When people try to imagine heaven, they sometimes picture ethereal images like angels loafing on clouds or chubby cherubs strumming on harps. In order to be motivated to live for the values of heaven, maintaining a biblical mindset about eternal realities is important.
But maintaining this perspective is difficult when we are bombarded with numerous misconceptions about heaven in popular culture. Here are three of the most common ideas about heaven and what the Bible says about them.
Common Misconceptions about Heaven
1. Heaven is where good people will spend eternity. The scriptures make clear that there is no one who is good enough for heaven (Romans 3:11-12; Psalm 14:3). Any righteousness that we think we have is like a “filthy rag” (Isaiah 64:6) when held up to the standard of God’s incomparable holiness.
Those who think they are good enough for heaven are self-deceived and their pride separates them from God who “opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6, ESV). In fact, Jesus said the way to heaven is small and narrow, and “only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14).
One of the scariest warnings Jesus ever gave was about people who will be self-deceived. They will think they are following Christ and many of them will even be doing miracles in his name, but they will not be allowed entrance to heaven. At the end of their earthly lives, Jesus will reveal to them that he never knew them.
Rather than living for God and his will, they had actually been living for themselves and their own selfish desires (Matthew 7:21-23). Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
2. Heaven is where Christians will spend eternity. This might not be as clear in scripture as people think. Some scholars on the topic of heaven argue the opposite. For example, in his book, 40 Questions About Heaven and Hell, Alan Gomes believes that the Bible indicates we will spend eternity on the new earth that God will create. He points to passages such as 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1-2.
Gomes writes, “What possible reason would we have for existing in heaven? It could not be to experience God’s presence more fully, for God will have made his dwelling with us on earth. Nor could it be that heaven provides an especially suitable habitat for resurrected human beings, for God designed a renovated, material earth precisely for that purpose…the New Jerusalem is a literal city that God will situate on the new earth.”
3. Heaven will be boring. Randy Alcorn comments: “Our belief that Heaven will be boring (and I hear this from people all the time) betrays a heresy — that God is boring. I think that we will see that for the lie it is if we realize that Heaven is God’s place and it’s the person whose place it is that determines the nature of the place….if we’re experiencing the invigorating stirrings of God’s Spirit and trusting Him to daily fill our lives with divine appointments, experiencing the childlike delights of His gracious daily kindnesses to us, then we will know that God is exciting and Heaven is exhilarating. People who love God crave His companionship. To be in His presence will be the very opposite of boredom.”
Biblical Description of Heaven
1 Corinthians 2:9-10 says, “The things God has prepared for those who love him” are “revealed to us by his Spirit.” To counter false, unbiblical notions, we need to study and meditate on “words taught by the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:13). Our eternal home is a real place (John 14:1-3) where we will reside in real, physical bodies (1 Corinthians 15) and where we will experience everlasting joys, rewards, and treasures (Matthew 5:12; Matthew 6:19-20; Luke 6:23).
God dwells there (Revelation 21:3) and the light of Jesus will permeate every corner of this place (Revelation 22:5). Charles Spurgeon said, “To the lover of Jesus it is very pleasant to observe how the Lord Jesus Christ has always stood foremost in glory from before the foundation of the world and will do so as long as eternity shall last.”
We shall see the Lord “face-to-face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). The fact that our all-knowing, all-powerful Creator will dwell with us and we shall know him in an even more intimate way should be sufficient for the true Christian to rest assured that they will be satisfied there, but the Bible gives us many other glimpses of what this place will be like.
1. Eradication of evil. Jesus promised that when he returns, he will send out his angels to “weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil,” and “then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:41-43).
Picture your favorite place on earth. Now imagine that place completely free from any of the unpleasantries that make you feel sad, uncomfortable, or anxious. Perfect righteousness and justice reign supreme. Every shred of evil has been completely eliminated and, instead, will be the opposite of anything that causes displeasure.
In Revelation 21:4, we see that the eternal state will have “no more sickness, crying, or pain.” What is the opposite of these? Perfect health, joy, and pleasure. In God’s presence, there are “pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11, ESV). Lovers of God will find that the pleasures of heaven eclipse their wildest imaginations (1 Corinthians 2:9).
2. Perfect friendships. Think of all the Old Testaments saints or Christians down through history that you would like to meet… Abraham, Moses, Hannah, the Apostle Paul, Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, Jim Elliot, Corrie Ten Boom.
The Bible says we will be with all of those people but describes them as “just men made perfect” (Hebrews 12:22-23). There will no longer be any hint of pride, insecurity, jealousy, discrimination, or competition — nothing that would hinder the sweetest Christian fellowship.
Think about a time when you felt deep love and respect for fellow believers. Now imagine that love and respect being completely untarnished by any ounce of sin on their part or yours. Imagine that love being multiplied to a perfect degree and encompassing people “from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9; Daniel 7:14) who are perfectly united in the one aim of loving God and seeking his glory alone.
3. Learning and growth. While our knowledge will greatly increase in the eternal state (1 Corinthians 13:12), there is no reason to conclude that we will become all-knowing. William G. T. Shedd states, “By this we are not to understand that the creature’s knowledge, in the future state, will be as extensive as that of the Omniscient One; or that it will be as profound and exhaustive as His. The infinitude of things can be known only by the Infinite Mind.”
Alcorn comments on Ephesians 2:6-7: “The word show means ‘to reveal.’ The phrase in the coming ages clearly indicates this will be a progressive, ongoing revelation, in which we learn more and more about God’s grace.”
4. Meaningful work. Work was part of God’s original plan for humans before the fall (Genesis 2:15). God is always working (John 5:17) and Jesus said his mission was to finish the work of doing the Father’s will (John 4:34) to bring God glory (John 17:4).
Reagan Rose writes, “Imagine all of the things you love about work — the satisfaction, the sense of progress, the knowledge that you have brought something that was disordered into a greater state of order — but imagine all of that without the confusion, sweat, or annoyance that is part and parcel of our work now! Now, that’s a job I wouldn’t mind signing up for.”
This eternal view of the satisfying aspects of work can impact our perspective on our earthly jobs. Tom Nelson comments, “If our daily work, done for the glory of God and the common good of others, in some way carries over to the new heavens and new earth, then our present work itself is overflowing with immeasurable value and eternal significance.
Living for Eternity
Knowing the reality of our eternal state and that many of the things we are doing now will continue, only in a perfected condition, should motivate us to live with purpose and godly motivations now. Those who love God will continue to love God and want to obey Him. Those who do not love God would not enjoy heaven anyway and will not be allowed entrance there.
Peter writes, “What kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming….since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him” (2 Peter 3:11-14).
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Jessica Miller is the pastor’s wife and outreach director at Bean Blossom Community Church in Indiana, where she loves serving the Lord together with her husband, Jeff. Prior to marriage, her perspective on life was radically altered while living as a single woman in the Middle East. She is passionate about growing in her relationship with the Lord and pointing others to the truth. Her degrees are in biblical studies and counseling and she carries a special passion for cross-cultural ministries. She enjoys learning, traveling, and creating. She tweets and blogs from time to time.
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