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Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, 6/5/05

"And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass" (Rev. 21:21).

The Lord honors my neurotic need to have a graphic and a title before I begin to write. When I saw this cartoon depicting the entrance to glory nestled in the clouds, I knew heaven would be today's topic. For those of you reading the e-mail rather viewing the writing on-line, the cartoon shows a sign placed on the outside of heaven's locked gate which reads, "Heaven. A Gated Community." When I saw it, I wondered if the cartoonist was inferring that the gates were locked to keep the riffraff out, or perhaps to keep the bored inhabitants in. The word "heaven" occurs 470 times in the Bible. Its meanings range from the firmament which God created on the second day of creation (Gen. 1:8), and include the location of the throne of God (Matt 5:34; 23:22). Scanning down through the scriptures gave me pause about tackling such a huge subject, but it came to me to examine the concept of heaven along the same lines as the other end time topics discussed over the past four weeks. As was true regarding "the kingdom, the last days, the battle of Armageddon, the rapture, and Judgment Day," part of the difficulty in understanding such emotionally loaded subjects comes from the way we interpret what the Bible says about them.

The East (including the Middle East), describes concepts mystically, symbolically, and poetically, such as "God is a rock." The West speaks more logically and analytically, such as "God is steadfast and unmovable." The verse quoted in the beginning is a perfect example of this: the gates of the city are said to be pearls, and the street "was pure gold, transparent as glass." This is poetic imagery, used to describe something too wonderful for ordinary "pass the salt" type language. We use imagery in everything from cooking to sporting events. I knew a cooking guru who said of a favorite dish, "It's killer." In sports, we say, "He floats like a butterfly, and stings like a bee." In music, we may observe, "She sings like an angel." You get my point. Those of us in love with words know that often the best way to describe something is to call it something else which helps the reader understand. Sometimes we use "like or as" to convey our meaning (that's called a simile); other times, we just say, "She's an angel. He's a tiger. The streets are made of gold." These examples are all metaphors.

Thanks to Lenny for sharing this excellent example of biblical imagery found in Gen. 37. It is the account of Joseph's dream that the sun, moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to him. This angered his father and brothers, who knew immediately that he was not speaking of heavenly bodies: "When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, "What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?" His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind" (Gen. 37:10-11).

The prophet Habakkuk offers another Biblical example of using a physical object to convey a spiritual concept, "But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him" (2:20). While the physical temple was used for worship, it was said poetically that God sat enthroned on the cherubim (II Sam. 6:2), whose wings overshadowed the mercy seat above the Ark of the Covenant (Num. 7:89; I Chron. 28:18; II Chron. 5:7). God spoke to His people from this place. He told Moses, "The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover (the mercy seat) with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover. Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the Testimony, which I will give you. There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites" (Ex. 25:20-22). The Ark of the Covenant with its atonement cover was physically located in the Most Holy Place, where only the high priest could go, and then, only once a year, on the Day of Atonement. On that most holy day, he sprinkled the blood of a bull on the atonement cover for his own sins and the blood of a goat for the sins of the people (Lev. 16:1-19). The NIV study note on Lev. 16:2, sheds this light: "In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT), the word for "atonement cover" is the same one used of Christ and translated "sacrifice of atonement" in Rom. 3:25."

The Book of Hebrews was written to explain in detail the superiority of Christ's atonement in the New Covenant over the Old Covenant system of sacrifices. Regarding those physical places where Israel worshipped God, the Hebrew writer says, "The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing" (Heb. 9:8). The High Priest of Israel went into a physical Holy of Holies, but "the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper" (Vs. 9). In a literary sense then, worship under the Law was symbolic, a picture of what was to come: "When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place ONCE FOR A-L-L by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption" (Vs. 11-12).

Jesus caused a tremendous uproar in the temple which Herod built, when He went up to celebrate the Passover and found money changers in His Father's house. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all from the temple. After that, the Jews demanded a miraculous sign to prove He had authority for such an action. "Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?" But the temple he had spoken of was his body" (John 2:19-21). The religious Jews completely missed what He meant. He used symbolic language (a metaphor), to describe the day when He would indwell His followers, when WE would be the temple of God: "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?" (I Cor. 3:16-17).

"Ok," you may agree, "but what has the temple to do with heaven?" Many scriptures attest to the fact that God dwells in heaven. In fact, 23 passages from Gen. 24:3, to Rev. 16:11, refer to the "God of heaven." The Psalmist declared, "The LORD is in his holy temple, the LORD's throne is in heaven" (Ps. 11:4). The Apostle John declares that heaven is the location of God's temple in four different passages (Rev. 3:12; 11:19; 14:17; 15:5). It's no stretch for me to conclude then, that if we are the temple as Paul affirms, and God dwells in the temple which is in heaven, then we are in heaven now! Most of Christendom has succumbed to cleverly devised fables about our eternal abode being a literal place, with mansions lined up on actual streets of gold. Songs and hymns abound describing our piece of heavenly real estate in the sweet bye and bye. A friend wrote recently, asking about a statement made by her brother-in-law, to the effect that those who did more for God here on earth would get a bigger reward in heaven, a larger mansion perhaps with gold faucets and champagne fountains?

A dear man who has gone on to glory told me several years back that he would be happy with a pup tent in heaven if only he could get there. I believe that when he passed into the eternal, which IS presence of the Lord, and beheld Christ as He is, he became like Him (I John 3:2). What he has received is as much grander than a pup tent as a Porsche is to a donkey cart.

I asked Lenny this morning how he perceives heaven, and his answer was as blissfully simple as it was elegantly profound. He said "Heaven is the presence of God." May God open our eyes to see that Christ in us is the hope of glory, and in fact, may I go farther and say, "He IS the glory!" Paul calls this truth a mystery, because we cannot get it with our natural minds: "To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27).

It came to me some time back that if we substitute the word "spirit" for "heaven" in certain passages where it occurs, we get closer to the truth than thinking about a location beyond the blue where the faithful will float amongst the clouds plucking harps and singing hymns for all eternity. Here's an example of what I mean: "No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven" {Spirit} (John 3:27). "This is the bread which comes down from heaven {Spirit}, that a man may eat of it and not die" (John 6:50). And, "Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven {Spirit}" (I Cor. 15:49). This exchange doesn't make sense in all 470 passages mentioning heaven, but since God is a Spirit, it follows that where He dwells is also Spirit (John 4:23-24).

The time when the church world says Christ will return to transport the faithful to heaven and fry the wicked in hell is called the "second coming," a term which cannot be found in scripture. The closest thing to it, and it's a stretch, is found in Heb. 9:27-28: "Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him." Interestingly, this passage might mean that a man will face judgment right after he dies, rather than the popular notion that he will wait in some giant holding cell until the Day of Judgment, a literal 24 hour period, when he will be judged with every other person who has ever lived. As I wrote last week, I doubt there will be a literal 24 hour period. The verse in Hebrews indicates that Christ is not coming to bear sin, but "to those who are eagerly expecting Him, to make their salvation complete" (Heb. 9:28, Wey.). That's a far cry from what we've heard preached all our lives, i.e., that He's coming soon and sinners are gonna get it, big time! Am I saying Christ will not return? Certainly not! What I am saying is that it won't look like we've been told. God will make sure that "every eye shall see Him" (Rev. 1:7), so we won't miss His coming, as the religious Jews did when He first came, but I feel sure that saint and sinner alike will be surprised at how it happens.

But when do we get to go to heaven? Look again at Luke's account in Acts, of Christ ascending back to His Father. I have taken the liberty of replacing the word "heaven" with "spirit" in the passage: "They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven {Spirit}, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven {Spirit}." (Acts 1:10-11). Remembering that Christ had promised them that in a few days, they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit (1:5), we move on to Acts 2:2-4, to the fulfillment of His promise to them: "Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven {Spirit}, and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them." Remembering that Paul said "the Lord IS the Spirit" (II Cor. 3:17-18) It came to me a long time ago that this occurrence IS the "second coming" of Christ. Christ ascended into Spirit and He returned to earth in Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. What that means for us is that He's here and we are in heaven every time we are caught up in Spirit! He has come to complete salvation to all those who are waiting for Him. Here's the Phillip's version of Heb. 9:28: "so it is certain that Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many and after that, to those who look for him, he will appear a second time, not this time to deal with sin, but to bring to full salvation those who eagerly await him." This is completely foreign to what is being preached from the pulpits of the land today, but my spirit bears witness that sin has run its course; the battle is won; the One on the white horse lives in us!

Christ atoned for sin "ONCE FOR ALL by his own blood." Why then do we continue to focus on the negative, the works of the devil, which Christ came to destroy? "Now the Son of God came to earth with the express purpose of undoing the devil's work" (I John 3:8, Phillips). Since none of us think He could possibly have failed to accomplish His purpose, why do we continue to weep and wail about something that has been defeated, blotted out? The world yawns at preachers ranting about sin, but in the fulness of time, when the power begins to flow, and we have our full inheritance, the nations will listen up and pay attention, "because in this world we are like him" (I John 4:17).

I'm not asking you to agree with me, but simply to ask the Lord. To me, it seems that if we are the temple where God dwells, and that temple is in heaven (Spirit), then heaven is within us. Some have not come into this revelation yet : "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood" (I Cor. 13:12). When Christ appears to us in Spirit, He reveals Himself to us as He is, and we shall be like Him! That's a promise! We ARE the sons of God, and to us has been entrusted what I believe is God's mission statement. We are to speak peace to the heathen (Zech. 9:10). We are to go into all the world, indeed the cosmos, and preach the gospel, the Good News to ALL CREATION.

Perhaps heaven is not a "where," but rather a "who." In the words of a praise chorus, "Then heaven came down and glory filled my soul." Wherever Christ is, that's heaven for me, and glory as well. When He came the first time, they did not recognize Him. Many people today are in the same position exactly.

Our thanks to Scott Paris for permission to use this poem he wrote in 1971 with Connie Asbill:

 MUST WE EXPECT THE LORD TO COME THAT WAY?

"Did you expect the ground to be rent asunder? Were you expecting lightning, hail and thunder? Have you looked up to the skies with beclouded earthly eyes? Did you expect the Lord to come that way?

"Once He came and they laid Him in a manger. He came unto His own, but remained a stranger. Though some still looked for the King, they never heard the angels sing. They didn't expect the Lord to come that way.

"None could desire Him, for He had no beauty. It then became their strict religious duty, because His life they could not see, to nail and hang Him on a tree. How could they expect the Lord to come that way?

"That age is over; a new one is beginning. It's time for the next appearing without sinning. If He comes in robes of flesh and riding on a lowly ass, would you expect the Lord to come that way?

"Be careful, then, just how you judge another, for Christ may come to you as just a brother. He is Zion's incognito King whose coming will salvation bring to those who expect the Lord to come that way.

"All flesh is not the same," our Lord has taught us. For when that sonship comes, which He has bought us, He's a Man within a man, a living Word beyond time's span. We MUST expect the Lord to come that way.

Yes, we MUST expect the Lord to come that way, for the Lord will surely, surely come that way in the sons of God today."

Our Father, we ask You to catch us up to Your throne in heaven, in Spirit, so that we may see Your face and know Your will. When the time has fully come, we ask You Father, to send us to be Light bearers and Good News bringers to a lost and desolate world. We thank You and praise Your Holy Name forever and ever. Amen. Jan Antonsson

Jan and Lenny Antonsson

17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)

The Kingdoms of This World

The Last Days

Gog and Magog, Final Battle

Judgment Day

The Day of the Lord

The Glory Road

We always enjoy hearing from you!

jantonsson@aol.com

This page was uploaded to the web on 06/02/05

by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,

and last edited on 10/13/08.