Dwelling in a Dark Place

Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud;”

1 Kings 8:12

When God decided to show the Israelites (and us) what Heaven was like (Hebrews 8:5), He instructed Moses to build a Tabernacle or a Tent. This had three parts which represent the three heavens. The Most Holy Place (Exodus 26) represents the third heaven and it was not brightly lit – at least in it’s old testament shadow. This was mainly because there was a veil between it and the Holy Place where the light was. Thankfully that veil is now taken out of the way because of what Jesus did on the Cross (Matthew 27:51). Likewise, when we are born again we can see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3) and the veil over our minds is taken away (2 Corinthians 3:16).

The light in the Holy Place was bright and lit up all the things in the Holy Place once it was alight (it was never supposed to go out). The things the lampstand lit up included the Word of God (the table of showbread) and prayer (the altar of incense) as well as the throne of God Himself (the Ark of the Covenant) which contains our pure spiritual food (gold jar of manna), God’s promises to us (the stone tablets of the covenant) and all authority (Aaron’s rod that budded). But as the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews writes: “We cannot discuss these things in detail now.” (Hebrews 9:5)

The lampstand consisted of 7 oil lamps which were the brightest lamps available at the time. Without the lampstand, filled with burning oil the Holy Place would have been dark indeed. The Holy Place was covered over by four layers of coverings.

Rose Publishing. Rose Guide to the Tabernacle (pp. 59-61). Rose Publishing. Kindle Edition.

We know from the Book of Revelation (chapter 1 verse 20) that the lampstand(s) are the Church, the Body of Christ. Each local church is a lampstand. The olive oil that was used as fuel (Exodus 27:20, Lev. 24:2) was also used for the priest’s anointing oil (Exodus 35:28) and the flame is the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:3). If a church, the body of believers, are not anointed and burning there is no light and everything about God is dark, hidden. It is up to the priests to make sure the lamp is kept full of oil and lit at all times.

you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 2:5

The church is the light of the world:

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 

Matthew 5:14-15

But if the light that is in you is darkness how great is that darkness (Matthew 5:22-23)! This explains why churches without the anointing can be some of the most oppressive places on earth.

We must approach God with boldness to find grace to help in this time of need (Hebrews 4:16). It is critical that those who call themselves Christians have a pure, spiritual understanding of what it is to know God who is Spirit (John 4:24). We cannot afford to be so earthly minded we are no good for heaven or earth. Unless our good deeds flow from and through God we may end up with nothing to show for it all on the Judgement Day (Matthew 7:22, 1 Cor.13:1-4).

Are you sure what you are doing is being done in the sight of God (John 3:19-21) and isn’t just built on the wisdom of man (1 Cor. 1:18-31)?

The Heavens

Fix your hope fully on the grace that is to be given you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:13)

In the beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12), all the rewards promised are exclusively related to the next life, not this one.  The parallel passage in Luke 6:20-26 makes this even more clear.

One of the interesting expressions Jesus uses (in verses 3, 10 & 12) is the plural word “heavens” when speaking about the rewards that the poor in spirit and the persecuted will receive.

The Scripture is clear that there is more than just one heaven.  Paul talks about having gone into the third heaven in 2 Corinthians 12:2 and we know there is a new heaven coming (Revelation 21:1).  There are also several places in the Old Testament where the phrase “Heaven of Heavens” is used (Genesis 28:12, Deuteronomy 10:14 and 1 Kings 8:27). For more details on the heavens in Scripture look up an earlier blog I wrote on the subject.

What excites me about this is the endless possibilities it raises.

Keep going, the rewards are great for those who are faithful to the end.

He who Overcomes Part 1: Heaven is for Real

There is no point in me talking about the promises to overcomers unless you also share my understanding of what the Scriptures say about heaven. Overcomers are at the end of their sometimes long, and always testing, journey with the Lord and are looking forward to rewards. A lot of these rewards are related to the next life so it is good to know a bit more about that. Scripture is full of revelations about heaven.

First let us draw a (biblical) distinction between the heaven and earth that now exists (2 Peter 3:5-7) and that which is to come, i.e. the new heaven and new earth:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 

Rev. 21:1.

(I’ve written in an another article about the significance of the mention of a sea in this verse.)

Everyone who lives on it is familiar with this old earth and the heaven we can see in all its glory around us on a starry night. Most people also vaguely think about heaven in terms of where they might go when they die. Very few think about the distinctions between the old and new heaven and even fewer think about the implications of there being a new earth to come.

nature_clouds_heaven_019281_

Heaven Now.

Paul says in 2 Cor. 12:2-4 that he knew someone (evidently himself) that was caught up to the third heaven or paradise. This implies that there are three heavens. The rest of Scripture would lead one to believe that the first one is the heavens we see around us physically (Psalm 8:3), the second is where the prince of the power of the air and other various spirits rule (Ephesians 6:12). The third is where God, Christ (and us in Christ) are seated. There is a hierarchy to these heavens, the third rules over the second and first, and the second rules over the first.

There is also a connection between each of these heavens and predestination and free will. From the view point of the third heaven everything is predestined – we ought to live in that as much as possible (Hebrews 4:14-16, 10:19-25) – the devil looks up from the second heaven and knows his time is short and manipulates all he can in the first. The first is all most people see and they think from there that their choices determine everything – as indeed they do.

Do you believe in predestination or free will? The answer is yes.

Of course only God can make all three views true at the same time. Equally, because all three viewpoints are true we quickly reach the inadequacy of intellectual comprehension and rational thought to describe it all. I don’t have a problem with that. I’ll continue to use my mind anyway whilst knowing its limits.

As far as the third heaven is concerned there are others who have gone into it and returned. Jesus of course came from it and returned to it. The others went to it and returned from it like Paul. Moses looked into it when he went to the top of Mount Sinai and copied what he saw when he made the tabernacle (Exodus 24 – 31 and Hebrews 5:5). Daniel saw Jesus presenting His blood to the Father on the mercy seat after His resurrection (Daniel 7:13-14, Hebrews 9:16 – 10:22), Isaiah saw the throne room and got his sins forgiven there (Isaiah 6:1-7) and Ezekial saw the motorised version of the Lord’s throne (Ezekial 1). Zechariah saw Jesus there (Jesus in Greek = Joshua in Hebrew) (Zechariah 3-4). Stephen looked into it when he was being stoned (Acts 7:55, 56). However the person who gives us the most detailed description of what it looks like is John in Revelation. As homework, look up each of the passages above and note down all the similarities between what each of them saw. I think  you will find that the same place is being described in each case.

[I’m quite convinced that others have gone to the third heaven and returned since like Colton Burpo (of Heaven is for Real) but, while interesting, I don’t think we need to go outside Scriptural examples to prove the point.]

picture-for-heaven-blog-post

The new heaven is not of this creation. In the sequence of events detailed in Revelation 20-22, the old heaven and earth are done away with, the great white throne judgement occurs and then the new heaven and earth are ushered in. There is a three fold aspect to this new heaven also. The new heaven exists on the new earth, the new earth holds the third heaven (or inner sanctum) which is the heavenly Jerusalem. Which of these heavens we can enter into can be deduced from the messages to the overcomers as well as other Scriptures which I shall deal with later in this series.

And of course there is the lake of fire also. We’ll deal with that a bit too.

I’m going to write this disclaimer at the end of the rest of this series: Always remember, I could be wrong about anything I write here (1 Cor. 8:2).  Let the Holy Spirit instruct you and not me (Hebrews 8:11). And ask your pastor or whoever you trust in this kind of thing if you need to.

He Who Overcomes, Part 2: A way to interpret Revelation

Some people say Revelation is purely symbolic.

Some people say it is literal.

Personally I consider most of the images of Revelation open to a literal interpretation, i.e. it was literally what events on earth looked like from the vantage point of heaven to a human transported there (i.e. John).

John is in the third heaven where Paul went, the same place Moses saw from the mountain and others like Daniel and Isaiah also saw.  He is in eternity looking down at events on earth occurring in time.  There is bound, even for this reason alone, to be considerable differences between what he saw of the same events in comparison to someone viewing them from an earthly viewpoint and in time.

I also believe that he was looking at the spiritual rather than the physical bodies of each participant.

This should make the imagery in Revelation more easily understood (perhaps ….).

Here are some thoughts:
The sea is how time looks and it also gives a spiritual view of events on earth – c.f. Rev. 13, Daniel 7:2.

All the images in Revelation to do with this earth and time arise from the Sea.

In Chapter 13:1 we see a spiritual being (the dragon or Satan) standing on the shore of the Sea.  Jesus is of course enthroned above the Sea, seated at the right hand of the Father.

Animals represent creatures/ corporations with no relationship with God.

Humans represent creatures/ corporations capable of a relationship with God.

Corporations in this sense are collectives of people with one spirit, e.g. nations, empires, etc.

When Revelation speaks of life and death it is normally spiritual life and death that is meant. Of course, this is far more important than physical life and death (see Matt. 5:29-30).

Revelation can be very hard to understand. John was in the spirit in eternity. Does Revelation make more sense if what John saw and describes are actually the spirits of nations, empires and kings and not physical views of those things? What if the sequence of events recorded in Revelation is not in time (where it is linear) but in eternity (the events happen more like a disk)?

In particular take note of Rev. 15:2 – those who can be seen rising up and standing on the Sea and praising God, I believe this is us the Church worshiping here and now:

And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God. They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying:

“Great and marvelous are Your works,
Lord God Almighty!
Just and true are Your ways,
O King of the saints!
Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name?
For You alone are holy.
For all nations shall come and worship before You,
For Your judgments have been manifested.”

Revelation 15:2-4

Living on the edge of heaven

I have a dear friend and I’ve benefited from his wisdom, prayers and friendship for nearly 25 years now.  He suffers from a life threatening condition that could send him home at any time – he has already lived well beyond the expected life span of people with it.

I called over to him  yesterday.  We have this arrangement where I give him a call and if he is there and well enough (did I mention that the condition leaves him constantly tired?) I pop in for a chat.  Or rather I come to spend time in the presence of someone living on the edge of heaven.

It is remarkable how much blessing can come from being with someone like my friend in such a short time.  He seems to be always hearing from God.  Even though my last visit hadn’t been for over 9 months, and he didn’t know I was coming until a few minutes before I arrived, God had been speaking things to him the day before that were what I needed to hear.  During our conversation he also spoke other things that encouraged me.  And of course he listened more than he spoke.

Some day, any day now, he will walk from the edge of heaven straight into the middle of it and there will be no gap between the two.  And in one sense not much will have changed, he will just  be that little bit closer to the One he loves than he is now.

Three ways of looking at anything

Paul went into the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2) and there are a number of other indicators in the Scriptures that there are three heavens as of now.

  1. The first one is the one we can see, the universe outside this earth that extends to 15 billion light years or so it seems. We don’t know too much about it but at least we can see some of it with our eyes and various forms of telescopes.
  2. The second one is mentioned in a few places such as Ephesians 6:12 and is the place where the devil reigns.
  3. The third one is described in Revelation. Moses made a copy of it in the Tabernacle (Hebrews 11:23,24). Paul was not the only human to go to the third heaven, Moses, John, Isaiah, Daniel and Ezekial all went there and probably a few others.

There is a hierarchy in the three heavens. God in the third rules over the other two and the second one rules over the first. Unless you are “in Christ” who is seated in the third heaven (Eph. 1:20) you are inevitably under the second heaven whether you know it or not. Or at least that is what the Scripture says. And we know who rules the second heaven.

So there are three ways of looking at everything:
1) From the third heaven: God’s viewpoint, totally in control, no surprises for Him and all He does is in love, justice, mercy and grace. As an example, God’s view of a faithful Christian’s death is that He called him/her home when He had decided they had accomplished all that they needed to accomplish and blessed all they could from down here. The “well done good and faithful servant” awaited him/her. This is the viewpoint of predestination.
2) The view from the second heaven. The devils and angels fight it out for the souls of men. Personally I don’t spend much time thinking of things from this point of view. Suffice to say you had better know what you are doing if you get involved in that conflict.
3) The view from the first heaven. This is the view of man where people make choices that determine their final destiny. The really important choices are all to do with accepting or rejecting God’s words. This is the Arminian viewing place for those familiar with those views.

If you want you can think of a faithful Christian’s death from the viewpoints of the other two heavens.  I think a lot of people do.  However, I for one am going to line my views up with God’s.  Ok, maybe I don’t know exactly what He is thinking of the brother /sister or all about why He called him/her home just now.  But imagining what He is thinking sure beats imagining how the devil or men are thinking about it.

What happens when we die?

A young saint’s spirit went home last week and her body died.   According to the bible, the body without the spirit is dead….James 2:26.

Despite being in contact with her husband during Friday, when I went into the specially convened prayer meeting at Open Arms that night I had no idea what to pray or what condition she was in except that it was serious.  So I prayed in the Spirit as follows: “Lord, forgive us for not understanding your ways and for our childish prayers.  We miss our sister and we know that her husband and child will be heartbroken.  So for those reasons we are asking for her back.”  I was in tears as I prayed this.  Then I got a vision from the Lord.  Jesus was in heaven hearing our prayers and pointing them out to our sister whose spirit was also there.  He seemed to be asking her if she wanted to go back.  To which she seemed to reply: “No way!”

Now it is not that she doesn’t care about her husband and son or us for that matter.  It’s just that, from the viewpoint of heaven and eternity, their remaining time seems shorter, eternity seems longer and God’s care for them more obvious.  Its a perspective we all need to have.

On Sunday, shortly after we heard the news that the life support machines had been stopped, a group of us were meeting and discussed what death is about for a born again, committed disciple of Jesus Christ – what the bible calls a “saint”.

The bible speaks a lot about what happens to “saints” when they die (it is much less clear on what happens to people who are not saints).  In fact all the letters of the New Testament and Revelation are written for the saints (a.k.a. disciples or overcomers)  and don’t make much sense unless that is understood.

So there are several verses that we can use to describe our current status and what happens when we die. First of all we should be clear that the earthly body we are in is a vessel for something more important:  2 Cor. 4:6-7a says:

For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels,

Jesus said (John 11:25,26):

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

Well do you?  Martha didn’t for when the test came she showed it by her response in John 11:39:

Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”

Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.”

In Lazarus’ case (and in the case of the widow’s son at Nain) Jesus raised both the body and the spirit, thus restoring the soul as well to Lazarus.

(I believe the Scripture says the Spirit interacting with the body is what creates the soul – without both the soul doesn’t exist – but I could be wrong about that).

But in the saint’s case, when we die our bodies normally decay to the dust from whence they came and our spirits go to heaven.  Our souls are not fully saved until our spirits are reunited with our bodies on the day the Lord returns and gives us new ones.

So the old body has served its purpose, it won’t be used again and it really doesn’t matter what you do with it. Cremation is probably one of the more eco friendly options.

The fact that the saints will be resurrected in a new body is dealt with extensively by Paul in 1 Cor. 15.  In v.20 and v.23 he calls Christ the first fruits of the resurrection.  A first fruits means there is more of the same coming afterwards:

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 

When Luke wrote his gospel he went to great lengths to ensure that we understood that Jesus’ resurrection was a bodily one:

36 Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.” 37 But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. 38 And He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”

40 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. 41 But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, “Have you any food here?” 42 So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. 43 And He took it and ate in their presence.

Luke 24:36-43

But so far Jesus is the only one who has resurrected in that way.  His resurrection was also different from what our bodily resurrection will be like in that His old body never decayed.  In fact God wanted to show something very specific through Jesus’ resurrection.

In the Old Testament it says this about the life of flesh:

Leviticus 17:11
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’

There has been an increase of understanding these days through scientific enquiry and we know now that the life of this flesh is most certainly in the blood.  96,500 km (enough to circle the world more than twice) of capillaries, veins and arteries carry blood laden with life giving oxygen and minerals to every living cell in our bodies.  Only the dead skin cells we shed, parts of our hair and nails are lifeless.

And we know that Jesus shed His blood.    Then He was buried, His body did not decay and so He rises with flesh and bone.  Henceforth His Spirit sustains Him so that life is in the Spirit not the blood in His new body. Likewise for us, since He is the first fruits, so our new bodies will be kept alive by the spirit, not blood.  Note that Jesus ate and had flesh and bones, there is nothing insubstantial about the new bodies we will inherit.

So the saint is in heaven awaiting the Lord’s return so that she and all the other “spirits of just men (includes women) made perfect” (Hebrews 12:23) can enter their new bodies and live with Jesus in His new kingdom.

So in summary:

1) A saint who dies is in heaven with Jesus now in the spirit.

2) Jesus is the only one in heaven with a new flesh and bone body

3) Jesus will return one day and when He does He will bring the saints with Him and give them new bodies like His own.

Think about these things, they will encourage you!

Using our imagination

I think that one of the biggest problems facing evangelical Christianity in the west is a lack of imagination.  Fear seems to be the biggest obstacle.  We are afraid to let our minds go in case we get into vain imaginations and get puffed up.  So one verse in the Scripture (Colossians 2:18) prevents us from using a God given gift.  But without imagination we can get terribly confined in our thinking.

This can particularly apply to how we think about what happens when we die.  An unimaginative view puts us immediately in either heaven or hell whereas the Scripture would seem to indicate lots of events before that state is arrived at.   It is not that straight forward.  First our disembodied spirits go somewhere.  I think that somewhere is the same place they go when we worship when we are alive (see my article on the Sea).  I’m not sure where those who don’t know how to worship in the Spirit go – perhaps to some holding place like Sheol or Hades (see Luke 16).

Then there is the Lord’s return which I believe happens before His Millennium reign on earth.  At that point those who are able to look Him in the eye and those who died in Christ receive their new bodies and reign with Him for the thousand years.  Then comes the amazing period of non-time, non-eternity called the Judgement Day when everyone who is not a judge is judged.  And then after all that comes the New Heaven and the New Earth.

So it is not simply a case of heaven and hell.  Actually it is quite complex.  That is not surprising seeing as we are in time and natural 3D space and the events in the hereafter are in eternity and in who knows how many dimensions.

I was walking down by the canal near where I work at lunch time as I often do.  There are dragon flies, moorhens, teeming fish (the water was as clear as crystal and you could see every fish), swans and all sorts of plant life.  At one stage I looked across at a simple bank of bulrushes all moved by the wind into one lovely pattern.

Any God who can think up that kind of thing – let alone create it – can surely think up even more wonders that will keep us all going for eternity.

Revelation helps – not the book, the experiences- I got a revelation while walking down by the canal.  It was simply that I will feel very comfortable in my new body in the new earth and heaven.  It will feel very natural (if that makes sense).  It was a revelation that came and went again but left behind an impression.

We need revelation, without it we are groping in the dark.  Revelation and imagination are inseparable.  You can’t have one without the other.

The Sea

Many years ago a preacher pointed out the curious statement at the beginning of Revelation 21:  

“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.  Also there was no more sea.”

I’ve been thinking about that ever since (among other things).

Now I am going to make some bold statements about it all and back it up with some Scriptures.

  • The sea that is referred to is the one before the throne in the “old” heaven, i.e. the heaven that is there now (Rev. 4, 5).
  • This heaven is also known as the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2) and is the place where God’s throne currently is.
  • The sea (Rev. 4:6) is the way time and events on earth look like to an observer in the third heaven (Dan. 7:2,3; Rev. 13:1).  Spirits (winds) blow upon it and things are stirred up and come up out of the sea before the throne.  However the most wonderful sight is that of the spirits of men worshipping God (Hebrews 12:22-24; Rev. 15:2).

So why is there no more sea when the new heaven comes along?

Well there is no more time nor difference between the spirit and the flesh in the new heaven.  In this life the life of this mortal body is in the blood (Gen. 9:4; Lev. 17:11,14), in the new heaven the life of the immortal body will be in the spirit (Luke 24:39; 1 Cor. 15:44).  When we are seen in the existing heaven it is our spirits that are seen.  However in the new heaven we will be body and soul with the Lord forever.

There is also a very clear picture about being born again here.  What happens when we are born again?  Well, a baby moves from a place of breathing and living in water to breathing and living in air.  So we too, according to this picture of rising above the surface of the sea in heaven, move from death beneath the waves to life in the spirit above them.  The first time we do this is when we are raised together with Christ from death to life when we are born again.  I believe that walking in the spirit means walking on water (on the sea) which explains one of the main points of that miracle (Matthew 14:22-33; John 6:19).

So if it helps you, the next time you are worshipping God either on your own or at church imagine that your spirit is rising up out of the sea before God’s throne in the third heaven.  Because that may very well be what is actually happening (cf. Hebrews 4:16).

Heaven

Sometimes classical music describes heaven better than words. Faure’s Pavane, Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto, Mozart’s clarinet concerto, the list goes on and on. There is something in the eternal depth of the relationships that we will experience, the striking and fantastic adventures, the discovery of new worlds and aspects of creation – all these and many other eternal themes are better described by music than anything else.

I’ve listened long to the news yesterday and today, saddened by the pain and suffering and fear inflicted on so many in Japan. I’ve come to God about it.

Of course His judgements are past finding out (Romans 11:33). We can speculate all we like about the Apocalypse now or God’s judgements on a godless people but in the end we are only seeing the edges of His ways on the earth. Oh, Lord, in wrath remember mercy!

But Heaven, ah, that’s the place. We are probably all going to die (or go to sleep as the bible puts it for believers).  Maybe it won’t be in some catastrophe like in Japan or maybe it will.  Are we afraid of nuclear disastors?  Nations in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea… (Luke 21:25).

It is always a good thing to remember what is coming afterwards.

If you know the good news you know why you don’t need to be afraid and why you are going to heaven.  As a check on your salvation though ask yourself a question:  As a created, reasoning entity – could you be trusted in heaven?  This is another way of asking whether you are really going on with God.  Without holiness none of us will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).

As we see these things happening we know that the kingdom of God is near (Luke 21:31).  Let’s be ready and encourage one another to be a living active part of it.