Voice #1: When I picture heaven, I think of seeing all my loved ones.
Voice #2: Very white, clean, pure, uh … gold roads, pearl gates and all as it says in the Bible.
Voice #3: I think of yellow brick roads, like Wizard of Oz. I’m not exactly sure why.
Voice #4: Like clouds, rolling clouds and a lot of light and a lot of music and just a lot of light.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Hm… Well, how do you envision heaven? Do any of those descriptions that you just heard resonate at all?
On today’s Focus on the Family we’ll be exploring the wonders of heaven, described in God’s word, and how you can get there. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: Uh, John, one of the more challenging aspects of the coronavirus pandemic has been a pervasive sense of uncertainty and fear for so many people. Even if your family wasn’t directly affected by the virus, we all experienced a loss of freedom and control. And we suddenly had new things to worry about like will I get sick? Is my family safe? What about my job? Will I have one when I go back to work? And then, the biggest question – what’s next? What’s going to happen? These are valid concerns and I know some families have faced the extra burden of sickness, isolation, financial loss. Maybe even death. And we grieve that with you.
But what’s interesting, John, is how tragic circumstances like this can turn our thoughts toward eternity. And the fact is, we’ve all been confronted by our own mortality, and with questions about what will happen after we die.
John: Yeah, it seems that because of the pandemic we’re not, many of us, not as distracted by schedules and to-do lists. We’re slowing down when we shelter in place or stay at home. Day-to-day routines might seem a little less important. And it does seem that a lot of us, whether we want to or not, are reflecting on what matters most.
Jim: That’s exactly right, John. And Colossians 3, verse 1, reminds us to “Seek the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” And uh, we’re gonna do that today. We want to honor that scripture.
About a month ago we talked with Pastor John Burke from Austin, Texas, about heaven. And I know so many of you were profoundly encouraged by that. We had an avalanche of response.
We want to hit this subject matter again. And we recorded this program a few years ago with Randy Alcorn. And he’s a popular speaker and author, and the founder of Eternal Perspective Ministries. You gotta love the name. Randy has done extensive research about heaven and hell, and why we need to consider these eternal destinations carefully. And I’m really looking forward to hearing this conversation once again.
John: And we should mention, Jim, that Randy is a prolific author. He’s written more than 60 books and the one that we’re gonna hear more about today is called, Heaven.
And of course, we do have copies of that here at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Let’s go ahead and hear how, Jim, you began the conversation with Randy Alcorn on today’s episode of Focus on the Family.
Jim: Hey, you know, with so little discussion about heaven and hell today, what motivated you originally to even write on this subject?
Randy Alcorn: A lot of it came out of my personal experience, losing a very close friend to a terrible accident when I was in high school. Later on, losing other friends, my mother who died in uh … 1981, shortly after our second daughter was born. And I would go day after day uh … to her bedside and read uh … Revelation 21 and 22, the last two chapters in the Bible. And as I would read those chapters to her, uh … where it’s describing the new earth, the eternal state where we will live forever with our Lord and with the people of God, I was struck again and again with how tangible, how physical the resurrected life is going to be. And interestingly, I had gone to Bible college and seminary, two great schools.
And we literally … I don’t remember a single class period in which we discussed the new earth.
We would talk about death and then the intermediate state is what theologians call it, where … where you go after you die before the resurrection. But we would not talk about after the resurrection except maybe we talked about the Millennial kingdom. But we would never talk about the eternal state, the new heavens and the new earth. And as I kept reading this to my mom day after day, it started to hit me how ghostly and ethereal my view of heaven had been.
Jim: Hm. What do you, with all the study that you’ve done, what do you envision heaven to truly be?
Randy: Well, we’re told that to depart and be with Christ is better by far, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. And that’s the heaven we usually think of. But that’s the heaven that exists now. Heaven is wherever God’s throne is. It’s His central dwelling place. But that’s just part one. That’s not the ultimate and … and final and eternal heaven, because that heaven will be the resurrected new heavens and new earth that Scripture talks about.
And that’s after the return of Christ. Some people believe in a literal thousand-year millennial kingdom. Some don’t. But in any case, whether you do or you don’t, Scripture makes very clear starting in Revelation 21, there’s a new heaven and a new earth and that’s when all the tears are wiped away.
There’s no more sin, no more sorrow, no more death, no more pain. And that world is a world of resurrected bodies uh … where there’s the resurrected Christ sitting on the throne, where we and all of God’s people are resurrected. That means embodied. That means a physical body, like Jesus said, “I am not a ghost,” in His resurrection body. He said, “I am not a ghost. A ghost does not have flesh and bones as I have.” And then He fixed breakfast for them. He ate meals with them. And you know, the food that He ate didn’t drop down on the ground, you know, as if He was a ghost or something else. He’s an actual physical being, showed ’em His scars, you know, the whole thing.
And that is what Scripture envisions as our eternal life as physical people in a physical world, not only redeemed and resurrected people, but resurrected culture. And the Bible goes into quite a bit of detail in the Old Testament prophets and in the last couple chapters of Revelation about what that will look like.
Jim: Ah. Uh … I mean, it … we don’t spend a lot of time on it. Uh … hold with me in this analogy, but I think it’s a fair one.
My wife and I, every summer we like to go campin’ and we plan these trips and uh … we recently went to the Black Hills of South Dakota. So, we’re gonna drive so many miles and stay overnight. And then from there, we’re gonna get to the Black Hills. And then once we get there, we’re gonna do all these things. We plan a lot for the vacation, is the point.
Uh … in church today, we don’t talk a lot about the destination of heaven, as if we’re planning that time when we’re gonna get there. In … in life though, we all … we should do that, shouldn’t we? We should be … how are we gonna live our lives in such a way that we honor the Lord, that we accept His forgiveness for our sins and in doing so, that promise of heaven, that destination, the Black Hills–
Jim: –in that analogy. Uh … should we do more of that? And why are there so few sermons taught today on heaven and hell?
Randy: Well, you make a … a very good analogy because when we are excited about going somewhere, such as a vacation, we will sit down and so much of the joy is not … it isn’t … the joy doesn’t start when you arrive. The joy starts as you anticipate the place you’re going to. You read up. You do your research. You go on the Internet. You buy books on it.
And you look at stops along the way. You plan; you think. You anticipate and there’s such joy in it and it draws you together with the rest of the family that’s going to going there with you. By analogy, what we should be doing in this life is thinking, okay … we’re here for a short period of time. Where are you going to spend forever?
Randy: If we know Jesus Christ as our Savior, it’s going to be with God in His very presence and with God’s people. What is that world going to be like? You’d think that we’d be careful students, that we’d be motivated to really get into it.
And Scripture makes clear in 2 Peter 3 and other passages that, if we are … our thoughts and minds and hearts are centered on heaven, this world without sin and without darkness, then it will be an incentive for us to live lives that honor Christ today.
Randy: So, it’s not just that it will bring more joy into our lives. It’s also that it will help us follow Christ in a more deep and personal way.
Jim: Hm. Why do Christians fear death, generally?
Randy: Well, I think before … the same general reason that other people fear death, that it has that unknown element to it. So, what we need to do is to take the unknown element and make it known and study Scripture and find that okay, death is not a wall. It’s not the end of consciousness. It’s a tunnel or it’s a doorway that you go through to be with the Lord and to be with the Lord forever.
So, if you conceive of God as this good and wonderful uh … source of all joy, then you look forward to being with the source of all joy. And you realize that yes, it’s not saying that death is a uh … a wonderful experience, because some people go through very painful deaths. But it’s … death will be saying goodbye to pain and suffering and entering into the very presence of God. And it’ll also be saying goodbye to sin.
And what a thing. When I look at my life, I say you know, I want to be the person that I am, but without all the bad parts. And that’s the promise of God and that gives you a lot to look forward to.
Jim: Hm. So often Randy, younger people and I … I don’t even know where that line is. It might even be 40 or 50, because we’re not anticipating death at this point. Why is it important for that young person to contemplate these things, when it’s not on the radar screen?
Randy: Well, the first reason is, it should be on the radar screen for the very reasons that you’re saying, because many young people do die. They don’t expect to die, but they do. And the other part about it is, that even if you do live to be older, life starts …sort of like the snowball that starts rolling down the mountainside and turns into an avalanche. It just gets bigger and bigger. That’s how kind of time works in our lives, where when you’re young, it seems like time is just dragging on and then as you get older, I look back and say, “It was yesterday—
Jim: (Laughing) Right.
Randy: –That my daughters were the age that my grandsons are now.” I mean, I have such vivid memories. It’s gone so quickly. And not just be prepared for death and one the ways you prepare is by living the life now before the Lord and drawing on His strength, that you will want to have lived once you’re there with Him. To be able to want to look back and say, “I’m glad I followed Christ,” instead of having an initial regret when you stand before the Lord.
But also, the joy that it infuses into your life now. Because when I think about heaven, which I do every day, being with God and not only being with Him, but serving Him forever, uh … it says in Revelation 22, “His …” on the new earth, resurrected life, “His servants will serve Him.” Now think about that. People associate heaven so often with boredom. (Chuckling) And they say, “Well, what are we gonna … I mean, strummin’ harps for millions of years. I mean, I’m sure that’d be real fun for a couple hundred thousand, but after that, you know.” I mean, where’s it … well, that’s … you know, the Bible does have in one passage a reference to harps, but that’s just the whole realm of music and all kinds of instruments, but that’s just one aspect of the culture in heaven.
And when it says, “His servants will serve Him,” servants have things to do, places to go, people to see. I mean, can you even envision what a servant is without having something to do? It’s … there’s going to be busyness, but it’s gonna be God-centered, energizing, productive busyness to the glory of God.
Jim: Well, in this culture today though, anything … if you’re to tell anybody in this culture today that you’re gonna do something forever, you’ll see people’s eyes glass over, because we’re so fast-paced. Everything’s fast food, fast news, fast sports. We’re just conditioned–
Jim: –to everything being electrified. I mean, we want somethin’ new every moment. And marketers pull on that and you know the routine. Uh … you’re saying that heaven is not going to be something that’s boring. Randy: Right. And I think what we end up doing is, we take many of the things in life that we enjoy and then we separate them from God. Well, where did humor come from? Well, obviously, it came from God. It did not come … I … I think probably the most humorless being in the universe is Satan.
Randy: I mean, he is deadly serious rebellion and all about that and no joy. Whereas look at God, how He has revealed Himself. Romans 1 talks about how He’s revealed Himself in His creation. Look at the animal world. Look at otters. Now study an otter. I … this is a fascinating animal. Basically, all that animal does is makes little slides so that it can come down and … and slide into the water. You know, human beings did not invent water slides; otters did (laughter) you know, and … and God built it into them.
And then they go up and down and they swim on their backs and they eat and they just have this … and that’s even in a fallen world. So, we should look at that and we should say, “Wow! Pleasure, joy, abandonment, humor, it’s all from God.”
Unfortunately, what happens, is because we live in a world that’s under sin and curse, then we end up seeing people tell dirty jokes and then we see people abuse the gifts that God has given us. And then we start thinking as if those things in and of themselves are bad, when in fact, God looked at all He created and said, “It is very good.” And God never gave up on that original creation. We will live forever in a redeemed creation.
John: This is Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and our guest today is Randy Alcorn talking about his book, Heaven. You can find that and other resources at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And now, more from Randy Alcorn on Focus on the Family.
Randy, you’ve mentioned Satan and I don’t want to derail us here, but Jim, earlier you mentioned that there are two destinations for us eternally. All of the good stuff in heaven. Uh … there’s something else going on in hell. Give us a quick description of the antithesis of heaven and what hell is like according to Scripture.
Randy: Hell, in the Scripture is a place of separation from God and a place of judgment and punishment for sin. And it’s a place where, as Dante portrayed it, you know, abandon hope all ye who enter here. I mean, it is a place of hopelessness. You see a little taste of that with the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16, where Jesus is describing Lazarus, the poor beggar on earth who dies and he’s in this place with Abraham and it’s called “Paradise.” And it’s beautiful and it’s wondrous and all of that. Whereas, the rich man, who did not respond to the redemptive offer of God, who died unrepentant, who died in his sin, is now looking back at the pleasures of life he once had and they are gone. They’re forever gone. What a lot of … well, what most unbelievers by definition don’t understand in this life is that the goodness that they enjoy is from the hand of God.
Jim: In every aspect.
Randy: Exactly right! God is the source of all goodness. Even the ability to experience pleasure, even in the sins they commit, much less in the things that aren’t sinful. Even the ability to experience pleasure is from the hand of God. Now when they’re experiencing it in doing something sinful, the sin obviously is not from God, but the capacity to enjoy pleasure.
So, they’re … the … what Scripture calls “the passing pleasures of sin.” The pleasure is real, but it’s–
Randy: –pass … it’s distorted. And Satan doesn’t … and C.S. Lewis said this in Screwtape Letters, Satan can’t create anything. All he can do is twist and pervert what God has created. So, all the goodness that there is in this life is from the hand of God. And the very rational ability to argue against the existence of God and the person of Christ, that very ability to argue is itself a gift from the God who’s being denied and argued against.
Jim: Hm. Uh … not to go over this too lightly, because uh … I think it’s an important area for us to dig a little deeper. As we look at heaven and it’s described in the Scripture of a place where there is joy and no tears, uh … that sense of peace that will go beyond all understanding. And then you turn that toward hell and you talk about the absence of the presence of God. Therefore, it probably is the exact opposite of all of that. There will be uh … what the human spirit, I think, will feel is desperate hatred, desperate loneliness, desperate everything that is not of God. That will be a frightening place to be.
Randy: Absolutely and I think that one of the things that we have to really struggle with in the Christian community today is that there are a number of people who are perhaps sincere, but what they’re trying to do is sort of airbrush what the Bible has to say about hell. They’re trying to say either that it won’t be eternal; it won’t be lasting or that actually, nobody will be in hell, at least for not in any substantial length of time.
But I think what we need to understand is, what we’re doing is, we’re undercutting the Gospel itself. Jesus went to the cross to save us from our sins that were going to send us to hell. And the smaller and less significant we make hell, the smaller and less significant we make the Gospel itself.
Jim: Hm. And Randy, to really sum that up, and many of us Christians, when we’re um … trying to express the love of Christ to others that don’t believe in Him, we’ll often hear this question and I think it’s helpful for us to have that answer and that is, “If your God is so loving and if hell is as scary a place as what you’re describing, how could a loving God send anybody there? He must not be loving.”
Randy: Right and that’s what many people do conclude. Now let’s look at the actual unfolding drama of redemption, what the Bible says. First of all, who’s the person who said more about hell than anyone else in all the Bible? Well, it was Jesus and some people are trying to be more loving and gracious like Jesus is, by not talking about hell. Well, it’s actually the opposite. If you really loving and you’re really gracious, you want to warn people about the reality of hell. Jesus knew the reality of hell.
Now did He have a right to talk about it? Well, yeah, He did and when you consider why He came to the world, to take all the sins of all people of all time upon Himself, to pay the punishment for sin, to take upon Himself in several hours on a cross, the very eternal essence of hell and only an eternal God, Who’d in a time period take on what is the eternal essence of hell, all of that punishment upon Himself, well, this is punishment … what He endued on the cross was utterly unthinkable. It is beyond our imagination, for Him to cry out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” even knowing the answer as He did, but to feel that um … that abandonment, that separation,” He became sin for us, He who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”
So, now getting back to the question, well, is God really a loving God if there’s such a place as hell and that people are going to go there? Well, what more would you ask God to do than what He did for us on the cross, so that we would not have to go to hell, but instead so that we could live with Him forever in heaven?
Jim: Randy, as we close today, we have got to ask this question because uh … there are a number of people who listen to Focus on the Family who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ. And they’ve heard this today, what we’re talking about. And it may have sparked some interest in the very question, how do I get to heaven?
Randy: I think biblically, there must be a recognition of the reality of our sin, our sinfulness that separates us from God. Our fault, not God’s fault. And then, to realize a sense of the desperation there is in being a sinner. That I am destined to and deserving of a place that’s a four-letter word; it’s hell. That’s what I deserve. Then, I think, and only then can we appreciate the offer to us in Christ. The redemptive message that He took our sins upon Himself, so that we don’t need to be separated from God any longer. And bowing our knee and believing in and trusting in Him and accepting that gift of eternal life, “Not by any works of righteousness which we have done, but only by His mercy.” That’s what it takes to come into a relationship with God.
Jim: Randy, uh … heaven is a subject that we need to spend more time on, so as we wrap up today, let’s come back next time and continue the discussion. And as we end today, can you pray that prayer of salvation for those that don’t know the Lord? And if you don’t know the Lord, please, please consider what Randy is about to share with you.
Randy: Father, we come to You, and really, Lord, I do not have the words. I don’t even know how to capture the misery and the ugliness and the separation of our sin. Uh … we … we tend to minimize our sin. We tend to blame everyone else for our sin. We underestimate it, Lord.
But we pray right now that You would speak to the person without Christ and do what only You can do. Through a convicting work of the Holy Spirit, bring them to a point of recognition of their sin and their deep, deep need to be in right relationship with You.
[I] pray then, Lord, You would give them the … the ability to trust, to turn, to believe, to repent of sin and turn to Jesus Christ and the redemptive work that He did for them in the cross and the power of His resurrection, defeating sin and death and that they would trust His promise of eternal life for all who repent of their sin and believe and trust in Him … in You, Lord.
Lord, do that which we cannot do in the lives of those right now who are in desperate need of You. And then, Lord, [we] pray that You would move them to go to Christians, to churches that teach the Bible and uplift the Word of God and the Person of Christ and to grow in the faith in Jesus. We ask this in His name. Amen.
John: Mm… this is Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. And uh…if you prayed that prayer along with Randy Alcorn, let me encourage you to get in touch with us for more resources to help you grow in your new faith! We have a free booklet. It’s called Coming Home: How To Know God. And uh, we’ve got that online, or we can send a copy to you. Check it out at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
Jim: And when you contact us today, ask about Randy’s wonderful book, Heaven. It’s so encouraging and rich with biblical truth. And we barely scratched the surface today in our conversation.
I’d love to put a copy into your hands because this, to me, is the most important topic of your life! If you can send a gift of any amount to Focus on the Family today we’ll send you Randy’s book as our way of saying thank you.
And also, consider getting a copy for someone you know. Maybe a friend who’s struggling during this time of the pandemic and they need exactly this kind of encouragement.
John: Yeah, it’s a really rich, deep book. Um, it’s wonderful in how comprehensive it is about the topic of heaven, as you’ve heard today.
And so, please, call today to get your copy. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. Or donate online at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Next time, we’ll hear more from Randy Alcorn about anticipating heaven.
Randy: Here’s what we do. We think that this life’s the real life, so I better have fun while I can. What in the world are we saying? Are you kidding me? There’s gonna be so much more fun in heaven and we’ll never pass our peaks.