May 5, 2015

Why Think about Heaven

by Nathan Busenitz

The Word of God is far from silent on what eternity will be like in the eternal heaven (i.e. the New Earth). But why has God seen fit to reveal these truths to His people?

There are at least three reasons why the future reality of heaven ought to influence believers in the present. These might be summarized as: hope, holiness, and the honor of God.

001Hope. The reality of heaven provides hope for the future, even in the face of trials or death. Thus Paul could tell the Thessalonians that believers do not grieve “as the rest of the world who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13). As Charles Spurgeon observed:

The very happiest persons I have ever met with have been departing believers. The only people for whom I have felt any envy have been dying members of this very church, whose hands I have grasped in their passing away. Almost without exception I have seen in them holy delight and triumph. And in the exceptions to this exceeding joy I have seen deep peace, exhibited in a calm and deliberate readiness to enter into the presence of their God.

Writing about his trials, the apostle Paul similarly explained to the Corinthians, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Because believers know what the future ultimately holds, they can face the temporal troubles of this life with confidence and courage.

002Holiness. In addition to producing hope, the reality of heaven promotes holiness in the lives of the redeemed. In the words of one commentator, “The New Jerusalem is the reality that finalizes the hopes of God’s people and rewards them for all they have endured. It also is intended to spur the readers to greater faithfulness in the present, knowing what is at stake” (Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, 727.)

Recognizing that they will soon be in the presence of their heavenly King, those who belong to Christ desire to please Him and reflect His perfect character in every way possible. As the apostle John wrote in his first epistle, “We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2b–3).

Believers understand that they will be rewarded by Christ for their faithfulness in this life (2 Tim. 4:8). The reality of a heavenly future puts the priorities and pursuits of this life in proper perspective (cf. Matt. 6:19–21). Such an eternal mindset motivated the nineteenth-century missionary, Adoniram Judson, who said:

A few days and our work will be done. And when it is once done, it is done to all eternity. A life once spent is irrevocable. … Let us, then, each morning, resolve to send the day into eternity in such a garb as we shall wish it to wear forever. And at night let us reflect that one more day is irrevocably gone.

Those words echo the heartbeat of the apostle Paul, whose entire ministry was motivated by eternal concerns. As he told the Corinthians, “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:9–10).

003The Honor of God. Finally, biblical eschatology provides a vivid reminder of the fact that the purpose behind all of salvation history is the glory of God. Ultimately the manifestation of that glory will culminate in the blazing light of the new heavens and earth. It will radiate throughout the New Jerusalem and engulf every one of heaven’s inhabitants. For all of eternity, believers will bask in the wonder of God’s grace and glorify Him for His infinite mercy and kindness. The unmerited favor of God will thrill the hearts of the redeemed throughout all of eternity, and they will praise and exalt Him as a result. The awe of redemptive love will fuel their worship. As Richard Baxter so aptly expressed,

As we paid nothing for God’s eternal love and nothing for the Son of His love, and nothing for His Spirit and our grace and faith, and nothing for our eternal rest… what an astonishing thought it will be to think of the unmeasurable difference between our deservings and our receivings. O, how free was all this love, and how free is this enjoyed glory. . . . So then let DESERVED be written on the floor of hell but on the door of heaven and life, THE FREE GIFT.

With inexhaustible joy, believers from every age of human history will join together in unending adoration and thanksgiving to God for the unmerited kindness of His grace (cf. Rev. 5:9–14).  Clearly, the reality of heaven ought to motivate believers in their homeward journey, as they navigate through this world as sojourners and citizens of another realm (Phil. 3:20). To do that effectively, they must set their eyes on Him and the glorious future He has promised (Col. 3:1–2; Heb. 12:1–2). Focusing on God’s kingdom in eternity is not a hindrance to the life of faith; it is the essence of it (Heb. 11:16). As one evangelical author rightly concludes:

Understanding Heaven doesn’t just tell us what to do, but why. What God tells us about our future lives enables us to interpret our past and serve him in our present. . . . We need to stop acting as if Heaven were a myth, an impossible dream, a relentlessly dull meeting, or an unimportant distraction from real life. We need to see Heaven for what it is: the realm we’re made for. if we do, we’ll embrace it with contagious joy, excitement, and anticipation.  (Randy Alcorn, Heaven, 443)

Nathan Busenitz

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Nathan serves on the pastoral staff of Grace Church and teaches theology at The Master's Seminary in Los Angeles.
  • Jason

    I would like to add 4:

    It puts fellowship in this life into proper perspective. Are we acting toward one another as though we are going to spend eternity with them?

    When correcting people, are we doing it like we need to protect the truth by correcting error or like we’re trying to help those we will be living with forever?

    When we give, are we doing it because it makes us feel good (or at least better) or are we supporting someone who we may be borrowing landscaping equipment from (neighbors might still do that on new earth) three thousand millenia from now (and hopefully returning some time in the next three thousand millenia)?

    It makes discipleship more than something church elders (maybe) do for the men being groomed to replace them and puts it squarely on all of us to be growing together. The believers around us today will be around us forever (and that shouldn’t cause us dread).

  • smedly

    Nate, thank you. I love it when you write on my favorite topic. Keep posting about heaven. We cannot think of eternal realities too well or too often.

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