80% of Americans believe in heaven and most expect to go there when they die. When considering your forever home it is important to know more about it. After all, if you’re wrong about heaven, you’re going to be wrong for a very long time.
Although there are well documented near-death experiences, we have only one known experience of someone being in heaven and then on earth. His words are recorded in the New Testament Gospels of the Bible. The only information that we have about heaven is revealed in the Bible, but it doesn’t tell us all that we are curious about. Some questions require us to make deductions based on those words. Everything else is just speculation.
What Does Heaven Look Like?
What the Old Testament Says About Heaven
The Old Testament says very little about heaven. It says that God lives there, has a throne and that heaven it situated above the clouds.
The greatest Old Testament prophet, Isaiah describes heaven as a place with many pastures, where hunger and thirst do not exist and the desert heat and sun will not beat upon us. This would be sheer heaven for the people of that time.
Although there are many societies today which would welcome these very things, the societies in first world countries are more likely to envision heaven as a place where they have time for hobbies, get daily food delivery, and have a swimming pool.
The point is; Life (or afterlife) is good.
The New Testament says a bit more.
What the New Testament Say about Heaven
In the gospels of Matthew and Mark, Jesus tells the disciples that he will be in heaven, sitting at God’s right. He tells them they will have a place to live in heaven.
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 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. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (John 14:1-3).
Other New Testament books tell us that heaven is a paradise built by God in which an eternal residence has been prepared for the righteous. There will be better and more enduring goods than what we experience on earth. Heaven will be a place of rest, from which the wicked will be excluded. And there will be innumerable angels.
Heaven Will be Better Than We Can Imagine
I love the old story of the rich man who, on his death-bed, negotiated with God to allow him to bring his earthly treasures with him when he came to heaven. God’s reaction was that this was a most unusual request, but since this man had been exceptionally faithful, permission was granted to bring along just one suitcase. The time arrived, the man presented himself at the pearly gates, suitcase in hand…. BOTH hands, actually, since he had stuffed it with as many bars of gold bullion as would fit. St. Peter said, “Sorry, you know the rules-you can’t take it with you.” But the man protested, “God said I could … one suitcase.” St. Peter checked, found out that this man would be an exception, prepared to let the him enter, then said, “OK, but I will have to examine the contents before you pass.” He took the suitcase, opened it, saw the gold bars and asked quizzically, “You brought PAVEMENT?” [Note: This story is from the sermon “Heaven” by Dr. David Leininger, March 30, 1997]
I couldn’t resist sharing that. The idea of streets made of gold is written about in Revelation.
The Apostle John tells of his vision of an apocalypse while he was in a “mystical trance”. Near the end, he gives a brief description of heaven.
He tells of a place where there is no sun or moon. There is no darkness as God’s glory provides light at all times. The city of God is made of gold, precious stones and pearls. There is a crystal clear river of water and the tree of life, which bears 12 kinds of fruit. The leaves of this tree have healing properties.
The gates to heaven are never closed. Heaven will be inhabited by the glorious and honorable people from every nation and they will all wear white robes. Heaven will contain no lies, abominations or anything that defiles it. John also says that God’s servants will see His face.
But think twice before formulating your image of heaven based on the book of Revelation alone.
Nearly every religion has it’s concept of an apocalypse and this was John’s from his perspective based on the political and religious situation at the time he wrote it. His imagery was drawn from portions of Jewish writings in the Old Testament books of Amos, Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel and Zachariah, and occasionally from Persian pagan culture.
S. MacLean Gilmore, a Bible commentator, gives an example of how events current at the time of John’s writing found their way into the account of his vision:
“Every tribe, tongue, people and nation” is indicative of the multicultural church of John’s day and, in heaven, the church triumphant – those who remained loyal despite the pressures of persecution and threats of death. The white robes may indicate the martyrs.”
“As an apocalypse, Revelation is concerned with the events of it’s own time and with those that it’s author expects to take place in the immediate future. We can relate it to the historical and religious situation in the Roman Empire….toward the end of the 1st century. [It is] not written for people thousands of years later….but for people of his own generation” [who would have an understanding of the symbolism used.]
The symbolism and metaphor in Revelation is extensive and difficult to understand in modern history. It has been interpreted in many ways by many scholars and is far more than can be explored here. If you would like an in-depth study, the Bible Gateway commentaries on Revelation is a good place to start.
Although Revelation does not satisfy our curiosity about the appearance of heaven, Gilmore says this about it:
“Revelation is a drama of a high order set on a cosmic stage….which rises again and again to heights of sublimity and grandeur that have inspired some of the worlds greatest literature, poetry and art. John created a work of singular vividness, power and intensity”.
What Will Life be Like in Heaven
What Happens to Us in the First Minute After We Die?
The Bible indicates that when we die we enter immediately into God’s presence if we belong to Christ. From our earthly point of view, death looks somewhat like sleep—but not from God’s point of view.
Paul declared, ‘We are confident (of eternal life), I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord’ (2 Corinthians 5:8). Elsewhere he wrote, ‘I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far’ (Philippians 1:23).
However, I think the most definitive words regarding the swiftness with which we will ascend to heaven are the words spoken by Christ to the repentant criminal from the cross. The criminal asked “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” and Jesus replies “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise”. (Luke 23:42-43)
When We Die, does an Angel Accompany Us into Heaven?
The Bible indicates that when a believer dies, the angels will escort them safely into Heaven. In A Glimpse Through the Thin Curtain Between Life and Afterlife a modern lady is prepared for ascension by her heavenly relatives.
In a parable, Jesus told about two different men. One was a wealthy man, who lived only for himself and ignored both God and others. The other was a beggar who had no earthly goods, but had faith in God and His promises. When the rich man died, he received what he deserved: a life of misery, separated from God forever. But “when the poor man died, the angels accompanied him safely into God’s presence. (You can read this parable in Luke 16:19-31.)
Will We Know Our Family and Friends?
There are many accounts of near-death experiences in which loved ones meet the temporarily deceased. Too many to have any doubt. Spend as much time as you have to read these fascinating accounts.
The writers of Bible Study Tools present some additional thoughts of interest on who we will know in heaven and how well we will know them:
“God knows us completely, intimately, thoroughly, inside and out, with nothing hidden but everything seen as it really is (Psalms 139:1-4; Hebrews 4:12). When we get to heaven we’ll know each other, as God knows us because all the imperfections of this life will be removed. We can be ourselves with no shame, no pain, no embarrassment, and no covering up. We will be individuals, each with our own memories and God-given gifts.”
In heaven we will know every person and all of them will be friends and loved ones to us. The essence of who we are will remain throughout eternity-yet vastly improved by God’s grace.
excerpt from Bible Study Tools
What Will Our Resurrected Bodies be Like?
Paul teaches us about our resurrected bodies in 1 Corinthians 15. They will not be like our current bodies which are subject to aging, disease, and death. Our resurrection bodies are incorruptible. You will never get old nor grow tired. You will never suffer disease or disability or death.
‘The dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed’” (1 Corinthians 15:52).
Will there be Animals and Pets in Heaven?
There is considerable evidence of animals in Heaven. Elijah was taken up to Heaven in a chariot pulled by horses (2 Kings 2:11), and the book of Revelation makes references to horses (6:2-8, 19:11) and eagles (4:7) in Heaven. Isaiah 65:25 describes wolves, lambs, and lions.
Billy Graham had a good answer when a little girl asked him, “Will my dog, who died this week, be in Heaven?” Because heaven is paradise for each individual, Dr. Graham replied, “If it would make you any happier, then yes, he will be.”
Will We Learn in Heaven?
Randy Alcorn points out that we will continue to learn based on Ephesians 2:6-7. “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms…. in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace.” Alcorn instructs that the word “show” means “to reveal.” And 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.
We can expect an eternity of growing to be more and more like Christ. We will be “transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
What we learn here carries over after death. The relationship we build with God will continue. We can begin this joyful process here and now, and there’s every indication it will endure forever.
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