I Don't Want to Go to Heaven If I Can't Get In
Last week we talked a lot about the End Times and some of the events and signs associated with it. And primarily we learned how much we don’t know. The prophecies in the Bible about the End Times are not always clear; they don’t always tell us what, when, and how things are going to happen. So some people have devoted significant amounts of time trying to decipher all the prophecies and there have been a lot of different opinions and theories about how everything’s going to play out that have been formulated as a result.
The End Times In Perspective:
1. God wants us to understand about the End Times, but He doesn’t describe everything so we don’t become preoccupied with it.
God wants us to know that certain things are going to happen, but He doesn’t always tell us what, when, and how so that we don’t become preoccupied with them. He wants us to know about the future but He wants us to live in the present and be about the business of serving Him and others now. And let’s be honest; if we know the End Times weren’t going to be for another several centuries, we’d procrastinate. We’d put off the stuff we should be doing, like practicing habits of spiritual growth and telling others about Jesus and making sure we’re right with Him ourselves.
2. While there’s a lot of ambiguity about the End Times, there are three events that are quite clear:
• There will be a time of Tribulation.
We don’t know everything that’s going to happen during it, but we know it’s going to be a terrible time filled with natural and manmade disasters.
• Christ-followers will be taken in a Rapture.
That means we’ll be taken in an instant and without warning. The Bible talks about how two people will be together and suddenly one will be gone and the other left behind. That’s a picture of the Rapture.
• Jesus is coming again.
After the Resurrection and before the Ascension... and actually, even before the Crucifixion... Jesus described how He’d be going away for a while but that He would return. And that He would be returning to bring reward and judgment. That’s the Second Coming.
The rest of it... the Millennium, the Abomination that Causes Desolation, the Mark of the Beast, the identity and role of the Antichrist, the sequence of events... so many things are mentioned but not fully explained. These three are clearly described. Why? Because they us to prepare and be ready. We’re warned about the Tribulation, so if we’re here through it we’ll understand what’s going on. And we’re told about the Rapture and Second Coming so they can give us hope and a light at the end of the tunnel.
3. We need to be strong about what we know but be careful about speculating.
Every once in a while you hear about someone who thinks they’ve got it all figured out. Just a few months ago, you might remember Harold Campint—that Christian radio host from California who predicted the Rapture would happen on May 21 of this year (2011). Well, the media got hold of it and ran with it. It became a running joke. I remember listening to one radio program where the host signed off with, “See you Monday, assuming we’re all still here.”
It was a joke. That kind of irresponsible and speculative stuff really makes Christians and the Christian faith look bad. Plus, the fact that he had also predicted the end of the world in 1988 and in 1994 should have been a clue.
Be strong about what you know and about what is clearly described—there will be an End Times but we don’t know when... it could be today, it could be a thousand years from now. But there will be a time of Tribulation like the world has never seen before, there will a Rapture when all believers will be taken to be with Jesus into eternity, and there will be a Second Coming when Jesus brings reward and judgment. Be strong about those kinds of facts, but be cautious when it comes to speculations and interpretations of prophecies that are more vague.
And fourth, since we don’t know exactly how everything is going to play out, and since we don’t even know if we’ll be here through the Tribulation or not, you and I need to...
4. Hope for the best; be prepared for the worst.
It’d be great for us personally if the Rapture happened before the Tribulation and believers were spared from all the disasters associated with it. But that’s just one of the theories, and a more recent one at that. There are no guarantees. So it’s also quite possible that we’ll have to endure the Tribulation along with everyone else. And really, that can be a positive thing because there will be people ready to choose to follow Jesus during that time, but if we’re not here, who’s going to tell them about Him? So you can hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst.
5. The End is not really the end; it’s only the beginning.
The End is not really the End, it’s just the end of life the way we know it. I mentioned earlier that Jesus would be returning to bring reward and judgment. Well, that reward or that judgment will determine your eternity. And that’s what we’re going to talk about for the rest of our time this morning.
Where do you plan to spend eternity? As Yogi Berra, said...
“If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else!”
~ Yogi Berra
So it’s important that you figure it out and make your arrangements now. Where do you want to spend eternity?
I’ve been hearing a song played on the radio quite a bit lately. It came out at the beginning of the summer, so perhaps you’ve been hearing it, too. Listen...
[Play chorus from “I Don’t Want to Go to Heaven If I Can’t Get In” by O.A.R.]
[Show on screen:
I Don’t Want to Go to Heaven If I Can’t Get In
~ by O.A.R.]
Have you heard that song? “I don’t want to go to Heaven if I can’t get in” What’s that all about? What’s it mean? I’ve read some of the message boards and listened to discussions about this song, and no one seems to agree. It could be a statement against organized religion; maybe it’s a stand for gay rights; perhaps it’s someone saying that if they can’t be a success they don’t want to bother trying... The meaning’s pretty unclear.
But taken from our perspective, how dumb is that comment? “I don’t want to go to Heaven if I can’t get in.” Does that make any sense?
If you take it literally, why would a person be excluded from Heaven? Because the don’t know Jesus. Their name’s not in that “Book of Life” we talked about last week. They’re sinful and have not been forgiven. And so they won’t be granted access.
Okay, we understand that. So why would that person turn around and reply, “Well, if you don’t want me, I don’t want you.” First of all, that’s a pretty childish reaction. Secondly, it’s Heaven. Of course you want to be there. It’s an eternity of joy and happiness and bliss... there’s nothing not to like. And third, there’s only one other choice. And it’s not that appealing.
So let’s start there. What is that other choice? The Bible uses different words for it, but we generally call it Hell.
Two Potential Eternal Destinations:
1. Hell / The Lake of Fire
Actually, there are those who would say these two terms refer to two different things. Hell, they would say, is like a temporary holding tank. The ungodly who die now go and spend the time between now and the judgment in Hell. And then at the time of the Second Coming and the Judgment, their fate will be sealed as they are thrown into what the Bible describes as the Lake of Fire.
Whether Hell and the Lake of Fire are the same thing or they refer to two different things, either way you don’t want to go there. In fact, it was never meant for you.
• It was never designed for us.
It was never meant for any person. Talking about the Judgment, Jesus said...
“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.’“ (Matthew 25:41 NLT)
So who was that eternal fire prepared for? The devil and his demons. It wasn’t made for us, but those who reject Jesus will still end there by default.
And strangely, that thought’s even appealing to some people. “I don’t want to go to Heaven if I can’t get in.” One of the main reasons I hear that some people give for not wanting to go to Heaven is that none of their friends will be there. Or that it sounds boring. Or that they want to go and party in Hell.
But that’s a serious misunderstanding of the nature of Hell. Granted, we’re not exactly given extensive descriptions of either Heaven or Hell, but there are some things we do know.
We know that Hell is not going to be a place for you to get together with buddies to have a good time. Nor is it going to be a place where Satan is in charge. He’s going to be a prisoner and will be experiencing the same punishment as everyone else there. It’s not a place you want to go; It’s going to be a place of darkness, of isolation, of eternal torment... it’s not going to be a fun place.
• It will be a place of torment, not for enjoyment of sin.
Lady GaGa has a hit song right now, too, and in it she says...
“Put on your shades ‘cause I’ll be dancing in the flames...
It isn’t hell if everybody knows my name.”
~ Lady GaGa in “I’m On the Edge of Glory”
But it’s not going to be like some big barroom from Cheers. Nobody’s going to be calling your name when you walk through the door. It’s a place of torment, not camaraderie.
In the New Testament there’s a term which Jesus often used to refer to Hell. It’s the Greek word “Gehenna.”
Gehenna was the actual name of a valley just a little southwest of Jerusalem. In Hebrew, it was known as the Valley of Hinnom. Here’s a picture of the valley today, as it looks toward Jerusalem.
That’s today; let’s go back a few thousand years. In Old Testament times, the Canaanites used this valley to sacrifice their sons and daughters to the false god Molech. In 2 Kings 23 we’re told that King Josiah put a stop to all of that by defiling the altar of Topheth located in that valley, making it unfit for these sacrifices to continue.
Over the next several centuries, by the time Jesus arrived on the scene, the valley had been converted into a garbage dump. All of the filth and garbage of Jerusalem--including the dead bodies of animals and criminals--would be thrown out into this dump.
And there were always fires burning there, trying to consume the waste but there was always more to burn. And think about the smell. It’s bad enough for me when I forget to empty the compost bin… I’m sure that valley would have been unbearable to be around.
This is what Jesus was referring to when he said;
“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands. If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one foot than to be thrown into hell with two feet. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It’s better to enter the Kingdom of God with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, ‘where the maggots never die and the fire never goes out.’“ (Mark 9:43,47-48 NLT)
That’s quite an image Jesus paints of Hell, isn’t it? He’s saying, “If you want to know what Hell is like, look at Gehenna. The garbage, dead bodies, the fire, the maggots, the smell… multiply that by eternity and you’ll at least have a glimpse of the horror of Hell.”
• It will punish the unrighteous throughout eternity.
In the passage we just read, Jesus talked about how the maggots never die and the fire never goes out. In other words, Hell or that Lake of Fire is a place of ongoing, eternal punishment.
That goes against the notions that some people have that you serve a little bit of time in Hell and then you’re either released after a while or you burn up and cease to exist. Those who enter never come out and their punishment never ends. Take a look at something else Jesus says about this...
“And they [the unrighteous] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46 NLT)
“Eternal.” Same word used in two places in this verse. If it means “forever” when you’re referring to eternal life, it also means “forever” when referring to eternal punishment.
So, the big question: who will be going to Hell?
• It is the destination for all who reject Christ and live in rebellion against Him.
In Revelation 21, John writes about who will be cast into the Lake of Fire. He wrote...
“But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8 NLT)
So you’ve got a pretty broad range there... from unbelievers and liars all the way up to murderers and witches. Anyone who is immoral. Anyone who is too cowardly to live for Jesus. For all of them, their destination is the fiery lake.
Jesus, though... He talked about how there will be some people who won’t think they fit the profile. They’ll think they’ve been good enough and done enough good things to gain entrance into Heaven instead. And they’ll even argue with their judgment.
“On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’“ (Matthew 7:22-23 NLT)
What’s the reason Jesus gives for turning them away? “I never knew you.” How you live and what you do is important, but the key is whether or not you know Jesus and Jesus knows you. If Jesus doesn’t know you... if your name’s not in the Lamb’s Book of Life that we talked about last week... then your destination is that Lake of Fire.
So let’s talk about the alternative... the place where we all really do want to end up.
2. Heaven / The New Heaven and New Earth
Okay, why do I have two things listed here? Because this is another one of those things that Christians debate about. Do we spend eternity in the Heaven that exists now? Or do we spend it in a new Heaven or on a new earth?
Well, take a look at what John wrote about what happens after all that stuff we talked about last week... after the Tribulation, the Rapture, the Second Coming, the Millennial Kingdom... after all that, John wrote...
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (Revelation 21:1-2 NLT)
You also find references to this new heaven and new earth in the writings of Isaiah and Peter. So what were they talking about? They were talking about how after all is said and done, God is going to recreate or renew or restore everything that has been so ravaged by sin. Whether this means completely eradicating the old earth and creating a brand new one, I don’t know. Whatever it is, it’s going to be free from sin.
And how about this new Heaven? What’s that about? Well, a couple possibilities. First, maybe God’s going to decide to renew everything at the same time, both physical and spiritual. So in addition to the earth being renewed, Heaven will be, too.
Second, you’ve got to understand that the Hebrews used the term “heaven” to refer to three different things. One is the same thing you think of... a spiritual realm where God and the angels reside. That’s actually the “third heaven” that Paul referred to in his writings. But “heaven” could also mean the sky or the atmosphere around the earth--that’d be the first heaven--and it could refer to outer space where the moon, the sun, the stars... where all of that is. That’d be the second heaven.
So when John wrote about a new heaven, he could have been talking about the spiritual heaven or he could have simply been saying that the actual atmosphere and maybe the entire universe is going to be recreated, too. I can’t say definitively what he meant.
• It is the dwelling place of God.
This is actually a definition of Heaven. Heaven is where God is. Kind of like Air Force One. Air Force One generally refers to a specific plane. But if the President boards a different plane, that plane then becomes Air Force One.
Wherever God is, that’s Heaven. I mention this because of the obvious question regarding the “new heaven and a new earth.” Where do Christians go? Are we going to Heaven or staying on earth?
Surprisingly, it’s actually difficult to find reliable resources that discuss this. But here’s what I’d say: We’re going to spend eternity in Heaven... in the presence of God. But there’s a pretty good chance that will be on the new earth. Take a look at this... right after John wrote about seeing a new heaven and earth, he said...
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.” (Revelation 21:3 NLT)
God’s presence will reside on the new earth. It will literally be heaven on earth. Not the same kind of earth you think of now, but a recreated earth. Perhaps restored to what it was like before sin entered the world. What’s that mean? Well, we’re given a bit of a description in the rest of Revelation 21, but it’s difficult to tell what’s literal and what’s figurative, so I’m going to avoid specifics. It’s suffice to say that it’s going to be awesome and perfect in every way.
• It is the eternal destination of Christ-followers.
Let me pull together a couple of passages here... First, what Jesus told His disciples before His crucifixion...
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” (John 14:1-3 NLT)
Okay, so that sound’s like Jesus is talking about preparing someplace far off, in a different realm even, and someday we’ll go there. But then consider that passage in relation to what John wrote in Revelation...
And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (Revelation 21:2 NLT)
Is it possible that Jesus was talking about preparing this “New Jerusalem,” this Holy City of God, that will itself come to us? That it will literally descend onto the New Earth? Truthfully, I hadn’t really thought about it before this week. But it seems plausible.
And by that way... the terms “streets of gold” and “pearly gates” that we often associate with Heaven? They’re actually taken from Revelation 21 in reference to this New Jerusalem. I expect, as we talked about last week, John was having trouble putting what he was seeing into words. As beautifully as he describes this city to be, I’m sure he doesn’t do it justice.
• It will be a place of eternal joy with no suffering or sin
No surprise there. That’s what you expect Heaven to be like, isn’t it?
He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:4 NLT)
So that sounds good. As does that fact that...
• It will be our eternal home with our glorified bodies
Yes, you will still have a body. You won’t be some disembodied spirit that floats around through the clouds. You’ll have a body, but it won’t be a body that’s subject to illness and decay and death. It will be a transformed, glorified body.
What’s that mean exactly? We’ll have to wait and see. Some people think that we’ll become like Adam and Eve were before the Fall. Some people speculate that we’ll also all be at the “perfect age,” whatever that is. (Many propose that we’ll all be 33 years old, the age Jesus was when He was crucified. Babies will miraculously age and the clock will be rolled back for the elderly. We don’t really know. But this is what we do know...
Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. (1 John 3:2 NLT)
But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. (1 Corinthians 15:51-53 NLT)
Have you ever read one of those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books? You know, the books where you’re reading along and you have to make a decision. If in they story you’re walking down the street and decide to turn left, you go to page 52 and your story continues from there. If you decide to turn to the right, you turn to page 39 to continue, and you keep making those types of decisions which eventually determines how the story ends.
Well, you get to choose your own adventure. We’ve talked about the two possible destinations: Heaven and Hell. Which will you choose?
I know most of you have already made your choice. Most of you have already established Heaven as your destination by virtue of entering into a relationship with Jesus Christ. If you haven’t, why not? You can join with the rest of us and spend eternity in the presence of God in Heaven.
Copyright © 2011 Greg Hanson