FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions About The Christian Life - Chapter 12

Chapter 12

What is heaven like?


Here are two statements that seem to be almost universally true: Everyone wants to know about heaven, and everyone wants to go there. Recent polls suggest that nearly 80 percent of all Americans believe there is a place called heaven.15 I find that statistic encourag­ing because it tells me that even in this skeptical age there is some­thing deep inside the human heart that cries out, “There’s got to be something more.” Something more than the pain and suffering of this life. Something more than seventy or eighty years on planet earth. Something more than being born, living, dying, and then being buried in the ground. I believe there is also a “heaven-shaped vacuum” inside every heart, a sense that we were made for something more than this life. We were made to live forever somewhere. In a real sense, we were made for heaven.

There is another fascinating statistic I should mention. Not only do most Americans believe in heaven; most people expect to go there when they die. If you took a microphone to the streets of any major city and asked, “Do you think you will go to heaven when you die?” the vast majority of people would answer, “I hope so,” or “I think so,” or perhaps “I think I’ve got a good chance.” Not very many people would say they aren’t going to heaven.

Perhaps one modest point is in order. Whenever you talk about living forever somewhere, it would help to know for sure where you are going. After all, if you’re wrong about heaven, you’re going to be wrong for a long, long time.

With that as background, I turn now to consider some of the most frequently asked questions about heaven. But before I jump in, I should make one preliminary point. The only things we can know for certain about heaven are the things revealed in the Bible. Everything else is just speculation and hearsay. The Bible tells us everything we need to know, and I believe it also tells us everything we can know for certain about heaven.16


Where Is Heaven?

There are three things I can tell you in answer to this question. The most important fact is that heaven is a real place. Listen to the words of Jesus on the night before he was crucified: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3, emphasis added).

Twice in three verses Jesus calls heaven a place. He means that heaven (“my Father’s house”) is a real place, as real as New York, London, or Chicago. The place called heaven is just as real as the place you call home. It’s a real place filled with real people, which is why the Bible sometimes compares heaven to a mansion with many rooms (John 14:1-3) and sometimes to an enormous city teeming with people (Rev. 21-22).

The Bible also tells us that heaven is the dwelling place of God. His throne is there, the angels are there, and the Lord Jesus Christ is in heaven. Philippians 3:20 says very plainly that “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s why Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Third, the Bible hints that heaven is not as far away as we might think. Because heaven is a real place, we sometimes think it must be outside our present universe—which would mean that it is billions and billions of light years away. However, it’s very clear that the early Christians understood that they would pass immediately from this life into the presence of Christ in heaven. How can that be possible if heaven is beyond the farthest galaxy?

Hebrews 12:22-24 tells us something amazing about what the gospel has done for us: “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

The writer is here comparing Mt. Sinai with Mt. Zion. Under the old covenant no one could come near God except under very strict conditions. That’s why the mountain shook with thunder and light­ning. But now in Christ we have been brought near to heavenly real­ities.17 Think of what he is saying:


• We’re not that far from heaven.

• We’re not that far from the angels.

• We’re not that far from our loved ones in heaven.

• We’re not that far from God.

• We’re not that far from Jesus himself.


Hebrews 12 tells us that we have been brought very near to ulti­mate spiritual reality through Jesus Christ. We are in his presence, surrounded by angels, enrolled in heaven, accepted by God, not far from our loved ones, forgiven by the blood. We have something wonderful in Jesus. We live next door to heaven. All the unseen world is open to us. Not sometimes, but all the time. In Christ we have come near to God and Jesus and the church and the angels and our loved ones and Mount Zion and heaven itself.

Heaven is a real place, it’s where Jesus is right now, and it’s not far away from us. For most of us this earth seems so real that we can hardly imagine any other world. But as the years pass and our loved ones leave this life, we begin to realize that true reality must be somewhere else. As the saints of God go to heaven, we find ourselves thinking more about heaven and less about the earth until, if we live long enough, we have more friends in heaven than we do on earth. The best view of heaven comes when we have loved ones in the city of light.


What Is Heaven Like?

This question came from a junior high student. I would answer by saying that the Bible doesn’t give us a great deal of information. What we have are images and pictures of heaven and comparisons with life on earth.

What is heaven like? Here are some biblical facts about heaven. It is . . .


• God’s dwelling place (Ps. 33:13),

• where Christ is today (Acts 1:11),

• where Christians go when they die (Phil. 1:21-23),

• the Father’s house (John 14:2),

• a city designed and built by God (Heb. 11:10),

• a better country (Heb. 11:16), and

• paradise (Luke 23:43).


Most of us have heard that heaven is a place where the streets are paved with gold, the gates are made of pearl, and the walls are made of precious jewels. Those images come from Revelation 21-22, which offers us the most extended picture of heaven in the entire Bible. If you ask me if I believe those things are literally true, the answer is yes and no. Yes, they are literally true but no, heaven won’t be anything like we imagine. It will be much greater.

A delightful old legend tells of a rich man who showed up at the gate of heaven lugging a heavy suitcase with him. At first the atten­dant at the gate told him he couldn’t come in. However, he begged and pleaded, saying he had brought some of his earthly wealth with him. The attendant thought for a moment and agreed to admit it on the condition that he search the suitcase first. When he opened it, he found that the rich man had stuffed it with bars of gold bullion. With an astonished look the attendant asked, “You brought pavement?” When John writes about a street paved with gold, I do not doubt his words. He simply reports what he saw in his vision. Thus his words are literally true. They are also meant to tell us that the things we value so highly in this life will be used to pave the roads in heaven.

Heaven is a real place filled with real people. The Bible pictures it as a great city filled with all of God’s people.

What would such a city look like? It would be a city with . . .


• no pollution because the skies would always be crystal clear,

• no crime or violence because no criminals would ever enter,

• no greedy politicians, no drug pushers, no child molesters, and

• no potholes and no power outages either.


Heaven would be filled with abundant parks, rivers, rolling mead­ows, and flowing streams. Lining the streets would be flowers in con­stant bloom, fruit trees of every kind, and every species of plant life growing free from pestilence and disease.

The gates would be made of pearl, the walls of jasper, the streets of gold. Precious stones would lie on the ground like playthings— emeralds, rubies, diamonds galore. On every hand there would be children laughing, bright conversation, music floating from every direction.

In the city that God builds, there are no tears; there is no sorrow, no regret, no remorse. Bitterness gone forever, failure left far behind, suffering redeemed and rewarded. There are no eyeglasses, no braces, no wheelchairs, no false teeth, no bald heads, no hearing aids, and no crutches. There are no more hospitals, no more nursing homes, no paramedics, no CPR. Doctors have to find a new job; they aren’t needed anymore. Aspirin gone, accidents over, cancer disappeared, heart attacks banished, AIDS a distant memory. In heaven no one grows old and feeble.

There is one other thing you won’t find in heaven. There are no cemeteries in the city that God builds. Why? There are no funerals . . . because in that glad city no one ever dies. If you make it to that city, you live forever, never to die again. Either you believe in heaven or you don’t. It’s either a real place or it isn’t. This is heaven—where all our best dreams finally come true.


Who Is in Heaven Right Now?

This question is not difficult to answer. God is in heaven because heaven is his dwelling place. The Lord Jesus has been in heaven ever since he ascended from the earth shortly after his resurrection (Acts 1:9—11). The Bible tells us that the angels are in heaven. In fact, there are myriads of angels—uncountable numbers of heavenly beings—all of them serving the Lord in various ways. And the saints of God who died on this earth are in heaven.18 The Bible teaches that the moment we die we go directly into the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul spoke of this in 2 Corinthians 5:7-8 and Philippians 1:21-23.

But I do not want to be ambiguous on this point. Not everyone is in heaven now. Some people won’t make it. The Bible speaks of the saved and the lost. The saved are those who trust Jesus Christ as their eternal Savior. The lost are those who do not trust Christ as Savior.

This is the great dividing line of humanity—you are either saved or you are lost. And there is no middle category. You will either spend eternity in heaven or eternity in hell.

One evening a man I do not know called to talk about the moral crisis engulfing our community. “You’re on record,” he said, “as saying you don’t believe that people who disagree with you will go to hell.” “That’s right,” I replied. “My job is not to decide who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. That’s God’s job. I’m in sales, not administra­tion.” It is enough to know what God has said about heaven and who will go there. The saved of all the ages will be there—and that vast throng will no doubt include many people who would surprise us if we knew it now. Certainly heaven will be more wonderful than our imagination and its population more diverse than we expect.

But I am sure of this one truth: No one will go to heaven except by the grace of God and through the merits of the blood of Jesus Christ. Those who reject Christ have no hope of heaven.


Will We Know One Another in Heaven?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions about heaven. I would like to share an answer given by a Bible teacher of another generation—a man named William Pettingill.19 He said, “We may be sure that we shall not know less in heaven than we know here.” In proof he quotes 1 Corinthians 13:12: “Now we see but a poor reflec­tion as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

How does God know us? He knows us completely, intimately, thoroughly, inside and out, with nothing hidden but everything seen as it really is (Ps. 139:1-4; Heb. 4:12). When we get to heaven we’ll know each other as God knows us because all the imperfections of this life will be removed. In this life sin causes us to cover ourselves— not just physically but emotionally and spiritually. But when sin is finally lifted from us, then we can be ourselves with no shame, no pain, no embarrassment, and no covering up. Pettingill concludes that we will know every person in heaven, and all of them will be friends and loved ones to us.

The Bible makes it clear that individual personality survives the grave. That’s why Mary could recognize Jesus after his resurrection (John 20:16-18). Physical death ends our physical life, but it does not and cannot destroy the soul. That remains forever. In heaven I will be the same person then that I am now—only with all the imper­fections and limitations of sin finally removed. This is a wonderful thought—that the essence of who we are will remain throughout eternity—yet vastly improved by God’s grace.

That helps me think about a related question that people sometimes ask: How old will we be in heaven? I once heard a preacher say that we will all be thirty-three years old because that’s approximately how old Jesus was when he died. Of course there is no scriptural support for that statement. The truth is, there won’t be any age in heaven in the sense that we speak of age on the earth. Growing old is a function of the decaying effects of sin. I do not believe that babies who die in infancy will be babies for eternity nor do I believe that people who waste away from cancer will appear emaciated in heaven. It will be something else entirely—which I can barely explain and certainly do not understand.

In heaven we will know one another intimately. That’s why Peter, James, and John recognized Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration, even though Moses died and Elijah was taken directly to heaven hundreds of years earlier (Matt. 17:1-9). I don’t think they had nametags on. There was something about those two men that made Peter, James, and John recognize them even though they had never seen them before. That’s why a wife whose husband died when she was young will be able to pick her husband out of a crowd of billions of people, even though she hasn’t seen him for fifty years since he died on the earth. In heaven she will say, “Sweetheart! I knew it was you.” And he will know her.

How this can be I do not know, but I believe it to be true. In heaven there will be no strangers.


What Will We Do in Heaven?

A very honest junior high student put the question this way: “Worshiping God forever in heaven sounds boring—is it wrong to feel this? Is heaven going to be fun?” I think this student envisions heaven as one long church service that never ends. If so, I can under­stand the concern. Once again the Bible doesn’t tell us everything we would like to know, but of this we can be sure: Heaven won’t be bor­ing, and it will be more fun than the best party you ever attended.

So what will we do for all eternity? The answer is, we’re going to help God run the universe. Jesus told a parable about a man of noble birth who gave his servants money to invest. One servant had dou­bled his money, so the man said, “You will rule over ten cities.” The next servant had seen a 50 percent increase, so his master said, “Rule over five cities.” And the man who hid his money had even that amount taken from him in punishment (Luke 19:11-27).

The story is a picture of what heaven will be like. We will use our gifts to administer the new heaven and the new earth. Bakers will bake, teachers will teach, singers will sing, and I suppose that preachers will preach. For all I know, soldiers may march off to battle and quarterbacks will throw passes. Think of the flowers the botanists will study. Gifted astronomers will go from galaxy to galaxy studying the wonders of God’s creation. We will use all our natural (and supernatural) gifts and talents in the service of God. Nothing will be wasted. I can guarantee that you won’t be sitting around on a cloud eating grapes and polishing your halo. We’ll all be too busy for that.

The best part of heaven will be seeing Jesus face to face. We will worship the Son of God and celebrate his great victory over sin while the endless ages of eternity roll on and on. The best music you’ve ever heard will pale compared to the music of heaven. The most awesome worship you’ve experienced on earth is but a dim reflection of the praise we will render around the throne of God.


How Can I Be Sure I Am Going to Heaven?

This is the most important question of all. Here is a wonderful truth: God has made it easy for you to go to heaven. He did the hard part when he sent his Son to die on the cross for you. He paid the price for your sins so that you could one day stand before God in heaven. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He also said, “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved” (John 10:9 NASB). Jesus is not only the way to heaven; he is also the door to heaven. If you want to go to heaven, you’ve got to go through the door marked “Jesus Christ.” There is no other entrance.

Early in Ronald Reagan’s first term as president, a number of evangelical leaders were invited to the White House to meet with him. During the meeting a well-known pastor asked the president, “Suppose you were to die and found yourself standing at the door of heaven. If God were to say, ‘Why should I let you into heaven?’ what answer would you give?”

Before I tell you how the president answered that question, let me ask how you would respond. Picture the scene. You are standing at the very gates of heaven. It’s more beautiful than you ever dreamed possible. This is where you want to spend eternity. This is where you belong. But before you enter, the Lord himself asks what possible rea­son you have to claim admission. You pause, knowing that all eter­nity hangs on your answer. What will you say?

President Reagan paused, thought for a moment, then replied, “Well, I guess I’d have to answer with John 3:16, ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life’” (KJV).

That is indeed a good answer because our only hope of heaven is through the Lord Jesus Christ.

What we need is solid ground on which to stand. And we have it in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our entire hope of heaven is wrapped up in what Jesus did when he died on the cross for the sins of the world and rose from the dead on Easter Sunday morning.

A beloved hymn by Edward Mote entitled “The Solid Rock” puts it this way:


My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;

I dare not trust the sweetest frame,

But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand,

All other ground is sinking sand.


That says it all. If you want to go to heaven, you must base your hope on the solid rock of Jesus’ blood and righteousness. No one goes to heaven by accident. Heaven is God’s prepared place for prepared people. We prepare for heaven and then God prepares heaven for us. I’ve already told you that most people believe in heaven and most people think they are going there. But are they on the right road? Are they building their lives on Jesus Christ—the solid rock? Too many, I fear, are standing on sinking sand and do not know it.

What is your hope for heaven? Mine is Jesus Christ. I’ve staked every­thing I have on him. If he can’t take me to heaven, then I’m not going there. What about you? When the dark night falls, the lights go out, and the waters of death swirl around you, what will happen to you then? If you know Jesus, you have nothing to fear. Put your trust in Jesus. Run to the cross. Stand with your full weight on the solid rock of our salvation. May God help you to trust in Jesus Christ and him alone for your salvation. And may God grant that we will all meet one day in heaven.

Safe at home. In heaven at last. I’ll be there. What about you?


A Truth to Remember:

Heaven is a real place and it’s not far away from us.


Going Deeper

1. “The only things we can know for certain about heaven are the things revealed in the Bible.” Do you agree with this state­ment? Why or why not?

2. Are you surprised that most people expect to go to heaven? What does that say about the spiritual condition of this generation?

3. Do you expect to go to heaven? On what basis will God decide who goes to heaven and who goes to hell? According to Revelation 22:14-15, who enters heaven and who is left out?

4. How would you answer someone who says, “I believe every­one is going to heaven"?

5. If you could ask God one question about heaven, what would it be?

6. Do you tend to be more earthly-minded or more heavenly-minded? Name three ways your life would be different if you thought more about heaven than you do.


Taking Action

Using a concordance, look up every verse in the New Testament that mentions heaven. Make a list of the main facts you discover. From that list put together the “top ten things everyone needs to know about heaven.” Share your “top ten” list with at least one other person. Better still, use it as the basis for a Sunday school class, a devotional, or a small-group Bible study.
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