In the early 1400's Spain controlled both sides of the narrowest part of the Strait of Gibraltar , where the two land masses of Africa and Europe almost meet. The two large and rocky land points on either side of the strait were called the ? Pillars of Hercules ? and it was here that a marker was set up. It carried a three word Latin saying chiseled into stone: NE PLUS ULTRA, meaning, ?No More Beyond.? It referred to the belief that beyond the landfall of this rock marker as you looked westwards into the Atlantic , there was no more land ever. To venture out into the ocean was to invite disaster as you would eventually come to the edge and fall off. After Christopher Columbus's discovery of the reality of a new world beyond Spain , it transformed the way people thought and acted. Statues were cast that depicted a lion tearing the Latin word ?Ne? from the phrase. It was pressed into its currency as coins were struck with the simple Latin phrase, ?PLUS ULTRA?, or 'more Beyond.? Coins in circulation in Florida in 1796, still had that slogan!
Perhaps this is a good picture of how so many people are having their view of life revolutionized by the discovery of the reality of heaven and of hell. In much of today's world heaven is like the stereotype of a naive blonde, nice enough but not credible, and hell is like an obscene phone call, distasteful but able to be hung up on. Neither of these two has any real impact and the only reality left that is to be feared or sought after is the here and now. What would happen to my life if my sense of . . .
In the early 1400's
Perhaps this is a good picture of how so many people are having their view of life revolutionized by the discovery of the reality of heaven and of hell. In much of today's world heaven is like the stereotype of a naive blonde, nice enough but not credible, and hell is like an obscene phone call, distasteful but able to be hung up on. Neither of these two has any real impact and the only reality left that is to be feared or sought after is the here and now. What would happen to my life if my sense of the reality of heaven were dramatically heightened? How would a transformed understanding of heaven affect my desire to pray, to worship, to give, to forgive, to love? If it is true that the Bible has a lot to say about heaven, about what it will be like there, if I will know what's going on earth, if there is a sense of time there, do people in heaven pray for those on earth, are there animals in heaven?and so many even deeper questions?what will it be like to see God, what will the absence of sin feel like, what will it be like to live with the angels, what will it be like to be in the presence of Jesus Christ, first without my body and then with it? can you feel the wonder of where this study of heaven could take you and the way that the truth of this scripture could renew your mind and transform your life? Then let's begin, let's walk together through a biblical view of heaven. Consider Colossians 3:1-4? ?If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, Who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.?
I. Heaven, A Four Part View.
If you were to follow the Bible from Genesis to Revelation you will find four successive views of what we would regard as heaven.
2. Hades ? This term collectively referred to the place all people went when they died in the days from Adam to Christ. Since sin had not been resolved as Christ had yet to come, all died either as? a) those who were at enmity with God and were under absolute judgment, what we might refer to as the unrighteous dead; or? b) were those who moved in obedience to God through sacrifice and Law and at death had their sin covered over or atoned, yet not taken away, what we might term the righteous dead. Hades contained them both, in two separate regions known as hell and paradise.
3. Heaven ? The term referred to the air we breathe, then to the stars in space, then to the dwelling place of God. This third distinction is where Christ came from when he was incarnated at the virgin birth. At His death on the cross where sin was now not just atoned for or covered over, it was expiated or taken away, these righteous dead, previously in paradise, now were taken to the dwelling place of God, namely heaven. But there's a problem, their bodies are still in the earth, they are yet to experience resurrection and the fullness of humanity in the presence of God. For this reason this state of heaven is considered to be an intermediate heaven, a temporary place for the righteous dead to be until their resurrection. The unrighteous dead, those who have not or would not receive by faith the forgiveness of sin through Christ's intercession for them, they continue to wait in the hell known to the Old Testament and New Testament peoples.
4. New Heaven and New Earth ? After the coming of Christ for His church, which involves the resurrection of the bodies of the righteous, there will be a final closure of all human government as Theocracy (God present governance) again returns permanently to mankind. The effects of the fall upon creation are removed, the final judgments on all are completed and Heaven in it's purest sense, in it's Edenic sense begins to be.
So the discussion of heaven that we?ll be looking at will mostly be referring to the Intermediate heaven, where Christians have gone at death and yet we?ll also focus on the ultimate New Heaven yet future.
II. Some Surprising Features of the Intermediate Heaven.
1. It is physical and spiritual realm. Physical things exist there, the body of Jesus Christ clearly being the most obvious example. But what does it say about Christ, it says He is seated at the right hand of God the Father, implying not only authority but also physicality in the authority. When Stephen saw heaven opened in Acts 7 as he was about to die, he sees Jesus physically standing beside the Father. I suppose the arguments of John tasting the scroll that was sweet and yet bitter while in heaven, or the fact that the martyred saints are clothed in white robes speak of symbolic things and yet as the
2. This Intermediate Heaven is a place that experiences time. Since it is intermediate and the saints there have an awareness of things that are yet to unfold there is a sense of time. The martyrs who are yet to die for the name of Christ call out in Revelation 6:10,11, ?How long O Lord, holy and true wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on earth?? The response from God in verse 11 is yet more time must pass.
3. The Intermediate Heaven is a place where we are aware of what has and is happening on earth. We remember before Christ what occurred on earth and give a detailed account with a renewed mind for every careless word and action of our lives. (2 Corinthians 5:10; Matt.12:36) That there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels when one sinner repents infers that it is the saints who are rejoicing over an event that just happened on earth. Hebrews 12:1 reminds us that we are surrounded with a great crowd of witnesses, the righteous dead.
We are out of time for now, but next week let us again set our minds on things above, seeking them, for there is indeed ?Plus Ultra?, More Beyond.