The Living Hope
The Bible is essentially a practical book. Its principles and teachings are never merely academic, philosophical, or speculative, but are always anchored in and aimed at the living God and the daily living of his people. That is one reason why there is so little in the Bible about heaven. The focus of the Word of God is on how a person lives here and now – whether by faith to the glory of God’s grace, or in sin to the condemnation of the sinner and the manifestation of the glory of God’s justice. What we are given in Scripture regarding heaven and our eternal life in glory is sufficient to give us encouraging hope and consolation, but not so full and detailed as to intoxicate us with the contemplation of things that are for now too wonderful for us to bear. Even so, as a person realizes that he is drawing near to his own death, the biblical teachings about heaven seem to multiply, and what may have seemed but a few crumbs during one’s life form a veritable feast of consolation for one approaching his exodus from this world.
What consolations are in the Word of God for those who are dying? There are great and precious promises of eternal life. These promises are found in words explicitly stated, such as when Jesus tells those who believe in him that they have eternal life, and will not come into judgment, but have passed out of death into life (John 5:24). In other places the promises of eternal life are more implicit, as when, for example, we are told that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and that as the Lord is not the God of the dead, therefore these patriarchs must be alive after their deaths (Matt. 22:31,32).
In addition to explicit and implicit consolations, we have the testimony of those who by faith have been enabled rightly to look beyond the momentary and light course of afflictions in this life to perceive the incomparable and eternal weight of glory that is to be ours (Rom. 8:18, 2 Cor. 4:16-18). For example, the patriarchs were content to live as sojourners in the very land God had promised to them and to die in faith, not having received the provision of the divine promises, because they rightly reckoned their inheritance in glory was too great and glorious to be contained in this world (Heb. 11:13-16). There is also the example of Job, who declared that he would continue to live and trust his God even if his God should slay him (Job 13:15). The first Christian martyr, Stephen, saw at his death the heavens opened and Christ standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55,56). Stephen was not merely a spectator of Christ’s ascension to heaven, but he confidently commended his spirit to the Son of God, thus revealing to us the hope that we have at our dying to be with Jesus in Paradise (Acts 7:59).
Our God has not only promised his people heaven and eternal life with him in glory, he has also provided us with abundant, though not exhaustive, demonstration of that sure hope of our life in eternal and incomparable glory. Our Lord Jesus has shown us his conquest of death by his manifold resurrection appearances. He also revealed to us something of the glorious splendour of his ascension when He appeared to John on Patmos. The images John employs to describe his vision of the ascended Christ portray to us something of the effulgent majesty and might of our ascended Lord. Such revelation also informs and guides our understanding of what we shall be like in our glorified state. All weaknesses, defects, and inadequacies will be removed from us and replaced by strengths and perfections and vast capacities that Paul sketches for us in his resurrection chapter of First Corinthians (1 Cor. 15). The beauties of our glorified state as individuals and as a vast company of redeemed souls made perfect in glory are most fully set out for us in Revelation 21 and 22. There we are told that all of our tears will be wiped away, that there shall no longer be any curse or night. How can we who have lived all of our lives under God’s curse conceive of how wonderful it will be for us to be free of these painful things? But beyond these negations being removed, we shall have the positive pleasure and immense privilege of seeing our Redeemer’s face and reigning with him forever.
These are sure and substantial truths and strong comforts for our souls. If we are facing death, they remove the sting; they reduce the threat from a monstrous body to a mere shadow; they fortify us with the delightful knowledge that for the Christian to die is gain. Even now before we face death these truths enlarge our lives, giving us greater and truer perspective on our lives as we apprehend that we have been made and redeemed by our God to be forever with him in holy and loving communion in perfection and glory. We have been born again to an infinite and eternal inheritance. All of our striving, service, and suffering here in this little life and world serve to prepare us to possess and enlarge us to contain that inconceivable inheritance. When we rightly grasp these truths it is no wonder that we say with the Holy Spirit of God, ‘Come quickly, Lord Jesus.’
William Harrell is Pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, Virginia
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