The images of heaven we traditionally see have little root in the Bible. There is a popular idea that suggests heaven will be an ethereal, non-physical place in which Christians join a choir of angels and sing for eternity, perhaps alongside floating babies plucking harps. Thankfully, heaven is much more than that!
The idea that Christians will be separated from their bodies for eternity is not a Christian idea, but a Greek idea. Literature such as Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Divine Comedy furthered this idea until it was cemented into Western thought. The Greeks thought that everything that is physical – including our bodies – was bad and freedom could only be achieved when our souls escaped the body. Plato’s The Phaedo describes this in detail by recording Socrates’ last moments before he died.
If this view of heaven is inaccurate, what view does the Bible provide? In one sense, there are two heavens in the Bible. There is the heaven we go to when we die and then there is the heaven we will resurrect to for eternity. In other words, there is an intermediate heaven and an eternal heaven.
The intermediate heaven is where believers go the moment they die. Their spirit does not float around on earth but goes immediately to Jesus. In Philippians 1:23 Paul mentions the desire to “depart and be with Christ.” He knows that the moment he dies he will be in the presence of Jesus. As he writes elsewhere, “We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). Since we will not resurrect until the return of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:52), our spirit will reside in the intermediate heaven until Jesus returns (Ecclesiastes12:7).
Though our spirits go to heaven when we die, the Bible is not explicit regarding details. The idea that we are like “ghosts” is implausible. In Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), the rich man and Lazarus are portrayed in physical ways with physical wants and needs. Revelation 6:9-11 and chapter 7 depict people in the intermediate heaven “clothed in white robes,” suggesting that there is something physical about the intermediate heaven. The Bible does not give us an exact answer of what our spirits will be like in the intermediate heaven, but we can trust that it will be good and perfect and all-satisfying because we are given some clues as to what we will do in that heaven through Revelations 6:9-11.
Revelation 6:9-11 gives a description of martyrs in the intermediate heaven. If the martyrs are any indication of what we will do in the intermediate heaven, then we will be able to:
- Talk to each other and to God.
- Remember certain things from our life on earth.
- Be aware of at least some of the things that are happening on earth.
- Be fully conscious and rational beings, not some ethereal spirit.
Based on these verses and others, it seems that when we go to the intermediate heaven, our physical pain will be over, but there may still be a godly grief present while we await for the renewal of all things (Acts 3:21). It will be a joyful place and we will be rid of sin, yet we will long for the day when God creates the eternal heaven.
The Bible teaches that the eternal heaven will begin after the renewing of the current earth and heavens (Matthew 19:28). God will “destroy” the heaven and earth with fire (2 Peter 3:7) and recreate a new heaven and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13). The eternal heaven will be a physical place. It will be a new earth, but just as in the Garden of Genesis 2 and 3, heaven will meet earth and God will dwell among his people (Revelation 21:2-3).
When you think about the eternal heaven, imagine the most beautiful place you have been to on earth – maybe the ocean, a waterfall, a river, the mountains – and realize that even that place is part of the fallen earth and yearns to be restored (Romans 8:19-23). Heaven will be more beautiful than we could ever imagine. We will have eternity to explore a whole new world.
Not only will heaven be a physical place – a renewed earth (Acts 3:21) – but we will also inhabit it with physical bodies. Just as Jesus resurrected with a physical, glorified body, so will we (1 Corinthians 15:12-57). The Bible even describes what life in the eternal heaven will be like in our physical bodies:
- Jesus and Isaiah let us know that we will eat and drink in heaven (Luke 22:29-30; Isaiah 25:6)
- We will not sin in the eternal heaven (1 Corinthians 15:52; Hebrews 9:26)
- We will rest (Hebrews 4:1-11)
- We will have presumably have dominion over creation and tend to it (Genesis1-2).
- We will have a “dwelling place” of some sorts, a place built especially for us (John 14:2).
- We will enjoy heaven not only with Christ the Father, but with other believers too (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
- We will coexist with animals peacefully (Isaiah 11).
- We will sing and make music (Revelation 8:7-13; 14:2-3)
- We will dance in heaven (Jeremiah 31:4-5).
There are other things the Bible says about heaven, but these verses reveal that heaven is not boring, but rather a lively place – an eternal party of sorts! We will never be bored because we will dwell with our perfect God in a place without sin.