THE UNSEEN WORLD.... HEAVEN
Biblical Research Monthly, August 1943
Dr. David L. Cooper
HEAVEN... Where is it? Who will be there? What conditions will exist?... What will be our occupation in Heaven? Will we know our loved ones? These and hundreds of other questions have been asked with reference to this celestial place. On this page you will find the answer to some of the questions which are puzzling you.
Heaven is one of those words which, like the term "Mother", stirs the Christian heart with great anticipation for the future. Everyone who takes a sober view of life realizes that he is a pilgrim and a stranger here, journeying through this life to the Great Beyond. Naturally we want to know about that place to which we are traveling. Where is it? Who will be there? What conditions will exist in that celestial home? What will be our occupation? Will we know our loved ones and be associated with them there? What will our relations to Christ be? Is it true that our natures will continually unfold and we shall advance in knowledge, grace, and power? These and hundreds of other questions have been asked with reference to this place.
Unfortunately, our ideas regarding heaven and the future life are very indistinct and hazy. Too many of us think that when we leave this life, we shall immediately enter into the heavenly home where we shall be forever and ever with our loved ones, enjoying the fellowship and the favor of the Lord Jesus Christ. Moreover, we have very indefinite ideas of heaven. Instinctively, at the thought of heaven we look up or think in that direction. What is "up" to us is "down" to the Chinese on the other side of the globe. What is "up" to the man at the North Pole is "down" to the man at the South Pole. We must therefore become more definite and specific in our thoughts and in our terminology regarding heaven.
"The heavens are the heavens of Jehovah; But the earth hath he given to the children of men" (Ps. 115:16). The modern telescope and other astronomical instruments reveal that space is almost illimitable in every direction. The larger and better the instruments, the more extensive is space revealed to us. Where in all this vast universe is the place mentioned in the verse quoted above? The answer is very clear and specific in the Scriptures. God's throne is in the north, that is, in a position north from this globe. While it is true that He is everywhere and that one cannot flee from the presence of His Spirit, yet there is a definite, specific place in a position north from this world which is known as the "heaven of the heavens" where the Almighty has His throne. We are given various glimpses of this throne of God in different portions of the Scriptures.
In the heaven of the heavens is the tabernacle that was pitched by the Lord and not by men. "Now in the things which we are saying the chief point is this: We have such a high priest, who sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man" (Heb. 8:1-2). The Tabernacle which Moses erected was a replica of the tabernacle in heaven. Because of this fact he was urged to build it exactly according to the pattern which was shown him in the Mount.
In the Book of Revelation several times we catch a glimpse of the temple of God in heaven. For instance, we see it in chapter 11:19: "And there was opened the temple of God that is in heaven and there was seen in his temple the ark of his covenant; and there followed lightning's, and voices, and thunders, and an earthquake, and great hail." This same temple appears again in 15:5: "And after these things I saw, and the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened." It is once more mentioned in 16:1.
That there is such a temple or tabernacle in glory, there can be no question. As to what constitutes it, no one can say. All that we can affirm about it is that it is a reality. Of what material it is constructed, no one knows. All who believe the Scriptures must accept this fact.
The Lord Jesus Christ, after His death, burial, and resurrection, ascended to heaven and sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty on high. He is the great High Priest in this temple, officiating and conducting the worship which constitutes the counterpart to the worship of the saints here upon the earth. This fact is brought out most clearly in the epistle to the Hebrews. Some commentators think that it is Jesus who conducts the worship mentioned in Revelation 8:3-5. On this point, however, I cannot be dogmatic. Yet in this passage we see that there is a service which is being conducted in heaven corresponding to and supplementing that which is offered by the saints upon the earth during the Tribulation Period. Jesus is now upon a throne of mercy and grace and may be approached at any and all times by His people in order to find mercy for the past and grace for the present (Heb. 4:14 16).
Prior to the crucifixion of Christ, all who died went to Hades upon death. But there were two apartments in that place of departed spirits. One was for the righteous and the other was for the wicked. These places were separated by a great gulf over which one could not pass from the one place to the other. Since Christ defeated Satan and brought life and immortality out into the light through the gospel, the child of God does not have to go, upon death, to Hades as the righteous did prior to His triumph. Since our Lord's glorious triumph over Satan, the Christian upon death goes immediately into the presence of his Lord. This is shown by such a statement as that of Paul found in Philippians 1:23-24: "But I am in a strait betwixt the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ; for it is very far better: yet to abide in the flesh is more needful for your sake." In this passage the apostle stated that he was in a great difficulty, having two desires--one, to remain here upon earth and to assist the Christians in their life struggle; the other, to depart this life and to be with Christ which, he affirmed, was very far better. This he said to the Philippian church, having them specifically in mind. But his attitude toward those brethren was the same toward all other Christians of his day and time. Paul labored incessantly and unselfishly for the advancement of others and for the glory of God and Christ. It was his meat and his drink to make Christ known to others and to assist those who had already accepted the Lord Jesus with their problems and their difficulties.
On the other hand, he knew something about what was in heaven, and the glories which one shares in the presence of God. The reason Paul knew this is doubtless expressed in II Corinthians 12. He tells us in this passage of a man whom he knew fourteen years prior to the writing of that epistle, and who had been caught up into the third heaven, witnessing things which it was not lawful for him to utter. It seems plain from the context that he was speaking of his own experience. At some time he had been caught up in vision and had seen the throne of God and the bliss and the joy of those who are redeemed, around about the throne of God in heaven.
He therefore wanted to depart this life with all of its disasters, heartaches, and difficulties, and to be with the Lord Jesus Christ and the redeemed, enjoying their fellowship and communion. It is utterly impossible for us to conceive the bliss and the happiness of heaven at this present time.
In II Corinthians 5 Paul spoke about the Christian's leaving this life and being with Christ. "Being therefore always of good courage, and 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 of good courage, I say, and are willing rather to be absent from the body; and to be at home with the Lord. Wherefore also we make it our aim, whether at home or absent, to be well-pleasing unto him" (vs. 6-9). At this time, dear friend, you and I are present in the body, but at the same time we are absent from the Lord. I do not mean to say that the Lord is not present with us in a spiritual sense at the present time, for He is; but in the sense in which the apostle was speaking, we, being in the body, are absent personally from the presence of God. When, however, we move out of these earthly tabernacles of ours and they are laid in the tomb, our spirits go immediately into the presence of Christ and we are at home with Him.
In the first quarter of the Tribulation there will be launched against the saints of that time a terrific campaign of persecution. Many of the faithful then will pay as the price of loyalty to the Lord their very lives. The days of the martyrs of Jesus are out ahead of us. These saints of whom John spoke in Revelation 6:9-11 are the tribulation martyrs. There will be many more martyrs after that time in the Tribulation, as we learn in Revelation 15:2-4. John saw the souls of these who will be beheaded underneath the altar in heaven. They will not at that time have their resurrection bodies. They will however be there in glory, longing to have their resurrection bodies. They are, according to this presentation, thoroughly conscious, knowing some of the things at least that are transpiring upon the earth during that time.
As stated above, whenever a child of God passes out of this life, his spirit goes immediately into the presence of Christ. At some moment before the Tribulation begins, Christ will descend from heaven to the air and will catch up the living saints who will be upon the earth at that time. These are the ones who never die and who can say to death, "O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting... thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." These raptured saints will return with Christ to heaven and will be with Him and all the other saints who have preceded them, by death, throughout the Tribulation period.
At the end of that season of judgment, the Lord Jesus Christ will come with all his saints back to this earth (I Thess. 3:13). He will then set up His kingdom with His capital at Jerusalem, and the saints with Him will reign upon this earth. This kingdom will continue one thousand years. So far as we are concerned, this earth will, during that period, be our abode and will be to us heaven, or what heaven is to those who have already gone on before us.
As we shall see in the next and last installment of this series, at the end of the Millennial Age, the material heavens and earth will pass away (Rev. 20:11). Then God will create the eternal heavens and the eternal earth. At that time the eternal Jerusalem will come down out of the heavens and rest upon the eternal earth. In this city--the city foursquare--all the saints of all the ages will live with God and Christ forever and ever.
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