Inside the Pearly Gates: What Will We Do in Heaven?
October 29, 2022 | Ray Pritchard
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Some years ago, when Billy Graham was preaching on heaven, he said these words:
“Some day you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”
Those words came true on February 21, 2018, when Billy Graham died at the age of 99. After decades of non-stop preaching, writing, speaking and traveling, his heart finally began to fail. He died at his home in Montreat, North Carolina.
Here’s something else Billy Graham said:
“When we all reach the end of our earthly journey, we will have just begun.”
That’s a sobering and thrilling thought. Death for all of us is just the end of our earthly life. It’s not the end of us.
Death is not the end
What does death mean for the Christian? Ponder these words of the Lord Jesus Christ in John 11:25-26:
I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?
If these words of Jesus mean anything, they tell us that death as we know it is not the end.
If we know Jesus, death is the beginning of life with God in heaven.
Heaven is a Real Place
Children have no trouble believing in heaven even though their ideas are sometimes a bit mixed up.
Eight-year-old Eric described heaven this way: “It is a place where there is a lot of money lying around. You could just pick it up, play with it, and buy things. I think I am going to buy a basketball and I am going to play basketball with my great-great grandmother.”
Scott said, “Heaven is up in the sky, and you could look down at circuses for free if you want to, except you have to ask God for permission first.”
Seven-year-old David declared that heaven is “kind of big and they sit around playing harps. I don’t know how to play a harp, but I suppose I should learn how to play that dumb thing pretty soon.”
Tommy, age seven, spoke for many adults when he said, “I know what heaven is, but I don’t want to go there. I want to go to North Carolina instead.”
Many of us would say the same thing. We know heaven is real, but we’d rather go to North Carolina first. Heaven can wait as far as we’re concerned.
But that attitude, common though it may be, reflects a complete reversal of the biblical picture.
We’d rather go to North Carolina
This earth is passing away. It is here today and gone tomorrow. Heaven (which seems almost like a fairy tale to us) is the true reality, and it is “the heart’s true home.”
The book of Revelation tells us more about heaven than any other book in the Bible.
Most of us probably know about the lovely picture of heaven in Revelation 21-22, but there is another, much briefer picture of heaven found in Revelation 7:9-17.
In only eight verses the Apostle John pulls back the curtain and gives us a tantalizing glimpse of our eternal home.
What will heaven be like? What will we do there? What will we experience? When we look at this passage, we discover three truths that help us answer those questions.
#1: We will be part of a vast community of multicultural praise (vv. 9-12).
“After this I looked
and there before me was a great multitude
that no one could count,
from every nation, tribe, people and language,
standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.
They were wearing white robes and were holding
palm branches in their hands.
And they cried out in a loud voice:
‘Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’
All the angels were standing around the throne
and around the elders and the four living creatures.
They fell down on their faces before the throne
and worshiped God, saying:
‘Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks
and honor and power and strength be to our God
for ever and ever. Amen!’”
This passage gives us a great deal of helpful information about heaven.
First, note their number. There is a vast crowd before the throne, so huge that it is beyond human calculation.
Second, note their variety. There are saints from every nation, tribe, people and language group.
If you want to get ready for heaven, go to choir practice!
Third, note their posture. They are before the throne of God, standing like an army before its Commander in Chief.
Fourth, note their appearance. They wear white robes, a symbol of purity, and they hold palm branches, a sign of victory.
Fifth, note their song. They sing about salvation that comes from God and from the Lamb. What a picture this is. The saints are redeemed and rejoicing. As Tony Campolo says, if you want to get ready for heaven, go to choir practice!
What do we learn by pondering this unnumbered multitude? Certainly it teaches us God will not be defeated. There will be no empty thrones in heaven. God will not be satisfied with a handful in heaven while the devil gets the majority. What kind of salvation would that be? Many will be saved. Many from every nation! God has a quota, and the quota will be met.
According to the Joshua Project, there are 17,400 “people groups” in the world. Those groups make up a world population of 8 billion people. Right now, approximately 42% of the world is still “unreached” with the gospel. That equals 3.4 billion people who have no access to the Good News of Jesus.
But in heaven, the redeemed will come from every people group on earth, including those not yet reached. We know that because John saw people from “every” tongue and tribe and nation standing before the throne.
This ought to teach us something about the power of the gospel, about the greatness of God’s heart, and the universality of the church. In this scene we have the end to all sectarianism, the end to all pessimism, and the end to evangelistic discouragement.
God’s heart is big!
God’s heart is big!
There is no room for bigotry, prejudice, or ethnic hatred.
It won’t happen in heaven.
It shouldn’t happen on earth.
It’s easy for us to say “Us four and no more” as if somehow sinners are so evil they can’t be saved nowadays.
Away with all such poor-meism and unbelief!
As we look around at the cultural decline, it’s tempting to conclude the bad guys are winning. They aren’t.
God keeps score in his own way. And even when it looks like he’s losing, he’s not. He only appears to be trailing. But in the end, God wins. And he wins big.
There will be more people in heaven than we have dreamed possible because our God is greater than our limited imagination.
In the end every geographic barrier will be swept away. Every prejudice will be gone. Every bit of human strife will be left behind, and partisan bickering will simply be forgotten.
No prejudice in heaven
But note that we keep our individuality in heaven. John saw the redeemed gathered into nations, tribes, language groups, and clans.
Just as Jesus retained the marks of his earthly suffering after his resurrection, even so we will retain our personal and group identities.
The saints are all redeemed, but they are not homogenized.
What language will we speak in heaven? Answer: All of them. In heaven we will hear English, Spanish, Urdu, Portuguese, French, Italian, Russian, Swahili, Hausa, Finnish, Yiddish, Hindi, Guarani, Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish, Korean, Japanese, and Chinese, to name just a few.
Although I can’t prove this, I believe each person will speak whatever language(s) they knew on earth and the rest of us will understand everything that is said.
That is, I may hear someone speaking Arabic and I will know it is Arabic and I will understand it even though right now I can’t speak Arabic at all.
We will know our loved ones in heaven!
In heaven I believe we will understand all the languages we hear, just as the early believers did on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-13.
If you think about it, this scene answers the oft-repeated question: Will we know our loved ones in heaven? The answer is yes.
If in heaven I am still joined to my nation, my tribe, my own people, and if I still speak my own language, how could be a stranger to my own loved ones? Such a thought is impossible
Those relationships on earth that were sanctified by saving grace will continue for all eternity, becoming deeper and more precious as the ages roll on.
Consider an aged couple that has walked together for 55 years, facing all the joys and trials of life hand in hand. Will they say a fond farewell to this life, only to become strangers in the next?
It is inconceivable, impossible, and against the words of our text.
It cannot be true.
Those I love in this life I will love more deeply in the next. And that love will be returned in a purer form in heaven because it is not mixed with base desires and earthly weakness.
What a glorious picture of heaven this is. There is heavenly harmony, a symphony of praise. Every day is a holiday (literally a “holy day”) in heaven.
#2: We will be on the other side of suffering forever (vv. 13- 14).
“Then one of the elders asked me,
‘These in white robes—who are they,
and where did they come from?’
I answered, ‘Sir, you know.’
And he said, ‘These are they who have come out of
the great tribulation;
they have washed their robes and made them white
in the blood of the Lamb,’”
Pause for a moment over that phrase: “the great tribulation.” I am aware that its most immediate application lies in those terrible end time events just preceding the coming of Christ to the earth when the seals are opened, the trumpets blown, and the bowls of judgment poured out on the earth.
But in a larger sense those words apply to all believers. This world is sometimes called a “vale of tears,” and so it is.
Every person in heaven will have a story.
Every saint comes out of a “great tribulation”
One was persecuted, one was sick, one was forgotten, one was abandoned, one was mistreated, one was bereaved of lost children, one lived through a divorce, and another suffered physically for many years.
Every saint comes out of a different kind of “great tribulation”, but all come to heaven by way of the cross.
Where once on earth there was a dark cloud of suffering, it is now replaced by the bright light of heaven.
The road was steep, the journey hard, and the waters of death cold and deep, but all God’s sheep made it safely to the other side.
Not one of them blames God—Salvation is their only cry!
Who are these who populate heaven? Who comprises such a vast multitude? Not the rich, not the poor, not the black or the white or the Asian or the Hispanic. Not the men or the women, not the old or the young.
There are distinctions in heaven but only one group: those who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. This is the only entrance qualification for the City of God.
Think about that picture for a moment.
You begin with the soiled garments stained and ruined by sin. Plunge them into the blood of Christ. When they come out, they are not crimson but are instead as white as snow.
From this we learn a great Bible truth.
Paved with the blood of Christ
The road to heaven is paved with the blood of Christ. Only those who walk that road by faith in the crucified Lamb will ever enter the celestial city.
#3: We will experience the life we could never find on the earth (vv. 15-17).
“Therefore, ‘they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple.
He who sits on the throne
will spread his tent over them.
Never again will they hunger.
Never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of living water.
We will never grow old in heaven
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”
Here is the final picture of heaven.
The believers are seen gathered in the place of honor before the throne of God. There they serve him day and night.
In heaven we never grow weary.
The longer we serve him, the stronger we become.
We mount up with wings as eagles, we run and are not weary, and we walk and do not faint.
In this life we must rest sooner or later. Age and sickness come to us eventually, and we cannot do what we would like. Even the strongest gives way eventually.
But in heaven we will go from strength to strength and from joy to joy. We will serve him in his temple, which means we will be in his immediate presence.
There will be no “second-class” saints in that day. And over us he will spread the tent of his protection. Thus we will not hunger, will not thirst, and will never be sunburned again.
Why are the saints so happy in heaven? Think of their position. They stand before the throne, they serve God day and night, and they follow the Lamb wherever he goes.
We will follow Jesus wherever he goes
In this life we follow Jesus by faith, but then we will follow him by sight.
Whatever we need, he will supply. In heaven Psalm 23:1 will come true in a new and deeper way: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
The final word is this: No tears in heaven! We simply cannot imagine a world without tears. Today we live with heartbreak and sadness on every side. But soon all suffering will be gone forever.
Someone asked if God will personally wipe our tears away. Yes, the God who loves us will himself wipe away our tears.
One translation offers a wonderful twist on this image: “And God will make glad their eyes forever” (The Bible in Basic English).
Many things about heaven are a mystery but some things are clearly revealed. Here are three things that won’t happen in heaven:
We will not grow weary,
We will not suffer want, and
We will not weep.
No tears in heaven!
In reading Revelation, I am struck by how many of the truths about heaven are stated in the negative. Heaven will be the absence of so many things that trouble us on the earth.
There will be no tears, no death, no sorrow, no pain, no night, no defilement, and no curse.
Best of all, there will be no more goodbyes. This says it all for me.
No more saying goodbye to a loved one as their body is lowered into the grave. No more seeing our children grow up and leave us for some distant place. No more saying farewell to dear friends. No more broken friendships and broken marriages. No more misunderstandings that grow into bitter disputes. All of that will be left far behind.
C. S. Lewis liked to say that Christians never say goodbye. We simply say, See you later. And we will.
Bored in Heaven?!?!?!
As I was preparing this sermon, a friend with two young daughters reminded me of a question children often ask.
Won’t heaven be boring?
After all, it sounds like one really long church service. Who wants to go to church forever? Many adults have secretly wondered the same thing.
Here is my answer. What do the saints do in heaven?
They stand, they sing, and they serve.
They celebrate a great victory, they serve in God’s temple, they see God on his throne, and they follow the Lamb everywhere.
We will never grow bored doing that. After all, we will never come to the end of God. And we’ll never come to the end of the universe. And we will never run out of things to learn.
We will sing, we will stand, we will serve
I find it helpful to think of it this way: In heaven all our gifts and talents will finally be used. Here on earth so many things hold us back. Sometimes circumstances keep us from doing what we know deep inside we could do if only someone would give us the chance.
The expectations of others keep us hemmed in.
The demands of daily life keep us from being all we could be.
Physical limitations hamper us.
Some people want to sing, but there is no one to listen. Others want to paint, to cook, to write, to design, or to lead. Think of your dreams and hopes and aspirations and ponder how few have been fully realized. In heaven you will have ample time to develop them all—and in ways that would startle you if you knew about it now.
Our talents will be fully used in heaven
We will take all our gifts and talents and put them at the disposal of the Lord. For all eternity we will find ourselves growing and learning and all the while celebrating the amazing grace of our Sovereign God.
That’s why death for the believer becomes the Great Adventure, the doorway to glory, the entrance to an unending journey beyond our wildest imagination.
Traveling to the stars pales by comparison.
Will You Be There?
One question about heaven remains. Will you be there?
Following a campaign speech, a young man rushed up to Senator Everett Dirksen and said, “Senator, I wouldn’t vote for you if you were St. Peter!” Dirksen eyed the young man for a moment, then said: “Son, if I were St. Peter, you couldn’t vote for me, because you wouldn’t be in my district.”
When you die, make sure you are in heaven’s district, or else you will be left out for all eternity.
Billy Graham was right. Death is not the end for the believer. It’s the beginning of a new life with Jesus in heaven. When we move to a new home on earth, we file a change of address with the post office. When we die, we change our address from earth to heaven.
Heaven is the heart’s true home
You don’t have to live in fear or doubt about your eternal destination. There’s an old gospel song called “Since Jesus Came Into My Heart.” One of the verses contains this phrase, “There’s a light in the valley of death now for me, since Jesus came into my heart.” That light is the light of Jesus who stands knocking at the door of your heart right now.
Do you know him? I pray you will open the door and let him in. You will never regret that decision. When death finally comes, it won’t be death at all, but an entrance into life everlasting. May God grant you grace to believe in Jesus and make you restless until you find your rest in him.
Lord Jesus, what would we do without you?
Where could we go but to the Lord?
You alone have the words of eternal life.
On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.
Thank you for hope that death cannot destroy.