by Chris Ritter
The Bible does not tell us everything we want to know. It tells us everything we need to know to have a living, loving, lasting relationship with God through Jesus Christ. There are certainly topics about which I wish Scripture had more to say. For me, the top of that list is Heaven. After all, the vast majority of our existence will be there on the other side. But what we ARE told in scripture is life-changing, weighty, and filled with hope.
How can we know anything about a place we have never seen?
1 Corinthians 2:9,10 says,
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.
Last week we looked at the context of Heaven and discovered in the Old Testament that Heaven is, first and foremost, the place from which God rules and reigns. Today we look at the content of Heaven. Next week we will look at the conquest by Heaven… the final state of things after the triumphant return of Christ.
Let’s start with a key passage of what Jesus said about Heaven:
1“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”John 14:1-7, New International Version
5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
John tells us that Jesus gathered with his disciples for a final meal. In less than 24 hours, he would be met with a violent death on a Roman cross. Jesus told his followers that he would no longer be with them in the same way and that they would scatter. One of them would betray him and others would deny they even knew his name. These words were heavy and their hearts were sad. But in the midst of all that bad news, Jesus gave some incredibly good news. Though weeping would endure for the night, joy would come. He told them not to let their hearts be troubled.
Why should they be of good courage when everything is falling apart? Jesus said he was going to prepare a place for them. Let’s look at what Jesus said about that place.
Jesus calls Heaven the FATHER’S house. Every explicit vision of Heaven in scripture has God’s throne at the Center. Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up, and the hem of his robe filled the heavenly temple. Consider these words from Revelation 4:
Revelation 4:2-6, New International Version
2 Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. 3 And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. 4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. 5 And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. 6 Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And they do not rest day or night, saying:
“Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God Almighty,
Who was and is and is to come!”
You can tell that John is struggling to describe all that he saw. His words are not adequate, so he uses analogies: “like a jasper..”, “a rainbow like an emerald…”, “a sea of glass like crystal.” But one thing that is clear is that that throne of God is the center of Heaven. God is the focus of heaven’s love, adoration, and praise. Heaven is the Father’s house.
But also notice Jesus calls Heaven the Father’s HOUSE. He is using the language of home, family, and togetherness. Heaven is about relationship. Whenever we travel, we see wonderful sites. But when we see the Geneseo exit on I-80, we say, “There’s no place like home.” I believe Heaven is going to feel more like home than anyplace we have ever been.
Many of us old people cut our teeth on the King James Version of the Bible. John 14 reads, “In my Father’s house as many mansions.” That has always been a popular image of Heaven for artistic renderings. We borrow the Street of Gold from Revelation 21 and line it with luxury estates. But a much better rendering of John 14:2 is “rooms” or “chambers.” Jesus is not trying to describe what kind of real estate we will own in Heaven. He is telling us there is a designated place for us in Heaven. If Heaven was a house, there would be a room with our name on it.
Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” One of the best endorsements of Heaven is that it is prepared by Jesus. Jesus’ earth father was a builder, and Jesus is a builder on a much grander scale. I have a friend named Linda who sometimes calls me up and says, “I have prepared a pie for you.” Having eaten Linda’s pies on many occasions, I need not ask any questions. A pie prepared by Linda is wonderful. I place prepared by Jesus cannot be anything but wonderful.
Jesus said, “I will come and take you to be with me.” (John 14:3). Becky and I have a friend (another Linda) who sometimes calls us up and says “I am going to take you dinner.” She pulls up in our driveway at the appointed time. She drives us to the restaurant. We enjoy her company and the wonderful food. When the check comes, she grabs it first. Her treat. Jesus said he is going to take us there. He paid the price. He has made all the arrangements. Heaven is a reflection of his generous grace.
Thomas wondered the way to the place Jesus was talking about. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is the unique way-maker when it comes to Heaven.
Jesus said, “You will be with me.” The point of Heaven is fellowship forever with Jesus. Being temporal beings, our minds can scarcely grasp the word, “Forever.” Sometimes we even use it in the negative… as in, “I went to the DMV and it took forever.” Our poets and sages have struggled to borrow words to describe time without time. The Grateful Dead sang,
You cannot think of eternity
Think of it like time
You try to think, you try to count
You just mess up your mind
But I prefer John Newton:
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.
What Does Heaven Look Like?
What does Heaven look like? Well, what does Earth look like? Even though our created world is fallen, its very design tells us something about God… the same God that created Heaven. God seems to appreciate variety. Our world has beautiful prairies, grand mountains, and rolling oceans. There are beaches and valleys and rolling hills. I see no reason to conclude that heaven has only one flavor.
From cross, Jesus told the thief hanging beside him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” The word in Greek is very similar to our English word: “paradeisos.” It means a garden or a park. The word came into Greek usage from Persian origins are carries with it the meaning of a walled garden. Paradise is often used to describe Eden. Sometimes artistic depictions of Heaven are sterile and monochrome. But God is the author of life. We have every reason to believe that Heaven is lush and verdant.
My first trip to Africa was in 2012 and I travelled with a businessman in our church named Mike Ashdown. Mike has business in Liberia and we were both eager to further develop partnerships in mission. It was an amazing trip. I fly periodically, but Mike is a FREQUENT flier and has earned status in several airlines. I didn’t even know there were posh little lounged tucked away behind the scenes in airports. It was a whole new world.
On our flight across the Atlantic, we settled into our seats for what promised to be a long night. The flight attendant came back, however, and informed Mike that he had been bumped to first class. Mike looked at me and asked if I would go instead of him. After all, I am a big guy and I needed the room more than he did. His logic made perfect sense to me!
What a difference! I have never flow first class before or since. But my seat layed down completely flat and I could stretch out. The meals were better. The service was better. The entertainment was better. The only thing I didn’t do was wish myself back into economy class. Whatever else you might want to say about Heaven, surely it is an upgrade.
What Are We Going to Do in Heaven?
Let me say boldly and without apology: One thing we are going to do in heaven is Worship. I am always disheartened to run across people who think that eternity in Heaven sounds boring. We live in a world where half-hearted worship in the norm. Bored, American Christians monitor their watches as the pastor drones through the sermon. They can’t wait for it to end so we can get on with the real business of the day. The singing (if they even bother to sing along) is weak and lifeless… like asthma set to music. If this is you: You are doing it wrong.
I remember in the 1990’s when men from churches started to attend Promise Keepers events. Football stadiums were filled with Christian men singing God’s praise at the top of their lungs. So many were blown away by the experience. I heard so many say, “I didn’t know it could be like this!” When I travel to Africa, I love worshipping with my brothers and sisters there. Their worship seems to rise up from their toes and flow into Heaven. They dance, sing, rejoice, and wave their hands. When I am with them, so do I! I notice that I lose all track of time during a good worship service. It almost seems like we have entered into God’s timelessness.
Here is a description of a heavenly worship service mentioned in Revelation 5:
11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying:Revelation 5:11, 12
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”
In some ways, the worshipping we do on earth is simply choir practice for the more complete worship that we are going to join in Heaven. We will gather around the throne and be lost in wonder, love, and praise.
Another thing we are going to do in heaven is Understand. In this life, we are left with so many questions. We often wonder why God allows certain things or why some prayers seem to go unanswered. It is almost as if we are looking at an intricately woven tapestry from the reverse side. We can see the dark strands and differing colors, but the image is not there. In heaven, the tapestry is flipped. As the old hymn says, “We will understand it better by and by.”
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a 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 knownI Corinthians 13:9-12, New International Version
In ancient times, mirrors provided a very poor image. Paul says that now we see only as in a mirror. In Heaven, we will understand fully. I don’t believe that means that we will know everything. Supreme knowledge is reserved for God alone. But we will have our questions answered. It will be the difference between imagining someone and seeing someone face to face.
In Heaven we are going to Fellowship. First and foremost, we are going to fellowship with Jesus. In John 17, Jesus prayed to the Father for us: “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” Jesus’ hearts’ desire is that we would be with him and see his glory. Jesus came to earth the first time in great humility. In Heaven, we will see his glory. Just imagine taking Jesus by his nail-scarred hand. An artist named John Warrior has a painting called “First Day in Heaven” that depicts the joy of a woman meeting her Savior for the first time.
In Heaven we will also fellowship with one another, with our family members, and with the saints of old. Jesus said:
I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.Matthew 8:11
We will dine with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Don’t forget Sarah, Esther, and Ruth. Which saint of old are you most looking forward to seeing?
There was once a first grader busily drawing a picture during art class. Her teacher came up and inquired about her drawing. “I am drawing Jonah and the Big Fish,” the little girl explained.
“I don’t believe that story,” the teacher remarked, “How could a man stay alive inside a fish for three days?”
“I don’t know,” the girl said honestly. “When I get to Heaven, I will ask him.”
“What if he doesn’t make it to Heaven?” the teacher asked.
As the girl kept drawing, she said, “Well, then you ask him.”
In Heaven, we are not only going to worship and fellowship. We are also going to rest and work. Rest and work? Which is it? We are going to do both. Heaven is famous as a place of rest. We often say when someone dies, “Rest in peace.” That is a very biblical thing to say:
Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”Revelation 14:13
“Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”
Hebrews 4 contains an extended discussion of Jesus being our better Joshua that takes us into a better Promised Land. We are encouraged to “enter that Rest.” Heaven will be a rest more profound than any we can experience on earth. Do that mean we will nap all day? How will we rest in Heaven?
Here on earth, there is always conflict between what God wants and what we want. In Heaven, that internal tension is removed. Here on earth, we are always battling temptation. In Heaven, the tempter cannot reach us. Here on earth we worry about so many things. We lock doors, change passwords, and buy insurance policies. We sit up at night waiting for loved ones to get home safe. In Heaven we will rest from all our worries.
But we are also going to work in Heaven. Remember, Adam and Eve had work to do in the Garden of Eden. Work is not a curse. The curse was frustration in work. After the fall, God told Adam that he would grow food with the sweat of his brow and that he would battle thorns and weeds. The problem is not work, but frustration in our work.
For his disciples, Jesus described the transition from earth to Heaven as the transition from fewer responsibilites to greater responsibilities.
15 “He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.Luke 19:15-19, NIV
16 “The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’
17 “‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’
18 “The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’
19 “His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’
When we are faithful over a few things, God says we will put in charge of many things. In 1 Corinthians 6:3 it says that we are going to judge the angels. What does that mean? I have no idea. But it seems clear that some will have greater responsibilities in Heaven and the New Earth because they have been faithful in this life. How we serve Jesus today is a job interview for all eternity.
In Heaven, we are going to Eat and Celebrate. Heaven is a place of celebration. Revelation 19 describes our eternal destiny in terms of a Wedding Celebration.. the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. In Luke 22, Jesus said:
28 You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.Luke 22:28, 29 NIV
A phrase often repeated by Jesus his parables is, “Enter into the joy of your master.” Heaven is a place of generous rewards for lives faithfully lived. The mood of Heaven is joy.
What Heaven Lacks
For all the positive news about Heaven, there are certainly some things that Heaven lacks. In fact, some of the best things that can be said about Heaven is what is not there:
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.”Revelation 21:3,4
I attend a lot of funerals. There won’t be any funerals in Heaven. Death will be no more. In this life, we go around grieving our losses. In Heaven, there will be no more mourning. This world is full of injustice, pain, and tragedy. In Heaven, there is no more pain.
Some people say there will be no tears in Heaven. But a close reading shows that God will personally wipe all tears from our eyes. What a tender thought! But why are those tears there to begin with? The only thing I can think to be sad about in Heaven is the thought of the people who won’t be there. Back to John 14, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Have you established a living, trusting relationship with Jesus based on his grace? Do you have assurance that he has prepared a place for you?
If not, please take a moment to pray this from your heart:
Lord Jesus, I believe you are the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I turn from sin and self and take you as my Lord and Savior. Cleanse me by your blood and give me the gift of your Holy Spirit. Please write my name in Heaven and I will love and serve you until you come to take me Home. In your precious name, Amen.