Most of our thoughts about the future—even the near future—are punctuated by question marks. When we think about eternity our questions multiply. For those who treasure Christ’s promise to prepare a place for believers to dwell with him (John 14:2–3), one of the biggest questions is “what is heaven like”? Even the form of the question implies that we can only think about heaven by analogy. It is like a wedding feast (Rev. 19:9), a many-roomed house (John 14:2), a city (Heb. 11:10, 16) with gates of pearls and streets of gold (Rev. 21:21), a country whose hills flow with sweet wine (Amos 9:13). To convey his vision of heaven, similes were John’s go-to figure of speech: page-for-page, the word like occurs four times more often in Revelation than in the rest of Scripture. Still, God tells us enough about heaven to make us eager for it.
Heaven Is a Real, Physical Place
The biblical descriptions of heaven are heavily metaphorical. This does not, however, argue for heaven’s unreality but for its surpassing grandeur. That the biblical writers could illustrate heaven with earthly analogies suggests that the Promised Land is not as unfamiliar as we think. When the Israelites yearned for that “land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:17), they anticipated something more real than that metaphor suggests. They certainly did not imagine a land with milky, sticky rivers, a bizarre ancient-Near-Eastern version of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. They anticipated a land of bounty, “the most glorious of all lands” (Ezek. 20:6 ESV), and they were not disappointed with what they found (Num. 13:27).
Eternal life will perfectly answer the best longings of God’s embodied children. In the new heavens and new earth, “they shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit” (Isa. 65:21), they will eat and drink at Christ’s table (Luke 22:17, 29–30; Matt. 8:11). Animals will populate the age to come, though one will no longer prey on another (v. 25). When God made the first heaven and earth, they were undeniably physical and very good (Gen. 1:31). Any vision of an intangible eternity ill-suited to fully-embodied humans radically underestimates the vision of Scripture.
Heaven Is a Reversal of the Pain of the Curse
The Bible frequently describes heaven as a place from which everything negative is banished: “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). No one in heaven will hunger or thirst (Rev. 7:16) or fear (21:8). Even things we now find tiresome, like work (Gen. 3:17–19), will become a great delight. If you could imagine without limits and build without frustration or disappointment, if your body never ached and your plans never failed, would not work be enjoyable? When God finishes reversing the curse (Rev. 22:3) he will restore everything that was lost; the former troubles be forgotten for God’s children (Isa. 65:16).
Heaven Is a Realization of Fellowship with God
Saint Augustine wrote that we who are but “a particle of [God’s] creation” long, more than anything, to know God and be known by Him. Believers gain great comfort now from their status as children of God, but our present relationship with our Father is strained by the misunderstanding of his purposes and disobedience of his will (1 Cor. 13:12). John sees it this way: “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). Heaven, as one of our young daughters once suggested, is the place where God fulfills his promises, and the essence of his promise is perfect friendship.
Heaven Is a Realm of Worship
The book of Revelation makes plain that redeemed saints worship (4:8–11; 5:9–14; 7:10–12; 11:16–19; 15:3–4; 16:5–7). If the everlasting worship of God doesn’t excite us—imagine a Sunday service that never ended—it is because our present worship is disrupted by sin and weakness. Now we worship God with mixed desires; then our love for God will be perfected (Jude 1:21). Now we worship in bodies given to fatigue and distraction; then our bodies will be incorruptible (1 Cor. 15:42). Now we worship with people who hurt and misjudge us; then we will truly be a holy family, finally able to consistently love our neighbor as ourselves. God sometimes seems distant now (Ps. 10:1); then he will always be present (Ps. 16:11), and we will glorify and enjoy him as never before.
Heaven Is a Place of Restored Relationships
Heaven will be quintessentially relational. Earthly relationships in the Lord, now sullied by sin, will be restored. Those concerned that marriages will cease in glory (Mark 12:25) will be overjoyed to find that the most transferable traits of marriage will then be shared by heaven’s entire population.
Heaven Will Host a Renewed Humanity
God made people to be culture-makers (Gen. 2:5; 4:19–22). Should we suspect that His vision for creaturely creativity will diminish in the age to come? In his glorious vision of the new heaven and earth, John previewed the nations and kings of the earth bringing into the holy city cultural products in the form of gifts and sacrifices (Rev. 21:24–27) for the enrichment of the new humanity.
Scripture is clear: heaven is an inestimably great reward (1 Peter 5:4) tailor-made for God’s beloved people, and we should pursue at all costs (Matt. 13:45–46).
Adapted from William Boekestein, The Future of Everything: Essential Truths about the End Times. (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2019.) Used by permission.
And in the same way that a little bit of leaven makes bread rise, a little bit of sin left unchecked will grow.
Episode 156 | Dr. Michael Horton interviews Barbara Duguid on counseling, depression, and addiction.