For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit -Romans 14:17
What comes to your mind when you think of heaven? For some people it might be images of angels eternally sitting on clouds and playing harps. Others might have thoughts of relatives or friends reunited with each other and enjoying what they loved in life. For still others it might be sentiments of being “in a better place.”
People have both specific and vague ideas of what heaven is like. Some have superficial impressions and perhaps at best kernels of truth mixed with much that is not biblical. Some think all people go to heaven and others don’t believe there is anything after death. In this blog post I want to attempt to begin to paint a foundational picture of heaven according to Scripture.
“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” -Psalm 16:11 NIV
Any discussion on heaven should start with the presence of God. Heaven is only heaven because God is there. Yes, there is a sense that God is everywhere, but there is also the reality that God is somewhere. And it is the fullness of His manifest presence that makes heaven what it is. Without God nothing good exists. James 1:17 informs us, Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. Heaven is being in the presence of God where all good dwells; whereas hell is being cut off from his presence where no good exists. Heaven is being brought into the presence of God; hell is being separated from his presence. Heaven is more than being with loved ones; heaven is being with the One who loves us, is love itself, and is the source of all love.
It is the presence of God that brings fullness of joy and eternal pleasures. It’s his person that satisfies and eternally thrills the human heart. Heaven is not boring because God is infinitely fascinating! God is not a cosmic kill joy, but the source of all true and lasting joy. In Matthew 25:21, Jesus speaks of the eternal reward of those who have lived a life of faith. One of the realities his faithful servants will experience is joy: Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness. Heaven therefore is a state of sharing in the unending and eternal joy of God.
Secondly, heaven could be characterized by peace and true rest. However, before I speak to that briefly, let me qualify that statement by what it does not mean. It doesn’t mean we will sit on clouds with harps for all eternity. Back in Matthew 25:21, one of the rewards given for earthly faithfulness is greater eternal responsibility. Depending on your view of work that might worry you, but understand that it is not meaningful work that God has cursed, but rather the ground upon which we work. Before the fall, Adam and Eve were placed in the perfect environment of Eden. But they were placed there not just to lay around all day. They were placed there to “work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). This was not painful and futile labor like we now experience; but meaningful and fruitful work that brought deep satisfaction and pleasure.
This is more the idea of heaven being a place of “rest.” In heaven we will be free from the pain, sorrow, frustration, disappointment and curse of sin. There will be finally be true satisfaction; void of frustration, worry and fear. God does not just impart peace to our hearts, but Jesus is the Prince of Peace. In His presence there is real and eternal peace; rest from our struggle with sin, burdens of this life and broken world. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants. Truly I am your servant, Lord; I serve you just as my mother did; you have freed me from my chains. (Psalm 116:15-16).
Thirdly, heaven could be characterized by righteousness. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you. (Psalm 89:14). Righteousness is about right relationships with God and others. It is the absence of evil and injustice. Further, it is healing from the pain of evil and where wrongs are made right. This world is full of suffering, sin, evil, pain, abuse and injustice. But Revelation 21:4 speaks of how Jesus 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.
Eternal joy, pleasure, purpose, peace and righteousness. These are just a few of the characteristics of heaven. It will be glorious because our God is the God of all glory! But let me end this post with two thoughts by way of application to our lives now.
- Jesus spoke of the kingdom (or culture) of heaven as now but not yet. Therefore, as those who have been born again, we have already become citizens of his kingdom. The things that characterize heaven in fullness should at least characterize our lives in part and in increasing measure. The world needs to see demonstrations and examples of the “culture of heaven.” This is what the Church and individual Christians are to model before the world. We should be the peacemakers. Inner contentment and joy should be fruit that begins to show forth from our lives. Righteousness should represent our relationships. The more this is seen by others, the it will attract people to the kingdom of heaven where perhaps people will give their lives to Christ to become citizens of heaven as well.
- The only way to heaven and into the kingdom of God, is through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus said in John 14:6, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If that seems arrogant and exclusive to you, consider the following. First of all, the invitation and call to be reconciled to God is open to anyone and everyone who will believe. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). The only condition God requires is faith in Jesus Christ, a turning from sin and turning towards the Savior. It’s not about knowing enough or doing enough good things; but simply receiving the unmerited grace of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). He has already done all the work for you and I in atoning for our sin on the cross! He lived the perfect life we have all failed to live and died the death we all deserve to die. That is as inclusive and loving as it gets!
The reality is sin has separated us all from God (Romans 3:23). The price of that sin is death or eternal separation from God (Romans 6:23). Nothing can bridge that gap except God himself. And that is exactly what He did. In the person of Jesus Christ, God took on human flesh to extend to us the gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23b). Heaven is not something we deserve; it is something freely offered to us because of Christ’s good work for us on the cross. I encourage you to receive that gift of eternal life by faith today, so that you might know His joy forever!
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 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? 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. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. -Jesus, John 14:1-6