When a believer dies his spirit is instantly transported to heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23; Acts 7:50). Are we escorted by angels? Lazarus’ spirit was (Luke 16:22). And that would be glorious. But the most radical and overwhelming fact that must be considered is that when we reach heaven, we will be in the presence of God.
God is everywhere! But God is present in heaven in a unique way. That is why the Scriptures describe prayer as coming to “His holy dwelling place” (2 Chronicles 30:27), of the Lord being “in his holy temple” (Psalm 11:4) when describing heaven, why the Lord Himself says, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool” (Isaiah 66:1). And of course, Jesus is there.
Jesus has been there preparing a place for us to be with him (John 14:1-3). He still has his resurrection body and it still bears the scars of his crucifixion (John 20:24-28). Even as Thomas was invited to touch and see that it was Jesus, we will be continually reminded while we are in Jesus’ presence that he paid the ultimate price for us, because he loves us.
There are two stages to our being in the presence of God. Stage one is heaven. Stage two is when heaven comes to earth, also called the kingdom (Matthew 6:10; Revelation 21:1-4). Revelation 7 gives us some perspective of what that first stage will be like:
I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb….These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (verses 9, 14-17)
This passage by no means tells us everything about heaven, but it does suggest that there will be…
1. Worship of the Lamb and God for the salvation they have provided.
2. Service to God rather than lounging around on a cloud somewhere.
3. Freedom from suffering and sorrow.
4. Reunion with fellow believers.
In stage two, the kingdom, heaven comes to earth in the form of a city, the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21). It is preceded by the passing away of the first earth and the making of a new one that has no sea. We will look at this phase more in the next article.