What is Heaven like?
Recapturing a vision for the majesty, beauty, and power of our eternal home.
Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov writes:
I don’t believe in the afterlife, so I don’t have to spend my whole life fearing hell or fearing heaven even more. For whatever the tortures of hell, I think the boredom of heaven would be even worse.
Sadly, this view is common even among Christians. Our vision of heaven is often limited to an extended, boring, uninspiring church service. Somehow heaven has not captured our imaginations and transformed our lives. How did this happen? Where did we get such a view of heaven?
A physical place
In Revelation 21, John says:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.
We have too often been taught to “spiritualize” the new heavens and new earth into a non-physical realm. But here is the problem with such a view: the new heavens and new earth can’t be merely spiritual (understood as non-physical) for we will be resurrected. A non-physical resurrection is like a colorless rainbow. It’s a contradiction! We have misunderstood the biblical doctrine that the new heavens and new earth are a physical place where God and his people live together. The people will be resurrected with physical bodies and surrounded by the physical beauty of real gardens, cities, kingdoms, rivers and banquets.
The world we live in now offers us a glimpse of the joys and pleasures we will experience in the new heavens and new earth. In his provocative book Heaven, Randy Alcorn says,
All our lives we’ve been dreaming of the new earth. Whenever we see beauty in water, wind, flower, deer, man, woman or child, we catch a glimpse of heaven. Just like the Garden of Eden, the new earth will be a place of sensory delight, breathtaking beauty, satisfying relationships and personal joy.
In other words: the greatest joys of life in the present are merely signposts to an even greater reality in heaven. Consider a few of the biblical descriptions of heaven.
Heaven as home
Heaven is described as home. After a long trip on the road, does anything seem more appealing than going home? Sleeping in our own beds, a home-cooked meal and fellowship with family and friends are some of the greatest joys in life. When Jesus spoke of his pending death, he spoke of building us a home with his Father in heaven (John 14:2). To understand heaven is to grasp the real meaning of home. Undoubtedly, many people have had difficult home lives. But our true home in heaven will have all the good aspects of home, increased many times without any of the bad.
Heaven as community
There will be community in heaven. Without the presence of sin, we will be free to be more relational than we are now. heaven is not like the Buddhist Nirvana where people lose their individual personalities. Rather, we will maintain our identities, memories, gifts and passions to be used for God’s glory and the good of the larger community. The "New Jerusalem" in heaven is often described as a city of dazzling beauty (Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 21:2). Cities are full of inhabitants, streets, buildings, cultural events, entertainment, athletics and other community events. If the New Jerusalem didn’t have these city-defining characteristics, then why would Scripture so often refer to it as a city? I expect heaven will have the positive aspects of the city minus the crime, poverty, pollution and corruption that mark cities today. To imagine such a beautiful community is to take a large step toward envisioning the world God is planning to bring about as a result of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Heaven as rest
Heaven is described as a place of rest. One reason we will rest is because we will serve God in heaven. There will be work in heaven! But this is not work as we often experience it today. There will not be pressing deadlines, stressful co-workers, homework assignments or bitter competition. Rather, we will feel truly fulfilled because we will work in a manner fitting to the way God has designed each of us. The pain, corruption and sin that tarnish work today will be gone forever. We will be free to work for the benefit of God, others and ourselves. Have you ever felt truly fulfilled as a person? Have you truly felt the power of serving other people? That is a small taste of what work will be like in heaven. And as a result of our work in heaven we will experience the most peaceful and fulfilling rest imaginable.
The truth about Heaven
Heaven is not merely a lofty idea created to give people comfort amidst the pain of life. Rather, heaven is a real place awaiting Jesus' believers after their deaths. As Jesus demonstrated in his resurrection, death is not the end but merely a portal into eternal life. Shortly before his death, Jesus put it this way:
In my Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you (John 14:2)
Have you taken the time to really reflect on the reality of heaven? When we die we will eternally be with our Creator! Do you get goose-bumps just thinking about it? Are you eagerly anticipating the day when this life ends and you enter into God’s presence forever without any of the painful effects of sin? If not, it's time you recaptured a vision for the majesty, beauty and power of heaven.