During the last few months of my grandfather’s life, I distinctly remember that there was only one thing he really wanted to talk about. Before these last months he enjoyed talking about family trees, serving in the army during World War II, gardening, and the things going on in our lives. In the last months of his life he would talk about these things, but they were not on his mind like they once were. Something else occupied most of his thoughts and conversations. Heaven. My grandfather knew he was going home, to heaven. He wanted to go. He was waiting for Jesus to take him. When I said goodbye to him through tears, the last words he spoke to me were, “If I don’t see you here again, I’ll see you in heaven.”
How often do we think about heaven? Certainly not as often as my grandfather did in the last days of his life. We should not expect to think about heaven as much as a man on his death bed. Yet thinking about heaven is not reserved only for the old. In our youth, thinking about death and heaven may not be much of a priority with all that we have going on: school, work, homework, sports, and screen time. But it should be. Thinking about heaven is not simply for the old who seem closer to death. None of us knows how close we are to death. God does not guarantee we will live to see tomorrow. One of us could die in a car crash, from an aneurism, or be diagnosed with fast-growing cancer that gives us only months to live. We all are close to death.
Our pilgrim journey on earth ends in death because we all have a terminal disease called mortality. Three people die every second; one hundred and eighty people die every minute; eleven thousand die every hour. This means that every day roughly 250,000 people are either going to heaven or hell. These numbers include old and young. Our days are numbered. Life on this earth is brief. God uses the brevity of our lives and the reality of death to get us thinking about where we are going to spend eternity. We should all be thinking about our eternal home.
Are we? How often did you think about heaven today? In the past week? In the past year? How often have you thought about heaven outside of church?
Mistakenly, we may think that thinking about heaven will distract from the things we need to do presently. After all, the old (and false) adage goes something like this: he is so heavenly minded he is of no earthly good. But thinking about heaven does not mean that we cease and desist from our normal, everyday activities like homework, work, cleaning our rooms, playing sports, checking our email, and Facebooking. The opposite is true. If we are not heavenly minded, we are of no earthly good in the service of God. This is true because thinking about heaven is something we do while we do our homework, work, clean our rooms, play sports, check email, and Facebook. Meditating on heaven is the only thing that makes us of any earthly good because it includes thinking about how we can serve our Savior until we arrive at our heavenly home.
The last verse of 1 Corinthians 15 teaches that thinking about the final resurrection and heaven leads not to inactivity, but to faithful work in the service of the Lord. The Holy Spirit always puts the right word in the right place in Holy Scripture. 1 Corinthians 15:57 is beautiful, and we would think this is a fitting end to the chapter on the resurrection to heavenly life: “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” But this is not the last verse of this section. Verse 58 says, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” The truth of our resurrection to heavenly life does not encourage being of no earthly good, but encourages us to abound always in the work of the Lord. Thinking about heaven keeps us focused on serving the Lord in our lives.
Satan knows this. This is why one of the ways that the roaring lion attacks us is by distracting us from thinking about heaven. He would like our minds occupied with sports, money, fashion, my look, guys, girls, sex, shopping, work, cars, sports, money, fashion, my look, guys, girls, sex, shopping, work, cars… without any thought of heaven. We should be so thankful to God for the luxury and comfort God has abundantly given. But there is a danger in abundance. The danger is that we live distracted lives. Individual happiness and comfort becomes the goal of life instead of the fullness of life with God in our heavenly home. How is Satan trying to distract you from thinking about heaven? This is something important to ponder.
How do we learn about heaven so we can think about it more? If you asked some Christians today this question they might point you to a book or a movie. Recently, one of the New York Times best-sellers, Heaven is for Real, was made into a Hollywood movie. The story is of Colton Burpo, the three-year-old son of the pastor/author of the book. When Colton was almost four, his appendix ruptured. He claims that during his surgery he went to heaven, where he saw amazing things. He met his sister who had died before birth as a result of a miscarriage, and his grandfather, who died before Colton was born. He petted Jesus’ rainbow-colored horse, listened to angels singing “Jesus loves me” to him, saw Jesus’ crucifixion wounds, and that everyone except Jesus had wings. And God was “really, really big.” This is only one of a plethora of books in which people claim to have gone to heaven and returned.
Truth about heaven cannot be learned from a movie or a book. In fact, many of the things these people claim to see are not consistent with what scripture says to us about heaven. Don’t go to see the movie or pick up one of these books. We learn about heaven from a book, but not from those books or a movie. The holy scriptures reveal everything we need to know about beauty and glory of heavenly life. God has revealed all we need to know about the glories of heaven. All the questions we have about heaven will not be answered, but there is so much to learn.
I have heard many people over the years say that there is not much we know about heaven, citing as proof what we read in 1 Corinthians 2:9: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” Certainly there is much about heaven that we do not know at this time. What will we do? What will those who died in infancy or old age look like in heaven? And we have many other questions. But the Bible says plenty about heaven, especially in last two chapters of the Bible (Rev. 21 and 22).
Scripture says heaven is the eternal home of God’s people. The end of the Shepherd’s psalm points us to our future home: “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Ps. 23:6). We find this same language in 2 Corinthians 5:1, “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
When we die, our souls will be taken to our heavenly home, where we will see Jesus (Luke 23:43). When Jesus returns to this earth at the end of the ages, our bodies will be raised, reunited with our souls that were in heaven, and taken to a new heaven and new earth (1 Thess. 4:15–17).
God is guiding our pilgrim journey to this home. Jesus promised before he ascended into heaven that a purpose of his ascending was that he “go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). Not only is Jesus preparing our place in heaven, but also he is preparing us for that place. God is polishing and purifying us through the hardships and difficulties of this life to prepare us to live with him in heavenly glory. Asaph confessed this truth in Psalm 73:23–24, “Nevertheless I am continually with thee; thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.” We believe that God is preparing us for this home.
This everlasting home is ours because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our savior. Jesus suffered God’s wrath on the cross in our place so that we will dwell in this home. We will experience this in part when we die, for at that moment our souls are taken to heaven to be with Jesus. We will experience life in this home most fully after Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead. After the judgment, Jesus will live with us in “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1).
Let me tell you that this home will be amazing! In these articles, I want to show you how awesome this home will be. No million dollar mansion with 12 foot ceilings, elegant staircases, backyard pool and jacuzzi, and manicured flower gardens can compare. What is better than this? We will have perfect fellowship with God, Jesus, and each other. Heaven will be free from sin, suffering, enemies, and fighting. It is home because we will be there with our family. Our heavenly Father will continue to shower us with the blessings of His love. We will see our elder brother Jesus, whom we cannot see now because he is in heaven and we are on earth. What could be better?
Because heaven is our everlasting home, don’t we want to know as much as we can about it? Consider this from the perspective of preparing for a vacation. If your parents chose to vacation in Washington D.C., they would prepare by learning all they could about what to do and see there. You can hear the conversation around the dinner table: “When we get there we will….” How often do we have these conversations about heaven? When we get there we will…”
When we see how grand heaven is, we will think about it more. Probably not as much as my grandfather at the end of his life. But we will learn that to be of any earthly good, we must be heavenly minded.