The extended index finger pointing toward heaven is a common expression of our heavenward pilgrimage. This symbol was used frequently by a Presbyterian pastor in Port Gibson, Mississippi. After his death, the worshippers at First Presbyterian Church of Port Gibson erected a steeple in his honor. Instead of putting a cross atop the steeple, they placed a bronze cast of a hand with the index finger pointing upward toward heaven.
Psychologist William Marston asked three thousand people, “What have you to live for?” He was shocked to discover that ninety-four percent were simply enduring the present while they waited for the future. They waited for something to happen, waited for “next year,” waited for a “better time,” waited for “someone to die,” waited “for tomorrow,” unable to see that all anyone ever has is today, because yesterday is gone and tomorrow exists only in hope.
Ultimately there comes to all Christians the awareness that this earth is the wrong place. Once there was an old man who everyday would take long walks with the Lord. On these walks, he and the Lord God would talk about all kinds of things. About the important times in the old man’s life: when he met his wife, the birth of his children, special Christmases, etc. And one day while they were out walking for an especially long time, the Lord looked at the old man and said: “We are closer to my house than we are to yours. Why don’t you just come home with me.” And that is what he did!
What is Heaven? We are told that Heaven was created by God for God. It is the place where God resides along with the heavenly host. Where the location of Heaven is, no one knows. The Apostle Paul tells a stirring story, I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know-God knows. And I know that this man-whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows- was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell. (2 Cor. 12:2) In scripture, Heaven is always UP.
Scripture makes it clear that Heaven is a PLACE and not just a state of mind.
In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. (John 14:2) Death was feared in the Old Testament because everyone had to wait for the “Great Resurrection.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (John 11:24) Everyone (good and bad) had to wait in Hades, the in between place. That is why we have that little odd passage in Jude. But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (Jude 9)
Heaven is a place that has been undergoing change to prepare for the believer. 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. 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. (John 14:2) Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) When Jesus dies on the cross, the veil in the Temple is torn into, from top to bottom. Heaven the place for believers to live is now created and separated from those in Hell. The Temple takes its place in this new heaven, the earthly Temple is no longer important. 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. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (Rev. 21:1) Heaven itself has to be changed for the final place of all believers. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. (2 Peter 3:13)
Job (14:14) asked a good question, “If a man dies, will he live again?” Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out, and your dog would go in.–Mark Twain 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. (John 14:3)
What type of bodies will we have? “…the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. (Eccl. 12:7) But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just the seed. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. (1 Cor 15:35) When Dad came home from work each day, he was nearly always greeted in the front yard by his only child, Mark. But on one particular day, it was different. Mark was nowhere to be seen as Dad drove up to the house. Expecting to find Mark just inside the front door, Dad hurried up the sidewalk. He only noticed Mark’s absence. He began calling Mark in several areas of the house, but each call was followed by silence. Then Dad noticed that Mom was in the back yard, chatting with one of the neighbors. In his anxiety, he rudely interrupted them with a “Where’s Mark?” She casually replied, “I don’t know where he is.” “What-do-you-mean-you-don’t-know-where-he-is?” he fired back. But before he got to questioning her fitness as a mother, she interrupted: “Honey, I don’t know where he is, but I know who he’s with. Your parents have taken him out for the afternoon.” Dad began to calm immediately when he knew with whom Mark was spending the afternoon.
Some mourners cry, “Where has my loved one gone?” May they be soothed to know what God has told us about the death of Christians. We do not know where they have gone, but we know whom they are with. To die is described in Philippians 1:23 as “. . . to depart and be with Christ.”