What I Believe About Heaven: The People
June 10th, 1990 @ 10:50 AM
WHAT I BELIEVE ABOUT HEAVEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-10-90 10:50 a.m.
On radio, on television, you are now part of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message; I have been importuned, and I mean that, by Tyndale Publishing House to deliver these messages on heaven. They are meticulously prepared; they are being taken down by stenographic and will be published. The first one: a Sunday ago, What I Believe About Heaven, the Place. Today, What I Believe About Heaven, the People who are there. Next Sunday, What I Believe About Heaven, the Pageantry, what we shall do. And the last, What I Believe About Heaven, Its Preciousness, answering questions most frequently asked about our eternal home. Today, 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 they cried with a loud voice . . . 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 about the four cherubim, and fell before the throne on their faces worshipping 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.
What does amen mean? “So let it be,” amen.
And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, Who are these arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?
And I said to him: Sir, I do not know. I have never seen them before. Sir, only you know.
And he said to me, These are they which have come out he thlipsis he megale—
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, and serve Him day and night in His temple . . .
They shall hunger no more, thirst no more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.
For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God—God Himself—shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
What I believe about heaven: who will be there?
Number one: the angels. The word “heaven” occurs 559 times in the Bible, and angels are constantly identified as being in heaven. When we arrive there, that will be the first overwhelming scene we shall behold, those multitudes and multitudes, thousands upon thousands 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.” And Revelation 5:11 avows, listen to it:
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, upon myriads, upon myriads—uncounted thousands of angels. And so many times in the Bible are they presented in multitudinous numbers, such as Luke 2:13: “Suddenly there was with the angel of the enunciation a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.” In Matthew 26:53, the Lord says to Simon 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? [Matthew 26:52-53]. Seventy-two thousand of them just upon that one occasion!
Angels, they are people; they are persons. They are created by God; they had a beginning of existence, just as we. Psalm 148, “Ye angels, praise the name of the Lord: for He commanded, and they were created” [Psalm 148:2, 5]. They had a beginning just as you. They have personality; the basic capacity to have fellowship with God in counter-distinction to the animal and the animal world. They have intelligence; they seek to learn just as we do. They do not know the time of the second coming of Christ, Matthew 24:36. But they desire and are interested in the whole plan of salvation and our ultimate victory in the Lord, 1 Peter 1:10-12. They have emotions; they respond, they feel just as we do. They rejoiced and were filled with gladness at God’s creation of the world; they watched it, Job 38:7. They bow in reverence before God; Isaiah 6:3, Hebrews 1:6. They praised God in exaltation at the birth of Christ, Luke 2:13. It is in their presence that joy resounds in heaven over one sinner that comes down that aisle and gives his heart to Jesus [Luke 15:10]. They are as we are; they have moral sensitivity, 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, Jude 6. The two thirds of their number who chose to follow Christ are forever confirmed in their salvation, 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 of heaven, we shall be confirmed in the service of God forever and ever [Revelation 22:3-5]. Where God is angels are and we are. Where no angels are, and if we are not there, there is no God. In the Book of the Revelation and in heaven we see God as in no other book in the Bible, and there angels appear more frequently than in all of the other books of the Bible combined. And we also appear there, in multitudinous numbers. I am just avowing to you that where angels are, we are; and where angels and we are, God is. And if we are not there, God is not there. They always are together, and in multitudinous ranks and series.
They have names and separate, distinct assignments, just as we. One of them is named Michael; that means “who is like God”—he is called an archangel in Jude . He is called a chief prince and a great prince in Daniel 10 and 12 [Daniel 10:13, 12:1]. He is God’s champion in battle, always that. Wherever Michael appears, he is leading the forces of God against evil, such as in Daniel 10; and Revelation 12 [Daniel 10:21; Revelation 12:7].
Another one is named Gabriel; that means “the mighty one of God.” He is always God’s messenger, always appears in that same assignment: to Daniel in Daniel 8 [Daniel 8:16]; the messenger of God to Zechariah in Luke 1 [Luke 1:18-19], and the messenger of God to Mary in Luke 1 [Luke 1:26-27].
They are not all alike. They belong to separate orders, just as we do; we differ. Some of them are called cherubim, the plural of cherub. The plural of a Hebrew word is im, “i-m,” im—so cherub, cherubim—in Genesis 3:24 is the first reference to angels, it is a cherub. In Exodus 25:17-22 they are above the mercy seat; their wings touch above the mercy seat. They are upon the tapestry woven in the veil [Exodus 26:31] and they are upon the wall of Solomon’s temple [1 Kings 6:29]. Some of them are seraphim [Isaiah 6:2-7]— a seraph, seraphim—that means “the burning ones.” They are consumed in their devotion to God; they burn in their devotion to the Lord. An archangel among the chief princes of heaven, and some of them are guardian angels. In [Matthew 18:10], when a little baby is born into this world, there is an angel assigned to the child that beholds the face of our heavenly Father. In [Matthew 2:13, 19], an angel is guiding the holy family, and in Luke 22:43, an angel is ministering and comforting Christ in the hour of His tragic Gethsemane.
There is an angel assigned to you, and he watches over you and loves you [Psalm 91:11; Matthew 18:10; Hebrews 1:14]. They have been given many varied and distinct assignments. They opened the door of prison to the apostles in Acts 5 [Acts 5:18-20]. One directs Phillip in Gaza in Acts 8 [Acts 8:26]. One speaks to Cornelius of Caesarea in Acts 10 [Acts 10:3-7]. One delivers Peter from the hand of Herod Agrippa in Acts 12 [Acts 12:6-11]. And one stands by Paul in the storms of the Mediterranean in Acts 27 [Acts 27:23-24]. Have you ever felt that somebody in a great trial was standing by you? Did you ever feel that way? That’s God’s angel watching over.
In the first sentence of the Revelation, an angel is the messenger who, and you pronounce it “signified.” If you would pronounce it as it is, meaning “sign-ified,” you would know exactly what the Apocalypse is. There is an angel in the first sentence in the Apocalypse who “sign-ifies” to John by figure, by drama, all of the course of human history and its consummation [Revelation 1:1]. An angel accompanies John as he goes through the scenes of the Apocalypse. An angel executes the fearful judgments of God, and an angel reveals to John the glories of the Holy City, New Jerusalem [Revelation 21:9].
When we arrive in heaven, who will be there? Not only the angels of God but these, the saints of the Lord who have found refuge in Him. An old man was testifying at church on a Wednesday night. And he said as a little boy, he thought about heaven—a beautiful city with high walls, and domes, and turrets, and a host of white-robed angels, and a vast multitude—none of whom he knew. Then as the days passed, his little brother died. And he said, “I then thought about heaven as a great city with walls, and turrets, and towers, and domes, and white-robed angels, and a vast multitude of whom I hadn’t been introduced; and one little face, my little brother.”
Then the old man testified, as the years passed, and passed, and passed, his mother died, his father died, his wife died, his children died, all of the family died; and he alone has been left. And he said, “Now when I think of heaven, I never think of it in terms of high walls, and jasper palaces, and white-robed angels—but I think of it as where my people are.”
There is no prettier song we sing than this:
I will sing of you a song of that beautiful land
Far-away home of the soul,
Where no storms ever beat on the glittering strand,
While the years of eternity roll.
O how sweet it will be in that beautiful land,
So free from all sorrow and pain,
With songs on our lips and with harps in our hands,
To greet one another again.
[“I Will Sing You a Song,” Ellen Maria Huntington Gates]
My first funeral; I was a teenager in a country church, my first funeral. I went to a poor tenant’s home and watched a little baby there, a little baby die of terrible convulsions. In the service of the little country church; after it was over they put the little casket on the flat-bodied truck. And I had a little coupe, a little car. And next to me sat the mother, and beyond her, her husband. And as that flat-bedded truck pulled out with the little casket on the bed, she began to cry so piteously. And he put his arm around her and said, “Sweet, don’t cry. Our baby is in the arms of Jesus, and He will take care. He will keep our child safely and some day, darling, He will give our baby back to us again.” That was my first funeral.
The comfort we have in the promise of being together is incomparable, sweet and dear beyond words to describe it. And when I get to answers of questions, I am going to speak about how we will know each other and what we will be like. When we die, we go to Paradise. Luke 16:22, an angel carries the beggar into “Abraham’s bosom,” another name for Paradise. In Luke 23:43, the Lord says to the repentant thief, “Today,” semeion, “this day,” “this day,” not some other era, “this day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.” That afternoon he was with the Lord, walking through the streets of glory. Our names are checked in as we arrive Luke 10:20; “Your names are written in heaven.” Immediately we are with Jesus: 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,” immediately, immediately. And there with our Savior, we wait for the resurrection of the body at the return of our glorious King, [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].
Revelation 6:9, John sees the souls of the martyrs under the altar, under the altar. They are not in the fullness of heaven, they are waiting in Paradise. Like Moses in the cleft of the rock covered by the hand of God [Exodus 33:22-23], they are safe. And the fullness of heaven will be ours when Jesus comes again and our bodies are resurrected; we will be like our Savior, with an immortalized, glorified body [1 Corinthians 15:51-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17].
We shall know each other in heaven; it would be a dreary place should we live unknown and unknowing. It is unthinkable! Intuitive knowledge will introduce us to everybody.
- As Matthew 8:11 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 do they know Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob? In the same way that Matthew, in the same way that James, John, and Peter knew Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration, intuitively [Matthew 17:1-4].
- So we shall sit down and we will visit with—and we will have all eternity in which to do it—we will sit down with Adam and talk about Eden [Genesis 3:1-24].
- We will sit down with Noah and talk about the Flood [Genesis 8:17-24].
- We will sit down with Moses and talk about the deliverance of the Red Sea [Exodus 14:21-31].
- We will sit down with Elijah and talk about the chariot of fire [2 Kings 2:11].
- We will sit down with Lazarus and talk about his resurrection from the dead [John 11:43-44].
- We will sit down with Paul and talk about the Damascus road [Acts 9:1-6].
- And with our loved ones, it will be a joyous reunion.
The infinitely sad kiss of goodbye—and I have had two funerals this week—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 [Matthew 6:19-20]. Our treasures to enjoy are there. They are given to us in two ways: by inheritance and by reward. First, by inheritance: heaven itself is ours by inheritance [1 Peter 1:4]. It is not ours by conquest, or good works, or just desserts, or victorious merit, but by the grace gift of God [Ephesians 2:8-9]. Another has won it for us and is giving it to us—our Lord Jesus. We once were afar off, the seed of the serpent, children of Satan, the offspring of wrath, and we became the children of God through His grace. We are heirs by adoption; our true home is there [Romans 8:15]. Our estate is there, our inheritance is there, through the love of Jesus our Lord, we are fellow heirs and joint-heirs with Him, Romans 8:17. And we are with treasure in heaven by reward. We can lay up treasures in heaven, Matthew 6 [Matthew 6:19-20]. Our rewards for faithful service are given to us there, not here, given to us there [2 Corinthians 5:10].
Third, and last: in heaven are not only the angels of God and the redeemed children of the Lord, our people, but also Jesus is there. Heaven is where our Savior is. Where He is, there we shall be also [John 14:2-3], and welcomed by Him. With our loved ones so precious, we shall proceed through the streets of gold through the long lines of loving angels to the throne of our Lord Jesus. And it is He we are eager to see:
Oh, 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 His 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 on His pierced hand,
The Lamb is all the glory in Emmanuel’s land.
[“The Sands of Time are Sinking,” Anne R. Cousin]
I copied this from the great preacher, T. Dewitt Talmage: “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 Mill, Huxley, Darwin, or Ingersoll ever dreamed of—those great infidels—their heaven has no Christ in it.”
All eyes are 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 made us kings and priests unto God, unto Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever” [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 hope, and power, and glory, and honor be unto Him that sits on the throne, and to the Lamb for ever and ever. And the four cherubim said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders 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 Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” [Psalm 23:1]. He said it like this: “The Lord is my shepherd; He is all that I want.” So Paul in Philippians 1:23 said, “Having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ.” So the author of Hebrews said in Hebrews 10, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” [Hebrews 10:22]. And so the sainted apostle John in 1 John 3, “Behold, now we are 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 make the appeal, 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 that is blind? What of the presence of God to one when 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 sensuous do in heaven? What would those who dislike and disdain holy worship services do in heaven? They cry out, “Will they never end? They are dull and uninteresting!” What will they be over there when we worship God world without end in holy services? The unregenerate 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; we need to be saved, to be born again, to be presented to our Lord in glory.
I think of Lazarus when he was raised from the grave. He was clothed in grave clothes, the signs and the seal of death. And Jesus says, “Loose him, and let him go” [John 11:44]. That is what we need; our unregenerate, carnal, dying nature, we need to cast off those robes of decay and death, and we need to be clothed with the holy garments of God. And that is what Jesus does for us when we find a Savior in Him.
And to you who have listened on television, God bless you for the interest you have shown. May it lead you to accept Him as your Savior [Romans 10:8-13], and if you don’t know how to accept the Lord as your Savior, call us—the number is there on the screen—call us. There will be a devout Christian here at the church to show you how to be saved, and I’ll meet you in heaven some day.
And to the great throng in the sanctuary of our Lord, as we sing our appeal, to give your heart to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13], to bring your family into the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25], to accept Him as your Lord, you come and welcome.
It can be in your coming, a step toward God. It can be accepting the Lord as your Savior. It can be the reconsecration of your life to Jesus. But it will be one of the sweetest experiences of your life. The invitation is that you pray and have God to bless and sanctify your life, your heart, your home, your every devoted service in this pilgrim world. Come and welcome.
And to God’s people, as the Lord shall place the invitation on your heart, you come and pray with us, while we stand and while we sing.