Paradise and heaven

This chapter needs to be read with chapter 27, pertaining to the end times of our universe, to get the total picture and get a better understanding of the destiny of believers.

A. HOW MUCH DO WE UNDERSTAND ABOUT LIFE HEREAFTER?

In describing to us what Paradise, heaven and the new heavens and earth will be like, is rather difficult for the Lord must use human words to describe things that only exist in another world.

If Moses, for instance had to tell the people of his time about future things such as television, cell phones, aircraft, etc., he would have had to find things known to them to which he could compare these unknown phenomena. To describe a cell phone, he might have said that it was a dove that could take a message, tied to its leg from mount Sinai to Ramses in Egypt in the time it takes a human being to blink his eye once. Even that illustration would not fully describe the wonder of this little instrument. If the reader would interpret the words literally, he would have had to try to picture some sort of super, super dove. That interpretation would raise even more questions. The wiser reader would have said “Moses is saying that, at that time, there will be means of conveying messages to people in distant places in the twinkling of an eye.”

So we can see how difficult it was for the Lord Jesus, the prophets, Paul, Peter and John, to describe eternity in terms of things known to us. We must therefore study every passage carefully to see whether we should interpret it literally or figuratively for we may err both ways.

B. PARADISE; THE CHRISTIAN’S TEMPORARY ABODE

 What happens to a Christian when he dies? This question is clearly answered in Luk 16:19-31. Please read it carefully before reading the following comments.

  1. The truth about heaven/Paradise

There are so many stories told of people that had “died, been to heaven and returned” to tell of their experiences and these are lapped up and books relating these stories sell by their millions, but these tales contradict one another and should rather not be taken seriously.

This portion of Scripture, however, is real, it is not just a parable, and tells us of two real people that lived and died and describes what happened to them. Now let us see what happens to a Christian after death. 

  1. Man’s spirit leaves his body

Just as with all other people that die, Lazarus’s body remained on earth for flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.

And I say this, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does corruption inherit incorruption. (1Cor 15:50).

Lazarus would have been grateful to have escaped from his body which continually suffered pangs of hunger, was covered with painful festering sores and inadequately protected by rags against the cold.

  1. His spirit was transported by angels to Paradise/heaven.

His dead body might have been eaten by the dogs that had been licking his wounds or dumped with the rubbish outside the city, but his spirit was transported beyond the clouds, not by an earthly hearse, but by magnificent angels; not just by one, but by more than one, for he was an important and well-known citizen of the Kingdom of God, his name being written in the Book of Life.

  1. He was taken to Abraham  

On earth he had been a lonely man, for no-one wanted such a despicable friend, certainly not the rich owner of the mansion at who’s gate he was lying.

He had been despised by one and all, but now he was specially honoured by being given a seat so close to the father of believers, the friend of God, that he could lean against his bosom.  At last, he had a very special friend who knew what it was to be separated from family and friends and knew the agony of waiting patiently on God to be rewarded.

  1. He received comfort and all the other good things which Christ procured for him by his death on the cross.

On earth he daily looked upon the rich man and his glory; now he was, in turn, enjoying heavenly glories.

  1. Would he have seen the Lord Jesus?  

Nothing is specifically said about this aspect, but Luke sheds some light on this issue in his recording of what transpired between Jesus and the robber at Golgotha. Both were within hours of death and Jesus promised him that they would, on that same day be together in Paradise.

And Jesus said to him, Truly I say to you, Today you shall be with Me in Paradise. Luk 23:43

If the robber was to be with Jesus, it would be fair to deduct that Lazarus was with Jesus also and so will every believer be the moment he dies on earth.

But here is a question: After Jesus’ resurrection He ascended to heaven and if heaven and Paradise are different places (see par 6) He would not now be in Paradise, which means that Lazarus would not see him? The answer is that the Lord Jesus is once more omnipresent as He has been for eternity. After his resurrection He appeared to many believers and so could He do to believers in Paradise.

Since there is such a close bond between believers and Christ, it is unthinkable that He would not be accessible to them in Paradise.

  1. Is there a difference between Paradise and heaven? 

Interpreters of Scripture differ on this issue. Some say that Paradise and Hades are places where the disembodied souls of people will be kept until the second coming of Christ when both places will be emptied, and the residents receive new bodies. Thereafter Christians will bodily be accepted into the final heaven while unbelievers will bodily be cast into hell.

Well, whether Paradise is temporary or not, it will be a place of glory. (If it is good enough for Abraham, Elijah and Moses, it is good enough for you and me.) 

  1. Is “Paradise” a place (and where is it)?

Is Paradise a physical place or just a condition of bliss?

Firstly, human spirits, such as the spirit of Abraham and that of Lazarus, are not omnipresent, they cannot just be somewhere out there; they can only be at a certain place at any specific time, therefore Paradise, as well as heaven, must be definite places, related to our universe.

Paradise (and heaven) might encompass the entire universe but at least they are somewhere away from the earth because they are often referred to as being in an upward direction and since the earth is more or less round, this would mean “away from the earth”.

And looking up to Heaven, He sighed and said to him, Ephphatha! (that is, Be opened!) (Mar 7:34).

And He took the five loaves and the two fish. And looking up to Heaven, He blessed them and broke, and He gave to the disciples to set before the crowd. (Luk 9:16).

And saying these things, as they watched, He was taken up. And a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they were looking intently into the heaven, He having gone, even behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them, (Act 1:9,10).

  1. How does a spirit experience Paradise?

Spirits are recognizable to one another and experience it as if in bodily form just as those in Hades (hell) do, for the rich man suffered pain because of the fire in which he was and thirst because of his lack of water. 

  1. Do Christians that die, not just go to sleep until the day of resurrection of their bodies?

Definitely not, for Jesus said to the robber that on that same day he would be with him in Paradise and when Lazarus died the angels right away took him to the bosom of Abraham where he was comforted (Luk 23:43 and Luk 16:22).

The words “sleep” and “asleep” are used figuratively denoting death (Joh 11:11). A sleeping person is “dead” unto the world around him in the sense that he does not react to it, same as a dead person. 

C. HEAVEN; GOD’S FIXED ABODE

  1. Matters already dealt with

The following matters that have been dealt with in par. B above, also pertain to heaven/the New Jerusalem and will therefore not be repeated:

        • It is not just s state, it is a place (B7).
        • Where it is (B7).
        • Do Christians first sleep (B9)?

So, let us now look at other aspects. 

  1. Heaven itself

 Most of what is said of heaven, is found in the Book of Revelation and some in Ezekiel (depending on how you interpret that book). However, not all that much is said in terms of describing heaven itself. It rather deals with happenings there and on earth during the final period of the story of man’s rebellion and restoration when the redeemed are finally settled in the New Jerusalem. More is actually said about the New Jerusalem than about heaven itself.

The following information is given:

      • Who are there?
        • The Father (Rev 4:2,3).
        • The 24 elders (Rev 4:4).
        • The Holy Spirit (Rev 4:5).
        • The 4 living beings (Rev 4:6-8).
        • The Lord Jesus (Rev 5:6).
        • Myriads of angels (Rev 5:11).
        • Redeemed people from every tribe, tongue, people and nation (Rev 5:9).
      • What are they engaged in?
        • The Father divulges his plan for bringing the present dispensation to a close, handing over to the Son the written document containing instructions as to what is to happen down below as well as in heaven leading up to the White throne judgment and the New Jerusalem (Rev 5:1).
        • The Son, who earned the right to do so, breaks the seal of the scroll and sets the plan in motion (Rev 5:5; 6:1).
        • The Holy Spirit and angels go forth to carry out the plan (Rev 6:2 etc.).
        • Much of the time is dedicated to the worshipping of the Father and the Son by the elders, living beings, angels and human beings (Rev 4:8; 5:8-14 etc.) In this, the Lord Jesus is often praised for his work on the cross.

 D. THE NEW JERUSALEM 

Before Jesus ascended to heaven, He said to his disciples that his Father’s house consisted of many mansions and that He was going to prepare a place for them (Joh 14:2,3) and would then come and fetch them so that they could be where He is. This dwelling place would seem to be the New Jerusalem.

(Please read Rev 21:1 – 22:5 before considering the following comments)

  1. IT IS COMPARED TO A CITY 
        • Its name: The New Jerusalem

Jerusalem was the capitol city of God’s earthly kingdom, the most important dwelling place of his people, so it makes sense that the eternal abode of his people be named after it.

        • Why compared to a city?

It is compared to a city because a city is where millions of people group and live together; so, the emphasis is on the people and not on the walls, streets, buildings etc.

        • The building costs of the city

The foundations are adorned with precious stones, the entrances each consisting of one tremendous pearl and the one and only street made of pure gold, being transparent as glass. Most of these materials are, to men, unobtainable and unaffordable. These are the gifts which the heavenly Bridegroom purchased for his bride by his death on the cross – absolutely unique.

        • The entrances to the city

When Israel put up camp, each tribe was assigned a specific place, grouped around the tabernacle where God was; so, they were spread evenly around the tabernacle. The twelve entrances, three on each of the four sides, each bearing the name of a tribe (21:1,13) denote the unhindered entrance of all of God’s people to him.

        • The walls and the angels at the entrances

Both of these assure the inhabitants that they are absolutely safe; there was no need for gates to be opened and closed for they would have the supernatural protection of the almighty God.

        • The city is in the form of a cubit with each side being the same length.

The equal length, breadth and height may pertain to the triune God Who is surrounding his people; they are all within him.

        • This city is all about God’s people

In the Bible, the number 12 applies to the people of God and their overseers. Now note how many times this number is used.

            • The 12 tribes of Israel (21:12) bear on the Old Testament believers,
            • The 12 apostles (21:14) represent the NT church – so all believers are accounted for.
            • The city’s measurements assure that all of God’s people will find a place within: the length of the walls are 12 thousand stadia; their breadth is 144 (12×12) cubits thick (21:17). There are 12 layers in the walls (21:19-20) and 12 gates in the city (21:21). The length, breadth and height are the same (21:16). The city will be a perfect cube, just like the Most Holy Place in the temple (1 Kings 6: 20); it is specially designed and built for God’s people.
        • The Light
          • Verse 22:4. There will be no street lights, nor light from the heavenly bodies.

Light is spoken of figuratively denoting principles and direction for living. God’s will is perfect in every respect. You could not do any better for yourself than doing as He directs – walking in His light. So, there will be no need for other sources of information, thoughts or guidelines to live by. God’s Word is perfect (Ps 119:96, 99; 105, 140).

        • A river flowing with living waters

Verse 22:1. This is a river of life and joy. When the Holy Spirit enters the heart of a person, life and joy floods his soul. It is like a traveler traversing a barren waterless country, then stumbles upon a clear cool mountain stream. He cups his hands and drinks and delights in it.

Compare this verse with what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman; that He could give her living water that would quench her (spiritual) thirst forever for that water would be in her a well of water springing up into everlasting life – into eternity (Joh 4:10,14).

And at a feast held at Jerusalem, Jesus cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes on Me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (Joh 7:37,38). That He said referring to the Holy Spirit that would be poured out on the Day of Pentecost.

        • The Tree of Life

Verse 22:2,14. Compare with Gen 2:9. When man sinned, he was no longer allowed to eat of the Tree of Life and live forever. He was cut off from the life that flows from God.

Ezek 47:12 states that this tree will bear, not only life-giving fruit but also healing leaves. (On earth the leaves of certain plants are used for healing purposes). This does not mean that there will be sickness in the city but that wherever the river flows, it brings health and wholeness – it simply depicts the ample goodness flowing from the Throne which is from God himself.

        • No sinners nor sin

Verses 21:8,9,27; 22:15.  One can almost say, “Too good to be true.” Never to be tempted to sin; never to have the urge to do your own will; never again to suffer under the sinful acts or neglect of other people nor of governments against whom you are powerless.

Thank you, Lord. How we look forward to the New Jerusalem.

        • Nothing cursed by God

Verse 22:3. Since there will be no sin, there will be no need for anyone or anything to be under God’s curse.

        • No sorrow nor tears

Verse 7:17; 21:4. In certain translations the word “tears” appears 28 times. This is a planet of sorrow and tears. The first thing a baby does when he enters this world, is, not to laugh, but to cry. How many times have you wept during your lifetime? How often did you have to wipe away your own tears and get on with your life because no-one else would do it for you? When you arrive in the New Jerusalem, the Lord will not even allow one of the angels to wipe away the tears from your eyes and cheeks; no, He will personally do it for you.

        • Forever see his Face

Verse 22:4. This I consider to be the essence of being in heaven and in the New Jerusalem. It is not the glory of the place, not the pearly entrances nor the golden street but the Persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit that will enthrall us. Heaven is where God is and where God is, is heaven. For the first 1000 years all we will want to do is to sit at his feet and look into his face for therein is fullness of joy. 

2. IT IS COMPARED TO A BRIDE

Here the picture changes and the people of God are not seen as a city, but as a bride. Never in the history of man has there been such a beautiful bride or a bride so beautifully adorned for her bridegroom. The Lord Jesus’s bride was beguiled and abducted by his adversary, the devil, in Paradise, but He fought for het through the ages, won her back, one person at a time over a period of more than 6000 years, gaining the final victory on the cross and now the Heavenly Groom and the earthly wife are ready to be married. Hallelujah!

3. IT IS COMPARED TO A TABERNACLE

When Israel trekked through the wilderness, the tabernacle in which God dwelt was always pitched right in the center of the lager. They were however barred from entering the Holiest of all because Jesus had not yet paid the price for their sin, but now He would “tabernacle” unhindered with them, fellow-shipping with his beloved holy people 24/7.

4. NO TEMPLE

To approach God the priests had to cleanse themselves then enter the first section of the temple which was close to where God lived but now there would be no need of a temple because every believer would be “in Christ” (2 Cor 5:17).

5. REWARDS

This topic is dealt with in the chapter on the end times and the return of Jesus (Chap 27).

E. THE NEW EARTH AND STARRY HEAVENS

Let us consider the following Scripture verses:

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. And the sea no longer is. And I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of Heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her Husband. (Rev 21:1,2)

  1. The first heaven and earth will have passed away

How will this come to pass? The apostle Peter explains:

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a rushing noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat. And the earth and the works in it will be burned up. (2 Pe 3:10).

Once the earth has been emptied of all human life as seen previously, it will be totally consumed by fire, together with every heavenly body in the starry heavens. Not only will things on the surface be destroyed but the bodies themselves will be destroyed, the very atoms, the building blocks by which they were constructed at creation. The energy will return to God and nothing material will be left in the entire universe; no, the universe will cease to exist; only that which is in heaven and hell will remain. It could perhaps be compared to a star that implodes upon itself and becomes a mere speck of material with indescribable mass (weight).

  1. A new heaven and a new earth

The first heaven and earth were good when created; they only got corrupted and cursed because of man’s sin.

Ever since the fall of man, creation has suffered in so many ways: thorns and thistles, droughts, diseases attacking plants and animals, natures catastrophes such as earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. and perhaps most of all, man’s disregard for preserving the fauna and flora. This is what God says about it:

For the earnest expectation of the creation waits for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creation was not willingly subjected to vanity, but because of Him who subjected it on hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. And we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now. (Rom 8:19-22).

Now that a forever holy nation of mankind is established, God can also liberate nature and continue with his plan of a physical creation under the care of man, for that was what He originally had in mind and that which He purposes He fulfills although his plans are temporally thwarted.

The new heavens here spoken of, are of course the starry heavens and not the heaven where God lives for that heaven was never corrupted by sin. 

  1. The New Jerusalem descends

It descends from heaven. Onto what? Onto the new earth for there is no other explanation, reading it in context.

We have seen before (D1) that this New Jerusalem is not so much seen as a city, but as a concentration of people, of God’s people. They are now coming to take possession of the mansion which God prepared for them. 

  1. The Bridegroom and Bride in their new home

The Bride has now married the Heavenly Bridegroom. In the following verse the Bride is for the first time called the WIFE of the Lamb.

And one of the seven angels who had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, Come here, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.  (Rev 21:9).

The marriage feast of the Lamb has been held (Rev 19:7) and now they are going to live undisturbed forever. Both the Bride and Bridegroom went through many tribulations but now enjoy the fruit of their sufferings and efforts.

Man will no longer be a sexual being and there will be no marriages since both former males and females will, as members of the Bride, be married to Christ. 

  1. Bodies and movement

Jesus, after his resurrection, could appear to humans, but also disappear. He apparently could move effortlessly from once location to another as if in another dimension for He appeared to people in different places. When He appeared to 500 brothers at once or at the same time, were they together or separate?

 Afterward He was seen by over five hundred brothers at once, of whom the greater part remain until this present day, but also some fell asleep (1Co 15:6).

He could eat human food – could He go without food? He could ascend to heaven.

So, the question now arises what our abilities will be on the new earth.

Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is. (1 Jn 3:2).

Will we be able to appear and disappear? Will we be able to move right through material objects? Will we be able to visit heaven? Will we be able to travel to the furthest star in the universe in a split second? What will the new heavens and earth look like?

Well we do not have the answers to these questions, but they surely open up exciting possibilities. We certainly will not be bored!

The new paradise will have no borders. The starry heavens will be open to be explored at will. Traveling all over the universe will be normal, even exploring the nuclea cauldrons of the brightest stars.

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