This sermon is number 4 in a series of 5
101 Christian Questions - Part 4
"Life After Death"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2009 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
We have covered quite a lot of ground, I'm sure you'll agree, in four nights. We started off looking at 'The Problem of Evil', and why God allowed it, suffering, pain etc. Why He created Lucifer, and created Adam and Eve for that matter, and humanity in general, when He knew what was all going to happen - that is, the fall and suffering? The next night we looked at specific problems that some people see in the Bible, questions, and we tried to answer those, and also how best to learn the Bible, and issues of personal assurance - like: what is a backslider, a carnal Christian, a counterfeit believer and so on? Then last evening we took the whole night looking at what is a very controversial but very necessary subject to deal with, that is: divorce and remarriage. Tonight we're looking at the afterlife, or heaven and hell - but more heaven, it has to be said, than hell, you'll be glad to know!
Now one very commonly quoted verse of Scripture in relation to heaven in particular, and you often hear it in prayer meetings, is 1 Corinthians 2:9-10, which reads: "But as it is written: 'Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him'" - and that's often where they end the quotation. The inference that is often made is that, there's very little we can know about heaven. You may have heard it said by some that the Bible doesn't tell us an awful lot about heaven, and even the remark: 'Heaven is unimaginable'. Now I would agree that, I'm sure, many many aspects of heaven are unimaginable - but it is wrong, and a misconception, to say that all of it is unimaginable and that the Bible has little to say about it, because that is not the case.
In fact, that quotation, 'Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him', the next verse which is connected to that previous verse reads thus: 'But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God'. So that passage actually goes on to say the opposite of what people use that verse to say, that we can't really know anything about heaven - where, in fact, Paul is saying: 'Well, it doesn't enter into the natural senses from our wisdom, but God has revealed by His Spirit to us, for His Spirit searches all the deep things of God and reveals them to us'.
So really what I'm saying to you is that there is more that has been revealed about heaven than most believers have realised. So, in answering these questions tonight, you might get a bit of a revelation yourself about some aspects - but I would encourage you to search the scriptures, as we encouraged you last night, just like the Bereans, and find out what the Bible has to say about heaven. You will be surprised how much it actually does contain.
Now, there are three questions for us to consider tonight, and we'll take them each at a time as we have done on previous evenings. The first question is in John 11:14: when Lazarus died the second time - OK? So he died the first time in John 11:14, but obviously he died again at some stage. When he died the second time, the questioner is asking, did that mean there were two souls waiting for him in heaven? They quote 2 Corinthians 5 and verse 8, which reads: 'We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord'. The second question, the questioner has put in relation to Luke chapter 16, which you may or may not know is a story the Lord Jesus told about a rich man and a beggar called Lazarus. The rich man went to hell and Lazarus went to heaven. The questioner asks in Luke 16: can believers now who are in heaven look down on loved ones who are on earth and see what they're doing? The third question is the big one, and we'll spend the majority of our time tonight on it, and that is: will we know our family, will we know one another in heaven?
So let's deal with them one at a time as we have done each night, and God willing, I hope that with the Lord's help we'll answer these questions. The first one in John 11:14, where Lazarus dies the first time, the questioner asks: when Lazarus died the second time, did that mean there were two souls waiting for him in heaven? They quote 2 Corinthians 5 verse 8, as I said: 'We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord'. Now I suspect that from this question this questioner - and by the way, this is not in any way a rebuke or censure, because I was taught at school (whether it was just because I was stupid, I don't know) but there are no stupid questions! If you have a question in your mind you should ask it, and if it is not perhaps a good question you'll find out pretty quickly! But it's important that you ask it and get it answered. I suspect there's a misunderstanding here in the mind of the questioner concerning the nature of the soul.
You don't get a soul when you die, but neither do you have a soul - I think that's an unfortunate term that we use as Christians - you are a soul. Do you understand? The soul is not something that you get when you die, and neither is it something that you have - as if you're carrying this entity around in your body that belongs to you, and it's sort of an impersonal thing - rather the soul is who you are. Now the Bible, I believe, teaches that we are made up of three parts. The technical word for that is 'tripartite', or a 'trichotomy' - we are made up of body, soul and spirit. I think that can be borne out by some scriptures, particularly 1 Thessalonians 5:23, and Hebrews 4 verse 12. Nevertheless, basically the body is the world-conscious part of us, the physical aspect to us. It's how we relate to this environment around us, the material world, and that happens through the senses. So the body is the world-conscious part, the soul is the self-conscious part of our humanity - that's who we are, and how we know who we are. It's really the seat of the personality, and it's made up of three aspects: the intellect, that is the mind; the emotions, which you could describe as the heart; and the will, the volition, what we do with it. So that is what makes up the soul - the mind, the heart and the will. But there is another part of the human being, the spirit - and the spirit is that which is God-conscious and relates to God.
This is a tricky one, and there are times in the Bible when they seem to - spirit and soul - be talking about the same thing; but one of the reasons, I suspect, for that is that when man fell into sin - I don't want to spend any time on this - but when man fell into sin, he was cut off from God in fellowship. Therefore his spirit, like the top floor of a three-storey building, the spirit crumbled into the second floor, and he became essentially a self-worshipper and selfish. His soul related to his body, and his body related to his soul - his mind, his intellect, and his will - and really didn't want to relate to God any more. That's what it means when it says man 'died' in the Garden. He didn't physically die immediately - and, by the way, 'death' in the Bible does not mean ceasing to exist, 'death' in the Bible means 'separation'. So his spirit did not cease to exist, but it was cut off from God. We'll not go into that any more, but just so that you understand what the soul is.
So, when the believer dies, you don't get a soul - because that would mean you'd be getting your personality which you'd lived with all your life, and who you really are. 'Soul' is just, I suppose, another word for 'life' - you've had life. But what happens when a believer dies is, their soul and their spirit go to God, and they await a new body which they will receive at the resurrection when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. So if that was your question, it's good that you've asked it, but I hope that you do understand that the soul is not something that you get when you go to heaven, but it's something that you are now and you always will be.
That's the first question quickly answered, the second: Luke 16, can believers now look down to see what loved ones are doing on the earth, look down from heaven? Now again, I'm not sure how the questioner has derived from Luke chapter 16 this question. The reason being, there is no indication in Luke chapter 16 of people from heaven looking down on earth. What you have is, essentially, Abraham looking from Paradise into hell, and talking to a man in hell; and you have a man in hell looking into Paradise and talking to a man, essentially, in heaven, Abraham - but we don't have anyone looking from heaven onto the earth. But though that may not be the case in Luke 16, it is a valid question: can people in heaven look down on people on earth? Sometimes you hear people throwing away this remark: 'Oh, so and so will be looking down on me', and there is this concept that this may be the case.
Now the person may mean, and maybe they've written their question down wrong or I have misunderstood it, maybe they have meant: do those in heaven see those in hell and vice versa? Which is what happens in Luke chapter 16, it would appear. Well, I haven't got time to answer that tonight, it might be answered in a roundabout way as we go through this - that's quite a big subject - but we will deal with earth this evening, and if you want to invite me back to answer that one, well, you'll have to catch me before I run! The earth, do people in heaven see people on the earth? Well, the answer, in a sense, is yes - not so much they see, but they are aware of some of what is going on on earth. To some extent we do know that people in heaven are aware of certain things that are happening on earth.
Now that might surprise you, but if you turn with me to show you this from God's Word, to Revelation chapter 6, you will see this very clearly. Revelation chapter 6 and beginning to read at verse 9, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only One worthy to open the seal of, really, the conclusion of humanity, opens in verse 9 the fifth seal, which is the cry of the martyrs: 'He opened the fifth seal', Revelation 6 verse 9, 'I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, 'How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?' Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed'.
Now there are a number of obvious inferences in this passage. Here are martyrs who have been killed for the testimony of Jesus and the word of God, and they are praying for justice and, indeed, judgement on their persecutors. Now they are dead, and so they are believers, therefore they are in heaven, they're under the altar which would indicate the altar in heaven - and it's suggesting that these saints in heaven are praying for suffering saints on earth as well, their brothers and their fellow servants who are being persecuted for the faith of Jesus Christ. That's very interesting, because we know of people here on earth who pray for the dead; but here we have the dead praying for the living! That's a subject all on its own.
In verse 11 these folk, martyrs, are praying, and God answers their question. Let me just say in passing that that tells us that you don't know everything in heaven, and often you will hear the remark: 'Well, we'll know when we get to heaven' - well, will you? You will not have omniscience when you get to heaven, only One has omniscience and that is God. We will be learning in heaven, and we heard the other evening how the countless ages of eternally, it will take it all, which will never end, to expound the great grace of our God toward us. So we will be continually learning in heaven. So God answers the question, and He says in verses 10 and 11, they're crying out in verse 10: 'How long, O Lord?'. Incidentally, here's another thing in passing, 'the trumpet of the Lord shall sound and time shall be no more' - wrong! Time shall not be no more: how long? That is a temporal phrase, 'How long must we wait?'. The Lord basically answers by saying: 'Wait a little longer'.
Wait a little longer for what? Well, that is the resurrection at the coming of our Lord Jesus, and the consummation of all things when this world will be judged. But what I want you to see also in verse 11 is that 'fellow servants' and 'brothers' are mentioned, which also indicates that these folk - who are dead, and praying, and aware that their brothers and sisters in Christ are still being persecuted on the earth, and aware that there is a need for justice and judgement upon their oppressors - are also aware of fellow servants and brothers, and they still retain their relationship to them. Now that is interesting, isn't it? That correlates with Luke chapter 16, because you remember that the rich man who was in hell cried out that Lazarus might be sent back to his five brothers, who were still living, and tell them to repent and believe lest they come also to that place of torment. So the rich man in hell was conscious of his five brothers and, therefore, in the afterlife, even whether you're in hell or heaven, you still retain your relational ties to a certain extent.
Now, we have proven, I believe, from Revelation 6, that people in heaven are aware of certain things on the earth, they know certain things. But the question is: can they see? Well, I am convinced that they can't see everything, but perhaps they do see some things. Let me show you this, if you turn with me please to Luke chapter 9 verses 30 and 31, we read of the Transfiguration of our Lord. You remember He took Peter, James and John up the Mount: 'And behold', verse 30 of Luke chapter 9, 'behold two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem'. So here you have Moses and Elijah appearing with the Lord Jesus, and Moses and Elijah appear to be fully aware of the drama that they have just stepped into. Do you understand? They're talking with Jesus about the decease, His death that He is about to accomplish in Jerusalem. They are talking with Him about it, so they are aware to some extent of God's redemptive plan.
Where did they come from? They came from heaven. Now, I beg of you, surely when they returned to heaven they remembered what had just happened? That they had met the Lord Jesus, the Messiah, you remember, that their whole ministry was pointing to - and they had talked to Him about this great event, the greatest event of all time, the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus. They're bound to have remembered the discussion in heaven. So they are aware, to some extent, in heaven, what's going on on the earth.
Another verse, you don't need to turn to it, Hebrews 12 and verse 1: 'Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us'. Now, what the author to the Hebrews is painting for us in our mind's eye is the picture of a stadium. He's already using the analogy that we, as Christians, are like athletes, and we're running a race - but he is painting a picture of this great stadium, and the witnesses around, spectators, are described as surrounding us. Not merely preceding us, going before us in a chronological sense, but the term that is being used is: it's as if they are witnessing our performance. Now that may not be literal, but what it certainly does mean is that there is a great crowd of deceased witnesses who are witnessing God's unfolding drama of redemption. So, what I'm really saying is: I do believe that people in heaven, the dead believers who are in heaven, are aware of the sequence of calendar events in God's plan of redemption. I'm not saying that they know when the Lord is coming, I'm not saying they know when the tribulation's going to be, and who the Antichrist is going to be - I'm not saying that, but I'm just saying that they are aware, as events happen on earth that correspond to prophetic literature, that they are aware in heaven, as we ought to be aware because we have the Bible down here on earth.
Another example we could cite - it may be a bit tenuous, but nevertheless it may indicate this - Luke chapter 15:10, I'll just read it: 'Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents' - and that's the great chapter of the lost things, the lost coin, the lost sheep, the lost son - and there is great joy. We need to read the scriptures carefully, it doesn't say that there is great joy with the angels - it doesn't say the angels have great joy in heaven, it says there is great joy among the angels, or in the presence of the angels in heaven; and that could infer that it is those who are among the angels in heaven, dead believers, who are rejoicing over even one sinner who repents. Now, you may or may not agree with that, but nevertheless heaven is aware of something that is happening on earth - and those parables would indicate that heaven is aware even of one sinner who repents. Do you think a party could go on in heaven and the believers not know about it? If we were to look at believers down here, perhaps that might be the case, but not in heaven! Not in heaven.
The question could be asked: if people in heaven are aware to some extent of what's going on on earth, how could it be that they are aware of bad things on earth? That's a valid question, but I think such a question, with the inference behind it that, you know, you can't think about bad things in heaven, is a dubious one. The idea that knowledge of suffering and evil in heaven, the idea that the knowledge of that will make us not happy doesn't figure. Let me show you: God is aware and knows everything bad that is going on, but it does not diminish heaven for Him - 'Ah, but He's God'. OK, well, the angels know a great deal of what's going on down here, because they are among us, they are among us tonight we believe - but it doesn't diminish the joy of heaven for them. You say, 'But they're angels'. OK, Abraham and Lazarus. Abraham, in Luke 16, and Lazarus in Paradise - they were aware of the rich man in hell, but it was still Paradise for them.
Now, this is where confusion comes in with regards to our understanding of heaven as Christians, because when we talk about heaven, half times we don't understand - let alone others - whether we're talking about what some have defined as 'the intermediate heaven', or 'the eternal state'. Now let me explain that to you: 'intermediate heaven' - and it's a bad term, but it's one that helps us to differentiate - 'intermediate heaven' is the place where the believer goes when they die now, but that is not the eternal state. The eternal state is described in prophetic scripture as 'a new heaven and a new earth'. Now, that has not come into being yet, and nor will it come into being until our Lord Jesus returns and, I believe, after a thousand year reign - it will not come into being until then. This old earth will have to be rejuvenated, it will be burnt up, Peter says, with a fervent heat, and there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Now, people will quote about heaven, and read at funeral services - and I've done it myself - Revelation 21. Of course, that tells us: 'God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away' - that is in reference to the eternal state, a new heaven and a new earth. In that eternal state we will have new bodies, but people who die in Christ, fall asleep in Christ now, they don't have a body in a completely physical sense - that's another debate, but their soul and spirit does go to heaven, to where God is now, but that is not the place where we will dwell for all eternity.
That's a whole other subject but, nevertheless, what I'm trying to get at is: we've read from Revelation 6, and we can almost feel the anguish, can't we, the martyrs beneath the altar praying for vengeance upon the enemies of God? That's heaven, now, and I believe that folk in heaven are aware of ramifications regarding the redemptive plan of God. We should not be afraid of that, because the knowledge of negative things, for God, for Christ, for the angels, for Abraham and Lazarus, and I believe for everyone else in heaven, does not rob them of the joy and the ecstasy of what the intermediate heaven is for them now. One writer puts it like this: 'Happiness in heaven is not based on ignorance, but on perspective' - and that's good. Happiness in heaven - and I admit that people in heaven don't know everything that's happening on earth, neither do they see it - I don't think they're ignorant of everything that is going on on the earth, even some of the bad things, but we should not assume that that robs them of heaven.
Consider this: the greater work of heaven will be to enable us to see difficult things as they are, perhaps, presently on earth, but enable us to see them through the eyes of God - to see them as He sees them. Maybe you think I'm pushing boundaries here tonight, but I don't believe I am. If you turn with me to Revelation 19 now, please, just before the Lord Jesus Christ comes to the earth and returns to judge the world, in Revelation 19 we read of the fall of Babylon. Verse 1: 'After these things I heard a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, 'Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to the Lord our God! For true and righteous are His judgments, because He has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication; and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her'. Again they said', that is, the saints in heaven, ''Alleluia! Her smoke rises up forever and ever!' And the twentyfour elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sat on the throne, saying, 'Amen! Alleluia!' Then a voice came from the throne, saying, 'Praise our God, all you His servants and those who fear Him, both small and great!' And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, 'Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns!''.
Now, what you have just read is a description of the fall of Babylon, but please don't impersonalise these events. Babylon, if it's not a literal city, it is certainly a body of people - these are people being judged by the wrath of God for their opposition to Him! So really what we're reading here is the condemnation of people, but here we see that the saints of God in heaven are crying 'Alleluia!'. Now that is not callousness or insensitivity, what it is is: those who are in heaven - we're talking now about what heaven is now for a believer who dies, because the resurrection hasn't happened yet at this point in the book of the Revelation, and Christ is just about to come but He hasn't come yet - believers in heaven at that moment are in complete sync with God's sovereign plan and will, that even His just judgement of people will not disrupt peace in heaven for believers.
That might be hard for you to accept, but you've got to understand that you're going to be different in heaven, you are going to be in complete harmony with the will and the purpose and the word of God - that's the miracle of heaven. Now, whatever they don't know in heaven - and I think there's a lot that they don't know about what's going on on earth - whatever they don't know, it seems, as someone has said, unthinkable to imagine that they would have remained ignorant of the culmination of human history taking place on the earth. I think they know more than we suspect them to know.
Let's move on from that one, and I could spend a lot of time on it, and if you want to know a wee bit more about it, I think I did an eight week series when I was in the Iron Hall entitled 'Glimpses of Glory', questions about heaven, all sorts of harebrained and weird and wonderful questions that people ask and think about. You can download that off the Internet if you wish, and many of these further questions that may have arisen from the answer to that previous one might be answered in that series.
Let's move on to this one: will we know our family in heaven? This is the big one, and this really incorporates two ideas: recognition, will we recognise one another in heaven - and that is a certain sense of the word 'know' - but secondly, not just recognition but relationship. Will we know one another? I mean, will we know them the same way that we know them down here, and that's a very important part of the answer as well. So let's deal with the first one: will we know one another, family, in heaven - recognition?
Now, I, and I'm sure you have to, have encountered some over-pious Christians who have inferred that it's not spiritual to want to meet loved ones in heaven: 'You know, you should be taken up with the Lord, and not with those tied to you by the flesh'. That sounds very good, but the real question is: what is God's intention? Is it God's intention, and is it God's revealed will, that we as believers should have the joy of anticipating reunion in heaven? I have to say that I think the whole Bible indicates: yes. So it is not impious or unspiritual to look forward and have joy of meeting others in heaven. But shall we know one another in heaven? George MacDonald, that famous preacher from many years ago, said: 'Shall we be greater fools in Paradise than we are here?'. It's a good point, isn't it? Will we be more stupid in heaven than we are down here? We mightn't know everything, but I'm sure we'll know people that we have known down here.
You might say, 'Well, that's a rational assumption, but is it in biblical terms a reasonable conclusion?'. Well, I think, generally speaking, ignorance about heaven is due to ignorance concerning the scriptures. I think the scriptures are full of evidence that we will know one another in heaven. Let's take a couple of witnesses from the New Testament first of all. The Lord Jesus Himself, we read about His transfiguration, we'll not read it again - but you remember that Moses and Elijah appeared side-by-side with the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, they had died centuries before the time our Lord lived, and yet it appears that Elijah and Moses still maintained their human identity. The disciples recognised them. You might say, 'Well, how did they recognise them if they died hundreds of years previously?'. Well, what you've got to understand is that Elijah was the foremost prophet in Judaism, and he was very characteristic in his dress. He wore camel's hair, and he was very hairy himself, he was a distinctive character. Moses was, perhaps, the chief personality in the mind of the Jews who obeyed the law of God, he was the lawgiver - and so their traditional stories and their anticipations of this great man would have been fulfilled. They would have obviously recognised Elijah, and who else would be beside the Lord along with Elijah but the lawgiver, Moses. So, to the Jews, this was obvious - but what I want you to see is that they were obviously, in some way, recognisable in a human sense. Now, here's one for you to think about, and I'm not going to answer it tonight - this is before the resurrection, this is before the resurrection and yet they had physical forms of some kind and were recognisable. You can sleep on that one.
Now, also the teaching of our Lord Jesus. Not just the transfiguration experience, but the teaching of the Lord Jesus indicates this. Luke 16 has already been mentioned several times, but very simply what Luke 16 is teaching us is that the rich man looked up in hell and he saw Lazarus in Paradise, we can say heaven, with Abraham. So he recognised the bag of bones, as he knew him, who lay at his gate every day, and he stepped over him in his pomp and pride - but this bag of bones was taken to heaven by angels, and that rich man, probably a Pharisee, went to hell. The point is: he recognised the guy in heaven as the same guy that he had known in his life, do you understand? So the teaching of the Lord Jesus, I think, bears this out.
Also the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Himself. Luke 24 is often used to dismiss this, but in Luke 24 the Lord Jesus said: 'It is I myself'. There are many many examples of the Lord Jesus appearing to His disciples, and them recognising Him after His resurrection. But let's look at Luke chapter 24 to deal with this one, because it's here that there are the two on the road to Emmaus, and you remember the Lord appears to them and it seems that He was unrecognisable to them. Do you remember that? He was unrecognisable, and people infer then: 'Well, that means that we won't recognise one another in heaven, because they didn't recognise the resurrected Christ. So, when the resurrection happens, and we are resurrected, well then, people won't recognise us'. But that's not right, because if you look at verse 15 you will see the reason why they didn't recognise Him: 'So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him'. So there was a power that was operating on Him, inhibiting them knowing who this was. Just in case you don't believe that, look down at verse 31, and here is the remedy for this eye condition that they had been given: 'Then their eyes were opened', verse 31, 'their eyes were opened and they knew Him', they knew Him, they recognised Him, 'and He vanished from their sight'.
Even sometimes Mary is used in the garden, where she thought that the Lord was the gardener and so on - but then He spoke, and then she recognised Him. It says that she recognised Him. So I think the occurrences, post-resurrection, of our Lord Jesus would show us that we will be recognisable not just in the intermediate heaven now, as Moses and Elijah testify - and incidentally Elijah didn't die, so that's another one, so he was literally in heaven with a literal body, and yet Moses appeared as he had been in his old body, another one to think about. But Jesus was recognised in His resurrection body.
Now let's go to Paul, that's the evidence from the Lord, but let's go to Paul. Turn with me to 1 Thessalonians, please, chapter 2, and I think Paul bears this out as well - that we will be recognisable. First Thessalonians chapter 2 verse 19: 'For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy'. So Paul is saying, 'The joy that I will have when Jesus comes, and ultimately the joy in heaven and the joy in eternity, is you who I have led to Christ'. Now in 2 Thessalonians 2 he talks about 'our gathering together unto Him', now Paul must surely mean that he hoped to recognise these converts. I mean, how could he have joy over his converts in heaven if he doesn't recognise his converts in heaven? Does that not make sense?
First Thessalonians 4 and verse 17, that wonderful portion about the rapture of God's people says: 'We will be caught up together to meet the Lord' - together, and that implies the knowledge of being with one another, we will be caught up 'together'. Now, if you go to 1 Thessalonians 4 and realise the context of it, the Thessalonians were concerned about their loved ones who had died in the faith. Now that's vital to understand that. They were saying: 'What's going to happen to them when the Lord comes?'. Paul had to explain, 'Well, the dead in Christ actually rise first, so don't you worry about that, and then you'll be caught up with them. Your dead loved ones won't lose out'. But, if you think about it for a moment, they were concerned about their dead loved ones - what comfort would these words be if these believers wouldn't even recognise their loved ones? How would they know if their loved ones were OK if they were unrecognisable?
Paul's point is not simply: do not sorrow hopelessly because your loved ones are at rest and free from pain, etc, you don't need to worry about them - but you are not parted forever from your loved ones. That's the import of this passage: you will see them again. They will not miss out, and they are not lost! You will see them again when Christ brings them with Him at His return. For that reason, in verse 18 of 1 Thessalonians 4, he says: 'Comfort one another with these words'. Now comfort comes from the prospect of reunion, and the comfort of reunion is nonsensical without mutual recognition. You can't have a reunion with people that you don't know or don't recognise - you certainly can't enjoy it!
So what Paul is teaching is: at the moment we meet when our Lord comes, we meet loved ones who have gone before, we shall at once know them and they will at once know us. Now that should increase our anticipation of His coming, shouldn't it? We ought to be anticipating the Lord's return, but isn't the Lord so wonderful that He doesn't just give us Himself, He gives us those who are in Christ along with Him - He gives us everything. We ought not to feel guilty, we ought not to feel unspiritual by anticipating meeting our loved ones who have died in Christ. Graham Scroggie put it like this: 'If I knew that never again would I recognise that the loved one with whom I spent more than 39 years on earth, my anticipation of heaven would much abate. To say that we shall be with Christ and that that will be enough is to claim that there we shall be without social instincts and affections which mean so much to us here'. That's a vital point, because in the beginning, when everything was perfect by the way, God made Adam and he was alone. I say it very reverently: nothing could surpass the spiritual relationship that he had with His Father in heaven, God, his Creator - and yet, even in that perfect scenario, he needed something more. God created us as relational beings, social beings, and God made man woman in a perfect world.
So, is it too much to expect that we will know one another in heaven? Scroggie goes on to say: 'Life beyond cannot mean impoverishment, but the enhancement and enrichment of life as we have known it here at its best'. That leads me on well to the second aspect of 'Will we know one another?'. First is recognition, and I hope I've proved that we will in some way recognise one another. Now people are recognising one another, I believe, in heaven; but in the eternal state, in our resurrected bodies, we will recognise one another - although we will have glorified bodies, we will still know who is who. But the second aspect is this relational one, relationship: will we, in the new heaven and the new earth, or even in the intermediate heaven, will we have the same relationships with people as we have had down here? Does the new heaven and the new earth erase history? Well, it doesn't. You see, what you've got to understand is that God's plan right from the fall - and, in fact, before the fall, but we dealt with that the other night - is a plan of redemption. Now what I mean by that is, to 'redeem' is to buy something back - that means God does not rubbish what He made, He doesn't bin it and make another prototype. He wants to redeem His whole creation.
So the new heaven and the new earth does not erase history, it redeems it. The old is not destroyed, the old, rather, is made new. You know that that is a catchphrase in Revelation, 'all things are made new, behold'. Now, heaven is not a place, therefore - and get this - of unfamiliar things. I don't have time to go into this tonight, but the new heaven and the new earth, specifically, will be a place of familiar things made new. There are trees spoken of in the new heaven and the new earth, there are animals spoken of in the new heaven and the new earth, there are rivers spoken of, mountains spoken of - but they will all be made new. The same applies, I believe, for friends and family. Now each of these answers, I know, is providing many many other questions - but let us try to deal with them as far as we can, and I'll anticipate the ones I think you might be asking.
What about marriage? Will we who have been married in this life, will we have that relationship in heaven? That's the big one. Well, turn with me to Matthew chapter 22 please, Matthew chapter 22. Now the Sadducees, and you must understand that the Sadducees - I learned it in religious studies - they didn't believe in the resurrection, that's why they were sad, you see. They didn't believe in the afterlife, they didn't believe in angels...some of you were a bit slow there! This is evident in verse 23: 'The same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, saying: 'Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother'' - and that's Deuteronomy 25, the law of the Levirate marriage. They cite this probably farcical incident: ''Now there were with us seven brothers. The first died after he had married, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother. Likewise the second also, and the third, even to the seventh. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her''.
Now, you understand that they're not really concerned whether you're married in heaven or not. Their issue was the resurrection, they were trying to trip the Lord up with this ridiculous idea, they felt, of the resurrection - because if you're married seven times on the earth, I mean, who's going to be your wife or husband in heaven? 'Jesus answered and said to them, 'You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living''.
Now, they present this hypothetical scenario, and Christ is teaching here very clearly that men who have been men on earth will be men in heaven, and women who have been women on earth will be women in heaven, but there will be no marrying and no giving in marriage. In that way we will be like the angels - there will be no marriage in heaven. That's what Jesus very clearly taught. Now, why will there be no marriage in heaven? Well, I'll not be facetious and say, 'It's heaven!' - but it won't be in heaven because it won't be needed. Now, you say: 'What do you mean it won't be needed?'. Well, I alluded to this the other night but I didn't really get to it in depth, but we must understand this: heaven is the substance and earth is the shadow - do you understand? Heaven is the real thing. When Moses went up the mount and God gave him the plans of the Tabernacle, God gave him the plans based on what the Tabernacle and Temple of God in heaven was like. The earthly Tabernacle was a shadow of the reality, the substance in heaven. I believe that's always the case. As I said the other night, God didn't call Himself 'Father', and Jesus 'His Son' because we can understand it, because we are fathers and sons down here - no. He made us fathers and sons down here because His relationship is a Father-Son relationship with the Lord Jesus in heaven. That's the substance, we are the shadow.
In the same regard, this is how it is with marriage. It will not be needed because marriage is a shadow of the substance in heaven. Ephesians chapter 5 says that marriage is a mystery, it signifies Christ and the Church. The male is meant to be representing Christ, the female the bride, which is the church, and so the marriage institution on earth is a signpost pointing to the relationship that we are going to have with Christ as our Bridegroom in heaven. Now, here's the bottom line: signposts are unnecessary when you reach the destination. Have you got it? Because marriage is the copy, marriage is the echo, marriage is the shadow of the true ultimate marriage between Christ and His church. So the purpose of the marriage institution in this life was to point us to, and prepare us for heaven.
Now, that's clear, there will be no marriage institution in heaven - but obviously that bothers some people. From that fact they make some wrong conclusions, and by that I mean they say: 'Well, I love my wife', or, 'I love my husband, and I want to continue with them in heaven'. Now please bear with me, this is important: that is a false assumption that you're making from that fact that there is no marriage in heaven. Let me put it to you like this: are you conceiving that you will be more distant from your husband or wife now in heaven, is that what you're thinking about? It'll not be like that at all, in fact you will be closer to your husband or your wife in heaven. I believe that nothing will take away from the fact that you and your spouse were married on earth and invested so much of each other's lives in each other. Jesus said, follow with me, Jesus said that the institution of marriage would end, having served its purpose - but He never hinted that deep relationships that have been between married people would end. What I mean is: it's not that you and your spouse will lose that relationship in heaven, but rather that you will gain a full relationship in heaven, but not in the marriage institution.
Now, I know this may be confusing, but hopefully it will become clear. Let me illustrate it to you like this: in our lives two people can be business partners, for instance, or golfing partners - but often when their business partnership dissolves, or they don't play golf anymore, that doesn't mean their friendship ends, does it? In fact, many will continue in a very deep friendship even though their business partnership or their golfing partnership ends. Now this is where I'm coming from: God, generally, doesn't rubbish His creation. Remember that the marriage bond was ordained before the fall. What God does is: He makes it new, but when He does - on very rare occasions - replace His original creation, He always does it with something far better! OK, are you with me? So the marriage institution will cease, but your relationship could not conceivably get worse in heaven - as if you're going to be wandering around not knowing who your husband or wife is, or not feeling any affection toward them that you ever did in a life in the will of God.
Here's the main thing to remember - and I mightn't be answering this question categorically for you - but here's the main thing to keep in your mind regarding this, if this troubles you, and I'm sure it has troubled many of you. Psalm 17 verse 15 says: 'When I awake with His likeness, I will be satisfied'. Now, that quietens all fears, doesn't it? Nothing to worry about anticipating heaven, OK? So, whatever your worry is, and maybe it is several spouses like the passage that we read from Matthew chapter 22, and this is a very serious question that people have - to be married several times, and what's going to happen to these folk if they're in heaven? Well, I don't have a specific answer to that, but simply to say that relationships in heaven, it would indicate, are retained in some shape or form, though the marriage bond ceases - but we are all perfect! It's a perfect environment, and that means we will relate perfectly to everyone around us: to our spouse, or those who have been spouses. But here's the bottom line: it will be far better!
Now I know that that raises many many questions, but it should settle many many fears. Well, it would be naive of us to think that everybody wants to relate in heaven the way that they related on earth, wouldn't it? Because many of us have difficult relationships with folk, even believers on earth. A lifetime of broken-heartedness that stems from twisted family and other relationships, we don't want that baggage to be carried into heaven - but the good news is: it won't! Now think about this - and I know that believers have difficult relationships with believers and their families - but in heaven neither our family, nor any other member of the body of Christ, will cause us any pain. Our relationships, finally, will be harmonious - and that is what we have longed for, isn't it?
Jonathan Edwards, the great puritan theologian of America said, 'No inhabitant of that blessed world will ever be grieved with the thought that they are slighted by those they love, or that their love is not fully and fondly returned'. Isn't it a wonderful phrase of the apostles: 'Better by far'! That's what we must dwell on.
But what about family? We've talked about marriage, what about family? Well, turn with me to Ephesians 3 verses 14 and 15. How will we relate to family members? Ephesians 3:14-15 says: 'For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named'. Now Christians are called a family - I mean we talk about 'the family of God', don't we? - because we have all one Father, and our Lord taught us to pray: 'Our Father, which art in heaven'. It's never 'My Father', it's 'Our Father' - although you can say 'My Father', but our Lord taught us 'Our Father' to indicate the collective nature of His family, because we are all the children of God. We relate to Him, we've been born again, and in the community of faith we are God's family.
Again, now here is this principle: earth is what? Earth is the shadow, heaven is the substance - OK? So the family unit down here is foreshadowing of the great family unit up there. The difference is it's not a billion or a zillion families that existed down here on earth, it's one big family with one Father in heaven. Not separate families, but one great family. Now, in saying that, I think when we die one of the few things that we do carry with us into heaven is our friendships and relationships that we've had down here. They will differ, they will change, but I cannot conceive - and I don't think anything in the Bible indicates - that they will cease. We've said that regarding marriage, we've said that regarding people we know, and it's the same with family.
Randy Alcorn, who has written a very helpful book on heaven, says: 'Nothing will negate or minimise the fact that we were members of families on the old earth'. Relatives, in that sense, always will be in the sense of our emotional ties, but there will be one family, one whole family - and that will be better. Now the question might be in your mind: what of loved ones who aren't there? That's a big one. Well, I don't believe that you'll go through all eternity in the new heaven and the new earth with a consciousness of the eternal torment of a loved one. Hell will have no power over heaven, and cannot, and none of hell's misery will ever veto any of heaven's joy - so let that one lie. Think about this, think of it positively - 'Heaven help us' is an expression, but heaven does help us if we would dwell on it a bit more. Think about this: heaven will be an opportunity to develop old undeveloped family relationships, an opportunity to develop old but undeveloped family relationships.
Take David, for instance, you know that David's child to Bathsheba died. In 2 Samuel 12 verse 23 we read that David had been fasting and praying that the child would recover from this sickness, and he died. David stopped fasting and stopped praying, and said: 'I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me'. Now some scholars would say: 'Well, he was talking about the grave, I will go to the grave and follow him there' - but, you know, David stopped his fasting and stopped his praying, it would indicate that he took hope, he took some kind of joy out of this anticipation that he would meet him one day. It cheered him up. Now I'm sure there's someone here who has lost an infant, maybe at birth or not long after birth, or a young child, or an older child - but think that heaven will be an opportunity to develop old relationships that have remained hitherto undeveloped. Isn't that amazing? Especially regarding children. Children don't go to heaven because they're innocent, none of them are innocent even from birth - but because of the mercy and grace of God - and I think it's indicated towards the children in the Bible, and our Lord Jesus welcomed them to come to Him, for such is the kingdom of God. Imagine what it will be for someone who has lost a child for, perhaps, their child - at whatever age they might be, I don't know - for perhaps their child to take them by the hand and show them around heaven.
A chance to develop old undeveloped family relationships - but what about to develop new relationships that never had been. Imagine walking down the pastures of the new earth with Abraham or Moses or David, or any of the patriarchs, any of the prophets, any of the apostles, the great saints of the ages. I'm sure you have your favourite writers, or the martyrs, or the reformers - imagine what it would be like to strike up a friendship with them! Imagine how glorious for grandchildren and grandparents who have never really know one another, or great-grandparents and great-grandchildren who never ever met one another, to enjoy youth together in the cities, and fields, and hillsides, and waters of the new heaven and the new earth.
Maybe you were robbed of a parent early in life, I don't know - but you've all eternity, if they're in Christ and if they're in glory, all eternity to catch up! Maybe a father died before he took you down the aisle, and he's a believer in Christ - well, he'll be there for your marriage to the Lamb. It's staggering to think about it, to walk together with loved ones who you never really got time to have a relationship with, and what it is to explore heaven and praise the Lord together.
Now here's a very delicate one: if you weren't able to have children on earth, God, I believe, will give you relationships that meet the needs that never were satisfied on earth. You will be able to invest those maternal or paternal instincts and cravings on others, and that aching pain will be healed. That's what the Bible says: we shall be satisfied! Do you know what heaven is all about? Now listen carefully, whatever it is or is not, and whatever the answers are or are not, heaven is all about compensation - lost time being restored. Read one portion with me, and I'm closing now - Luke's gospel chapter 6 and verse 21: 'Blessed are you who hunger now, For you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, For you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you, And revile you, and cast out your name as evil, For the Son of Man's sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, For in like manner their fathers did to the prophets'.
Here's one for you, Romans 8:18: 'For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us'. Now, that's marvellous! The suffering of this present time is not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Now listen carefully to what I'm about to say. There is a story told, I think it's only a legend, about a man who was wrongly convicted of a crime. A ball and chain was put around his ankle and he was thrown into the dungeon. Later on it was found that he was innocent of the crimes he was charged for, and the King declared that he was justified and he should be released. He ordered the guards to cut off his ball and chain and put it on a scale, and give him, in gold, the weight of the ball and chain. It was at that moment that the prisoner wished that his ball and chain was a lot heavier. The sufferings of this present world are not to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Luther said of this great compensation: 'I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all, but whatever I have placed in God's hands, that I still possess'.
It's wonderful, isn't it? You know, we don't think of heaven often enough. Never again should you wonder if we'll see those saved loved ones again, and know them in heaven. Listen as I close to J.C. Ryle on this regard, he spoke to his own flock and he said: 'Those whom you laid in the grave with many tears are in good keeping. You will yet see them again with joy. Believe it! Think it! Rest on it! It is all true! There is something unspeakably comforting, moreover as well as glorious, in this prospect. It lights up the valley of the shadow of death. It strips the sickbed and the grave of half their terrors. Our beloved friends who have fallen asleep in Christ are not lost, but only gone on before. These eyes of ours shall once more look upon their faces. These ears of ours shall once more hear them speak. Blessed and happy indeed will that meeting be, better a thousand times than the parting. We parted in sorrow, and we shall meet in joy. We parted in stormy weather, and we shall meet in calm harbour. We parted amidst pain and aches and groans and infirmities, we shall meet with glorious bodies, able to serve our Lord forever without distraction - and best of all, we shall meet never to be parted, never to shed one more tear, never to put on mourning, never to say goodbye and farewell again. Oh, it is a blessed thought that saints will know one another in heaven!'.
Let us pray. Father, I pray that the truth of Your word would remain in the hearts of those who have been able to receive, and that there will be comfort, help, sustenance, and edification. Oh God, Lord, this is a myth, that we might be too heavenly minded for any earthly good - we can only be any earthly good if we are heavenly minded. Lord, that's where we are told we are seated with Christ, and we pray that we will allow heaven - as a hymn writer put it - 'Just one glimpse of Him in glory, will the toils of life repay'. Lord, we pray that these answers would not just be a help to the one that asked the questions, but to all our hearts. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered in the Ards Evangelical Church, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the fourth recording in his '101 Christian Questions' series, entitled "Life After Death" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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