Questions from Revelation: What Will Heaven Be Like?

May 26, 2024

We come to the end of this short mini-series asking questions prompted by our longer series in Revelation. Tonight come to a question which I hope is in everyone’s head and heart: What will heaven be like?

There’s no way around it but that this sermon will be disappointing. That’s not the way to introduce a sermon, but it will be disappointing in that one, I cannot answer all the questions we have about what heaven will be like because the Bible doesn’t tell us everything we might to know, and two, because certainly any human preacher is incapable of fully presenting all of the glories that will be ours in heaven. But my prayer has been that something of these moments together in the texts that we look at would kindle in us a renewed desire and longing. 

As I said this morning, which was a sermon about hell, the doctrine of hell is meant to drive us to Christ. So the reality of heaven is meant to drive us to Christ.

Many of us would like to have a guided tour of heaven. We would like to have someone with a Go-Pro camera walk through and show us what is it like, what will be doing, what are our loved ones who are there already, what are they doing at this very moment? But of course, we’re not given that kind of detail.

Back when I was a kid, lo these many years ago, before even the interwebs existed, if you went on a family vacation, your parents might just tell you we were going to someplace and it was going to be great, you just have to trust us. Well, how do I know? I can’t look it up, I can’t see pictures. And maybe they say, we went there. Or everyone says it will be wonderful. And usually they were right, and sometimes you drove all the way across South Dakota to stop at Wall Drug and you said, “There’s a lot of billboards for this.” Let the reader understand if any of you have been there.

So when we go on a vacation, and many of us will find some time to go the beach. I made the mistake of not doing that last summer and then coming to the end of the summer and feeling like I had let everyone down. So we have a few days reserved, everyone has their favorite spot, so we just went and looked for an Airbnb and have one for a few days in July on Ocean Isle, probably run into some of you there. My kids will often say as the time draws near, “Can we look at the pictures?” Because of course you can go online and you can find what you saved and there you can have 50 different pictures that will show you every room and show you the beach and show you the pool and show you the angle, and you get something of a visual depiction and imagine what it might be like because you have actual pictures of people who had been there and snapped it and then you get to look at.

But what we’re told about heaven is not an Airbnb listing where we can look at as many pictures as we want, but it’s more like someone, inspired by the Holy Spirit, who writes and says, “Trust me. It’s amazing. You’ll want to be there.” There are just enough words and phrases and glimpses to give us the confidence and the hope and then the anticipation of what heaven will be like, even if we don’t have a guided tour.

I should be clear at the outset what this sermon is about and what this sermon is not about. When the New Testament talks about heaven, or the new heavens and the new earth, it almost always means the final dwelling place for God’s people. That is, the final place after Christ’s return, after the resurrection where soul and body come together, resurrection body, stand before Christ in the final judgment, and then the new heavens and the new earth come down. That is our eternal home. That place is described in Revelation 21 and 22 and we will spend four Sundays looking at it.

This sermon, however, is not about that final eternal reality. You say, “Well, what is it about?” I want to talk about the heaven that Christians go to when they die, the heaven that our loved ones who died in Christ are already inhabiting. This existence is sometimes called the intermediate state. That’s a very inelegant phrase that hardly conjures up great affection. I can’t wait. There’s no songs I’m aware of, no hymns that have “intermediate state.” But what the theological definition there is getting at is our final hope is for this creation, groaning to be released from its bondage to decay, to be renovated, recreated, rehabilitated, and that we would live forever as physical beings in a physical place, heaven come down to earth. 

The intermediate state is that place now, which we often call heaven, which as we’ll see is still a place of great comfort and rest and glory and yet is not the final, ultimate dwelling place for God’s people. So even though at times, I’ve heard it at funerals and it’s not the time to correct someone over eager, sharing something and saying, “Grandma is now jumping and running around on her new resurrection legs.” Well, no, that’s not the case yet. The resurrection of the body has not yet happened. This intermediate state, then, is the period in between the believer’s death and then the final resurrection, judgment, and coming again of Christ.

Now I know that sounds like the waiting room that you wait in after you wait in the first waiting room at the doctor’s office, and they call you and you’re very excited, you filled out the paperwork and you’re ready to go and they say, “This way, Mr. DeYoung. Have a seat in this new room, where you can also wait.” 

But the intermediate state is better than another lobby. It is called the intermediate state because it is not our final destination. We await the resurrection of the body.

Now as we’ll see, we don’t want to think of this intermediate state as some bland waiting area, some kind of let-down, or something that our spirits are just floating around aimlessly, maybe bouncing from harp to harp, not quite sure what to do with ourselves. No, as we will see, and as we saw two weeks ago from Revelation 20, when we die as Christians, the next moment we experience will be glorious and every moment from then on until the end of the age and unto the ages upon ages, will be glorious.

So when you get engaged, it is a wonderful day, filled with joy and celebration, even if it is not yet the wedding.

Our approach to this topic tonight is simple and I want you, surprisingly we’re going to look at some passages in the Bible, but I actually want you to start by taking this Trinity Hymnal in front of you and I want you to turn to the back to page 867, because here we have the Westminster Confession of Faith. We don’t have to invent an answer to life’s most difficult questions. Many good godly people have gone before and have thought through these things and searched the Scriptures and though this is not inerrant, it is a faithful summary. 

So you see there chapter 32, on page 867, Of the State of Men after Death, and of the Resurrection of the Dead. Our outline is going to be this first paragraph in chapter 32. Let me read it to you.

“The bodies of men after death return to dust and see corruption; but their souls, (which neither die nor sleep,) having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them. The souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies; and the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torment and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day. Besides these two places for souls separated from their bodies, the scripture acknowledgeth none.”

Let’s start with the last two sentences and then we’ll go back up to the top. We talked about the destination of the wicked this morning so we aren’t going to go into that material again tonight. But I do want you to pay attention to this last sentence, that the souls separated from the body, besides these two places, the Scripture knows no other.

What is that about? Well, this is the Confession’s way of ruling out the doctrine of purgatory. Purgatory, in Roman Catholic teaching, is not, let me repeat, not the place where the wicked get a second chance at salvation. That’s not purgatory. Purgatory is not, “I wasn’t a Christian, I was a nonbeliever, I was wicked, and now I get a second chance.” No, it’s not a second chance at salvation. Purgatory, think about the word, is a place of purgation. It is a place of purging in Roman Catholic theology. It’s a place on the journey to heaven for believers who have more sins to be purged after death.

As Protestants, we reject this teaching and we reject it for good reasons. One Scripture passage that is sometimes used in defense of purgatory is 1 Corinthians 3:15, which says if anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss though he himself will be saved but only through fire. 

If you just read it quickly, you might think, oh, is that about saved through fire? And maybe there’s some fire of purgatory on the last day. But that is not about death, but it’s about the final judgment. That verse, 1 Corinthians 3:15, is about the loss we will experience when all of our works are laid bare and some people will see that the works that they thought were worth very little amounted to much, be encouraged, moms, and then some who seem to be a great big deal, their works will prove to be wood, hay, and stubble, and they will be saved but through fire, meaning they will be saved but even though their works and their impressive resume will be less than it seemed. It is not a verse about life after death in some purgatorial state.

Some Catholics root the doctrine of purgatory in a book called 2 Maccabees, which is part of the apocrypha. 2 Maccabees 12:46. So these, the apocrypha, are these works between the close of the Old Testament Malachi and the start of the New Testament in this intertestamental period, sometimes called Second Temple Judaism. 2 Maccabees 12:46 talks about making atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sins.

Now whether this is actually talking about a belief in purgatory or not, and many would say it’s not, but even if it is, we follow the example of the Jews who did not accept the apocrypha as part of their canon. Now it’s a much longer discussion but the simple reason why those books are not in the Protestant canon is because it was not in the Jewish canon. They did not accept those apocryphal books as a part of their inspired Scripture.

In reality, the doctrine of purgatory is based on Church tradition. In testing everything against Scripture, we should not embrace the doctrine of purgatory, and here’s the central reason why – besides finding no support in the Bible, the doctrine of purgatory undermines the sufficiency and the perfection of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Think about it. If I have upon death my sins to be further atoned for in some state short or long of further suffering purgation that I must undergo, if that’s what happens with believers, and it happens for almost all believers if this is your doctrine, if that’s really the case, then how can we sing, “Jesus paid it all”? It must be Jesus paid it some and some I will pay for in purgatory in the life after death as I am cleansed and purged of these remaining sins. 

So the Confession means to rule out that Catholic doctrine of purgatory.

Now you see back up at the top, “The bodies of men after death return to dust and see corruption.” 

Genesis 3:19, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.” 

Acts 13:35, “After David died, he was laid with his fathers and saw corruption.”

So clearly when we die our bodies return to the earth and they see corruption. Christians have held to the importance of burial, seeing it as both a way to honor the body that God has given us, also in hope and anticipation of the resurrection of the body. God can, of course, bring together atoms scattered to the wind if you’re not given the opportunity for burial. But burial has been a very important part of the Christian tradition for that reason. From dust we came, to dust you shall return, and in anticipation of the body being raised again, it is laid into the ground.

The Confession continues. “Their souls,” so the bodies return to the earth and see corruption, “Their souls (which neither),” it says, “(die nor sleep,) having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them.” 

So that line there, “that the souls (which neither die nor sleep),” is an important point. We will have continuity of consciousness. That means you will have some awareness of this same state of consciousness, that’s how you recognize people, that’s how you will have some remembrance, though removed from any sinful regret or any sort of memories that would cause pain or discomfort, but you will have remembrance. You will be the same person. If you do not have continuity of consciousness, someone just implants a different microchip and a different set of mental cognition and remembrances, in what way are you even the same person?

So we have not only a continuity of our consciousness, but upon death we remain conscious. That is, we do not believe in soul sleep.

John Calvin’s first theological treatise, which I doubt many of you have read, it has the very catchy title, “Psychopannychia,” which is a fancy word for soul sleep. He was writing against the idea that was popular with some of the Anabaptists at the time, that the soul upon death would enter into a state of unconsciousness and would not resume consciousness until the end of the age and the final resurrection. Seventh Day Adventists teach that the intermediate state is a time of unconsciousness and they point to the many times in the Bible where death, or the dead, is described as sleeping. 

And that’s true, there are many times where to die, or to be dead, is described as sleeping. Falling asleep, sleeping, is a euphemism for death.

In John 11, Jesus says He is going to wake up Lazarus. Do you remember the disciples, always a little slow on the uptake, said, “Hey, if he’s sleeping, he’s going to get better.” Jesus did face palm emoji maybe and said, “No, he’s dead.” So Jesus had to spell it out. He first said, “He’s sleeping.” Now why did Jesus say he’s sleeping? Is it just because people were too skittish and you couldn’t use the word dead”? No, there was something important about the metaphor of sleep because sleep is something from which you will awake.

But the statement is not made because the soul is unconscious but rather because in death you see the body there appearing to be in a state of sleep but we believe that those bodies will be raised. So if you wanted to put it rather matter of factly, you might say that the sleeping is about the sleep that the body undergoes, not the sleep that the soul undergoes. The passages that we’re looking at in just a moment will show that to be the case.

Ecclesiastes 12:7 – The dust returns to the earth as it was and the spirit returns to God.

It has become a difficult doctrine for some theologians today, this distinction between the body and the soul. While it’s true that maybe in some past generations people put too much of a dysjunction and had kind of a platonic understanding that the body was the prison house of the soul and the body was something bad, so we react against that. But some theologians have gone too far in the other direction, denying that we even are dichotomous beings. Dichotomy is just a fancy word for two, that we are a composite of body and soul, or we are ensouled bodies.

We saw that in the passage this morning. Jesus says in Matthew 10:28, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul, rather fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” Jesus clearly has an understanding that there is a body and soul and that the greatest fear in your life is not that someone might kill your body. That’s the first death. The greatest fear, to use the language of Revelation 20, is the second death, that destruction of body and soul.

We’ve seen in Revelation 6:9, Revelation 20:4, the martyrs, those bodies who were slain, who were the souls under the altar, the souls whose bodies had been beheaded. So we’ve seen in Revelation depictions of souls separated from bodies.

So when the Confession says in this philosophical language, “having an immortal subsistence,” it’s a way of saying there is a part of the human person which is not snuffed out at death. There is a part that continues, a subsistence, a soul.

What is a soul? It’s hard to have an exact definition. You might get close by conceiving it as the part of you that has thinking and willing and feeling and remembering, that immortal subsistence, that soul continues even after death. Does not go to sleep, continues with consciousness, thinking, willing, feeling, remembering, that immortal subsistence.

Now we come to really the heart of the answer to our question tonight – What heaven will be like immediately after we die.

Look at this sentence from the Confession and then we’re going to look at some passages together.

“The souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heaven, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies.”

This is what I said earlier, inelegantly called the intermediate state. Intermediate because, notice the end of the phrase, they are waiting for something yet to come. They are waiting for the full redemption of their bodies, but what they are experiencing now is perfection in holiness, the highest heaven, beholding the face of God in light and in glory.

So turn with your Bibles, and we’re going to do an old-fashioned Bible study for these last 20 minutes here, and we’re going to look at five different passages, quickly, at each one of them.

So first turn to Luke chapter 16. Five passages, the first Luke chapter 16. I won’t read the whole story. It’s verses 19 through 31, the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Whether we are to take it as a parable or as an actual occurrence, unusual with a parable to give us the name of a person, but in either case it’s telling us what is real. 

“There was a rich man clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously and at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus.” This famous story from Jesus is about this rich man who had everything in life and he’s suffering in death and then Lazarus, a poor man, who had little in life and now is enjoying the state after death.

Look at verse 22. “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.” You see a little footnote there, in Greek, bosom, Abraham’s bosom. “The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment.”

So here we have a description of Hades, sometimes Hades can just be the place of the grave or the dead, but here’s an occurrence where Hades is a place where the wicked go, it’s the intermediate state for the wicked, where the intermediate state for the righteous is called “Abraham’s side, Abraham’s bosom.”

Look at the description of these places, verse 25: “Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in his like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.”

So notice the description, that state for the wicked, awaiting the final judgment is a place of anguish, so they, too, have their souls continue. And the place for the righteous and the believing is called the place of comfort.

Then verse 26: “Besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’”

So there is no hope of postmortem salvation. There is no crossing over to the other side once you die. It is appointed for man to die once and then there will be the judgment. This is our opportunity to respond to Christ and His offer of the Gospel.

So we see in this passage that heaven for the believer is a place of rest at Abraham’s side, so Abraham’s side depicts a covenantal community, this is covenantal language, it’s a covenantal family, it’s a place of comfort and there is a chasm between the two, you go to one and you cannot go to the other.

That’s the first passage.

Turn a few chapters over to Luke chapter 23. You will know this story of the thief on the cross. Luke 23, verses 42 and 43. As Jesus hangs there, nailed between two thieves, verse 42, the one man says, ““Jesus, remember me when You come into your kingdom.” And He said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.””

This little conversation tells us a number of important things. One, you notice, it tells us that this experience will be immediate. It’s one of the reasons to reject soul sleep. What sort of… “Today you’ll be with Me in paradise, parentheses, you won’t have any consciousness of it until the final resurrection.” No, this is held out to the man, “You’re about to die this excruciating, painful death, but I’m telling you today you will be with Me in paradise.” So his experiences are about to change infinitely for the better. In that moment upon his death, he will be in a place that Jesus calls paradise.  

Now it does lead to the question, well, where was Christ? Where would Christ be? This is a difficult Christological question. We can say that as the person of the Son of God, He still possessed omnipresence, though in the grave united with His human nature He’s also in paradise with the thief and having an existence beyond His flesh He can yet dwell in more places than just localized with His body. Very complex Christology to try to unpack all of that. What we need to know for tonight is simply that according to His human nature, Christ was in the grave. The human body of Christ, the human body, could not be in more places than one. It was not an infinite human body. To have an infinite human body is not to have a real human body. It is an aspect of the human body, which is a part of His human nature, to be localized.

Yet, His divinity was not wholly circumscribed by that union to His human nature, so there was also the property of omnipresence so that Christ could both united to His human body according to His human nature be in the grave and yet as the whole Christ, and according to His divine nature, He can say to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with Me in paradise.” 

The important part for us is that this experience for the thief on the cross will be immediate, it’s the next thing after death he will experience, and it is one of happiness, of plenty, of delight, that’s what the word “paradise” means.

A third passage. Look at 2 Corinthians chapter 5. This is the passage that gives us the longest description of the intermediate state, probably heard it at funerals. I’ve heard Pastor Bruce give a nice message from this not too long ago, 2 Corinthians chapter 5, reading at verse 1; “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him.”

Notice verses 6 through 8 reiterate the main point from verses 1 through 5, namely our hope as Christians is that upon death we will immediately go to be with the Lord Jesus Christ and we will wait for the day to come at the end of the age when we will be given our new resurrected bodies, live as His saints together with the angels and our triune God in the new heaven and a new earth.

You see verse 3 – If indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked, or unclothed.

So Paul likens this state, the soul apart from the body, as being naked, as being unclothed. He’s talking about a bodily existence . You can be glad to know that it’s not literally naked, but it is, as a matter of speaking, unclothed. What Paul is saying is my final hope, our ultimate hope, is the body, is the resurrection from the dead, is the renewal of all things, not the bodiless state that we go to as souls in heaven. It is a kind of disrobing of our earthly flesh which is necessary before we can put on resurrected, heavenly bodies. There must be a taking off of this earthly flesh before we can be clothed with immortality in our resurrected bodies. Before addition there must come subtraction.

But lest Paul be misunderstood and someone think, oh, so this place where we go when we die is unclothed and I’m awaiting my body, this must not be very desirable. No, Paul says quite clearly it is far better. Yes, the goal is to have a body, and we will on the last day, but better than having a body on earth is to be a soul with Christ in heaven. To be away from the body is worth it, now it’s temporary, but it is worth it to be at home with the Lord.

You see verse 6 – “So we are always of good courage.” This is meant to be a comfort, an encouragement. “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.”

I think I’ve shared before that years ago we were in Michigan, Trisha had a relative pass away and one of our neighbors, who knew we were Christians and I was a pastor and they were not believers, and she said to us, somewhat sarcastically when I said, “Well, Trisha’s going to go and fly to this funeral for this relative that died,” and the lady said, “Oh, he’s gone home, hasn’t he?” Rather tongue in cheek, rather like, “Oh, that’s sort of what you believe, isn’t it?” I said, “Yes, he has gone home.” 

It’s not just a nice sounding euphemism, it’s here in Scripture. To be away from the body is nevertheless good because it means to be at home with the Lord. Just think for a moment about that language, “home.” Think of how wonderful it feels after a long, hectic, painful journey to be back home. Even after vacations people need vacations from their vacations when they come back, let alone if you’ve had a long stay in the hospital.

I’ve been delinquent in giving you updates on my father over this past year. He’s had an amazing recovery, Lord willing, he’ll be here in church next Sunday as they’re flying to town for Jacob’s graduation. He was in the hospital, as you know, for 162 days, you remember because that’s a baseball season, and has had an amazing, almost miraculous recovery for which we are very grateful. But you can only imagine, and some of you have had stints like that or you’ve been with a newborn in the NICU or you’ve been deployed for some time and there really is, as Dorothy said, no place like home. No place like home.

Even though in the humdrum regularity of life all of us have those moments where we feel a little, it can feel a little ordinary, a little dull, a little too normal, but all you need is a couple of days of abnormal to be screaming out, “Give me normal. My bed, my fridge, my car, my yard, my family, my home.”

So this metaphor is meant to land on us with great encouragement. Away from the body, at home. That’s where you belong. That’s where you’re at rest, at home with the Lord.

Two more passages just briefly. Turn a few chapters over to 2 Corinthians chapter 12. Beginning at verse 1. Paul says, 2 Corinthians 12: “I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man,” now later he’s going to make clear that this is Paul himself, but here he’s describing it in the third person, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.”

We ought not get our doctrine of heaven by the so-called stories of people who have died and come back. Many of them have proved to be fake. Is there something that someone sees that is of some worth? Perhaps, though we have everything we need in the Scriptures to know about heaven. We do see here, however, that Paul has this dramatic and amazing experience. Notice a few things about it. He says in verse 2 he was caught up to the third heaven. You say, oh, so there’s, Paul get third heaven? How many, how high does the high rise go? If Paul’s in third heaven, I’m in basement heaven.

But it’s likely just a phrase to describe the heavenliest heaven of the heavens, not an enteral ranking of where you belong. Some Jewish sources spoke of five heavens, seven heavens, ten heavens. Most often three. It likely is a reference to Deuteronomy 10:14 and Nehemiah 9:6 which uses the language “heaven and the heaven of heavens.” So you count them up there, that’s three. Heaven and the heaven of heavens, which is probably just a way, like I said, of saying heaven and the heavenliest heavens. That’s what it is. But you count it and it’s the third heaven.

Notice that Paul equates this to paradise: I know, verse 3, that this man was caught up into paradise.

We shouldn’t make a huge, elaborate scheme or theory based on this little information about some levels of heaven, but Paul is simply saying I had a vision of the best of the best of heaven.

As I said at the very beginning of the sermon, the word “heaven” is almost always used actually for the final state of believers, when we usually talk about the believer dying and going to heaven. Some theologians today get really bent out of shape, no, you don’t go to heaven, heaven comes to you. Well, it is true, heaven comes down to us, that’s Revelation. But here we’re given good justification for using that common language of going to heaven, provided we understand that the final heaven is something that comes down to us, because this paradise, which Jesus said to the thief, “you’ll be with Me in paradise,” Paul equates from verse 2 to verse 3, the heaven of the heavenly heavens, that third heaven, he can then in another way call it paradise.

So this vision of this place that he went we can call paradise, and since Jesus tells the thief, “You’re going to be with Me in paradise,” it’s another way to describe the heaven that we will go to. So you are quite right to talk about your loved ones in Christ going to heaven when they die, though that is not the normal way that heaven is used in the New Testament. 

Then pay attention to verse 4. He heard things, Paul talking about himself, that cannot be told which man cannot utter.

It’s like looking up your reservation of your VRBO and the one who’s leasing it says, “No pictures. I can’t even utter how amazing this is.”

Now I’m going to hit pass if that shows up because that person’s not inspired by the Holy Spirit, but when Paul says it, and he’s been there and it’s almost like he’s ready to, everyone, I’m sure, was leaning in as this was read to the church in Corinth, and everyone is on pins and needles, Paul’s going to tell us what heaven was like, he had a vision and he went there, and Paul says, “Here it is, I can’t even explain it.” 

But maybe there’s some wisdom there. There’s wisdom in two respects. 

One. If you did and he explained it and it was, you know, it was a vista of never-ending mountain peaks. Someone says, “Oh, I like the beach.” Or it’s all you can eat pasta, and someone says, “Well, is it gluten-free?” Yes, it is. You’re made gluten-free and you can eat all the gluten you want, I’m certain.

So we might be disappointed to get the room by room tour and say, “Well, where is the thing I want?” But more importantly, it’s because Paul understands my words, if I started to explain it to you, describe it to you, it is, you could translate it in the Greek, inexpressible words which a man is not permitted to speak. He heard things that cannot be told. I can’t even say them, Paul says. Man may not even utter. They’re too good. They’re too glorious. I couldn’t even describe them to you. Some things you’ll have to wait for.

That’s why we live by faith, not by sight.  

Then a final passage, Philippians chapter 1. It’s a wonderful statement from Paul, Philippians 1:21-23: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”

Paul says this place where he’s going, he knows his time is short, it could come at any moment, and he’s torn. He loves the people on earth. He’s not looking forward to leaving them. He’s not looking forward to… He has work to do. He says at the same time, whenever God calls me home, I am more than ready. In fact, I’m eager because it will be far better, it will be gain.

Why is it gain? Simply this – to live is Christ. To die will not be your gain unless to live now is Christ. Because you know what heaven is supremely so? It is more and more and more of Jesus. If you want more of Jesus, that’s where you want to be.

So put this altogether. What will heaven be like after we die for the Christian?

Think of these five texts, and there are others, but think of the words and the images to describe what it is like for the believer after death – Rest, comfort, paradise, home, the highest heaven, things too wonderful for human words, and Christ will be there and we will reign together with all the saints.

So it’s true. There are more things we might want to know. We will come in Revelation 21 and 22 to a further depiction of the new heavens and the new earth, but perhaps the scarcity of information is intentional, that God has told us all that we need to know because the glories there so outpace our imaginations, they are beyond human utterance, and to dive into the specifics of what this heavenly realm is like would be to cheapen the realm, or the glory, of that realm.

David Calhoun, long-time Church history professor, passed away in recent years, mentioned in one of his chapters in a book on heaven, the tombstone of one Mary Thompson, 1920 to 1999, with the simple statement of her epitaph, “I am fine.” 

It’s true. For those who die in the Lord, what is it like for them right now? I am fine. Of course, it’s so much better than just “fine.” I am alive, they would say. I am at rest. I am home. I am with Jesus. And put your trust in Him so you can join me there.  

Let’s pray. Gracious heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Word. Give us comfort. Many come tonight with hearts full, thinking of husband, wife, children, parents, loved ones, who have died in Christ and it gives us unspeakable comfort to know of their heavenly rest. Lord, turn our hearts away from sin and toward You so that none here within the sound of my voice would miss on this inestimable privilege. May we not be those, as we saw this morning, who will face the lake of fire in the second death but may we be those through the gracious electing mercy of Christ who will live and reign with all the saints and the angels, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for ages unending. We pray it may be so. Amen.