What Will Heaven Be Like?

There is one topic in Christianity that garners a great deal of attention–and yet many people know very little about it. This is the topic of heaven, and what it will be like. The popularity of this topic can be seen in the interest in near-death experiences. However, the idea that most people have of heaven is highly inaccurate in terms of what the Bible actually says.

The very first thing to clear up is the extremely inaccurate term “heaven.” People have this mental image of everybody in heaven flying around over this golden city, sitting on clouds and playing harps all day long, and they think it will be pretty, but super boring.

But this is a total misconception. In the Bible, heaven is the dwelling place of God and the angels, the location of God’s throne room. But it is not the ultimate dwelling place of the saved. The ultimate home for Christians is the New Creation.

But let’s take this in order. The Bible isn’t entirely clear on what happens to a Christian’s spirit immediately after they die. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul seems to indicate that when people die, they “sleep” for a time. And then, Paul says, “we will not all sleep [in death], but we will all be [completely] changed [wondrously transformed], 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at [the sound of] the last trumpet call. For a trumpet will sound, and the dead [who believed in Christ] will be raised imperishable, and we will be [completely] changed [wondrously transformed]” (1 Cor 15: 51a-52 AMP). Likewise, in 1 Thessalonians, Paul indicates that the believers who have died remain “asleep” until Christ’s return: “15 For we say this to you by the Lord’s [own] word, that we who are still alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will in no way precede [into His presence] those [believers] who have fallen asleep [in death]. 16 For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel and with the [blast of the] trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain [on the earth] will simultaneously be caught up (raptured) together with them [the resurrected ones] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord!” (1 Thess 4:15-17 AMP). These passages seem to indicate that the dead are unconscious until the second coming of Christ.

As unconscious as this cat.

However, in 2 Corinthians, Paul seems to indicate that believers will spend some time in heaven: “For we know that if the earthly tent [our physical body] which is our house is torn down [through death], we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor 5:1 AMP). This verse and others like it have led some Christians to believe that those who die in Christ go to heaven temporarily to await the second coming. Basically, the Bible is not very clear on exactly what happens to the dead before the second coming.

However, it IS clear on where the saved will eventually dwell, and that’s not in heaven, but in the new creation, referred to in Isaiah 65, 2 Peter 3, and Rev. 21 as “the new heavens and new earth”:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away (vanished), and there is no longer any sea {abode of evil}. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, arrayed like a bride adorned for her husband; and then I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “See! The tabernacle of God is among men, and He will live among them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them [as their God,] and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be death; there will no longer be sorrow and anguish, or crying, or pain; for the former order of things has passed away.”

. . . 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a vast and lofty mountain, and showed me the holy (sanctified) city of Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God,11 having God’s glory [filled with His radiant light]. The brilliance of it resembled a rare and very precious jewel, like jasper, shining and clear as crystal. 12 It had a massive and high wall, with twelve [large] gates, and at the gates [were stationed] twelve angels; and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were written. 13 On the east side [there were] three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (Christ).

. . . 22 I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty [the Omnipotent, the Ruler of all] and the Lamb are its temple. 23 And the city has no need of the sun nor of the moon to give light to it, for the glory (splendor, radiance) of God has illumined it, and the Lamb is its lamp and light.24 The nations [the redeemed people from the earth] will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring into it their glory. 25 By day (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed [in fear of evil]; 26 and they will bring the glory (splendor, majesty) and the honor of the nations into it; 27 and nothing that defiles or profanes or is unwashed will ever enter it, nor anyone who practices abominations [detestable, morally repugnant things] and lying, but only those [will be admitted] whose names have been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

Then the angel showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb (Christ), in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer exist anything that is cursed [because sin and illness and death are gone]; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve and worship Him [with great awe and joy and loving devotion]; they will [be privileged to] see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be night; they have no need for lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign [as kings] forever and ever. (Rev. 21:1-4, 10-14, 22–2:5 AMP)

Okay, that’s a lot of description. So let’s break this down.

Nature itself is recreated/renewed in the end times, and is restored to its unfallen state: the world, as God created it, was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). However, nature has gotten messed up, just like human beings have: “19 For [even the whole] creation [all nature] waits eagerly for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration and futility, not willingly [because of some intentional fault on its part], but by the will of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will also be freed from its bondage to decay [and gain entrance] into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been moaning together as in the pains of childbirth until now” (Rom 8:19-22). How exactly creation got messed up is not entirely clear: some Christians say it was because of human sin, but others disagree. In any case, it is clear that creation is “subjected to frustration”: nature can be destroyed by humans, it can decay (Is 51:6), animals have to kill one another to eat, etc. C. S. Lewis points out that even if we managed tomorrow to perfect human nature, we would still have to deal with disease: diseases and parasitism are signs of the fallenness of nature.

But the new creation won’t have any of that: there will be no more “death or mourning or crying or pain” (Rev. 21:4). No illness, no parasitism, no death. In fact, it seems that humans and animals in the new creation will be vegetarians! In Genesis 1, God gives the humans and animals the plants for food (v. 29-30): humans don’t eat meat until after Noah’s flood (Gen. 9:3). Isaiah indicates a return to an ideal world without predation:
“The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
    and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord” (Is. 65:25 NIV)

and,

“The wolf will live with the lamb,
 the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
    and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
    their young will lie down together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
    and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea” (Is. 11:6-9 NIV).

(Isaiah 65 specifically mentions vineyards in the new creation, so yeah, there will probs be alcohol.)

By the way, as you can see from Isaiah, there will totally be animals in the new creation. So if you’ve ever wondered if you’ll be reunited with your pets in the afterlife, the answer is, “Quite likely.”

But wait: just because there won’t be carnivores doesn’t mean there won’t be food. Isaiah says,

“They will build houses and dwell in them;
    they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
    or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
    so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
    the work of their hands.
23 They will not labor in vain (Is. 65:21-23 NIV).

Farming will definitely still happen, as will eating and, one assumes, cooking. We’ll have all the enjoyment of eating without the threat of starvation. (Oh, and by the way, there WILL be people in heaven who are fat. Being fat is not a disease, a sin, or an imperfection, and should not be a source of grief. God created human beings in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and being fat or skinny is simply one of many kinds of human variety God wrote into his very artistic creation.) Farming–or at least gardening–will be one form of work that will happen in the new creation.

WAIT, I hear you say. WORK??!?

Trust me, you wouldn’t.

Yes, work! In the unfallen creation, humans worked: they worked the Garden of Eden! But notice what Isaiah says about the work that people will do in the new creation: it will never be futile, and you will never work to make some CEO rich while you get paid ramen wages. (I think it’s probably unlikely there will even been a money system?) We will all be doing what Marx calls unalienated labor. Isaiah mentions land cultivation and house-building specifically, but there will probably be other kinds of labor, as well. And we will actually ENJOY it!

Yes, really!

And I have to say, I rather look forward to an eternity of doing artistic and creative things, as I assume that is a great deal of what my labor in the new creation will look like! Also, one assumes that, like Tolkien’s elves, resurrected humans will be incapable of boredom. It’s kind of necessary for a joyful eternity.

Oh, and speaking of art: don’t worry that the best products of this life will be destroyed. In speaking of the New Jerusalem, Rev. 21:24 says, “the kings of the earth will bring into it their glory.” Some eschatologists (people who study the “things to come”) suggest that this means that the greatest products of our current world will be brought to the New Jerusalem: imagine the French marching in with the Mona Lisa!

Okay, so now try to imagine this: a world in which nature is not destroyed by human industry, in which there are no diseases or parasites, in which all humans and animals are vegetarian. There is at least one magnificent city, and likely more. People never die, and we don’t know how or if they age. People do work which they find enjoyable, and no one is ever oppressed, injured, or even made sad.

What do you think such a world would be like?

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3 thoughts on “What Will Heaven Be Like?

  1. Perfect! And since you love him, C.S. Lewis also wrote (In “Mere Christianity”) this about Heaven – “There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of “Heaven” ridiculous by saying that they do not want “to spend eternity playing harps.” The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written fro grown-ups, they should not talk about them. All the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc.) is, of course, a merely symbolic attempt to express the inexpressible. Musical instruments are mentioned because for many people (not all) music is the thing known in the present life which most strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity. Crowns are mentioned to suggest the fact that those who are united with God in eternity share his splendour and power and joy. Gold is mentioned to suggest the timelessness of Heaven (gold does not rust) and the preciousness of it. People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.”

    Liked by 1 person

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