In no way is this meant to be detailed study of Heaven and Hell. Far from it! But I do want to look at what Jesus said about Heaven and Hell in Mathew 8:5-13 and what it can teach us about eternity. The church of old spoke frequently of such things and it is a sign of the times that you barely hear either mentioned today. Think for a moment – when was the last time you heard a sermon about heaven or about hell? More than likely quite a while, if that is, you can remember one at all. A study such as this provides us with a necessary reality check because it causes us to focus on the things which really matter; the things which last for eternity. Part of the framework for the following study I have stolen from Charles Spurgeon. Hope he doesn’t mind!
Mathew 8:10-13: Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled, and said to those who were following, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. “And I say to you, that many shall come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; let it be done to you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed that very hour.
I’m going to be concentrating on verses 11-13 as it shows us:
1. What is taught about heaven (vs 11)
2. What is taught about hell (vs 12)
3. What is needed to enjoy heaven and avoid hell (vs 13)
Jesus said that in his Fathers house were many mansions and that he would go to prepare a place for us, so that where he is, we could be also. This is also what he was saying here - that many shall come and make their way into the kingdom of Heaven. Keith Green said that if God took 6 days to create the entire world and Jesus has been working on heaven for 2000 years then this is like living in a garbage can! The Bible doesn’t leave us in the dark as to what it is like.
Rev 21:10-11,16 states ‘And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper… And the city is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as the width; and he measured the city with the rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal.’
The New Jerusalem is the home of the saints and check out its size: 1500 cubic miles. 1500 x 1500 x 1500. That’s one and a half times as long as New Zealand, or ¾ of the width of Australia. But it is as high and long as well! If you split it into rooms 1 mile long, 1 mile wide, and 1 mile high (which is slightly bigger than my room at home!) it could fit 3 billion 375 million. If you spent 1 hour talking to each person in 6000 years (the time of Adam to now) you would have spoken to 52 million leaving another 3 billion, 300 million! Gulp. Lucky we have eternity! It has been estimated that if only 25% of the New Jerusalem is split into good size rooms it will fit 20 billion people. Jesus wasn’t exaggerating! In his Fathers house are many mansions and that many will come…
We can take this two ways:
1. Physical location on earth: The Apostle John got a glimpse of heaven as it is recorded in Revelation 7:9 and saw every tribe, nation, people and tongue in heaven. God created diversity and loves diversity. He will make sure that every people group is saved and truly people will come from the east and the west.
2. Spiritual Location: In its context, Jesus was contrasting the faith of Israel with the faith of this gentile Roman solider. Israel thought that they had the right to God and that the gentiles were dogs. In saying that many would come from the east and the west Jesus was also indicating that people would be in heaven from all sorts of religious, cultural, and sinful backgrounds. As long as they believed in him! We should never see a person and think that God can’t save that person due to the state they are in. Many will come from the east and the west. All types of backgrounds.
Hmm, recline! Rest! I sit on my backside in front of a computer every weekday but I still like those words recline and rest! It speaks of rest. But when I speak of rest, I’m not talking about doing the harp in the clouds thing for all eternity. Not likely with God! The bible says we will shall judge the angels, and rule on Christ’s throne over the earth. God is always at work Jesus said. He is hugely creative. Think of the universe. Apparently, (and who counts these things???), we are on a planet in a galaxy of over 100 billion stars. And we are only 1 galaxy in over 1 billion galaxies! And right at this very moment as you sit in your warm little seats, thank God for gravity and friction cause the planet we are on is currently cruising at 66,000 miles per hour! No, God is hugely creative and we can only accept the truth that ‘eye has not seen, nor ear has heard what God has created for those who love him’. So what is the rest we read about?
Rev 21:3-4 ‘Behold the tabernacle of God is among men and he will dwell among them… and he will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first order of things have passed away.’
That’s rest. Rest from our trials, worries, our sickness and into what the psalmist saw and experienced –
Psalm 16:9 ‘In your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.’
You know what I like about this? Two things:
1. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who lived two thousand years before Jesus said this are still Abraham, Isaac and Jacob! They are still alive and they are still themselves. People ask ‘will we know each other in heaven?’ - as if you become someone else up there! In heaven Abraham is still Abraham, with the same personality and character God has given him, yet with a sinless perfected body. God has never created two fingerprints, snow flakes or leaves the same. He takes pleasure in diversity. And we will know each other. I heard a story about a wife who said to her husband ‘Darling do you think you will know me when we get to heaven?’. To which he replied ‘Oh woman, do I know you now? Do you think I would be a greater fool up there?’ He is right. We will not know less but more. The bible says when he comes we ‘shall know, even as we are known.’ I believe we will even know other bible saints. When Peter was on the mount of transfiguration with Jesus he asked if he could build a tent for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Nobody told him that it was Moses and Elijah. How did he know?
2. We are at the table with them. It’s the same table. In heaven there will be no distinction between the great and the small, the rich and the poor, the black and the white. On earth when you go to a wedding there is the family and close friends on one table close to the wedding party, the friends on another table a bit further away and the people who just scrapped in on the outside. Then of course you’ve got the people who are basically outside or seated next to the toilet! Not like that in heaven. We sit at the same table. Why? Cause it’s completely grace. There are different rewards and crowns but as to us being there nobody can boast that it was from themselves. If you sat and spoke with Abraham he would have the same testimony as you. That God came and spoke to him. And he simply believed what God said and God credited that faith as righteousness. Is that not the testimony of us all? Grace plus nothing. Jesus plus nothing. We shall be able to sit down with them.
The passage takes a turn for the worse now. After describing the joy and fellowship in heaven Jesus turns his attention to those who don’t make it and what their condition is like.
Who are the sons of the kingdom? In its context Jesus is speaking about the Jewish people, those that had physically descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They were religious, but their religion was external and hypocritical, trusting more in culture and works than the living God. The application today is for people who grow up in a so-called ‘Christian’ nation. They may attend church, perform good works, but have no inward reality and have not been born again. They believe that they have a right to go to heaven but have never submitted to Gods rule for getting there. And that is to believe for themselves in the death and resurrection of his only Son, and to receive forgiveness by grace. A scary connecting verse is Matt 7:21-23.
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’
People can be outwardly religious, even prophesying (falsely) and performing signs without knowing him! Note however that it says ‘I never knew you’. These were not people that had once known the Lord and then fallen away, they were people who had outward religion but had never truly known the Lord.
To cast is to throw something away. We cast fishing rods when we fling the line out as far as we can. The bible also tells us to cast our cares upon him. The idea is to give him our problems and forget about them, leaving them with him. The same though is connected with this passage. All the earthly pride, money, possessions and power will not help a person when they stand before God on the judgement day if they have rejected Gods means of salvation. Their mouths will be shut before the God who created them and the justice of a holy God will cast them into outer darkness. The darkness and loneliness of hell is contrasted with the light and fellowship that is going on in heaven. Being in utter darkness is scary enough on earth, but unthinkable if there is no way out. As I think about this, I think of work mates and friends who are too busy with their life, work, and recreation to look or listen to what Jesus has done for them. What could they possibly say before God?
Ted Turner, a billionaire who owns a television station in America recently said ‘Christianity is a religion of losers. I don’t want anyone to die for me. I’ve had a few drinks, and a few girlfriends, and if that’s gonna put me in hell then so be it!’ He won’t be saying that 1 second after dying.
The Bible is quite clear when it says ‘there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ Its not a possibly or a maybe – that is what it will be like. Weeping I believe, is for sadness. They have made the biggest mistake anyone can make with no way out. I looked up gnashing in the dictionary and it said that gnashing of teeth was in times of ‘extreme frustration or pain’. Probably both are true in this case.
Go your way; let it be done to you, as you have believed.
Earlier Jesus has spoken about the Roman Centurion that approached Him and said “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel.” This man’s faith touched Jesus, as he did not consider himself worthy of having Jesus come to his house, but knew that one word from Jesus would be enough to heal his servant. Faith in God’s grace has always been the way to please God as it states -
Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
For this the great men of old were commended, as Paul
explains using the life of Abraham as an example.
as an example.
Rom 4:2-5 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.
God has provided a way for all of mankind to be saved and that is through belief in His son, Jesus Christ. This is the reason why Abraham, 4000 years ago, was declared righteous; it was the reason the Roman Centurion, 2000 years ago, was rewarded with the life of his servant and it’s the reason why men and women today, still find themselves blessed and at peace with God.
And not one minute later! When Jesus, on the basis of someone’s faith declared them well, nothing can stop it. He did it for the physical healing of the servant in this passage, and He does it for the spiritual healing and restoration of the millions that have come to trust in Him. The simple act of faith, something that is within every persons grasp, is all it took. God has not complicated salvation or made is possible for an elite few. No, He has provided the answer and way to Heaven through the death of His son and our personal faith in that.
Heaven and Hell are reality whether we like it or not. We see from this passage that Jesus spoke about both and He knew what He was talking about. As Christians, it is our home and as such we are called to be heavenly minded. You hear of people saying that ‘that person is so heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good!’ Well, apart from a few ‘head in the cloud’ nutters, I don’t believe that. Look at the hall of faith in Hebrews 11. The constant theme that comes through which enables them to do their great deeds is the fact that they knew this wasn’t their home. They were looking for a heavenly home and a heavenly city.
C S Lewis wrote ‘If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were those who thought the most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.’
We need to learn to live with an expectation of Heaven, warning others to escape hell.