You walk into the railway station and stand at the ticket office. The clerk asks for your destination, and you say, ‘You choose’. Thinking to have misheard, she says, ‘I’m sorry?’. You reply, ‘Anywhere’. She looks at the other clerk, then back to you saying, ‘Would that be Anywhere in Scotland, or Anywhere in Wales?’ Of course, that would never happen. Even if your route is undecided, you must at least have a destination in mind.
Life is a journey and for the Christian a pilgrimage. It is not a pilgrimage to earn or merit salvation, but a walk in obedience to the Lord’s commands, looking to him for guidance. Atheists say there is nothing after death – there is no destination. The Bible disagrees and is a signpost to two possible destinations. The big question is – what is your destination?
Two routes and two gates
Jesus described the two routes we could take, and we must first choose the gate which gives us access onto these different roads. ‘Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.’ (Matt. 7:13-14) The big gate is the most popular choice; you can please yourself what you do and where you go, ignoring God and silencing your conscience. The smaller gate is the one Christ chose when on this earth. He obeyed his Father, even when the going got tough, and he suffered on Calvary to purchase a people for God and a bride for himself. The way was stony but led to everlasting glory for Christ in the presence of his Father, and provides everlasting life and joy for all who trust Christ today. It’s not just eternal bliss after we have died, but gives joy we can experience today. It’s like those free samples offered at food festivals that give you a foretaste of the larger product. Paul says we can experience joy and life in ‘the Holy Spirit who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it…’ (Ephesians 1:14). The guarantee is a pledge or security of the full inheritance we will have in heaven.
Jesus said there are only two possible destinations. Which one we reach will depend on the road we adopted by our life’s end. Everyone begins on the broad way of the world, which at best ignores, or at worst despises God. This way leads to destruction. That is not annihilation, nor a mere loss of consciousness, but an enduring awareness of guilt, regret and sadness (Matthew 8:12). We will be separated from all God’s good and wholesome gifts which we took for granted; instead, we will be surrounded by evildoers and hopelessness. Worst of all, we will acknowledge that God is good and just, and we deserve his judgment.
We need God’s help and power to change the direction of our lives. Unable to do this by our own strength, we must pray for God to forgive us. We must acknowledge Christ died on our behalf as he bore the penalty for our sins, then he will give us the blood-bought ‘ticket’ for our journey and entrance to heaven. That ‘ticket’ is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which gives us the beginning of eternal life now. When we travel in a railway carriage, the inspector will ask us to show our ticket to prove we have paid for the journey. Although God knows all those who are travelling to heaven lawfully, he says that there are signs to show ourselves and others that our claims are genuine. Essentially, they are obedience to God and love to Christ and our brothers and sisters who believe the gospel (1 John 2:3, 3:14).
What will our final destination be like? Who has been there and returned to tell us what to expect? The only reliable source of information is Jesus Christ, whose home is heaven. When Jesus was leaving the disciples, he revealed, ‘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? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.’ (John 14:2-3) The world was made in six days, but Jesus has been preparing our home for 2,000 years. It will be magnificent.
The apostles Paul and John had glimpses of heaven. Paul, in a vision, was caught up into the third heaven or paradise, and ‘heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter’ (2 Corinthians 12:4). He said, however, that when he died, he would ‘be with Christ, for that is far better’ (Philippians 1:23). John said Christ ‘will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away’ (Revelation 21:4). There is much to look forward to, but there is more.
The new heavens and the new earth
Believers die and go to be with the Lord, and although without our resurrection bodies, we will not be unconscious. The thief on the cross who believed went straight to paradise and knew he was with his Lord, just as the poor man Lazarus would have known Abraham. The rich man in Hades was also able to reason and talk and could see Lazarus being comforted by Abraham (Luke 16:19-31). We do not know exactly what our intermediate state is like before the resurrection, but for the believer, it will be a joyful conscious existence with some awareness of events on earth. The rich man was aware of his remaining family, and the martyred saints were aware of the continuing persecution back on earth (Revelation 6:10).
Platonism said that anything material was sinful or corrupt, and only the spiritual and immaterial were virtuous and eternal. That idea lingers to this day. Although sinful flesh is corrupt and passes away (1 Corinthians 15:50) at the resurrection believers will have new glorified bodies like Christ’s resurrected body (Philippians 3:21, Romans 8:11,23). There will then be a re-created earth and surrounding universe to enjoy with Christ forever. Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones comments on Romans 13:11-14: ‘The whole universe was affected by the fall, so that we do not see it as it was originally. But it will be restored when the great regeneration takes place after our Lord has returned.’
Now that is a destination to look forward to!