Heaven is a big place and a big subject. The word heaven has been used in more than 38,000 songs written in English. It is the subject of many movies and is featured in thousands of books. We are fascinated with the subject of heaven and what happens to us after death.
It can be a little confusing, though. Most people believe heaven is our ultimate goal, that once we get there, we will be set for eternity. But heaven is not our final home; a renewed and glorified earth is. What this means is, God never gave up on his original plan for human beings to dwell on earth. In fact, the climax of history will be the creation of new heavens and a new earth—a resurrected universe inhabited by resurrected people living with the resurrected Jesus. So we eagerly await the return of Jesus and the renewal of earth as the one that God originally designed. We will see Eden again, and everything will be perfect.
In the meantime, we can look forward to spending time with God in his home, heaven. So, yes, heaven is for real.
Heaven is not a place to be taken lightly. As the respected Christian author Randy Alcorn wrote in his comprehensive book Heaven, “The wise will consider what awaits us on the other side of this life that so quickly ends.” It’s incredibly important that every Christian know and understand what heaven is and how to get there, so that we can try to bring heaven to earth and reach God’s home when we leave this life.
What is heaven like? First, let’s understand that there are two different heavens—one we reach while we await Christ’s return, the “present Heaven,” and the other, a renewed and eternal heaven and new earth that will be created upon Christ’s return. The renewed heaven will be even better than the present Heaven—and the present heaven is even more beautiful and amazing than we can possibly anticipate.
Randy Alcorn used biblical references to describe the first, “present Heaven” as such:
Imagine [our world]—all of it—in its original condition. The happy dog with the wagging tail, not the snarling beast, beaten and starved. The flowers unwilted, the grass undying, the blue sky without pollution. People smiling and joyful, not angry, depressed, and empty. If you’re not in a particularly beautiful place, close your eyes and envision the most beautiful place you’ve ever been—complete with palm trees, raging rivers, jagged mountains, waterfalls, or snow drifts.
Think of friends or family members who loved Jesus and are with him now. Picture them with you, walking together in this place. All of you have powerful bodies, stronger than [that] of an Olympic decathlete. You are laughing, playing, talking, and reminiscing. You reach up to a tree to pick an apple or orange. You take a bite. It’s so sweet that it’s startling. You’ve never tasted anything so good. Now you see someone coming toward you. It’s Jesus, with a big smile on his face. You fall to your knees in worship. He pulls you up and embraces you.
At last, you’re with the person you were made for, in the place you were made to be. Everywhere you go there will be new people and places to enjoy, new things to discover. What’s that you smell? A feast. A party’s ahead. And you’re invited. There’s exploration and work to be done—and you can’t wait to get started.
Does hell really exist? The next most important thing we should know and understand is that there is a hell, and it would be a terrible thing to be sent there and spend eternity without our Lord.
Hell is very real and is described by Jesus in the Bible as an exceptionally bleak place. He taught that in hell, people suffer eternal torment without relief. They cannot leave hell, they cannot be comforted, and they lack any kind of hope, for all eternity. Doesn’t sound very appealing, does it?
What happens when we die? When we die, we face judgment. It’s this judgment that determines if we go to heaven or to hell. Judgment depends upon our faith, not our works. It’s not based on what we have done during our lives on earth, but on what Jesus has done for us. If we have accepted Christ’s atoning death for us, God only sees his Son’s sacrifice instead of seeing our sin. It’s because of Jesus’ death on the Cross, and our faith in him, that we’re able to spend our eternity with God in heaven.
By default, we’re all sinners and therefore deserve to go to hell, because only those without sin deserve to spend eternity with our heavenly Father. However, when we accept God’s great gift of salvation, he does not see our sin and allows us to live with him. And that future is a whole lot better than the one in hell.
How can I know that I’m going to heaven? We can know for sure that we have eternal life in heaven, thanks to God’s promise of salvation. BUT you don’t get there just by “being a Christian”—you have to make the decision to repent of your sins and accept Jesus’ sacrificial death on your behalf. When you choose to place your faith in Christ and surrender control of your life to him, you can be sure that you will be welcomed through the gates of heaven. Try to reflect on this daily, in prayer, in quiet time, with your small group; all of these things help us to remember what we’re really living for now, and what we long for in the future.
Will I see my family in heaven? You will see anyone that accepted Christ’s sacrifice for their life. Only through Christ can we reach the Father in heaven, so anyone who overlooks God’s invitation to a relationship with him will not go to heaven when they die. This possibility is incredibly sad and should be a huge motivation to share the gospel message with your friends and family who do not know Jesus. If you’re not sure how to do that, check out this post: How to Talk to Your Friends and Family About Jesus.
Will my pets be in heaven too? The eager question of many a child! Do pets go to heaven? According to Randy Alcorn, it would not be a surprise if they were there waiting to greet us when we reach heaven. He explains,
There is a clear Biblical promise of animals living on the New Earth (Isaiah 65:17-25) . . . God has made animals, and us. . . . Animals aren’t nearly as valuable as people, but God is their Maker and has touched many people’s lives through them. . . . Romans 8:19-23 assumes animals as part of a suffering creation eagerly awaiting deliverance through humanity’s resurrection. This seems to require that some animals who lived, suffered, and died on the old Earth must be made whole on the New Earth. Wouldn’t some of those likely be our pets? . . . Wouldn’t it be just like God to take animals entrusted to our care in the old world and allow us to enjoy with them the wonders of the new world?*
*Excerpted from TouchPoints: Heaven, Randy Alcorn.
What does it mean to bring heaven to earth? Once we accept Christ into our hearts, we’re called on a mission to spread his love to others, so that they might know him too. Our mission isn’t to just get to heaven; it’s to teach others about it so they can go there too. In doing so, we’re demonstrating the love of Christ through our words and actions on earth. Sometimes this is referred to as “the great commission.”
This can take on many, many different forms. It might be a chat with a friend or family member, talking to them about how your faith in Jesus has affected you. It could be volunteering with a mission team, Christian charity, or church ministry designed to directly reflect the love of Jesus to those being served. Or it could be an outreach program with your church.
In his book Eternity Is Now in Session, John Ortberg uses biblical references to help us understand that heaven can be a place on earth, and it’s our job to bring that here now.
Ortberg references the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus is saying in this prayer that he intends for heaven to be brought to earth. He taught us to ask God ourselves for heaven to be established in our own lives, our country, our work, our schools, our homes. Ortberg explains, “We are not in charge, but we are not idle. We are engaged. We become a part of God’s project. Every time you bring a slice of this up-there life down here, the Kingdom of God breaks into all the messed-up kingdoms of the world.”
Salvation isn’t about getting you into heaven; it’s about getting heaven into you.
It’s not about relocation; it’s about transformation.
It’s not about what God wants to do to you; it’s about what God wants to do in you.
It’s about allowing Jesus’ Kingdom life to permeate our little lives one moment, one choice at a time.
By accepting Christ’s sacrifice for us, by declaring our faith in him and confessing our sins to God, seeking his forgiveness, we can know that heaven awaits us.
By following Jesus’ teaching and example—serving the poor, talking about him, creating space for God to work—we can bring a piece of heaven down to our own little patch of earth today.
Your job now is to find out what you can do to help bring heaven to earth today, and look forward to what awaits you after death. Does this make you think about your mortality differently?
Perhaps you can use your God-given spiritual gifts to bring heaven to earth? Find out about spiritual gifts and which ones you have here >>
Purchase Heaven by Randy Alcorn here >> Heaven contains all the answers to your heaven-related questions. Or you try Alcorn’s TouchPoints: Heaven, which answers a number of direct questions about heaven. Questions include Will we be judged when we die? Is Heaven our default destination . . . or is Hell? Will we be ourselves in Heaven? Will we become angels?
Eternity Is Now in Session is available for purchase here >> John Ortberg reminds us that heaven can’t wait, and God is asking us to do whatever we can to bring heaven and God’s Kingdom into the “messed-up kingdoms” of earth. Find out how to bring heaven to earth today and see the proper perspective of what Jesus taught.10