Are you looking forward to going to heaven?

Randy Alcorn relates in his book Heaven that a pastor once confessed to him, ”Whenever I think about Heaven, it makes me depressed. I’d rather just cease to exist when I die. I can’t stand the thought of that endless tedium. To float around in the clouds with nothing to do but strum a harp … it’s all so terribly boring. Heaven doesn’t sound much better than Hell. I’d rather be annihilated than spend eternity in a place like that.”

How did a Bible-believing, seminary-educated pastor get such a depressing view of Heaven? Certainly not from Scripture, where Paul said in Philippians 1:23 “to depart and be with Christ was far better than staying on a sin-cursed Earth.”

John Eldridge, in his book The Journey of Desire, says “Nearly every Christian I have spoken with has some idea that eternity is an un-ending church service . . .  a never-ending sing-along in the sky, one great hymn after another, forever.” How boring!

An overwhelming majority of Americans continue to believe that there is life after death and heaven and hell exist, but usually have confused perceptions of what heaven is like.

Three people die every second; 180 every minute, and nearly 11,000 every hour. That means that more than 250,000 every day go to their final reward. What do the saved think heaven is like?

First, I think they believe it is the paradise that Jesus spoke of with the pearly gates, streets of gold, walls covered with precious stones, a mansion for each of us, continuous worship of God, our Father. But, what else? What will we do? What will our lives be like? 

Isaiah and the prophets make clear the destiny of God’s people. They will live in peace and prosperity, as free people in their promised land. The “country of their own” spoken of in Hebrews 11 is a real country, with a real capital city, the New Jerusalem. It is an actual place where these “aliens and strangers on earth” will ultimately live in actual bodies.

It’s commonly taught that the Old Testament concept of Heaven is limited. Though it’s certainly true that very  little is said about the intermediate Heaven, where believers go when they die, the Old Testament actually says a great deal about the eternal, or New, Heaven.

“But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy …. The earth will give birth to her dead” (Isaiah 26:19).

Just as Adam was made from the dust of the earth, we will be remade from the dust to which we return at death. God’s people are not looking for deliverance from Earth, but deliverance on Earth. That’s exactly what we will find after our bodily resurrection.

When our Lord returns and the old Earth ends, the New Earth will begin. The Bible is clear that God’s ultimate Kingdom and our final home will not be on the old Earth but on the New Earth, where at last God’s original design will be fulfilled and enjoyed forever.

God promises to make not only a New Earth but also “new heavens” (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13). The Greek and Hebrew words translated “heavens” include the stars and planets and what we call outer space.

Will the New Earth Be a new Eden?

If we take literally the earthly depictions of life on the New Earth, it allows us to make a direct connection with our current lives.  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.

God himself prepared mankind’s first home on Earth. “Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food” (Genesis 2:8-9).

In the same way that God paid attention to the details of the home he prepared for Adam and Eve in Eden, Christ is paying attention to the details as he prepares for us an eternal home in Heaven.

In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:2-3).
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What Is the New Jerusalem?  

Scripture describes Heaven as both a country (Luke 19:12; Hebrews 11:14- 16) and a city (Hebrews 12:22; 13:14; Revelation 21:2). Fifteen times in Revelation 21 and 22 the place in which God and his people will live together is called a city. The repetition of the word and the detailed description of the architecture, walls, streets, and other features of the city suggest that the term city isn’t merely a figure of speech but a literal geographical location.

The city at the center of the future Heaven is called the New Jerusalem. The city is portrayed as a walled city; its security beyond question. It is perched on the peak of a hill that no invading army could ascend. The city’s walls are so thick that they couldn’t be breached by any siege engine and so high that no human could hope to scale them. (Of course, the city won’t ever be under attack, but its structure will remind us of God’s might and commitment to protect his people.)
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What Will the Great City Be Like?

It will be the largest city that has ever existed-the capital city of the New Earth. The New Jerusalem will be a place of extravagant beauty and natural wonders. It will be a vast Eden, integrated with the best of human culture, under the reign of Christ. More wealth than has been accumulated in all human history will be spread freely across this immense city.

Presumably many other cities will be on the New Earth, such as those Jesus mentioned in the stewardship parables.

‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’  “The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’ “His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’ (Luke 19:17-19).

The kings of nations who bring their treasures into the New Jerusalem must come from and return to somewhere, presumably countryside and cities lying beyond the New Jerusalem. But no city will be like this one, for it will be called home by the King of kings.

Heaven’s capital city will be filled with visual magnificence. “It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal” (Revelation 21:11).

John goes onto describe the opulence: “The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone.” (Revelation 21:18-19)

John describes a natural wonder in the center of the New Jerusalem: “the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city” (Revelation 22:1- 2).

Ghosts don’t need water, but human bodies do. The original readers, who lived in a bone-dry climate, readily grasped the wonder of constantly available fresh water, pure and uncontaminated, able to satisfy the deepest thirst.

Will we be ourselves  in Heaven?

Jesus called people in Heaven by name, including Lazarus in the intermediate Heaven and Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the New Heaven:

I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 8:11).

A name denotes a distinct identity, an individual. The fact that people in Heaven can be called by the same name they had on Earth demonstrates they remain the same people.

When Moses and Elijah appeared out of Heaven to stand with Christ at his transfiguration, the disciples with Christ recognized Moses and Elijah as the distinct individuals they were, the same men they were on Earth, infused with holiness.

When we’re told we’ll sit at a banquet and eat with Abraham and Isaac and others, we will be sitting, eating beside, talking with, and laughing with not a general assembly, but particular individuals .

What will our bodies be like?

Our resurrected bodies will be real physical bodies, just as Christ’s was and is. Our resurrection bodies will be free of the curse of sin, redeemed, and restored to their original beauty and purpose that goes back to Eden. Heaven’s delights will stretch our glorified senses to their limits.

To be restored to the sensory abilities of Adam and Eve would be thrilling enough, but it seems likely our resurrected bodies will surpass theirs. What God remakes, he improves. He could add new senses to our old ones. He always surpasses our expectations. It won’t be a lot different in the New Jerusalem.

Will we eat and drink in Heaven?

Words describing eating, meals, and food appear over a thousand times in Scripture, with the English translation “feast” occurring another 187 times. Jesus said to his disciples, “I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom” (Luke 22:29-30).

When angels, and God himself, took on human form, they ate human food: The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground. He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.” “Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of fine flour and knead it and bake some bread.”

Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree. (Genesis 18:1-2, 5-8).

What will we know and learn?

It’s common to hear people say, “We don’t understand now, but in Heaven we’ll know everything.” God alone is omniscient. When we die, we’ll see things far more clearly, and we’ll know much more than we do now, but we’ll never know everything.

The apostle Paul wrote: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

In Heaven we’ll be flawless, but not knowing everything isn’t a flaw. It’s part of being finite. Righteous angels don’t know everything, and they long to know more.

It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. (1 Peter 1:12).

Angels, too, are flawless . . . but finite. We should expect to long for greater knowledge, as angels do. And we’ll spend eternity gaining the greater knowledge we’ll seek.

What Will Our Daily Lives Be Like? Will we work?

The idea of working in Heaven is foreign to many people. Yet Scripture clearly teaches it. Work was part of the original Eden. It was part of a perfect human life on Earth. When God created Adam, he “took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it ” (Genesis 2:15).

Work wasn’t part of the Curse. On the New Earth work will be redeemed and transformed into what God intended: “No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him” (Revelation 22:3).

Jesus said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working” (John 5:17).

Jesus found great satisfaction in his work. “‘My food,’ Jesus said, ‘is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work'” (John 4:34).
 
Will We Have Our Own Homes?

The intended meaning seems to be that we’ll have separate dwelling places on a single estate or even separate rooms within the same house. The New International Version rendering of John 14:2 is this: “In my Father’s house are many rooms …. I am going there to prepare a place for you.”

The New Earth’s citizens will build, plant, and eat, as human beings on Earth always have. Like Adam and Eve in Eden, we’ll inherit a place that God has prepared for us. But we’ll be free to build on it and develop it as we see fit, to God’s glory.

Will there be marriage, families and relationships?

One group of religious leaders, the Sadducees, tried to trick Jesus with a question about marriage in Heaven. They didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. Attempting to make him look foolish, they told Jesus of a woman who had seven husbands who all died.

They asked him, “Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?” (Matthew 22:28). Christ replied, “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30).

There’s every reason to believe we’ll pick right up in Heaven with relationships from Earth. We’ll gain many new ones but will continue to deepen the old ones. The notion that relationships with family and friends will be lost in Heaven, though common, is not biblical. It denies the clear doctrine of continuity between this life and the next and suggests our earthly lives and relationships have no eternal consequence. It completely contradicts Paul’s intense anticipation of being with the Thessalonians and his encouraging them to look forward to rejoining their loved ones in Heaven.

The famous book, 90 Minutes in Heaven, is the account of a fatal automobile accident that took the life of a Baptist pastor, Don Piper. He was pronounced dead only to be prayed back to life by another Baptist pastor ninety minutes later. In those ninety minutes, Piper went to heaven, and much of what he reported he saw is described and promised in Scripture.

The pastor states that he saw the pearly gates and the golden streets; heard heavenly music and the swoosh of angel wings; and literally felt the glory of God.

He said, “I was home; I was where I belonged.” “I wanted to be there more than I had ever wanted to be anywhere on earth. Time had slipped away, and I was simply present in heaven. All worries, anxieties and concerns vanished. I had no needs, and I felt perfect.”

Piper’s account reminds us that heaven is more than a hope and a dream. It’s a real place. As Christians, we believe by faith what the Bible says about heaven, but Piper believes because of what his faith has shown him.

I thought it might be interesting to compare some of Piper’s account against what scripture says.

1. “We are confident, yes, well pleased, rather, to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8)

Piper says, “Simultaneous with my last recollection of seeing the bridge and the rain, a light enveloped me…In my next moment, I was standing in heaven.”

2. “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

Piper says, “I wasn’t conscious of anything I’d left behind and felt no regrets about leaving family or possessions. It was as if God had removed anything negative or worrisome from my consciousness, and I could only rejoice.”

3. “No one has seen God at any time.” (John 1:18)

Piper says, “I did not see God. Although I knew God was there, I never saw any kind of image or luminous glow to indicate his divine presence.”

4. “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem…The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.” (Revelation 21:10, 21)

Piper says, “The gate…was pearlescent…To me, it looked like someone had spread pearl icing on a cake…I paused just outside the gate, and I could see inside, it was like a city with paved streets. To my amazement, they had been constructed of literal gold.”

5. “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne.” (Revelation 5:11)

Piper says, “My most vivid memory of heaven is what I heard. I can only describe it as a holy swoosh of angel wings…It was the most beautiful and pleasant sound I’ve ever heard and it didn’t’ stop. It was like a song that goes on forever.”

6. “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Piper says, “I became aware of a large crowd of people…As the crowd rushed toward me, I didn’t see Jesus, but I did see people I had known…More and more people reached for me and called me by name.”

7. “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

Piper recounted his last experience just before he came back to life: “The only way I’ve made sense out of this experience is to think that if I had actually seen God, I would never have wanted to return. My feeling has been that once we’re actually in God’s presence, we will never return to earth again, because it will be empty and meaningless by comparison.”

We need to believe Jesus, not just believe in Jesus. He told us that heaven was a real place. “If it were not so,” he said, “I would have told you.” (John 14:2).  Jesus told us the truth. Heaven is a real place and what the Bible says about heaven – how we get there, what we will see, here and feel – is also true. And, its going to be a better place than we can imagine.

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