This sermon is number 3 in a series of 8
Glimpses Of Glory - Part 3
"Where Are The Saved Dead Now?"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2007 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Well, we're turning first of all to two texts - the first is 2 Corinthians chapter 5, and then the second is found in Philippians chapter 1. First of all, 2 Corinthians 5 and verse 1, and then Philippians 1, you might care to turn to it as well. Note please the certain language that Paul uses: "For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle", or tent, "were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this", tent, "we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad".
You may want to keep a marker in that passage of Scripture, and now turn to Philippians chapter 1, and we are beginning to read at verse 21. Paul again, the apostle, is the writer to a different church - in Philippi, not Corinth - and he says in chapter 1 verse 21: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I know not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you".
Our title of consideration tonight is: 'Where Are The Saved Dead Now?'. Perhaps you'll allow me to make a few preliminary remarks before we launch into our study. The first is: many of you will not agree with what I have to share with you tonight. 'What's new?', you might say. Well, I'm just warning you before I launch into it. There may be others who are sceptical of what I'm saying, and I would urge you to go home and search the scriptures to see whether these things are so. Many even may profoundly feel that you have grounds to challenge what I'm saying on various Scriptures, and I respect that. I don't claim to know everything on the subject, and there is great divergence of opinion upon it - but what I seek to do this evening, as every Monday evening and every time I preach, is to weigh the evidence of Scripture and come to some definite tangible conclusions, and we may also come to some reasonable suppositions - but nevertheless, I want to make you think, from the Scriptures, concerning this great question: 'Where Are The Saved Dead Now?'.
Now, if you were with us last week - two weeks ago, of course, we considered why it's important to study heaven - but last week we asked the question and sought to answer it: 'Is Heaven a Physical Place?'. We took up our time primarily considering what theologians call 'the eternal state', that is: the ultimate heaven that is found written in Revelation 21 and 22. We saw that that is a state, a real physical place, a new heaven and a new earth that is relevant to our condition only after our resurrection. So our study last week considered what will happen after the Saviour comes, after there is judgement, after there is a millennial reign of Christ for a thousand years, and then the eternal state is instigated - a new heaven and a new earth. Now that is immensely important, as we pointed out, because we will dwell in the new heaven and the new earth, the Bible tells us not just in Revelation but in Peter and in Isaiah and various other portions of Scripture, forever. What could be more important than considering the place where we will be for all eternity?
Now though that is the case, it has to also be said that most of our questions about heaven relate to where we go immediately when we die now. Our interest is heightened in what heaven is like now because we want to know where our dead loved ones are, and we want to know in what condition they exist - if they exist in any condition at all. Now, of course, from last week, I hope, and our contemplations since it on the new heaven and the new earth, we ought to be excited at the prospect of what the eternal state will be. But, if you're like me, the thought of waiting hundreds, even thousands of years, perhaps, to enjoy the new heaven and the new earth does not encourage our anticipation! I am left with the question that I hope you have already asked of yourself: 'Well, what happens until then? What happens before the Lord Jesus comes, and before the eternal state is brought into being?'. We would like, wouldn't we, to have something to look forward to immediately when we die? The great question we are considering tonight is: is there such a place? If there is, what is it? What can we know about it?
Now let me say before going on any further that many so-called Bible students have attempted to give explanations to where the soul goes, or doesn't go, during this period between our death and the resurrection at the coming of Christ. Some have said: 'Well, the answer to that question is the doctrine of soul sleep, that the body, along with the soul, dies, lies unconscious, in an unconscious state until the resurrection'. We will hopefully touch on truths that will answer such a doctrine. Then there are others, particularly the Roman Catholic Church over the years has espoused the doctrine of 'purgatory' - that there is an intermediate state where the soul goes. The name 'purgatory', as it suggests, is a place where the soul will be purged, cleansed of remaining sin in order to prepare us for what they understand as heaven. Does the Bible have anything to say about that? Then there are others who believe that the soul goes to a place called 'hades'. It is commonly understood as the abode of the dead, where the righteous and, for that matter, the unrighteous go until the resurrection. Some Old Testament saints had an understanding of that, and many believe that that carries through into the New Testament.
Now this is a very difficult subject, and you might have thought it was very straightforward to answer the question: where does the Christian go when they die? Well, it is a difficult question to answer at times, because all of these seeming explanations - soul sleep, purgatory, hades - have reasons behind them. Some have used texts of Scripture as proof texts to try and show the reasoning behind these doctrines - but we must answer, tonight: does the Bible have anything to say about those doctrines, and in answer to the question 'Where are the saved dead now?'. What I want us to consider tonight is the place, the place where the saved go now. Next week, in the will of the Lord, we'll consider the people - how the saved dead are when they get there. But let's consider now the place, and I'm going to be asking you to look at a number of Scriptures tonight, so be on the ready!
Let me say first of all: it is important to distinguish between the eternal state, Revelation 21 and 22, and where the dead are now. I have already said that, but much of our misunderstandings, our misconceptions, come from confusing where souls go now, and where we will ultimately be for all eternity. So when we tell our children: 'Granny has died and gone to heaven', we cannot mean that Granny has gone into the eternal state - for the eternal state does not exist yet, the new heaven and the new earth. So when we make a statement like that, we have to understand what we are saying - what are we meaning? What are we referring to? We must be referring to something else other than the new heaven and the new earth. The big question is: does the Bible support the idea that there is a heaven now where Christians, when they die, go? There is an - if you want to call it - an intermediate heaven between the Christian's death and their resurrection at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now I believe Scripture does substantiate proof that there is such an intermediate heaven, but before I show you why I believe this is the case, I must emphasise something very forcibly. It is this: the New Testament focus is always on the resurrection of the child of God. The New Testament hope of the believer is always to anticipate the ultimate heaven, which is, as we saw last week, the new heaven and the new earth - that is to be our ultimate focus and anticipation. Wherever the believer goes now when they die, however wonderful it is or heavenly it is, it is not the believer's final destination. It is not their eternal home. Perhaps this is why, at times, our focus has been wrong. Often our focus, chiefly, is on where we go when we die, whereas the weight of Christian doctrine in the New Testament is that we should be looking forward beyond our death, beyond whatever intermediate heaven we might know - or whatever you want to call that place - to the eternal new heaven and the new earth.
Maybe I'm confusing you a little bit, but let me illustrate for you the difference between the intermediate heaven, where people go when they die now who are saved, and the eternal heaven, like this: suppose, just for the sake of argument, you're a homeless person living in the city of Belfast. You reside in the Salvation Army shelter in the town. One day you get one of these telegrams everybody's wishing for: your great Aunt Marie has died who lived in Paris, and she has left you everything that was hers, and that is a wealthy estate. You've inherited a home, even a job managing the estate, you're going to be near some of your family who moved out to France several years ago. So you make your way to Paris, and on your way from Belfast you have to naturally go - like we all do, wherever we are going from here it seems - through London. You have to travel via Heathrow. Now it happens that you have some family also in London who moved there several years ago too. You haven't seen them in a while, and you have a couple of hours to spare before your flight takes you from Heathrow to Paris, and so you spend some time with them in London. Here's the question: when you got to the Paris ticket agent in Belfast International Airport, and they asked you 'Where are you travelling Sir, or Madam?' - what was your answer? Most likely your answer was: 'I'm travelling to Paris'. Now you may have mentioned the city of London, but it was probably only in the context of saying that 'I'm going to Paris via Heathrow'. Now whilst your family and friends might be residing, some of them at least, in London, your focus is on Paris, your ultimate destination is the place where your inheritance is, the place where your future life lies - that life of promise and prospect.
Now that's my point: that ought to be our focus as believers - being resurrected, in a new man, in a new heaven and in a new earth. Often you hear Christians making a throwaway remark - and I understand what it means, and I make it myself - that you die and then you live in heaven forever. I hope when we make that that our understanding of the truth is not as simplistic as the statement sounds. We only live in heaven forever depending on what heaven we're talking about, because the place where the believer goes when they die now, that heaven is a temporary lodging place, it is only a stop along the way to the final destination of the new heaven and the new earth when we are resurrected.
Now here's a question, perhaps, that some of you're asking tonight: how do you know that place where the believer goes when they die now is heaven? How do you know that? Some would say: 'How do you know it's not hades, the realm of the dead? How do you know it's not paradise?'. Some would say that paradise is a different place than heaven. Well, the word 'hades' is a Greek word, and the Greek god of the underworld was called 'Hades'. This name was adopted as a way of describing the place where the dead are - but essentially the word means, literally, the same as the Hebrew word in the Old Testament 'sheol'. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint, that word 'sheol' is translated as 'hades'. Now 'sheol' and 'hades' respectively can mean 'the grave', can mean 'the abode of the dead' - but it has to be said that the word is very difficult to pin down in the manner of its definition. What I mean by that is simply that at times in the Old Testament it only means 'the grave', nothing more - and yet there are other times that it seems to insinuate that there is more of a depth in it, that there is something beyond the grave. Then, as we read Jewish theological history, rabbinical Judaism, and then right through into New Testament theology, we see that this word developed to take on a further meaning in people's understanding.
Now it has to be said that there are some difficult passages to understand when we look at this word 'hades' and 'sheol' and so on, and I believe that there are explanations to many of them - of course, there are to all of them if you know them! We don't have time, as you can understand, to consider all of them or indeed many of them this evening. But be that as it may, it is always good practice - and I hope you remember this from several of our other Bible studies - that when we are interpreting scripture and trying to establish truth, it is always good practice to find out what we can know plainly from the Bible, specifically the New Testament, and it is also good practice of interpretation to interpret the difficult passages of the word of God by those that are clear. So we do not erase what we know because of some difficult passages that we don't know about for sure - but we confirm the difficult passages by that which is certain and fundamental.
Now if that is the case, and I believe it is, and can be the only way to come to sound doctrine, there are two things that we have to lay down as factual, wholly reliable, and fundamental to our understanding of where the dead are now. Here is the first: the Bible tells us that Christ ascended into heaven, and He now is seated at the right-hand of the Majesty on high. Now that is absolutely clear, that is not disputed. The second fact that we need to lay down is that souls of believers, the apostle says, when absent from the body are present with the Lord. That is an explicit statement in 2 Corinthians 5:8, and Philippians 1:23.
Now it is reasonable and it is theologically sound to take those two truths, and to conclude that - because Christ is at the right hand of the Father, the right-hand of the Majesty on high in heaven; and the believer when he dies, goes to be with the Lord - that the believer can only go into heaven, for that is where the Lord Jesus Christ is. Now I hope that makes sense to you, I think it makes sense when we look at the word of God. But of course, there are common objections to that, and the first is this: some will say 'Well, God is omnipresent' - you only need to look to Psalm 139 to know that, you can't flee from His presence. So you would be present with the Lord in hades, the realm of the dead. How do you answer that question? Very easily: if the Lord is omnipresent, well then we don't need to go to heaven at all, or go anywhere, for He is with us now - but this is in a special sense of being intimately with the Lord in a bodily sense, not in His omnipresence.
The second objection to this idea that believers go into the heaven which is the presence of God just now, is that some say 'Paradise does not mean heaven as God's dwellingplace'. Often we hear quoted in Gospel messages, even last evening here in the Iron Hall, Luke 23 and verse 43. The dying thief beside the Lord Jesus said: 'Remember me when You come into Your kingdom', and the Lord Jesus replied to him saying, 'Truly I say unto you, today you shall be with me in Paradise'. Some say: 'Well, he was going to that place in Hades, that half of it which is the Paradise part for the righteous dead, it did not mean that he was going to heaven'. Now that word 'paradise', if we're really going to understand what it means, we need to trace its etymology, its origination as a word. It is a Persian word, and it literally means 'a walled garden'. Incidentally, that Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament which I mentioned earlier, the Septuagint, uses this word 'Paradise' for the Garden of Eden. Later, because of Jewish belief that God one day would restore the Garden of Eden, this word became used as a term to describe the eternal state of righteousness, that new heaven and the new earth that will redeem the lost, fallen state that was in Eden at the beginning.
But what does this word mean in the Bible? What is its usage in scripture? It is used in Luke 23:43, as we've already quoted, but it is used in two other places in the Bible. The first is 2 Corinthians 12 and verse 4, maybe you would turn to 2 Corinthians 12, and we'll read from verse 1 to 4 - and again the apostle Paul is speaking in very cloaked terms of his own experience, and he says in verse 1 of 2 Corinthians 12: 'It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven', please note that, he says he was caught up to the third heaven. 'And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter'. Now the reasonable conclusion that we make from those verses is that, for Paul, that third heaven was synonymous with paradise.
Just to confirm that, we turn again to Revelation chapter 2 and verse 7, and this is the third and only other reference to paradise in the word of God. Revelation 2 and verse 7, and this is the Lord Jesus Christ speaking to the churches, one in particular, and He says: 'He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God'. Again the 'tree of life', as we shall see in a moment, is in heaven, and John is describing how Christ has said that the one that overcomes will eat of it in paradise. Paul has confirmed to us that paradise is heaven, and we must assume, therefore, that the thief beside Jesus at the cross went directly into heaven. That same tree was in the Garden of Eden, the original paradise, and when man fell he was forbidden to eat of it because, probably, he would have lived eternally in a fallen state - but Revelation 22 verse 2, if you turn to it, tells us that that tree of life will one day be in the New Jerusalem which will come down from heaven and settle on the earth.
Now, let's correlate all this together: paradise is how Eden was described. Eden had a tree of life in it. Paul says that he went to the third heaven, which he described as paradise. Jesus said that that tree now is in the paradise of God, and he that overcomes will eat of it. The New Jerusalem will come down from the present heaven, Revelation 22 verse 2 says, and settle on the earth; and in that New Jerusalem the tree of life will be there. So, I believe that the conclusion is: paradise of Eden is in heaven now, and it will come down from heaven then when, one day, the New Jerusalem will be on the earth.
Now these are difficult things and, whatever is not clear, surely we should rejoice in what is clear? I believe it is clear, taking the whole weight of the body of Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures, that a believing child of God - whether Old or New Testament - enters, at death, into the immediate presence of God. John MacArthur writes like this - and it doesn't mean it's right because he says it, but nevertheless it's worthy of our attention - 'After many years of study, I believe that the moment any believer dies he goes immediately to heaven. Some mediaeval theologians taught that, when an Old Testament saint died, he entered what was later called 'Limbus patrum' - the limbo of the fathers. According to that teaching he entered a place where he had to wait until Christ died when he could finally enter heaven - but the Bible nowhere verifies such an intermediary state. On the contrary, the evidence indicates that when a believer dies he immediately enters the presence of God', and he begins to cite some evidence.
Now you can follow with me, and you'll need to be quick with your fingers if you're going to do that! The picture of eternal life - that's the wrong term, the picture of where we will be between death and resurrection is not always clear in the Old Testament, because they did not have the fullness of revelation that we have in the New. Yet we do get glimpses of glory throughout the Old Testament Scriptures. One is found in Psalm 16 verses 10 and 11 - you can turn to it or just listen: 'For thou wilt not leave my soul in hades; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore'. Now this verse is often taken in a prophetic sense as speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ talking to God about how, after His crucifixion, God would not leave Him in Hades to rot. But let us first understand it in its original context, and that is as the Psalmist writes it, the Psalmist in the Old Testament context saying that God would not leave his soul in the realm of the dead - He will not suffer his holy one to see corruption, but show him the path of life; and he would know, in the presence of God, fullness of joy, and at God's right-hand pleasures for evermore. That is the Old Testament saint's, in this context, hope - and, of course, it refers to the Lord Jesus Christ, and would imply that He did not go to Hades, but He went directly into the presence of God after He gave up the spirit.
Psalm 23 verse 6, again we know it well, but have we really taken the impact of the truth? 'Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever'. That was his hope, the same hope, I suggest, that Paul gives us in 2 Corinthians 5 and verse 8: 'We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord'. It seems that he's talking about the same thing, the same as Philippians 1:23: 'I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better'. The same as He spoke to the thief beside Him: 'Today thou shalt be with me in paradise'.
Now when the Lord Jesus was dying on the cross, He was going to the Father, having committed His spirit to Him. Therefore, as Psalm 16 tells us, not to Hades, but to heaven - and He was taking that thief to heaven with Him. Now Luke 16 is a passage we'll look at in greater detail next week, and it speaks of the rich man lifting up his eyes in Hades, being in torment; and it also speaks of Lazarus, a pauper, a beggar, ending up in a place called 'Abraham's bosom'. This has led many to believe that this is where the righteous dead go now, not directly into heaven, but to Abraham's bosom - a righteous compartment of the place called Hades. But I believe from studying this that that place described as 'Abraham's bosom' in Luke 16 is a place of blessedness in the presence of God. You see we have got to understand the Eastern ancient imagery that is being used here by our Lord Jesus. When He speaks of 'Abraham's bosom', it is imagery of an eastern banquet. At eastern banquets there would be feasting, music, conversation lasting days, and often guests would usually stay at the host's home. There, day by day, they would recline at the table, not sat at table and chairs like we have, but lying on the ground they leaned on their elbows and reclined with their heads often together, so that they could talk across the table one to another. Now as they were doing that, if you were to look across the room, at times it would appear that one person had their head resting on another's chest. It wasn't the case that that was literally happening, but because they were all leaning and talking and listening to one another, from a distance that is how it could have been construed - and that explains the position of John in John 13, as the beloved disciple resting his head on Jesus' bosom. It probably wasn't literal, but speaking in the sense of how he was conversing, communing with the Lord in that venue.
Now Abraham's bosom in Luke chapter 16 means that Lazarus was reclining at a banquet table in the celebration of joy with the greatest man in Israelite history, father Abraham. There he is in this celebration, that's the sense of 'Abraham's bosom', reclining there in that joy and that peace. I believe that was the paradise of God, it was heaven, the third heaven, the place of God's dwellingplace where the believer goes now when they die.
Now let us summarise what we're saying here this evening of this place. It is different from the eternal state. There are many questions about it, but it is more than just the realm of the dead, for the weight of Scripture confirms - both Old Testament and New Testament - that the child of God had a hope, which was to be in the immediate presence of God, and New Testament believers in the immediate presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. But to summarise it all, Paul puts it well, to confirm any of our questions, he says: 'It will be better by far' - better by far than this sin-cursed world.
Now we must move on, because we've two more questions, and some of the answers to questions you have in your mind will continue, hopefully, to be answered as we answer these. The first question is: is it physical? The intermediate heaven, the third heaven, the paradise, the place where believers go when they die now - is it a physical place? Well, let's look at the clues that we have in Scripture. The Lord Jesus was resurrected, and Jesus now lives in a physical body, waiting to return to Earth from that place. Take the Lord Jesus' ascension, when He ascended into heaven, the Bible says, the fact is He went to a place - that's the entire point of the passage, as we saw last week - and the angels exclaimed: 'Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven'. He told the disciples before going, John 14 verse 3: 'I go to prepare a place', and even now that third heaven, paradise, is a place.
Now turn with me to Acts chapter 7, just to prove this for you. Acts 7, and this is the account of Stephen's martyrdom - just before his death by stoning in Acts 7:55, we read: 'But Stephen, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God', and in a moment or two he commits his spirit - just as, incidentally, Jesus did to His Father - he commits his spirit to the Saviour. Wayne Grudem, in his systematic theology, says this well: 'Stephen did see more than mere symbols of a state of existence. It seems rather that his eyes were opened to see a spiritual dimension of reality which God has hidden from us in this present age - a dimension which, nonetheless, really does exist in our space-time universe, and within which Jesus now lives in His physical resurrection body, waiting even now for the time when He will return to Earth'.
Stephen saw it, Elisha saw it. In 2 Kings 6 Elisha asked God to give his servant Gehazi a glimpse of this invisible realm. In 2 Kings 6 and verse 17: 'Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha'. Now it could be that these horses and angelic figures were always there, or it could be that they were coming and going from heaven to here - but what cannot be the case is that, as some argue, they do not exist at all, and we ought not to take these figures literally. Let me say that Acts chapter 7, the account of the martyrdom of Stephen, and 2 Kings chapter 6 are historical narratives - they are telling us of historical events that took place. They are not parables, they are not apocalyptic books, and so therefore we must conclude that Stephen and Gehazi saw physical and real things that are the heaven of God now.
The clues might indicate that it is possible, indeed, I believe probable, that the third heaven is a physical realm. We ought to ask the question why we are so reluctant to accept that heaven should be a physical place even now? The answer, if we are to be honest, is that we have imbibed the Platonic idea that everything physical is sinful, and everything spiritual is good. That is not Bible doctrine, that is what the church was beginning to believe in 1 Corinthians 15, that caused them to start to reject the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. We need to redress the imbalance in our thinking about heaven: heaven is the substance, it is earth that is the shadow! Do you remember in Hebrews 9 verse 11, the writer says: 'Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building', verse 24 of Hebrews 9, 'For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us'.
He's insinuating that the earthly tabernacle, the Temple, the whole rites and ritual custom, it is only a figure of the true, it is a shadow of the substance! This earth, in other words, is only a copy of the real thing. The earthly sanctuary is a copy of the heavenly temple on high, and that is given clearly in Exodus where Moses was to go up the mount and make everything according to the heavenly pattern that God showed him. Both Exodus and Hebrews suggest that God, now listen to this, created earth in the image of heaven - did you hear that? The suggestion is that God created earth in the image of heaven, just, by the way, as He created mankind in His own image. We get all this upside down, we work from earth up to heaven; but no, that's not the way God worked - He worked from heaven down to earth. C. S. Lewis proposed that, I quote: 'The hills and valleys of heaven will be to those who now experience', that is, the hills and valleys of Earth, 'not as a copy to the original, nor as a substitute is to the genuine article, but as the flower to the root or the diamond to the coal'. This is the root, heaven is the flower. This is the coal, heaven is the diamond.
Let me give you an example, very quickly, of how we take earth as the substance and heaven as the shadow. Have you ever heard the theological debate - and I know these things are deep tonight, but we've got to get deep - where people say: 'Well, you see this term for God as 'Father', and the term for Jesus as 'the Son'' - exclusive Brethren and some in evangelicalism have gone down the road saying these are relative terms, earthly terms, human terms that are given to us in order to understand the kind of relationship that Father and Son have, but they're not really father and son as we understand it. Now here's the big question that I ask: why can it not be rather that the father-child relationship on earth is based on the relationship that is in heaven? It doesn't come from here, and God has borrowed it from us to help us understand the godhead, it comes from Him, it's based on His relationship between He as the Father, and His Son Jesus Christ. Let me give you another example of it, not just the tabernacle and the Temple, but what about marriage? God clearly tells us that marriage was given to us to reveal a mystery that is an eternal mystery, the relationship of love between Christ and His bride the church - Ephesians 5:32.
These are not earthly analogies that God borrows to help us understand heaven, these are heavenly truths and facts that God has given to us to illustrate the substance that is heaven. We get it upside down, but the point is this: whether you agree or disagree on heaven as the substance, heaven is real, it is the original, we are the copy. I believe it is physical, and I believe - if I can say it, and I know it's idiotic - it's more real than here.
Secondly, where is its location? Very quickly: well, Genesis 1 verse 1, last week, God created the heavens, plural. There is first of all that first layer of the cake we talked about last week, the atmospheric heaven where the birds are and the clouds. Then there's the second layer, which is the stellar heaven, the planets and solar systems. Then there is the dwelling place of God, 2 Corinthians 12 verse 2, Paul calls it the 'third heaven' and 'paradise'. Now, where is it? Well, none of us really know, but it's real, and it's beyond those other two heavens. It's real, and I'll tell you this: we have trouble imagining it as real, don't we? But scientists are starting to veer towards showing that it is possible - these are unbelieving scientists. Randy Alcorn in his book says: 'For those who have trouble accepting the reality of an unseen realm, consider the perspective of cutting-edge researchers who embrace string theory'. If you're a mathematician to a university level, or a physicist, you may have read on this string theory. 'Scientists at many top universities postulate that there are 7 to 10 unobservable dimensions, and likely an infinite number of imperceptible universes, in addition to the four observable dimensions that we are familiar with'. To put that in layman's terms: there is more out there that we cannot perceive and we do not know. 'If this', he says, 'is what it's leading scientists to believe, why should anyone feel self-conscious about believing in one unobservable dimension, a real dimension containing angels, heaven, hell, Jesus, the apostles, your loved ones and mine?'. The only thing that stops us is our unbelief.
Now let's bring some conclusions to our study tonight. The conclusions are these, I believe, based on scripture: when the believer dies they do not enter the eternal state, the new heaven and the new earth, that is our ultimate focus, our destined hope, to be resurrected and enter into this new universe - however, there is a present heaven, and that is where the believer goes when they die, to be in the presence of the Lord, which Paul says is better by far than everything that is now. It's more than likely a physical place, and our existence here is only a copy of what is true in heaven. Though we cannot know it by our sense or observation, we do not know its location perhaps definitely, we can know that it is there. Christ is there, and the angels are there, and our loved ones who have fallen asleep in Jesus are there, and we are going there if we are in Christ. Are you going there? It makes all the difference in life to know you are, and it makes all the difference in death.
There are many questions I haven't answered tonight, but I want to answer this one for you: you can only know you're going there if you're trusting in Christ and Christ alone for salvation, and have repented of your sins and believed the Gospel - that is your hope if you do. It makes a difference. It made a difference to John Bradford at about 35 years of age. He was a well educated man and a chaplain to Bishop Ridley. Bradford was a committed Protestant Christian, his conversion had been remarkable, his life had been transformed by Christ and he soon earned the reputation of being a powerful preacher. His delight was to proclaim the Gospel of the good news of Jesus Christ by grace in Him and Him alone. However, only four weeks after Queen Mary commenced to reign in England, this young preacher was imprisoned by the Roman Catholic authorities, and early in July 1555 he was burned at the stake in Smithfield, London as a Protestant martyr. He felt honoured to be able to die for Christ, and as the flames of the fire began to scorch his body, Bradford spoke his last word to the other young man dying with him - this is what he said: 'Be of good comfort, brother, we shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night'. He had no doubt where he was going, he knew he was going to heaven immediately - or, in his words, 'that night'.
Billy Bray was the same, the rugged Cornish tin miner converted to Christ early in the 19th century. As he approached his 74th birthday, at the other end of the scale, in 1868, Billy began to feel very ill, and told some friends: 'I think I shall be in the Father's house soon'. A doctor examined him, and announced to Billy: 'You're going to die', and the patient immediately shouted out with joy: 'Glory! Glory be to God! I shall soon be in heaven!'. For Bray there was no doubt about it, as a Christian he knew that dying meant going to be in heaven - and soon, not just in the distant future, he would be there. It wasn't wishful thinking, it was based on the promise, and what we know from scripture that cannot be shaken: that to die is to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
Do you have that assurance? This week we have looked at the place where the saved dead are now: it is physical, where its location is. God willing, next week we will look at 'How Are The Dead Now?' - we're going to look at the people who are there now, we're going to ask the question: are they conscious? What do they know? And if so, do we know from the Bible if they remember this earth? Do they remember anything? Do they remember everything? Do they see earth from heaven, as many people suppose? We're even going to consider, again quite controversial, are they floating disembodied spirits, or do they have bodies in that place that is heaven now?
I urge you tonight that there is an alternative to heaven, and that is hell. It is a place separated from God's immediate presence, where there is torment forever for those who are unrepentant and unbelieving. My friend, if it's not heaven for you, it's hell. I pray tonight that through Jesus, who died for sinners, you will be sure of the promise of heaven tonight. Speak with me, speak with a friend, but don't leave this evening without that certainty in your heart.
Father, we thank You that the precious blood of Jesus has bought us more than purgatory. The precious blood of Jesus has cleansed us from every stain, so that we need not endure hellfire ever, for He took it all on the cross for us. Because of that, as the apostle has taught us, as the word of God from cover to cover indicates, the child of God who is saved by grace through faith enters into the immediate presence of God and His Son the Lord Jesus Christ. Lord, there are many great questions and issues concerning heaven and eternity - but Lord, help us to take to heart those things that we can know and be sure of; and as Paul could say, that he was certain of this very thing: to be absent from the body was present with the Lord, which is better by far. Give someone that assurance tonight, Lord, and bolster it in all our hearts tonight. For those who have loved ones who have gone before, encourage them tonight to know that they are with Christ in that place, and we are going there too. Bless us now as we go our homeward way, for Christ's sake, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the third recording in his 'Glimpses Of Glory' series, entitled "Where Are The Saved Dead Now?" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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