Tuesday, July 22, 2008

...what God has prepared for those who love Him

by Jonathan Edwards

"Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed by My Father, enter the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world'"
(Matthew 25:34).

"When a mortal man speaks anything of that eternal blessedness of the Saints in glory, he is like a blind man discoursing about the light which he has never seen, and so cannot distinctly speak anything concerning it." Likewise, for one to write of those things which are only vaguely described in Scripture is similar for a man to write a travel guide for a land he has never visited or seen. It is to attempt to describe the indescribable with words which cannot come close to expressing the glory of heaven. Paul wrote these words: "Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him" (I Corinthians 2:9). Some question whether these words directly refer to heaven: they may not, but from all that we do know, they are certainly true of heaven and of the indescribable nature of that glorious place. Things which eye has not seen: can you imagine it? Men's eyes have seen abundant treasures upon the earth. Men have seen golden thrones, palaces, exquisite diamonds, rubies, and pearls. Men can conceive of handfuls of diamonds, fields of jewels, and buildings of gold, glittering in the noonday sun, but men cannot imagine the glory of heaven. It is beyond our imagination. Such is the task before us: to speak of the glory of heaven using words that cannot describe it; to try to picture for you that which cannot even be conceived by your heart.

Why be so concerned about heaven? What purposes will be served by doing so? There are several reasons which make it profitable to both hear and think about heaven: 1) The doctrine of heaven serves to comfort true believers on earth who are weary and struggling or under persecution. 2) Hearing of heaven should stir up believers to witness to friends and neighbors on earth who are not followers of Jesus Christ. Meditating on the glory of heaven and the frightening alternative should be one of the greatest incentives to evangelism there can be. And 3) The concept of rewards for obedience and of punishment for disobedience is a major theme throughout all of Scripture. Why would God do this if it were not to urge otherwise senseless men to consider eternity before it is too late? Hearing about heaven then is an incentive to the ungodly to turn to God now while there is still time. We will speak in more detail of these later. Let us now try to understand what the Bible tells us about what heaven is like.

Heaven is a place of unspeakable glory where the elect of God live with one another in the immediate presence of God and of the Lamb and where they behold Him in all His glory face to face. It is a place where the curse of sin and all of its effects have been removed forever from all who dwell there; they, being made joint heirs with Christ, inherit all things and live with unmixed joy in a state of perfect happiness incapable of being described or exaggerated forever and ever.

Heaven is called by Jesus Christ "a kingdom." "Come you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34). It is called "the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). This tells us that the exceeding glory of this kingdom far outweighs the glory of all earthly kingdoms combined. This is a heavenly kingdom where Christ is King. Not only that, but those who live there with the Blessed One are declared by Christ to be "priests to His God and Father" (Revelation 1:6) and proclaimed by Peter as "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession" (I Peter 2:9). What kingdom is like unto this kingdom? What earthly kingdom can be compared to it? There are none.

Heaven is called "the third heaven" (II Corinthians 12:2) and "the heaven of heavens" (Deuteronomy 10:14) to show its great eminency. By this it is distinguished from the sky above, the atmospheric heaven, which is also called heaven, and the starry heaven containing all the celestial orbs: the sun, the stars, the planets, and moons of the universe. Think how vast and great are the starry heavens above. The heaven of heavens is far greater still. Here we see only the objects of creation. There God's children will see, worship, and dwell with the God who created the universe and everything in it.

In the parable of the unrighteous steward, Christ refers to heaven as "the eternal dwellings" or as one version translates it "the everlasting habitations" (Luke 16:9). This tells us that heaven is a place, not a dream or an illusion. It is a place where glorified saints and angelic beings live together with God. We are told that God "has prepared a city for them" and we are given a preview of the glory of this city in the book of Revelation: "Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, or a stone of crystal-clear jasper...the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone...And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass...the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb" (Revelation 21:11, 18, 19, 21, 23). It is also a place that remains forever. It is called "eternal" or "everlasting" and of its inhabitants it is said, "neither can they die anymore, for they are like the angels, and are sons of God" (Luke 20:36). Those who go to heaven live in that glorious city for all eternity.

When Christ was dying on the cross the penitent thief next to Him made a request of the Lord: "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!" Christ responded to him: "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:42, 43). Heaven is called Paradise. Men often refer to an exotic, tropical island as "paradise," yet this paradise will make all earthly paradises look meager and barren.

In Luke 16 heaven is also called Abraham's bosom. Christopher Love helps us understand this expression better: "Dives saw Lazarus in Abraham's bosom. And it is so called, because as the bosom is the receipt of love, and the friend of your bosom is your dearest friend, so in glory they are said to be in Abraham's bosom to show that God will love and shelter His elect, as a friend will do to this dearest friend, the friend of his bosom." This is Paradise indeed!

Lastly, heaven is called "the joy of your master." The servant who acted wisely with his master's talents is welcomed into the kingdom of God with these words: "Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master" (Matthew 25:23). Psalm 16:11 tells us: "In Thy presence is fulness of joy; in Thy right hand there are pleasures forever."

These expressions have given us a view of heaven which is like looking through a colored glass at a far distant kingdom which we cannot see clearly. Now we will look at the blessedness of heaven from two different perspectives. The first one will show us what those in heaven will be free from. The second will give us a better understanding of what the eternal blessedness of the soul consists.

The occupants of heaven shall be freed from sin itself, from the causes of sin, and from the consequences of sin. First, those who enter glory to live forever with God in heaven shall be free from sin itself. Sin is the cause of all the misery in the world. Sin is the reason we experience pain, sorrow, sickness, and even death. Paul mourns over sin and expresses in strongest language his desire to be rid of it: "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?" (Romans 7:24). The true child of God longs to be where he will sin no more: a place where he will never commit another sin; a place where he will never even have another sinful thought. Sin is the greatest enemy of the one who loves holiness. Here sin makes war upon you as the flesh lusts against the Spirit (Galatians 5:17). As the hymnwriter asks: Would you be free from your burden of sin? Bunyan's Pilgrim fled the city of destruction seeking relief from the great burden of sin which he carried about with him. Heaven is the place where sin will be no more. This is pictured beautifully in Revelation 21:3-4: "And God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." Why are there tears? Why is there death? Why do men mourn, cry, and feel pain? It is all because of sin. Sin brings all of those evils upon man. In heaven men shall be free from sin.

Second, in heaven men shall be free from the causes of sin. There are three primary causes of sin: your sinful nature, the temptations of the devil, and the lure of the world. Your sinful nature is the source of the sins which you commit. James tells us: "Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived it gives birth to sin" (James 1:14-15). Your sinful nature spews out poison, filth, and vileness every day of your life in this world. If the devil were chained up and not allowed to touch or tempt you, you would continue to sin because of the principle of sin which indwells you: "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh" (Romans 7:18). In heaven your vile body shall be made like unto His glorious body and you cannot sin.

In heaven you will be free from the temptations of the devil. Here men are assaulted daily by the enemy of their souls. Here "your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (I Peter 5:8). On earth the devil seeks to sift you as wheat as he sought to do to Peter. Soon the devil shall be thrown into the lake of fire and be tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation 20:10). Soon, if you are a true believer in Jesus Christ, "the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet" (Romans 16:20). In heaven there shall be no more devil to tempt saints to sin anymore. In heaven men shall be free from the lusts of the world. These are described by John as "the lusts of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life" (I John 2:16). Here the world system seeks to press you into it's mold. Christians are constantly being bombarded by the ungodly influences of lust, greed, pride, etc. These ungodly influences working hand-in-hand with your corrupt nature bring much grief to your soul. In heaven the godly shall be free of the evil influence of the world for they will have overcome the world for all time through the blood of Jesus Christ.

Finally, in heaven men will be free from the consequences of sin. The primary consequence of sin is eternal punishment in hell. Scripture makes it clear that a person at death goes to either heaven or hell. There is no in between state or place, no purgatory, no other option. Those who go to heaven are spared the wrath of God which falls upon those in hell. They are delivered from "the wrath to come" (I Thes-salonians 1:10). Physical death which opens the door into eternity is also one of the consequences of sin. Death came originally, as a direct penal infliction upon man because of his sin for "the sting of death is sin" (I Corinthians 15:56), "but thanks be to God, who gives us the vic-tory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Death is swallowed up in victory" so that the child of God can boldly say, "Oh, death where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" (I Corinthians 15:54, 55, 57).

We shall now look at what the eternal blessedness of the soul consists of in heaven. Paul said, "Now we see through a glass darkly" (I Corinthians 13:12). Certainly, the picture we now try to describe is dark indeed compared to the true glory of heaven. Who can imagine the things we now try to describe? "We shall never understand glory fully till we are in heaven. Let me give you some dark views only, some imperfect lineaments of that state of glory at which the saints shall arrive after death."3 The blessedness of the soul in glory consists of at least three things: 1) the seeing of God, 2) the perfection of graces in the believer, and 3) fulness of joy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). The saints in heaven shall see God in all His majesty. They shall behold the infinite glory of the Almighty One in as great a capacity as they are capable of. They shall not behold Him only at a distance, but "face to face" (I Corinthians 13:12). This is what the blessedness of the saints in glory chiefly consists of: the beholding of God. Yet it is impossible that a finite man should comprehend God. Revelation 22:5 describes some of the glory of seeing God: "And there shall no longer be any night; and they shall not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall illumine them." The glory of God will swallow up the light of the sun as the brilliance of the sun now dispels the darkness of night.

The Father will not directly manifest Himself to those in heaven for we are told in the Scriptures that God is invisible: "Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen" (I Timothy 1:17). It is said of Christ that "He is the image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15). The Father will not need to manifest Himself in any other way than through the glory and majesty of the exalted Christ. The Lord told His disciples on the night before He died: "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). Jonathan Edwards described the believer's seeing Christ in glory this way: "The seeing God in the glorified body of Christ, is the most perfect way of seeing God with the bodily eyes that can be; for in seeing a real body, which one of the Persons of the Trinity has assumed to be His body, and in which He dwells forever as his own, the divine majesty and excellency appear as much as it is possible for them to appear in outward form or shape...They shall see Him, as appearing in His glorified human nature, with their bodily eyes; and this will be a most glorious sight. The loveliness of Christ as thus appearing will be a most ravishing thing to them; for though the bodies of the saints shall appear with an exceeding beauty and glory, yet the body of Christ will without doubt immensely surpass them, as much as the brightness of the sun does that of the stars. The glorified body of Christ will be the masterpiece of all God's workmanship in the whole material universe. There shall be in his glorious countenance the manifestations of His glorious spiritual perfections, His majesty, His holiness, His surpassing grace, and love, and meekness. The eye will never be wearied with beholding this glorious sight."

Not only will they see Christ face to face, but they will walk with Him and talk with Him. Christ shall treat them as brothers and shall speak to them as His intimate friends. Just before His crucifixion, Christ told His disciples: "No longer do I call you slaves, for a slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15). If Christ could say this to His disciples while they were still clothed in their sinful natures, do you think He will not admit them nearer to Him in heaven when they have been fully purged of all stain and iniquity and stand before His throne spotless clothed in His blood? Certainly he will. The Scriptures speak of God's living with and among His people in glorious terms: "Behold the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them...and they shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads" (Revelation 21:3; 22:4).

Secondly, those who are admitted to heaven shall enjoy the perfection of all their graces. We shall look at three graces particularly: 1) the grace of knowledge, 2) the grace of holiness, and 3) the grace of love.

First, the grace of knowledge shall be perfected in glory. "For now we know in part, and prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away...For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known" (I Corinthians 13:9-10, 12). Now our knowledge of divine things is shallow and indistinct. We do not perceive things clearly. We are sluggish in our understandings. Then we shall know, as Christ now knows us. The grace of knowledge shall be perfected in the godly in heaven. The godly shall understand more fully Christ as Mediator between God and men. They shall understand the mystery of the incarnation, of God becoming man. To as great a degree as possible, those in glory shall understand the mystery of the Trinity. They shall understand the plan of salvation and how divine providence worked in all the circumstances of their lives. There all the difficulties, trials, and dark providences of life shall be seen as a glorious entity which will testify to the truth that "all things work together for good to those who love God" (Romans 8:28). They shall understand the excellencies of Christ to as full a degree as they are capable. The knowledge of God shall be full, yet God shall not be fully known, for man can never completely comprehend the Godhead.

The grace of holiness shall be perfected in all who are received into glory. "We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him" (I John 3:2). Holiness is the transcendent beauty of God and the angels. Holiness is primary among the attributes of God. "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts" (Isaiah 6:3) is the cry of the seraphim who constantly attend Him in glory. In heaven holiness will be perfected in the believer. Sin shall be no more. Then the words of God shall fully be brought to pass: "You shall be holy, for I am holy" (I Peter 1:16). Holiness is the fervent desire of the saint as he travels through this world of sin. There the saints shall be as the angels of God. There, as much as can be, they shall be like Christ Himself. They shall be holy.

In heaven the grace of love shall be perfected. On earth love to God is expressed in fits and spasms. Sinful flesh and self-interest dampen and hinder love to God. We cannot love God as we ought or even as we would like to. Although the spirit in the child of God desires with all that is within him to do what the Scripture says, to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deuteronomy 6:5), it cannot be done perfectly here. But as he in his heart desires to do so, God accepts the desire in the believer as if the action were done perfectly. In heaven, unhindered love shall flow forth to God as none have ever experienced on earth. God shall be loved completely and fully and the saints shall love one another without carnality or selfishness being present.

Thirdly, those who are in heaven shall experience fulness of joy. "In Thy presence is fulness of joy; in Thy right hand are pleasures forever" (Psalm 16:11). Fulness of joy could be described as experiencing the bountiful love of God to them as the waters of an ocean. Others, who have a far greater understanding of this than I do, have described it in this way: "From this glorious manifestation of God's love will flow infinite joy into the souls of the blessed; therefore heaven is called 'entering into the joy of our Lord' (Matthew 25:21). The seeing of God, loving God, and being beloved of God will cause a jubilation of spirit, and create such holy raptures of joy in the saints, that are unspeakable and full of glory." "They shall see in Him all that love desires. Love desires the love of the beloved. So the saints in glory shall see God's transcendent love to them; God will make ineffable manifestations of His love to them. They shall see as much love in God towards them as they desire; they neither will nor can crave any more...When they see God so glorious, and at the same time see how greatly God loves them, what delight will it not cause in the soul! Love desires union. They shall therefore see this glorious God united to them, and see themselves united to Him. They shall see that He is their Father, and that they are His children. They shall see God gloriously present with them; God with them; and God in them; and they in God. Love desires the possession of its object. Therefore they shall see God, even their own God; when they behold this transcendent glory of God, they shall see Him as their own." The one in glory shall enjoy God as far as their capacity allows.

The Psalmist wrote of the great blessing attending the worship of God in His temple: "How blessed are those who dwell in Thy house! They are ever praising Thee...For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord gives grace and glory; no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly" (Psalm 84:4, 11). Those in heaven shall rightly say: "How blessed are those who stand in Thy very presence!" If the Lord withholds nothing on earth from those who walk uprightly, shall He then withhold any of the glory of heaven from His redeemed?

Here we enjoy God primarily through His Word, ordinances of worship, and prayer. There we shall enjoy Him "face to face." "Here you have God in expectation, but there you shall have Him in possession."7 There the saints in glory shall be filled with joy through the eternal enjoyment of the manifestation of God in all His attributes. It will greatly add to the joy and rejoicing of those in glory when they contemplate God's mercy shown to them in salvation and how they deserved to be among the damned, but were spared the torments of hell solely because of God's sovereign mercy given to them. Ministers will rejoice with those whom they led to the knowledge of Christ and the fruits of their labors will be fully seen there. Paul writes of this joy in I Thessalonians 2:19: "For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming?" Other things will undoubtedly contribute to their joy, such as their being with loved ones and the saints of all the ages, the contemplating of God's providences toward them on earth, being in the heavenly city, but the greatest joy of all will come from being in His presence!


rosemarie said...

I really needed to read this. I can't seem to wrap my head around heaven. I worry that I am so focused on surviving this part of my life that I forget to keep the bigger picture in view. I think meditating on heaven should be a priority, but I seldom do it or hear other believers talking about it.

SJ Camp said...

I needed this too today.

Good to turn our hearts and minds towards glory. To be any earthly good, we must be heavenly minded.


Debbie said...

As I was reading this article, a little chorus kept going through my head:

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus; look full in His wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.” ( Helen Howarth Lemmel)

Being so full of wonderful promises from His word to think about and meditate on, it deserves a second reading ...

rosemarie said...

Amen, Steve!

Don't you think trying to wrap your mind around heaven is like trying to understand the beauty and magnitude of the Grand Canyon without having seen it? I remember my first glimpse at the Canyon and although I knew it was 277 miles long, 10 miles wide and 1 mile deep, and I had seen it in pictures, I was dumbstruck when I actually saw it. I am similarly stupefied when I ponder heaven. I think about it being free from the presence of sin and I can't fathom it.

Sure, when I am in the throes of a trial my mind goes straight to thinking about heaven and the absence of trials there. I have no problem thinking in terms of hell=bad and heaven=good. But this morning when I was sitting on my deck watching the hummingbirds come for breakfast, while smelling the honeysuckle and lavender growing in my garden, and watching the baby goats romp in the neighbors field, I was so appreciative of that blessing that I couldn't imagine anything better.

I sometimes worry that there isn't a more consistent yearning for heaven in my soul. I came to read the post again this morning in hopes of some heavenly remediation. Thanks again for putting it up. Any other reading you might recommend?