Day 1 – The Destination: What Is Heaven and What Is It Like?
What comes to mind when you think of Heaven? Today, our Western secular culture tends to think of Heaven as either the “good place” where all the mostly good people will end up when they die, or an imaginary place that religion has invented for comfort but has no basis in reality. So, practically, the opposing views are that Heaven is a pretty place in the afterlife that either everyone will go to someday or that no one will. Unfortunately, neither of those assumptions agree with what the Bible says about Heaven.
To add to the confusion, we have probably all heard bits and pieces of the so-called “Heaven tourism” genre of stories by now, with various authors telling the tale of how they or their loved one experienced Heaven during a close brush with death (90 Minutes in Heaven, Heaven Is for Real, and many others). It should come as no surprise that these books have sold millions of copies—of course, we all want to know if eternity is real and what to expect after death. But it is important that we turn to Scripture for clear answers and avoid being swept up in mere stories that either partially reflect an individual’s unexplainable psychological experience or have been artfully crafted to sound like one in order to sell copies.
The Bible is our only solid foundation for the truth about God, and the Bible makes it clear that a) Heaven IS real, and b) Jesus will one day bring His Church to dwell there with Him. If those things are true, then Heaven is vastly important to the Christian. We should continually be living in the reality that Heaven is what awaits the believer on the other side of this life because it is there that we will finally be united with Christ.
It seems to be clear from Scripture that, in its final, eternal form after Christ returns to earth, Heaven will actually be a renewed Earth—a tangible world where physical and spiritual wholeness can finally be realized (Isaiah 65:17-25; 2 Peter 3:13). However, while the exact physical location and all of the characteristics of Heaven are not clear from Scripture and can be a challenge to wrap our minds around, what I’d like to turn our attention to is the overall atmosphere of Heaven. What can we know about how it might feel to live in an eternal paradise with our Creator and Savior? Randy Alcorn offers the following suggestion in his extensive book on this subject, aptly titled Heaven:
I imagine our first glimpse of Heaven will cause us to… gasp in amazement and delight. That first gasp will likely be followed by many more as we continually encounter new sights in that endlessly wonderful place. And that will be just the beginning, because we will not see our real eternal home—the New Earth—until after the resurrection of the dead. And it will be far better than anything we’ve seen.
So look out a window. Take a walk. Talk with your friend. Use your God-given skills to paint or draw or build a shed or write a book. But imagine it—all of it—in its original condition. The happy dog with the wagging tail, not the snarling beast, beaten and starved. The flowers unwilted, the grass undying, the blue sky without pollution. People smiling and joyful, not angry, depressed, and empty. If you’re not in a particularly beautiful place, close your eyes and envision the most beautiful place you’ve ever been—complete with palm trees, raging rivers, jagged mountains, waterfalls or snow drifts.
Think of friends or family who loved Jesus and are with Him now. Picture them with you, walking together in this place. All of you have powerful bodies, stronger than those of an Olympic decathlete. You are laughing, playing, talking, and reminiscing. You reach up to a tree to pick an apple or orange. You take a bite. It’s so sweet that it’s startling. You’ve never tasted anything so good. Now you see someone coming toward you. It’s Jesus, with a big smile on his face. You fall to your knees in worship. He pulls you up and embraces you.
At last, you’re with the person you were made for, in the place you were made to be. Everywhere you go there will be new people and places to enjoy, new things to discover. What’s that you smell? A feast. A party is ahead. And you’re invited. There’s exploration and work to be done—and you can’t wait to get started.
I have a biblical basis for all of these statements, and many more. After examining what Scripture says, I hope that next time you hear someone say, “We can’t begin to imagine what Heaven will be like,” you’ll be able to tell them, “I can.” (Alcorn, pgs. 92-55, accessed via Hoopla)
That sure sounds like a place we would want to stay, right? I don’t know about you, but I have been thinking about Heaven more in the past several months than ever before. It seems that the more chaotic and hostile our earthly home begins to feel, the easier it is to remember that we were made for a world beyond it.
We all understand how exciting it is to be traveling to an exotic destination—a place full of new wonders to explore, much-needed rest to savor, and great companionship to enjoy. But, after the trip is over and the rhythms of daily life resume, it is easy to feel disheartened by how fast the trip went by and how far away that beautiful place is now. We wish we could have just stayed forever.
Well, that is exactly what Heaven promises us—wonder, rest, and fellowship for an eternity! Yet, we often fail to live cognizant of the fact that we are, at this very moment, traveling toward our eternal home in a perfect, sin-free, sorrow-free paradise with the Lord Jesus. I once heard an eccentric preacher shout in a passionate sermon on joy, “It is a crime to be long-faced on the way to Heaven!” I think he may have been on to something. If God’s Word is true—and we believe it is—then let us today fix our sights on the glory awaiting us and lift our weary faces in radiant joy.
For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. (Hebrews 13:14-15, ESV)