The Prospect Of Heaven - Part I
Dr. Joe Temple


We are still thinking along the theme that we have been using for some time now, Simple Questions Often Asked . We have been thinking about things that people ask in relation to the Scriptures—things simple enough in their phraseology, but profound in their answers. For the past several weeks, we have been thinking about a subject that I did not particularly enjoy, but we had to answer the question, “What about Hell?” I certainly did not enjoy that subject, and I don't imagine you did, either.

Some of you are kind enough to express your appreciation of a message by saying, “I enjoyed your message today,” but I always know what folk mean by that when I have preached a message on Hell. They are just letting me know that they are back of me, and that is an encouragement always. I don't enjoy preaching on Hell, and no one enjoys thinking about it because it is real. I am going to enjoy the subject we will begin to think about now; that subject is The Prospect of Heaven .

Just as certainly as we are asked questions about Hell, so we are asked questions about Heaven. I believe the best way for us to find the answer to these questions is to see what the Scriptures have to say about Heaven, and as we do so, the individual questions will find their answers.

Prospect of Heaven Doubted by Some

I have used the phrase, The Prospect of Heaven . It is a wonderful prospect to me; I don't know why it isn't to everyone, but it isn't. You don't need me to tell you that Heaven, the prospect of Heaven, is a disputed thing with a great many folk. Just the other day I was reading a quotation from a liberal theologian, Alfred Whitehead; he is quoted as saying, “Can you imagine anything more appallingly idiotic than the Christian idea of Heaven?” Well, that is one way to talk about it, isn't it? “Appallingly idiotic”: I am glad it is not that for me. It is a wonderful prospect.

An ecclesiastical authority, Canon Streeter, is quoted as saying, “The Heaven of Sunday School teachers and or popular hymnology is a place which the plain man does not believe to exist, and to which he would not want to go if he did believe that it existed.” Well, when I think of some of the wonderful hymns that have for their theme the prospect of Heaven, I question the perception of a man who could say that the Heaven popularized by hymnology is a place that plain men do not believe in, and if they did, they wouldn't want to go there.

I am glad that some day they are going to ring the golden bells for me; I look forward to it. I am glad, and I have perfect assurance of it, that someday I am going to stand in Jerusalem the Golden; I enjoy the prospect of someday standing in Heaven and seeing the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. Others may doubt the prospect of Heaven if they will, but I enjoy the thought of it, and look forward to the day when I can enter into it in full assurance.

Heaven Described in Scripture

Though Heaven is disputed by some, it is clearly designated in the Scripture by more terms than most of us realize. Most of us when we talk about Heaven just use that one word; we speak of going to Heaven. Yet the Bible is not so meager in its vocabulary that it needs to use just one word. Certainly, because this one word, Heaven , is used in our English translation more than 275 times, we need to give some of our attention to it. I would suggest to you that though the one word is used so often, there are two words used in the original text. One of them is the Hebrew word shawmahyim , which simply means “the heights,” “the high place.” That is all it means. That word is most commonly translated by our English word Heaven . The Greek word which is most commonly translated Heaven is the word ouramos , which simply means “a place that is raised up or above.” That settles once and for all the direction of Heaven.

You see, Heaven is not a state of mind, as some people would have you think. Heaven is not this little happy place that you have made for yourself on this earth, and, as some folk tell you, the only Heaven you will ever know. Heaven is on high.

Three Heavens Mentioned in Scripture

The Bible in its designation of Heaven in the terms I have suggested is even more particular in its description than it needs to be. The Arabian Knights coined a phrase which Hollywood has picked up and planted in the minds of so many folk that it is difficult to get scriptural truth across in relation to Heaven. Some folk, when they are expressing the height of delight about something, their ecstasy about some particular thing, say, “Oh, I am in seventh Heaven!” Well, there are not seven Heavens. The Bible describes what we might refer to as the atmospheric heavens. Turn, please, to the book of Isaiah, chapter 55, verse 8. God said:

Isaiah 55:

8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
9For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Notice the word heavens there. What is he talking about? Is he talking about the atmospheric heavens or the celestial heavens or the Heaven of Heavens? Those three heavens are mentioned in the Bible. The next verse tells us; he is talking about the atmospheric heavens. We read in verse 10:

Isaiah 55:

10For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:
11So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

That is a wonderful promise, isn't it? The next time you say a word for Jesus Christ, using the Word of God, and you don't get a ready response, don't go away discouraged. Remember that His Word will not return unto Him void. But I read this passage of Scripture to emphasize that the Bible speaks here and in numerous places of the atmospheric heavens, the place from whence the rain and the snow come.

Celestial Heavens

But the Bible does not limit itself to a discussion of the atmospheric heavens alone because as I have already hinted to you, it speaks of the celestial heavens. Turn, please, to the book of Job. Job was a nature lover. He saw much of God in that which was about him. Sometimes it brought joy to his heart. Sometimes it brought fear to his heart, but he recognized the handiwork of God in all that he saw about him, which will be evident if you will look at chapter 9, verse 7:

Job 9:

7Which [If we read the preceding verse, we will realize that this pronoun refers to God.] commandeth the sun, and it riseth not; and sealeth up the stars.
8Which alone spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth upon the waves of the sea.

There is the word again. What is he talking about? Is he talking about the atmospheric heavens? No, the next verse tells us:

Job 9:

8Which [He] alone spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth upon the waves of the sea.
9Which maketh Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers of the south.
10Which doeth great things past finding out; yea, and wonders without number.

You see, he is talking about the celestial heavens or the stellar heavens. Did you notice how he got a great deal of encouragement out of that? When he talks about God's spreading out the Heavens and then garnishing the Heavens with the beauty of the stars and the planets and the heavenly bodies, he says, “Do you know what that reminds me of? It reminds me that God doeth great things past finding out.” Do you believe in a God like that? Do you have a God Who can do for you great things that are past the understanding of men? I have.

Beyond Man's Understanding

I learned a long time ago that you cannot explain these things to unenlightened minds. Share them with them, if you can share them with them, but don't be surprised if they smile as if you are a little touched, and don't be surprised if they act as if they wish you were more enlightened than you are. When you trust God, He can do things which are past finding out—past understanding by the normal mind.

I always rejoice when men who have an answer for everything else find it necessary to acknowledge when something which God has done is shared with them, “I just don't see how it could be.” I just don't think it could be; I don't see how it could be.” Well, that is my God. He does things past finding out.

Notice the last statement in verse 10. This is not just an occasional thing; yea, it is wonders without number. I love to hear folk share their testimonies and their notes of praise. It always blesses my heart. That is the reason when we have testimony meetings I encourage folk to stand up and say what God has done. It is a blessing; it is an encouragement. But I always wonder about the person who has to tell of something God did for him forty years ago. You see, God does many wonderful things, and He never runs out of things which He is able to do.

Heaven Where God's Throne Is

Turn, please, to II Corinthians, chapter 12, as I suggest to you that the Bible, in making a distinction in the use of the word Heaven , speaks not only of the atmospheric heavens and the celestial heavens, but it speaks of the Heaven where God's throne is—the Heaven of Heavens, if you want to call it that because the Bible does. Or if you want to deal with it on the basis of numbers, you can call it the third Heaven, for that is what God calls it. In this chapter, we find the testimony which the Apostle Paul gave concerning an experience of his own:

II Corinthians 12:

1It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.
2I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.
3And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)
4How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

I am not going to try to do something that Paul himself could not do. He could not explain just how this happened. All he knew was that he had the opportunity of visiting Heaven, and he referred to it as the third Heaven. It is above the atmospheric heavens, above the celestial heavens; it is on the very top.

Depth of Christian Experience

I am sure this is what he had in mind when he wrote concerning the Lord Jesus Christ as he did in the Ephesian letter, chapter 1. Turn there, please. Paul was always longing that you and I would be able to enter into the riches and the deepness of our experience with Christ. Most of us, you know, just skim the surface; we don't enter into the depths of it. He often prayed about that. In this chapter of the Ephesian letter, verse 16, he said, “I have been praying,” and then in verse 17 he said:

Ephesians 1:

17That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him:
18The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,
19And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power,

Illustration of God's Power

Pause there for a moment. He wants us to be able to comprehend this tremendous power, so he uses an illustration that we all understand. He said, “It is the same power that God used when he took the Lord Jesus Christ back to Heaven.” This is how he describes it:

Ephesians 1:

20Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,
21Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come:
22And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,
23Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.

Go back and notice the latter part of verse 20: He raised him up into the heavenly, or Heaven. Where was this place? Where God's throne is. And where is God's throne? Look at verse 21:

Ephesians 1:

21Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named,…:

These words and phrases may not mean very much to you, and we do not have time to pursue a study of them. Accept this on faith: These words and phrases, “all principality”, “power”, and “might,” “dominion,” and “every name,” are all phrases that describe the kingdom of the Devil.

Satan's Control

The Bible teaches us that above the atmospheric heavens from which we get our rain and snow—in the stellar heavens, in the celestial heavens—the Devil is in complete control. His demons are permeating that area in great numbers. As a matter of fact, when Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians, he said that when the Lord Jesus Christ went back to Heaven, he went through this area, and He openly triumphed over these demons (Colossians 2:15). If you read the context, you will discover that what they were trying to do was to keep Him from getting back to Heaven, but He just brushed them aside as though they were nothing at all and went right up to where God's throne is. This is what Paul meant when he was describing the third Heaven, and what he meant in chapter 4, verse 10:

Ephesians 4:

10He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)

Our Eternal Home

So when I suggest to you that Heaven, the term which is most familiar to us in describing our eternal abode, is used in the Scripture very often, I would have you remember that it is used with distinctions. It is not used of the atmospheric heavens when it speaks of our abode; no, we are not going to have some little grain of dust floating around in the air because our bodies have turned to dust. It is not speaking of the stellar heavens; no, we are not going to be in orbit for all eternity, floating around like some of the rubbish that is up there now. We are going to the Heaven that is far above all heavens. As a matter of fact, this word above is used to describe Heaven. Turn, please, to the Colossian letter and notice in chapter 3 a suggestion concerning the Heaven which is above:

Colossians 3:

1If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.
2Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.

So, we have another description of Heaven; it is “above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God.” This word above comes from the Greek word ano , which means “on top.” Some day, and I don't mean to be facetious when I say this, you will not be “sitting on top of the world” as some folk say when they feel successful, but you will be sitting on top of everything because that is where Heaven is.

Heaven Referred to as Paradise

Another term which is used in the Scripture to designate Heaven we have already noticed when we were in II Corinthians, chapter 12, verse 3, when Paul was speaking about being caught up into the third Heaven. He reiterated what he had said, and then he said, “I was caught up into Paradise, and I saw things which were not lawful for me to utter.”

This English word Paradise is the transliteration of the Greek word paradeisos , which speaks of a garden, a park with beautiful trees, lovely flowers and multi-colored birds. So when you speak about Heaven as a beautiful place, you are not letting your imagination run wild. I daresay that if you were as wild as it is possible for your imagination to let you be, you still would have painted only a stroke or two in the painting of Heaven in all of its glory.

The thief hanging upon the cross with the Lord Jesus Christ, looking upon a world that certainly was an ugly world, asked to be remembered by the Savior because he saw what others could not see (Luke 23:42). Oh, he did not express it just right, you know. He said to the Lord Jesus Christ, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” That is all he knew to say. There is a wonderful illustration there of what God does—how God knows what we mean in spite of what we say.

God Knows our Meaning

I think we ought to pray correctly. I think we ought to be careful to use scriptural terms, but some folk can get so bogged down in using the right words that they never get through. If the Lord Jesus Christ had answered the prayer of that thief on the cross, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” if He had answered the thief's prayer on the basis of what he said, it would not have been answered yet because Christ has not yet come into His kingdom. But the Lord knew what he meant. He knew that he meant, “Lord, I want to be with You wherever You are going. I know there is nothing here, and I believe You are something, and I want to be with You; so Lord, remember me.” They had written up above the Cross, “This Is The King Of The Jews,” and the thief did not know but that that was right. He said, “When You get Your kingdom, I want to go along.” He believed in the Lord, you see.

Oh, it is really good to be exactly correct in all your theological terms, but don't let your inability to be exact keep you away from God. Express the desire of your heart and He will understand. He will correct your terminology by and by. What was it the Lord Jesus Christ said to the thief? “Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise.” There is no record of what the thief said, but don't you know a load lifted from his shoulders? Don't you know he breathed a sigh of relief because he knew that he was going out of this ugly world in which we live into a world that is so beautiful that Christ could speak of it as a garden with trees and with flowers that meet every need.

God's Current Promise to Us

Turn, please, to the book of the Revelation, chapter 2, and notice verse 7. This is the third reference to Paradise in the Scripture, and this is a promise that is current. It is a promise that is given to every person who wants to accept it. This promise is for you if you want it. You can take it or leave it; it is up to you:

Revelation 2:

7He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.

There is the word Paradise again. What is the promise? “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” I say to you that this is God's promise to you right here.

Definition of Overcomer

Do I hear someone saying, “That is my problem; I am not an overcomer. I live a defeated life more than I live a victorious life. I am out of fellowship more than I am in fellowship.” Well, Friend, you have in your mind the wrong definition of what an overcomer is. An overcomer is not a person who is always victorious. That is the definition of an overcomer that the world gives, but it is not the definition of an overcomer that the Bible gives. I would like for you to turn to the first epistle of John for just a moment and notice the Bible's definition of an overcomer. I would not want any of you to miss the blessing of this particular promise; it is a wonderful promise indeed:

I John 5:

1Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.
2By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.
3For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
4For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.

Notice carefully this next verse:

I John 5:

5Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?

Victorious Life Possible for Overcomer

Who is an overcomer? An overcomer is one who places his faith and his trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Someone says, “Oh, then, you are saying that it really doesn't matter whether we live a victorious life or not.” Well, you are losing out if you don't because in this same paragraph the individual who is an overcomer is given the potential for living a victorious life. The overcomer can live a victorious life; he is able to. It is up to you whether you do or not. An overcomer is basically one who has placed his faith and his trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Are you an overcomer? God has given you a promise that if you are an overcomer, you can eat of the tree of life in the Paradise of God.

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