Many religions teach about rebirth in various forms of life, including animals and beasts, up to 8.4 million births as a punishment for the evil deeds of life as a human being. This cycle depends on the severity of the sins and then again one is born as a human being to turn to God and earn entry into heaven through righteous living. Lord Jesus, the righteous Son of God, earned us this forgiveness for our sins through His sacrifice on the cross, the sinless One for the sinners. With this a believer is assured of entry into heaven but then did God create heaven for mankind to live in His presence eternally?
What and where is heaven? As per Scripture, ‘In the beginning God created heaven and earth’ and first in this sequence is the creation of heaven (Genesis 1:1-2 ). The purpose of creation was an expression of God’s love and not that He needed to create, for He is perfect and complete in Himself. The three archangels that were first created in heaven further clarify the expected work of the created beings. Lucifer’s role was defined at the time of his creation, ‘the workmanship of your timbrels and pipes was prepared for you on the day you were created’ (Ezekiel 28:13). He was filled with wisdom to be the worship leader to praise His Creator. The angel who appeared to Zechariah, the priest, in the temple told him, ‘I am Gabriel! I stand in God’s presence, God sent me to tell you the good news’, about the birth of a son, John the Baptist, to him (Luke 1:19). Gabriel is the messenger of God who carries His Word to the created beings. Michael, the third archangel, leads in prayer and is a warrior who intervenes to ensure the answer to prayers reaches and removes all opposition, for he also heads the heavenly army.
However the angels were not given any dominion rights over heaven and Lucifer’s attempt to obtain this led to his expulsion from heaven with one third of the angels who rebelled against God. God has Sovereign power over His creation and He blessed Adam to ‘be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it’ (Genesis 1:28). Adam and Eve were thus given dominion rights over the earth and other created beings on the earth. This means the right to dominate and to possess absolute control over the entire earth. There was, thus, a separation between heaven and earth but the angels could visit the earth while Adam was confined to the earth.
Apostle Paul mentions about his being ‘caught up to the third heaven’ (2 Corinthians 12:2-4) and the Greek word used is ‘harpazo’ which means ‘seize by force, snatch up, suddenly and decisively’ and the same word is also used in to describe the rapture of the Church (1Thessalonians 4:17). The word for heavens, a plural, is ‘ouranos’ and is used for ‘the visible heavens, the starry heavens, the spiritual heavens’. The Apostle is thus referring to more than one heaven and these are different realms. The first could be the sky and the earth’s atmosphere, the first heaven (Deuteronomy 11:11). The second could be outer space, where the stars and planets are, the second heaven (Psalm 8:3 & Isaiah 13:10). The third could refer to God’s dwelling place which is beyond the other heavens and known as the third heaven (Matthew 6:9; Isaiah 66:1). Apostle Paul was taken up to the dwelling place of God, the third heaven and this was after he was stoned and left as dead. This visit revealed unimaginable mysteries to him, which he could not disclose, and he was strengthened to face his future trials (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Lord Jesus in the parable of Lazarus the beggar and the rich man told about the beggar in the bosom of Abraham and the rich man in Hades in torment (Luke 16:19-31). The Jews consider Abraham’s Bosom to be ‘in repose and perfect happiness’. In answer to the plea of the criminal on the cross to remember him in His glory, Lord Jesus assured him, ‘Truly I say to you today you will be with Me in paradise’ (Luke 23:43). The Greek word used here is ‘paradeiso’ meaning ‘enclosure, garden, park’. The interpretation would vary about the insertion of the ‘comma’ in the sentence. If we read, ‘Truly I say to you today, you will be with Me in paradise’, it means I tell you today about a future event. However, if it is written, ‘Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise’, then he is being assured of the result of his prayer the same day.
Lord Jesus after His death on the cross is supposed to have gone into hell for our sins but being sinless Himself, could not be held there, preached and ‘proclaimed to the spirits in prison’, the rebellious angels (2 Peter 3:19). The thief would thus be in Abraham’s Bosom till Lord Jesus ‘led captivity captive’ (Ephesians 4:8) in fulfillment of the prophecy of King David (Psalm 68:18) and all those declared righteous by the LORD God were permitted to enter heaven. After the Messiah yielded up His spirit to the Father in heaven, firstly, the veil of the Temple dividing the Holy from the Holiest part was torn from top to bottom, thus providing access to mankind to God through the restored relationship (Matthew 27:51-53). Second, ‘the earth quaked and the rocks were split; thirdly, the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised’. After His resurrection, these saints went into the holy city and appeared to many.
Lord Jesus was raised with His own body, was seen by many, showed the pierced hands and His side, where the Roman soldier had thrust his spear. He ascended into heaven with His human body and not in some spiritual form only. It is only because of His entry back into heaven in this manner that mankind could also enter.
Necessity of good deeds versus faith to enter heaven – A young rich man came to the Lord and wanted to know, ‘what good thing I shall do that I may have eternal life’ (Matthew 19:16-21). On being told to leave his worldly possessions and follow the Savior Lord, ‘he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions’. Lord Jesus made a bold proclamation, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’ (John 14:6). Apostle Paul illustrated this further that Lord Jesus, despite being God, did not consider it necessary to hold onto that and shed that glory in heaven to become Man and that also a ‘bondservant’ (Philippians 2:6-7). He was and is God and for a short period since eternity to past to future ‘emptied Himself of the fullness of all the Divine attributes and deity’.
He in a way is the ‘password’ to enter heaven for He has been exalted by God, the Father, with a name above every name and before Him ‘every knee should bow, in heaven, on earth and under the earth’ (Philippians 2:9-11). One day He will sit in judgement over every dead and living being to give according to their works. On that Day of Judgement, ‘if anyone’s name was not found in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire’ or hell (Revelation 20:15). Do good deeds ensure this entry in the book? The Book of Life is like a citizens roster of all who can rightfully enter the kingdom of God. All those who receive Lord Jesus as their Messiah and believe in Him as the Son of God ‘to them He (God) gave the right to become children of God’ (John 1:12). A child by birth has a right to enter into His Father’s estate unless He is debarred for any reason.
It is not good works that ensure entry into His kingdom but faith, for our good works can never compensate for the evil that we do in our lives in thought, word and deed. To those who believe in Him, Lord Jesus promises to ‘prepare a place’ in His Father’s house and also to come and take them there to Himself (John 14:2-3). But since heaven was never created for mankind, how can they dwell in heaven in the presence of God? The devil was removed from the presence of God and his every effort is to ensure man also stays away. The warning of death to Adam on eating of ‘the Tree of knowledge of good and evil’ is about separation from God and is spiritual (Genesis 2:17). Only the earthly element in man lives in man while the spiritual part that connects Him to God is dead.
Lord Jesus ‘was life, and the life was the light of men’ thus separating them from darkness (John 1:4). Blood of an individual gives him life and the blood of Lord Jesus, shed for our sake, cleanses ‘our consciences from acts that lead to death (sins), so that we may serve the Living God’ (Hebrews 9:14). All who trust in Lord Jesus, are washed in His blood, fully cleansed from sin so that we may serve Him. The Holy Communion is to remind us of His sacrifice and we repent of our failures (sins), seek forgiveness and then join others in that (Luke 22:19-20). Whatever we are or become in Lord Jesus, is by grace through faith, ‘and that not of ourselves; it is the gift of God’ (Ephesians 2:8). We claim and receive the fullness of His promises through faith and the presence of the Holy Spirit in us is God’s guarantee of salvation.
On the day of judgment two images are likely to be seen by everyone; first, the image that one should have become with the inherent potential given to each person at birth, which potential is supposed to be improved by use. Second, is the image that represents what each one of us has become in our lives and the difference between the two will be clearly revealed. A believer has the advantage of being cleansed of all evil deeds and given a chance to rewrite on a clean sheet. Zacchaeus, the infamous tax-collector of Jericho, was blessed by Lord Jesus by staying in his house. He was so touched that he declared to give half of his wealth to the poor and to pay back four times to anyone deceived by him by false accusation. Lord Jesus then declared, ‘Today, salvation has come to your house’ but He did not say this in reply to Zacchaeus’ promise to live a generous life (Luke 19:9). The salvation had come in and through the Messiah from the moment He called him down from the tree and touched his life.
Unless one believes and receives the Son of God as His Savior and turns to Him, there is no possibility of an assured entry into heaven after death. Death is separation from God and Lord Jesus has revealed His mission or reason for being born as Man to give life to the believers and that too abundantly (John 10:10). He being God as His Son, unites us to Him, breathing life back into our lives. This life is not about life after death but also on earth where the devil rules and this claim of his was not challenged by the Lord during His temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:9-10). The sin of Adam and Eve caused the earth to yield ‘thorns and thistles’, all forms of disease and death and barrenness(Genesis 3:18).
When we turn from evil to follow the Lord, we receive ‘the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you’ (Luke 10:19-20). In addition the believers ‘names are written in heaven’ (Philippians 3:20) as citizens of the Lord’s heavenly kingdom, thus getting an assured entry as right. Since we are filled with power and authority over the forces of evil, our enemy, we are protected and blessed. If someone still wants to carry on trying to reject such a great blessing, it is only because their minds are blinded by the god of this age, the devil (2 Corinthians 4:4).
How long can mankind live in heaven? God created earth for mankind and heaven for the angels and both are to worship Him with thanks for all the blessings and live in obedience to His Word. The result of the temptation of Adam and Eve by the devil, who was thrown out of heaven for his sin with one third of the angels, caused all of nature on earth to reach a fallen state under the devil’s rule. God became Man in His Son, Lord Jesus Christ, to restore the broken relationship of mankind with God. King David foresaw the coming of the Redeemer and since death has been the outcome of sin, he prophesied, ‘You (God) will not allow Your Holy One (His Son) to see corruption’ (Psalm 16:10).
But where would He go if His body will not ‘see corruption’ in the tomb? Lord Jesus clarified this, ‘No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven’, being God and who became Man(John 3:10). After resurrection when He appeared to Mary Magdalene outside the empty tomb, His message to her and to the other disciples was, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and Your God’ (John 20:17). And He ascended with His earthly body of Man and not without that for He showed the nail marks in the hands and feet to the disciples later. As per Apostle Paul, ‘we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose’ (Romans 8:28). The Son was definitely called to be the Redeemer of mankind ‘according to His (God’s) good purpose’.
After His ascension Lord Jesus is filled with the glory that He had with God, the Father, before the world was and has authority as Ruler over everything in heaven, on earth and below the earth (John 17:5). Thus a Man reigns in heaven for Lord Jesus is fully Man and fully God. All believers being part of His family and being citizens of His kingdom have the right of entry. But this right is not for everyone and on the Day of Judgment there will be three categories of people before the Judgment Seat of God. First, those born before the Lord’s arrival as Man and those after that, who never received the message about salvation through someone. They will be judged by the merciful God as per their deeds on earth. Second, those who hear and reject the offer will face severe judgment (Luke 10:16) for Lord Jesus has said, ‘he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me’. How can such a one expect and receive mercy? Third, will be those who follow Him and they will get direct entry to heaven for their sins have already been forgiven.
The way to ensure this blessing is to follow Lord Jesus. The first word preached by John the Baptist to the masses was ‘repent’ (Matthew 3:2). Lord Jesus also preached the same message first, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matthew 4:17). The Greek word ‘metanoeo’ comprises two words ‘meta’ means ‘changed after being with’ and ‘noeo’ means ‘think differently afterwards’. Repent, therefore, means to ‘change the mind (the inner man) or the thinking process to surrender to the will of God. Lord Jesus repeatedly emphasized and lived in humility for He ‘did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45). This is in stark contrast to the ways of the world where a blessed person is seen to be one who has abundant financial resources with many servants. The second step is to get into a close relationship with Him through studying, meditating upon and following His Word. And the third is by performing good deeds to help others ‘for faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead’ (James 2:17).
As His representatives we show His love to others to lead them to Him, for many will not read the Scripture but will see our life and turn to Him. Believers will reign with Lord Jesus when He establishes His earthly kingdom after destruction of devil’s rule and his imprisonment for a thousand years (Revelation 20:6-7 & 10). The devil will be released after that ‘to deceive the nations that are in the four corners of the earth’. He will be finally cast into ‘the lake of fire’ to suffer eternal damnation. There will then be ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ (Revelation 21: 1-3). After this ‘the Tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God’. Heaven is where God is and the New Earth will then become heaven for mankind, for those who follow Lord Jesus as it was intended by God at the time of creation. Those who reject Him will suffer in the fires of the ‘bottomless pit’. The choice that we make today will have eternal consequences.
The devil and his agents keep trying to believe in life in the present and live it fully enjoying all the pleasures of the flesh with the hope of turning to the Lord at the last moment like the criminal on the cross. But how are we assured of that opportunity and the very next breath? If you believe in the present moment then now is the time to turn to Lord Jesus, repent and seek forgiveness and live the life abundance of His very presence in and with us. Heaven is in this moment, grab and live it here on the earth.