Heaven: Our Misconceptions And What Can We Learn From Them
We all want to go to heaven. So much so, that a 2005 ABC poll shows that 9 out of 10 Americans believe in it. Most Americans feel that if they are good, relatively speaking, they will end up there. But does everyone go to heaven?
The problem may lie in our conception of our eternal home. For most people, heaven is a place where you go when you die to be with God and revel in joy and happiness for eternity in our afterlife. While this view is held by many, it speaks more to our desires than what might actually be reality. And if this is the case, we may need to recalibrate our conception to grasp a deeper truth.
Heaven: What is the question we are trying to ask?
So let’s narrow down what we are trying to define and we can then jump into the scripture. In my view, what we are truly looking for is our eternal state and abode. We could concern ourselves with what happens to us immediately after we die, but that is a drop in the bucket compared with what we will be doing for all of eternity. So here is the question that I am posing today:
Heaven: What does it really mean to be with God forever?
I can think of no better place to start looking for that answer than the end of the Bible. In Revelation Chapter 21, we have a clear description of our eternal state and home. Click on the toggle so that you can here it from the horses mouth:
1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
6 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 water without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. 8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars —they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
The New Jerusalem, the Bride of the Lamb
9 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. 13 There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. 14 The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
- New Creation: A new heaven and earth are created
- The Death of Death: The old order of things had passed away – there is no more death
- Heaven on Earth: God brings down our eternal dwelling from heaven – the New Jerusalem
- Peace at Last: There is eternal peace
- A New Throne: God dwells on earth
- The Same Home: We dwell on earth
If that were the end of the story, that would be great. But there are two passages that Revelation quotes from, Isaiah 25 & 65. And although these additional passages paint largely the same picture, they have some crucial differences. Below are the passages in their own toggles, click on them to expand:
6 On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines.
7 On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
8 he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.
9 In that day they will say,
“Surely this is our God;
we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”
17 “See, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.
20 “Never again will there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his years;
the one who dies at a hundred
will be thought a mere child;
the one who fails to reach a hundred
will be considered accursed.
21 They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
the work of their hands.
23 They will not labor in vain,
nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the Lord,
they and their descendants with them.
24 Before they call I will answer;
while they are still speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord.
The crucial difference in the Isaiah passages and the Revelation passage is that a persons years can still be counted. Isaiah speaks of a persons years being like a tree. And although a tree’s life is long, no one would expect that you would say that a tree’s life is eternal. And while some would say that Isaiah is being metaphorical, it is clear from the rest of the passage that life will continue as normal, just without the fear and pain that unrighteousness brings.
So how do we rectify the Revelation passage with the Isaiah passages? In Daniel 12:2, we are clearly shown that those who are found worthy in this creation will be given everlasting life in the next.
Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.
And Isaiah also proclaims that “God will swallow up death forever.” Perhaps what we are seeing is those redeemed from the first creation living with a new race of mortal people from the second creation. Since those of the second creation would never know sin, they will grow and mature in wisdom and be translated at an appropriate time. Their days will be as a tree and ascend, much like Enoch. He lived 365 years and was taken up to God. He never knew death. Much in the same way, the new race will grow in understanding and wisdom, and at a time of God’s choosing, they will be translated, with no need of death.
We, who have been redeemed and are in our eternal state, will be busy serving, praising, and executing the decrees of the Lamb. In Revelation it says that “the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into” the New Jerusalem. Will we be those “kings” and administrators? It mentions that only those whose name is “written in the Lamb’s book of life” will be admitted into the city. This would be those of the first creation. It is reasonable that we inhabit the city and administer His justice and peace for those that are being trained in the ways of righteousness.
While this might not be most people’s view of heaven, it may be a more Biblical approach. If society’s view of heaven is only about rest and indulging in our appetites – it has missed the mark entirely. Heaven (or our eternal home) has more to do with us in the service of the Lamb and finding peace and comfort in Him, not in the cessation of all work.
In order for us to understand God’s eternal plan for us, we must let go of our desires and let the grandness of God inform our thinking. Is it more likely that God will continue to expand the borders of His Kingdom or let them stagnate? Will He share His creative and judicial character with us or horde it? Will He continue to mold and shape us, or will He allow us to be mired down in the satiating of our desires?
I think it is in God’s character to expand His borders, share Himself, and challenge and grow us. To be in His service devoid of sin, pain, and toil sound much more exciting than sitting on some cloud eating grapes and chatting about the weather. And the prospect of helping a new generation of people seeking the face of God and learning His ways – is exciting indeed.