What sort of place is heaven? If we are going there then surely we want to know what it is like. It is not just seventy years we are to speed there but eternity. Many of us know a believer in the Lord who has died, perhaps a parent or a friend. A question arises naturally in our mind as to the sort of existence he or she now has. Perhaps you are not on the way to heaven What are you going to miss?
Muslims have a sensual view of heaven. It consists of flowery gardens, fountains of fresh water and lots of sensual experiences to be enjoyed, a kind of worldly paradise. Hindus have the opposite picture of heaven. They see it as a kind of escape from earthly existence as their individuality disappears and they are caught up into God. But what is heaven really like? The only way of knowing is by revelation. We have never been there, so God must show us what sort of place it is. In Revelation 21 the apostle John writes, ‘I saw a new heaven and new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away.’
‘Heaven and earth’ stands for the universe. ‘The heavens declare his glory, and the firmament showeth his handiwork’ (Psalm 19:1). Sun, moon and stars point to their Maker. Some people think that heaven will be a renovated earth. Here, however, we are told that the first earth has passed away. John, writing on the island of Patmos, states: ‘The heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their place’ (Revelation 6:14). Peter exhorts us: ‘The heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and all that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness’ (2 Peter 3:1-11). So it is a really new heaven and earth that now emerges from the hand of the Creator, and being new it is by definition superior (Hebrews 8:6-13).
Why is the old one burnt up and destroyed? Of the first creation it is said: ‘God saw every thing that he had made, and behold it was very good’ (Genesis 1:31). Sadly our first parents sinned and with the introduction of sin into our world came misery too. Thorns and thistles entered our world, followed by sweat and tears, disease, pain and death. Now nature is ‘red in tooth and claw’. Disasters of all kinds take place: earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes and floods. Paul puts it graphically: ‘The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now … waiting’ (Romans 8:22-23). Writhing in agony it longs for the regeneration, the new birth of a new world, the ‘times of the restitution of all things’ (Acts 3:21). No tempter will ever enter and no sin will ever spoil this new world. Will we be there?
There is a heaven now where Jesus is. He has a body like us. It is no longer in a grave in Israel. He is risen. True, his body is spiritual and can pass through closed doors, but it is still a body. Further, both Enoch and Elijah ascended in their bodies to heaven. Also the souls of believers are there along with such angels as are not involved in work on the earth. Although spirits cannot be seen or felt, they are not omnipresent like God but are confined to one place at one time. There is a location already of which Jesus spoke to the thief on the cross, ‘Today thou shalt be with me in paradise’ (Luke 23:43). The new heaven and earth of the future will be more like the present heaven than like the present earth, if for no other reason than that its main characteristic will be the constant conscious presence of the Triune God.