Our preacher, Mark Stinnett, publishes articles for the church bulletin each week. These articles are designed to teach, encourage and challenge the members of our congregation. His latest articles can be found below with the most recent at the end of the list. Mark has archived all of his articles on his personal blog 'MicroMarks' which can be accessed at: micromarks.blogspot.com.
The Jews, it is said, believed in seven heavens. For some, heaven is the opposite of hell and clearly a better alternative. Even by studying the Bible people have come up with many ideas, sometimes conflicting ideas, about heaven.
References to heaven are peppered throughout the Bible. So, what does the Bible say?
First, the Bible uses heaven to describe three distinct expanses beyond the earth.
The third heaven:
The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12 about a “man in Christ who...was caught up to the third heaven.” Then, in his very next statement he virtually repeated himself saying that this same man “was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.” So, we can equate one heaven with Paradise, and Paul explicitly called it the third heaven. This heaven is not a part of God’s creation, but rather, His dwelling.
The first and second heavens:
In the opening chapter of the Bible the creation sequence is recorded. The first verse of the Bible distinguishes the heavens and the earth. Later, we discover that there are two distinct created heavens:
On the fourth day of the creation sequence God placed the sun, moon, and stars in “the expanse of the heavens.”
On the fifth day of the creation sequence God created birds saying, “let them fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.”
At times it is clear which created heaven is meant. For example, when Absalom, son of King David, was escaping from an adversary on his mule, his head was caught in an oak tree, “so he was left hanging between heaven and earth....” (2 Samuel 18:9) So, when a person leaves the ground, even for a moment, he is in heaven...the first heaven.
In many cases the first heaven is translated into English as sky or air. Of course, that makes sense when the text is about birds (Genesis 8:2; Matthew 6:26) or rain (Matthew 8:20).
We might summarize the three heavens described in the Bible from man’s perspective:
- First heaven: The created, breathable atmosphere above the earth where bugs, birds and bats fly and where clouds, rain and weather events occur.
- Second heaven: The created, uninhabitable space above the earth where the sun, moon, stars, planets and other celestial bodies exist.
- Third heaven: The non-created expanse that exists beyond creation; God’s dwelling place.
Since the Hebrew text always has heavens (plural), English translators must determine which heaven is being considered. In general, it will be clear from the context whether heaven is the sky, or space, or both, or God’s home. There are a few cases, however, where the precise meaning is uncertain. Such a case is found in 2 Chronicles 6:14 where the writer speaks of God saying, “there is no god like you in heaven or on earth….” Usually when heaven is coupled with earth, it refers to the created heaven(s). Yet, this could be a reference to God’s dwelling beyond earth, sky and space.
These are the literal heavens: the created heavens and God’s home. In general, they are easy to identify in the Bible. However, the term heaven is sometimes used figuratively in ways that challenge our thinking.
More of what the Bible says about heaven will follow next week.
July 24, 2022
As a kid I remember being taught about heaven. It all seemed kind of dreamy and surreal; you might even say, other-worldly. To be honest, little has changed over the years. We are told a few things about heaven in the Bible, yet it still remains rather mysterious.
What about us?
The Bible says that flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:50) So, what will we be like?
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. —1 John 3:2-3
So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised can imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. —1 Corinthians 15:42-44
Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. —1 Corinthians 15:49
Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. —1 Corinthians 15:51-53
For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. —2 Corinthians 5:1-9
From these passages we learn that:
- We will be like Jesus, just as He is;
- We will be resurrected from the dead;
- We will be changed, different from our physical nature;
- We will be glorious;
- We will be imperishable;
- We will be immortal;
- We will be given a body suitable for the eternal heaven.
What about heaven itself?
As with the previous question, we are not left without information, but we do not have a full answer. Even when John’s vision in the book of Revelation is considered, we find ourselves asking more question. Compared to the current created world, the Hebrew writer says simply that heaven is better.
Here are a few things we are told about heaven:
- Angels will be there (Matthew 18:10);
- We have treasure stored there (Matthew 19:21);
- Earthly marriages will not continue there (Matthew 22:30);
- There will be no sin (Hebrews 11:16);
- Righteousness dwells there (2 Peter 3:13);
- God is enthroned there (Mark 16:19);
- Out of heaven comes the New Jerusalem (Revelation 3:12).
I am really curious about the New Jerusalem. Let’s take a look at that next time.
July 31, 2022
If you haven’t noticed, things around here are broken. Do you know what I’m thinking about?
When sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden, God cursed humanity and the earth itself.
Most people have grown so accustomed to the world we are in that they fail to recognize that the world as it is was not God’s plan. Thankfully, God has come to the rescue. The writer of Hebrews refers to a better country, a heavenly one (Hebrews 11:14-16). Peter wrote about the destruction of the current heavens and earth which will be followed by new heavens and new earth (2 Peter 3:13).
However, this did not originate in the New Testament. Prophesying to a rebellious nation, Isaiah warned Judah of God’s wrath but also gave a ray of hope for a remnant of faithful servants who would be preserved in new heavens and a new earth (Isaiah:65:17). Isaiah’s prophecy of divine judgment was echoed in Revelation where the new heavens and new earth would follow the destruction of death, Hades, Satan and all whose names are not found in the book of life. In John’s visions he then saw “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” (20:11-15)
You might remember that when the temple of God was built in Jerusalem God said, “In Jerusalem I will put My name” (2 Kings 21:4). This was God’s city in which was built the house of God (temple). So, Jerusalem was God’s dwelling on earth, where God met man.
Back to Isaiah’s prophecy...God was displeased with Judah because there was no justice. Yet, would God raise up a Redeemer to go to Zion (the City of David, Jerusalem) to bring salvation and righteousness. Zion would be restored, purified and glorified. God would show compassion to his people by gathering them into Zion.
Then all your people will be righteous;
They will possess the land forever,
The branch of My planting,
The work of My hands,
That I may be glorified.
The prophecy of Isaiah foresaw the restoration of physical Judah, but also looked forward to Zion where “all your people will be righteous,” undoubtedly a reference to spiritual Zion. The prophecy went on to tell of the adornment of its citizens with garments of salvation and robes of righteousness. The final verse of Isaiah 61 describes figurative vegetation in Zion:
So the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up....
The writings of John and Peter drew heavily from Isaiah in describing the new heavens and new earth. Of greatest significance…
Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them. —Revelation 21:3
But according to His promises we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. —2 Peter 2:13
Unlike physical Jerusalem where there was a physical temple, a copy of the heavenly one (Hebrews 9:24), God Himself will live among His people in the New Jerusalem. Unlike the current world were some people are righteous and some are not, in the new heavens and new earth only righteousness will dwell.
Our current world is broken. Death is here. God created life; He wants us to live forever with Him! Let’s set our eyes on the New Jerusalem!!
August 7, 2022