Going To Heaven?

“Going to Heaven” is so common a phrase describing the Christian’s hope when days on earth are done that you’d think it would be found in the Bible more often than it is. How often is that? Brace yourself. None at all.

Here is what was on the mind of the apostle Paul when he wrote from prison to the saints in Philippi. He wrote that he was in a strait—hard pressed between two things.  The one was that the saints here on earth needed him, and on that account he was confident of his release through their prayers and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. This, Paul wrote, was “according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phi 1:20,21 NKJV).

And so Paul anticipated that if he lived, Christ would be magnified in his body. And—the other side of the strait—if he died? What gain did he have in mind?

For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. (Phi 1:23 NKJV)

There it is, the other thing that pressed hard upon him, which he called “far better”—the desire to “break camp” (for so the word depart implies) and… go to Heaven? But it wasn’t Heaven that was on his mind. It was to be with his beloved Lord Jesus Christ who loved him and had died for him, and whom he had come to know and love in sharing His sufferings here on earth.

And where is Christ? Yes, in Heaven, and of course the habitation of the saints who have gone on is in Heaven. But going to Heaven was not the yearning of the apostle, but rather to be with Christ Himself, as we discover also in the rapture passage:

Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thes 4:17)

“With the Lord.” That’s what Heaven was all about for Paul… being with his beloved Lord Jesus.

This is just as, for Christ Himself, returning to Heaven was all about being with the Father.

But now I go my way to him that sent me; and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou? (Jn 16:5).

I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father. (Jn 16:28)

Christ desired to be with the Father. And where is the Father? “Our Father, who is in heaven…” (Mt 6:9)

And His great desire was and still is that His own be with Him there:

Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. (Jn. 17:24 NKJV)

If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour. (Jn 12:26).

Those two verses are joined together in an old hymn:

O Jesus, Thou hast promised
To all who follow Thee,
That where Thou art in glory
There shall Thy servant be.

Yes, but those who love Him desire to be with Him even though it mean sharing in His suffering and shame. Such was the love of Ittai the Gittite for David the king at the time of Absalom’s coup. It looked like David had lost the kingdom, so he gathered his few faithful followers and prepared to leave Jerusalem behind. When he saw his friend Ittai and his men among those following, David urged him to go back. Foreigner that he was, and already an exile (from Gath of the Philistines), he need not jeopardize his life like this. “Return and remain with the king,” David said. (Quite something, that David called Absalom king.) But it wasn’t securing his own life and interests that was in Ittai’s heart. It was David himself who was in his heart. And he continued to call him king.

And Ittai answered the king, and said, As the LORD liveth, and as my lord the king liveth, surely in what place my lord the king shall be, whether in death or life, even there also will thy servant be. (2 Sam 15:21)

What love. And such is the love of those who have come to know the King of kings in the days of His humiliation and rejection—in the days of our sojourning here in this present evil Christ-hating world. To follow Him, to serve Him, to be with Him wherever He is… this is all we desire.

It’s all He desires.

I am reminded of the repentant thief on the cross who asked the Lord beside him to remember him when He came in His kingdom. “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be… in paradise” (Lk 23:43). Paradise? It’s the same word that the Septuagint translators used for the Garden of Eden. “Today you will be… in the Garden.” How wonderful is that; who could want more? But did you notice that I left out two words? “Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.” What is Paradise without this One, who so loved a dying thief that He was laying down His own life for him at that very moment, desiring that he live with Him forever in the Paradise of God?

This reminds me of Samuel Rutherford (1600–1661). He was a Scottish pastor who was a Nonconformist—that is, one who refused to “conform” to the required procedures of the Church of England. For this he was deprived of his ministry in Anwoth in southwest Scotland, was exiled to Aberdeen in the north, and barred from preaching anywhere in Scotland “for the duration of the King’s pleasure.” It was during his two years in Aberdeen that Rutherford wrote many letters which were eventually compiled and published. In the earlier letters he often wrote with sorrow of his temptation to believe it was the Lord Himself who had been displeased with him and had therefore removed him from his duties as pastor. This caused him deep anguish; he felt defeated, and wrestled with doubt and discouragement and depression—along with the pain of being separated from the flock of God he loved so much, grieving that they were left to hands of hirelings and  the jaws of wolves. But then he made a discovery. Over and over he would write of Jesus coming to him in such times, coming to him and communing with him His love for him, a love the depth of which he had not known before, but had discovered in the fellowship of His sufferings. Oh how this love raptured his heart.

And Rutherford came to love Him as never before, to the extent that, although he wrote profusely of going to Heaven in his letters, he wrote also this:

“If heaven were at my disposing, I would give it for Christ, and would not be content to go to heaven, except I were persuaded that Christ were there.”

Selah.

 

14 responses »

  1. Thank you, Allan. More solid Bible-based good sense, and to think that so many have been ‘evangelised’ on the basis of ‘do you want to go to heaven?’.I love your focus on the ‘heart of things’. Much appreciated.

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  2. What a necessary and wonderful clarification in these days, bro. Allan! Btw, I love that OT reference to Ittai and David.

    Your writing stirs my own desire for Christ himself, whether in this life or the life to be. Such a need today to put CHRIST at the centre of things, when humankind and cheap Christianity loves to put Ego there.

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    • Thanks, Erroll, I was stirred myself, and did some heart searching, as I wrote this. It’s about first love, isn’t it. May we all be broken hearted and repentant of any way that we have left our first love. Christ Himself.

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  3. This is good Allan! I’m reminded of The Lord’s prayer :

    Our Father, WHO ART IN HEAVEN, hallowed be thy name; THY KINGDOM COME; THY WILL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

    The finished product will be to transform this earth – There shall be a New Heaven & New Earth wherein dwells righteousness all because of Christ Jesus! His presence shall be everywhere and in everything.

    Isaiah 60 19-22:

    19 The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory.

    20 Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.

    21 Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified.

    22 A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation: I the Lord will hasten it in his time.

    So as you conveyed Heaven is not the desired end but being one with Jesus Christ and The Father!

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    • Amen, Joe. I recall something William Gurnall (The Christian in Complete Armour) wrote of a saint who had just passed on. It was said of him that “he changed his place but not his company.” In other words, while on earth he made keeping company with Jesus his one preoccupation, and now in Heaven would find this unchanged. May we do the same, so that we enjoy His company as He does ours, and together continue to do so whether in Heaven or here as we await and long for the day when His Presence will fill all heaven and earth.

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  4. Allan – This was such a wonderful and much needed reminder! Truly our desire is for the Person, not the place; as the Lord told the woman of Samaria when she wanted to know where is the right place to worship “. . .true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers.” I look forward to the day when we can enjoy Him without hindrance from our fallen nature and this cursed world system!
    “Look! The residence of God is among human beings. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. Rev. 21:3 NET
    Enjoy His Divine Generosity and Extravagant Mercy!
    Lori

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    • Thanks, Lori, you wrote, “Truly our desire is for the Person, not the place…” And His desire is for us, as the bride in the Song of songs said. “I am my beloved’s and His desire is toward me.”

      I have these lines on the flyleaf of my Bible:
      He and I in that bright glory
      One deep joy shall share:
      Mine, to be forever with Him,
      His, that I am there.
      (Tersteegen)

      It warms my heart to hear from you again, Lori. A blessed new year be yours!

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  5. Some great comments above, thank you all.

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  6. Wonderful insights, Allan! ⭐ If I may say so, I sensed that your writing has changed over the last year or so. It seems to me that the Lord has drawn you closer to his heart lately. ❤ It is not the wording you choose, rather, you share His life in what you write and I love this!! 🙂

    “If heaven were at my disposing, I would give it for Christ, and would not be content to go to heaven, except I were persuaded that Christ were there.” (Samuel Rutherford)

    Amen! What a great quote from someone who came to see that apostle Paul was so right when he said,

    “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:4-7 ESV)

    It appears to me that while our body and soul may suffer, the Holy Spirit pours down His overwhelming peace through our own spirit so that, despite circumstances, all suffering is pushed in the background. Or rather, all suffering is flooded with God’s love, peace, and joy so that we can hardly perceive the pains anymore.

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    • Thanks, Susanne. My blog entry (and what’s been happening in my own heart) is about returning to first love. That is, to Jesus Christ Himself. To illustrate, suppose a woman in, let’s say, Canada, was being courted by a man in Europe somewhere. They’ve never met, but they communicate back and forth in various ways, and fall in love. Then the man proposes to her, and invites her to come and meet him. She is so excited. She tells her friends, “I’m going to Europe, I can hardly wait!” I wonder what the man would think if he heard that this was her reaction. Even so with us, when we are more enamoured of the things of Christ than with Christ Himself.

      In another blog entry I read recently, first love was likened to the fire that ignites the oil that, burning in the lampstand, creates light. Oh that this fire of first love might burn in our hearts once again, that there might be light shining forth in our lampstands, our churches. We are called to do this. “Repent,” says Jesus, “and do the first works (inspired by first love), or I will come unto you quickly and remove your lampstand out of its place.” That’s how vital this matter of first love is to Jesus whatever else we might have.

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