After being expelled from the Garden of Eden, the heaven on earth for mankind, a permanent desire would have remained in their hearts to return back inside the Garden and be in the presence of God. Every human being keeps on attempting to fulfill this desire through his/her good deeds and thereby pleasing God. God created heaven and then the earth but where is this place located where we all desire to enter one day, who can enter therein and what will be the life there in the presence of God?
Where and for whom was heaven created by God? – ‘In the beginning God created heaven and the earth’ and this statement raises a few questions (Genesis 1:1). Before ‘beginning’ what was; what is the time lag represented by the word ‘and’ or were these two events executed at the same time and for whom was heaven created. Before the ‘beginning’ God was still there and obviously He did not create heaven as His abode for all creation is representation of God’s love expressed in the beauty of what was created. The Bible provides details about the new heaven and earth created by God and New Jerusalem coming down to earth from heaven. The New City of God has walls of jasper and it is of pure gold with foundations adorned with precious stones and gates of pearls (Revelation 21:18-23). Since the present heaven also must be exquisite in its beauty and glory, does not God live in heaven?
Concept of purgatory – ‘Seeing then we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God’ thus implying that there are more than one heaven (Hebrews 4:14). Apostle Paul refers to a ‘third heaven’ where he was ‘caught up’ thus meaning that there must be first and second heaven also (2 Corinthians 12:2). The Roman Catholic Church refers to a purgatory where a believer is supposed to go after death for gradual transformation and being made suitable to be in the presence of God in heaven. Apostle Paul negates this theory that ‘we all with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord’ (2 Corinthians 3:18). The glory revealed in the Old Covenant between Israel and God is limited in comparison to the glory revealed by Lord Jesus to all believers. Through removing the veil of unbelief by the Holy Spirit we begin to be changed to become like Him through repentance and forgiveness and this process is completed immediately at death. The criminal on the cross was taken to paradise by the Lord the same day and not through some cleansing process.
On seeing the wickedness of man on earth God wanted to destroy ‘from the face of the earth, humans and beasts, creeping things and birds of heaven (sky/air)’ (Genesis 6:7). The Hebrew word used here is ‘shamayim’ which means both heaven and sky. Elijah ‘prayed again, and the heaven gave rain’ and the Greek word ‘ouranos’ used here means ‘visible heavens or sky’. So this is the atmospheric heaven. Third is the celestial heaven. This is the outer space where sun, moon and stars are Scriptures refer to this sphere with a warning not to worship and serve the host of heaven (Matthew 24:29 & Deuteronomy 4:19). Heaven and the highest heavens belong to the LORD (Deuteronomy 10:14) but these cannot contain the glory of God (1 Kings 8:27). ‘Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God’ (Acts 7:55). But Scripture does not reveal the location of this place where God resides.
God created angels to worship Him and reside in heaven. Lucifer was the first of these created, perfect in every way, but the angels were not given any dominion rights over heaven. On the other hand God created the earth and man was given authority over everything on the earth and to act as God’s representative and God visited them every day. Disobedience of mankind broke this relationship and dominion passed to the devil and death entered the human race. But since after death man could not enter into God’s presence, he needed an alternative place to be in till the Day of Judgment. And hell that was created by God as the ultimate destination of the fallen angels and the demonic spirits became wicked fallen man’s abode after death.
Noah was found by God to be ‘a just man, perfect in his generation’ (Genesis 6:9) also Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Thus on the earth a second category of people emerged who were sinful but through faith in God were counted as righteous. These righteous people could not be sent to hell but could not enter heaven also till redeemed by the Messiah and another place was needed for them after death. Lord Jesus blessed the criminal on the cross with the promise of taking him into paradise with Him that very day (Luke 23:43). The word used here is ‘paradeisos’ which is an ancient Persian word meaning, ‘enclosure, garden, and park’. Lord Jesus narrated the story of the rich man and Lazarus the beggar, after death, the rich man was being tormented in Hades while the beggar was taken by the angels to Abraham’s bosom, interpreted as paradise by the Jews (Luke 16:19-31). The narrative reveals the great gulf between the two places and none could cross from one to the other. This place would then be the paradise where all righteous souls were kept till the coming of the Messiah.
Lord Jesus suffered for our sins and penalty for us was to go into hell fire. The three Hebrew men were thrown into the furnace but the ‘Son of God’ was already there and fire had no power over their bodies and the hair of their head and garments were unaffected ‘and the smell of fire was not on them’ (Daniel 3:25-27). Since the Messiah was sinless hell fire had no power over Him and ‘He led captivity captive’, all those who were in paradise with Abraham were taken into heaven thus leaving that empty (Ephesians 4:8). Heaven was created as habitation for spiritual beings only for God is a Spirit and angels were created to offer Him worship there. Earth was created for mankind and God was to visit them on earth and dominion and governing authority was given to man. The eventual coming down of New Jerusalem to the earth confirms the final living place of man on earth with God. Going into heaven is thus a temporary phase, for our eternal abode will be in New Jerusalem.
Will believers suffer judgment and punishment? Everyone who is born on the earth has been given certain talents and how he uses these here on earth, he will have to give account to God. But there is a clear promise of God to mankind, ‘as many as received Him (Son of God), to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name’ (John 1:12). God is just and He will not deny access to His house to any of His children. Also Lord Jesus has assured all believers that He prepares a place for them in His Father’s house and will come to take us there (John 14:2-3).
So there will be two types of judgments for all. First, Judgments on earth during the Church age – First, Self evaluation – Every believer is required to do this prayerfully and honestly while the Holy Spirit helps through the process of regular sanctification for cleansing from indwelling sin. This is subsequent to regeneration for believers. The Church is also involved by pointing out sin (Matthew 18:15-17). Second, Divine Discipline – As a loving Father the LORD disciplines the believers through chastening (Hebrew 12:5-11).
Second, Future judgments of the afterlife (after death) – There will be three types of judgments that everyone will face, the Bema Seat judgment; the sheep and goats judgment and the Great White Throne Judgment
First, the Bema Seat judgment but this is not to decide about salvation or where one will spend time until the second coming of the Messiah for believers sins are forgiven and there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1). This is for the believers to decide rewards and a time to be ashamed or rewarded for all would have built on one and the same foundation that is Lord Jesus Christ and is about how faithfully we have served Him or used the talents given to us by Him. It is work appraisal and not of the person. The types of materials are ‘If any man builds on this foundation (Lord Jesus) using gold, silver, precious stones, (or) wood, hay or straw’. There are six commodities listed in two groups in descending order of value where three are permanent and the last three will perish under fire or refining process for the largest possible load of hay or wood be worth less than the smallest diamond. Gold, silver and precious stones are works done for glory of God, with the right motive and under the guidance and in dependence on the Holy Spirit. Salvation is a free gift and present possession and rewards are earned as fruit bearing using the given talents and are a future attainment
Some say Bema Seat judgment is at time of death while others say it occurs during end times but I feel it is not about when but about our preparation for the same while on earth. Since Satan has organized his kingdom on earth as a pattern of the heavenly kingdom, there will be an organizational structure in heaven also where all saints, like the angels, will be assigned roles on the basis of this judgment.
Second, Judgment of the nations or sheep and goat judgment – This will be separating all according to their treatment of others on the earth, feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, providing shelter to the stranger, clothing the naked and consoling the sick (Matthew 25:31-46). Righteous ones or the sheep will inherit the kingdom while others everlasting damnation.
Third is the Great White Throne Judgment – Unbelievers will be judged at the end of the Millennial Rule of the Son of God and everyone whose name is not found in the Book of Life will be put into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15). The Holy Spirit keeps warning the people of the coming judgment and when a person truly realizes his sinful state, he is led to repentance, submission and transformation (John 16:8). However, God’s mercy does triumph over His judgment (James 2:13).
Judgment of angels –This judgment will be carried out by the believers, and there is no clearly defined role of each person (1 Corinthians 6:2-3). Probably the demons or fallen angels will be judged for their sinful deeds against God’s kingdom and His people.
There is consolation for all, that the sinners may acknowledge their sins and turn to the mercy seat of Christ. Judgment without mercy is for one who has shown no mercy to others but ‘mercy triumphs over judgments’ (James 2:13).
Routine in heaven – Moses told the Israelites that ‘the secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us’ (Deuteronomy 29:29). There will be many things about life here on earth as well as in heaven that will never be known to us. The rich man in Hades, could not only recognize and talk to Lazarus the beggar but also Abraham (Luke 16:19-31). Apostles Peter, James and John could identify both Moses and Elijah on the mount of Transfiguration of Lord Jesus (Luke 9:30). Lord Jesus through the story of the seven brothers and one wife identified the state of the resurrected as being ‘like angels of God in heaven’ and they would recognize and be known by others but the overwhelming presence of God and His Glory will be their focus every moment and not each other.
Apostle Paul was lifted up into heaven and ‘heard inexpressible words which is not lawful for a man to utter’ (2 Corinthians 12:4). Lucifer being first of the created angels was witness to the whole process of creation and rebelled with the intent ‘to be like the Most High (God)’ (Isaiah 14:13-14). Around God’s throne there are Seraphim or ‘living creatures’ who have six wings, ‘were full of eyes around and within’ and with two wings they cover their faces and with two covered their feet’ and using only two wings to fly (Isaiah 6:2 & Revelation 4:6 & 8). Now ‘The lamp of the body is the eye’ and despite their enlightened state and immense power the Seraphim’s surrender to God is complete for they cover their own worth or glory, the face, and their walk as nothing and cover it. And they ‘do not rest day or night’, always saying ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come’.
Such depth of knowledge of God and the working of His kingdom in heaven was the cause for Apostle Paul’s thorn in the flesh ‘a messenger of Satan to buffet’ him to save him from being exalted beyond measure (2 Corinthians 12:4). When the Seraphs who have been in God’s presence since their creation and are yet to fully understand His Majesty and power, it is impossible for man to get that. The first and foremost role for man in heaven will be to learn more about God and His son and this continuously prepares each person there for his present and future role in the Divine Kingdom. We as children of God are heirs of God and joint heirs with Lord Jesus (Romans 8:17). Apostle Peter identifies a believer as ‘chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people’ (1 Peter 2:9). Believers in heaven will be ‘priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years’ (Revelation 20:6).
Believers will be rewarded with five types of crowns by the Savior Lord, first, the incorruptible crown (1 Corinthians 9:25-27); second, Crown of rejoicing (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20); third, Crown of Righteousness (2 Tomothy 4:8); four, Crown of Glory that does not fade away (1 Peter 5:2-4) and five, Crown of life (Revelation 2:10). These crowns are recognition for past works but also encouragement to aspire for these by preparing for their future role in Lord Jesus’ Millennial Rule. The best job for the saints that can be, is to know, love and worship God, what can be greater than that and the Seraphim do that and are never tired.
Accepting Lord Jesus as the Savior and Lrd opens the way for us to enter heaven and this is not through some deeds that we do but by His grace and mercy. On reaching there shall we be rewarded or ashamed to face Him, depends on our acts of obedience to His word. Those who reach out to others to lead them into the light of the Gospel, will hear Him say, ‘Well done My faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your Master’. Way for entering into His Divine presence He has already given and He has also rewarded us with various blessings to earn our way into His joy.