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Sneak preview of Heaven

Biography of Jesus #42

"Sneak Preview of Heaven"

Luke 9:28-36




1. One of the early Soviet cosmonauts insisted that there was neither God nor heaven. He said that when he rocketed above earth and into orbit he looked for heaven and it was not there.


2. Other critics insist that the Bible teaches an outdated cosmology with a three story universe - - heaven above, hell below and the surface of the earth in between. It is even considered primitive to say that someone died and went up to heaven. After all, which way is up and which way is down on a round earth? What’s up for us may be down for the people of China. The whole thing just doesn’t make much sense.


3. What these people fail to understand is that the Bible is a book in human language using ordinary human expressions. This is the way we talk. For example, we Americans frequently refer to up north, down south, back east and out west. If you’re not from the east it’s not back anywhere as far as you are concerned. If you were born and raised in Minnesota, this isn’t up to you. Besides, the Twin Cities are located in southern Minnesota - - so are we up or down? And the residents of the west coast probably don’t usually think of themselves as being out of anywhere.


Last year Charleen and I enjoyed a wonderful visit to Australia. There is a sometimes resentment among Australians having their country referred to as "down under." Down under what? Almost every Australian gift shop has maps of the world with Australia on the top and the United States and Europe on the bottom.


4. In other words, up and down, back and out, north and south, east and west are all matters of relationship. They all depend on where you are and where you are talking about.


5. The same may be said about heaven. What makes heaven is not up or down, but relationship. It is all about where a person is and which direction a person is headed.

Heaven is some place else.

Heaven is the home of God.

Heaven is where Christians are not now but someday will be.

Heaven is where Jesus came from.

Heaven is where we want to end up.


6. For such an important place, the Bible doesn’t say very much about heaven. But we are given a very quick preview in Luke 9:28-36. It is a glimpse almost like a flash picture taken in a totally darkened room. For an instant you feel as if you can see it all, but it is soon over. You like what you see but wish you could see some more.


I. The glory of Jesus Christ Luke 9:28-31

1. The preview of heaven was tied to a glimpse of the glory of Jesus Christ. It happened one day when Jesus took his three best friends along on a prayer retreat:

" . . . Jesus took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem."

2. What happened on that mountain top was surprising and shocking. Peter, John and James were already impressed with Jesus. They had heard his amazing words and seen him perform spectacular miracles but nothing could have prepared them for what they saw that day.


3. It was almost as if Jesus had been wearing a disguise. The Son of God had come to earth and taken on humanity. He wore our skin and our clothes and looked just like us. But that day on that mountain he showed the way he looks in heaven.

Jesus’ face looked different. Matthew’s biography says that Jesus’ face "shone like the sun" (Matthew 17:2). The change was startling. It was still Jesus. He still could be recognized, but they saw him as they never saw him before.

Jesus’ clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Imagine standing six feet away from a strike of lightning and staring right at it. Not for a split second but for minutes. Brighter than anything you have ever before seen. So bright that the brilliance burns its image into your eyes and onto the screen of your brain. Mark writes in his biography of Jesus that "his clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them" (Mark 9:3).

4. It’s hard to image an ordinary human comparison.

Think of a woman living in your apartment building. Every time you’ve seen her she has been bundled up in heavy winter clothes. When you first met her she was changing a flat tire and there was thick black dirt all over her hands and clothes and face.

Then one day you see her on television. Instead of grease she has make-up on her face. Instead of winter work clothes she has an expensive designer dress. Instead of living in the apartment down the hall she is the CEO and majority shareholder of the holding company which owns the apartment building and a thousand others like it. She is on television because she is announcing her acceptance of the President’s nomination as Ambassador to the Court of St. James in London.
You thought she was a nice neighbor but you never dreamed she was so much more.

Think of the boy down the street who used to deliver your newspapers. The one you tipped $5 at Christmas time. The one you haven’t seen for years. The one you liked but wondered if he would ever amount to anything.
Now it is the day of your surgery and you are pleased that the doctor is renowned as one of the best in the field. He walks into your hospital room and he seems vaguely familiar. He introduces himself as your former newspaper boy from down the street. You are shocked. You see the resemblance. You recognize his voice. You can hardly imagine that it is the same person. You wish that you had tipped him $50 instead of $5.

No, those comparisons aren’t good enough.
Imagine striking a match and fireball erupts. Imagine turning on a light switch and a nuclear explosion blasts out before your eyes.


5. Actually, I don’t think anything compares. These men saw Jesus as they had never seen him before and wouldn’t see him again until they were welcomed by him into heaven.

They previewed heaven!


6. There is a point here that we dare not miss. It is that the center of heaven is not us but Jesus. It is that the essence of heaven is not happiness or luxury or environmental perfection; it is Jesus.

Jesus is what heaven is all about. That is one of the many reasons why heaven is for Christians. Anyone not in love with Jesus, anyone not centered on Jesus, anyone not completely devoted to Jesus might not find heaven to be such a wonderful experience after all.

When we think of heaven, most of all we should think of the glory of Jesus Christ.


7. But there are some other bits of preview for us to see.

Heaven includes others - - like Moses and Elijah. They were probably chosen to meet and talk with Jesus because they represented the Old Testament Law and Prophets. They were there to endorse Jesus and what he was on earth to do.

Others in heaven will be like Jesus. Moses and Elijah also "appeared in glorious splendor."

They were recognizable. Even though they were glorious, they were still themselves. Same names. Enough physical similarity to be recognized. Same voices.

The topic of their conversation was Jesus’ crucifixion , death and resurrection. The record says that "they spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem." That is a reference to the turning point in Jesus’ life when he heads for Jerusalem where he was destined to die for human sin and arise for eternal life.


8. All of this hints at what we may expect to experience in heaven:

We’ll be ourselves. We’ll recognize one another. We’ll talk together. Future life will be directly connected to present life.

We’ll be like Jesus. We’ll be different. Glorious. Brilliant. Supernatural.

We’ll talk about Jesus. He will be the central topic of conversation, the main attraction, our primary interest.

Heaven will be all about the glory of Jesus Christ.


II. The difficulty of human understanding Luke 9:32-33

1. The sneak preview of heaven was difficult for humans to understand.


2. For unexplained reasons Peter, John and James were sleepy. Maybe they had been up late the night before. Maybe they were bored. Maybe praying made them tired.

They were awakened with a shock when they saw Jesus, Moses and Elijah.

They were like deer caught in the high beams of car headlights - - wide awake and frozen in place.

3. Peter was the disciple with the motor mouth. There is usually one in every group. They have to say something even when they don’t have anything appropriate to say.


4. As Moses and Elijah were leaving and Jesus’ appearance was returning to the way it used to be, Peter blurted out: "Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters--one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah."

5. It’s hard to figure out what Peter was saying or what he had in mind. He offered to scrounge up some branches and leaves or whatever was available and construct lean-to’s for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Did he want to mark the spot? Did he think they would stay longer if they had a pup tent to call home? Did he miss the entire point of what had just happened? Was he just stupid?

Have you ever said something really stupid at a very important moment? (I have but I’m not going to tell you about it!)


6. Luke added his own observation in telling the story: "Peter did not know what he was saying." (9:33). That’s a kind way of saying that Peter put his foot in his mouth.


7. But, I’ll tell you what really happened. It happened to Peter and it would have happened to us.

This preview of heaven and the glory of Jesus was so amazing that he didn’t have any category in his mind for analysis or response. He didn’t know what to say or to think. He didn’t know how to respond or how to behave. It was too new. Too big. Too good. Too wonderful.

There are no human words or human actions that fit something like this.

Maybe that’s why the Bible says so little about what heaven is like. We wouldn’t understand if even we were told.

Whatever our wildest imagination of God’s heaven may be - - - our best guess isn’t even close.


III. The voice of God the Father Luke 9:35-36

1. Peter was interrupted by God the Father who could not stay away and could not remain silent.

"While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’"

2. This was God-the-Father’s stamp of approval on Jesus and all he was doing.

The God whose home is in heaven stepped also to earth. His glory was shrouded in a cloud because it might otherwise have been too great for the three human witnesses to survive.


3. God-the-Father made it clear who Jesus is and what we are to do. Jesus is God’s beloved Son chosen to atone for human sin and reconcile us to God. And, we are to listen to Jesus and do what he says.


4. Here is the central core of Christianity:

God sent his Son to save the world

We are to listen to his Son and be his disciples

Those who accept and follow Jesus will someday be like him in heaven.



1. This amazing story ends saying that "The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen." I think they needed time to process the experience. They had to figure it out for themselves before they could tell anyone else.


2. But, there came a time when they could tell. Peter wrote about it later in the New Testament. If you have a Bible, it’s worth seeing what he wrote in I Peter 1:16-18: "We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain."

3. In other words, Peter was saying that he could never have made this up. It was too majestic, too magnificent. He saw it himself. He heard the words of God. He saw Jesus. He saw what heaven will be like.


4. And you can see it too!

If you are a Christian, you will someday be like Jesus.

If you are a Christian, you will someday be with Jesus.

If you are a Christian, heaven will be your spectacular home forever.


February 6-7, 1999 Wooddale Church, ęCopyright, Leith Anderson.

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