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Keeping an Eternal Perspective

01.21.18 Nathaniel Wall

  1. Keeping an Eternal Perspective
    01.21.18 47m 25s
  2. Doing Spiritual Battle
    01.14.18 54m 04s
  3. Holding to Jesus in Prophecy
    01.07.18 46m 11s
  4. Praying Powerfully
    12.31.17 51m 47s
  5. A Little Bit of Hanukkah and Whole Lot of Crazy
    12.10.17 48m 52s
  6. Armageddon
    12.03.17 47m 06s
  7. Pray in the Gap
    11.26.17 48m 37s
  8. The Fall of a Kingdom
    11.19.17 51m 19s
  9. Bow to Babylon
    11.12.17 39m 17s
  10. Colliding with Adversity
    11.05.17 50m 41s
  11. Resolve
    10.29.17 47m 46s

Keeping an Eternal Perspective

01.21.18 Nathaniel Wall Cultural Collision Series

Diving into Daniel chapter 12. Today, we’re going to talk about eternity and when we talk about eternity it’s going to put us in the realm of talking a little bit about heaven and a bit about hell. If you’re visiting with us for the first time, I don’t need to be like, “Oh no, I chose hell Sunday, grab the kids. Sneak out the back.” This is not like a regular-themed focal point of what we do here at the church. Now hell is real and we’re not ignoring that but I just want you to know it’s not like you come in every Sunday andad hell fire and brimstones, what’s going to be thrown at you here, okay.

We’re going to talk about these as it relates to the eternal picture of where we go and what God has created us for, but more than hell, I want to tell you that we’re interested in not where you’ve been in life, where you’re going. We’re interested about God’s message, the gospel that brings us freedom and experiencing that freedom for eternity in his presence so that will be the primary emphasis of what we’re going to talk about today and we’re not going to just literally scare the life out of you.

While we talk about hell, hell is also in a way today could be referred to as hell no Sunday. While you look at it we don’t want you going there, right. We’re going to talk about eternity, why we don’t even like to discuss sometimes some of the pictures that are created in eternity. How to deal with it and what that looks like, but when we think about you for a moment I think it’s important we approach this passage knowing that eternity is going to be discussed to let the need for not just you to connect to God but for the place in which God leads you, the people around you to be able to connect to God, understanding what it means to have a relationship with him.

When a need becomes a burden within your heart I think you carry the heart of God. When God looks at us, he sees our need for salvation which is why he’s called the savior or rescuer. He comes for us and bears that burden on our behalf so that we can be reconciled to him and God carries that need in a beautiful way for the well-being of others. When you think about this valley, I think it is a very godly, biblical thing to look around, see need and carry the heart of God for that. In fact, 2 Corinthians chapter 5 verse 18 says, “God reconciled us to him and he’s also given you the ministry of reconciliation and what that means is God wants to now work through you to reconcile the world to him and what he has done for us on the cross.”

That’s what we say as a church. Our desire is for everyone that comes here to experience a transforming relationship in Jesus that transforms your relationship with others. Jesus said, two greatest commands, “Love God, love others.” When we look at this text today, it’s not about this intellectual exercise, just explain these verses. It’s connecting what Daniel’s saying here in line with our heart and then seeing the need as it could expressed through our lives because of what God does in us in giving that ministry of reconciliation, having allowed us to first experience it in him.

We’re talking about both heaven and hell today. Hell is in the subject every week. The last week we did brush up on our Satan theology so we are tending to go in the dark side the last couple of weeks here, but we’re all about what God desires for us and knowing him and enjoying him forever. Daniel chapter 12 is where we find ourselves and by the way, if you’ve been with us in this series I think whether you physically do this or not. I think it’s just worthy to just raise your hand and give yourself a pat on the back because the Book of Daniel is not an easy book. It’s apocalyptic in nature, which is a very difficult genre of literature and even the narrative story that’s told, there’s a lot of hardship there in trying to figure out how Daniel deals with his culture and relating it to how we deal it with our culture.

When you think how the book starts, Daniel’s taken into captivity. He sees family and friends slaughtered before him. He gets into Babylon where he was taken captive. He wants to be a vegetarian. That almost caused him his life. His BFFs were thrown into a flaming furnace. They almost lose their life but God spares them. He’s thrown into a lion’s den. He has these visions of these apocalyptic bees that would just freak anybody out.

I mean Daniel is a rough book but also answers some very significant questions in the culture in which we live in because Daniel’s story is about Babylon. New Testament writers write about Babylon in the New Testament even though the Babylonians had been wiped … they’re gone, they’re no longer in existence, they kept referring to the life we live as it relates to Daniel and the life he lived in Babylon knowing that culture always fights against God.

There’s always a tension in the life of a believer in trying to figure out how to navigate through and honoring God with life while still living in a world that’s filled with sin. This book though difficult also points us to a beautiful picture of how to live for God. This in the story now and looking at Daniel chapter 12 and talking about eternity gives us an opportunity to look at the scope of God’s greater picture. God’s ultimate picture of what he’s achieving in this world.

I think when we live our lives God calls us to live our lives with an eternal perspective in mind because even as believers sometimes you can get your little corner of this world, this little kingdom established and you live for it as if like it is going to last for eternity, but what Daniel is learning in Daniel 12 and sharing with us is that in the perspective of things, this world was designed to pass away. You have an opportunity to live for something greater and having that eternal perspective becomes an important part of that, that wakes us up to be like, “Why is it? Even if I win the battle at this at the end of the day, is it really worth just staking so much for?”

Daniel just starts to express the end of the story, the destiny of our souls, Daniel chapter 12, and he hinges this on two questions and these questions are in verse 6 and verse 8. We’re going to approach it by looking at these two questions and giving an explanation, this passage, and then I’m going to look at some themes that Daniel highlights here to explain even within our culture how some questions arise out of the idea of eternity. With all that being said, Daniel 12:5-6, this is the first question that is posed in his passage. It says. “Then I, Daniel, looked and behold to others were standing, one on this bank of the river and the other on that bank of the river. One said to the man dressed in linen who was above the waters of the river, how long will it be until the end of this wonders? They say, “Okay, when’s this eternal picture start God?”

If you remember Daniel chapter 7 up until this point, this is an apocalyptic demonstration or expression of what the end of the world is like. Now they’re asking this question, “Okay, when will that take place?” This question is built out of what’s just been communicated to them in the very beginning of this chapter so let me just read it too. It says, “Now at the time Michael who is the archangel, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people will arise. There will be a time of distress such has never occurred since there was a nation until that time.” You see this great time of distress having not been experienced.

At that time, your people, everyone who’s found written in the book will be rescued. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, leads to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. Those who have the insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expansiveness heaven and those who lead the many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.

In this story it says, “Okay, there’s going to be this time of devastation. It’s like never before and in verse 2, he talks about your soul, your soul created to experience eternity. Your soul was created for eternity and the fact that your soul will be resurrected. The explanation of the resurrection in verse 2, he divides the eternal picture into two categories and the one that lives in this, this righteousness and one that live in this disgrace. Then the emphasis becomes, in verse 3, the idea of looking forward to this eternity where you shine in the brightness of the expanse of heaven it says.

While he talks about both the idea of heaven and hell in this picture, he’s giving us the expectation or the welling up within our soul to look forward to eternity. They ask the question, “Okay, what will be the end then, God?” Then verse 7, that’s where they get the answer. “I heard the man dressed in linen who was above the waters of the river. As he raised his right hand and his left toward heaven and swore by him who lives forever.” He’s swearing to one who is the authority of all. He’s saying this statement is true based on this that it would be for a time, times and half a time. As soon as they finish shattering the power of these holy people, all these events will be completed.

Now I’m going to tell you a snippet of what he’s talking about here because we’ve already addressed this, but this is a picture of his going back to Daniel 9:24-27. He’s talking about that last week, which was seven years. In the middle of that week there was the last three and a half years and that time times, which is two times and a half time is that three-and-a-half year period. What God’s saying is as you’re looking to the end here, if you want to know when the end’s going to happen, it’s going to happen after this time times half time and as soon as they finished the shattering of God’s holy people, all these events will be completed.

The answer to your question verse 5 and 6 is after these three and a half and then he gives this statement that raises Daniel’s concerns. He says in this verse 7, “the shattering of the power of the holy people.” Daniel knows okay, this includes me and he’s saying, “Now, what are you talking about?” The demise of … I mean I’m reading this, I’m hearing what you’re saying and he’s saying demise of my people. Can you give an explanation of what it is you’re talking about and so in verse 8 that’s what Daniels says, “As for me, I heard but could not understand.” I mean anybody give you such far out news that it takes a minute to get your mind wrapped around it and maybe it’s so bad you’re like, “Now what? What happened?” Daniel is like, “I heard you but no comprende.”

He goes on and says, “So I said, my Lord, what will be the outcome of these events? Like you’re saying shattering, does that mean annihilated? What does this look like?” Verse 9 he said, this is a great answer. “Carry your way, Daniel, I’m not going to tell you.” That’s what he said, “Carry your way, Daniel, for these words are concealed and sealed up until the end of time, right?”

Something just to keep in mind is that I think what God is focusing in or I know what God’s focusing in based on this text is he’s getting down to look to where the salvation is ultimately coming that will bring about this resurrection of hope in the future, which is Jesus. They’re already alluding to Daniel chapter 9 and we looked at a couple of weeks ago Daniel 9:24. It starts to share with us what Jesus will do and reconciling us to him.

What God is saying is, “Look, Daniel. I’m not going to overwhelm you with everything right now but this is what I want you to focus on.” Just keep this in mind as you think about what God is saying to Daniel in Chapter 12 verse 9 that in Revelation 22 verse 10, this is what John said, “Then he told me, do not seal up the words, the prophecy of this scroll because the time is near.” It tells Daniel okay, seal it up, John’s saying okay, unseal it. Once Jesus has come you see the picture in Revelation unfolding in a little more detail.

This is what he tells Daniel to focus on in verse 10, “Many will be purged, purified and refined, but the wicked will act wickedly and none of the wicked will understand but those who have insight will understand.”

What God is saying here is Daniel, what I want you to focus on is this purification. Some will not understand, some will rebel against this but those who have insight will understand. He’s thinking still in context of a resurrection, your soul, hoping God, perseverance, you win, this is what God’s doing for you. In the midst of the shattering, in the midst of this distress, compared to no other time in history, there is an ultimate hope resting in God. What he’s leaning into in this story is what we call the gospel and so this theme is retold not just in Daniel chapter 12, throughout scripture.

What I say to you this morning, we talk about eternity. I get more questions probably in this theologically than any other as I talk about what faith is and who Christ is in this world. I think it’s important for us when we walk away that we have an understanding when the Bible talks about the gospel, when the Bible talks about God’s narrative, God’s story written to us, what is that story?

How do I explain it someone? I can’t sit down with them and be like, “Well, let’s read 2,000 pages together.” What is the theme and God is leaning into that in verse 10 for Daniel. He said, “Look, these things are happening. You win, man. You’re winning.” In Jesus, you win. Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world, there is victory and so rest your soul. In these pictures, what is this gospel picture? I want to give us just a little bit of that narrative story and so I want us to see how Genesis 1 starts the Bible for us to paint that picture. How Revelation 21 ends that picture and then look at the guts in between, how it all connects together because the theme of the Bible is found first couple of chapters of scripture.

I mean I can tell you all of Christian theology in the first three chapters of the Bible or at least, I’ll say, the main themes of Christian theology, first three chapters of the Bible and the end of Revelation, that picture. It’s how the story unfolds for us, the working out of that history for us. It goes like this. In Genesis chapter 1, God speaks and things are created. In fact, the story is told to us poetically and says to us over and over that God said, “Let there be” and something in his speaking comes into existence, the power of God creating all things intentionally and purposefully.

Genesis chapter 1, God speaks it exist and on the backend of every time God speaks it didn’t says this evening and morning the first day. Day 1, God speaks, it exists evening and morning the first day. Day 2, God speaks evening and morning the second day. The scriptures do that for us in Genesis six times and on the sixth day something very powerful in our understanding happens that God tells us in Genesis 1:26-27 God made man in his image.

The story goes God creates everything and the crown of his creation then becomes human beings that on the sixth day, the last day of his creative work, God creates man in his image. In Genesis 1:26 and 27, it says it like this. “Let us make man in our image. In the image of God he made him male and female.” God is in the pluralistic triunity let us make man in our image, in the image of God, he made him male and female. When you get to Genesis 2:7, he also shares a little bit more detail of how that takes place and it’s a beautiful picture of your existence.

In Genesis 2 verse 7, it says in a very intimate way. Rather than just speaking and it exists, when God makes man it says and God formed man. While all other creation is spoken into existence, when God makes man he takes from the dirt of the ground and he intimately molds him very intentional. Then it says in that same verse, chapter 2 verse 7 that God breathed in him the breath of life and that marks you different than any other created being. What it’s saying to you and I is that different than any other thing created in this world that you have the opportunity to connect to creator God, that God made you to belong to him, to have relationship with him, which is why our theme, to experience, to transform in relationship with God that transforms our relationship in this world. God created us as relational beings.

Genesis 2 verse 7, “God intimately forms you and God breathes his breath into you.” It’s as if to saying mouth to mouth, that’s the picture in the Hebrew. The mouth to mouth that breathes life into you in this very intimate way and you become a living being and then something even further happens here that’s even more beautiful in the expression of God’s creation that in Genesis 2:2, it says, “By the seventh day, God completed his work he had done and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done.”

What they’re saying is after the six days, God didn’t create anymore but rather what he did is he paused, he stopped and he rested and he sat on his throne. Here’s the really cool thing of Day 7. When you look at the first six days you see it saying God speaks, it exists evening and morning; God speaks, it exists evening and morning. When you get to the seventh day, it never says evening and morning. Why?

Because in the seventh day when God stopped creating he sat up on his throne and he began to rule. That ruling has never ended. God is king of kings and lord of lords. We are under the authority of this king. There’s no ending to that. God created us and in his kingdom for us to experience relationship with him forever and here’s the tragedy of it all, man rebelled.

Genesis 2:17, God tells Adam and Eve, there’s this tree and from this tree do not eat because the moment you eat you will surely die. What death means in the scripture isn’t just you go to the grave. Death means separated from God. You think about this. God creates his kingdom, his life, brings it into existence and God is life itself. When you remove yourself from God, you’re separating yourself from what is life.

Genesis 2:17, that’s what the fruit represents, Satan shows up and said surely this won’t happen, surely you won’t die, surely you’ll become like God. What the theme of the Hebrew expression is saying is rather than believe that God has your best interest in mind, why don’t you eat of the fruit, you become God and you tell God what’s right from wrong. It says this, “But from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, you shall not eat. From the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” Adam and Eve sinned.

Genesis 3 starts to share that story that when Adam and Eve sinned, they run and they hide from God. I want to be honest and tell you that at that moment when perfect creator God in his wholeness created us for relationship with him and man rejects God and runs away and declares themselves to be god, God didn’t owe us anything. In fact in rebelling into the kingdom in which he created, the only thing that we deserve that God could have given us is punishment. God would have been just to deliver anything in that moment.

While God is also a just God, he’s a loving God. When you read the story of Genesis chapter 3, Adam and Eve, they sin, they realize they sin, they run from God, they hide. They actually clothed themselves in aprons, which is the Hebrew word for soldier’s garments and they create the first manmade religion as if to say to God, “God, we got this.” Really, you just rejected life itself. What you see in the garden is that God pursues Adam and Eve. God says, “Adam, where are you?” God pursues Adam and Eve and in Genesis 3:15, he says to them that woman, there will be enmity between you and the serpent, which is Satan who is a representation of the kingdom of darkness. He says to the serpent that from this woman will come a seed that will crash the head of the serpent and the head represents kingdom.

God pursues us for relationship which is why the Bible tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:18 “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” Look what he says in verse 20. “We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

The narrative of the story is told like this, that there is no earning your way back to God and the reason is because you’ve offended a holy God. You can’t do anything to bridge that gap. You need forgiveness and restoration from the one that you have offended and you can do God all day long but it’s never going to undo sin. Once you’ve sinned against a perfect holy God, that endures for eternity. The only way that gap is ever bridged is, one, to reconcile and that is found in Christ, that God has pursued you for relationship and God desires that relationship with you even in sin.

The end of the Bible then tells the story like this, Revelation 21:3-4. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and look he will dwell among them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be among them and he will wipe away every tear from their eyes and there will no longer be any death or no longer be any mourning or any crying or any pain, the first things have passed away.'” You see in the beginning of the Bible is this creation of which God creates you intimately for relationship and God sits upon his throne and then man rejects God, God pursues him and at the end of that relation, God restores.

All that in between in scriptures is how God tells that story of redemption as it unfolds and all of it becomes a communication to us inviting us into relationship with him. Not because you’re impressive, although you were created in his image, but because he is.

You’re not here primarily because of the things that you can do to impress God. Like your life isn’t about trying to do all these good works to appeal to God so he finally loves you. There’s nothing that you’re going to do that’s going to impress the one who’s capable of doing it far better than you can. That’s not the reason God created you. God created you for relationship. God created you that you may know him and enjoy him forever. That’s what Jesus said the greatest in the commandments were love God, love others.

Now, here’s the joy of it. When you understand the reason for which you are created and you enjoy that relationship for which you haven’t got, it’s magnified in the world around you, meaning, ultimately, in that relationship you end up living a life that glorifies the goodness of who God is because of the way he has honored you in the dying for your sin. This is the picture when you think about what Daniel is talking about in the resurrection, this is it. This is the restoring of what God desires and the picture of the gospel for us. This in a sense is really saying to us this is the greatest love story ever told. No one has ever loved you like this to the extent of this sacrifice that you can know and enjoy him for all of eternity and the life that he desires to give you.

When you think about like gathering on Sunday morning and as God’s people what our anthem is in this and holding God’s word and want to say things like Daniel chapter 12. What you hold in your hands just think about this for a minute. 1,500 years, this book took 1,500 years to put together over 40 authors, three continents, three languages and one theme. God’s redemption for you is unbelievable. I don’t think in my life I could ever write a book because I have this nature within me that it’s like I look for the squirrel like, “Oh, there it goes. Oh, there it goes.” If I write a book I’m like there’s three sentences into, I’m like, “Let’s write a different book now. Okay, let’s write a different book now.” There’s no way, 1,500 years carrying a theme, how does that happen other than divine?

When you just think this in connection to other religious books, there are 66 manuscripts on different points of history. Old Testament manuscripts older than Jesus declaring story. That’s the picture of what God is pointing Daniel to in this story and then at the last half of this verse or the last half of this chapter, God just continuous to reiterate this. Let me just read this for us. I’m going to read the first two verses, highlight the last and then go back. It says this. “From the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished and abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days.” Again, he’s referring to Daniel this three and a half years.

From this time that there’s this desecration in God’s holy place, the end, the 1,290 days, and he says, “How blessed is he who keeps waiting and attains to the 1,335 days.” I’ll tell you something about that in a minute.

Then it says, verse 13, “Daniel, as for you …” He’s saying, Daniel, this is what’s going to happen but look, here’s where I want your perspective to be. “As for you, go your way to the end then you’ll enter into the rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age.” God again cast Daniel towards eternity.

Just speaking on eternity, sometimes I don’t think we as people like to consider eternity because it puts us in the dialog of heaven and hell, and sometimes hell makes this uncomfortable. When you think about those subjects I think it’s interesting when you look at the way that the gospels just talk about it because when you consider the scope of eternity as Jesus taught about it, Jesus taught about hell twice as much as he taught about heaven. Why? To freak you out. No. Why would he do that?

I think for us when hell enters an arena of a discussion, it really has a way of sobering us up, doesn’t it? I’ve never met a guy … Well, I meet people all the time. It’s like I’m going to heaven, and heaven, and heaven, and heaven, and they’re in heaven, and heaven, and heaven. Everybody talks about heaven and just looking forward to that. I haven’t yet to meet the person be like, “My name is Bob, I’m heading to hell.” It’s not the subject. We don’t want to enter into that. It makes me uncomfortable to talk about that. I think it should. No one is walking in the church and was like, “Yes, subject of hell.” If this is your first Sunday, maybe you could share that story like, “I came to the church, first Sunday was on hell and I was hooked.”

No one likes to talk about that. I think one of the things it does is it really sobers us up to think critically for a moment. Of all the things you could get wrong in life your eternal destiny should not be one of them. You’re going to be dead a lot longer than your life.

Just to have a good grasp on what we’re talking about here I think it’s worth just taking a look. If God created me for relationship and we’re discussing this, how do you have it? I mean I think it’s important just to consider the scope of eternity because as people sometimes we start fighting for our corner of the world but it doesn’t last. Jesus even said, “What is the profit to men to gain the whole world but lose a soul?”

You talk about heaven and hell, inevitably at some point somebody asks, and we’ve got some people there. How can God be good and send people to hell? I think there’s a few ways to answer that theologically and I don’t have time today to dive into all of it but I’ll just give us some ways to just frame. When we talk about heaven and hell, what is it that we’re talking about? I think there’s a way to just approach that question. That question is just looking at the end of everything and just spring a question from that.

I really want to dig a little deeper into the heart of what we’re expressing when we talk about heaven and hell and I want to think of a little opposite of that question for a moment but let me start by asking this. What is heaven and what is hell? Anyone thought about that? What is heaven and what is hell? In our culture understanding, we tend to paint a picture of a location. Heaven is this place where I want to go and hell is that place where I don’t want to go. We think of it in terms of location but what makes heaven, heaven? It’s God’s presence.

I remember how we painted the story in the beginning that God is the creator of life and being in his presence therefore is where life itself is which is the expression of heaven, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness. When you read on Revelation chapter 21 just a few minutes ago verses 1 to 4, it says, “And God will dwell among his people and there will as a result of that be no more pain, no more suffering, no more death, the first is done away with.” The reason that the existence of those painful things are wiped away isn’t because you have reached the location but because you’re in his presence. What makes heaven, heaven is the presence of God.

Let me ask it this way. Rather than say, why would God send you to hell. Let me ask you this way, do you think God would force you into heaven? Like if you don’t want to be there, if God created you for relationship with him but you don’t love him, you don’t care about him and you don’t want to be him, do you think God would force you there? Here’s the reality? When you reject God, you reject life and when you reject life, you’re rejecting what is heaven. When you reject God who gives life, which is the picture of what heaven is about you’re embracing the opposite of that and what is that? The absence of God, that is hell. That’s what 2 Thessalonians 1:9 says, “Cast from the presence of God.”

If you want an eternity with God who created you to experience it with him God will give it to you without him, by rejecting him. Now, the question then becomes why would anyone ever reject that? I mean, when you reject God in his presence, which is life, which is heaven, you’re embracing exactly what Satan is about. Now, someone looks at that and they say, “Well, I don’t like God. I don’t want to be where God is but I don’t want to be where Satan is,” and I would say that exactly.

That’s exactly what Adam and Eve did. What Adam and Eve is they looked at God and they said while Satan was speaking to them, “I want to become my own God and I’m going to tell God how to be put in his place so I can rule and reign, declare what’s right and wrong.

I think that the reason that we don’t embrace that, in rebellion we reject life itself by rejecting God himself, which is the presence of heaven, is because we want to declare ourselves god. If you ask somebody, “Do you want to go to heaven?” “Oh sure, sure.” “Do you want God?” “No, I want to be god. I want to rule and reign.”

When you look at what the expression of what hell is, it’s about us in rebellion against God. God has continued to give us the invitation into his presence for eternity and heaven is not heaven without Jesus. When you think in terms of heaven and hell, what Daniel’s saying in this story for us as he’s writing it is think of the eternal perspective and what makes heaven, heaven is the presence of God. Is this what is heaven? I know it’s God’s presence but what else is involved with that?

One of my favorite stories in just describing this happens here and I think this is important for us just to consider but Luke chapter 23, Jesus on the cross and Jesus is not too long from surrendering a spirit. As Jesus is being crucified, there’re two thieves on either side of him. One rejects him and the other one embraces him. Jesus gives the thief this promise, he says in Luke 23:23, and, “He said to me, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you shall be with me in paradise.'” What’s that mean? When you think about the life of the thief crucified to the cross at last moments of existence on earth never able to lift a hand to do a single good work for God, never baptized. God saying to him, “Today, you will be me in paradise,” what’s God saying?

Well, if paradise is heaven, he’s saying to him that good works don’t get you there because you weren’t created to impress God by the things that you do that are good. You can glorify God with your life and you’re certainly designed to do that being made in his image but that’s not what gets you to heaven. Good people don’t go to heaven, forgiven people do. Jesus looks to this thief and forgives him because this thief turns to God for the relationship in which he was created and Jesus gives him the promise you will be with me in paradise. Now what is paradise?

Paradise is a Persian word for heaven. This might give us a little bit of indication of who this thief is and I think it’s worthy just to think about what the title thief means in scripture. Thief was a generic term in the Bible. It didn’t just mean a guy who walked past a stand and stole an apple. A thief was a term used for really anyone that broke the law in some drastic way. Stealing an apple doesn’t get you crucified. If this guy stole something, it could have been someone’s life, it could have been rape. Those types of things get you crucified. Here’s this thief being crucified and he’s promised paradise.

Paradise, Persian word for heaven and in Jesus’ day there was this picture of wealthy people that they would own this garden sort of like this Garden of Eden type picture. If you’ve ever watched the movie Aladdin, in the story of Aladdin there’s a couple of scenes that take place in the garden or outside of her balcony. She’s got a sweet view, right, Jasmine does. At one point in the story Jafar is out in the garden and he pretends or I think it’s not Jafar but the parrot of Jafar is out in the garden that Gilbert Gottfried horrible voice. He’s out there and he’s got that “aaaaahh” and then he turns into Jasmine and says … he pretends to be Jasmine and Aladdin comes out looking for her out in his garden and he’s captured.

That garden scene is a picture of what paradise is. That’s the menagerie, this place that when people on that day thought about heaven they thought about this perfect garden which wealthy people tended to own. Jesus in talking to this man using the expression of heaven and he’s probably familiar with it, you’ll be with me paradise.

Now here’s another interesting thing. Paul also teaches a lot about heaven. In 2 Corinthians 12:2, he says this. “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago whether in body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. Such a man was caught up into the third heaven.” Here’s a different word for heaven. What is he talking about here? Well, I think it’s important when you see a term used in another context, what did that term mean in the culture in which he’s expressing?

This term, “third heaven,” is a term that Paul is using from Jewish community. When the Jews talked about third heaven, if we go back to their time period in which the Bible’s written they don’t have telescopes. They’re not star trekkies. They haven’t explored Deep Space 9. The force is not with them. They look out in the stars and sky and they see what God has made and they worship the Lord in his creation. When the Jewish would describe heaven, they actually layered it. They referred to it as the heavens. When you’re reading the Old Testament you’ll even see this. This will be a fun exercise if you read the word heaven in the Old Testament.

That when they would refer to the place where the birds flew and the clouds were they would refer to that as the first heavens. Sometimes when you read heavens in the Old Testament you’ll see them describing birds or eagles or clouds, first heavens. They’ll use the word heaven. That’s the way that Jesus referred to the first heaven. Then there were the stars were and the Jews would refer to that as the second heaven because they were just looking out in the space, this God that created them and everything. Then when they talked about the presence of God, that was the celestial, that was the third heaven. When Jews talked about the presence of God they knew celestially this was the third heaven.

What Paul is saying here is, listen, guys, I’m not just floating in the clouds, I’m not just up in the stars, this person out of body. He was in the celestial experience of God in his kingdom. In verse 3, “I know how such a man whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows.” Look at this, was caught up into what word? Paradise. What’s Paul doing here? What Paul is doing is talking to a mixed audience. He’s thinking about the Jews he’s writing to, he’s thinking about those that have an idea of heaven from a Persian life. He’s saying, “Okay, I want all these guys to understand when I’m talking about this experience, this is what heaven was.

You what he also teaches us or the thief one? The thief went straight to presence of God, the celestial kingdom where God dwells. See in verse 4, Paul’s substituting both words for heaven as the same term trying to explain it to two different audiences to have pictures of what heaven is just like he promised the thief. You are created to have an eternal relationship with God in his presence in the celestial kingdom forever. When Jesus look at the thief who was hanging on the cross incapable of doing any good work with his life before he met the end, he turns to God not because he’s good but because God is good. He doesn’t go to heaven because he’s a good person but because he’s a forgiven person created for relationship with God forever.

What does Daniel do here? Let me just skip on verse 11 and 12, he says this, “From the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days.” Daniel is referring back to the three and a half years again, 1,290 days, Daniel chapter 9. Then he says this, “How blessed is he who keeps waiting and attains to the 1,335 days?” What does that mean? I will tell you, if you pick a commentary on this, people don’t say definitively. They more say generally, “Well, it probably means this.”

Rather than dive in all of the possibilities of what this probably means, let me just say it like this first. At the end of three and a half years, God will return. God will set up our experience in his presence forever. I think in a larger sense, this is what he’s saying to Daniel, persevere. Daniel, persevere with an eternal picture in mind because he says after the three and a half years, look forward to the days that are ahead, this 1,335 days forty-five days later. As for you, go your way to the end. Daniel, keep living your life for this goal and then he says, “Then you’ll enter into the rest and rise again for your allotted portion.”

He’s saying “Okay, Daniel. This will take place but here’s your perspective, persevere with an eternal picture in mind for the believer.” God walks with us in adversity and brings us out in the other side. I don’t just fight for a corner of this worldly kingdom that was never intended to last but the eternal kingdom that goes on forever.

What I’m saying is everyone, get in the corner, let’s rock until we just say heaven, heaven, heaven. We’re not going to do that. What I’m saying is in the midst of the life that you live like when we think about eternal perspective we’re not saying oh forget it all, heaven, I’m just looking for heaven. I’m just looking. I’m saying as you look to the end, as he’s telling Daniel in verse 13, live out for the glory of God because one day you’re going to meet God in that eternal picture.

One of the people that I think in life that just did this beautifully, a man by the name of William Wilberforce who’s in British parliament, served his whole life as a politician and he lived his life fighting for the abolition of slavery. William Wilberforce, godly man, lived close to parliament, he would walk every day, he would quote Psalm 1:19 as he would go to work and return from work, love the Lord. Ten years into this battle he still couldn’t win the victory and he just felt demoralized, he felt defeated.

He goes to his Bible. He’s flipping through his Bible. As he’s flipping through a piece of paper falls out. That piece of paper was written by John Wesley to him as he saw his friend laboring right before John Wesley died. William Wilberforce picks up that paper at that moment that he’s tired and frustrated and he reads what Wesley wrote and he said this. “Unless the divine power has raised you up, I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that abominable practice of slavery, which is the scandal of religion of England and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But of God before you, who can be against you or all of them together stronger than God, all being weary of well doing. Go on in the name of God and in the power of his might.”

The crazy part if you read about William Wilberforce’s story is eventually his labors were not in vain that they passed the bill to abolish slavery. I think it was in 1834 in England. William Wilberforce died a year before that bill was ever enacted. He never saw it happen. When he got to heaven what do you think God said. “Oh William, I’m all about accomplishment and since you’ve lived your life for one thing and you couldn’t even do that, I’m sorry, you got to go to the bad place.” No, he just looked at a life that was faithful to the glory of his God. “Well done, well done.”

Now we tend to measure the success of our life by our accomplishments and our accolades. I think God measures by our faithfulness. I think about living the Christian life where I am. You know one of the hardest blows for me is other Christians. People claiming to know Jesus but man, they’re living like the devil. Tears me up inside. I want to live for his glory. Maybe some of the times it tears me up is because I find myself doing it, I don’t know but I don’t want to shame his name. I love the Lord. I love what he’s done for us. I love what he’s doing here. I want to be a part of that divine story that God is writing in all of us as we just live that with the eternal perspective in mind.

This is where Daniel ends. You think Daniel’s in this cultural collision and he’s saying to us, “So are you,” so are you and this world, it’s going to war against who God is and sometimes we just have to fight for the pieces of it but look, live with the eternal perspective in mind. Everything isn’t going to go your way but it’s okay, you can’t dictate everything and you can’t control everything. What you’re in charge of is you.

Here’s what you can do. Live for his glory, that eternal picture of such a godly king who wants to know you and you know him and enjoy that presence forever and the beauty of it all, it doesn’t start when you go to heaven, it starts now. God created you to know him now. Live in the picture of that perfection of which Jesus has done for you. Rest in the hope of where we’re going in the paradise of his presence forever, just shine.