I’m in the process of reading Randy Alcorn’s fascinating book entitled Heaven.2 At the outset of the book, Alcorn notes how little emphasis the subject of heaven is given in well known books on systematic theology.3 The statistics I am citing here are Alcorn’s conclusions, based upon his categories and counting.4 In Reinhold Niebuhr’s two-volume work, The Nature and Destiny of Man, Alcorn found that Niebuhr had virtually nothing to say about heaven. In William Shedd’s three-volume, Dogmatic Theology, the topic of eternal punishment is given 87 pages, while heaven is given but 2 pages. The 900-page work of Martyn Lloyd-Jones entitled Great Doctrines of the Bible devotes but 2 pages to the eternal state and the new earth. Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology, a 737-page work, has 2 pages on hell, and 1 on heaven.5
I believe there are a number of reasons why heaven gets so little attention. One reason would be the measure of peace and prosperity we experience as a nation. I would venture to suggest that Christians living in dire poverty are much more likely to long for heaven, and thus are more motivated to study the Scriptures to see what heaven will be like. Those living in countries where Christians are persecuted will be much more likely to be interested in heaven.6 Those who are experiencing too much pleasure on earth are inclined to believe that heaven can wait.
Closely related to this first reason for our apathy regarding heaven is the sad reality that for all too many, government has taken the place of God. Consider God’s words to the Israelites as they approach the Promised Land:
10 For the land where you are headed is not like the land of Egypt from which you came, a land where you planted seed and which you irrigated by hand like a vegetable garden. 11 Instead, the land you are crossing the Jordan to occupy is one of hills and valleys, a land that drinks in water from the rains, 12 a land the Lord your God looks after. He is constantly attentive to it from the beginning to the end of the year. 13 Now, if you pay close attention to my commandments that I am giving you today and love the Lord your God and serve him with all your mind and being, 14 then he promises, “I will send rain for your land in its season, the autumn and the spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine, and olive oil. 15 I will provide pasture for your livestock and you will eat your fill.” (Deuteronomy 11:10-15).
There is a vast difference between farming by irrigation and “dry farming,” where the only water comes in the form of rain. In Egypt, success in farming was relatively certain because the Nile River supplied ample water for irrigation. In Canaan, God’s people would have to depend upon God, not only for rain, but also for fertility related to children and cattle, and for protection from their enemies who surrounded them (Philistines, Syrians, Ammonites, Amorites, etc.). The Israelites were assured that God would provide for all these needs as long as they remained faithful to Him. God warned His people not to look to anyone else (especially heathen deities) to provide for their needs.
Think about the world in which we (Americans) live. People look to government for providing employment (and paying us when we can’t find it). We look to our government to provide us with food, good health care, guaranteed savings accounts, and protection from our enemies, whether foreign or domestic. I am not suggesting that all of these provisions are bad (though some may be questioned); rather, I am asking whether we have come to trust in government to provide us with those things God has promised. Is our trust in God or in our government? The more government provides, the more we depend upon it, perhaps rather than God.
A third reason why we often ignore the teaching of the Bible on heaven is satanic deception and distraction.7 Think about it for a moment. Satan was expelled from his “paradise” as we read in Ezekiel 28:11-19. When Satan approached Eve, he deceived her, not only regarding the goodness of God, but also regarding the consequences of eating the forbidden fruit in the garden. What makes us think that Satan will not seek to deceive men today regarding heaven (and hell)? If he is barred from heaven, and hell was created for him and his angels (Matthew 25:41), what makes us think he wouldn’t oppose anyone entering into the eternal blessings of heaven? Satan is the great deceiver,8 and so we can expect him to deceive men and women regarding the joys of heaven.
A fourth reason for avoiding any thought of heaven is unbelief. I don’t mean that people avoid thinking about heaven because they don’t believe that heaven exists (though there are surely some who would fall into this category); I mean that people avoid thinking about heaven because they don’t believe in Jesus. It is He whose death removed the fear of death for all who trust in Him:
14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), 15 and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15).9
When one thinks about heaven, he has moved from this world to the next, from time to eternity. The unbeliever does not wish to entertain any thoughts of heaven because hell is its counterpart. And lest one suppose that they can put such thoughts out of their mind, we must remember that God’s Spirit has been sent to witness to the truths of sin, righteousness, and judgment:
7 “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I am going away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment – 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned” (John 16:7-11).
A fifth reason why some think too little of heaven is because it seems too far off, both spatially and in terms of time. Our Lord Himself warned believers about thinking that His return was far off:
41 Then Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?” 42 The Lord replied, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his household servants, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that slave whom his master finds at work when he returns. 44 I tell you the truth, the master will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 But if that slave should say to himself, ‘My master is delayed in returning,’ and he begins to beat the other slaves, both men and women, and to eat, drink, and get drunk, 46 then the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not foresee, and will cut him in two, and assign him a place with the unfaithful. 47 That servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or do what his master asked will receive a severe beating. 48 But the one who did not know his master’s will and did things worthy of punishment will receive a light beating. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked” (Luke 12:41-48, emphasis mine).
This text in 2 Peter is referring to false teachers who seek to assure others that there will be no day of judgment, but it also applies to those who would suppose that heaven is something in the distant future because so much time has passed since it was promised by our Lord and His apostles:
3 Above all, understand this: In the last days blatant scoffers will come, being propelled by their own evil urges 4 and saying, “Where is his promised return? For ever since our ancestors died, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 For they deliberately suppress this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water. 6 Through these things the world existing at that time was destroyed when it was deluged with water. 7 But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, by being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 8 Now, dear friends, do not let this one thing escape your notice, that a single day is like a thousand years with the Lord and a thousand years are like a single day. 9 The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief; when it comes, the heavens will disappear with a horrific noise, and the celestial bodies will melt away in a blaze, and the earth and every deed done on it will be laid bare. 11 Since all these things are to melt away in this manner, what sort of people must we be, conducting our lives in holiness and godliness, 12 while waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God? Because of this day, the heavens will be burned up and dissolve, and the celestial bodies will melt away in a blaze! 13 But, according to his promise, we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness truly resides (2 Peter 3:3-13, emphasis mine).
As Peter reminds us, God has delayed the outpouring of His righteous wrath on wicked sinners (and thus, too, the pouring out of the blessings of heaven on believers) because of His mercy. The delay of His second coming is the result of God’s kindness and is not an indication of divine apathy or neglect. He desires the salvation of lost sinners, and so He has delayed His return so that more might be drawn to Him in faith, thereby escaping His eternal wrath. That means that believers must also wait for the blessings of heaven, but as Peter boldly claims, Christ is coming, both to punish sinners and to reward the faithful.10
Having considered several reasons why heaven is a neglected topic, let us now remind ourselves of some of the reasons why it is a worthy subject for us to consider. First of all, heaven is a very large element in the believer’s hope. This is true for Old Testament saints as well as for New Testament Christians:
13 These [Old Testament saints] all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. 14 For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 In fact, if they had been thinking of the land that they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 This brings you great joy, although you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials. 7 Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold – gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away – and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 You have not seen him, but you love him. You do not see him now but you believe in him, and so you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy (1 Peter 1:3-8).
Second, we are commanded to set our minds on heaven:
1 Therefore, if you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1).
13 Therefore, get your minds ready for action by being fully sober, and set your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:13).
It is noteworthy that the first three chapters of Ephesians lay the doctrinal foundation for the exhortations of chapters 4—6. Heaven (or the heavenly places) are a significant part of that foundation. In chapter 1 we read:
Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ (Ephesians 1:3, emphasis mine).
Then in chapter 3 Paul writes:
8 To me – less than the least of all the saints – this grace was given, to proclaim to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ 9 and to enlighten everyone about God’s secret plan – a secret that has been hidden for ages in God who has created all things. 10 The purpose of this enlightenment is that through the church the multifaceted wisdom of God should now be disclosed to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly realms. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord (Ephesians 3:8-11, emphasis mine).
Heaven is not only something we should be thinking about, it is where our heart should be, and that comes about as we lay up treasure in heaven. This begins with money, but that isn’t all:
19 “Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21, emphasis mine).
“And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by how you use worldly wealth, so that when it runs out you will be welcomed into the eternal homes” (Luke 16:9, emphasis mine).
19 For who is our hope or joy or crown to boast of before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not of course you? 20 For you are our glory and joy! (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20)
Third, Paul prayed that believers would be empowered to more fully grasp the benefits and blessings of heaven:
15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you when I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you spiritual wisdom and revelation in your growing knowledge of him, 18 – since the eyes of your heart have been enlightened – so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the incomparable greatness of his power toward us who believe, as displayed in the exercise of his immense strength. 20 This power he exercised in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms 21 far above every rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And God put all things under Christ’s feet, and he gave him to the church as head over all things. 23 Now the church is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:15-23, emphasis mine).
Fourth, all of us are going to die,11 and it is our choice in this life which determines whether we will spend eternity in heaven or hell.
27 And just as people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment, 28 so also, after Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many, to those who eagerly await him he will appear a second time, not to bear sin but to bring salvation (Hebrews 9:27-28).
But to all who have received him – those who believe in his name – he has given the right to become God’s children (John 1:12).
14 Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” 16 For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. 18 The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God (John 3:14-18).
The one who believes in the Son has eternal life. The one who rejects the Son will not see life, but God’s wrath remains on him (John 3:36).
1 “Do not let your hearts be distressed. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house. Otherwise, I would have told you, because I am going away to make ready a place for you. 3 And if I go and make ready a place for you, I will come again and take you to be with me, so that where I am you may be too (John 14:1-3).
11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 The one who has the Son has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life (1 John 5:11-12; see also 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12).
In the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31, it is apparent that the eternal destiny (hell) of the rich man was irreversible once he died. There is no second chance for those who reject salvation in Jesus in life:
8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will destroy by the breath of his mouth and wipe out by the manifestation of his arrival. 9 The arrival of the lawless one will be by Satan’s working with all kinds of miracles and signs and false wonders, 10 and with every kind of evil deception directed against those who are perishing, because they found no place in their hearts for the truth so as to be saved. 11 Consequently God sends on them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false. 12 And so all of them who have not believed the truth but have delighted in evil will be condemned (2 Thessalonians 2:8-12, emphasis mine).
Fifth, much of what people think about heaven is either greatly distorted or just plain wrong. I have a CD album by one of my favorite Christian vocal groups. I love their music, but I cringe every time I hear some of the lyrics and statements made about heaven on the CD. There is too little Scripture and far too much conjecture that goes something like this: “This is what heaven means to me.” People tend to think of heaven in terms of what they find pleasurable now on earth – present pleasures on steroids. Often people talk about heaven more in terms of being with their departed friends and loved ones than of being in the presence of the living God. We have a great deal of work before us if we are to think biblically about heaven.
One occasion where one can find glaring errors regarding heaven is what is said at funerals. Funerals are a time when one is likely to hear something about heaven, and yet what is said of heaven is often tragically wrong. Heaven is usually spoken of in such glowing terms that we feel better letting our friend or loved one go. No problem with that if the departed was a true believer in Jesus Christ. The problem is that the departed – not to mention many in the audience of mourners, and even the preacher – may not have known Jesus Christ as Savior. The impression many preachers leave with their audience is that heaven is that wonderful place to which all good people go, without making it clear that no one is good enough for heaven other than Jesus. Put differently, all are assured of the joys of heaven, but are not warned of the horrors of hell, even though the one who has died (believer or not) would want those left behind to warn their friends and loved ones of what lies ahead:
25 “But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things and Lazarus likewise bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in anguish. 26 Besides all this, a great chasm has been fixed between us, so that those who want to cross over from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 So the rich man said, ‘Then I beg you, father – send Lazarus to my father’s house 28 (for I have five brothers) to warn them so that they don’t come into this place of torment’” (Luke 16:25-28, emphasis mine).
So, having spoken briefly about why many avoid or ignore the subject of heaven, and having given several reasons why we should focus our attention on heaven, let me briefly outline my approach in this and the next three lessons. The general subject is that of hope: “Hope and Change, God’s Way.” But now we are getting a bit more specific, giving particular attention to the believer’s hope of heaven. It is my intention to deal with the hope of heaven by following the progressive revelation of God’s Word, starting with the first prototype of heaven in the Garden of Eden, and ending with the restored Garden of Eden as we find it in the final chapters of the Book of Revelation. This will necessitate four lessons on heaven (unless, of course, I decide to expand on something else):
Paradise Lost (Ezekiel 28; Genesis 1—3
A Taste of Heaven (Heaven foreshadowed in the tabernacle and the temple)
Heaven Came Down (The Kingdom of Heaven in the Gospels)
The Heaven to Come (Heaven in the Epistles)
So, with this said, let’s press on to consider how the Garden of Eden served as a prototype of heaven.
We need to observe that there are really two creation accounts to be found in Genesis 1 and 2. The first account is found in Genesis 1:1—2:3. The overall account takes us from chaos (formless and empty) to cosmos (order). God accomplishes this with a mere word: God speaks it into existence: “Then God said … and it was so” (see Genesis 1:3, 6-7, 9). God changes chaos into cosmos by separating things: light from darkness (1:4); day and night (1:17-18) and so on. God always pronounced the end result as “good.”
The process of creation is approached quite differently in the second creation account in Genesis 2:4-25. Creation is not approached in terms of making order out of chaos, but functionally, as God seeing a need and creating something (or someone) to meet this need. The account begins with some things that are missing. In this account there is:
1. No shrub or plant (2:5)
2. No rain (2:5)
3. No man to cultivate the garden (2:5)
4. No companion and counterpart for Adam (2:18)
Here the progress is not from disorder to order, which is pronounced “good” (as in chapter 1), but rather progress from that which is “not good” because of something lacking, to that which is “good” once the need is met by God’s creative act. This is most clearly evident in the creation of Eve:
18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.” 19 The Lord God formed out of the ground every living animal of the field and every bird of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them, and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man named all the animals, the birds of the air, and the living creatures of the field, but for Adam no companion who corresponded to him was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he was asleep, he took part of the man’s side and closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the part he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, “This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” 24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife, and they become a new family. 25 The man and his wife were both naked, but they were not ashamed (Genesis 2:18-25, emphasis mine).
In this instance, it is God who pronounces the lack of a counterpart for Adam to be “not good.” He then proceeds to underscore this deficiency by bringing all the animals to Adam so that he can name them. It didn’t take a PhD in Zoology to recognize that each male animal had a corresponding female mate. Adam must have begun to look about, wondering where his counterpart might be. It is then that God created Eve, not out of the dust of the earth, but from Adam’s own flesh. Adam’s response is quite clear: he recognizes that this woman is his counterpart, and he likes what he sees! In their unfallen state, they were both naked, but neither felt any shame, before each other or before God.
It is amazing to consider the fall of man as recorded in Genesis 3 in the light of the backdrop which we are given in the two creation accounts in chapters 1 and 2. God created the entire universe by merely speaking it into existence. He created by merely speaking a word. And everything that He created was good. Now Satan has the audacity to question God’s Word: “Has God said?” “You surely shall not die (as God said).” Satan not only dares to pronounce the Garden “not good”; he even goes so far as to declare God “not good” for withholding something “good” (the knowledge of good and evil) from them. Thus, to achieve what is “good” (by Satan’s assessment), Adam and Eve must doubt God’s goodness, disregard the perfection of His creation, and disobey His command. The end result was painful for Adam and Eve, for after they sinned, they realized that God had spoken the truth, that Satan’s plan was evil, and that in obeying him they had forfeited the bliss of “heaven” in the Garden of Eden.
We know from Revelation 22 that the new heaven and earth is described as a restored Garden of Eden:
1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life – water as clear as crystal – pouring out from the throne of God and of the Lamb, 2 flowing down the middle of the city’s main street. On each side of the river is the tree of life producing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month of the year. Its leaves are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:1-2).
So just what was it about the Garden of Eden that made it “heavenly”? Consider the following characteristics of Eden.
1. Eden was a designated place of blessing within God’s creation. This was where God provided all that Adam and Eve needed: their source of eternal life, their food, their work, and their place of fellowship with God. Revelation 22 indicates that the same will be true of the new “Paradise.”
2. Eden was where God placed the people He created for worship, fellowship, and blessing, where they (Adam and Eve at first) would worship God and work together in serving Him.
3. Eden was not a “retirement center,” equipped with hammocks and golf courses; Eden was a place where Adam and Eve were privileged to work, and where their work was a pleasure. Man was created to cultivate and keep the garden and to rule over God’s creation, thereby reflecting God as those created in His image.
4. Heaven was a table, so to speak, filled with a great variety of delicious and beautiful food. (Note that this did not include meat at this point in time – see Genesis 1:29-30; meat would be permissible after the flood – see Genesis 9:3-5). Often heaven will be described in “banquet” terms. See Psalm 23:5; Isaiah 25:6; Matthew 22:1-14; 25:10; Luke 22:14-16.
5. Eden was a place of beauty, where everything was pleasurable to the eye (Genesis 2:9), including the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and its forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:6).
6. Eden was a place of many offerings of good things and the freedom to choose the good things God had made available. It was a veritable cafeteria of good things from which to choose (see Genesis 2:16).
7. Eden was a place of wondrous harmony with the animal world. There was no meat eating, whether that be of man eating beast, or of beast eating man. Only green foods were permitted (Genesis 1:29-30), so man and beast were not in an adversarial relationship. It would seem that communication between man and creature was possible. At least the harmony between man and creature was such that Eve was not taken aback by her communication with the serpent.
8. Eden was a place of blissful innocence (Genesis 2:25). Until the fall, there was no sin, no guilt, no pain or suffering, and no sorrow.
9. Eden was a place of learning. This may be a more speculative point, but I am inclined to think this was the situation in Eden. There was a tree whose fruit was the “knowledge of good and evil.” Knowing good and evil was to become, in some measure, like God (Genesis 3:5, but more importantly Genesis 3:22). Why was it wrong to come to know good and evil, and thus to become more like God? My opinion is that God intended to reveal knowledge to Adam and Eve as He fellowshipped with them, in those evening walks (see Genesis 3:8). How much better to learn from God while enjoying fellowship with Him. In this way, they would be something like the two men on the road to Emmaus (see Luke 24:32).13
I know there are those who believe that we will immediately know all things the moment we get to heaven. There are texts which could be understood to teach this (see 1 Corinthians 13:12). I do not have certainty that when we get to heaven we will, like God, be omniscient (or omnipotent, or omnipresent). I tend to think of heaven as the place where every day (oops, no time in heaven) we will learn more and more about God, and the more we learn, the better it gets, for eternity.
I am reminded of how Solomon’s great God-given wisdom enabled him to understand God’s creation:
29 God gave Solomon wisdom and very great discernment; the breadth of his understanding was as infinite as the sand on the seashore. 30 Solomon was wiser than all the men of the east and all the sages of Egypt. 31 He was wiser than any man, including Ethan the Ezrahite or Heman, Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol. He was famous in all the neighboring nations. 32 He composed 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs. 33 He produced manuals on botany, describing every kind of plant, from the cedars of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows on walls. He also produced manuals on biology, describing animals, birds, insects, and fish. 34 People from all nations came to hear Solomon’s display of wisdom; they came from all the kings of the earth who heard about his wisdom (1 Kings 4:29-34).
Can you imagine what a joy and a privilege it was for Solomon to study God’s creation and see the wisdom of His work? I believe this is just a sample of what believers will do in heaven, as we spend all eternity reviewing history and nature, and seeing God’s hand in it all.
1. Paradise (Eden) was a place of perfection. Contrary to Satan’s claims, there was absolutely nothing about Eden that needed improving. In short, it was good.
2. Eden was a place of eternal life. Granted, Adam and Eve would have had to have eaten of the tree of life (rather than of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) to enjoy eternal life (see Genesis 3:22-24), but it was there for them to eat of and to enjoy eternal life.
3. Eden was a gift of God’s grace. God created Adam and Eve, and He placed them in the garden. Eden and its blessings were God’s work and God’s grace. Adam and Eve did nothing to earn them. Indeed, it was their works that banned them from the garden. Eden was a place of blessing by the grace of God.
4. Best of all, Eden was the place where Adam and Eve could enjoy intimate fellowship with God forever.
When one considers the consequences of the fall, we see the blessings of Eden reversed. Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden and prevented from entering it again. Eternal life was no longer available to them in the garden; instead, death was their fate. Work, which had once been a pleasure, was now painful labor (including the “labor” pains of birth for Eve). The food they ate now had to be obtained by the sweat of their brow, and there was not the abundance or variety they had known in Eden. The harmony with creation vaporized. Now it was not only man vs. beast (see Genesis 3:15), but man vs. man, as can be seen in the murder of Abel by Cain (Genesis 4). Innocence was replaced with guilt and shame. Now, all creation must suffer and groan along with Adam and Eve and their descendants (see Romans 8:18-25). Fellowship with God was lost, and now man was separated from a holy God. If Eden was a taste of heaven, life after the fall was a taste of hell.
11 The word of the Lord came to me: 12 “Son of man, sing a lament for the king of Tyre, and say to him, ‘This is what the sovereign Lord says: “‘You were the sealer of perfection, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty. 13 You were in Eden, the garden of God. Every precious stone was your covering, the ruby, topaz, and emerald, the chrysolite, onyx, and jasper, the sapphire, turquoise, and beryl; your settings and mounts were made of gold. On the day you were created they were prepared. 14 I placed you there with an anointed guardian cherub; you were on the holy mountain of God; you walked about amidst fiery stones. 15 You were blameless in your behavior from the day you were created, until sin was discovered in you. 16 In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned; so I defiled you and banished you from the mountain of God – the guardian cherub expelled you from the midst of the stones of fire. 17 Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom on account of your splendor. I threw you down to the ground; I placed you before kings, that they might see you” (Ezekiel 28:11-17, emphasis mine).
I wish I could say that I understood this passage as well as I should, but I can’t. I think it is noteworthy to observe the correspondences between the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and that of Satan in his “Garden of Eden.” I should begin by saying that this text (much like what we find in Isaiah 14) is speaking prophetically of the downfall of a powerful earthly king. In Isaiah, it is the king of Babylon,14 while in Ezekiel 28, it is the king of Tyre.15 And yet in the course of the lamentation over the fall of these earthly kings, Satan becomes the focus. What is said cannot be true of the king, but only of Satan.
I think I understand why this happens in both Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. These are very powerful kings, but they are wicked, cruel, and arrogant. Their great power has gone to their heads, and they now begin to think of themselves as gods. That is precisely what happened with Satan. He was created with great beauty, wisdom, and power, and yet He wanted more. God had given him authority over much, but he wanted to be regarded as equal with God. And thus, for his sins, he was cast down and banned (to some degree) from his previous splendor.
As the prophets focus on these earthly kings, they see in them another force, another person at work in them – Satan. Thus, he can describe these men with the same words used to describe Satan. And he can likewise prophesy their downfall with the same words that describe Satan’s fall. When we look at Satan’s efforts to tempt our Lord in Matthew 4 and Luke 4, we can understand the relationship between Satan’s fall and his efforts to bring about the downfall of others.
Now, back to the Garden of Eden and the similarities we find between Satan’s fall and the fall of Adam and Eve as it is described in Genesis 3. Note the following points of correspondence:
1. Satan, like Adam and Eve, was a created being.
2. Satan, like Adam and Eve, was placed in the Garden of Eden.
3. Satan, like Adam and Eve, was given authority over much.
4. Satan, like Adam and Eve, was not content with what God had given.
5. Satan, like Adam and Eve, wanted to be “like God.”
6. Satan, like Adam and Eve, rebelled against God.
7. Satan, like Adam and Eve, was cast out of the garden.
I believe it is worthwhile to note that Satan wanted Adam and Eve (and later on, our Lord) to follow in his steps, to rebel against God, and then to be banished from God’s presence. Hell was not created for man, but for Satan and his angels:
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels!’” (Matthew 25:41)
Satan’s desire is to deceive and tempt men, so that they will suffer along with him.
So, we have seen the heavenly characteristics of the Garden of Eden. It is little wonder that the final chapter of the Book of Revelation describes the new heaven and the new earth in terms reminiscent of the Garden of Eden:
1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life – water as clear as crystal – pouring out from the throne of God and of the Lamb, 2 flowing down the middle of the city’s main street. On each side of the river is the tree of life producing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month of the year. Its leaves are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:1-2, emphasis mine).
While additional detail will be given in the progress of revelation in the Bible, the Garden of Eden describes the essentials of what heaven will be like.
In the Genesis account (and also the account of Satan’s fall in Ezekiel 28), we read not only of the glories both Satan and Adam and Eve once enjoyed, we also read of the consequences of their choice to disobey God. Seldom in the Bible do we read of the glories of heaven without also being warned of the horrors of hell. Those who reject God’s provision of salvation in Jesus Christ – including the enjoyment of heaven for all eternity – must, of necessity, be condemned to hell. There is no middle ground. The gospel should not only include the offer of the forgiveness of sins and the enjoyment of heaven; it should also include a warning about the danger of experiencing God’s eternal wrath (aka hell) if one rejects the gospel.
12 (“Look! I am coming soon, and my reward is with me to pay each one according to what he has done! 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end!) 14 Blessed are those who wash their robes so they can have access to the tree of life and can enter into the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the sexually immoral, and the murderers, and the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood!” (Revelation 22:12-15)
As I have already indicated, funerals are a time when not only the joys of heaven are presented (and offered to those in the audience as the result of trusting in Jesus); lost men and women need to be warned about what lies ahead for those who reject God’s offer of salvation, and who seek to gain God’s favor by their own efforts. There will be no one in heaven singing, “I Did It My Way.” They will be singing instead, “Jesus Paid it all …” and “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow.”
There are those who seek to blot out their fear of eternal punishment by believing in annihilation – the belief that when a person dies, he or she is gone forever. The Bible teaches us that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead means that all the dead will be raised to live forever – some in eternal bliss (heaven), and the rest in eternal torment (hell):
1 “At that time Michael, the great prince who watches over your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress unlike any other from the nation’s beginning up to that time. But at that time your own people, all those whose names are found written in the book, will escape. 2 Many of those who sleep in the dusty ground will awake – some to everlasting life, and others to shame and everlasting abhorrence” (Daniel 12:1-2).
11 Then I saw a large white throne and the one who was seated on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne. Then books were opened, and another book was opened – the book of life. So the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each one was judged according to his deeds. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death – the lake of fire. 15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, that person was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15).
Where you spend eternity is determined by a choice that you make in this life. And the choice you must make is this: whether you will trust in your own good works, or whether you will trust in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary, dying for your sins. If you have never acknowledged your sins and trusted in Jesus, you are, by default, an unbeliever headed for hell:
16 For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. 18 The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God (John 3:16-18).
1 And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest… (Ephesians 2:1-3).
It is only those who have trusted in the Lord Jesus for salvation who can joyfully read on in Ephesians 2:
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, 5 even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you are saved! – 6 and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:1-9).
I believe it was Mark Twain who said, “Everyone talking about heaven isn’t going there.” As Satan made Adam and Eve feel secure in their disobedience to God (“You surely shall not die.”), so he seeks to deceive men about the certainly of hell for all who reject Jesus. Are you going to be there?
1 Copyright © 2010 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 4 in the series Hope and Change, God’s Way, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on April 18, 2010. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.
2 Randy Alcorn, Heaven (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2004).
3 Randy Alcorn, Heaven, pp. 8-9.
4 Thus, some might differ with Alcorn’s statistics.
5 I would hasten to add that Alcorn’s categories may be a factor here. He seems to emphasize the distinction between the eternal state (with the new heaven and earth) and the intermediate state of the believer after death. Nevertheless, one has to conclude that some scholars spend less time than one might expect in dealing with heaven.
6 Consider, for example, our Lord’s words to those suffering persecution in Matthew 5:10-12.
7 See Alcorn, Heaven, pp. 10-11.
8 See Revelation 19:9; 20:1-3, 7-10.
9 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
10 2 Peter 3:11-13; see also 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10.
11 Except, of course, those who are alive and in Christ at the time of His return (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
12 It was not until after I delivered this message that I encountered this quote by G.K. Beale: “The cumulative effect of the preceding parallels between the Garden of Genesis 2 and Israel’s tabernacle and temple indicates that Eden was the first archetypal temple, upon which all of Israel’s temples were based. Some of the similarities drawn may not be as strong as others, but when all are viewed together they have a significant collective effect, pointing to Eden as the first temple in garden-like form.” G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2004), pp. 79-80. Beale makes it clear in this work that the Garden of Eden, and then the tabernacle and temples of Israel were all prototypes of heaven.
14 Isaiah 14:4.
15 Ezekiel 28:12.