God has not seen fit to reveal to His children all the details of the life to come. He has, however, made known to us what we need to know for our encouragement and establishment in the faith.
THE RAPTURE OF THE CHURCH
The event that will bring this present dispensation of grace to a close is the rapture of the Church—the true Church—to be with Christ.
“For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
“Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds1 to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
“Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (I Thes. 4:16-18).
But when Saul of Tarsus saw the Lord in His heavenly glory he was instantly blinded, and only by a divine miracle was his sight restored. How then will we be able to endure His glory? The answer is found in I Corinthians 15:51:
“We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.”
In contrast to the gradual—often all-too-slow—metamorphosis referred to in II Corinthians 3:18,2 this change will be sudden:
“In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye…” (I Cor. 15:52).
Philippians 3:20,21 also refers to this wonderful change:
“For our conversation3 is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ:
“Who shall change our vile body, that it might be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself.”
What a glorious prospect! And the most wonderful part of it is that not only will our bodies be changed, but we shall be changed morally and spiritually, so that we will never again be tempted to commit one single sin to grieve our Lord.
THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST
Believers will appear before “the judgment seat of Christ”4 immediately following the rapture. This is evident from the following Scriptures:
I Thessalonians 4:17: “caught up together…TO MEET THE LORD IN THE AIR.” Clearly this is not a chance meeting, but a called meeting. We are caught up to meet Him. Some have rendered this passage: “for a meeting with the Lord.” Note also that this meeting will be held “in the air,” before we “go [bodily] to heaven.”
I Corinthians 4:5: It is when “the Lord comes” that He will “bring to light the hidden things of darkness” as He “judges” our Christian conduct and service.
II Timothy 4:8: Here refers to a “crown” to be given to him and to “all them also that love His appearing”—“at that day.”
Then, with our “slates” (as His people) all wiped clean, as it were, we will “judge angels” (I Cor. 6:3) and, in proportion to our former faithfulness, will “reign with Him” (II Tim. 2:12). As the kingdom saints will reign with Christ on earth (Luke 19:17,19), we, His heavenly people, will reign with Him over the earth and over the angelic hosts who now have this authority (Rom. 8:17).
And then—how could any book contain all the details of an eternity with Christ? We could not understand them in our present state, neither do we need to know them. It is enough to know that He has saved us by His grace and has given us a heavenly position and prospect (Eph. 2:4-6),
“That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace, in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Ver. 7).
THE INTERMEDIATE STATE
If we know little about the glory of “the ages to come,” we know even less about the so-called “intermediate state,” our state between death and the resurrection. But again, there are some things we can know, and God has revealed all that we need to know.
We know, for example, that we shall be conscious—and consciously blessed. See what the Apostle Paul, by divine inspiration, has to say about this:
“to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
“to be with Christ…is far better” (Phil. 1:23).
“We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (II Cor. 5:8).
And there is more. In Luke 16:19-31, we find “the beggar” in conscious blessedness in what has been called the “blessed compartment” of hades (Ver. 25). This is where the saved of former ages went at death. Further, in Luke 23:43 we have our Lord promising the crucified thief: “Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise”—evidently the same place.
But our Lord did not remain in hades with the saints there, for we read in Ephesians 4:8-10: “When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and…ascended up far above all heavens…,” so that now “Paradise” has been transferred to the epouraneous, the highest heavens. Indeed, from II Corinthians 12:4 we learn that Paul was “caught up into Paradise,” which was now in “the third heaven” (Ver. 2). Thus it is Scripturally correct to say that believers “go to heaven” at death.
THE BEST OF ALL—”WITH HIM”
As we contemplate the glories to come, surely the most blessed prospect of all is the fact that we shall be “with Christ,” whether we depart this life before the Rapture of the Church, or whether we “are alive and remain” until that time. Note the emphasis on this glorious fact in Paul’s epistles:
“We are confident, I say, and willing rather, to be absent from the body and to be PRESENT WITH THE LORD” (II Cor. 5:8).
“…having a desire to depart and to be WITH CHRIST, which is far better” (Phil. 1:23).
“…so shall we ever be WITH THE LORD” (I Thes. 4:17).
“For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,
“Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together WITH HIM” (I Thes. 5:9,10).
As we consider these glories that God has prepared for His children, is it not enough—and most blessed of all—to know simply that we will be “with Christ”! If I were invited to visit one of the world’s richest and noblest men, would I need to inquire about the food and lodging? Would it not be enough simply to know that I would be “with him”? Or, where love and protection are concerned: If a loving father from New York City were to take his son for a vacation in California, would it be necessary to inquire about the details of the son’s whereabouts and activities? Where is he now? Is he well fed? Is he enjoying interesting and beautiful sights? Would it not be enough simply to know that a loving father has provided this time of pleasure, and that his son is there “with him”?
Thus it is with the glorious things held in store for the members of Christ’s Body. What more do we need to know than He has told us, especially since He has told us that whether we are taken by the hand of death or whether we are still alive at the Lord’s coming for His own—from the very moment of our departure from this world, we will be “with Him”!
Many stories have been told about heaven that are Scripturally deficient, but one of these at least brings out a most precious truth. A simple but godly old man, it is said, died and went to heaven. There he was met by an angel who offered to introduce him to his new surroundings. “Where’s my Jesus?” asked the old man. “Oh, we’ll see Him soon,” said the angel, “but I’m sure you’ll want to see the beautiful mansion in which your mother now lives.” “Well, that’s all right,” said the old man, “but I want to see my Jesus.” “You will,” replied the angel, “but first let me show you your new surroundings and especially the mansion prepared for you.” “No! No!” said the old man, “all that can wait; I want to see my Jesus.”
Incorrect as some of the details of this story undoubtedly are, it brings out forcefully the deep desire of every spiritual believer to see His blessed Lord and to be forever with Him.
“Wherefore, comfort one another with these words” (I Thes. 4:18).
A DISPENSATIONAL PERSPECTIVE
In closing it should be observed that all these blessings will be the more precious to us as we consider them from a dispensational perspective.
All of the glories that we shall share “with Christ” are promised to us as members of His Body, hence they are found only in the epistles of Paul. Neither in the “Old Testament,” nor in the records of our Lord’s earthly ministry do we find one promise of going to heaven to be with Christ at death.
Israel’s hope and prospect were earthly in sphere. Christ, her Messiah, was to—and will—reign over her, and over the other nations, on earth (Jer. 23:5). Thus, at His coming to earth 2000 years ago, He was named “Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God WITH US” (Matt. 1:23). This prospect will, of course, be more completely realized during our Lord’s millennial reign. What a joy it will be when Isaiah 11:1-9 and 35:1-10 and 59:20-60:3 are fulfilled, and the favored nation dwells in a restored land with Messiah in her midst! Indeed, this hope will be even more gloriously fulfilled in the “new earth” of Revelation 21:3, of which we read:
“Behold, the tabernacle of God is WITH MEN, and He will dwell WITH THEM, and they shall be His people; and God Himself shall be WITH THEM and be their God.”
But all this has to do with Israel and the nations and is based on Old Testament promises. Not until we come to the epistles of Paul do we read of a “hope which is laid up for you in heaven” (Col. 1:5).
Wonderful as it is that our Lord will one day dwell on earth as Emmanuel, “God with us,” it is still more unspeakably wonderful that we, redeemed sinners of this present dispensation of grace, will one day be “caught up” to be “with Him”! Yes, Christ is “our hope,” and heaven, God’s own dwelling place, is our home!
- “Clouds”—i.e., the hosts of His attending angels. Cf. Heb. 12:1; Rev. 1:7.
- The Greek word rendered “changed” here is metamorphoo.
- Gr., Politeuma, Citizenship.
- Our judgment for sin is blessedly past (John 5:24; Rom. 8:1), but according to I Corinthians 3:13-15 our conduct and service as Christians will be reviewed at “the judgment seat of Christ,” where some will be “rewarded” for faithfulness and others will “suffer loss.” There both our service (I Cor. 3:10-15) and our conduct (II Cor. 5:10) will be scrutinized. See the writer’s booklet, Will There Be Tears in Heaven?