What We Do Know About Heaven
Ever since my husband Jeff died nearly eight years ago, my sons and I have tried to picture what his life with Jesus looks like. We joke that dad must be playing golf, shooting hoops and eating the best BBQ outside of Lexington, North Carolina. Surely Jesus likes to do those things too! The song got it right; we can “only imagine” what Jeff’s life is like now.
Frankly, Scripture doesn’t give us a whole lot of detailed information about heaven, but what we do know is way more exciting than some of the myths and rumors. In fact, I wonder if God keeps the details to Himself because if we had a clear vision of what heaven will be like, we would not want to stay here. Paul, who was given a glimpse into heaven, longed to “depart and be with Christ, for that is far better,” but he “remained in the flesh” out of obedient love for God and affection for God’s people. Studying what God’s word says about heaven will stir in us both a longing for eternity and a desire to carry out “fruitful labor” in this life, to experience alongside others “progress and joy in the faith” (Philippians 1:23-25).
What we do know of heaven thrills our hearts and mobilizes our hands and feet.
The best thing about heaven is Jesus. In fact, Jesus is what makes heaven, heaven.
We do our kids and ourselves a disservice when we make heaven primarily about seeing the people we love who have passed away. Not long after my husband died, I encouraged my grieving son by reminding him of the hope that one day he would be with his dad for eternity. He stopped me short, saying, “You know mom, you’re supposed to be more excited about being with Jesus in heaven than you are about seeing Dad.” Out of the mouths of babes, am I right?
Longing to see lost loved ones is a valid desire in our fallen world. Grieving kids need to know they will see their friend or grandma again. Death is a just cause for tears and longing: Jesus Himself wept before He raised Lazarus. We do not grieve as those without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18); that hope includes but is much larger than reunion with loved ones. It will be glorious for my sons and I to be with their dad again, of course, but it will be far and away more glorious for us to worship Jesus side-by-side again.
In the same way, it is a glorious truth that there will be no more suffering in heaven. No more tears, no more death, no more mourning, crying, or pain (Revelation 21:4). I can hardly wrap my mind around such an existence. But the hope of heaven is not simply the absence of suffering. In the eternal presence of Jesus we will experience the opposite of suffering: “fullness of joy.” At His right hand will be “pleasures evermore” (Psalm 16: 11). We aren’t just going to be set free from all the bad and sad. The foretastes of joy and glory we have on this earth here and now are just glimpses of what living face-to-face with Jesus will be like.
Led in worship by Indelible Grace at Rooted 2018, we sang: “The bride eyes not her garment / but her dear Bridegroom’s face / I will not gaze at glory / But on my King of grace / Not on the crown He giveth / But on His pierced hand / The Lamb is all the Glory / Of Emmanuel’s Land.*
Heaven will be here.
In the fullness of time heaven will be here, on this planet, on our new and redeemed Earth. For some time after death, we will live with Christ as disembodied spirits, but on the day of His triumphant return, together with Him we will inhabit the new earth in our glorified bodies. (Which means we know dad isn’t playing golf… yet.)
Knowing this helps our kids recognize the value God places on their physical bodies. Yes, our bodies will be made new just like everything else. But knowing God cares enough to redeem our physical existence along with our spiritual existence helps us to view our bodies with a new respect. Our bodies and this earth are precious treasures to Him; He died to secure their restoration. The hope of heaven sets us free from the existential sadness that leads to self-destructive behaviors like drug abuse, eating disorders, and cutting. Like Christ, we have joy set before us. Because God’s sovereign hand guides history towards a glorious purpose, and because we are invited to participate in that purpose, everything about us is valuable to Him. After all, this is the God who numbers the hairs on our heads.
Furthermore, kids can appreciate that the new earth means heaven is not some far-away, unfamiliar place where we will float around singing for billions of years – and it definitely won’t be boring! As beautiful as it is now, our home will be transformed into what God intended it to be, and we will inhabit this home in bodies that function in perfect harmony with the restored world we live in.
Setting our hearts on heaven teaches us how to live here now.
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2). Paul tells us that this means putting to death “what is earthly within you” and living life today “as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved” (v. 5, 12).
Now that we are citizens of heaven, we live out of a different belonging. We offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, not because we are trying to earn our way into heaven or gain God’s approval, but because Jesus already secured our place in heaven and because the sight of us wearing His righteousness delights our Father. As citizens of God’s kingdom, our allegiance has changed. No longer are we bound to strive for ourselves – God has given us everything we need for life and godliness – and so He begins to work in us “to will and to work for His good pleasure” more than our own (Philippians 2:13). We, along with our kids, are free to live lives of eternal purpose because the reality of heaven means that what we do in this lifematters.
As CS Lewis famously said, “If you read history you will find that Christians who did the most for the present world were precisely the ones who thought most of the next.”
Heaven is too good to keep secret.
Focusing on heaven prompts us to share the Gospel. In his Rooted 2018 plenary, speaker Jason Cook said, “Hope is borrowing the joy of tomorrow today.” Meditating on the inexhaustible overflow of joy I will experience in heaven – knowing that the reality of it surpasses my capacity to dream – magnifies the hope I rejoice in here, today. Hope that good just has to be shared.
In the words of Samuel Rutherford, “Oh my Lord Jesus Christ… Thou are all the heaven I want.”
*The Sands of Time Are Sinking by Indelible Grace on YouTube