From the most ancient times we have suspected that there is more to life than just the life we know here. The abundance of ideas of what the life after this life might look like is strong evidence that it is real but it doesn’t tell us what it will be. Does everyone go to the same place? If there are separate places for good and bad people how do I avoid one and get into the other? What will it be like there?
I can’t pretend not to have already drawn some conclusions on these questions. I believe in Jesus and therefore I believe in His Word, the Bible, so I believe what it says is true. The discussion about the afterlife is surprisingly controversial even among people who go to the same church. It’s logical to think that what you believe about the afterlife will affect where you go in the afterlife. This ought to cause us, me included, to be much more serious in considering where we’re going and how we get there.
Do I want Heaven for what it is or am I only trying to avoid Hell? I don’t always know. Is it fear or faith that’s animating my hope for a life after this life? Some think that the fear of Hell and all of its supposed torments should be out of bounds for drawing people far from God to a relationship with Him, and I agree in a lot of ways. Life in Christ is not a process of elimination, it has to be an affirmative choice. Yet, if Hell is real and the Bible is true, and that is precisely where people far from God are going when they die, how can it go unmentioned?
On the other hand, if I’m being honest, Heaven doesn’t always seem that awesome. May I just say that the thought of singing the same song over and over for eternity just doesn’t move me (see Revelation 4:8-11). Fortunately, I’ve come to learn that that’s not all the Bible says about heaven. In that same Chapter of Revelation and in many other places the Bible clearly says that we will eat and drink, build houses, tend vineyards, and have relationships with each other. In these ways I think that life in Heaven will be a lot like life on Earth except whereas here on Earth we’re challenged to do everything “as unto the Lord” there we will be unleashed to worship in perfect fellowship so we won’t be able to help but enjoy serving the Lord in all we do. Perhaps one of the reasons that Heaven is supposed to be unfathomable to us is because those relationships will be so filled with perfect worship and perfect understanding yet we struggle so to have even acceptable levels of those things here and now.
We, in fact, know Heaven will be a lot like Earth because it will be Earth!
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. Revelation 21:1 (NIV)
And we’ll do things we did here on Earth…
They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. Isaiah 65:21 (NIV)
But we’ll do them in a new way with new motives. Because sin will have been removed from our hearts and spirits; the effects of the fall will also be removed. It will be, once again, like it was in Eden. In the Garden Adam and Eve could walk hand in hand with their Lord without shame or fear, and they could walk hand in hand with each other in perfect relationship (See Genesis 2:24-25). Yet, it’s not as if they had no responsibilities. Adam was put there to tend and work the Garden (v. 15) and Eve was put there to be a necessary helper (v. 21-23). Our work will be the same. It might seem strange to some to go to the first few chapters of the Bible to interpret the last several. I would say, however, that the whole of the Bible, after Genesis 3:1, is the history of a centuries long restoration of mankind back to the original state of Adam and Eve.
Over and above any controversy or disagreement we are blessed to have access to the one who created Heaven and Earth through His Word and if we’re experiencing life in Christ day by day we have the assurance that whatever Heaven will be we will be there, our task now is to help bring as many along with us as we can.
But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,”that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. Romans 10:8-10 (NIV)