One question that has intrigued people of all ages has been, "what is heaven like?" Ever since man has understood that this life on this earth would end, he has searched to find out if there would be life after this life and if so, what it would be like. In this search many religions and philosophies have been put forth and before we talk about what the Bible says heaven is like, I'd like to review the major concepts of heaven developed throughout history. If we understand the extent of the thinking of the rest of the world on this subject, then we may better appreciate what the Bible offers us as information about this place and our experience there.
Various Concepts of Heaven
I'm not putting these in the chronological order that they were originally thought up, but rather in religious and philosophical categories. Some concepts of heaven held by Non-Christians:
Materialism - This is a philosophy that believes that there is no spiritual life, all is matter. Everything that exists is simply molecules and atoms. For materialists, there is no heaven, this life is it, once it's over it's over. Heaven is a BMW a Malibu beach-house and 10 million bucks in the bank. Hedonist (Playboy, Huge Hefner types), Atheist, Evolutionist, Communist, extreme capitalist, Nazis (and many others) are all materialists.
Existentialists - Heaven is what you make it. If you have found happiness in who you are, what you do, even what you believe, then this is heaven! New Agers, self-improvement / empowerment. "Listen to your own voice." "Trust your heart." The human being is at the center of the Universe and self-actualization is the ultimate goal.
Far Eastern Religions
- Confucius (wisdom of China). Heaven was a well-ordered society.
- Shinto (Royal Religion of Japan). Heaven is complete Japanese supremacy.
- Buddha - Heaven is peace achieved by a person who completely ceases to be himself.
- Tao (Spiritual religion of China). Heaven is harmony with all things. Balance between Ying and Yang.
Eastern Religions - The main one is Hinduism. They believe that after a re-incarnation of many lives one is finally merged into total oblivion with Great Spirit Brahma.
Near Eastern Religions - There are several small ones but the main ones followed by a great number.
- Islam - They believe heaven is the best of all earthly pleasure enjoyed indefinitely.
- Judaism - Their concept has changed and evolved but for modern Jews, heaven is cultural Israel leading the nations in a renewed heaven and earth. In other words, God repairs and renews the world and puts the Jewish nation as the head or lead nation in this world.
As we study what Christianity's view of heaven is like you will note that there are some similarities, but the differences are so great and the concept of heaven so elevated, these other views of heaven do not compare.
Heaven in the Old Testament
The doctrine of heaven begins in the Old Testament and was well developed by Jesus and the Apostles in the New Testament. Now the Jews in the Old Testament had limitations on their understanding of what heaven was like:
- They had no concept of eternity. They believed that forever meant that something would go on and on for a long time until it stopped. They had no infinity in their math. They did not perceive a time where there would be no time, where forever meant without end - ever!
- They had no direct revelation from God concerning the actual condition of the body after death as is given to us by Jesus and Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.
- They had no one come directly from heaven to assure them that there was life after death for everyone. The Jews understood that the underworld (where the dead and souls go), the earth where mankind dwells and heaven where God and His Law and Angels dwell were all one unit. They understood the world to be a flat saucer surrounded by water and the sky (heaven) like an upside down bowl covering all of it. Heaven was divided into layers, 3 or 7 certain of God's chosen ones. To try to go to heaven was seen as presumptuous (Tower of Babel - Genesis 11:4) and one day God's judgement would cause a catastrophe in the heaven and earth complex - They had no word for "universe" so referred to the sum of creation as the heavens and the earth.
The Jews often used the term heaven interchangeable with the name of God (Daniel 4:23). With time the Old Testament Jews understood that the righteous ones would go to a dwelling place in heaven. However the condition of that person, the experience of that person and the proof that it was possible was only provided in the New Testament. Of all the prophets, David was given great insight into the resurrection of the soul from death and its ultimate home with God but without much detail:
But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol,
For He will receive me.
- Psalm 49:15
The Concept of Heaven in the New Testament
The word heaven comes from a Greek word which means to ascend to lift or heave. The word refers to what is above. It is used 272 times in the New Testament mostly in the gospel of Matthew (82 times) and used most often in the phrase "Kingdom of heaven". The Jews seemed to compact heaven, earth and the underworld all in one single unit.
In the New Testament, it is made clear that there are the "heavens" which God created which are part of the physical Universe and the heaven (the high place) where God dwells, and they are not the same.
- Hebrews 1:3; 4:14 tell us that Jesus passed beyond the physical sky (heavens) to sit at the right hand of God's throne in heaven.
- II Peter 3:7 says that the physical "heavens" (universe) will be destroyed at the coming of Jesus.
So when we talk of heaven we are referring not to the sky, the clouds or anywhere in this physical universe, it is not a physical "place" but rather a dimension where pure spirits exist and where God can actually be approached.
Here are other features of heaven described by the New Testament:
- There is only mention of one heaven in the New Testament except where Paul mentions being caught up into the 3rd heaven (II Corinthians 12: 2-4). Could be that Paul meant he was taken beyond the physical heavens and into the very presence of God. We don't have more info.
- God is not alone in heaven. He is surrounded by a variety of beings. Revelation 4:4-24 elders with crowns (12 tribes and 12 Apostles. Millions of angels and martyred saints
- The Bible differentiates between the heaven where God dwells and the heaven where God will dwell with the saints through Christ. Throughout the New Testament the dimension that is completely inhabited by God and not shared by both God and His creation is called heaven. God is everywhere; man and matter are not. God exists in both the heavenly dimension and the physical universe simultaneously - man exists only in the physical universe.
Jesus is the bridge between the heavenly realm, dimension, kingdom and the earthly dimension or universe. At the end of the world, God will destroy the heavens and the earth (physical universe) but not the "heaven" where He exists with His angels and other spirit beings.
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. 11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! 13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.
- II Peter 3:10-13
The book of Revelation tells us that the new heavens and earth - in other words. The new dimension where the saints will dwell will come from the heaven where God exists.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.
- Revelation 21:1-2
The point that the Bible makes is that God actually creates within His dimension a place for the risen saints to co-exist with Him Revelation 21-22). This new place (called the new heaven and earth because it will now include beings that come from earth transformed into spiritual beings for existence in heaven), this new place has several features:
- It will be a place where God will co-exist with man in a single dimension.
- There will be no experience of pain, death or sorrow.
- The evil spirits as well as evil people will not be there but will exist in a place of suffering reserved for them. It will be beautiful to perceive.
- Those who exist there with God will also be different in many ways:
- Their form will not be flesh but pure spirit, like angels and therefore no need for sustenance of any kind. The devil will not have access; he will be in hell forever.
- They will not be subject to death so there will be no need for any form of reproduction. The population will be stable.
- They will not be tempted in any way because there will be no sin, no fear, no shame, no guilt no death.
- They will have complete and equal wisdom, strength and knowledge. No competition, no envy, no war.
- They will not be subject to the pressure of time because they will be eternal. No worry, no stress, no impatience. No sorrow or longing for the past.
- They will have complete joy, love, peace, patience, faith, self-control, kindness, and self worth. No more hungering and thirsting for righteousness.
- They will be conscious of self, others and God in perfect harmony and satisfaction. (I will know my wife and be happy for the new existence we both share).
Aside from what is heaven like, the most asked question is:
What Will We Do in Heaven?
Will we play the harp or be in church service forever? The New Testament gives little information but it does mention a few of the things that the saints will experience in heaven:
- The saints will have an intimate relationship with God and deepen their knowledge of Him - John 17:3. Expressing the joy that comes from interacting with the perfect, all knowing, all loving God forever.
- The saints will judge the nations and angels - 1 Corinthians 6:2-3. How this will take place? We do not know. Perhaps their witness will be a witness against wicked men and spirits.
- The saints will serve / reign with God - II Timothy 2:12; Revelation 22:5. Some ask what will the saints reign over? The world will be destroyed. They will reign over the spiritual dimension and every other dimension created by God. God has only revealed our universe to us, what makes us think that He has exhausted His creative power with this creation? The Bible says that we will reign with God over His creation what He reigns over - whatever that will be. One thing for sure, if God creates it, it will be marvelous. My personal opinion is that the spiritual realm is more beautiful and complex than the material.
- The saints will continually praise God:
And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps.
- Revelation 14:2
This is where people get the ideas that the saints will play harps in heaven, but the passage says that the sound of praise was like water, like the sound of many harps. To be in the presence of God will naturally provoke the saints to praise, there can be no other reaction! With glorified bodies the saints will be able to do several things at once: serve, praise, know, enjoy, reign. They will also be able to do all these without ever being bored, tired or confused! There may be other things that the saints do in heaven but as far as I know, these are the only things that God has chosen to reveal to us in His Word.
What heaven are you striving for?
Because you will go to the one you're striving for:
- The heaven of material wealth or comfort
- The heaven of self realization
- The heaven of sleep (where you simply disappear or cease to be).
- This is the heaven that suicide victims or people who are suffering want to go to.
The Bible tells us that there are only two real places to go after we die:
- One is hell where we consciously suffer the loss of hope and happiness.
- One is heaven where Jesus Christ is and we consciously will experience:
- Our transformation into a new spiritual being free from suffering or death.
- The presence of others who know and love God in Christ.
- The joy of a relationship with God that includes serving Him in a variety of ways and knowing and appreciating Him without end - all without frustration, boredom or failure.
Do you want to go to the heaven, the real heaven, the only heaven that exists? Because the others don't exist or only exist for a little while. The only way to go there is to enter in through the way to heaven, which is Jesus Christ who returned there after His resurrection.
And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.
- Acts 1:9
If you want to live forever with Him in heaven, you have to die with Him in repentance and baptism here on earth. Jesus is calling you to heaven and if you wish to answer His call. Repent and be baptized if you haven't done so already. Don't delay in being restored if you have wandered away from Jesus through sin or neglect.