God definitely places a high importance on our having a knowledge of the future…He talks about it all the time in the Bible. And it’s not simply so that we can know what’s coming…rather its because (1) the future motivates us to act strategically in the present and (2) what we do now, echos in eternity. As believers, our witness determines who will go to heaven and who won’t, our actions are linked to heavenly rewards, our misbehavior leads to God’s discipline on our lives, the church and the country, and one of many motivations that pushes us toward the right behavior in the present is knowing what is to come.
Read: Matthew 24, Luke 21, and Revelation (whole book)
Listen: The Rapture and the Judgment of Believers by Tommy Nelson (2 files)
Listen: Heaven by Tommy Nelson and Eternity by Andy Stanley
Watch: The Left Behind Movie
Sermon Series: The End
Listen: Heaven MP3’s from Randy Alcorn
Read: Heaven by Randy Alcorn
What’s Revelation For?
· For us, I believe it (1) reminds us that God is in control of the future. We don’t have to worry that something will escape His control or notice. (2) and it reminds us that heaven is coming, so that we use our time strategically.
· For those who live through the events it describes, I believe it will serve to be a clear witness, much like Jesus was when He was physically present with us, that God is real and they should trust Jesus. It will be a beacon by which many people come to faith.
· I do not believe Revelation is a tool we are supposed to use to identify the antichrist or see the return of Christ coming. History has proven that people have tried this only to be proven foolish for 2,000 years.
Is Jesus Coming Soon?
I don’t think so, but I could be wrong. Two verses give me some assurance of this:
2 For you yourselves know very well that the Day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 3 When they say, “Peace and security,” then sudden destruction comes on them, like labor pains come on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you, brothers, are not in the dark, for this day to overtake you like a thief. (1Thess 5:2-4, HCSB)
14 This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations. And then the end will come. (Matt 24:14, HCSB)
In our lifetimes, the gospel may reach the end of the earth—every tribe, tongue and nation. I could be misunderstanding God’s level of specificity on this, but I think He’s going to be patient and let us reach the world first.
What Happens During the End Times?
The details are the subject of debate, and I would encourage you to consider reading about the different views on Revelation, but below is a basic outline of the events, with some notes on when and where people differ:
The Gospel reaches all the nations.
The Rapture Takes Place: (some Christians say this will not happen—I hope it does!)
Jesus Christ will come in the clouds to take believers, both living and dead, to heaven in bodily form. His removal of the church from the earth will function as an act of mercy, removing them from the place where God will pour out his wrath. (Revelation 3:10) Rapture means “to be caught up.” Believers being taken up suddenly into heaven without dying. Rapture is not Jesus second coming, He does not come to earth at this time. 1 Thess. 4:16-17, 1 Cor. 15:51-52
God begins to pour out His Wrath & the Antichrist Reigns
The clarity of Revelation’s events unfolding and the difficultly to survive will force people like never before to choose between accepting or rejecting God. Those who reject God will unify under centralized leaders, the Antichrist. (Jeremiah 30:4-7, Matthew 24:21, Daniel 7:24, 9:24-27, 11:45, 2 Thessalonians 2, Revelation 1)
Jesus Second Coming & the Millennial Reign (debated, may not happen)
Jesus returns to the earth leading an army of believers in bodily form. Jesus conquers the Antichrist, imprisons Satan, finally takes up a physical throne, and all the promises made to the Israelites become true for 1,000 years (a millennium). People will again be struck with the black and white decision to follow the physical Christ or live outside the kingdom in rebellion. (Isaiah 11:9, 19, 24:21-23, 60; Daniel 2, 7:27; Ezek. 37:21–28; Revelation 19-20:6)
The Final Battle (Armageddon)
Satan will be released and will rally all rebels to a final battle against Jesus and the kingdom, which will take place in the valley of Armageddon. God will destroy the armies miraculously and bring all peoples, living and dead, to a final judgment. (Revelation 20:7-15, Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Corinthians 5:10, Rev 14:17-20, 16:12-16, Zech 12)
Heaven on Earth
When the dead are condemned to eternal punishment, including Satan and the evil spiritual beings, God will purge His creation of sin and make it new once again. He will redeem it fully as He redeems believers, returning it to a state similar to that in which the garden of Eden first existed. He will unite heaven and earth in this new created world, establishing a city of His creation as the new Jerusalem, and making His dwelling place among mankind. In this final state, men and women will enjoy full access to God and true relationship with each other, for all eternity. (Isaiah 65:17-25, Revelation 21)
Or watching Revelation in 60 Minutes
· Pre-millennial – the belief that Jesus Christ will return to this earth and will establish a kingdom that will last a 1,000 years. People who hold to a pre-millennial view believe that Jesus Christ could return at any time to take His church away.
· A-millennial – the belief that does not believe in a future literal reign of Jesus Christ here on earth for a 1,000 years in fulfillment of the Old Testament promises of God.
· Pre-tribulation – the belief that the church and Christians will be raptured before the tribulation begins. Those who hold this view believe that all of the prophecies about Jesus’ coming have been fulfilled and that He could come at any time.
· Mid-Tribulation – the belief that the church and Christians will go through the first half of the tribulation, but will then be raptured.
What Is Heaven, Really?
In the beginning, God’s created everything in the world “very good” and at the end of His work, it will again all be “very good”. Anything that God does not purify, He will have destroyed or cast into ‘the lake of fire’ outside the realm of His redeemed creation. This is precisely why the Scriptures talk repeatedly of a new earth in passages throughout the Old and New Testaments, particularly in: Isaiah 65:17, Matthew 19:28-29, 2 Peter 3:10-13, and Revelation 21:1-5. Our eternal dwelling place will be a reflection of the garden of Eden—not a celestial palace in the clouds, as contemporary culture would have us believe. Humans are physical and spiritual beings, and our eternal state will reflect both aspects of our nature. The only state in which we will exist apart from our bodies is in time between the death of our bodies and God’s resurrection of those bodies, when our souls reside with God in the present heaven.
Like the garden of Eden, men and women will return to the new earth as it was originally created, without the effects of sin and complete with the tree of life. The world we see now is only a dim reflection of God’s creation, being spoiled by the same sin that has effected us, as Paul explains in Romans 8:20-22, “Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (NLT) As Randy Alcorn notes, if you want to picture heaven, start by looking around you and imagining what the world would be like without sin and death and suffering and corruption. Consider a world where all the animals of the earth are harmless, where food and water are plentiful, and where the weather never produces a devastating hurricane, earthquake, or tornado. Listen to the words of Isaiah as he reflects upon this glorious future:
Never again will one of her infants live just a few days or an old man die before his time. Indeed, no one will die before the age of a hundred, anyone who fails to reach the age of a hundred will be considered cursed. They will build houses and live in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build a house only to have another live in it, or plant a vineyard only to have another eat its fruit, for my people will live as long as trees, and my chosen ones will enjoy to the fullest what they have produced. They will not work in vain, or give birth to children that will experience disaster. For the LORD will bless their children and their descendants. Before they even call out, I will respond; while they are still speaking, I will hear. A wolf and a lamb will graze together; a lion, like an ox, will eat straw, and a snake’s food will be dirt. They will no longer injure or destroy on my entire royal mountain,” says the LORD. ~ Isaiah 65:20-25
Like creation, we ourselves will be set free from sin, death, suffering, and corruption. In the latter half of Paul’s Romans 8 declaration, he says that “we ourselves also, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (v.23). Human beings and the earth are inseparably linked. Man was created from the earth, and man’s fall caused the earth to fall subject to sin. They were subjected to the curse together, and together they shall be free from it. On the new earth, we will have new bodies, reflecting the body that Christ was raised in at his resurrection; bodies that no longer suffer from sickness, disabilities, cancer, or corrupt genetics; bodies that can laugh and run and think without hindrance.
In contrast to the garden of Eden, however, the new earth will be superior to the previous creation in one major way. In many passages, the redemption of creation is described as a new heavens and a new earth, and with good reason. Though heavens can represent the atmosphere of the earth, it is also used to refer to the dwelling place of God throughout Scripture (Isaiah 66:1, Matt 6:9, 1 Peter 3:22, 1 Kings 8:30). Rather than being a place where God visited Adam and Eve periodically like in the garden of Eden, the new earth will be the place that qualifies as heaven too, because it will be a place where God dwells! In Revelation John proclaims “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Look! The residence of God is among human beings. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them.” The new earth is rightly called “heaven” as well. As the crescendo of God’s redemptive work, God will make his dwelling place among us. God has made Himself present upon the earth in many forms in the past: in a cloud, in the appearance of an angel, and in the incarnate Christ, but in the future God will be fully present among us in a way that has no parallel. His very presence will provide light for the earth.
God’s dwelling place on the new earth will also be a unique feature of heaven, because it is a city of His own creation, which Revelation describes coming down out of heaven as the new Jerusalem. While many have had a hard time reconciling the description of this heavenly city with the laws and physical makeup of the present world, many of its aspects are clearly significant to us. First, it is pictured as incredibly large, a place where all of God’s redeemed humanity could potentially dwell, if desired. Second, it memorializes God’s redemptive work on the old earth through its architecture: foundations and gates that reflect Israel’s tribes and the apostles of the New Testament. And third, it is void of one significant feature: the temple.
Finally—also in contrast to the garden of Eden, the new earth will also have one additional exclusion: the presence of a tempter. Satan, as we mentioned before as part of the unredeemed creation, will have been cast forever into the lake of fire. Life will exist without the presence of sinful spiritual beings as well. Grace, peace, and truth, will reign forever in our eternal home.
Heaven is About: Being in Awe Seeing God in all His Glory: “Faith becomes Sight”
Mercy Me – I Can Only Imagine
Finally Home – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlxFee1mRtE
Heaven is: Finally Getting the Perfection Our Heart Longs For:
Heaven Song – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-U-hOMunpWo
Homesick – Mercy Me https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvhrPMJe8LE
Heaven is: Comfort in Reunions With Those Who Have Passed Before Us:
When I get Where I’m Going – Brad Paisley
Judgment: Facing the Tension of Our Stewardship on Earth
Eli – the Lumber Song https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJVzlXCmIR4
7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 There is reserved for me in the future the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who have loved His appearing. (2Tim 4:7-8, HCSB)
While it is true that no inducement can generate enough merit to insure our reaching heaven by worthy efforts, and while it is true that without deserving it we are saved through God’s grace alone, yet repeatedly God promises rewards to His children for deeds done in the body. ~ Charles Ferguson Ball
Though the specifics of the rewards are not ever clearly mentioned in Scripture, it is clear in the words of Jesus and the church leaders who wrote the New Testament, that God intends to reward us in heaven. Like a proud parent, God wants to thank us for the good ways in which we made a difference in this world. AND like a good parent, God will probably not make a point of comparing our work to anyone elses, nor will He likely shame anyone for “just accepting Jesus.” It’s all praise, as far as Scripture tells us.
Clarification: Who and How Are We Judged?
Scripture speaks of two judgments for all mankind: the judgment of faith and the judgment of works. The judgment is faith is an event where God will sort out the believing from the unbelieving, based on their faith in Christ. This judgment is reflected in the analogy of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25, the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16, the words of Jesus to the thief on the cross in Luke 23, the foundation of believers lives in 1 Corinthians 3, the book of Life in Revelation 20, and the numerous conversations regarding the kingdom of God by Jesus in the gospels.
The judgment of works is an event or a set of events (one for believers and one for unbelievers) where God will confirm the condemnation of the unbelieving world by revealing their evil deeds and reward individual believers for their stewardship of His grace on the earth. For unbelievers, the Scripture interchanges the two judgments periodically, indicating that their deeds and their lack of grace will both reflect reasons for their condemnation to punishment, as Revelation emphasizes:
And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne. Then books were opened, and another book was opened – the book of life. So the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to their deeds…If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, that person was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:12-15)
As Paul summarized in his letter to the Corinthians believers, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
In the case of believers, however, our good works are not to be related to our salvation, most notably in 1 Corinthians 3:9-15, where Paul uses the analogy of a building to describe the foundation of our salvation through Christ Jesus in contrast to the rest of the building, which is the result of our works. Clearly here Paul shows us that anyone with the foundation of faith in Christ will be saved during the time of judgment (which he calls “the Day”), but that some will also receive rewards for their ability to build precious things upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. Paul also appeals to this judgment when he condemns believers for judging other Christian’s behavior in Romans 14:2-12 and in 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, explaining that believers should not judge one another’s convictions because “we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” and that “each of us will give an account of ourselves to God” with the result that “He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each one will receive recognition from God.”
6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 Now the one planting and the one watering are one in purpose, and each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. 9 For we are God’s coworkers. You are God’s field, God’s building. 10 According to God’s grace that was given to me, I have laid a foundation as a skilled master builder, and another builds on it. But each one must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on that foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13 each one’s work will become obvious, for the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. 14 If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, it will be lost, but he will be saved; yet it will be like an escape through fire. (1Cor 3:6-15, HCSB)
What is clear regarding rewards is that God will judge the motives of the heart as much as our actions, and that He will consider faithfulness throughout the end of our lives to be a significant achievement (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:26-28, 3:10). He has commanded us to “store up our treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19-20) and that in whatever we do, to “work at it with all your heart, as to the Lord and not for people, because you know that you will receive your inheritance from the Lord as the reward.” (Colossians 3:23-25). Our reward is “an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Personally, the best reward for me, would be getting to see the people that my life has impacted…getting a thank you and getting to see the total impact of my efforts on the earth. That’s good enough for me…and I hope that’s part of the reward. When I think of heaven, I hope for a receiving line that helps me see that my efforts were worth it.
God’s wrath still has the same two key purposes: to drive people to stop depending on themselves and follow God, or to harden their hearts in their rebellion—confirming their ultimate decision.
No one knows when the end will come…but if Jesus’ words and Revelation’s descriptions are to be understood as being precise, then it won’t be until we get the gospel to the ends of the earth. We control the speed by our obedience to the great commission.
A lot of people plan for retirement, very few plan for eternity. You need to plan and work with eternal life in perspective. Leave a legacy on the earth, in case God lets the world go on for another 1,000 years. Be another Abraham, a guy who’s faithfulness to God has changed the lives of millions. And remember that God takes pride in your contribution to His epic plan. He will actually recognize your efforts—Jesus said you store up treasures for yourself in heaven by changing your life and the lives of others. What you do here matters in heaven—it does not save you, it does not give you a better place in heaven, but it is something God and you will always share in joy.
This paradise that we look forward to should make us more comfortable with discomfort in the present. Heaven is a comforting thought. It is comforting when we face the death of a loved one. It is also comforting when we hurt in this world. We are reminded that those things will soon be gone. Jesus called it paradise. (Luke 23:42, 2 Cor 5:8) Many Biblical analogies describe it as true rest.
We can be content with homes and cars and possessions that are left than perfect because we know that the future holds far better ones than we could ever afford here. We can endure suffering and even lower our standard of living for the sake of others now, knowing that it is only for a short time.
Heaven is hard to picture, however, we should look at it in earthly terms. God’s ultimate plan is not a place in the clouds, it is a new garden of Eden with a city of gold. It is many of the good things we enjoy now, without pain and weakness and sinful selfish people’s actions.
The joy and beauty of heaven is just another motivation for reaching people in the present. We want to take as many people as possible. We don’t want anyone to miss out.
- Does the thought of going to heaven excite, frighten, or bore you? Why?
- Who from your family or friends do you wish most to be united with again?
- Who from history do you wish to meet in heaven?
- Do you disagree or disbelieve any of the end times events I listed? Explain your position…
- How do you feel about the coming judgment for believers?
 Randy Alcorn’s book devotes extensive attention to the nature of the “intermediate” heaven, which I will not detail here, but which is also very profitable for the edification of believers. See also: John Gilmore, Probing Heaven: Key Questions on the Hereafter (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Pub Group, 1989), 97-107.
 Alcorn, Heaven, 17.
 Ibid., 121.
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Zondervan, 1995), 1135.
Charles Ferguson Ball, Heaven (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1980), 27-28.
 Donald G. Bloesch, The Last Things: Resurrection, Judgment, Glory (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 229. Alcorn, Heaven, 45.
 Ibid., 71.
 Alcorn, Heaven, 47.
 Romans 14:10, Romans 14:12, and 1 Corinthians 4:5, respectively.