“Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city” (Revelation 22:14).
According to the Bible Heaven is a very real place where people live and enjoy life there. Heaven is not some ethereal existence where people just float about all day long. It is an actual place. Jesus and the apostles tell us this in the Bible. The apostle John describes heaven in several places in the book of Revelation. He clearly shows that it is the dwelling place of every true follower of Jesus Christ.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4).
Everyone has an eternal destiny after they die. People will go to one of two places either Heaven or hell that ultimately leads to the lake of fire and nothing can change that fact. Jesus and the apostles also spoke about hell and the lake of fire. However, the purpose of this study is to show from God’s word the future destiny of all true believers.
1. Whoever does God’s will lives forever with God.
“The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:17).
Everyone is going to live forever
However, not every one is going to live in heaven. To live forever according to John here means to live with God in heaven for eternity and to enjoy life there. What is the will of God? How can we know it? The Bible itself tells us the answer. The will of God is to believe in Jesus whom God has sent. “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 him up at the last day” (John 6:40). “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Believing in Jesus is not merely an intellectual belief but one that receives Him personally and confesses Him as Savior and Lord. “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become the children of God-who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (Romans 10:9-10).
The Obedience of Faith
This faith also involves obedience to Jesus and to His Word. “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). Paul writing to the Christians in Rome speaks about “the obedience of faith.” In Romans chapter one he speaks of the “obedience that comes from faith” (NIV) but the original Greek language renders it; “the obedience of faith.” In other words faith that is not accompanied by obedience to god’s Word is not Biblical faith even though it believes right doctrine. The Lord Jesus also said; “I tell you the truth if a man keeps My word he will never see death” (John 8:51). The Lord Jesus made it very clear that doing God’s will was the basis of our acceptance or rejection for eternity and not just doing works in his name. Listen to what He also said; “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me on the day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from Me you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21-23). We need to ask ourselves the question, “Am I doing the will of God?” Believing in Jesus with our heart and confessing him as Savior and Lord is where God’s will is fully activated in a person’s life. The resurrection to eternal life is only found in Jesus Christ. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever live and believes in Me will never die” (John 11:25-26).
2. For a believer in Christ physical death is described as Sleeping.
“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-15).
The New Testament always speaks of physical death for a believer as “sleeping” or as “falling asleep.” Those who have died in faith have gone before us to heaven and although their bodies lie in the grave according to God’s Word their bodies are not dead but sleeping. Even though their bodies rot away in the ground they will be raised to life again at the first resurrection. They will be immortal then. Even though Job’s body was racked with pain and sickness he was able to say, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes – I and not another. How my heart yearns within me” (Job 19:25-27).
For a believer in Jesus Christ death is like sleeping. This is what happened to Stephen when he died. “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this he fell asleep”(Acts 7:59-60). Jesus himself spoke of Lazarus as sleeping even though he was physically dead. “After He had said this, He went on to tell them; “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up” (John 11:11).
Not a state of unconsciousness
“Sleep” in relation to the believer itself is not a state of unconsciousness, but a state of highest consciousness and mental activity. Humanly speaking we can be physically asleep but very much awake in our subconscious mind. In that sphere of the inner mind we can be in the past or in the future or in the present where time as we know it on earth does not exist. In fact “Eternal Sleep,” if we can use that term for the believer in Christ, is a condition in which a believer is out of contact with the outside world. A Christian who is “sleeping” in Christ is shut up to himself, to God and to Jesus and to the whole host of heaven itself. They have gone to join “the spirits of just men made perfect.”
3. When a believer dies he or she is absent from the Body and at Home with the Lord.
“Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it” (2 Corinthians 5:6-9).
Our Heavenly Citizenship
We must always live in the light of this fact that believer’s ultimate home is not in this world because their citizenship is in heaven. To be with Jesus is far better than our present state. The Apostle Paul put it this way when he said; “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean faithful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me” (Philippians 1:21-26).
What is better?
Paul wanted to leave his body and go home to be with Jesus but he knew that his task on earth wasn’t completed and that God still had work for him to do. When the time came for him to depart this life and to go to be with Jesus Paul knew that he had completed God’s will for his life. “For I am being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day-and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
Just going ahead
If we do God’s will in this life we will also know when the time has come for us to go home to be with Jesus. Undoubtedly Paul had developed many strong friendships and cared about the ongoing spiritual welfare of all the churches, however, he knew that his time had come. When we come to die as believers we will feel a sense of sadness to leave our brothers and sisters in the Lord behind. However, the joy and certainty we have is that we are just going on ahead of them and that we will see them again at the resurrection or in heaven should they also die before the rapture. When the time comes for us to die we may still feel a sense that our work is not completed and that those we love in the Lord still have a long way to go. However, we can confidently leave them in the hands of the Lord knowing this, that “He who has begun a good work in us (as well as in them) will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
It is not ‘soul sleep’
Now the Bible does not teach “soul sleep” or “purgatorial torments” or a state of unconsciousness. According to Paul death for the believer is a state of conscious bliss; however, it is not ultimately the highest state to which we shall attain as believers. Our ultimate spiritual experience will be the resurrection of our bodies! Paul said, “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed-in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where O death, is your victory? Where O death is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:51-55).
4. When Jesus comes for the Faithful Church believers will be Physically Resurrected and have bodies the same as Jesus Himself has.
“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21).
We shall be like Him
One day as genuine believers in Christ we will have the same kind of body that Jesus has. Right now when we look at our bodies and even our spiritual deficiencies it is hard to imagine what we will be like when Jesus comes for us but when He comes we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He really is. John put it this way when he said: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure”(1John 3:2-3). The believer’s resurrection body will be one that is completely free of all human limitations, one that radiates with the full power and life of God Himself.
Moses and Elijah
We can see what we will be like as believers in the resurrection in the way Moses and Elijah appeared on the mountain of transfiguration with Jesus. Moses and Elijah shone with the same brilliance and splendor that Jesus did. They all looked just alike. Our resurrection body will be the same body we had on earth but its metabolism and even its appearance will be different. Paul tells us this; (1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 47-49) “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power, it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body¡. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have born the likeness of the earthly man, so we shall bear the likeness of the man from heaven” (Philippians 3:20-21).
How are the dead raised?
“When you plant grain in the ground it is a seed and looks like a seed but when it springs up in the soil it looks completely different yet it is the same grain of seed that was planted. “But someone may ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’ How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body” (1 Corinthians 15:35-38).
Spiritual but recognizable bodies
The apostle John was Jesus cousin and he had grown up with Jesus and knew Him very well, however, when he saw Jesus in his glorified state in heaven he hardly recognized him until Jesus showed John that it was really Him. “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead. Then He placed His right hand on me and said, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One: I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and hades” (Revelation 1:17-18).Likewise, in heaven believers will hardly recognize each other because their physical appearance will be really different from what it is now. Like Jesus they will have real and solid physical bodies but they will be able to pass through walls just like Jesus’ body was able to do. (John 20:26)
Destined to share God’s Glory
Believers are destined to share in the Glory of God. The Lord Jesus said this would be so. “I have given them the glory that you gave Me, that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:22). “But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14). “Now if we are children, then we are heirs-heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17).
5. For believers the Rapture and The Resurrection will be the Same Event.
“According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left to the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18).
Where the past and the future meet
In eternity time as we know it on the earth does not exist. In eternity one day is like a thousand years of our time. (2 Peter 3:8) In time as we know it on earth when a believer dies physically their body goes into the ground and their spirit and soul go to God. However, when they die they pass into eternity where the past, the present and the future do not exist in the same way that they do on earth. The moment their physical eyes close in death at that moment, with their same physical eyes, they will see Jesus coming for the Church. It’s like sleeping. When you fall asleep and wake up the next morning it seems that you just closed your eyes for a moment and then opened them again but in physical time you have been asleep for eight or nine hours.
While in earth time there is a period between the time of a believer’s death and their future resurrection in eternity the two events are happening at the same time simultaneously. This is why Paul says what he does. If we die as a believer then Jesus has come for us! We have been raptured already before our fellow believers who are still in their bodies on earth. In eternity the rapture happens at the same time the resurrection happens. There is no gap between these two events! On the Mount of transfiguration Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus. All three were transcending time, as we know it on earth. Eternity and time were happening at the same time. Moses represents those who physically die while Elijah those who are physically raptured yet they both appear with Jesus in the same moment of time. This is how it will be at the resurrection. Believers who are still alive in their bodies will meet Jesus in the air along with those believers who have already died. They will all be clothed with immortal bodies at the same time. This will happen instantly. (1 Corinthians 15:51-52) One minute the believer will be here and in the twinkle of an eye they will have gone to meet Jesus in the air. Imagine how people in the world will react! Many will realize, too late, that what Christians were saying was true!
6. After the Resurrection believers will be rewarded according to the works they have done.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
The Judgement seat of Christ
Every believer will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. This is not a judgment for salvation. The word used here for “judgment seat” is “bema” describing the seat of the judges at the Olympic Games who pass out the rewards to the athletes who have been competing in the games. This is not the great white throne judgment as there is a different word used in the Greek language to describe that seat. That seat is for the judgment of unbelievers. Every believer’s works will be tested by fire and only the genuine works will remain but what is not genuine will be burned up yet the believer will still be saved. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15) We are saved by faith without works but rewarded according to our own works after we have been saved. We are saved without works but if we are saved then we will have works! Otherwise; “faith, by itself, if it is not accompanied by actions, is dead” (James 2:17).
7. Resurrected believers will Co-reign on the earth with the Lord Jesus during the Millennial Kingdom.
“You have made them to be a kingdom of priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:10).
When the Lord Jesus comes again to judge the world He will come with His Church. As the prophet Zechariah tells us; “Thus the Lord my God will come, and all the saints with you” (Zechariah 14:5). Paul also said; “So that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints”(1 Thessalonians 3:13). In the book of Revelation John describes this event. “He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and His name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following Him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen white and clean” (Revelation 19:13-14). Compare: (Revelation 19:7-8). At that time He will overthrow the kingdom of the Antichrist, remove Satan from human contact and reign over the whole earth from the city of Jerusalem. He must reign from the City of David to fulfill the messianic prophecies.
The son of Joseph and the all-conquering King
In his first coming He was the Son of Joseph, the suffering servant but in His second coming He will be the Son of David, the all-conquering “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:16) While the Church will primarily dwell in heaven the saints will have access into the earth and along with the remnant of Israel on the earth will enforce Jesus’ rule over the whole world at that time. Not only will Jesus rule the nations with a rod of iron but we also will rule with him. “To him who overcomes and does My will to the end, I will give authority over the nations- ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter; He will dash them to pieces like pottery” (Revelation 2:26-27). “She gave birth to a Son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter”(Revelation12:5).
8. Our ultimate destiny is to be a part of the New Jerusalem, God’s Eternal and Heavenly City.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ “(Revelation 21:1-4).
The New Jerusalem
In the New Jerusalem sorrowing, suffering, bad memories, pain, sickness, shame, sin and death will no longer exist for believers. Everything will be completely new. Even the loss of loved ones who were not saved will somehow not be remembered. As far as God is concerned our real family are all those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Now in this life God wants to save families but the reality is that not every family member will be saved. Jesus himself said that the gospel would bring a sword of division between family members because some would refuse salvation. (Matthew 10:32-36) However, in the New Jerusalem all of the destructive and hurtful things in this life will no longer be remembered. The New Jerusalem will be the whole company of the redeemed coming down out of heaven to the earth. The Bible tells us what this city will be like. It will be an abiding city. “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14).
Lets now look at what else God’s Word tells us about the New Jerusalem. Turn your Bible to Revelation Chapters 21-22.
(Revelation 21:22-27) “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it. 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.”
Believers will worship the Lord directly. (Vs. 22) The Glory of God is its light and the Lord Jesus Christ is its lamp. (Vs. 23) There will be perfect security in that city. (Vs. 25) The glory and the honor of the nations will be brought into it. (Vs. 26) Nothing evil whatsoever will be able to enter that city. (Vs.27)
(Revelation Chapter 22:1-5) “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”
A life-giving river will flow out of that city. (Vs1) Direct access to the tree of life will be there. (Vs 2) There will be no more curse there. (Vs 3) Believers will see God’s Face and bear His name forever. (Vs 4) There will be no more night there and believers will reign forever. (Vs 5)
Beyond anything we can imagine!
This wonderful place beyond anything we can even imagine or think will be our ultimate destiny if we love the Lord Jesus Christ and love and obey the truth of His Word then we will shine like stars in the universe. The glory of God and the Lord Jesus Christ will fill the whole universe with their splendor and brilliance through the redeemed for all eternity. Amen!