What is heaven really like? What is the reason for the existence of heaven? And why does the Bible speak so little about heaven? I want to answer the last question first. Revelation chapter 21 seems to be the only picture of heaven we have. We have glimpses in Psalms 23 about being with the Lord in His house forever. We have pictures from John 14 about the many mansions that God has prepared for each one of us if we trusted Him by faith. But so little about it, why do you think is that? I think one reason is that, there is no human analogy possible to talk about heaven. All those precious stones we read; gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, pearls, and what have you, why ‘streets of gold, and seas of glass?’ Why, why, why? Well, 1 Corinthian says, “…no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”. There is simply no human vocabulary to talk about heaven; it’s indescribable. I’ll tell you what, everything that’s said about heaven is a metaphor. We’re just trying as best we can with the limitations of human finite language to capture something so far beyond the ability of sinful, finite man to comprehend that the Bible just can’t really talk about what it’s going to be like when we see HIm face to face (cf. 1 Jn. 3:2). That’s why i think the Bible talks a little about it. It’s mentioned often here and there with different metaphors, but very little is said about heaven itself
What makes heaven so significant? Why is there going to be a state and a place that we call heaven? I believe in the authority of the Bible so let’s allow the Bible to speak for itself. And it’s very important that we look at the words that the Bible uses to describe as best it can that which is indescribable. There are two primary words: the first one is the Hebrew term for heaven which is ‘shamayim’. There’s either seven or three of it, you might remember Paul in his Corinthian correspondence said “I was caught up to the third heaven, the place where God lived. In Greek, the word sounds a little different, ‘ouranus’. In Hebrew, it means the ‘heights’, while in Greek means ‘that which is lifted up’. And the Bible uses these in strange ways. Two ways that have nothing to do with the concept of what we know is heaven. The first thing if you remember reading the book of Genesis, it talks about “God made the heavens and the Earth”. Well, that’s not about what we’ve been talking about; the place where God dwells, where eternity and joy is and it’s not talking about that. It’s just talking about the atmosphere that surrounds the Earth. the place where the birds fly, where the clouds move through. That’s what it’s talking about it. We know it is the atmosphere, and that’s the way the Old Testament term used the word heaven. The second way is equally inappropriate of what we’re talking about. And that’s where it mentions all that region beyond the atmosphere. That region where stars are arrayed in their splendor, where the sun and the moon spin with calculated regularity; that region were planets move across the night sky; that region we would call the cosmos or the universe. That’s called heaven. But that’s not what we’re talking about. Finally there is that use of the term ‘heaven’ that speaks of that which is beyond the physical; that which is beyond Alpha Centauri, that which is beyond all the other galaxies that we know exist. That which is the special abode and home of the presence of the Creator Redeemer God, and that’s really what we’re talking about. Interestingly, out of all the number of times the word ‘heaven’ is used in Greek and Hebrew, most of the time it’s talking about the atmosphere or the stars. Why is that? Well, I think we need to focus on the fact that the earth, Biblically speaking is the center of God’s creation. Of course we know it’s not the center as far as the way things spin and turn, and move, but as far as the heart of God is concerned, if the Bible is right, the earth is the center, theologically of God’s creation.
And so it becomes really important as we look at how the New Testament uses the term and how it relates to us as individuals. As a student of the Bible, i believe heaven is a glimpse of that which is sinless as everything once was. Heaven is a corner of God’s creation that has not been polluted and permeated by the sin of the angels and the sin of man. Heaven is a little foretaste, foreshadow, a little glimpse of what once was and of what everything will be. Remember the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6 when He said that little phrase, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. Jesus is saying nothing less than God’s universal reign; the sinlessness that now is capsuled in heaven will one day capsule all of creation. He’s praying for the fullness of the reign of God, as it is in that corner of creation that one day it will be manifested in all of creation as it once was.
Evil in the angelic order and in the rebellion of man has marred God’s creation. Now, i think God knew about it and i want you to realize the price God paid for you to have your personal freedom to respond to Him by faith. Can you imagine the fact that God allowed to happen that which is perfect to become imperfect so that man might trust Him because man wanted to by his own choice. I want to say to you the world we live in is a world that’s marred. This is not the world God intended it to be; sickness, pain, deformity, disease, disruptions. It’s not the world God intended it to be, but it will be one day.
God is moving through time and eternity to restore all things through Christ. The work of Jesus Christ covers not only the sin of man on terra firma, but the death of Jesus Christ covers the entire pollution of the cosmos. Jesus not only set man’s heart potentially aright, but Jesus set the entire universe back in a state pleasing to God. He restored all things in heaven and on earth (cf. Col. 1:19-21). Heaven is not something new. Heaven is the remaking of something that’s old. Heaven is not something man has not experienced before. Heaven is the real experience of what Adam has known for a brief period of time. God’s going to make all things new. He’s not going to destroy and recreate necessarily, but He is going to recreate that which already is (cf. Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21).
Think with me, people in the way they look at the world say it’s a place, but it can’t be a place. If it’s a place, where is it? Because we’ve been in outer space and God’s not there. So the whole concept of heaven being a place or a locality is rather strange. Where is heaven? Where is it? I’m not sure i can answer all those questions, but let me answer a part of that. Heaven is where God is! So really, when Jesus said “the Kingdom of God is with you, in your heart”, heaven is here to some extent. And heaven is also there wherever God is. So heaven really is not centralized in a locality right now. It’s permeating everything God has done until the time it is going to be localized again. Most of my adult life, i’ve heard sermon after sermons say that we’re going to heaven someday. And that is absolutely untrue! Heaven is coming to us. We go to be with God at death, but we do not go to heaven. Heaven is coming to us. A recreated earth is what heaven is going to be. The whole chapter 21 of Revelation talks about the New Jerusalem, and it’s a Biblical metaphor for heaven. Heaven is coming to us. You ought to read Isaiah 11 where little children are going to play with the snakes, and the bear, and the lion, and the ox are going to be together. That’s heaven. It’s a restored, recreated universe with nature, and man, and God in one locality. Have you ever thought about the way the Bible begins in Genesis when God begins to create, He makes a garden east of Eden? And in that garden, He calls all things beautiful as well, and then He called man to dwell there. And so the Bible begins with God and man in a garden with the animals, and that’s also the way it’s going to end – God and man in a garden, and the river of Life is going to flow from the throne. On the either side of that river is the tree of life which bears 12 fruits every month all year long, and God and man, and the animals are back together again, the way they were originally intended to be.
Friends, we’re not going to heaven, heaven is coming to us. We may go to be with God when we die. But when that great day comes when Jesus comes again, heaven is coming to us. God’s going to recreate tht which was fallen, and the dwelling place with God will again be among man. In John 14:2-3 Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places, if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also”. That’s exactly what New Jerusalem is, and it’s not that we’re going there, it’s coming to us.
Primarily, i think heaven is going to show two things about God. On one hand, it’s going to show that God really is a God of long-suffering, and patience, and love, and forgiveness, and mercy, but the first thing heaven is going to show above all else is the love of God. For how else will be the citizens of this perfect place, then imperfect people made perfect again through Jesus Christ? Through grace sinners become children of God to be with Him eternally.
Secondly, i believe heaven is going to show the justice of God. I don’t know if you’ve been really hurt bad by this world yet. I guess we’ve all been hurt one degree or another; maybe it’s the deformity of a child that dies early, perhaps it’s cancer, maybe it’s the hatred expressed by evil men, is it the horror of war seeing men die by the thousands, famine maybe, seeing children starve to death. This is an evil world. This is a Godless world. This is an unfair world. And if there is no heaven, there is no justice in God because things have not been made fair here. There is no ultimate justice here on earth; the good die young here, evil does succeed most of the time here. If there is no afterlife where God judges those who have rejected Him and rewards those who have loved Him, then God is unfair. Heaven primarily magnifies the grace of God and the justice of God. Heaven for the most part is going to unify God’s creation. Right now, God has somewhat excluded Himself to that small realm we know as heaven, but He’s not going to stay there friends. He’s just staying there to give us a little while to respond to His Son by faith.
Heaven also confirms the eternality of man. I don’t believe we have always existed in the past. I don’t believe we have been alive from eternity past, but if the Bible is true, the moment that your father’s sperm and your mother’s egg joined, you are an eternal being from that point on. There may be a time when you were not, but there’ll never be a time that you won’t be.
Finally, the greatest thing about heaven, i think, is not the streets of gold and the gates of pearl, it’s not that i’m going to live forever, it’s not even the reunion with friends and loved ones that have gone before us. I believe the greatest thing about heaven is that i’m going to see God and know God in a way that i have always longed to know Him. St. Augustine was right when he said that there is a god-shaped hole in our lives, and until we find Him we are never really satisfied. What i’m trying to say is, it’s like the beauty of the parable of prodigal son; something of that reunion between the father and that son who’d been so far away. It’s also like the beauty of that Great banquet that one day is going to be spread for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the children of the Kingdom who had trusted Christ by faith. O, what a grand reunion that would be! There is something there of the joy of going to be with God. Maybe it’s John 14:3, about God preparing a place for us, and when He comes again, He will take us to Himself, so that where He is, there we’ll be also. Perhaps it’s something about 1 Corinthians 13:12 about “we see through a glass darkly, but one day we’re going to see Him face-to-face. Or maybe ultimately it’s 1 John 3:2 that says, we do not yet know what we will be like, but we know we will be like Him when we see Him. Reunion is the greatest thing about heaven! Heaven is primarily a homecoming! The crucial question is, do you know Him? Do you know Him? If you’ve never trusted Him by faith, you’re the most miserable person here on earth. The Bible is very poignant when it says, “where your treasure, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21). Where is your treasure? Where is yur heart? Invest in the things of God and that ‘Grand Homecoming’ will be the most significant thing in your life.