Home > Biblical Theology, Eschatology > What Is Heaven Like, Part 2

What Is Heaven Like, Part 2

What is heaven like?  Both Christians and non-Christians are interested in the question.  I think the only way we can properly tackle the question is to consider Scripture from a biblical-theological perspective and to allow the flow of revelation to shape our understanding of heaven.  I will lay out my thoughts on heaven with a series of points and provide some applications along the way.

1.) Heaven is only for those who trust in Christ.  This is an obvious position in Scripture.  Jesus clearly states that the only way to the Father is through him and the free gift for those who trust in him is eternal life (John 14:1-6).  However, unbelievers, in an attempt to comfort themselves when a loved one dies , often cling to the proposition that they are in a better place (i.e., heaven).  Christians need to clarify that heaven is only for those who trust in Christ for salvation.  We must challenge the unbeliever’s faulty assumptions and assurances about how someone gets to heaven.  Doing this is fairly simple because Scripture is so clear about these issues, but what is heaven and where is heaven?  Answering these two questions will help solidify our understanding of why heaven is only for those who trust in Christ and it will challenge our own views regarding heaven.

2.) Heaven is presence with God.  When Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden they lost that intimate presence with God they had enjoyed (Gen 3:8).  The tree of life was representative of presence with God; thus, they could no longer dwell in the garden (Gen 3:22).  In the life of Israel we see God’s presence with his people restored (i.e., tabernacle/temple).  Although God is with his people by virtue of the temple, his presence is shielded from them (i.e., veil of the temple).  The prophets continue the idea of temple by revealing that God will build a greater temple in which he will dwell with his people (Ezek 40-48, Hagg 2).  In the New Testament, Jesus declares that he is the true temple (John 2:13-22; 1:14).  Jesus as the true temple now becomes the meeting place between God and his people (cf., John 4:7-38).  God’s people are now his temple by virtue of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16; 2 Cor 6:16).  God is now building the promised end-time temple.  Jesus is the cornerstone of this temple and God’s people are stones for this temple (Matt 21:42; Acts 4:11; 1 Cor 3:11; Eph 2:19-22; 1 Pet 2:4-10).  I have briefly laid out an overview of the temple idea in Scripture.  You can read more here and I would also suggest reading G. K. Beale’s book, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, for a more comprehensive presentation.  Nevertheless, you might be asking, what does the idea of the temple have to do with heaven?

While it is natural to think of heaven “up there” and hell “down there,” the Scriptures present heaven as presence with God.  We see God’s presence in the Garden of Eden.  We see God’s presence with Israel in the tabernacle/temple.  We see Jesus as God with men (Matt 1:23) and now we see God with his people by his Spirit.  Wherever God is with his people, that is heaven because heaven is the abode of God.  Paul makes this point when he speaks about going to paradise, which is the abode of God.  However, we should understand this third realm of heaven that Paul spoke about as another dimension in which God’s presence if fully manifest, rather than a place beyond outer space (2 Cor 12:2).  Although God has dwelt with his people, his presence has always been prohibitive due to sin.  Even as redeemed people, God does not dwell with us as he will one day; however, he has given us the Spirit as a guarantee of our future bodily redemption (Eph 1:3; 4:30). 

In the book of Revelation we see the final eschatological city-temple coming down out of heaven (Rev 21:1ff).  The bride of Christ is adorned ready for her bridegroom.  The description we find of this heavenly city-temple is not a place for God’s people, but a people as God’s place.  The idea of heaven is fully realized when God’s people will stand face-to-face with Lord and he will dwell with them for all of eternity (Rev 22:4).  The symbolism in Revelation 21-22 is powerful and vividly portrays this city-temple as a people, rather than a place (e.g., precious stones; Gen 2; Isa 54; Ezek 28).  To understand more fully how this city-temple is a people see G. K. Beale’s commentary on Revelation.

3.) Heaven on Earth.  Most Christians believe that the church will be raptured followed by a seven-year tribulation, a literal thousand-year reign of Christ and then God will blow the earth up and make a new one.  The consequences of such thinking are dangerous.  The common thing I hear is that we shouldn’t care for our present world because we’ll be raptured out of this horrible place and God is going to blow it all up anyway.  The popular position by most Christians about the earth tends to resemble something out of StarWars rather than Scripture; with planet earth being blown up and destroyed, like the Death Star blowing up Alderaan.  However, this notion of new heavens and new earth is grossly inconsistent with what Scripture actually teaches. 

When God created the world he declared all of it good (Gen 1:1ff).  The problem never resided with God’s good creation, but with the sin that entered the world and tarnished his good creation.  Due to sin the creature and the creation are now stained with sin.  The principle of redemption we find in our own lives must also be applied to creation.  When we became believers God did not obliterate us and then make a whole new person, rather we maintained our identity, but now our identity is redeemed and slowly conformed to the image of Christ (Col 3:10).  We will keep our bodies in the future age, but those bodies will be redeemed.  Just as Christ died, was raised again in an incorruptible body, and maintained his identity; so we will be physically raised from the dead with an incorruptible body in which we will maintain our identity.  The same principle applies to the new heavens and new earth.  This present earth is our future dwelling place.  The only problem is that creation still awaits its redemption.  Creation’s redemption is dependant on our future resurrection (Rom 8:18-25).  We are at home now; however, we are resident aliens awaiting the removal of sin from the earth and our bodies. 

When God flooded the earth, rescuing only Noah and his family, he did not annihilate the earth, but removed the ungodly from the earth (Gen 6-9).  It was the righteous who remained on the earth not the unrighteous.  Jesus states that at his coming it will be like it was in the days of Noah (Matt 25:36-41).  The dispensationalist understands this passage as speaking about the rapture, but if we compare the coming of Christ with the days of Noah, which Jesus tells us we should, then it is the wicked that are removed and righteous who are left to dwell on the earth.  Jesus teaches that those who are gentle will inherit the earth (Matt 5:5) and the promise given to Abraham of a place to dwell for him and his descendants (Gen 12:1-3) is transformed through Christ to now encompass the whole world, rather than a parcel of land in the Middle East (Rom 4:13). 

A passage typically used to advocate this notion of a destroyed and re-created earth idea is 2 Peter 3:1-13.  Peter views history in three stages: creation to flood (3:5-6), present heavens and earth until Jesus’ return (3:7-9), and new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells (3:10-13).  Peter describes that the presence of righteousness in the new heavens and new earth is not without purification.  Peter states that the heavens will be destroyed by fire and the elements will melt with intense heat.  The idea is not that God will blow up the earth, but that fire will be the means of purifying the earth.  The idea is that the present heavens and earth will be set free or loosed from its present bondage of decay and sin.  This principle of purifying with fire is observed in our own day.  If we want to purify something we burn it with intense heat.  The writer of Hebrews adds clarification to this idea by stating that God will shake both heaven and earth and only those things that belong to his kingdom will remain (Heb 13:25-29).  Creation was never intended to be a place for unrighteousness and sin. Earth was the dwelling place of man where he would forever enjoy fellowship with God.  One day God will give us resurrected bodies and purify his creation.  In that day God will come to dwell with his people forever in righteousness and holiness.  In the future day it will literally be heaven on earth. 

Heaven is not a cloudy place up in space where we have wings, harps, and eat Philadelphia cream cheese, nor is heaven a place where I get a big house and walk on streets of gold.  Heaven is presence with our God and that future presence in on this present earth.  Just as God will redeem our lowly bodies and make them righteous, so he will purge creation of sin and make it suitable for his presence.  In other words, he will restore what was lost in the Garden of Eden, intimate fellowship between God and his people.  Thus, we should have a healthy view of creation now.  We should have a biblical concern for the environment and seek to bring all things in this world (e.g., humanity, creatures, creation, culture, politics, etc.) under the Lordship of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 10:5).  It is through the church that Christ is bringing all things in subjection to himself (Eph 1:22-23).  Therefore, if all of creation finds its meaning and purpose in Christ, then our obligation as the church is to proclaim this message of reconciliation and restoration, which is the gospel itself (Col 1:15-20). 

  1. Kevin Pannebaker
    June 4, 2007 at 9:41 pm

    Hi Chad!
    Interesting piece. Believe it or not, I really haven’t heard anything quite like it that I recall.

    How does I Thes. 4:13-18 fit into all of this? On the face of things, it certainly appears like we’re on our way out one day – going up “in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will always be with the Lord.”

  2. June 5, 2007 at 6:02 am

    Great post, Chad. I recently preached on part of this:

  3. Chad
    June 5, 2007 at 7:21 pm

    I don’t think there is anything difficult about 1 Thess 4:13-18 and what I wrote. The “on our way out” idea is dispensational, which advocates that the church is taken out of the world prior to the great tribulation. However, there is absolutely no mention for anything resembling this belief and the subsequent events in this passage.

    Paul is wanting to comfort the saints and is explaining how we all (alive and dead in Christ) will be with the Lord forever. I do not think the emphasis of the text is the “going up” in the clouds part. Rather, the emphasis is the gathering of God’s people to himself and the promise of the resurrection. The NT makes the same point in Matthew 24:31 and 1 Cor 15:52. The comfort to these saints is that they will always be with the Lord. Presence with God is what humanity was created for and now God’s new humanity will be with him forever. Whether that presence is on the moon, in the depths of the sea, or in another dimmension, the words of comfort is that when Christ comes to gather his elect we will be with him forever; therefore, comfort each other with these words.


  4. Juan
    June 5, 2007 at 9:19 pm

    Great post. Being a dispensationalist I have always looked at the passage of Noah as you describe and I have to go HMMM :). Thanks for making me think and wonder about heaven! I like the idea of a big house and free food with no weight gain 🙂


  5. Paul Honeycutt
    June 9, 2007 at 11:30 am

    Very thought provoking and challenging. Are there any books about Heaven you might recommend? Thanks for the work you are doing with this blog.


  6. Chad
    June 9, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks for your feedback.

    I don’t have any books to suggest on heaven per se. While many books exist on the subject, most follow the popular thinking on heaven, rather than a redemptive-historical approach to the topic. Most of my learning on heaven has been from studying and learning biblical theology (i.e., redemptive-historical hermeneutics). Most of my study has come from books and commentaries that either address the topic directly or indirectly. See these two links for a good starting point.




  7. Kevin Pannebaker
    June 9, 2007 at 9:34 pm

    It appears John Piper is right with you on this one, Chad. Check out his sermon: “What Happens When You Die. Glorified and Free on the New Earth.”

  8. Chad
    June 9, 2007 at 10:42 pm

    Thanks Kevin.

  9. ken
    June 10, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    Thanks for this post, Chad….some excellent thoughts that my wife and I found intriquing.

    “We should have a biblical concern for the environment and seek to bring all things in this world (e.g., humanity, creatures, creation, culture, politics, etc.) under the Lordship of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 10:5). It is through the church that Christ is bringing all things in subjection to himself (Eph 1:22-23). Therefore, if all of creation finds its meaning and purpose in Christ, then our obligation as the church is to proclaim this message of reconciliation and restoration, which is the gospel itself (Col 1:15-20). ”

    Would love to read another blog on this thought fleshed out more. Thanks for the time you invest in ‘bloggin your noggin’!

  10. Jason
    June 19, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    Another excellent post! I really enjoy reading your posts after listening to Kit on Sunday mornings. Our series on Sacred Space (God With Us: The Dwelling Place of God), which continually stresses the Restoration of All Things in Christ, is intimately tied to the concept of Heaven and your posts are a great compliment to what we are learning. God’s dwelling place (Heaven) is not a “place” but a reality that’s found only in Christ–it’s the reality of “communion” between God and Man, the restoration of what we lost in the Garden, the Recovery of Sacred Space! And it’s a reality now for those who have been placed in Christ by faith! All we await is the consummation of the Kingdom in the New Heavens and New Earth, which, as you correctly suggest, is the Redemption of this Earth–a place where Shalom will once again be the reality of life and will continue perpetually in God’s Shabat–God’s Sabbath Rest!

    Sorry for “preaching” to the choir–I just get so excited when I see or hear others preach this full and great Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! I need to figure out how to link your blog to our SGCC sermon page on Sermon Audio so that our visitors (and congregation) can find your faithful work here.

  11. March 23, 2008 at 9:28 am

    I am currently reading N.T. Wright’s new one “Surprised by Hope.” It is great so far.

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