What is heaven like?
Dr. Jim Denison
When Ronald Reagan was running for Governor of California, a woman confronted him by his car one day and berated him severely. Finally she said, “I wouldn’t vote for you if you were St. Peter.” He smiled and replied, “No problem. If I were St. Peter, you wouldn’t be living in my district.”
What do we know about “St. Peter’s district”? We’re all fascinated with the subject. Last week we looked at hell, the place everyone wants to avoid; today let’s discuss the place everyone wants to see. Each of us has loved ones there; I assume we all would like to spend eternity there ourselves. So let’s ask the word of God to tell us about heaven. Then let’s ask why our topic matters, why heaven is important for us on earth. I don’t believe we can study a more motivating subject than this.
What is heaven?
What does God tell us about our eternal home? First, he tells us that heaven is real. It is certain–no figment of religious imagination, no superstition, no “opiate of the people” (to quote Karl Marx). He revealed it here to John: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1). According to God himself, heaven is real.
Second, heaven is a place (Rev. 21:1-2). John “saw” it. He didn’t feel it, or dream of it, or hear about it. He saw it, and we only see things which are. Heaven is a place.
Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2; emphasis mine). Where? “Up there”? Heaven is a place beyond our locating or understanding. Just as you couldn’t dig down into the earth and find hell, so you can’t rocket into the skies and find heaven. God is bigger, more awesome than that, and so is his heaven.
One of the Russian cosmonauts came back and said, “Some people say that God lives out there. I looked around, and I didn’t see any God out there.” Ruth Graham, Billy’s wife, says he looked in the wrong place. If he’d stepped outside the space ship without his space suit, he would have seen God very quickly.
Third, heaven is where God is (Rev. 21:3). John reveals, “Now the dwelling of God is with men.” When we get to heaven, we get to God. Psalm 11:4 is clear: “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne.” Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven” (Matthew 6:9). Heaven is a real place, where God is. It’s being with God.
Fourth, heaven is a blessed place (Rev. 21:4). Because God is there, all that is perfect is there as well. There will be no death in heaven, thus no mourning or crying or pain. Our greatest enemy will trouble us no more. Think of that—no death, ever! Eternity with God in his blessed home.
It’s a place of incredible joy: “You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Ps. 16:11). It’s a place of reward: “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Mt. 6:20). And this reward is eternal: “An inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4). Thus, heaven is a celebration, a party: “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Luke 14:15).
We will reign in heaven: “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev. 3:21). In heaven, we’re royalty! We’ll have perfect understanding there: “Now we see but a poor 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 known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Revelation 21 summarizes the blessedness of heaven: “I am making all things new” (v. 5). No more Fall, nor sin, or death, or disease, or disaster; no more earthquakes or tests or grades; no more. Everything new. No wonder Jesus called heaven “paradise” (Lk. 23:43). It is that, a place of blessing beyond all description: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what the Lord has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9; cf. Isaiah 64:4).
What will we be like?
First, let’s set aside a popular misconception: in heaven, people are not angels. God created angels before he created us, and we are completely different. When Jesus said that people in heaven are “like the angels” (Lk. 20:36), he meant that we never die, like them. Not that we have wings and a halo. We are not angels.
But we do receive heavenly bodies: “The perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1 Cor. 15:53). So, will we recognize each other? Will we know each other. Yes, for these reasons. Jesus said that in heaven we will take our places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Mt. 8:11); on the Mount of Transfiguration the disciples easily recognized Moses and Elijah (Mt. 17:3-4); we will “know as we are known” (1 Cor. 13:12).
I like what one preacher said: “We won’t really know each other until we get to heaven!”
So, what is heaven? Most of all, it’s home. A home of eternal blessing, reward, and bliss, better than the best earth can offer us. John Owen, the great Puritan, lay on his deathbed. His secretary wrote to a friend in his name, “I am still in the land of the living.” Owen saw it and said, “Change that and say, ‘I am yet in the land of the dying, but I hope soon to be in the land of the living.'” So can we all be.