What is Heaven like?
When Ronald Reagan was running for Governor of California, a woman confronted him by his car one day and berated him severely. Finally she said, “I wouldn’t vote for you if you were St. Peter.” He smiled and replied, “No problem. If I were St. Peter, you wouldn’t be living in my district.”
What do we know about “St. Peter’s district”? We’re all fascinated with the subject of heaven. Every one of us has loved ones there; I assume we all would like to spend eternity there ourselves. So let’s learn from God’s word about his home.
What is heaven?
What does our Father tell us about our eternal destiny? First, he tells us that heaven is real. It is certain—no figment of religious imagination, no superstition, no “opiate of the people” (Karl Marx). He revealed it to John: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1). According to God himself, heaven is real.
Second, heaven is a place (vs. 1-2). John “saw” it. He didn’t feel it, or dream of it, or hear about it. He saw it, and we only see things which are. Heaven is a place. Jesus said, “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; emphasis mine).
Third, heaven is where God is (v. 3). John reveals, “Now the dwelling of God is with men.” When we get to heaven, we get to God. Psalms 11:4 is clear: “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne.” Jesus taught us to pray to “Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9). Heaven is a real place, where God is. It’s being with God.
Fourth, heaven is a blessed place (v. 4). Because God is there, all that is perfect is there as well. There will be no death in heaven, thus no mourning or crying or pain. Our greatest enemy will trouble us no more. It’s a place of incredible joy: “You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalms. 16:11). It’s a place of reward: “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew. 6:20). And this reward is eternal: “An inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter. 1:4).
Such a glorious place is celebration, a party: “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Luke. 14:15). We reign in heaven: “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation. 3:21). In heaven, we’re royalty. We’ll have perfect understanding there: “Now we see but a poor 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).
To sum up, in heaven God makes all things new (Revelation 21:5). No more Fall, or sin, or death, or disease, or disaster; no more earthquakes or fears or tests or grades. Everything is new. No wonder Jesus called heaven “paradise” (Luke. 23:43). It is a place of blessing beyond all description: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what the Lord has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians. 2:9; cf. Isaiah 64.4).
What will we be like?
First, let’s set aside a popular misconception: in heaven, people are not angels. God created angels before he created us, and we are completely different. When Jesus said that people in heaven are “like the angels” (Luke. 20:36), he meant that we never die, as they do not. Not that we have “wings and a halo” (they don’t, either, by the way). We are not angels. But we do receive heavenly bodies: “The perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1 Corinthians. 15:53).
Will we recognize each other? I think so, for these reasons. Jesus said that in heaven we will take our places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Matthew. 8:11), so clearly we will recognize them. On the Mount of Transfiguration the disciples easily recognized Moses and Elijah (Matthew. 17:3-4). Paul promised that in heaven we will “know as we are known” (1 Corinthians. 13:12). I like what one preacher said: “We won’t really know each other until we get to heaven!”
Why does heaven matter?
I would imagine that the biblical truths we’ve rehearsed so far are good news. But let me ask: how often did you think about heaven this week? Did its existence change anything you did? Why should it? For this simple reason: when we lose heaven we lose the transcendent. We lose our sense that there is something more than this world, and we who live in it. And that is always a bad decision.
If we don’t live for heaven we will live for this world, for it is all there is. And that, the Bible says, we must not do: “Do not love the world or anything in the world” (1 John 2:15; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:18; Colossians 3:1-3; Philippians 3:20). Why are we not to love this world? Because it is not enough. The more we have, the more we want. It is not our home.
We live for heaven when we care more for people’s eternal souls than for their temporal approval; when we use our money to build God’s kingdom more than our own; when we ask God to use our suffering more than to solve it; when we remember that this life is the car and not the house, the road and not the destination; when we make sure every day that we’re ready to die.
So, are you living for heaven?