Heaven is a bit of a mysterious thing. We’re told Christians will be spending the rest of eternity there – that’s a lot of time. So, naturally, people want to know what it’s going to be like. How are we going to spend our time for those unending billions of years?
You often hear questions like these:
“Will there be football in heaven?”
“Will I be reunited with my dead pet in heaven?”
“Will there be sex in heaven?”
These questions – sometimes in jest, sometimes serious – are understandable. I mean, if heaven is so great, surely it must incorporate some of the best things from this life, right? If heaven is such a good place, it would have to include those things in this life that we enjoy most – otherwise, how good could it be?
Heaven is a good place, so we reason that it should surely contain those things which are most good. We ask about sex and football (or whatever you might think of) because we think that these things are those which we would want to spend an eternity with.
These questions reveal the things we feel to be most truly valuable because we couldn’t imagine an eternity without them.
But the very fact that it even occurs to us to ask these questions shows that we’re seeing things like sex or football as being the highest good, the things we desire most – and we’re seeing God as a means to those ends.
Are our appetites really that small?
Are we so entranced with the good things that God has made that we have forgotten that He Himself is far better than them all?
God is not a means to an end. We don’t follow God in this life so that we can go to heaven and enjoy football. We follow God because we recognise that He Himself is the highest good. When we go to heaven, we get God. We get to be in His presence, unencumbered by our own sinfulness and the suffering it brings.
We get God’s intimate presence. We get His perfect love. We get immeasurable joy and goodness.
You see, it’s not as if God is keeping any good thing from us, as if He’ll be withholding football because He wants us to pay Him attention instead of enjoying ourselves. No, the reality is that once we’re in God’s presence, we will realise that there are greater joys than we could even imagine in this world.
We get God Himself. Once we have Him, all those paltry pleasures of this world will taste sour in comparison.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say that I know exactly what we will and won’t do in heaven – the Bible simply doesn’t go into detail on those things, so they mustn’t be that important for us to know. What I’m saying instead is that the questions that we ask about heaven reveal what we truly value, and they often reveal that we place BIG value on such little things.
They often reveal that our vision is myopic, and that our appetites are far too small.
If you’re not convinced yet, let me point your attention to one of the passages in the Bible about heaven that is pervasively misunderstood, but if understood rightly, will tell us all that we need to know. I’m talking about Revelation 21, and the description of the New Jerusalem (you can read it here).
This passage is often misunderstood to be a literal description of the place that we’re all going to live after we die. Let me just say, if you take this as a literal description, you’re going to completely miss the point, and miss all that this passage actually does tell us about eternal life.
There’s a lot in here, but I’ll just be brief and point out a few main things.
Note that the New Jerusalem is made of pure gold (21:18) and that it is a perfect cube (21:16). There’s only one other place in the Bible that you see a golden cube (any guesses?).
To anyone who is steeped in the Old Testament (i.e. the people to whom the letter of Revelation was written), the picture of a golden cube would immediately remind them of one thing: the inner most room of the Temple, the Holy of Holies, which was also a perfect cube inlaid with pure gold (1 Kings 6:20).
So the point here is that the place where all God’s people will live (the city) will be the place where God’s most intimate presence is manifested (the Holy of Holies). Study the passage for yourself. It is absolutely rife with symbols and images that connect it to God’s temple, the place of His presence.
The passage also points out that there is no temple in the city (21:22), because “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” God’s presence is made perfectly manifest with His people, without any need for an intermediary. It goes on, “the city does not need the sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light” (21:23). Do you see it? It’s all about God dwelling with His people.
I hope you’re seeing the point of what this passage is saying about eternal life. I’ll point out one last verse: “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads” (22:3-4). God’s throne is in the midst of His people! We’ll spend eternity in His midst!
The point of this passage in Revelation is not to give us a literal description of our daily life in heaven. The more you study the passage, the more you see that the author is using biblical imagery to convey the important truths about heaven: we will be with God, and He will be with us.
It doesn’t try to tell us what we’ll spend our time doing in heaven. It doesn’t need to. That’s all of secondary concern. The point is that we’ll be with God. And what better thing could there be than that?