When We Get Heaven All Wrong

In the last few days, Kenyans have been glued to their television and newspapers watching the unfolding horror propagated by “pastor” Paul Mackenzie of the ironic Good News International church. The question in many people’s minds is how this pastor managed to convince people to sell off property, move to his land and fast to death. Yes, we understand the teaching of end times is scary but how did he get hold of so many people for such a long time? What’s going through someone’s mind when they leave their family behind to live in another man’s open land waiting to die? And most importantly is that what the Bible teaches? Is Mackenzie the one who got it right from the Lord and everyone else wrong? 

Why do you want to go to Heaven?

Now there would be several places in the Bible to go to understand the teaching about end times starting with what Jesus taught in the Gospels like in Mark 13, how apostle Paul addressed this same issue in 1 & 2 Thessalonians and of course a thorough Bible study of the confusing book of Revelation might make things even clearer. But I think one question deals with this whole issue and that is why we want to be in heaven in the first place? You see all of us have our perfect heaven in mind. Every single one of us believer or not have an idea of heaven. If you went around and asked what people thought about heaven you’d hear all kind of answers depending on what people are imagining, reading and especially watching. For some it is a place of unending pleasure and self indulgence. A place without pain or suffering. To others a place up in the heavens where good people go after they die. A place where angels flip their wings and people dance on clouds. And for Christians a place where the saints end up after God’s judgement. 

But then people would have a whole different answer for why they really want to go to heaven. Most believers want it to escape the pain of this world and that might explain why Mackenzie chose this specific teaching to lure his victims. Add the fear of end times tribulation and throw in that God has specifically revealed to you the day and time of Jesus second coming and you have a good cult in your hands. On the other hand unbelievers think it’s a rather boring place although they wouldn’t want to end up in the alternative place in hell. Others think good people, religious or not, deserve a better place after they die. But all these ideas of heaven make it more of a human heaven rather than a biblical heaven. It’s a man made heaven not what the Bible teaches. It’s all about men which makes it a human idea regardless of its religious roots. The question we need to ask is what does God’s heaven actually look like according to the Bible? What’s the one thing you won’t miss in God’s heaven? 

Is God there?

The Bible’s answer to this question is very clear whether we look at beginning of the story in Genesis 1&2 or the end in Revelation 21&22. The most important thing about God’s heaven is not actually that there’s no more pain, that there are beautiful streets of precious minerals but that God is there. This is what man loses in Eden and what the whole Bible is seeking to recover through the Gospel message. The story of salvation seeks to restore what was lost when man sinned. It takes us back not just to Eden but to God. Jesus speaking in John 17 says something striking about God’s heaven:¬†

3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 

Jesus says heaven is about our restored relationship with the father. God’s heaven is the home of those who on earth have sought to know God through his son as revealed in his word. It’s not the reward for those who tortured themselves to death. It’s not for the religious or for those considered good in human standards. It’s for the thief on the cross who trusts in Jesus. For the saint who has lived his life loving the Lord, living for him and longing for his appearing. Turns out that you are not ready for heaven if you don’t want to know God here on earth first. Heaven has everything to do with the true Gospel message and nothing to do with human ideas of paradise. The unbeliever who thinks God might see their good deeds and let them in is mistaken. The religious person who imagines the weighing scale of their deeds might tilt their way is dreaming. And the Christian torturing themselves imagining that might grant them some favour with God is sadly deceived. Jesus has already paid the price. It’s not about what we do for him but what he has done to restore us to himself. He’s the one who brings us to the Father not our religious deeds. Speaking in Revelation 21, John says of heaven:

3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.

Which Heaven do you want?

If we miss the essence of God’s heaven we’ll either dismiss it as a very boring place or want it for the wrong reasons. Worse we’ll be deceived by those who claim to have some special revelation like Mackenzie. But the question we need to ask is, are they selling us a human heaven with spiritual language or the biblical heaven? Who is at the centre of their idea of heaven? Is it really the God of the Bible or a man made God? Heaven is nothing without the God of the Bible. It’s just fiction. It is God who makes heaven what it is. And just imagine what it must be spending eternity with the God who made the universe and everything we think we have discovered to enjoy. I can guarantee you it’s no boring place, read Isaiah 25. 

But you can also be sure it’s not the religious and pagan paradise where people indulge in sin. Nothing sinful can dwell with God, see Isaiah 6. Neither is it a place we can gain by our good acts or harsh treatment of our bodies. We come only by the merits of Jesus who died for our sins and was raised for our justification, Romans 4:25. Heaven is for sinners made saints by Jesus who are seeking to live for him now before living with him forever. Sinners who found the cure for their sin in Jesus and won’t hide in a forest somewhere but are seeking to tell others this amazing news. You can be sure it’s not heaven if it’s secretive and it’s demanding you to pay the price Jesus already paid for you. When it sounds religious but it has nothing to do with our restored relationship with God by his gracious Gospel message. When it depends on human effort through a human medium for a human paradise.

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