The hope of  Heaven Summary

                       

 

  • The New Testament speaks of two main aspects of the final state enjoyed by believers: the new heavens and the new earth and the New Jerusalem. We look first at the broader context of the final state:
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  • The new heavens and the new earth

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  • The hope set before us is not of some spooky, ethereal heaven floating amongst the clouds but of a totally new creation. Isaiah, 2 Peter and John prophesied this (Isaiah 65 17; 2 Peter 3:12-13; Rev 21:1).
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  • Prof E M B Green says sin has spoilt God’s world but it will not have the last word. “Paradise Lost will become Paradise Regained.”
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  • Creation is ‘groaning and longing’ for its renewal/restoration which will coincide with the bodily resurrection of the saints (Rom 8:19-23). Redemption applies to the cosmos as well as humanity.
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  • The new heavens and the new earth and everything in them will be united under the Lordship of Christ (Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:20).
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  • The incarnation of the son of God brought about a new unity between heaven and earth. Jesus is the God-man. Divinity and humanity were brought together in a new way. His resurrection developed this. Jesus is in heaven in his resurrection body. He is the heavenly man. He is fulfilling God’s purpose to reconcile and bring together all things in heaven and on earth.
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  • The Genesis creation accounts show God intended peace, harmony and order in creation. Humans were to be his viceroys, not ruling in a harsh, exploitative way but maintaining God’s order in diversity. He intended that human beings should enjoy paradise and an intimate relationship with him as well as harmony with one another. But, of course, the fall of man spoilt all this. The new creation will fulfil God’s original intention.
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  •  “No more sea”?

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  • John makes the rather strange statement that in his vision of the new heaven and the new earth “the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea” (Rev 21:1). Considering the beauty of the sea and the immense amount of sea life it seems unlikely that this is a literal prophecy – God’s purpose is radical renewal of the whole earth. The prophets sometimes refer to the sea as a symbol of unrest amongst the nations and the ungodly (Isa 57:20; Jer 49:23).
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  • More significant is John’s vision of the “beast” (Antichrist) “coming out of the sea” (Rev 13:1). The ancient world commonly associated the sea with evil. It seems therefore that the absence of the sea is symbolical for the absence of the chaos and rebellion of godless society. The old order has been done away with.
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  •  “The New Jerusalem”

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  • At the centre of the new earth John sees the New Jerusalem prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Rev 21:10). This symbolic Jerusalem is “the city of the living God.” Its descent speaks of the control of heaven in the renewed universe. In this age there is tension between heaven and an earth under divine judgment. In the new age the rule of heaven will bring unity and harmony.
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  • The city is enormous, approximately 1500 miles square and 1500 miles high, reaching “from heaven to earth.” The city of God and the Lamb will extend far over the territories of men and unite earth and heaven in one.”
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  • As a perfect cube, 1500 miles x 1500 miles x 1500 miles it is a reminder of the inner sanctuary of the temple (a perfect cube, each dimension being 20 cubits; 1 Kings 6:20), the place of divine presence.” [1] (There are some, though, who think it might have been pyramid-shaped).
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  • In the original creation God gave man a garden. In the new creation it is a huge city (within the wider context of the new heaven and new earth) which symbolises security and contrasts with “Babylon” [the godless world system]. God intends to bring his people back to Jerusalem. Originally this meant bringing the Jewish people back to the literal Jerusalem. The New Jerusalem is home to all believers – Jewish and Gentile. This is the ultimate homecoming for God’s people. The contrast between the two cities – Babylon and the New Jerusalem is clear in the detailed descriptions in Revelation (Babylon Rev 16-18; New Jerusalem Rev 21).
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  • “The New Jerusalem”: the heavenly vision

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  • We shall see the majestic, awe-inspiring presence of God. The holy or pure in heart will see God face to face, as he is. Since God is spirit, what does this mean?  Calvin said that this would be through seeing Christ, for to see him is to see God. Others speak of our ‘seeing’ God intuitively with our whole being. We cannot imagine the blissful joy and exalted rapture we shall experience when we see God in this way.
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  • Earlier John sought to describe God enthroned in heaven “the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders ... From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder” (Rev 4:3-5).
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  • He also had a vision of the glorified Jesus and wrote he saw: “someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash round his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. … His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance” (Rev 1:13-16).
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  • What a privilege it will be to have personal access to God in this way in view of the awesome holiness of God.
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  • Ezekiel struggled to find words to describe his vision of God: “High above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” (Ezk 1:26-28). Notice how he does not say he saw God directly but “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.”
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  • The writer to the Hebrews describes the presence of Jesus also enthroned in heaven “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Heb 1:3). He “is at God’s right hand – with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him” (1 Peter 3:22).
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  • Professor Richard Bauckham writes: “Since the whole of the New Jerusalem is a holy of holies, God’s immediate presence fills it. In place of a temple, it has the unrestricted presence of God and the Lamb (21:22). Like his presence in the temple (e.g. Ezek.43), this eschatological presence of God entails holiness and glory. As his eschatological presence, it is also the source of the new life of the new creation.”
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  • “The New Jerusalem”: the worshipping community

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  • The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are worshipped by the heavenly hosts “many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand.” Day and night they never stop saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.’ …. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.’ …. ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!’ … ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!’… “Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever.” (Rev 5:11; 4:8-11; 5:12-13; 7:12).
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  • We believers will join in that awesome worship “lost in wonder, love and praise.”
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  • “The New Jerusalem”: the beautiful environment

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  • John describes the New Jerusalem: It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal … The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth ruby, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth turquoise, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass” (Rev 21:11, 18-21).
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  • So the city was made of pure gold surrounded by a wall of translucent green. It was built on a foundation of precious stones: in ascending order - translucent green, deep blue, green, red, white, red, yellow, greenish-gold, bluish purple and purple. It had 12 gates (3 on each side) each made of a single pearl and a street of pure gold. The whole city therefore is conceived of as glowing with the glory of God, reflecting the divine nature in its every part.”
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  • It seems that the precious stones in the city were related in the ancient world to the 12 signs of the zodiac but John lists them in the reverse order. This probably means that the reality after which the pagans aspire is found in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.” (G R Beasley-Murray).
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  • The symbolism of the New Jerusalem speaks of the unending beauty of the environment we shall experience in Heaven. It is paradise. John also describes how “the glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it” (Rev.21:26). It seems likely that this would include the (redeemed) art, culture and creativity of humanity.
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  • “The New Jerusalem”: the loving fellowship

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  • The writer to the Hebrews says the heavenly Jerusalem is the location “the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven” (Heb 12:22-23). Similarly, John “saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Rev 21:2). He also writes: “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ (Rev 19:9).
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  • The church is the Bride of Christ and the wedding of the Lamb speaks of the intimate relationship between Jesus and the believing community.
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  • Also, since God is love and calls us to love, the final state of believers will involve a perfectly loving fellowship. This will include acts of self-giving and service.
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  • John describes how the names of the 12 tribes of Israel are written on the gates and the names of the 12 apostles on the foundations. This speaks of the ultimate fulfilment of God’s purpose that “through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Eph 3:6). Paul affirms: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal 3:28-29)
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  • “The New Jerusalem”: the question of the nations

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  • John writes about there still being nations living outside the New Jerusalem, which seems strange. Are they part of the loving fellowship in heaven? Reference to the nations clearly relates to the OT prophecies of the eschatological glory of the earthly Jerusalem (Isa 60; 61:5, 7; 62:4-5).
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  • There are different views of the references to the nations:
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  • 1.      That it is referring only to those who have come to faith in Christ from the nations and so form the covenant people.  But why are they living OUTSIDE the New Jerusalem?
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  • 2.      That, the inhabitants of the New Jerusalem have special privileges compared with the nations outside. I don’t find this convincing.
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  • 3.      That all the nations will become God’s people.  But Jesus says that not everyone will come to eternal life (Matt 7:14; Luke 13:23-25).
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  • 4.      That John has simply used OT figures of speech about the nations living around the New Jerusalem but they are not to be taken literally. This seems to be supported by the fact that John goes on to say that godless people are outside the city (Rev 22:14-15). This surely is not literal – godless and evil people in the new heaven and new earth. I am therefore inclined to accept this fourth view.
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  • “The New Jerusalem”: the transformed body

  • We noted earlier in these studies that our resurrection bodies, as believers, will be like the resurrection body of Jesus - imperishable, glorious, powerful and spiritual (1 Cor.15:42-44). They will be controlled by the spirit which will be in harmony with the Spirit of God.
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  • Jesus’ post-resurrection body had flesh and bones (Luke 24:39) and could be touched (the implication of Luke 24:39 and John 20:27); he could break bread (Luke 24:30) and make breakfast for the disciples (John 21:9, 12-13); he could eat food (Luke 24:42f). Yet he could appear and disappear at will (Luke 24:31,36; John 20:19,26; 21:1); he could pass through solid objects (John 20:19, 26).
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  • In John’s vision a “river of the water of life” flows from God’s throne and down the middle of the great street of the New Jerusalem. It has trees beside it which are “for the healing of the nations”? What does this symbolism mean?  It is important to remember that only God is eternal. Eternal life comes from him and needs to be continually received from him. The idea of the tree of life (also referred to in the Garden of Eden) continually providing ‘healing’ might be a reference to this.
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  • Will we know one another in heaven?

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  • Will we know one another in heaven? It seems clear to me that we shall. Admittedly, the disciples on the Emmaus road didn’t immediately recognise the risen Jesus but since we shall know who we are it doesn’t seem likely that we wouldn’t be able to tell everyone, including our loved ones, who we are, even if we are transformed!
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  • What about marriage in heaven?

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  • What did Jesus mean by saying: “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Matt 22:30)? Procreation is important in a world where death is an important aspect. But the resurrection world will not be subject to death and this removes the need for procreation.  There will be loving relationships in heaven but not the exclusive relationship in which procreation takes place. R T France comments: “Jealousy and exclusion will have no place there.”[2]
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  • We can be confident that the resurrection life will be without sickness, pain, sadness, strained or broken relationships or death. We can also be confident that it will be a purposeful existence, characterised by vitality and creativity. There will be challenges to overcome and achievements to reach.
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  • “The New Jerusalem”: the governmental authority of the saints

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  • Daniel prophesied that in the End Times the “holy people of the Most High” would share his sovereignty (Dan 7:27). Jesus foretells that the apostles will judge (i.e. govern, rule) “the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matt 19:28).
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  • Paul broadens this out to include all the saints sharing in the Lord’s authority: “Do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? … Do you not know that we will judge angels?” (1 Cor 6:2-3). He also wrote: “If we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Tim 2:12). This sharing in divine rule seems to be implied by what Paul writes to the Ephesians “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6).
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  • It is true that some of the references to the saints ruling might refer to the Millennium (Rev 20:4-6). However this passage does not exclude the more general reference to the saints sharing the Lord’s rule (in the resurrection life) in the other passages. John himself makes this clear when he says that whereas the inhabitants of the New Jerusalem will serve God they will also “reign for ever and ever” (Rev 22:3, 5).
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  • N T Wright says: “Both Paul and Revelation stress that in God’s new world those who belong to the Messiah will be placed in charge. The first creation was put into the care of God’s image-bearing creatures. The new creation will be put into the care of, the wise, healing stewardship of those who have been ‘renewed according to the image of the creator’, as Paul puts it.”
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  • “The New Jerusalem”: the absence of evil

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  • Sin and its consequences (suffering, curse and fear) will be totally absent from the new Jerusalem: “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27).
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  • Different rewards in heaven?
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  • Heaven will be so wonderful that being there will be sufficient reward. However it does appear from the New Testament that there are degrees of additional rewards in heaven. Jesus promises a reward to those who love people who don’t love them (Matt 5:46) to those who don’t parade their spirituality in front of others (Matt 6:1-6, 16, 18), to those who welcome a prophet (Matt 10:41) or give a cup of cold water to the needy (Matt 10:42).
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  • In terms of being accepted by God, including into heaven, (justification) that is by grace through faith, not because of works.  However true, saving faith will show itself in obedience to God and Christians are judged by works and rewarded according to what they have done. Jesus said: “I will give to everyone according to what they have done” (Rev 22:12 cf. Matt 16:27; Eph 6:8).
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  • Perhaps the most important passage is 1 Cor. 3:10-15. Paul says we can build on the foundation of Christ using “wood, hay or straw” i.e. we fail to live a really good life or using “gold, silver, costly stones” i.e. many good works. He adds that “the fire will test the quality of each person's work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.”
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  • We can only speculate on the nature of rewards. Perhaps they are various levels of responsibility.
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  • The assurance of eternal life
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  • The New Testament makes it quite clear that eternal life is a gift and it is given to those who put their trust in Christ and believe “he was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Rom 4:25).
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  • Jesus spoke of his authority to give eternal life to all the Father has given him (John 17:2). He also said that those who believe in him already have eternal life (in this world) and will not perish (see John 3:14-16, 36; 5:24). In his first epistle John writes: “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11-12).
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  • Paul makes it quite clear that no-one can gain eternal life by doing good works or keeping the Law (Rom 3:28; 4:6; Gal 2:16). The reason for this is that no-one could be good enough to ‘earn’ eternal life by doing good works and keeping the Law. To be good enough to ‘earn’ eternal life would mean being perfect – doing everything written in the law.
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  • So we are not saved (accepted by God) because of our good deeds. However saving faith which leads to eternal life is not mere intellectual belief. It involves real commitment. Saving faith will show itself in acts of love and obedience to God. After all, if we really believe we are saved and receive eternal life only because Jesus died for us then we will want to show our immense gratitude.
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  • Jesus makes it clear that saving faith will lead us to make sacrifices. He challenged the rich man, who asked him how he could get eternal life, to give away all his riches (Matt 19:16-24). He says: “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (Matt 19:28-30, cf. John 12:25; Rom 2:6-7; Gal 6:8; 2 Peter 2:11). Similarly he says that those who serve him by feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, visiting the prisoner, clothing the naked, looking after the sick will go to eternal life (Matt 25:34-46 cf. Heb 5:8-9). He told the parable of the Good Samaritan to someone who asked “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25-37).
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  • Let me summarise to remove any confusion:
  • 1.      Eternal life is a gift which God gives to all who sincerely trust in Christ.
  • 2.      Our good deeds would never be good enough to ‘earn’ eternal life (we’d have to be perfect!).
  • 3.      But true faith will show itself in commitment and good works. It will express IN PRACTICE gratitude for the fact that Jesus died so he could offer us eternal life as a gift.
  • 4.      We show commitment and do good works not in order to gain eternal life (which is impossible) but because we are grateful to have received eternal life as a gift through faith in Jesus. 
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  • With that understanding of faith in Christ (showing itself in good works) we can be secure in the knowledge that we have eternal life and that, as we persist in this faith, we shall certainly be in heaven. Jesus says about his followers “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. (John 10:28-29). He also said: “This is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:39-40).
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  • John assures us: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:11-13). So we can rest assured that our names are written in the book of life in heaven (Luke 10:20; Heb 12:22-23 cp Rev 20:15; 21:27).
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  • Conclusion

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  • There is much we don’t know about Heaven. But we can be confident that we shall be for all eternity in:
  • ·         A place of unending beauty
  • ·         A place of undying love
  • ·         A place of continuous joy
  • ·         A place of unfathomable peace
  • ·         A place of universal kindness
  • ·         A place of endless divine order
  • ·         A place of never-ending fulfilment
  • ·         A place of constant opportunity
  • ·         A place of awesome worship
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[1] Robert Mounce, op. cit., p. 380.

[2] R T France, Matthew, Tyndale NT Commentaries, Intervarsity Press Leicester 1985, p. 317f.



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