Tag Archives: Heaven and hell

Understanding the nature of “the present heaven”


Randy Alcorn wrote a definitively researched book called Heaven. He presumes, as do I, that God wants us not only to go to heaven but to know about heaven. He provides us with enough information about heaven to envision it and long for it, but not so much that we can fully grasp it with complete understanding.  “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep or to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13)  As an atheist friend of mine once admitted, the one thing that Christians have that others do not is hope.”  We have hope because we know in whom we’ve put our trust. We have hope because Jesus died and rose from the grave, with power to raise us  after death. We have hope because we know how our story ends, in heaven.


But have you ever studied the bible to learn how we get there? In the same Thessalonians (v13-17) passage Paul writes that those who have “fallen asleep” (a euphemism for death) will rise first, before those who are still living. How is this possible that when our bodies are placed in the ground (or wherever) that we are at once in heaven? The bible explains that when we no longer need our physical earthly bodies, our spirit goes at once to be with God in his heavenly dwelling place. “The dust returns to the ground from where it came, And the spirit returns to God who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12:7) Paul similarly wrote, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the lord,” (2 Corinthians 5:8) and “to die is to be with Christ.” (Philippians 1:23) Jesus told the criminal on the cross next to him “today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)


Can you imagine that moment when you will have taken that first step from this life into the life that lasts forever, from this world instantly into heaven? (I’m presuming you’ve chosen heaven as your default destination! Sadly, not everyone does.) That’s how the bible describes heaven. There’s no time for final words or prayers or actions, no opportunity to make up for lost time. There is just this life, and then in an instant, the next, a new life that goes on forever. For the believer it will be a life of unending joy and revelation.


This “present heaven” as Alcorn terms it, is a physical place where conscious spiritual beings live until God miraculously and mysteriously raises their perfected heavenly bodies. Luke 16:22-31 tells of Lazarus and the rich man being very much conscious in heaven and hell. Believers who have died will have a great reunion with others who have gone before them, being present in the Lord, while those still living wait on earth for Christ’s return.


The bible says at death, people face the judgment of faith that determines whether they go to heaven or hell. It is based on the decision made while they were alive as to whether they followed Jesus or followed their own ways. Unbelievers will face The Great White Throne of judgment of faith just before the beginning of the new earth. This will be their chosen judgment for rejecting Christ and his commands. Believers will face a judgment of “works,” not one that determines salvation, but rather reveals our eternal heavenly rewards. As in a purifying fire, the essence of precious metal is revealed, so will only the pure essence of how we lived and invested our life survive and pass into heaven, rewarded. All else will pass away.


Dr. David Jeremiah and author of Escape the Coming Night summarized the purpose of the book of Revelation (and this discussion on heaven):

1. So we will be ready to enter our next life

2. To help others get ready


Let’s make sure we live with purpose and passion so as to reveal that which will live on forever – in heaven.




Is heaven your default destination?


I remember seeing a “man on the street” interview with numerous people in a big city, including some coming out of a prominent church building. The person behind the microphone asked, “Do you think you’re going to heaven or hell…and why?” The vast majority responded they thought – or hoped – they would go to heaven because they lived “pretty good” lives, that they hoped the list of good generally outweighed the bad (as if that were the criteria). Other national surveys also show most people think they are going to heaven. Interestingly, this seems to contradict the conclusion of the bible: the gate is narrow and few enter that path to heaven,  but wide is the gate to destruction and many who will pass that way.


Scripture indicates heaven is not our “default” destination when we finish life here.  “There is no one righteous, not even one.” (Romans 3:10) “The punishment for sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) According to scripture (which matters more than what you and I fancy or imagine to be true), Hell is the self-chosen/default destination for the majority of people on earth. God doesn’t send anyone to hell. It’s our chosen destination when we choose pleasure and treasure on earth overly heavenly pleasure and treasure – unless we choose to turn and submit to God. John Lennon wrote down one of the most beautiful melody lines with some of the most terrifying lyrics:

“Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…”


We may think it useless to ponder heaven and hell now and that we’d be better off living for today. But denying their existence doesn’t change their reality. We don’t want to envision others going to hell because if they do, so likely will we if our faith is not real. But the astonishing thing about God’s nature is that he offers us undeserved grace and also heavenly reward. His plan is to save us and provide for us an abundant life. On the other hand, Satan’s plan is to snatch us from God’s hand and to steal, kill, and destroy God’s joy and power from our lives. If you’re a true follower of Jesus, Satan has lost his first battle. And he can only win the second one if we let him.  God shows us a way to become victors and overcomers in life. Satan wants to live miserable, defeated, powerless and joyless lives.


So we see our default destination also becomes our default journey and present day course; living intentionally for Jesus or living absent mindedly without him.


Hell will not be as humorous as we see it depicted in cartoons: all Oreos and no milk. God describes it as as an everlasting place of unimaginable suffering and despair. We won’t be hanging out with our buddies. The darkness will separate us from them. We will be all alone. I don’t think it’s unloving to warn people about the reality of hell. In fact, the most loving thing you can do is to warn them of pending dangers so they can choose which will be their default destination. In the end, the decision is theirs.


Jesus says there are two real eternal paths: a wide one that leads to destruction and a narrow one that leads to heaven. For us it is a choice…either we believe Jesus when he says he is the only way to heaven and devote our lives to following him, or we throw out the rest of scripture as false and try to imagine it away.


God desires heaven for you. (John 3:16) Let’s follow the path that makes heaven our default destination.


“Resolved that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die…as if I had already seen the happiness of heaven and the torments of hell.” – Jonathan Edwards











When it’s too late to listen


They say the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree. That is, the example we set is often picked up by those closest to us: children, employees, friends, even strangers who come along our path. We like to think we live our own life but truthfully, our way of living has impact on others.


That was the case of a rich man who died and went to hell. It’s a story Jesus told in Luke 16. Jesus says the once rich man, “In hell, where he was in torment, looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” Abraham reminded the rich man of the good things he enjoyed in life while Lazarus endured the bad, but now Lazarus is comforted but the once rich man is in agony. Abraham reminded him that the gap between heaven and hell cannot be bridged. So the once rich man desperately pleaded, “Then I beg of you…send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so they will not also come to this place of torment.” Abraham replied that since they didn’t listen to Moses and the prophets, “they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (V 31)


Our lives, when lived in truth and integrity and sold out to Jesus, influence others to follow him with all their hearts, if they’re inclined to listen. It’s also sobering to think of the people who continue to live in the danger of this world’s mindset who’ve been influenced by our lesser neglectful ways. Can you even imagine dying and learning too late that life is not just a game, that there is another life of either great joy or despair? Wouldn’t you want to warn your family and friends, the ones you really care about?!


Alas, there are three “end times” when it will be too late to speak or to listen:

1. The end of your life, when your sphere of of influence cannot reach them.

2. The end of their life that often comes too soon, when they can no longer benefit from your counsel and love.

3. The end of time when Jesus returns to separate those who chose to be eternally lost from those who chose to be eternally found.


Today is the day for each of us to consider what voices we are listening – and responding – to. And consider also, what message our life conveys to those around us. We have this one day, today, to let God influence others through the way we live and what our actions convey to be most important. They’ll know we are Christians by our love.


Today, while there is still time, speak the truth in grace. Encourage someone who is overcome with despair. Feed someone who is hungry, literally or hungry for a purposeful life.


Listen well and live well…while there is still time.


Mansions in heaven


We like to think about heaven but we hate to think about hell. That place of eternal torment and punishment is too much for us to grasp. Who can bear the thought of eternal darkness, and yet burning fire, of complete separation from friends and loved ones, and utter separation from God? I wonder sometimes if we forget from WHAT we were saved?! It should burn in our memory every day!


I remember when the reality of heaven and hell hit me. I remember the weight of my sin and the punishment I deserved. I remember the depth of my inadequacy to escape it in my own power. Even at a relatively young age I recognized that none of my God-given abilities and talents were sufficient to remove my sin problem. But oh, I wanted to escape the punishment. I remember reading that Jesus not only forgives the sins we confess and removes our punishment but has also gone ahead to prepare a place for us in heaven. Because He says there are many mansions in heaven, we think of ‘our place’ being one of them. Imagine not only avoiding just punishment but given a reward instead! I remember telling Him, that it would be quite enough if I had a little shack by the River of Life. But he would have none of that; a mansion it would be.


Have you ever wondered what a heavenly mansion will look like? Since we will have heavenly bodies it seems likely it might not be a brick and mortar building like we imagine. But it will be magnificent. He’s given us temporary earthly bodies to be the home for His Holy Spirit. And even in the frailty of these bodies we can sense some degree of God’s glory within and around us. Imagine having a glorified heavenly body that could serve as a ‘mansion’ for ALL of His glory! If you could take the feeling of any moment of wonder that took your breath away and multiply that a million times, it might be that much goodness. . . enough to fill a mansion – and beyond!


Did you know we can experience a piece of that here and now? As we learn to commune with the Holy Spirit throughout the day, He reveals more of God’s glory to us. And the more we exalt God’s goodness and glory, the more His Spirit fills us. The more we grow thankful hearts the more the goodness of the Lord and His ever sufficient grace pours over us. It runs through our pain and sorrow. It’s not a patronizing conciliation. It’s the truth. God’s goodness remains constant in spite of our troubles and our feelings. That piece of heaven, however small it seems, is available for our discovery each day.


“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.” Psalm 27:13



Shaking our fist at God


imageRon Reagan calls religion a ‘delusion’. In a recent video he signs off: “Ron Reagan, lifelong atheist, and not afraid of burning in hell.” The picture of him shaking his fist is eerily symbolic.


How sorrowed it would make his famous president-father who said:

“Without God there is no virtue because there is no prompting of the conscience…without God democracy will not and cannot endure…if we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be a nation gone under”. (Ecumenical Prayer breakfast: August 23, 1984)


I believe what the Bible says. There is a heaven and a hell. The decisions we make on earth impact our future eternity. I’m reminded we’re all tempted by our own prideful hearts to go our own way instead of God’s. It may not seem so blatant as to stand up and shake our fists at God, but in essence that is what it is. We pridefully sing along with Frank Sinatra, “I faced it all and I stood tall. I did it MY way.” But is “my way” best? Job 15 talks about such foolishness:

“Would a wise person answer with empty notions…? Would they argue with useless words, with speeches that have no value? But you even undermine piety and hinder devotion to God. Are you the first man ever born? Were you brought forth before the hills? Do you listen in on God’s council? Do you have a monopoly on wisdom? Are God’s consolations not enough for you, words spoken gently to you? All his days the wicked man suffers torment…Distress and anguish fill him with terror; troubles overwhelm him, like a king poised to attack, because he shakes his fist at God and vaunts himself against the Almighty, defiantly charging against him with a thick, strong shield. Let him not deceive himself by trusting what is worthless, for he will get nothing in return.”


This is echoed in Revelation 16. We read that people will continue to curse God and refuse to repent of their sins even as the terrible bowl judgments are poured out upon the earth in the last days. “From the sky huge hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds, fell on people. And they cursed God.” (Revelation 16:21) We’re left with the image of a prideful and defiant people who shake their unrepentant fists at God, cursing him, rather than bow in repentance. As evangelical theologian D.A. Carson says: “Hell is not filled with people who are deeply sorry for their sins. It is filled with people who for all eternity still shake their puny fist in the face of God almighty in an endless existence of evil, and corruption, and shame, and the wrath of God.”


I doubt that you would be so blatantly rebellious. But our pride and lust for “my way” are fist shaking ways of separating us from God’s great call to live a life fully devoted to Him. Our gracious God gives us each the choice to go “my way” or “His way.”


Choose wisely my friend.