Throughout history, people have been convinced there is life beyond the grave. Jesus and the Jews of His time believed that everyone would enter the afterlife and be judged by God. Some would spend eternity with Him; others would be condemned to eternal separation. They spoke of the heavens as having several layers: the most basic was the earth’s atmosphere, the home of birds and clouds. The second was the realm of the stars in outer space. The third level transcended physical boundaries and was called paradise and the heaven of heavens–the home of God, His angels, and His people.
Inquiring minds have lots of questions about this place called paradise, but if we want to understand the nature of heaven, the first thing we must do is shed the silly images we’ve seen on television and in the movies. Heaven is not filled with remorseful people trying desperately to return to earth–it’s populated with folks having the time of their lives.
The apostle Paul said that no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has conceived what God has prepared for us in eternity. Which is not to say He has left us clueless. We have the Holy Spirit and the Word to teach us the deeper things of God, but the Scriptures use figurative language because they are describing something that defies description. Jesus spoke of preparing dwelling places for His followers and told a parable about heaven that featured two people who were given cities to rule. The apostle John described a celestial city filled with people in white robes. The symbols represent different aspects of heaven. The city, for example, emphasizes the community we will enjoy in eternity. The white robes are not worn as a fashion statement, but symbolize the permanently clean conscience of the soul who is clothed in Christ. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to the day when I no longer sin. I’m tired of saying and doing things that hurt others. In heaven there will be no more hurting and being hurt. All our relationships will be loving and transparent. We will be learning new ways to love one another that are beyond our comprehension now.
In one of the most familiar passages about heaven, Jesus says, “In My Father’s house are many dwellings… I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may also be” (John 14:2-3). The key word is monai, translated “dwellings.” A few verses later Jesus uses this word in a context that helps us understand what it means: “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).
Jesus’s words take us to the heart of what heaven is all about. Ultimately, heaven is not so much a physical place as it is a way of living in Christ. 1 John 3:2 says, “we are already God’s children, but He has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that when He comes we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He really is.”
I read those words, but I don’t know what they mean. My life journey has taken me to some of the most beautiful places on the planet, and the one thing that stands out about all these places is the way their beauty and majesty humbled me. But if I gasp in awe at the wonders God has created, what will it be like to meet the Creator of these wonders?
Have you thought about this? What will it be like to be face to face with the Maker of heaven and earth and have Him smile and welcome you?
No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.