When you think about “heaven,” what comes to mind?
Many people think about about clouds, white light, pearly gates, and eternal happiness. My mind was completely blown when I discovered that Scripture teaches about eternity as a physical life. I had always imagined that heaven would be some disembodied life, floating around as spirits who are worshipping before God’s throne.
But the Bible consistently teaches about an eternal, earthly kingdom where God’s people will live. The New Testament calls this the “New Heavens and New Earth.” Here just a few places in Scripture that point to our future eternal-bodily life.
The resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of our eternal hope. If Jesus didn’t rise from the grave, then none of us have any hope at all. But he did rise… and his resurrection body is an image of what lies ahead for us.
He still had scars to show Thomas (John 20:24-29). He ate fish with the disciples (John 21:1-14). He walked and broke bread with the disciples along the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:13-35).
Whereas Mary and the disciples did not immediately recognize him at first, eventually they did… and I don’t think that is completely because God “clouded” their vision. His resurrected body was both new and familiar – but it is undeniable that it was a real, physical body.
Our Resurrection Body
1 Corinthians 15 is a magnum-opus on the resurrection of Christians and is worth the read. Some ancient philosophers were arguing that this life is all there is: we live, die, and that’s it… so enjoy as much of life as you can. This sounds familiar, doesn’t it? In summary, Paul points back to the resurrection of Jesus as evidence of our own resurrection (v.20). He continues by saying our current bodies are like seeds that are buried and are transformed into eternal bodies (vv.35-49).
There are many things about our resurrection bodies we do not understand. This is confusing stuff. But we know it will be a physical body, unable to die again, and glorified. It will be a “spiritual body,” not a disembodied spirit.
New Heavens & New Earth
Christians will not live in heaven for eternity… they will live in the New Heavens and New Earth. For a fuller explanation read this article on the New Heavens & New Earth. Both the Old Testament and New Testament point to God’s eternal kingdom as a re-creation of Heaven and Earth (especially Isaiah 65 & Revelation 21-22).
When God made the world, he called it “good.” A physical world is not “less than” a spiritual world… so God’s redeeming work extends to all creation. If we consider this world beautiful… just wait! One of the most hope-filled passages in Scripture is surely Revelation 21:3-4,
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Revelation 21:3-4 (ESV)
So What? (Living in Light of Eternity…)
Eternity seems so far away, it’s easy for us to forget how it shapes our daily lives right now. Here are a few practical ways to live in light of eternity.
- Rest in the security of your eternal hope. When hopelessness and depression hit, find your rest and hope in God’s saving work. God created each person in his own image, and if you are a Christian then you are being refined and re-created in that image day by day. God’s promises aren’t always quick or easy or painless… but God does keep his promises. There is always a reason for hope!
- Take care of your body. It may be tempting to think, “God will give me a perfect body later, so this one doesn’t matter.” Resist that temptation. Jesus’ resurrected body had scars. I don’t want to wander into matters we cannot know for sure, but there is some continuity between our lives today and our resurrected bodies. Yes, they are glorious and free from the effects of sin; but it seems like a wise idea to treat your earthly body well. If nothing else serves as motivation, let this: God made it for you and gave it to you as a gift. Be a good steward until you receive your resurrection body.
- Pursue racial harmony. Revelation 7:9-12 tells of “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne” in worship. You will keep the ethnicity, skin-tone, language, etc. that God gave you when you were born. If you’re a racist now, you’ll hate heaven. Pursue racial harmony today, and consider it practice for life in the New Heavens and New Earth.
- Enjoy creation. In the same way that we will receive resurrection bodies, there will be some continuity in nature. Remember that humanity was entrusted with care and oversight over the earth as God’s image-bearers. We should not use and abuse the earth, but nurture and develop it. And when you’re stressed out or anxious, put away your phone and take a walk. Consider the splendor of creation and let it pull you into God’s goodness and beauty.
- Invite others to believe the gospel. How can we believe God’s promise of salvation and glory, then keep it to ourselves? Christians believe in God’s holy judgment, in humanity’s sinfulness, and in God’s gracious provision for salvation for sinners through Jesus Christ. This is good news of great joy for all peoples. Share it, and invite others to receive the hope that comes from faith in Jesus Christ.