|LESSON 9||*May 23 - 29|
Read for This Week's Study:
" 'In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. . . . I will come back and take you to be with me' " (John 14:2, 3, NIV).
|For many the word heaven has become
meaningless, a concept that belongs to the realm of the fairy tales. We delude
ourselves, they say, if we think there is some kind of life beyond this earthly
existence. Some go so far as to say that it is positively wrong to tell people
that there is a heaven. They argue that it keeps people from putting all
their efforts into what they could achieve in life here and now.
Even many Christians struggle with the concept. They are not so sure that heaven is a real place. Should heaven rather be interpreted as a state of mind? On the other hand, there are many who believe that at death the soul is released and enters heaven to live with God. They are confident that their father, mother, husband, wife, or childwho has preceded them in deathis now with God in heaven and that a few years at most separate them from a reunion with their loved ones.
What's the truth on this important topic?
The Week at a Glance:
Why is the promise of heaven so important to us? What will life be like there? How can we experience a foretaste of it now? What destiny awaits those whose choices exclude them from heaven?
*Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, May 30.
When Do We Get to Heaven?
It is quite astonishing that the idea of an immortal soulwhich is separable from our physical body and which ascends to heaven right at deathhas become so dominant among Christians. Satan's lie in Eden was: " 'You will not surely die' " (Gen. 3:4, NIV).
What do the following passages teach us about the true nature of death?
When we die, we enter into a state of unconsciousness that the Bible compares to sleep. Unaware of what happens in the world, we await the morning of the resurrection. Only then will the great multitude of the redeemed enter heaven to join the very few, such as Enoch and Elijah, who have preceded them! But it is not going to be a long wait. The moment we close our eyes in death, the next thing we know will be Christ at His second coming. In other words, as far as those who die in Christ are concerned, it will make no difference whether it was 3,000 years ago or the day before Christ returns. They close their eyes in death, and the next thing they are conscious of is Jesus returning to get them. It will seem, to them, instantaneous.
What is the glorious truth about our future entrance into the heavenly realm? John 14:1-3, 1 Thess. 4:13-18.
"In the New Testament the blessed hope never focuses on individual death, but always on the return of Christ and the resurrection and translation of the saints to meet Him together, at the same time. It is in this future, and not what happens at death, that saints can find comfort."Norman Gulley, Christ Is Coming (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald® Publishing Association), pp. 293, 294.
|Why is the promise of heaven so important to us? If there were no heaven and this life were all there was, then what hope does anyone have at all?|
Heaven or Hell?
Not all people will be saved. Some will be eternally lost. Human beings have been created with a free will. Someone once expressed it like this: There are just two kinds of people-those who say, "Lord, Your will be done," and those to whom the Lord says, "I have to respect your choice; your will be done!" In the end, no one asked to be born. We're here only because we've been created without our consent. God offers us the hope of eternal life, if we choose it. If we don't, then we will go back to the nothingness out of which we came. It's in the end our own choice.
All humanity awaits one of two ultimate destinies. What are they? Matt. 25:46; John 5:29; Rev 21:1-4, 8.
Heaven is a reality. It is a place. It is where God lives together with the other members of the Godhead and a host of unfallen angels. It also is where we will live if we remain on God's side. When Christ returns and the first resurrection takes place, the resurrected saints will accompany their Lord to heaven, where they will remain for a thousand years (Rev. 20:4-6). After the thousand years a series of events will take place, culminating in the creation of a "new heaven" and a "new earth" (Rev. 21:1), where the redeemed will then live forever.
But hell also is a reality. The popular belief in a place where sinners will be tormented and burn for all eternity does not have biblical support. But neither has the popular idea that in the end all people are going to be saved. Those who reject the good news of salvation and refuse to be obedient to God will be judged and condemned, and will face a death from which there is no resurrection ever. Those who believe that all people will be saved argue that a God of love will not allow anyone to lose out on eternal bliss. They have a point to the extent that God is, indeed, love personified and wants to save all men and women. But tragically, not all people want to be saved. Christ could not have expressed it any clearer: " 'I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned,' " but He also adds that " 'those who have done evil will rise to be condemned' " (John 5:24, 29, NIV).
It remains our choice. Heaven can be ours if we choose to believe in God and are willing to become disciples of His Son, Jesus Christ.
The KingdomNow and Then
When we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, we enter into a new kind of existence. Although still subject to the results of sin--aging, sickness, and the temporary "sleep" of death--we have already, in a very real sense, received eternal life. It is important never to lose sight of that crucial fact. We have been born again and have a new life "in Christ." Those who have declared their allegiance to Christ are "children" of God (1 John 3:2, NIV). They have " 'crossed over,' " Jesus declares, " 'from death to life' " (John 5:24, NIV). They have becomes citizens of the kingdom of God as they have incorporated the kingdom values into their lives. They now have a different Master, and their ultimate focus is no longer on the things of this world but on the eternal city.
How did Jesus express the reality of the citizenship of the kingdom for His followers even in this world? Luke 17:21, John 14:27.
What confirmation of this truth do we find in the words of Paul? Rom. 14:17, Col. 1:10-14.
"Better than all the friendship of the world is the friendship of Christ's redeemed. Better than a title to the noblest palace on earth is a title to the mansions our Lord has gone to prepare. And better than all the words of earthly praise will be the Savior's words to His faithful servants, 'Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.' Matt. 25:34."Ellen G. White, Christ's Object Lessons, p. 374.
|Go back over the texts for today. How have you experienced the reality of what is promised in them? What choices are you making that could be hindering you in truly enjoying what Christ offers you even now?|
Beyond Our Wildest Expectation
Have you never wondered how it will be in heaven and on the new earth? Will we recognize each other? Will we have eternal youth? What will we do when there? Will we have our own occupations? Or will we only sing God's praises? Will we travel to other places in the universe? How much will we remember of our earthly existence? We are not the first ones to ask such questions!
What did the Sadducees want to know about the life in the hereafter? Matt. 22:23-28.
What did Jesus reply? Matt. 22:29, 30.
The statement of Jesus that is recorded in Matthew 22 was part of a discussion with the Sadducees. They were a group of Jewish leaders who denied the possibility of a bodily resurrection. It is clear that it was not Jesus' intention to give a full description of the conditions of eternal life. The context makes clear that Jesus wanted to emphasize that death has been conquered. He points beyond the reality of death and resurrection. Those who die are safe in His memory, and He can therefore still be called the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Nonetheless, Jesus' remark also clearly indicates that, in spite of all continuity, we will be raised with the unique identity that we had in this temporary life; there also will be plenty of discontinuity.
What are some of the things we will no longer experience in the earth made new? Rev. 21:1, 4, 22-27; 22:5.
Those of us who love vacationing on the seaside may be disappointed to learn that the sea will be "no more." However, to the people who first heard these words, the sea was a threat. Israel never was a sea-faring nation. For good reasons, it feared the dark depths of the oceans. And we know from several Gospel stories that even crossing the Sea of Galilee could be a scary experience. John the revelator tells us that in the new world that God will create, everything that could possibly be a threat to us will have been removed and everyone who could present a danger to us will be absent. We will be eternally secure!
|Try to imagine a world without sickness, death, fear, loss, a world in which we only keep growing in knowledge and love. What things here give us hints at what it will be like there? Let your imagination seek to grasp what this new existence will be like. What are you especially anticipating?|
Meeting the Lord of Heaven
We have every reason to believe that on the new earth we will be able to recognize those we knew in this life. Our resurrection bodies will resemble that of the risen Lord. When He appeared to His followers after His resurrection, He clearly was recognizable to those who had been with Him prior to His death. What an inexpressible joy it will be to be reunited with those we lost in death. But the supreme experience will be to meet the Lord of the universe. Our songs will come true: "Face to face shall [we] behold Him, far beyond the starry sky!" What a privilege it will be to stand before the Alpha and the Omega of the universe.
What assurance do we have that we will meet the Lord of lords? 1 Thess. 4:16, 17; Rev. 21:22, 23.
We cannot yet imagine what it will be like to meet our Savior. How many questions will we want to ask! The why question, which has so often been on our lips, finally will receive its definitive answer. We will at last understand why God permitted particular trials and temptations into our earthly existence. Never again will we doubt God's wisdom and goodness. All distrust will dissipate as we learn why God allowed certain things to take place. And only then will we realize fully how we have been protected from all kinds of dangers.
What will be a dominant aspect of eternal life? Rom. 14:11, 1 Tim. 1:17, Rev. 5:13.
Eternal life is singing eternal praises and worshiping the King. Why? Because He is worthy of our adoration. "That the Maker of all worlds, the Arbiter of all destinies, should lay aside His glory and humiliate Himself from love to man will ever excite the wonder and adoration of the universe. As the nations of the saved look upon their Redeemer and behold the eternal glory of the Father shining in His countenance; as they behold His throne, which is from everlasting to everlasting, and know that His kingdom is to have no end, they break forth in rapturous song: 'Worthy, worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by His own most precious blood!' "Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, pp. 651, 652.
What will it be like when you meet Jesus face to face? What do you think you will say to Him, and why? What do you think He'll say to you?
|Ellen G. White has written a lot about heaven and our entrance into the
heavenly kingdom. The final chapters of The Great Controversy are
a sublime description of what will be ours. But the compilation The Story
of Redemption also captures this topic admirably. See the last four chapters,
" 'And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away.' Rev. 21:1. The fire that consumes the wicked purifies the earth. Every trace of the curse is swept away. No eternally burning hell will keep before the ransomed the fearful consequences of sin. One reminder alone remains: our Redeemer will ever bear the marks of His crucifixion. Upon His wounded head, His hands and feet, are the only traces of the cruel work that sin has wrought."Ellen G. White, The Story of Redemption, p. 430.
| How do we deal with the question of salvation for
those who have never heard the name of Jesus? How should the fact that Jesus
died for the sins of all humanity, even those who never heard of Him, help
us trust that God has not forgotten those folk, either?
The Bible describes death as a sleep, a state of unconsciousness. How can one then explain "near-death" experiences in which people claim to have seen heavenly beings in a dazzling light or dead friends and relatives? How can we help these people realize that what they experienced might not be what they are judging it to be? In other words, how can we help them realize that what they saw couldn't be what they think it was, no matter how real it seemed to their senses?
How have people abused the promise of eternal life in ways that allowed them to manipulate others for personal or political gain? What are some ways we might be guilty of doing the same thing, if on a less dramatic scale?
|We are people with a destiny that extends far beyond our short existence in this present world. We are citizens of a heavenly kingdom. This kingdom is both present and future. It already is with us but will be realized fully in all its glory when Christ returns to take us home. Then eternal life in God's presence will be ours.|
|I N S I D E Story|
|The Stranger on the Bus
by BENJAMIN D. SCHOUN
One family in the country of Azerbaijan is convinced that the stranger they encountered on a bus was no ordinary passenger.
Gunel's family was mourning the loss of her grandfather. One day Gunel's mother boarded a bus to visit her grandfather's grave. As she sat crying quietly, a woman sat down beside her. She comforted Gunel's mother by telling her that God is good, that Jesus will come again, and that there is hope for the future. The woman told her about a church she could visit to learn more about these things. Gunel's mother thanked the woman for her kind words.
A month later, Gunel's mother saw the woman on the bus again. The woman again encouraged her and gave her the address of the church. Gunel's mother was so moved by the experiences that she asked Gunel to go with her to visit the church on Saturday morning to see what it was like. The two women stood near the church, hesitant to go inside, for they had never been to a Christian church. A church greeter standing saw the two women and crossed the street to invite them in. Inside they were welcomed warmly with hugs and kisses.
After the service, Gunel's mother asked members about the woman she had met on the bus. She described her in detail, but no one recognized the woman from the description. The pastor, who knew all of the Adventists in the city, listened to the description and finally concluded that no such person attended the church. "I think you've met an angel," he told Gunel and her mother.
Gunel's mother continued attending the Adventist church. She studied the Bible diligently and was baptized. Later, Gunel and her brother and sister also were baptized. Now they hold a small group meeting in their home. Many of their friends abandoned them when they left their traditional religion, but they are firm in their faith. Gunel is studying to help Adventist World Radio produce radio programs in the Azeri language.
The family has never seen the woman on the bus again.
Your mission offerings support outreach to Azerbaijan and all of Central Asia through Adventist World Radio and personal evangelism. Thank you.
GUNEL (left). Benjamin D. Schoun is president of Adventist World Radio.
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