Heaven Is Being with Christ
HEAVEN IS BEING WITH CHRIST
Heaven means Jesus Christ, that is, being with Jesus. That is the only heaven there is. It is Christ’s home and he is never away from his home for a moment.
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was often asked why we are not told more in the New Testament about life beyond the grave. What did he reply? “I have two answers to give. The first is this and I am sure that it is right: We are not told more because there is a sense in which we cannot be told more. Everything in this world is sinful, even our language. I do not hesitate to assert, therefore, that if the New Testament had given us a detailed description of heaven and of being with Christ our language would misrepresent it. Our language is not pure enough, the thing is so wonderful that all the vocabularies of the universe are not adequate to describe it. It is so glorious and wonderful that we need to be qualified and perfected before we can take the description or are capable of understanding it. I am sure that is the first answer.
“The other answer is that we are deliberately not told, in order that we may think of it only as Paul thought of it. Paul only put it in one way . . . The only reason for wanting to go to heaven is that I may be with Christ, that I may see him. That is why the little word ‘and’ is so important – ‘to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.’ The only man who is really happy about death, the only one who can say confidently, ‘to die is gain’, is the man who has said, ‘to me to live is Christ.’ . . . That is what enabled Paul to say it. Christ was the consummate passion of his life: to know him, to dwell with him, that is the thing, said Paul. that is my life, and therefore to die must be gain; to go home, to be with Christ, is very far better” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “The Life of Joy”: Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1989, p.107).
In the Bible there is not one reference to believers going ‘to heaven’ when they die. Instead they go to be ‘with Christ.’ In other words, heaven wasn’t at all a natural hope. For example, young people have a hope of growing up, and getting married, and working for forty years, and retiring, and enjoying some years living on their pensions. That is their hope for the future. It is completely natural. You don’t need a revelation from heaven to tell you that this lies in the future of many men and women in Europe. All you need is observation and deduction. It can all be explained by biological, political, and economic changes. But the hope of heaven is not like that at all. It cannot be compared to anything in the natural order, like the caterpillar becoming a butterfly. It is not like going to bed after a long period of working, sweating and toiling. It is not like spring following the winter. I don’t want any of you to think of heaven like that. That is a profound and dangerous error.
Heaven means Jesus Christ, that is, being with Jesus. That is the only heaven there is. It is Christ’s home and he is never away from his home for a moment. What are the implications of that? The first must be that there is no sin in heaven. There is no unbelief there. There is no idolatry there. There are no false prophets there. The Beast is not there. There are no works of Satan there. There is no lying, no lust, no anger, no violence, no theft, no greed, no drunkenness, no pride, no hypocrisy, no gambling, no dishonouring parents, no discontent, no fretting, no self-pity, no frustration. Heaven is an utterly pure and spotless place. “There is a city bright, closed are its gates to sin. Nought that defileth can ever enter in.” It is a hallowed place.
In other words, there is no gradual, imperceptible and inevitable transition that takes all mankind through this life and they all end up in heaven; no universal cosmic conveyer belt to glory! Heaven is the kingdom of Jesus Christ. All unrighteousness is banished from that place. He alone has done what was essential to be done for sinners to join him there. Consider this, that the merest glimpse of heaven’s glory – let its door open a chink for a glance at the tiniest portion of its holiness – and you would know instantly, “I have no right to enter such a place. I am unworthy to pass through those doors and see that sight. I could not exist there.” Sooner an earwig aspire to become a nuclear physicist that a sinner stroll into heaven as his right. Have you seen that you have no entitlement to heaven, that it is closed to you for ever? It will never happen that by hook or by crook you will get there. No! The only heaven that exists is closed and barred to you while you go on without Jesus. He is the one and only way. No man comes to the Father except through him. To taste heaven is the fruit of the blood of God the Son.
“He died that we might be forgiven,
He died to make us good.
That we might go at last to heaven
Saved by his precious blood.” (Cecil Alexander)
It is because Christ all by himself obtained eternal redemption for us that he himself entered into the heavens. It is Christ, and Christ alone, who has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. It is Christ and Christ alone who has gone to prepare a place for us, that those whom the Father has given him may be with him where he is. The dying thief cried to Jesus that he would remember him. “I will certainly never forget you,” the Lord replied, “but more wonderful than that is my grace to sinners. You will be with me in paradise today.” There is no possibility of heaven without Christ getting us there. Heaven is the achievement of his redemption. Entrance and the entitlement to remain there for ever is made possible by him. It is made actual by him; it is the crowning gift of his redeeming grace; it is the ultimate blessing. Christ brings us to heaven, keeps us in heaven, and Christ is our heaven.
Ted Donnelly’s father had a friend named Noble who was a millionaire. “He had not always been a millionaire, for as young men they had both been poor. But after he became wealthy their friendship continued. He regarded my father as his best friend, the one man who did not want anything from him, who liked him simply for himself. On one occasion, however, he persuaded my father to accept a gift. It was a holiday on which he wanted company. In the early 1950s the two men travelled by ocean liner across the Atlantic to the United States, and then throughout that country. It was an unusual journey for those days, the experience of a lifetime. Afterwards when speaking of that trip my father would rarely say, ‘When I went to America.’ It was usually, ‘When I was with Noble’. The trip was so completely his friend’s gift and provision that he couldn’t think of it without remembering the one who made it possible. And we should never think of heaven apart from thinking of Jesus, for we owe it utterly and in every conceivable way to him. In Richard Baxter’s words, ‘Let “DESERVED” be written on the door of hell, but on the door of heaven and life, “THE FREE GIFT.”’ How then is it possible to distinguish between gift and Giver? Christ is central because it is Christ alone who brings us to heaven” (Ted Donnelly, Heaven and Hell, Banner of Truth., p. 84).
Heaven is utterly Christ-centred. The Lamb is in the midst of that throne which itself is at the very heart of heaven. So Christ is the focal point of heaven. He is its centre, its axis, its divine energy, and its illumination. He makes heaven live. He makes it sing in perfect harmony. The Lamb is all the glory in Immanuel’s land. Paul’s desire, as death comes nearer, gets increasingly focused. “This one thing I want!” It is to be where Jesus is, to see him as he is, and to be like him. It is to discover if there might be anything he can do for Christ, to serve him with total love as long as he can. His longing is that his serving the God-man will never come to an end. The Lamb of God is worthy of that, and Paul can’t wait for that moment to begin. “I desire to depart and be with Christ.” That is heaven.
Dr J. I. Packer says useful things about the variety of delights in glory: “There will be different degrees of blessedness and reward in heaven. All will be blessed up to the limit of what they can receive, but capacities will vary just as they do in this world. As for rewards (an area in which present irresponsibility can bring permanent future loss: I Cor. 3:10-15), two points must be grasped. i] The first is that when God rewards our works he is crowning his own gifts, for it was only by grace that those works were done. ii] The second is that essence of the reward in each case will be more of what the Christian desires most, namely a deepening of his or her love-relationship with the Saviour, which is the reality to which all the biblical imagery of honorific crowns and robes and feasts is pointing. The reward is parallel to the reward of courtship, which is the enriching of the love-relationship itself through marriage” (J. I. Packer, “Concise Theology,” Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, 1993, p.266).
Samuel Rutherford compares our experience in heaven with a bride’s delight on her wedding day. What delights her the most? Not the service, nor the guests, nor the reception, not the flowers, and not even her beautiful dress, but her dear bridegroom’s face. Rutherford says, “The bride takes not, by a thousand degrees, so much delight in her wedding garment as she does in her bridegroom. So we, in the life to come, howbeit clothed with glory as with a robe, shall not be so much affected with the glory that goeth about us, as with the bridegroom’s joyful face and presence.” “They will see his face,” the book of Revelation says (Rev. 22:4).
That is how it must ever be in heaven. It is a fixed place compared to your place and mine. Here our families may serve other gods, and go from one idol to another. Today our country may lie in utter darkness. Now different false prophets sway the masses in turn, tyrants rise and influence millions, and they fall again. Change and decay in all around I see. But heaven is not at all a place like that. There is nothing transitory there. You don’t graduate from heaven to some other place. There is nowhere else. You enter heaven after the last judgment. There are no more purgings of our sins, no more evaluations and examinations; no more tests to pass; no promotion; there are no more ladders to climb. The moral character of the believer can never decay. There will be growth in every grace of course, and in continual delight in God, and in the new heavens and new earth, but there will be no spiritual declension at all. No one in Jesus’ presence can ever want to sin. Our glorified natures will not tolerate that. We will be so constituted and reconstituted that we cannot sin. We will not even wish to desire to sin. In other words, being with Christ we shall be like him the very moment we see him. Christ was tempted, yet he could not sin; God cannot sin. So we will be in that condition for ever, growing in our knowledge and love of God and of every other creature, working for our Saviour and with him, but without a spot or a wrinkle or any such thing to mar the beauty of the place.
Our joy will stem from the vision of the invisible God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ. We will increasingly grow in Christ’s love as he ministers to us. We will fellowship with our loved ones in Christ and with the whole body of the redeemed. There will be continual growth, maturing, learning, enrichment of abilities, and enlargement of powers that God has in store for us. But there will be no unfulfilled desires, and this blessedness will never end. Its eternity is part of its glory. Endlessness is the glory of glory. Hearts on earth say in the course of joyful experience, “I don’t want this ever to end,” but it invariably does. The hearts of those in heaven say, “I want this to go on forever.” And it will. There can be no better news than this.
This is the Great Story going on forever, each chapter being better than the one before. Doesn’t the thought of heaven take your breath away?
To step on shore,
And that shore heaven!
To take hold of a Hand,
And that God’s hand!
To breathe a new air,
And feel it celestial air.
To feel invigorated,
And to know it immortality!
To pass from the storm and the tempest
To one unbroken calm!
To wake up,
And find it GLORY.”
How do you step on that shore? It must be through you and Jesus Christ becoming united. Hand in hand with Jesus. You have to receive the one who said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” Now who are you going to believe? The secularists, or the man who preached the Sermon on the Mount? Who is going to influence your life? The one who spoke and the winds and waves obeyed him, or all the despairing muddled men who say that ultimate reality is the coffin and the stinking corpse?
John Bunyan at the conclusion of Pilgrim’s Progress (Banner of Truth) describes Christian and his friend reaching heaven in these words: “I saw in my dream, that these two men went in at the Gate; and lo as they entered they were transfigured, and they had raiment put on that shone like gold. There were also those that met them with harps and crowns, and gave them to them, the harps to praise withal, and the crowns in token of honour. Then I heard in my dream, that all the bells in the City rang again for joy; and that it was said unto them, ‘Enter ye into the joy of the Lord.’ I also heard the men themselves, that they sang with a loud voice saying, ‘Blessing, honour, glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb, for ever and ever.’
“Now, just as the Gates opened to let in the men, I looked in after them; and behold, the City shone like the sun; the streets also were paved with gold, and in them walked many men with crowns on their heads, palms in their hands, and golden harps to sing praises withal. There were also of them that had wings, and they answered one another without intermission, saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord.’ And after that, they shut up the Gates; which when I had seen, I wished myself among them.”
We see a boat leaving Aberystwyth harbour and setting sail across the Irish Sea. It is a fine sight in the summer wind as she sails away and becomes a dot on the horizon. “There . . . she is gone,” says my best friend alongside me. Gone where? Gone from our sight, that is all, but at that moment standing on the cliffs of Ireland with a telescope is someone gazing out to sea and he sees that boat which I can no longer see. “Here she comes!” he shouts. Such is dying. Those in glory are there welcoming a new arrival as we see them depart.
Unbelievers, hear! O that God might open the gate of heaven a little tonight, and show you what glories lie before favoured sinners, so that you could start to think, “Would God that I were there! I wish myself among them.” Longings like that are the first encouragements that the grace of God is at work in your life. But you might be thinking, “Would there be room for someone like me there? I have many doubts and have been a real hypocrite.” Hear a distinguished Welsh preacher answer your question: “Friend, heaven is an enormous place: ‘in my Father’s house are many mansions’, said Jesus Christ. God told Abraham how numerous his children would be (that is, his children by faith, the elect that would be in heaven): they would be as numerous as the sand of the sea or the stars of the firmament. [Can’t you be contented to be a little grain of sand on the streets of heaven? Wouldn’t you be happy to be a tiny star twinkling quietly in the new heavens? Wouldn’t you be pleased to be even a bruised reed that was on the banks of the rivers of life that flow from the throne of God and the Lamb? That is salvation!] John in his Revelation saw a multitude that no one could count. It is a big place; do not entertain the thought that heaven is small. God’s grace is never-ending and men and women invited to believe in Christ are welcomed there” (Gwyn Williams, “Heaven”, Bryntirion Press, 2000, p.18).
But you have to entrust yourself to Jesus Christ alone. You have to cry mightily to him until you know that he has given even you the right to heaven. If Christ were just one of many illuminaries of heaven it might be possible to think of reaching heaven without him. But the Lamb is the single Lamp of heaven. No other unoriginated light is found there but Christ. “Can you visualise yourself explaining to God why he should admit you to heaven while you remain an unbeliever? ‘I had no interest in your beloved Son’ you will say. ‘I repudiated him, made little of his death, shut my ears to his invitations, disregarded his warnings. Jesus Christ meant – and means – nothing to me. As far as I am concerned, your sending of your Son to earth was unnecessary, a pointless waste. But in other respects I have tried to be a decent person. For some of the time, I have done my best. So I expect you, O God, to allow me into the heaven of the Christ I despised and refused.’
“Doesn’t the idea of it make you shudder? Can’t you hear how crassly blasphemous such words sound? Yet that is, in essence, the unbeliever’s plea, and nothing could be more foolish. Without Christ there is no hope of heaven. So come to him now. Cry to the Saviour of sinners to change and forgive and receive you. If you ask him with all your heart, he will do it, and heaven will be yours” (ibid., Donnelly, p. 94).
GEOFF THOMAS was pastor of Alfred Place Baptist Church, Aberystwyth, Wales, for over fifty years. Now a member of Amyard Park Chapel, Twickenham, where he preaches occasionally, Geoff continues to write and preach. His autobiography, In the Shadow of the Rock, was published last year by Reformation Heritage Books.
This post first appeared on the Banner website on August 13, 2002.
Photo by Kristine Weilert on Unsplash
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