People of God - Lesson 13

A Study by Robert F. Turner

People of God for Eternity

The Bible presents God as “in the beginning” (Genesis 1:1), the eternal Creator. In blessing the children of Israel, Moses said, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms . . . ” (Deuteronomy 33:27). And Paul wrote, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful . . .” (Romans 1:20,21). God ever was and ever will be.

The Promises of God for His People

Throughout this study we have seen that God, in Jesus Christ, has supplied His creatures with a perfect example for their lives, and the means of forgiveness when they fail. His stringent requirements of a faithful life on the part of mankind are aimed at making a “people” who would (a) seek after and find Him; (b) worship and recognize dependence upon Him; and (c) reciprocate His love — in a word, glorify God. Peter wrote “to those who have obtained like precious faith with us,” and said to such were given “exceedingly great and precious promises; that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:1-4). It seems obvious that God’s “great and precious promises” reach far beyond man’s temporal life, encouraging him to prepare for eternity — the realm of the Eternal Creator. They serve as a prelude for an eternal destiny.

The faithful are promised heaven, life everlasting, and eternal life so often that we need mention only a few Scriptures (John 3:12-16; 6:40; Romans 2:7; 6:23). Even in such limited citations, the resurrection of man and immortality is clearly taught. Peter says there will be “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). Man’s resurrection is linked with that of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:12-28), and the destiny of the faithful is “thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

We are told that the Lord is at God’s right hand, in heaven (Mark 16:19; Ephesians 1:19-23). So, to “be with the Lord” is to be in heaven, but what does this mean? Descriptions of heaven are few, and are usually couched in figurative language. Apparently the reason for this is that time-and-space-bound people are not capable of grasping details of the hereafter. A literal description of heaven could bring no mental image to the mind of those whose power of perception is limited to things of this life.

In 2 Corinthians 12:2, note how Paul tells his out-of-this-world experience. “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago — whether in the body I do not know; or whether out of the body, I do not know, God knows — such a one was caught up to the third heaven.” He repeats much of this in v.3, then says, “How he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” Puzzle over that awhile, and it will add to what has been said about man’s limitations. In Luke 16:19-31 a parable-like account is given concerning the dead, which pictures the place of the dead divided into “torment” and “Abraham’s bosom,” separated by a great gulf. The main point of the lesson is not to describe eternity, but that man must heed God’s word in this life, if he would escape torment in the next.

John’s Revelation describes various aspects of heaven in apocalyptic fashion. If we will respect the figurative style of writing (see Isaiah 13:9-13,17), we can learn enough about heaven to want to dwell there. We are told the faithful will come before the throne of God and serve Him. There will be no more hunger; the Lamb will lead them unto living waters; and God shall wipe away all tears (Revelation 7:13-17). Christ will overcome evil, and those who die in the Lord (the faithful) will rest from their labors (14:11-13). Reward is pictured in Jewish terms — New Jerusalem, coming down from God, with twelve gates of pearl representing the twelve tribes of Israel; twelve foundations representing the twelve apostles; and a street of gold (Revelation 21:1-22:21). The imagery is clearly that of unimaginable beauty and wondrous glory, inadequately described despite all superlatives — desirable above all else. In eternity the true people of God will dwell in a God-worthy setting, in the presence of Deity. What more can we say!

It is heartbreaking to hear materialistic perversions of heaven. “I want a gold mansion, silver lined.” The Greek word for “mansions” in John 14:2, means simply an “abiding place,” used again in v.23, concerning the Father and Son making their “abode” in man. Do not allow lust for material possessions to cheapen concepts of the eternal home of the soul. (And why would one want a home made of street material?)

Two Eternal Destinies

We often hear eternity discussed as though all are going to heaven. A sign at a cemetery entrance read “Gateway to Glory,” and it set me to looking for the “other gate.” I have never found it — unless it is right there in the first sign. Could it be that we invite that “other” destination by empty words and soothing assurance that come from well-meaning friends and loved ones who have neither right nor reason for such hope? What I am trying to say is, there are two (yes, two) destinations in eternity. Take a long look at Matthew 25:46. Following the judgment scene (vv.31-45), Christ says, “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” The two destinations are of equal duration; declared by the same divine authority.

We said in the introduction to this study, “The sovereignty of God is vindicated in final and irrevocable judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10), for none can reject God with impunity.” Man is free to say either “Yes” or “No” to God — else we are mere puppets, and our words and actions have no moral value. Heaven is prepared for those who say “Yes” — who glorify God in faithful obedience from the heart. The grace and mercy of God make this possible, as we have seen. But the justice of God makes eternal punishment necessary for all who reject His magnanimous invitation. The same Revelation that tells us of heaven also says, “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8). Jesus put it simply, “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).

In this study the writer pleads unashamedly with the reader to consider these eternal destinies. A life of faith demands self-sacrifice — a death blow to pride that is based upon worldly ambitions. But with genuine faith we find an inner “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:4-9). There are other blessings in this life if we value character, a happier home, better citizenship, and the like; but genuine Christianity never loses its emphasis upon the life to come — the promise of a home in heaven.

People of God have no denominational or national organizations, the local church being their only collective activity. They are not seeking your money, have no political goals, are not simply “number hungry,” but are truly concerned for your spiritual well-being on an individual basis. They recognize their own spiritual weakness, but freely acknowledge this and pray God for forgiveness. People of God believe Christ has gone to prepare a place for them, and will return to “receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-6).

The Great Commission

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19,20).

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15,16).

“Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46,47).

“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-29).

Study Questions

1. Could man understand a literal description of heaven? Why or why not?

2. How many destinations are there in eternity?

3. What does justice demand for the rebellious sinner?

4. Is Christianity aimed chiefly at this life? Explain.

5. Name some characteristics of true people of God.

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