************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 37 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 7, 2021
Belgic Confession Article 37 (#12)
'The Occupants of Heaven"
There is a wrong idea out there that people are chosen for one of two places: they are chosen either to go to heaven or they are chosen to go to hell.
I know I mentioned this a few weeks ago, but this is so important that I have to say it again. God only chooses people to go to heaven. God never chooses anyone to go to hell. Rather, men send themselves there by their unbelief. Listen carefully to what Jesus said to Nicodemus: "whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son" (Jn 3:17). In the final analysis, what actually sends a person to hell is their failure to believe in Jesus.
Jesus is never at fault because a soul goes to hell. Never! Ever! No soul facing Jesus can ever say, "It is your fault I am lost." None will say that to Him. No, Jesus never sends anyone to hell. However, He does send people to heaven.
This evening we are answering the question, who is in heaven? Or, assuming you are a believer, who will you see in heaven?
A When believers arrive in heaven they will see angels. In fact, they will see a multitude of angels:
Hebrews 12:22 (NIV84) — 22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly ...
Revelation 5:11 (NIV84) — 11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.
B Let me pause for a moment to say something about the "four living creatures"and the "elders" mentioned in our Scripture reading.
The four living creatures are mentioned eleven times in the book of Revelation (4:6; 4:8; 5:6; 5:8; 5:14; 6:6; 7:11; 14:3; 15:7; 19:4). The first time we meet them is in Revelation 4:
(Rev 4:6-8) Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. (7) The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. (8) Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come."The four living creatures are similar to the angelic cherubim mentioned in Ezekiel 10. The four living creatures are angels of God.
The elders are mentioned twelve times in the book of Revelation (Rev 4:4,10; 5:5,6,8,11,14; 7:11,13; 11:16; 14:3; 19:4). They are dressed in white, just like the angels we see in the Gospels. They sit on thrones and wear crowns. We can only conclude they are a ruling class of angelic beings. They are distinct from and over the ordinary class of thousands upon thousands of angels who surround the throne -- they are closer to the throne. Because they are not as close to the throne as the four living creatures we believe the elders have lower rank than the four living creatures.
C Believers will see angels when they get to heaven. But that should not surprise them. After all, heaven is God's home. And wherever God is, there are angels: think of God and two angels visiting Abraham just before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18); think of Jacob's vision of a ladder with angels ascending and descending upon it and the Lord standing above (Gen 28); think of Isaiah seeing the Lord in a vision and an angel purifying him by putting a burning coal to his lips (Is 6); and, the book of Revelation always shows the throne of God surrounded by angels.
D Those angels that we will see in heaven, what are they doing? In scene after scene we see them worshiping God:
Revelation 4:8 (NIV84) — 8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”
(cf Rev 5:9–10; 5:12; 7:11–12)
II The Saved
A The second group that we notice in heaven is the saved or the redeemed. John writes:
Revelation 7:9 (NIV84) — 9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count ..."A great multitude that no one could count." This, of course, fulfills God's promise to Abraham:
Genesis 22:17 (NIV84) — 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore ...Centuries after God said this the promise is fulfilled and the church, Abraham's descendants, is before the throne of God and she is a great multitude, more than anyone can count.
I have to ask you this evening: are you going to be part of that multitude, that crowd beyond number standing before the throne of God?
I tried to imagine this past week what it would be like to be part of that kind of crowd. How exciting, how wonderful that will be. A number of years ago I attended a Packer Monday night football game in the Oakland Coliseum; I was one of fifty-four thousand people. Another time I attended an event in the Hoosier Dome with sixty-five thousand others. But in heaven I will be part of a crowd beyond number. Can you imagine the excitement, the enthusiasm, the joy, the worship, of such a large crowd?
Just before our text, in verses 4-8, the Apostle John numbers off that crowd. He mentions each of the twelve tribes of Israel and from each of those twelve tribes there are 12,000: 12 X 12,000 for a total of 144,000. This sounds like a contradiction, doesn't it? On the one hand we are told it is a crowd beyond number; on the other hand we are told the crowd numbers 144,000. In the Hebrew language the number twelve is the number of wholeness and completion. And John repeats it twice. In heaven there will be 12 X 12,000 people. This tells us something about that great multitude before the throne of God that no one could count. It will be complete. Not one person will be missing. John is telling us that before the throne of God not a single true and elect member of the church will be missing, all will be there, none will be left out.
How comforting. As you all know, we are all sinners in need of grace. Every single one of us is lost. Yet every lost one of us, none excepted -- if we believe -- will be part of that crowd beyond number. None of us will be missing; the number is whole, the number is complete. And that means all of us, if we -- by grace -- believe, no matter how terrible we may think we are, no matter how much we may doubt our salvation, every single lost one of us will be saved, will be found before the throne of God. There is a place, says John, for every single believer.
Some of you might recognize the name Karla Faye Tucker. Karla was the first woman to be executed by the State of Texas in 135 years. She was executed February 1998 for brutally killing two people with a pickaxe during a burglary. While on death row Karla professed faith in Jesus and repented of her sin. From this pulpit I said Karla was in heaven if her faith and repentance was real. Someone attending our worship services was so upset by what I said that they stopped attending. They wanted nothing to do with a Jesus who would forgive someone like Karla. I told him, "if Jesus doesn't forgive Karla then He doesn't forgive you either." If someone believes in Jesus -- no matter how sinful they might have been -- they will be in heaven.
I ask you again, are you going to be part of that crowd? You will be, you can be, but only if you, by grace, believe.
B John tells us another thing about the saved in heaven:
Revelation 7:9 (NIV84) — 9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language ...That crowd beyond number, that crowd that no one could count, that crowd with none missing, comes from all over the earth.
These words remind me of the children's song:
Jesus loves the little children,This children's song reminds us of an important Biblical truth: the church of Jesus Christ is far more than white, Dutch, American, or United Reformed. She is from every tribe, nation, people, and language.
all the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
they are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.
All around us we see walls, barriers, and labels separating people from people. Race, skin-color, language, nationality, political persuasion, income, class level, sex, geography, profession, education -- all of these can be barriers which separate people from people.
In the church there is no room for such barriers. In the community of the church we don't separate people according to skin-color, nationality, sex, profession, or anything else. And in heaven, before the throne of God, none of those barriers exist anymore.
Revelation 7:9 (NIV84) — 9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language ...
Again I ask: are you a part? Are you a part of that great multitude that John saw before the throne, a multitude of endless variety?
C Everyone of those people who are in heaven are there because of Jesus.
Revelation 7:9 (NIV84) — 9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.
Who are all these people and why are they all there? John evidently wondered this too. But before he could ask one of the elders answered him.
Revelation 7:13–14 (NIV84) — 13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” 14 I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
All those people are sinners. Heaven is not a place for people who have been perfect on earth. It is for people whose robes have been washed. The robes, of course, are the garments of sin and evil that we by nature cloak ourselves in. In other words, heaven is a place only for those who were sinners while on earth but have now been cleansed.
Let me tell you right now, if you start to think about yourself, "I'm not so bad, in fact, I'm pretty good," then heaven is not for you. If you don't have an awareness of sin in your life, heaven is not for you. Heaven is for sinners.
Notice, the robes have been washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. In other words, the sinners in heaven are there because they have been cleansed and purified by the blood of Christ. We are being told here about the church's one foundation: even Jesus Christ. It is Jesus, His blood, His sacrifice, which called the church into being. And, it is only because of Christ that the church is redeemed and can appear before the throne of God.
This is true for all, for everyone in that multitude -- whether they are red, yellow, black, or white -- they all need to be cleansed by the blood of Christ. It is only because of that blood that you and I can someday stand before the throne of God wearing robes of white; part of a crowd beyond number from every nation, tribe, people and language.
So I ask you again, are you part of that crowd that John sees before the throne?
Who will be in heaven? God's angels are there. Believers are there. And, Jesus is also there. Heaven is where our Savior is. Where He is, there we shall also someday be. You know the words of Jesus:
John 14:2–3 (NIV84) — 2 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. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
This makes me think of what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church of Philippi:
Philippians 1:23 (NIV84) — 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far ...Heaven is where Jesus is, and someday we will join Him there. What joy, what bliss, what happiness to be in glory with the Lord Jesus.
Who is in heaven? Angels are there. Believers are there. Jesus is there. But now I need to ask: will you be there? Let me end with a poem:
I dreamed death came to me one night
and heaven's gates flew open wide.
With kindly grace St. Peter came and
ushered me inside.
There to my astonishment were friends
I had known on earth,
Some I had labeled as unfit
and some of little worth.
Indignant words flew to my lips:
Words I could not set free,
For every face showed stunned surprise --
No one expected me.
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