There are a great many things promised to us as disciples of Christ. For example, we know that we are forgiven, now and forever (1 John 1:9). We know that God will never leave us nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). We know that God will give us the grace necessary to endure suffering in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
We know that God will never stop loving us or the depth of that love (Ephesians 3:17-19) and that we cannot even begin to imagine what God is able to do for us, according to His power, His Spirit, at work within us (Ephesians 3:20).
Through Jesus Christ, we know that we have been given eternal life, starting here and now, and then with him for all of eternity in heaven. In heaven. But wait…what exactly is heaven?
According to New Testament scholar, and author of the book Heaven, Paula Gooder, “It is impossible to state categorically what the Bible as a whole says about heaven…Biblical beliefs about heaven are varied, complex, and fluid.”
If there is one thing certain about being a disciple of Christ, it is that we Christians are entirely uncertain about what heaven is going to be. What will our existence there be like — how will we feel or act? What emotions will we go through?
How aware will we be of our surroundings and of what is going on around us? Will we know our loved ones who are there with us? How about those who are not? We don’t know the answers to that. We only know the promises given to us in the Bible. Reliable promises, indeed, are found in the very Word of God.
Where Will I Go When I Die?
The idea of “heaven” has certainly evolved over the centuries. Even today, most Christians have some concept of heaven — often held within bookends formed by our lack of clear understanding and our doubts. For most of my upbringing, my belief was that Christianity was all about where I would go when I die.
Like a light switch — when I died, I would step out into heaven. I remember as a child, images of angels with harps sitting on the clouds and singing along. And we were taught to live our lives working hard to get there.
For generations, in the western Christian tradition, heaven and paradise have been the answer to that question of where we go when we die. The idea of those who have passed being in heaven naturally brings enormous comfort to those left behind and great hope to those suffering or dying. “He’s in a better place now.” “She’s up in heaven watching over us.” Yet, heaven and paradise were originally more about where God lived than about us or our ultimate destination.
Certainly, though, the entire concept of “heaven” instills in every Christian a hope, a certainty, that there is something more than this. More than the harsh realities we experience here on earth; more than the daily grind of our existence, where Jesus promised we would have trouble (John 16:33). Heaven — even a vague idea of heaven — offers us a new life, beyond the pains, trials, and tribulations we know we face here.
Truly, throughout the Bible, it is made clear that we have something wonderful to look forward to; that heaven is not some vague concept of a future hope but is indeed a certainty of hope that we have for all eternity.
Jesus had, earlier in his ministry, told his disciples at the last supper, “I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until the day when I drink it with you in my Father’s kingdom.
Is Heaven Even Real?
While the Bible gives us precious little insight into what heaven is like, there are glimpses into what heaven holds. Those glimpses, when pieced together, indeed confirm for us that heaven is very real.
It is very interesting to recognize that there are four chapters in the Bible where everything is perfect — the very first two and the very last two. The first two chapters of Genesis, where “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).
The very first verse of the Bible states that God created the “heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). The words for heaven (or heavens) in both Hebrew (shamayim) and Greek (Ouranos) can also be translated as sky. Of course, our description of the heavens most often refers to that which is beyond our sky. It is not something that exists eternally, but rather is part of creation.
Jesus taught us to pray, “Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10).
In Hebrews chapter 11, the “Hall of Faith” as it is often called, the author tells us, referring to all of those of faith throughout the Old Testament,
Instead they were looking for a better country — a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:16).
He has prepared a city for them.
Jesus told his disciples, “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” (John 14:2). Jesus is going there to prepare a place. Saying it again — a place.
In the truest biblical sense — heaven is God’s dwelling place. A realm, perhaps parallel to what we experience here on earth, where everything operates according to God’s will.
Jesus is preparing a place for us in a world we cannot begin to comprehend.
What Will We Be in Heaven?
We have two wonderful examples to look at when we try to understand what we might be like in heaven — Adam and Eve before the fall, and none other than the resurrected Jesus.
Clearly, Adam and Eve had physical bodies. They lived in a real place in a real time. They recognized each other — and God. It was a real earth, with gardens and hobbies and loved ones — all a part of the perfect future? It would seem a safe assumption.
After his resurrection, Jesus was indeed physical. Jesus said, “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Luke 24:39). And then as if to prove his point, he asked them for something to eat (Luke 24:42).
Indeed, heaven is very real, and we will very much be a part of it. But life will not be life as we know it here. Our bodies will be free from disease, pain, and death in heaven. We will know what we do not now know.
For now we see only a 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).
We shall see face to face.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man (1Corinthians 15:44-49).
And if all of this were not enough — in Revelation 21:4-6, the Lord himself made us a clear promise:
“God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
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Greg Grandchamp is the author of "In Pursuit of Truth, A Journey Begins" — an easy-to-read search that answers to most common questions about Jesus Christ. Was he real? Who did he claim to be? What did he teach? Greg is an everyday guy on the same journey as everyone else — in pursuit of truth. You can reach Greg by email [email protected] and on Facebook.