These propositions must stand or fall together. Heaven has to be a place in
order to accommodate the glorified body of the risen Lord, as well as our own when we
receive them later on. The existence of a body necessitates the existence of a place
for that body to occupy. It is simply impossible for any real object to exist
outside some area in space. Therefore, a thing that is "nowhere" is no
"thing" at all, but nothing - nonexistent. Those, then, who
insist that heaven is only a "state" are actually - though, doubtless,
unintentionally - contending that death annihilates the personality. They are
claiming that Jesus, not to mention the rest of us, has no real existence as a corporate
personal entity beyond the grave.
Such fallacious teaching is essentially the same as the pagan
Hindu doctrine of "Nirvana," which holds forth the gloomy prospect of personal
nonexistence after death. Or should this be denied, there is the subtle rejoinder
that the individual, by merging into "the universal Brahma," merely loses his
identity as an individual. In the final analysis the difference is only rhetorical,
This theory solves no problem at all.
Even a "state" is inconceivable apart from its
concomitant locality. Even a disembodied spirit, so far from being ubiquitous, must
occupy some definite point in space at any given time. Even if, as the Hindus teach,
it somehow coalesced with a vague, omnipresent "universal soul," that
all-pervading "soul" itself would have to subsist in universal space.
There is no less a "place" because of its vast extent.
So, we must conclude that every personality is either local,
universal, or extinct. Therefore, any "heaven" occupied by resurrected
bodies is bound to be an actual locality, not merely some kind of theoretical state
existing within an indefinable void.
It is easier by far to simply believe God's Word, than to
reconcile human theories to known realities. The Bible consistently teaches that our
heavenly home, however spiritual in its nature, is as truly substantial as the grosser
matter of the visible world, though incalculably more refined.
The Geography of Glory
It does not follow, however,
as many people suppose, that heaven is a relatively small domain remotely situated
"far beyond the blue." How easy it is for us to veer from one extreme to
another or to misconstrue a fragment of truth for the whole!
Our heavenly home is neither some sort of nebulous
"state" without a setting, nor merely an isolated region in the sky. It is
a spiritually-conditioned cosmos having no frontiers and no forbidden bounds, save only
that it excludes the abysmal prison of the damned.
In comparison with heaven, hell is like a tiny cavern submerged
in a shoreless sea - an isolated penal dungeon lost in the bottomless depths of a
boundless universe. In the Scriptures it is always alluded to as being
"down" - which, from every human point of view, the world around, positions that
dreadful place of punishment in the heart of the earth.
Modern scientists usually estimate that the outer crust of our
planet is approximately thirteen miles thick. They generally agree that underneath
this peripheral surface of water, rock, and clay, there is a veritable caldron of molten
stone convulsing with indescribable heat. What a "lake of fire and
brimstone," and how close it lies beneath the sinner's feet! It is amply large
for the incarceration of Satan, the wicked angels, and impenitent people who spurn the
overtures of grace - eight thousand miles from brim to fiery brim - but, otherwise,
of no appreciable significance in a setting measured only by infinity.
Heaven, on the other hand, is always mentioned as being
- From the dawn of time the saints have lifted
their faces skyward when in worship and prayer.
- The risen Lord was "taken up"2 into heaven.
- Stephen, in the hour of his death,
"looked up"3 to the resplendent scene where Jesus stood at the
right hand of God.
- Paul was "caught up"4 into the glory world, when he received his remarkable fore-glimpse
of "the land that is fairer than day."
Wherever men are
situated on the geographical earth, at any point of the compass in any hemisphere, they
find themselves beneath the vaulted ceiling of the Father's house. In keeping with
this universal fact, it is apparent that heaven surrounds our planet like cosmic space.
We are, all of us, encircled by its nearness and vastness alike.
The heavenly Canaan is, then, quite literally, "a good land
and large"! It provides "a large place,"5 as the psalmist says, for our expanding fortunes in the ages to
come. There is abundant "room" for the boundless dominions of our
sovereign Lord - for myriad angels, countless saints of ages past, all elect believers yet
unborn, and the multitudes who will be raptured when Christ returns! There will be
room for eternal conquest, development, and growth! Oh yes, our Father's house is
"good" and "large" - as splendid and spacious as infinite wisdom could
devise for infinite power to build!
Think of it! Astronomers tell us that the moon is about
240,000 miles away in distant space, the sun some 93,000,000 miles still farther, and the
stars unnumbered billions of light-years from our little earth.
There is room, I tell you, in our Father's house!
We are told that 500,000 planets such as ours could be compressed
within the circumference of the sun and that uncounted galaxies of immeasurably larger
"suns" are being sighted almost every passing year. All this, they see
through their increasingly powerful telescopes. Still, they have yet to peer, with
their strongest lens and largest mirror, beyond the immediate threshold of our heavenly
Strangely enough, however, there are more than a few misguided
literalists who propose to compute the dimensions of the "better country."
One of them claims to have ascertained that heaven is considerably smaller than
America. He estimates there will be only room enough there for every heir of grace
to occupy a cubical apartment 16 by 16 feet in area!
Such consummate nonsense is due, at least in part, to a general
but needless misunderstanding of John's description of the New Jerusalem, this despite the
fact that John at no time refers to the "holy city" as "heaven."
He tells us, instead, that the New Jerusalem is "the bride, the Lamb's
wife." This language clearly presents a symbolical depiction of the glorified
Church. Instead of being identical with heaven, it will descend "out of
heaven from God."6 It is not called "heaven," but is
said to be from heaven. It is heavenly, in heaven, and of heaven. But
it stands in relation to heaven as, shall we say, a capital city is related to the empire
of which it is a part. As to the specified dimensions of the city itself, the record
makes it clear that they are figurative, being used to "signify"7 spiritual truths.
I repeat, the Scriptures assign no boundaries to heaven itself,
so vast are the expansive dominions of our heavenly home!
Just Beyond the Veil
Another popular misconception
stands in need of correction here. Most people seem to think that heaven is a long
way off - "beyond the starry sky," to use a common phrase. And it is true
that the far-flung battlements of glory do embrace the nether reaches of boundless
space. Moses mentions "the heaven of heavens."8 Paul declares that Jesus "ascended up far above all
heavens."9 But while such passages suggest ineffable
remoteness, there are many others in which the nearness of the better world is asserted
with equal clarity. Heaven is at once both near and far - much nearer, and farther,
no doubt, than most of us have ever dreamed.
If this seems paradoxical, a simple illustration may be helpful.
The ocean can be no nearer to anyone than to a person, any person, swimming in it
at any given point. Yet, to such a swimmer most of its enormous mass is a long way
off. Likewise, heaven is as near to us as water to the skin. It is also as
distant as the ultra-mundane breakers of a universal sea!
Our Lord, in this connection, made a remarkably revealing
statement in His famous interview with Nicodemus. Standing visibly in His fleshly
body, right before the Jewish ruler's eyes, He casually observed that "...no man hath
ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in
heaven."10 Though clothed with our flesh and living as
Man among men, the Saviour was conscious of being "in heaven" all the while!
We are in the midst of heaven all the time. The only
barrier between us and our loved ones in glory is a veil of flesh. When that veil is
rent in the moment of death, the beatific vision will appear. It will be instant,
without any interim of waiting. There will be no "journey," or at least
there need be none. When our bodily "tent" collapses we shall find
ourselves "at home" right where we are. We will be in the Father's house.
We shall be surrounded by the holy angels and face to face with our departed
friends and loved ones who have been hovering all around us every day.
We are already on the invisible scene of our inheritance, and the
intervening veil hangs only on another heartbeat and another breath.
If some Elisha should prevail with God to unshutter our eyes, as
when the servant-lad's were opened to behold the chariots over Dothan,11 we, too, would see the hosts of heaven all about us. We would
discover that, however lonely, we are never alone. This, I believe, is precisely
what the apostle pictures in Hebrews 12:1, where he declares that "we also are
compassed about" with a "great cloud of witnesses." Like the
contestants in an ancient Roman stadium, we are running life's race before the eyes of
many solicitous witnesses who, having finished their course, are waiting to share the
laurels with the rest of us!12
This brings us, naturally, to another question of tremendous
moment: When do we go to heaven?
Cor. 12:2. 5Ps.
18:19. 6Rev. 21:10.
7Cf. Rev. 1:1.
11Cf. II Kings 6:17.
12Cf. Heb. 11:40.