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What will heaven truly look like?

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What will heaven truly look like?
Posted on February 21, 2021  - By Dr. Scott Shiffer

Many people believe that heaven will be a place of eternal singing — or a place where they will receive wings and live on a cloud. But many traditional beliefs about heaven are not exactly what is revealed in God’s Word.

So, what does the Bible actually teach us about this eternal place?

How it was

Our study begins in the book of Genesis. In Chapters 1 and 2, we find God creating heaven and earth and all that is in them. After God has created all of the plants, animals, and people, He declares that all He has made is good. Adam lives in the Garden of Eden with Eve, they rule over the animals and care for the land, and the work they do is without toil or strife. 

We also know that in this perfect world, Adam and Eve eat of the fruit in the Garden. The text even tells us that God walked with Adam in the Garden and that they had a unhindered relationship that allowed them to communicate on a personal level.

Genesis says God had an unhindered relationship with Adam in the Garden that allowed them to communicate on a personal level

In Genesis 3, sin enters the world and corrupts everything. It corrupts plant life, animal life, and human life. This corruption separates humanity from having an unhindered relationship with God. The corruption causes death. It causes work to be rife with toil and relationships between humans and animals to be those of enmity. It also causes relationships between humans to be full of conflict.

Christians believe that Jesus came and died on the cross and rose from the dead in order to mend this brokenness. Christ’s job was to fix what was corrupt so that it could be restored to its former state.

How it will be

Eventually, we come to Revelation 21, which teaches that this restoration will come at the end of time. The passage teaches us several very important things about heaven:

  1. In the new state, God will not visit humanity as He did in the original Garden. He will dwell among humanity forever (vv. 1-3).
  2. In the Gospels, Jesus states that He is going to prepare a place for our eternal home. In this passage, that home comes and descends onto the new earth. Heaven and earth will be a unified place (vv. 1-3).
  3. In this place, there will be no death (v. 4).
  4. Not everyone will make it to this eternal home (vv. 6-8).
  5. The eternal home will not be a garden, but a city. And it will be beautiful (vv. 9-22). The idea here is not that there will be no trees or plants, but that the people will be in a community. Humans will live among other humans and not in seclusion. This was God’s original intent. While He created humans in the Garden, He told them to fill the earth. God created humans as communal beings, and this will be fully realised in heaven.
  6. The eternal state will be a place of purity. It will need no temple, because God Himself will be there. It also mentions the kings of the earth bringing their splendour to God. This idea is in reference to the fact that all things belong to God (vv. 23-27).

In this picture, we do not see humans becoming angels or getting wings. In fact, we see the exact opposite in the Gospels. After Jesus rises from the dead, He remains human and has His own human body. He still bears His scars from the cross (Luke 24:39), but there is no reason to think that we will all bear all of our scars from this life. 

Heaven will need no temple, because God Himself will be there

We also see that in His resurrected body, Jesus gets hungry and eats fish (Luke 24:41-43). From this, we can conclude that, in form, our eternal bodies will be physical bodies much like the ones we have now. Our bodies may retain some marks from our life now. We will still get hungry and still eat.

A wonderful culture

Heaven, in many respects, is a return to the Garden, but we were commissioned to fill that garden as cultivators of a city. In heaven, the garden will become the city. 

The heavenly city is a gift from God and it will be full of cultural goods. We read in Isaiah 60 that the heavenly city will be full of gold and silver and precious stones. It will have trees and governors. It will be a cultural place. The culture will be good, because God will fill the new creation with His presence and love. It is this filling that gives us hope now for that time.

Since the heavenly city will be full of culture, we can conclude that, in it, we will still have work to do. We will have jobs, and the best part is the toil that we face in our work now will once again be removed.

This eternal state begins when all passes away here. From this, we can also conclude that the eternal state will not be timeless. It has a beginning, it simply has no end.

I would like to close this post with a quote from Andy Crouch that nicely sums up the Christian belief about heaven: “Our eternal life in God’s recreated world will be the fulfillment of what God originally asked us to do: cultivating and creating in full and lasting relationship with our Creator.”

Dr. Scott Shiffer

About Dr. Scott Shiffer

Dr. Scott Shiffer has a Ph.D. in Christian Theology from the B.H. Carroll Theological Institute and has been teaching religion classes since 2006. He leads Faith and Culture Now, an organization to help believers think biblically about culture in America. Scott has given numerous presentations, including one at Oxford. He has spoken at church retreats, youth retreats, conferences, and has taught discipleship classes for many years. Scott is married and has four children. He has a heart for helping believers draw closer to God and for aiding them as they are faced with new challenges every day.



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