What I Believe About Heaven: The Pageantry
June 17th, 1990 @ 8:15 AM
WHAT I BELIEVE ABOUT HEAVEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-10-90 8:15 a.m.
As you know, these four sermons on heaven are being meticulously prepared because they are to be published by Tyndale Publishing House. There are four of them; one has been delivered Sunday a week ago, What I Believe about Heaven, the Place. Today, What I Believe about Heaven, the People, who is going to be there? Next Sunday: What I Believe about Heaven, the Pageantry, what we are going to do. And the last Sunday: What I Believe about Heaven, the Preciousness.
This Sunday, and we welcome the throngs of you who share the hour on radio. This is the pastor delivering that message on What I Believe about Heaven, the People Who are There. Reading in the seventh chapter of the Revelation:
After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palm branches in their hands;
And they cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.
And all the angels, and all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four cherubim, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshiped God,
Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.
And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, Who are these arrayed in white robes? and where did they come from?
And I said…Sir, I do not know; you know. And he said to me, These are they who have come out of tēs thlipsēōs tēs megalēs, the tribulation the great, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Therefore are they before the throne of God, serve Him day and night…
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall any sun light on them…
For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead unto living fountains of water: and God, God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
What I Believe about Heaven, the People: who will be there?
First: the angels of God. The word “heaven” occurs five hundred fifty-nine times in the Bible; and angels are constantly identified as being in heaven. When we arrive there, that will be about the first overwhelming scene that we shall behold: that vast, innumerable, multitudinous throng of angels. Hebrews 12:22 avows that, “Ye are come unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels.” I just can’t imagine such a scene; just arriving there and there the whole heaven is filled with angels. Revelation 5:11: “And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne…and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, chiliades, chiliadōn.” Like Revelation 9:16: “muriades muriadōn, myriads and myriads and myriads,” translated here “ten thousand times ten thousands, and thousands of thousands” [Revelation 5:11].
And you have that constantly presented in the Word of God, the multitudinous number of the angels. In Luke 2:13: “Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.” And remember what our Lord said in Matthew 26? He said to Peter, “Put up your sword. Do you not know that I could pray to My Father, and He shall presently send Me more than twelve legions of angels, seventy-two thousands of angels?” just for that one providence [Matthew 26:52-53].
Angels, they are persons, they are somebodies; they are created by God, as we are. They are not eternal. In Psalm 148, “Ye angels praise the name of the Lord: for He commanded, and they were created” [Psalm 148:2, 5]. They’re people as we are. They have personality; the basic capacity to have fellowship with God, which is in contradistinction to all animal creation. They have intelligence; they seek to learn as we do. They do not know the time of the second coming of Christ, Matthew 24:36; but they desire to be instructed in the whole plan of salvation and our ultimate victory in the Lord Jesus, 1 Peter 1:10-12. They have emotions. They rejoiced and were filled with gladness at God’s creation of the world, Job 38:7. They bow in reverence before God, Isaiah 6:3, Hebrews 1:6. They praise God and were exultant at the birth of Christ, Luke 2:13. And it is in their presence that joy resounds in heaven over one sinner that repents [Luke 15:10]. They are filled with emotion, with reaction.
They have moral sensitivity. They have the power of choice and discernment. One third of their number chose to follow Satan, Revelation 12:4; and became forever confirmed in evil, 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 1:6. The two thirds of their number who chose to follow Christ are forever confirmed in their salvation. That’s a remarkable thing, and when we look at it, we realize we are exactly like that. Just as we shall be in heaven, nevermore to be tempted to fall, to err, to sin, we shall be as the angels in heaven, [Matthew 22:30]; as with the angels in heaven, we shall be confirmed in the service of God. Where God is, angels are, and we are. Where angels are and we are, God is. Where there are no angels, and if there is no we, there’s no God. The Book of the Revelation describes heaven and God as no other book in the Bible; and there angels appear more frequently than in all the other books of the Bible combined. And we also appear there in multitudinous numbers. That’s a marvelous and wonderful thing! Where they are, we are; and where we both are, God is [Revelation 5:11-14]. And if we’re not there, God is not there.
They have names and separate, distinct assignments, just as we have. Michael, which means “who is like God,” he is called an archangel [Jude 1:9], he is called the chief prince [Daniel10:13], he is called a great prince [Daniel 12:1]. He is God’s champion in battle, and he is always presented just like that. Then there is one named Gabriel; that means “the mighty one of God.” He’s always God’s messenger: to Daniel [Daniel 9:21-27], to Zechariah [Luke 1:11-20], to Mary [Luke 1:26-38]. And they’re not all alike: they belong to separate orders. We’re not all alike. Some of them are cherubim, the plural of “cherub” [Exodus 25:18-20]. In Genesis 3:24, that’s the first reference to angels. In Exodus 25 and following they are above the mercy seat [Exodus 25:18-20]; they were woven into the tapestry of the veil of the tabernacle and of the temple [Exodus 26:31], and they were on walls of Solomon’s house of worship [1 Kings 6:29]. Then there are seraphim, the plural of “seraph”; means “the burning ones,” and they are a consuming devotion to God. Then there are archangels, among the chief princes of heaven [Jude 1:9]. And there are guardian angels assigned to be with us. In [Matthew 18:10], every little child born into this world has a guardian angel to watch over from heaven. In Matthew 2:13 an angel took care of the holy family. In Matthew 4:6-11 an angel was there to help Christ in His temptation. And in Luke 22:43 an angel ministered to our Lord in the hour of temptation. There are guardian angels that love you and watch over you.
They have been given many varied and distinct assignments, just as we do. In Acts 5 they opened the prison door to the apostles [Acts 5:18-19]. In Acts 8:26, one directs Philip to Gaza; in [Acts 10:3], one speaks to Cornelius of Caesarea; in [Acts] 12:7 one delivers Peter from the hand of Herod Agrippa; in [Acts 27:23], one stands by Paul in the storm of the Mediterranean. In the first sentence of Revelation 1, an angel is the messenger who you have it translated “signifies”; the word is, look at it, “sign-ified, sign-ified” [Revelation 1:1]. The great Apocalypse was delivered to John in signs, in figures, in great dramatic sequences; and an angel presided over that, guided John all the way through. An angel constantly accompanies John through the Apocalypse. Angels execute the fearful judgments of God [Revelation 8:2-9:16, 16:1-21], and angels reveal to John the glories of the holy city, New Jerusalem [Revelation 21:9-21].
Now, not only in heaven, not only in heaven are we with the multitudinous, uncountable throngs of angels, but we are there with the saints of God. This is an old man’s testimony, and you’ve heard me speak of it in these days and years passed—when he was a little boy he testified, when he was a little boy he thought of heaven as a great city, with high walls, and domes, and turrets, and a multitude of white-robed angels and saints, not one of whom he knew. Then as the days passed, his little brother died; and he thought about heaven as being the great city of God with its walls and temples and domes, and its white-robed angels, and the great multitudinous throng, and one little face that he knew, his little brother. Then he said, “The years have passed and passed and passed, and mother’s gone, and daddy’s gone, and my brother and sisters are gone, and my wife is gone, and my children are gone.” And he says now when he thinks about heaven, he doesn’t thing about heaven in terms of white-robed angels and great turreted walls and a vast throng that he doesn’t know; but he thinks about heaven now as, “Where mother is, and dad is, and the wife is, and the children are.” That’s so true.
What a beautiful song we sing:
I’ll sing you a song of that beautiful land
The far away home of the soul
Where no storms ever beat on the glittering strand
And the years of eternity roll
Oh, how sweet it will be in that beautiful land,
So free from all sorrow and pain,
With songs in our hearts, and with harps in our hands,
To greet one another again.
[“I Will Sing You a Song,” Ellen Maria Huntington Gates]
Reminds me of my first funeral, when I was a teenager, when I was like you children here. In my first funeral, in my first little church, a tenant farmer and the little baby—I was standing there—and the little baby died of terrible convulsions. And in the service, after it was over, they put the little casket on a flat-bottom truck, and I had a little coupe, a little one-seated car, and I sat at the driver’s seat and the young mother sat next to me, and the young father on the other side. And when the truck started out with the little casket and I started to follow it, she began to cry so piteously. He put his arms around her, and drew her close to his heart and said, “There, there, sweet, don’t cry. Our baby is with Jesus, and Jesus will take care of him better than we. And we’ll have our little baby someday in our arms again.” It’s a beautiful thought. It’s a wonderful comfort. It’s the Christian faith.
We go to Paradise when we die. In Luke 16:22, the beggar is carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom, into Paradise. And in Luke 23:43, Jesus says to that repentant thief, “Today, this day, sēmeion, this day, you will be with Me in Paradise.” Our names are written in heaven [Luke 10:20] and the Lord checks us as we come.
We are immediately with Jesus when we die. Philippians 1:23, “To depart is to be with Christ.” Second Corinthians 5:8, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” And there in Paradise [Luke 16:22, 23:43], we wait for the resurrection of our bodies at the second coming of Christ [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].
You see that in Revelation 6:9. John sees the souls of the martyred saints under the altar. They are not in the fullness of heaven: they are waiting in Paradise, and like Moses in the cleft of the rock [Exodus 33:22], they are safe under the hand of God [Revelation 6:9-11]. The fullness of heaven will be ours when Jesus comes again and our bodies are resurrected [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].
We shall know each other in heaven. It would be a dreary place, and one that would be unthinkable, should we live unknown and unknowing. We shall have intuitive knowledge. We shall know as we are known. In Matthew 8:11 it says, “Many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God.” How would they know Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? In the same way that Peter, James, and John knew Elijah and Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration [Luke 9:28-33]. How did they recognize them? Intuitively. So we shall have intuitive knowledge, and we shall be filled with the presence of Jesus and one another.
We’ll sit down and visit with Adam and talk about Eve [Genesis 2:21-24]. We’ll sit down with Noah and talk about the Flood [Genesis 7:17-24]. We’ll sit down with Moses and talk about the deliverance at the Red Sea [Exodus 14:21-31]. We’ll sit down with Elijah and talk about the chariot of fire [2 Kings 2:11]. We’ll sit down with Lazarus and talk about his being raised from the depths of the tomb [John 11: 43-44]. We’ll sit down with Paul and talk about the Damascus road [Acts 9:1-5]. We’ll be with our loved ones; it will be a joyous reunion. The infinitely sad kiss of goodbye at the deathbed and in the casket will be more than forgotten in the kiss of reunion and welcome at the gate of heaven.
Our treasures are up there to enjoy forever. They are given to us in two ways: by inheritance and by reward. Our treasures in heaven by inheritance: heaven itself is ours by inheritance. It is ours not by conquest or good works or just desserts or victorious merit, but by the grace and gift of God: God gave it to us [Ephesians 2: 8-9]. Somebody else has won for us heaven, and given it to us. We were once afar off, the seed of the serpent, the children of Satan, the offspring of the world [Matthew 13:38; Luke 16:8]; and we became the children of God through grace [Ephesians 2:8-9]. We are heirs of salvation [Romans 8:17]. We inherit it. Our true home is there [Philippians 3:20]. Our estate is there through the love and grace of our Lord Jesus [John 14:1-3]. We are fellow-heirs, joint-heirs with Him, Romans 8:17. And we have treasures in heaven by reward. We can lay up treasures in heaven, Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 6:19-20]. And our rewards for fulfilled service are given to us there; not here, but there in heaven [2 Corinthians 5:10].
Last, and most glorious, in heaven we are not only with the angels and with the redeemed children of God, these we’ve loved and lost for a while, but in heaven we’re with Jesus. Heaven is where our Savior is; where He is there we shall be also [John 14:1-3], welcomed and received by Him. With our loved ones, so precious to us, we shall proceed along the streets of gold [Revelation 21:21], through the long line of loving angels, to the throne of Jesus [Revelation 22:3-5]: it is He we are eager to see.
O Christ, He is the fountain, the deep, sweet well of love!
The streams of earth I’ve tasted, more deeply I’ll drink above:
There in an ocean of fullness how mercy doth expand,
And glory, glory dwelleth in Emmanuel’s land.
The Bride eyes not her garment, but her dear Bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory but on my Lord’s dear face.
Not at the crown He giveth but of His pierced hand,
The Lamb is all the glory in Emmanuel’s land.
[“The Sands of Time are Sinking,” Anne R. Cousin]
T. DeWitt Talmage, the incomparable preacher, said, quote, “I do not want to go to the skeptic’s, the rationalist’s, the materialist’s heaven; I would not exchange the poorest room in your house for the finest heaven that Tom Paine, John Stewart Mill, Huxley, Darwin, or Ingersoll ever dreamed of, because their heaven has no Christ in it.”
All of our eyes shall be fixed upon Him. Every look is one of love. Gratitude glows in every bosom; praise swells in every song. Golden harps resound His worth and merit. The saints cast down their golden crowns at His dear feet, saying, ‘Not unto us, but unto Thee be the glory forever and ever.’
[from sermon by Thomas Guthrie, “Christ—the Inheritance of the Saints”]
As the first chapter of the Revelation recounts, “Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God . . . to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” [Revelation 1:5-6]. And as the worship of Jesus in heaven continues:
And every creature which is in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are therein, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. And the four cherubim said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders—they represent us—fell down and worshiped Him that liveth for ever and ever.
It will be a blessing for us beyond description, to be in that worshipful number.
A little boy was reciting the twenty-third Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” [Psalm 23:1]; he said, “The Lord is my shepherd and that’s all I want.” So Paul avows in the first chapter of Philippians, “having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ” [Philippians 1:23]. So the author of Hebrews says in chapter 10, “Let us draw near with a true heart in fullness of assurance” [Hebrews 10:22]. So the sainted apostle John in 1 John 3: “Behold, now are we the children of God . . . and we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” [1 John 3:2].
Now to close: let us make a good ready for the eternity yet to come. In our present lost, carnal, unregenerated nature, we are unfit for heaven. We have been ruined by the Fall [Genesis 3:1-6]. By natural birth we are not prepared for heaven. What of a banquet to one who has no appetite? What of a music festival to one who has no hearing? What of the beauty and glory of the firmament to one who is blind? What of the presence of God to one whose pleasures are in fleshly lust? Heaven can be an abhorred vacuum to the unregenerated. What would the confirmed drunkard do in heaven? What would the glutton do in heaven? What would the whoremonger do in heaven? What would the sensualist do in heaven? What would those who dislike and disdain holy worship services do in heaven? They cry out in this world, “Will they never end? Do they go on forever?” What are you going to do in the services up there that last through an eternity? The unregenerated desperately need a change of heart, of life, of love, of interest. They need a new nature in Christ. They need to worship and adore the things of God. You need to be born again [John 3:3, 7] to love the thought of living in the eternity of God in heaven [John 10:27-30].
I sometimes think of Lazarus, who was raised from the dead: when he came out he was clothed with his grave clothes. And the Lord said, “Loose him, and let him go” [John 11:43-44]. That is we in this earth: clothed with the garments of this life, we need to be loosed, we need to be regenerated [John 3:3, 7], we need to be made anew, we need to be clothed with the righteous robes of Christ from heaven [Revelation 7:14]; then we can mingle with the saints of glory, and we can walk in joy and unspeakable gladness with all the angels of heaven and with Jesus Himself [Revelation 5:11-14]. ‘Tis a wonderful thing God having prepared some better thing for us [1 Corinthians 2:9; Hebrews 11:40].
Now Fred, while we sing the song, our young people in the orchestra can leave with your instruments. And these who today will give their lives in trust and faith to the Lord Jesus [Romans 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8]; you come and stand with me. A family, a couple, a somebody you, God bless you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.