The Phases Of Heaven
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

As we have suggested to you, the prospect of Heaven is one that we love to talk about and one that we love to think about. We have discovered that, though Heaven is disputed by some of the world's so-called thinkers, it is so clearly designated in the Scripture that we cannot deny that there is a place called Heaven . It is desired by all sane thinking people.

Whenever we talk about Heaven, there is always one question that stands out above others. That question would be phrased something like this: “What is Heaven like? Describe Heaven for us.” In answering that question, we might deal with the matter in a very general way. But because we are interested in the accuracy of the Word of God, we might say, “Which phase of Heaven are you asking about?” If you are not familiar with your Bibles, you might say, “I don't know what you are talking about. What do you mean, ‘Which phase of Heaven are you asking about?'”

I am going to suggest that we examine what the Bible has to say about three phases of Heaven, for the Bible speaks of three phases. For want of a better way to express it, I am going to speak of the Heaven past, the Heaven present, and the Heaven permanent.

We touched upon these three phases of Heaven when we were reviewing the designations of Heaven which are given in the Scripture. You may not have been aware of it at the time, but when we were using the word Paradise , we were speaking about Heaven past. When we were using the term, the third Heaven , we were speaking about the Heaven present. When we used the term, the new Jerusalem , we were speaking about the Heaven permanent. So you see, if we went no further in our discussion than that, you would recognize that the Bible speaks of three phases of Heaven.

The Heaven Past

As we suggested, the word Paradise speaks to us of the Heaven past. We have learned that Heaven originally was in the heart of the earth. When we were studying the subject of Hell, we learned that Heaven actually was located in a place that is described in the Bible by the word Sheol in the Old Testament and by the word Hades in the New Testament. To this Heaven all the righteous dead went immediately when their spirits left their bodies.

There is a sense in which God is omnipresent, but we could not say, strictly speaking, that God dwelt in the Heaven past. For verification of that, let me ask you to turn to Psalm 139. Among other things which the Psalmist discusses for us in this Psalm are the omniscience and the omnipresence of God. The Psalmist says:

Psalm 139:

1O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me.
2Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off [That speaks of God's omniscience. He knows everything].
3Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.
4For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.
5Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.
6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.
7Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
8If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
9If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
10Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.

We call your attention particularly to verse 8:

Psalm 139:

8If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.

That speaks of the omnipresence of God. He is everywhere. David wrote this Psalm, and he said, “If I go to Paradise (located in Sheol; David was a righteous man and that is where he would go.), Thou art there, and if I go up into Heaven (Here he used the word that spoke of outer space.), You are there and you are everywhere.” So in the sense that God is omnipresent, God was to be found in the area of Heaven past, but He did not dwell there.

Loved Ones Reunited

We would like to emphasize that because it makes a difference between the Heaven of the past and the Heaven of the present. That is why in the Old Testament phrases describing men going to Heaven, they did not speak of their going to be with the Lord; they spoke of their going to be with their loved ones. Turn, please, to the book of Genesis, chapter 25, and notice what happened when Abraham died:

Genesis 25:

8Then Abraham gave up the Ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people.

Notice the last phrase, “He was gathered to his people.” Heaven for him was related to a reunion with loved ones.

Turn to the first book of Kings, chapter 2, and you will find another expression which was used in the Old Testament to describe what happened when people went to Heaven. You will notice the record that is given of David's leaving this life:

I Kings 2:

10So David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David.

Notice the phrase, “David slept with his fathers.” Abraham was gathered to his people; David slept with his fathers.

A Place of Rest

There is a more detailed description of Heaven past in the book of Job, if you will turn there, please, and notice in chapter 3 how Job spoke of what he knew he would find when he went to Heaven. I want you to keep these phrases in your mind because you will notice a distinct difference between the Heaven past and the Heaven present in just a few moments.

Job 3:

13For now should I have lain still and been quiet, I should have slept: then had I been at rest,
14With kings and counsellers of the earth, which built desolate places for themselves;
15Or with princes that had gold, who filled their houses with silver:
16Or as an hidden untimely birth I had not been; as infants which never saw light.

A Controversy at Present

May I pause at verse 16. There is a controversy raging, if that is not too strong a word, in Christendom today. The controversy is over whether or not unborn children are alive—whether they are souls or whether they become souls after they are born into the world. The controversy has many facets and many aspects, and one of the reasons for the unusual interest in it is the needless concern over the population explosion.

Many Christians advocate liberalizing abortion laws. The church has always stood against abortion except in cases where a mother's life has been at stake, believing that needless abortion is murder. Now individuals are coming along and trying to prove from the Word of God that there is no life until after the baby is born into the light of day. It seems that God thought there was because right here in verse 16 of the book of Job, chapter 3, Job speaks of individuals who are born prematurely and so die—individuals who have never seen the light of day. I believe this verse of Scripture is sufficient evidence that every baby born prematurely is with the Lord, and every child conceived in its mother's womb is a living soul from the moment of conception.

Job said that Heaven is a place where princes and kings are—that Heaven is a place where his friends are at rest. Heaven is a place, if you will look at verse 21, where people go:

Job 3:

21Which long for death, but it cometh not; and dig for it more than for hid treasures;

Job said, “Heaven is a place where I wish I could go because I am tired of life.” The thing that I have been trying to emphasize in these passages of Scripture is that Heaven past is a place where the righteous dead went, but it was not the place where God dwelt permanently.

Awaiting Something More Wonderful

This, I think, will become even more evident when we look at the Scriptures that deal with Heaven permanent because one of the glorious characteristics of Heaven permanent is that the tabernacle of God will be with men. Read Revelation, chapter 21, verse 3, when you have time. Examine chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews, verses 39 and 40, when you have time, and see if perhaps this is not what the Spirit of God had in mind when He emphasized the fact that Old Testament saints did not come into the perfect Heaven until after Calvary because “they without us [those of us who live on this side of Calvary] should not be made perfect” (verse 40). They were waiting for something more wonderful, and that more wonderful thing we are going to designate as Heaven present.

Heaven Past - Paradise

Lest you misunderstand me and perhaps misquote me, may I emphasize to you that the Heaven past was a place of rest and joy and peace and glory—everything that might be included in which you commonly think of as Heaven today. The difference is in its location, as will become evident as we look at what the Scripture has to say about the second phase of Heaven. I refer to this as Heaven present , and we learned when we were looking at the designations for Heaven that this was designated by the word Paradise . You will recall that when we were discussing with you the subject of Hell, we suggested that there was a release from Hell one time. We described that release as the time when the Lord Jesus Christ, between His death and His resurrection, went down to Hades and took everyone who was in Paradise back up to the third Heaven. “He led captivity captive,” plainly declares the Word of God. So we have to speak about the present Heaven in a different way from that in which we spoke about the past Heaven. We have to speak about it in a different way as far as location is concerned.

Heaven Past - Sheol

Turn with me, please, to the book of Genesis, chapter 37, and notice how Jacob felt about his son, Joseph. You remember that the brothers of Joseph came to Jacob and told him that Joseph had been killed by wild beasts. Of course, this was a lie, but the old man believed it, and in verse 34 we read:

Genesis 37:

34And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days.
35And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him.

Joseph's father wept for him. We pointed out to you when we were discussing the subject of Hell that the word Sheol in the Scriptures is often translated by the word grave , but it does not refer to a hole in the ground. It refers to the place of departed dead. When Jacob said, “I will go down into the grave,” he was saying, “I will go down into Sheol. My son Joseph is there. I want to be with him.” What did he say? He said, “I will go down,” because at that time, Heaven was in the center of the earth; Heaven is not now in the center of the earth; Heaven is in the Heavens. That is why the Apostle Paul said he was caught up to the third Heaven. Now when people die, we do not speak of their going down; we speak of their going up. We must do that because the present Heaven, as we have emphasized, has changed its location.

Heaven Present - With the Lord

Turn with me, please, to II Corinthians, chapter 5, as I suggest to you that we must change our phraseology with regard to this present Heaven, as far as the purpose of it is concerned. May I remind you that we have learned in the Old Testament that when Heaven was in the center of the earth, men spoke of being gathered to their fathers; they spoke of being gathered to their people; they spoke of being associated with ordinary human beings. You never find a New Testament writer speaking of Heaven in that way. Instead of being gathered to fathers and gathered to people, the hope of Heaven now is to be with the Lord.

II Corinthians 5:

8We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.

Notice the difference in the expression—not “gathered with fathers” or “gathered with people,” but “gathered with the Lord.”

If you will turn to Paul's letter to the Philippians, chapter 1, you will remember the personal testimony which the Apostle Paul gave:

Philippians 1:

23For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better:
24Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.

When Paul spoke of the present Heaven, he said, “I want to go to be with Christ.” That is what makes Heaven for New Testament believers. That is what makes Heaven for the saints of God today—to be with the Lord.

Description of Heaven Present

I want to describe for you in Scriptural terms what the Heaven of the past and the Heaven of the present—since the two are now combined—is actually like. There would not be time enough in any one session to describe in detail from every passage of Scripture what Heaven is like, so I want to give you three words that will describe this present Heaven—the Heaven to which the saints of God have gone since Calvary, the Heaven to which I trust you will go should the Lord Jesus Christ tarry.

Condition of the People - Conscious

If you examine the Word of God, you will be interested to find that very little is said about the place. When we come to the permanent Heaven, a whole lot is said about the place, but very little is said about this present Heaven. It is described in terms of the condition of the people, and of course that lets you know something about the place. If you know how the people are, you have a pretty good indication about the place. So let me suggest to you that the people in this present Heaven are conscious. They are very much alive. They are not dead. They do not sleep. They are not oblivious to what is going on.

Many things indicate their consciousness, but I would like to share one with you as it is described in Revelation, chapter 5. Turn there, please, and notice that the consciousness of these saints in Heaven is indicated by their ability to praise the Lord:

Revelation 5:

9And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;
10And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
11And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;
12Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, honour, and glory, and blessing.
13And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.

That they spend their time singing praises of the Lord is reason for believing that these saints are conscious, but we would not want you to think that Heaven is just one eternal choir practice. It is something even more practical than that. Turn, please, to chapter 7 of the book of the Revelation and notice verse 15, which is speaking of the people who are in Heaven:

Revelation 7:

15Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.

Condition of People - Comforted

Yes, the folk who are in Heaven today are conscious, as is indicated by the fact that they sing and the fact that they serve. But I want to give you another word to describe the condition of the people who are in Heaven and thus describe Heaven. That is the word comforted . They are not only conscious, but they are comforted. Turn to Revelation, chapter 14, and notice verse 13:

Revelation 14:

13And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.

They are resting from their labor, but by virtue of what I said a moment ago, you know that they are not unconscious. They are resting from all the labors of this earth, and rest here involves the idea of comfort, as is illustrated in Luke, chapter 16. When the rich man in Hell was talking to Abraham in Heaven, Abraham said, “Rich man, you remember that you had it good when you were upon the earth. Lazarus didn't, but now Lazarus is comforted and thou art tormented.” When we think of our loved ones in Heaven, it is so good to know that they are conscious. I would hate to think of my loved ones sleeping in a hole in the ground until Resurrection Day. They are singing, and they are serving, and they are comforted because they suffer no discomfort of any kind.

Condition of People - Cognizant

I want to give you a third word, and this word is related to a question that is so often asked about Heaven. I am going to use, for sake of alliteration, the word cognizant . They are conscious, they are comforted, they are cognizant. The word cognizant is not one we use every day. It simply means that they know what is going on. They know what is happening, these folk who are in Heaven. They are able to recognize with faculties not hampered by sin as they were when they lived on this earth.

They are able to recognize the Lord Jesus Christ. You say, “How would they know Him? They never saw Him? They never saw Him.” Job gave promise in chapter 19 that he expected to see the Lord with his own eyes—the Lord Jesus Christ, His Redeemer. Every saint of God who has passed through the gates is able to recognize the Lord Jesus Christ.

But more vitally important to most of us, because this statement I have just made is hardly ever disputed, more vitally important to most of us is that our loved ones in Heaven are able to recognize each other. In Hebrews, chapter 12, notice what is promised with regard to Heaven by the Spirit of God when He describes what lies out ahead of us:

Hebrews 12:

22But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,
23To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,

“You have waiting for you a grand reunion,” says the Savior, “with all the just men made perfect.” This reunion includes not only the recognition of loved ones and family, but it includes recognition of all the saints who have walked across the stage of the world. What a glorious time it will be to fellowship with all the saints who have gone on before, and what a wonderful time it will be to renew our family relationships.

Family Ties in Heaven

I am often asked, “Will we have families in Heaven?” The answer that is usually given is, “No, we won't have families in Heaven.” Someone asks, “Why not?” Someone else says, “Jesus said that they neither marry nor are given in marriage in Heaven,” and He did. But what He meant by that was that there will be no conjugal relationships in Heaven because one of the purposes of marriage per se is the reproduction of the earth. Sexual relationships will not be carried on, but that doesn't mean there will be no families. Why should it be any different from what it is here? Love, which is known upon the earth related to families and often best seen in families, will be manifested beyond all comprehension of mere mortal men. I would not be responsible on the basis of one passage of Scripture—that is the only one and it was quoted not for that purpose—for taking away the hope of the saints of God who have lived with a desire to being reunited with their loved ones in Heaven.

Awareness of What Happens on Earth

Let me suggest to you something that is disputed, but I believe it can be verified from the Word of God. When we think about the saints of God in Heaven as being cognizant of certain things, I would like to suggest to you that they are cognizant of what is going on here on this earth. I don't know how many times I have been asked, “Do the folk in Heaven really know what is going on here on the earth?” I believe they do, and I believe the Scripture proves that they do. For example, in the book of Revelation, chapter 6, there is a very good illustration of the fact that people know what is going on here on the earth.

Revelation 6:

9And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:

That means they were near the altar. It does not mean that there was an altar here and they were all crammed down under the altar as you might be crammed into the hold of a ship. He said, “I saw near the altar…”

Revelation 6:

10And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?

Here were the martyrs, and they said, “Lord, You are visiting judgment upon the earth. How long is it going to be before You judge the people who caused our death?” In verse 11, we read:

Revelation 6:

11And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

“Wait awhile,” God said, “everything that is supposed to happen on the earth has not yet happened.” Here is one concrete proof as far as I am concerned that folk know what is going on here on the earth.

In chapter 15 of the gospel of Luke, verse 7, and repeated three times in that chapter, is the statement that there is rejoicing in Heaven over one sinner who repents on the earth. Well, they must know about it, or they could not rejoice while they are in Heaven about something that happens on the earth.

You remember that when the Lord Jesus Christ was on the Mount of Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah came down and talked with Him. What do you think they talked about? Someone who doesn't know the story might say they talked about how wonderful Heaven is. No, they didn't; they talked about when Jesus was going to die on the Cross. They knew what was going on here on the earth.

Knowing of Trouble - Yet Happy

There is one thing that may trouble you because it troubles most people, and it is this: If the folk in Heaven know what is going on on the earth, how can they be happy? I don't have a specific passage of Scripture to which I could ask you to turn, so all I can do is to make a suggestion and you can reconcile it in whatever way you wish. One thing that we know, and we will see in a moment, is that the saints in Heaven know things that we upon the earth may not know. You know what I mean. Something happens to you today and you cannot understand it, but six months from now you understand it. If you could look down the corridors of time six months, you would understand it the day it happens. In Heaven you will have knowledge as God has knowledge, and because you know the end from the beginning, that which may seem sad to you now will not seem sad at all. The other suggestion I could make is that since there is no unhappiness in Heaven, and since we know that folk know what is going on on the earth, if it is not that they have full knowledge, as I have just suggested, then God restricts what they are able to see.

There is one last thing that I would like to leave with you in regard to the fact that the saints of God are cognizant. It is brought to our attention in I Corinthians, chapter 13. They not only will recognize the Lord and recognize one another, they not only will be conscious of what is going on here on the earth, but according to I Corinthians, chapter 13, they will understand what they could not understand upon the earth. This verse has many implications:

I Corinthians 13:

12For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

Did you ever try to look through a window that was dirty? Oh, you could see a little, but you couldn't see much. And then did you ever have a window that was so clean you were not sure whether or not there was glass in the window? My, what a difference in the way you could see. That is what Paul is talking about here. He said, “While we live on this earth, it is like looking through dirty windows; you can't see things too clearly. But when you get up there, you will be able to see a whole lot better. Now you can know only in part, but then you will be able to know even as you are known.”

Full Understanding of Past

This brings a great deal of comfort to my heart. Did you ever hurt someone and wish you had not? Somehow you never could explain to him that you did not mean to hurt him. It just happened that way. You made a mistake. You did not know what you were doing. Maybe he left this earth without your ever being able to explain to him how you felt about it. Well, he knows now. He knows now because in Heaven, they know everything they need to know. I am not going to pursue that thought any further because our time is gone, but it brings a great deal of comfort to my heart that the folk whom I love who are with the Lord, whom I may have hurt and to whom I have not been able to give proper explanation, understand everything now. This is Heaven, and I am going there. I hope you are.

When I was first converted, I did not know anything about theology, the Bible, or anything. All I knew was that I was saved. Every time I asked a question of someone that I thought knew anything about the Bible, I would preface the question with this statement: “Now, I am going to Heaven, and nothing is going to stop me; but I want to know about this.” Well, I didn't know then why nothing could stop me, but there was one thing I knew, and it has never changed. I know I am going there. I wish all of you had that same assurance. You can have it if you will receive the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior.


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