Otsego Festival Question Series: What is it Like in Heaven?

To begin with the word “heaven” or “heavens” is used in two ways in the Bible.  First, “heaven”/”heavens” is used in the sense of the expanse of space above the earth: the blue sky above us and the black sky even further above us (e.g., in Genesis 1:1; Psalm 19:1; Matthew 5:18; 11:25).  Second, “heaven”/”heavens” is used in the sense of the eternal dwelling place of God and the final destiny of all believers.  I am assuming that the question uses the word “heaven” in the second sense.

So what is heaven like?  There is no place more magnificent than heaven.  The notion of heaven is almost universally embraced—and understandably so.  It is the hedonist’s paradise.  But why is it so glorious?  We want to be careful about confusing the benefits of heaven with the sine qua non of heaven.  For instance, Revelation 21:4 explains that tears, death, mourning, crying, and pain will be no more in heaven.  These, as precious as they are, are the benefits of living in a reality where the presence of sin is banished.  But what makes heaven heaven?  The Bible gives a clear answer to this question.  Heaven is heaven because God is there.  God is the sine qua non of heaven.  God is heaven’s Temple and God’s glory provides heaven’s light according to Revelation 21:23,

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. [23] And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.

Without God, there is no heaven.  Just as physical death is separation of the spirit from the body (Ecclesiastes 12:7; James 2:26), so spiritual death is eternal separation from God (2 Thessalonians 1:9).  Heaven is delighting in the presence of God for all eternity.  Believers will live in unspeakable bliss in the presence of God forever (1 Thessalonians 4:7).  Heaven also offers believers the assurance that they will be reunited with infants and believing loved ones who died before them.  Jonathan Edwards, the 18th century American pastor and theologian wrote,

The progress of time does but bear them on to its blessedness; and us, if we are holy, to be united to them there.  Every gem which death rudely tears away from us here is a glorious jewel forever shining there.  Every Christian friend that goes before us from this world, is a ransomed spirit waiting to welcome us in heaven.  There will be the infant of days that we have lost below, though grace to be found above.  There the Christian father, and mother, and wife, and child, and friend, with whom we shall renew the holy fellowship of the saints, which was interrupted by death here, but shall be commenced again in the upper sanctuary, and then shall never end (Jonathan Edwards, Heaven—A World of Love, 18).

The only way we can authoritatively know what heaven is like is by discovering what the Bible says about it (not by interviewing people who’ve had near-death experiences or even someone who has spent 90 minutes there, as intruiging as this might be).  There is no better place to turn to for this information than Revelation 21-22:5,

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. [2] And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. [3] And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. [4] He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” [5 ] And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” [6] And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. [7] The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. [8 ] But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” [9] Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” [10] And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, [11] having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. [12] It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— [13] on the east 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 foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. [15] And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. [16] The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. [17] He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. [18] The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass. [19] The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, [20 ] the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. [21] And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass. [22] And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. [23] And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. [24] By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, [25 ] and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. [26 ] They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. [27 ] But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.[22 :1] Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb [2  through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. [3] No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. [4] They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. [5] And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. 

Finally, it is absolutely critical that we understand one final point.  Jesus is the only way to heaven! Jesus said in John 14:1-6,

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. [2] In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? [3] And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. [4] And you know the way to where I am going.” [5] Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” [6] Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (emphasis added).

Who would not want to go to heaven based on what the Bible says about it.  But there is only one way to get there—through Jesus Christ.

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