by Matthew C. Harrison
My 98-year-old father-in-law asked me recently, “Now Matt, can you tell me again about heaven?” As I looked through the Scriptures, I found heaven referenced over and over. There’s much more than I realized.
John 14:2 “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”
Jesus Himself promises those who trust in Him eternal dwellings. Since the Bible promises us both a resurrection like Jesus’ and a “new heaven and earth,” I’m looking for real, eternal homes.
Matthew 4:17 “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”
Heaven comes in Jesus’ person and proclamation.
Mark 1:10 “And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.”
Luther said that in Jesus’ Baptism and ours, heaven is wide open. It’s nothing but doors and windows! “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). Christians are certain of heaven.
Matthew 5:20 “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Good works will not get anyone to heaven.
Matthew 18:1, 4 “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ … [Jesus answered,] ‘Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’”
Heaven exists where Jesus is, and the lowliest receivers of God’s grace are the greatest in heaven. No one earns heaven. Jesus earned it for all of us.
Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Heaven is God’s own gift for those humbled by the law and who trust in Christ. Grace flows down to the humble who are sorry for their sins, not up to the proud and unrepentant.
Luke 15:21 “And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’”
Sins against others are always sins against the Father in heaven.
Matthew 8:11 “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”
There are and will be believers in heaven from all the vast diversity of the one human race.
Matthew 16:16–17 “Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.’”
When a Christian confesses Christ as Savior, it’s the working of the heavenly Father via the Word of the Gospel (Eph. 2:8–9).
Matthew 18:18 “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
In the Office of the Keys, the kingdom of heaven operates on earth. Confession and absolution performed by a pastor “is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself” (Small Catechism V; see also Matt. 16:19).
Matthew 18:10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”
We cannot fathom the mystery of heaven and think only of something far away. But in Christ we are immediately present to our Lord and His blessed angels, even while we live on this earth. Luther believed that children and all Christians have guardian angels.
Luke 22:43 “And there appeared to [Jesus] an angel from heaven, strengthening him.”
Don’t doubt for a minute that just as angels attended the suffering Christ, so in Christ His blessed angels attend you. Luther preached that just as a child is taken from the font and swaddled by his parents, so the holy angels shall swaddle you as you die and take you to the Father.
Luke 10:20 “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Our faith in Christ while on earth is also a heavenly concern.
Luke 15:7 “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
Your sorrow over sin and trust in Christ is a constant cause of heavenly joy.
John 6:50–51, 58 “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. … This is the bread that came down from heaven. … Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
In Christ and in the Sacrament of His body and blood, heaven is given, pledged and promised. Receive it often as Jesus mandates in the words of institution.
Matthew 22:2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.”
Jesus’ parable notes the requirement of the robe of righteousness for all at the feast. This is the robe of Christ’s righteousness, received by faith in Him. There will certainly be joy, feasting and celebration in heaven.
Matthew 26:29 “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
At the institution of His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, Christ lets us know clearly that there will celebratory drinking in heaven.
Luke 23:43 “And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.’”
Jesus promised this to the repentant thief on the cross. This was a promise made to one man that comforts us all in the face of death and tells us all what happens when we die in Christ. We shall be with Jesus immediately upon death, to await the blessed resurrection. How we “wait” for the resurrection, our souls in eternity with Christ and our bodies in time disintegrating, burned to ashes, dispersed at sea and so on, is a mystery.
Matthew 28:18 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
Jesus has eternal heavenly authority. He gave that authority to His church. God delays the end of the world so that the Gospel may be proclaimed for the salvation of all His elect.
Mark 16:19 “Jesus … was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.”
Just where is “heaven”? It’s at “the right hand of God.” Where is God’s right hand? This means God’s power, which is everywhere, by which He sustains all things. Because of Christ’s divine and human natures combined in one person, He is as God, everywhere. He is present with His saints to uphold faith and hear their prayers in the most horrid, forgotten, filthy dwelling in the world. In Christ, heaven has hold of us no matter what earthly hell we face. And joy eternal awaits us.
Matthew 22:30 “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”
This is always a difficult one. Many hear this and are confused thinking we become angels when we die. No, Jesus simply says there will be no marrying. (What the state of the relationship in eternity will be for those married in this life, the text doesn’t exactly say.) But what bothers most people is the idea that we may not recognize or be recognized by our spouse in heaven. Not so. We shall have glorious bodies like Jesus’ body. His disciples recognized Him after the resurrection. We shall know and recognize each other in heaven.
Matthew 24:30 “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
Christ will return at the last judgment, visible to all, to judge the living and the dead. Christians are covered in Christ’s righteousness, and shall rise to eternal, physical life.
Matthew 24:36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”
The time when the Lord returns and the resurrection takes place is a mystery even to angels and the Son of God. How in the world people dare to calculate a date is beyond me. But the day is coming. And it will bring Christians eternal blessings.
Acts 1:11 “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
None of us is going to miss Christ’s coming to take us to be with Him to live with new, perfect, sinless, resurrected bodies! “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49). What we shall be is unimaginable.
Revelation 12:10 “And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.’”
With Christ’s resurrection and ascension the devil was cast out, no longer able to accuse those righteous in Christ. A heavenly transaction is complete. You have no devil to accuse you. As Luther says, the devil himself has a “devil” to harass him. Christ is the devil’s devil (LW 73:122).
Luke 21:33 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
At the resurrection, heaven and earth will be transformed.
Philippians 3:20 “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
For now, we wait in certainty.
Colossians 1:5 “The hope laid up for you in heaven.”
This hope is sure. God wants us to be certain of eternal life because of Christ.
1 Thessalonians 4:16 “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.”
Revelation 7:9–10 “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”
The Bible contains more on heaven than you can imagine. I hope these verses bring you certainty and joy in Christ, even in the face of death.