We have all probably heard of the concept of heaven - but how does the Bible actually describe it? What kind of hope can we have about heaven? Is it a place where babies sit on clouds and play harps, or is there something more grounded about it? What does this word make you think of? A place up in the sky? In the clouds? Perhaps a place much further away, somewhere on a different planet? Or maybe a different dimension of reality altogether? Is it a happy place full of wonderful things to discover and explore, or a tame, quiet, subdued place of quiet singing, harp music, and stillness? Is it filled with the same natural beauty that our planet has, or is it completely otherworldly and supernatural? Are the people there human beings, or angels, or ghosts, or something else?
The concept of “heaven” - while many people just take it for granted as an obvious thing - is actually a complex notion, a difficult concept that people think of in different ways.
What do Christians believe about heaven? Many believe that heaven is a different dimension of reality, filled with the angels who serve God, with the spirits of dead believers, and with happiness and music all around. Others believe that nobody can know what heaven holds for us, because “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9. NKJV
But Paul tells us in the next verse that these things have been revealed to us by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:10). In fact, the Bible does speak about what is waiting for God’s people at the end of time. And it is not quite what many people expect. The Bible does tell us that we will be caught up to meet Jesus in the air when we returns (1 Thessalonians 4:17), and that we will “always be with the Lord.” But the book of Revelation gives us an even greater, more surprising detail.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 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 21:1-3 ESV)
The amazing surprise is that earth will be our eternal home. God will make renewed versions of heaven and earth that do not bear the scars of sin, violence, suffering, and death. God himself will move into our neighborhood and make his home in this world with human beings. Revelation 21:16 tells us that the “New Jerusalem” - which will be the capital city of God’s kingdom on earth - will be a perfect cube shape. This is not literal, but refers to the cube-shaped “most holy place” in the Biblical temple, where God’s presence came to live among Israel.
It’s a symbol to mean that God will live with humanity in a paradise on earth forever. The hope we have for the Kingdom of Heaven is that it is a Kingdom for this world. And this is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
- Revelation 21:9-14 contains a somewhat strange statement - the angel tells John he is going to show him the "bride of the Lamb," and then proceeds to show him a city. How do you make sense of this? Note also Revelation 19:6-9, Jeremiah 3:14, Jeremiah 31:31-33.
- What does it mean for there to be a new heavens and new earth in Revelation 21:1? Does it mean that old one has been completely destroyed and an entirely new one has arrived, or does it mean that the old world has been modified and renewed, perhaps "updated," to use modern language? Consider some other relevant verses. What do you make of it?
- There are interesting descriptions of the city and it's relationship to God and the temple. Namely, the city is a perfect cube (Revelation 21:15-21) which matches the Most Holy Place of the Jerusalem temple. But immediately, after this, John says there is no temple in the city (Revelation 21:22-26). Read these verses carefully. What is the point of this section?
- Read Revelation 22:1-5. What kind of hope is this pointing forward to? What other story from the beginning of the Bible is being referred to here? Read also Ezekiel 47:1-12. Where, in both of these contexts, does the water come from? What does that say about the effect of God's presence?