of glory doth not argue any defect in those persons that have less glory than others have."11 Jonathan Edwards believed that the degree of glory or reward would be determined by four factors: degrees of grace and holiness here, degree of good that is done, self-denial and suffering, and eminency in humility.12 All will be filled vessels, but of different sizes. All shall wear crowns, some with a greater luster than others. Holiness and happiness shall be greater in some than in others throughout all eternity.
The presence of different degrees of glory in heaven does not mean that such a thing as envy will exist in heaven. All love will be perfected in heaven and thus it will be as the Apostle wrote: "If one member is honored, all members rejoice with it" (I Corinthians 12:26). The saints in glory will think it is right that those who excelled others in works of righteousness and bringing glory to God on earth should receive greater glory in heaven. Men will bless God for the radiance of His glory shining through other men, for envy and sin will have no part in His kingdom.
I will offer only limited application of this here and more fully apply it in the next section. Believers, your eternal state rests upon what you do here on earth. "Now this I say, he who sows sparingly, shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully" (II Corinthians 9:6). Would you seek the best eternity possible? Then live your life fully for God's glory today. Tomorrow may be too late. Your present life will determine your future state of glory, but more on this later.
APPLICATION TO BELIEVERS AND UNBELIEVERS
"And a highway will be there, a roadway, and it will be called 'the highway of holiness.' The unclean will not travel on it, but it will be for him who walks that way, and fools will not wander on it" (Isaiah 35:8). One of the fears I have in writing of the glory of heaven is that there is a natural tendency for carnal men to apply a pleasing doctrine to themselves when they have no legitimate basis for doing so. Heaven is not to be obtained by the lazy and slothful, nor the unclean and profane, not even by those who are regular church attenders if they are not holy in their lives and practice. The highway to heaven is indeed "a highway of holiness" and it is for "him who walks that way," that is, for the one who lives a holy life. In a sermon preached by Jonathan Edwards in the early 1720's, Edwards noted: "If everyone that hoped for heaven got there, heaven by this time would have been full of murderers, adulterers, common swearers, drunkards, thieves, robbers, and licentious debachers."13
Christ said: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). Heaven is for the one whose heart is pure. Heaven is for the one who lives a holy life. Heaven is for the one who loves Jesus Christ more than all other people and all other things. "Tis therefore exceedingly absurd, and even ridiculous, for any to pretend they have a good heart, while they live a wicked life, or don't bring forth the fruit of universal holiness in their practice. For tis proved in fact, that such men don't love God above all. Tis foolish to dispute against plain fact and experience. Men that live in ways of sin, and yet flatter themselves that they shall go to heaven, or expect to be received hereafter as holy persons, without a holy life and practice, act as though they expected to make a fool of their Judge."14
Do not assume that because you desire to go to heaven, that you will. Be willing to strictly examine your heart to see if you have any sound reason to hope for heaven. Ponder these questions in your heart: Were you ever thoroughly convicted of your sinful heart and nature? Have you seen yourself as vile in your own eyes? Do you live in the practice of any hidden or secret sin? Do you hate all sin as sin? Which dominates your affections, thoughts, and desires more: the world or Jesus Christ? Do you love Christ more than father, mother, husband, wife, son, or daughter? Do you love Jesus Christ for who He is or just what He can do for you? Do you love a life of holiness and obedience to the Word of God or is it burdensome to you? When you do good things, do you do them to glorify God or so that men will praise and love you for them? Do you really love God or do you just fear His threats of judgment against you? Do not read over these questions quickly and hurry on, but search your hearts with them. Many who profess to be Christians today are simply outwardly religious, but their hearts have never been changed by the regenerating power of the Spirit of God.
Is heaven a glorious kingdom, a city of pure gold, a Paradise? Then you who are unconverted or who are falsely persuaded of your good condition do not lose this place for the bobbles, trifles, and trinkets of the world! Nothing you can desire or acquire on earth compares with the glory of heaven. Is heaven called Paradise? Will you forego seeking a heavenly paradise for an earthly one? Would you rather lie in the bed of Delilah and then drink from the fires of hell, or have your eternal home by the throne of God and the Lamb and drink from the river of the water of life? Did Christ say in His Father's house were many mansions? Then do not waste all your time and money building an earthly mansion for yourself. Your earthly house will not last. One day it will be leveled to the ground. It is of no eternal value. A house in heaven is an everlasting habitation. Jesus Christ said, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven...for where your treasure is, there will your heart be" (Matthew 6:19-21). The pursuit of temporary lusts and pleasures on earth at the expense of a heavenly kingdom is the act of a simpleton. Esau sold his inheritance for a bowl of chili. Do you think he made a good bargain? Your lips may say 'no,' but what does your life say?
Have you ever really meditated upon the brevity of life? Truly, we are here today and gone tomorrow. James expressed it this way: "Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away" (James 4:14). Man's life is variously described in God's word as "a mere breath" (Psalm 39:5); "a flower of the field" (Psalm 103:15); "grass that withers" (James 1:11); "a shadow" (Job 14:2); and "a phantom" (Psalm 39:6). Everything in this life is uncertain. Riches may be lost in a day (Ecclesiastes 5:14). A man who seems to be robust and healthy one day may be stricken with sickness the next day (Job 2:7). Friends or close relatives may die (II Samuel 19:4). Why should you invest your life for that which is transcient and passing away? Most today live as if earth is the only heaven there is. "Their inner thought is, that their houses are forever" (Psalm 49:11). But hear the Word of God: "But man in his pomp will not endure...For when he dies he will carry nothing away; his glory will not descend after him. Though while he lives he congratulates himself" (Psalm 49:12,17-18). Is it worth gambling away eternity for that which is temporary, uncertain, and passing away? Heaven is a kingdom that endures forever; so does hell.
Finally, I would have you consider both your body and your soul. People spend countless hours decorating their faces and cleaning and perfuming their bodies. Vain persons spend thousands of dollars for face lifts and plastic surgery in an effort to appear more beautiful to themselves and other equally vain persons. Jesus Christ calls His followers to a different set of values: "Do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing?" (Matthew 6:25). Your soul is far more valuable than your body. Your body will die and rot in the grave. Your soul will live forever. "What is a man profited, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Matthew 16:26). How much time do you spend taking care of your body? How much time do you invest in seeking eternal life for your soul? Which is most important? Men will risk the destruction of their bodies and their lives to fight to obtain an earthly kingdom. Is not a heavenly kingdom worth much more?
The presence of different degrees of glory in heaven should stir up within the godly the desire to strive more diligently to bring greater glory to God on earth. The more holy violence we put forth in the exercise of duty here, the greater will be our glory there. Paul uses this very example in I Corinthians 9:24: "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win." Jonathan Edwards believed that ministers need not apologize for an appeal to good works on the basis of rewards and stated, "Persons need not and ought not to set any bounds to their spiritual and gracious appetities...We ought to seek high degrees of glory in heaven."15 Thomas Watson agreed, writing: "Consider then seriously, the more violent we are for heaven and the more work we do for God, the greater will be our reward. The hotter our zeal, the brighter our crown. Could we hear the blessed souls departed speaking to us from heaven, surely they would say, 'Were we to leave heaven awhile and to dwell on the earth again, we would do God a thousand times more service than we have ever done; we would pray with more life, act with more zeal; for now we see that the more we have labored, the more astonishing is our joy and the more flourishing our crown.'"16 Moses is said by the writer of Hebrews to have considered "the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward" (Hebrews 11:26). Solomon exhorts the people to "Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days" (Eccelsiastes 11:1). And Paul reminds us "he who sows bountifully shall reap bountifully" (II Corinthians 9:6). Seek then to lay up greater treasures in heaven by your zealousness for God's glory on earth.
By way of general application I will mention several things briefly. It is of utmost importance that those who believe they are God's children should labor for a true scripturally-grounded assurance that they are, in fact, heirs of heaven. Do not expect to be among the glorified in heaven, if you have brought no glory to Jesus Christ here on earth. "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Matthew 7:19). Peter admonishes men to "be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you" (II Peter 1:10). Remember, Christ Jesus has said that "few" are those who find the kingdom of heaven. Are you sure you are numbered among those "few" who will be in heaven? Salvation is a much rarer work than is generally imagined.
For those who have lost friends or relatives who were godly do not grieve excessively for them. Paul wrote this message of encouragement to the Thessalonians who were concerned about the state of their departed loved ones: "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus...Therefore comfort one another with these words." (I Thessalonians 4:13-14, 18). The doctrine of heaven should also help support the godly as they face death themselves. This world is the worst place you will ever live in, if you are Christ's. Death is a passageway into glory for the believer. Death is the end of all suffering, evil, sin, and pain. Death means that "we shall see Him as He is" (I John 3:2).
The doctrine of heaven should be an encouragement to believers to abstain from sin. Far from encouraging loose living among believers, a proper understanding of the doctrine of heaven with its rewards and degrees of glory should motivate them to stop sinning on earth. "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal bodies that you should obey its lusts" (Romans 6:12). Do not let your bodies be instruments of dishonor to God. "O Beloved, you shall see God with these very eyes you have now in your heads. You that are the elect of God, you shall sing Hallelujahs in heaven with this very tongue with which you converse among men. You shall lift up your hands in praises to God: Do not now use them, in the Apostle's phrase, as the weapons of unrighteousness to war against heaven. Do not use your eyes to be windows to lust, and your tongue to be tipped with frothy discourse, your hands to deceive, and your feet swift to shed blood. O do not use the members of your bodies, that are to be glorified with Jesus Christ in such sinful practices as these are."17
The doctrine of heaven should be of great comfort to those who are weary, suffering, or enduring persecution in this life. Christian, now you are nearer to your journey's end than when you first began. The time you have left on earth is miniscule when measured by eternity. The Hebrew Christians were reminded of their former victories in the time of trial and encouraged not to throw away their faith in the midst of present sufferings, "knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one" in heaven (Hebrews 10:34). Peter wrote to persecuted believers: "If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and God rests upon you" (I Peter 4:14). In the time in which we live those who stand boldly for the truth will be ridiculed and slandered even by those who profess to be godly. Jesus Christ had special words for such as these: "Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:11-12). He who unjustly stains your name upon earth, unwillingly adds to your reward in heaven.
Finally the glory of heaven should make you extremely zealous for the conversion of souls while you are here. Do you wish to be with your as yet unconverted friends, relatives, and acquaintances in glory? Then labor with all your might for their conversion. Do not be selfish with your time, seeking after your own happiness, you are called to arms, to battle against the devil and all his forces, taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. Seek diligently the eternal welfare of others! "How shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?" (Romans 10:14). Remember the words spoken to Daniel: "And those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever" (Daniel 12:3). They will shine brightly like the stars, forever and ever.
"How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?"
1 Paraphrased from Gregory's Morals quoted by Christopher Love, Heaven's
Glory, Hell's Terrors, (London: John Rothwell, 1655), p. 87.
2 Christopher Love, Heaven's Glory, Hell's Terrors, (London: John Rothwell, 1655), p. 101.
3 Thomas Watson, Body of Divinity, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), p. 209.
4 Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 2, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), pp. 899 & 900.
5 Thomas Watson, Body of Divinity, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), p. 210.
6 Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 2, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), p. 901.
7 Christopher Love, Heaven's Glory, Hell's Terrors, (London: John Rothwell, 1655), p. 93.
8 Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 2, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), p. 208-209.
9 Ibid, p. 209.
10 Jonathan Edwards quoted by John Gerstner, Heaven & Hell, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), pp. 21-22.
11 Christopher Love, Heaven's Glory, Hell's Terrors, (London: John Rothwell, 1655), p. 99.
12 Jonathan Edwards quoted by John Gerstner, Heaven & Hell, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), p. 22.
13 Ibid, p. 10.
14 Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, (Binghamton, NY: Yale University Press, 1959), p. 426.
15 Jonathan Edwards quoted by John Gerstner, Heaven & Hell, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), pp. 23.
16 Thomas Watson, Heaven Taken By Storm, (Ligonier, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1992), pp. 78-79.
17 Christopher Love, Heaven's Glory, Hell's Terrors, (London: John Rothwell, 1655), p. 118.
The Glory of Heaven is a copyrighted work taken from The Narrow Way © 1993 by William C. Nichols. It may be downloaded for your own personal use. The Narrow Way may be purchased from International Outreach, Inc. at the address below for $7.95 per copy including shipping. 10 copies are $35.00 postpaid. We invite you to visit our other web sites The Terrors of Hell, The Narrow Way, and The Writings of Jonathan Edwards.