What is Heaven?

BIG IDEA: So many people — maybe you are one of them — NEVER want to think about Heaven, probably because they’ve been taught the wrong answers to “WHAT” Heaven will be like. David Lloyd George, former Prime Minister of the UK, once said “When I was a boy, the thought of Heaven used to frighten me more than the thought of Hell. I pictured Heaven as a place where time would be perpetual Sundays, with the perpetual services from which there would be no escape.” I want to free you from this intensely FALSE picture of Heaven so that you might reopen your hearts and minds to the greatest promise Jesus made to us all, that he is going to prepare a place for us and will bring us to be with him one day.

SERIES: Heaven: We all have big questions about the topic of Heaven. Some say it’s escapist to spend time thinking about Heaven. That’s not true. It’s arrogant not to spend time thinking about our inevitable end and what might come afterwards. Instead of living in denial of death, the fear of death, we ought to embrace Jesus’ victory over death and dwell on what’s to come. Our lives are brief. And therefore the wise will consider the end and the after. Let us, like the wise, consider Heaven: the who, what, when, where, why, and how of Heaven.

SCRIPTURE: John 14:1-7

KEY CONSIDERATIONS

  • Heaven-Minded: We need to begin to spend more time thinking about the next life and maybe spend a little less time thinking about this life. We were made with the next life in mind – it’s part of our God-given purpose.
  • You can’t take it with you: Life’s earthly pleasures, the things that we work for on earth (money, vacation, status, weekends, etc.) are miniscule in comparison to what awaits us in Heaven. Yes, work for good things in the life you have on this earth, but don’t make them the end goal because they simply aren’t the end goal. The end goal is far far greater.
  • Escapism: Isn’t it escapist to spend all of our time thinking about Heaven and wishing away this world in front of us? Take a look at what C.S. Lewis has to say about escapism and being focused on Heaven:
    • “Who talks the most against “escapism”? and then answer Jailers.” “Is it escapist for a baby to wonder about life outside the womb? Is it escapist for someone on a long ocean voyage to wonder about landfall? It is escapist if, and only if, “Heaven” is a lie. Those who call Heaven “escapism” are presupposing atheism.”
    • “If you read history, you’ll find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought the most of the next. The apostles themselves, who set afoot the conversion of the Roman empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English evangelicals who abolished the slave trade, all left their mark on earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in, aim at earth and you will get neither.”
  • A sense of excitement: If you’re not excited about Heaven, then it’s probably because you’ve been taught the wrong thing about what Heaven actually is. When you have a better idea, or are better able to imagine, of what Heaven is, then you will naturally be excited.
  • A sense of humility: This is a huge topic with huge implications, so we approach this subject with humility because we are only equipped with a human mind. But that doesn’t mean we don’t talk about it or that we don’t imagine. That’s what the enemy wants.
  • The Eternal Heaven aka The New Earth aka The New Creation: That’s the Heaven we’re talking about today – the end result of God’s plan. There’s the intermediate phase, the place we go immediately when we die, but that’s not what we’re referring to today.
  • Scripture uses figurative language: Not everything is meant to be literal, so we have to imagine what these pictures of pictures might refer to in reality, but the tool that we have for that is figurative language. Get used to figurative language.
    • Example: The gates of Heaven may actually be made of a single pearl, but they cannot be made with the pearls that we know on Earth because our pearls aren’t large enough to make a gate. We can only describe Heaven using Earthly knowledge, so we know that the gates of Heaven are made of what looked like pearl. Because “We always and inevitably strive to understand one thing in relation to another thing that we already know.”
  • Where’s my mansion? The original Greek was translated into Latin, but when it was translated from Latin into English, they chose the word “mansion” instead of the equally valid translation “place” or “room.” This is figurative language! Jesus is carving out room for us. Not necessarily a physical room or a physical mansion, but a place in God’s eternal house.
  • It’s natural to be a little bit scared: All we know is life on this Earth, and it’s natural to fear what we don’t know. We all prefer the known over that which takes faith. If you like your life here, just wait until you see what God has next because it will be a perfect improvement on what we know. If you love the people you know now, just wait until the sin is gone!
  • How can we imagine Heaven? Look around you! Heaven will be the New Earth. You don’t have to look outside of our planet to begin to imagine what Heaven will be like. Look at the trees and the birds and the sunshine on the water, but remove death and decay from the picture. Smell the flowers and see the colors around you and then multiply it by God and his goodness and his perfect creation. That’s where we begin to imagine Heaven. And yet, we cannot possibly imagine how great Heaven will be.
  • The Dance Between Hope and Reality: We’re all meant to hope for a reality that can happen. But the reality of the thing never fully lives up to the hope for the thing, no matter how much we enjoyed it. Imagine a place in which all hope disappears because the reality of the place is far greater than any possible hope. The brilliance, the perfection of Heaven, nullifies the hope of it. The hope of Heaven will be flooded by the reality of Heaven.
  • Desire made perfect: In Heaven, reality fulfills every desire. There will be no unmet desire.
  • We are not worthy, and yet Jesus gives us Heaven. Out of his perfect grace, he gives us this gift.
  • What will we see in Heaven? We’ll see a new thing: new bodies,
    • Continuity: God will redeem what we already see around us. There will be continuity between what we know on Earth, what we see and experience on Earth, and what we know, see, and experience in Heaven.
    • Familiarity and Dissimilarity: Scripture tells us that the New Earth and our Heavenly Bodies will be familiar, but different. It’s hard for us to really understand how much sin has corrupted what we know. We see this in Jesus’ resurrected body when the disciples didn’t recognize him when they saw him. But he ate, and he had scars, so we see there’s continuity between this life and the next. God isn’t hitting reset on his creation in the New Creation, but rather redeeming the original creation.
  • New Bodies: Our Heavenly bodies will be new, they will be transformed, but they will still be physical bodies. We won’t be spirits or ghosts or disembodied souls wandering around.
    • Will we be male and female? Yes because sex is part of our divinely designed humanity. Yes, it will be transformed, but not removed. Jesus tells us that we will “neither marry nor being given in marriage” in Heaven, but that doesn’t mean will be neutered beings. The lack of marriage in Heaven speaks volumes to the purpose of marriage on the Earth, which is to further the mission of the gospel and highlight the greatest possible relationship available to all who want it. Once all people have that perfect relationship with God, then the convention of marriage is no longer needed. This does not mean that we stop loving our Earthly spouses, it just means the relationship will change.
    • Will we have sex, or will we have the desire for it? Catholic philosopher Peter Kreft says, “First of all “Sex” is something we are, not something we do. I do not think we will be ‘doing’ copulation in Heaven, but we will be busy being ourselves, and that includes being men and women, not genderless geldings.”
    • Will we need or wear clothing? All the biblical writers who claim to have caught some glimpse of people in Heaven usually say that the people in Heaven are clothed, but in a different way than we are. The clothing is not artificial and concealing, but natural and revealing. Clothing came after the Fall, to conceal what was shameful only because it was fallen. Once redemption is complete and the Fall wholly reversed, nothing is shameful. Clothes will then be a pure glory, not half glory and half shame, as they now are.
    • Will we have emotions? Yes, but not in their present form. Emotions are part of God’s good design for our humanity, but in Heaven our emotions will not control us or drive us as they do here. When God wipes away our tears of pain and sadness he will not also wipe away our tears of joy.
    • Will we be free in Heaven? If so, will we be free to sin? Peter Kreft says, “Freedom to sin” is a contradiction in terms, like “freedom to be enslaved.” Free choice is only the means to true freedom; “the freedom of the sons of God is liberty.” In Heaven, we will not sin because we will not want to. We will freely choose never to sin just as how great great mathematicians do not make elementary mistakes. In Heaven, we will see the attractiveness of goodness and of God so clearly, and the ugliness and stupidity of sin so clearly, that there will be no possible motive to sin. Now, we are enslaved by ignorance. Every sin comes from ignorance, for we sin only because we see sin as somehow attractive, which it is not, and goodness as less attractive. Now, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7).
  • What will we do?
    • Will we be able to fly, have super strength, see all things as God sees them? Probably not. That kind of ultimate freedom does not equal ultimate joy. We will be free only to the extent that it allows us to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
    • Will we know everything in Heaven? Only God is omniscient. This is good news because it means that we will still be learning.
    • Won’t we get bored in Heaven? Sigmund Freud says that everyone needs two things in life to make it worth living: love and work.
      • There are six things that never get boring on Earth that will hold true in Heaven: 1) knowing and 2) loving yourself, 3) knowing and 4) loving your neighbor, and 5) knowing and 6) loving God.
      • The two greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. This continuity of purpose is our clue to living the good life in this realm and our preparation for living the good live in God’s heavenly house.
    • Will everyone be equal in Heaven? We will be as we are no: equal in worth and dignity, equal in being loved by God. However we will not all be exactly the same nor will we all be doing the exact same thing. We will have unique tasks and responsibilities that Jesus has designed for us, which is exactly how it works on this Earth.
    • Will we be singing all the time? Not necessarily. It won’t be an everlasting worship service, but there will be singing because music is one element that seems to be in every biblical account of Heaven.

OUR RESPONSE:

  • What does this all mean for us now?
    • Be part of the Local Church: There is crossover between the life of the local church now and the life of the future church. By living in the salvation of Jesus on this Earth, we begin to live Heaven’s New Life right now, and part of how we do that is to be with our heavenly family through active, regular, unselfish participation in the life of a local gospel-centered, Bible teaching, resurrection proclaiming church community.
    • Concern for Heaven feeds into concern for the Earth: When we look at Genesis juxtaposed with Revelation, we see mirror images which demonstrate the symmetry of God’s plan. Randy Alcorn says that we live in between times, “hearing echoes of Eden and the approaching footfalls of the new earth,” which reminds us that the Earth matters, our matter, animals and trees matter, matter matters because God created them and intends to glorify himself through them.
    • Our work now matters: In Psalm 90 we have recorded for us a prayer of Moses: “God establish the work of our hands.” The Hebrew word translated “establish” literally means “make permanent.”
      • Isaiah 60 and Rev. 21-22:Both John and Isaiah use similar language, stating that on the New Earth “the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it…. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.” “It” being the New Heavenly City of Jerusalem. This tells us that in the New Creation, we will continue to find culture, man-made culture of varying types because nothing is wasted in God’s world. The work we do now is not in vain.
      • Pray with Moses that God would give us wisdom, discernment, righteous endeavor that the work of our hands int his life would be made permanent because they bring glory to God.

Want to study this topic more?

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