The great apostle Paul spoke candidly. He was “torn” by a quandary. For the sake of his Christian brothers and sisters, he knew it was better if he continued his life on earth so that they might benefit by his love for them and his ministry to them.
But his heart’s “desire [was] to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.”
I can relate very well to Paul’s quandary. I love my wife and our children and grandchildren. I hope for many more happy years with them beyond my current 73 years. But I have determined to be more conscious of what comes next for me as a believer. And that is, when the Lord determines that my time on this earth is complete, I will be blessed “to depart and be with Christ.”
I’m looking forward (in God’s timing) to the “better by far” part! As wonderful as family and close friends on earth can be — and they are wonderful! — there is coming for every born-again believer a heavenly reward that is far better.
A pastor friend of mine once said that the single greatest thing in all eternity for Him will be that first moment in heaven seeing God’s face. That’s what the faith-filled, God-loving Psalmist King David is talking about here. When his life on earth is complete, he will be satisfied with seeing God’s face, His likeness.
As we read often in the Bible’s Book of Revelation, the innumerable hosts of heaven continually break out in praise and worship to God the Father and Jesus His Son. The effect of being in God’s presence upon seraphim, angels, and the redeemed in heaven is profound.
Nothing we have ever seen on earth … nothing our mortal ears have heard … nothing in our mind’s grandest imaginings can prepare us for the awesome blessings God has for believers in heaven.
The God who created the world, the galaxies, and the entire universe will receive us in heaven as family. We will be welcome in His presence forever as His beloved “sons and daughters” (2 Corinthians 6:18). God will not receive us grudgingly or reluctantly, but with the full measure of His love reflected in the Scripture: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
The “man in Christ” who had this heavenly vision is clearly the apostle Paul himself (see vs. 7). When he was “caught up to the third heaven” (vs. 3) … “caught up to paradise” (4), Paul heard inexpressible things, he received “surpassingly great revelations” (vs. 7).
As we saw above, the natural senses, mind, and heart are incapable of grasping the grandeur of what awaits us in heaven. Paul simply called it “inexpressible … surpassingly great.”
Again, the key is to be a “man[or woman] in Christ.” People don’t die and automatically go to heaven. No, those who go to heaven are repentant believers in Jesus Christ. Jesus alone is “the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through [Him]” (John 14:6). If you haven’t come to Jesus personally as your Lord and Savior, the most important moment in your life and for all eternity is this moment right now! Please stop reading and take a few minutes to read evangelist Billy Graham’s simple, biblical steps to being forgiven, being born again, and becoming a heaven-bound child of God for all eternity. The Lord’s gracious invitation to you is waiting for you at Billy Graham’s website here. It will cost you nothing to get saved; Jesus paid that price for us on the cross!
The prophet Isaiah more than 2,500 years ago had a remarkable vision of heaven and of the Lord seated on His throne. The absolute holiness of the scene overwhelmed him to the point of heart-wrenching repentance for his sins and the sins of the people of Israel.
Isaiah saw the mysterious, glorious seraphim hovering above the Lord and heard them cry out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty.” The heavenly temple shook and was filled with smoke. Our imaginations are incapable of discerning the glory that Isaiah must have seen.
Then the best part (for the prophet then and for us sinners of every age) was God’s response to Isaiah’s genuine repentance. One of the seraphim took a live coal from the altar before the Lord. He touched the prophet’s mouth with it and cried out, “Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Today, because the Lord Jesus Christ has come and personally atoned for our sins, we can receive Him in repentance and faith and become sons and daughters of God, with heaven as our destination after this life on earth.
“In the Spirit” John saw things almost beyond description. How can mere words capture the glory He saw in the heavenly vision! He was called up to heaven (4:1) — “Come up here, and I will show you…” And he was indeed shown many things, glorious things, which he recorded in the Revelation.
Here are just a few, and these are the same things you will see as a believer when at death you go from your mortal body to eternity with the Lord. He heard the Lord’s voice (vs. 4:1). He was “in the Spirit” (1), opening up realms of vision and revelations far beyond our natural senses. He saw God and His throne in heaven (2-3), with a gorgeous rainbow encircling the throne. And from His throne came lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder (5).
He saw Jesus, the crucified and resurrected Lamb of God (5:6), who had died and risen for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). He saw and heard 100 million(!) angels burst out in praise to the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ (5:11-12).
And who can fail to be moved by the scene John saw in Revelation 19 — the roar of a great multitude in heaven … heavenly beings falling down before God in worship … then “what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: ‘Alleluia! For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.’” And from this portion of Scripture (Rev. 19:6 and 19:16, along with 11:15) comes the famous and emotionally overpowering “Hallelujah Chorus,” which has moved millions of hearts on earth to worship. Just imagine how much more glorious such praises will be in heaven in the visible presence of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit of God, along with the redeemed of all ages and an innumerable company of angels!
The apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation in the latter part of the first century A.D. (scholars disagree on the precise date). Many decades earlier he had been one of the 12 original apostles who walked daily with Jesus for 3-1/2 years. He knew Jesus well, had walked and talked with Him, eaten with Him, observed Jesus’ ministry, and was sent by Him on ministry assignments.
Nevertheless, when John in Revelation chapter 1 saw the resurrected, ascended, and glorified Jesus, his strength left him and he “fell at his feet as though dead” (vs. 17). Christ’s eyes were like blazing fire (14). His voice was like the sound of rushing waters (15). His face was shining like the sun in its brilliance (16). That which we have known on earth will in heaven be in a far greater and more glorious state. To those believers (and I’ve heard it) who wonder if things will be boring(!) in heaven, I have this to say: what you will see and experience in heaven is far beyond anything you can imagine in the limits of your mortal intellect (see 1 Corinthians 2:9, KJV).
Heaven! The “heavenly Jerusalem” … millions of angels joyfully assembling … God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit … and “the spirits of the righteous made perfect.” Perfect? Yes. Now, on this earth, “we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Perfection at last, the perfection the Lord imparts to us as we pass from earth to heaven.
Many Christians wonder: what happens when a believer dies? The answer is that a born-again believer, at death, goes directly to the Lord’s presence in heaven. Jesus told the repentant thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Today! On the day of his death.
The apostle Paul emphasized the same truth of the believer’s immediate entrance into heaven upon death: “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8, KJV). Echoing Jesus’ promise to the repentant thief, Paul said that for a believer in Christ to leave his body at death is to “be present with the Lord.”
This should greatly encourage all who have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. There is no delay, no purgatory, no intermediate stop en route to heaven. The end of a Christian’s time on earth leads directly to his or her immediate entrance into the Lord’s heavenly presence.
Despite his great, even calamitous, earthly suffering, the godly patriarch Job (Job 1:8) was shown his glorious future after this life. He prophesied words that should thrill us today. He knew that his “skin [would be] destroyed” in death. Yet he understood that he would see God! He even foresaw the eventual resurrection of the dead. And the thought of seeing God face to face caused his heart to yearn within him.
Job should be a great encouragement to us today. No matter what troubles we encounter in our earthly sojourn, there is joy, glory, and unspeakable blessings awaiting us in the Lord’s presence. These thoughts should encourage in us heaven-focused emotions such as Job expressed: “How my heart yearns within me!”
I am excitedly looking forward to that day! The one moment in all eternity that I most long for is that instant of standing before Jesus on His throne and hearing Him say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come and share your Master’s happiness!”
In closing, I encourage you to take time frequently to ponder the glories of heaven that await you as a believer in Jesus Christ. In the great spectrum of time and eternity, our life on earth is a vapor (James 4:14), a mist that is here now, then quickly gone. But there awaits for the follower of Jesus an eternity in His presence and experiences beyond our capabilities now even to imagine — “In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11, NKJV). Believers, look forward to that! It is “your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
©2016, James H. Feeney.
Pentecostal Sermons and Bible Studies
by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.