Summary: As followers of Jesus, our true citizenship is in heaven, not here on earth.
In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Miss Watson attempts to persuade Huckleberry to behave by explaining to him the difference between heaven and hell. Huckleberry responds with the following observation:
Now she had got a start, and she went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was to go around all day long with a harp and sing, forever and ever. So I didn’t think much of it. But I never said so. I asked her if she reckoned Tom Sawyer would go there, and she said, not by a considerable sight. I was glad about that, because I wanted him and me to be together.
But it’s not just Huckleberry Finn that had that kind of view of heaven. In his book about heaven, Randy Alcorn tells the story of an English vicar. When asked by a colleague what he expected after death, he replied, "Well, if it comes to that, I suppose I shall enter into eternal bliss, but I really wish you wouldn’t bring up such depressing subjects."
And then there are these words from George Bernard Shaw:
Heaven, as conventionally conceived, is a place so inane, so dull, so useless, so miserable, that nobody has ever ventured to describe a whole day in heaven, though plenty of people have described a day at the seashore.
Perhaps you can relate to some of those comments. I know that I certainly can. If heaven is nothing more than a place where we sit on a cloud and play our harps day after day, then frankly, that’s not something that I really get all that excited about either. But then I read these words from some of the New Testament authors:
Instead, they were longing for a better country - a heavenly one...
Hebrews 11:16 (NIV)
Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling,
2 Corinthians 5:2 (NIV)
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
Colossians 3:1, 2 (NIV)
What was it that allowed these authors to have such an excitement about heaven? Or perhaps the more relevant question is why don’t we who are followers of Christ share that same enthusiasm and anticipation?
I’m convinced that the reason is that we really don’t have a very accurate picture of heaven. Instead of going to the Bible to get our ideas about heaven, we are all heavily influenced by the pictures of heaven that we get from the culture around us.
How many of us have gotten our ideas of heaven and angels from the movies? The familiar plot exists in every one of these films: Heaven is a place you have to earn by accomplishing something after you die. Every one of the lead characters all have some serious character flaws. And, of course, they all die in some freak accident, and a man in a spotless white suit comes and tells them they can’t go to Heaven yet because they have one last mission to perform back on Earth before they can earn their wings. They return to Earth, perform their good deed and then they stroll into Heaven to the sounds of the Heavenly choir singing Handel’s Halleluiah.
Bookstores are burgeoning with accounts of near-death experiences and encounters with angels. Many of these are unbiblical and misleading, full of false doctrine. They imply that those who don’t know Christ will be welcomed into Heaven, contrary to what the Bible clearly teaches. Just because someone thinks he saw Jesus or an angel in a near-death experience doesn’t mean it’s true.
For instance, one of the most popular books on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble is a book titled 90 Minutes in Heaven, written by a Baptist pastor named Don Piper. After being involved in a serious car accident, Piper was pronounced dead at the scene, but 90 minutes later when a pastor at the scene prayed for him, he came back to life. A portion of the book details his experiences in heaven during that 90 minute time period. Although the book is certainly not as blatantly unscriptural as many of the other near-death experiences that have been written about, there are still things in his book that just don’t line up with what the Bible teaches about heaven.
And then there are the greeting card companies that perpetuate this picture of heaven as a place where we sit around on clouds playing our harps. And how many jokes about heaven have we all heard that begin with St. Peter meeting someone at the gate?
Our goal over the next four weeks is help all of us get a better understanding about what the Bible teaches about heaven. While the Bible has much to say about heaven, there are some aspects of heaven where we have very little information from the Bible. So Dana and I are going to be very careful to limit our teaching to those areas where the Bible gives us clear evidence about the nature of heaven.