A few months after my older sister died, I found my mother crying uncontrollably. The tears where not only for my sister, but they were also about heaven and Dad. Mom blurted out, “Will your father still be my husband in heaven?” She could not imagine a life without him. Like Mom, most of us have heartfelt questions about heaven. While we do not have all the answers, we do know that heaven will be inexpressibly beautiful and joyous. It will be so great that the deepest and best longings of heaven’s residents will be wonderfully satisfied.
Throughout church history, believers have used art, music and writing to try to describe the wonders of heaven. The classic literature includes Augustine’s City of God, Dante’s Paradiso in the Divine Comedy, and John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. At their best these cultural artifacts reflect biblical teaching; at other times they are merely speculative. The Bible gives us a more reliable account, offering at least three reasons why heaven is so great. Paying attention to these truths helps us to answer our questions about heaven.
The first reason for heaven’s greatness is God himself. A radio host recently interviewed some famous people about heaven. A threefold pattern emerged from the discussion: they all believed in heaven; they all assumed they would be there; but when asked to describe heaven, none of them mentioned that God was there. This is to miss the most important reason why heaven is great: the God of heaven will be there and he is great beyond imagination.
Whatever is good and beautiful and enjoyable in this life is a mere reflection of the God who created the world. The Lord, in all his perfections and attributes, uniquely and mysteriously exists as Father, Son and Spirit in loving and joyous communion. To see God, what the church father Augustine called the beatific vision, is the first blessing of heaven. This is why Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). But it is not just seeing him. It is also becoming like him, in ways that are appropriate for creatures, and then enjoying perfect and loving communion with this Triune One (1 John 3:1-3). Heaven is great because the God of heaven is there and because we will enjoy eternal life together with him.
Heaven is also great because it is the climax to a great story of cosmic proportions. The end of a story only makes sense when we know the whole narrative. Our world reflects the broken condition that marred God’s original good creation at the fall of Adam and Eve. We see this death and decay at a global level, and we experience it in our everyday lives. The biblical story is primarily about God’s plan to restore his creation.
Through the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, God has initiated a new creation. This is where you and I fit into the narrative. By faith in Christ we become a part of the in-breaking of this new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). But the world still groans, and we as worshippers still struggle, even as we seek to faithfully follow the Lord. This is a time of work, and a time of waiting, waiting for the new heavens and earth, and the consummation of all things. This leads to the third reason why heaven is great.
An open invitation
Heaven is great because of its open and gracious invitation for all people to experience its wonders. We can only come to the God of heaven through the person and work of Christ (John 14:6). The gospel is an invitation to come, in repentance and faith, so that we might be reconciled to God, and one day fully enjoy the blessings of life in heaven.
The believer can enjoy heaven in three distinct phases. First, we can enjoy heaven, at least in part, even today. When we have new life in Christ, and participate with other believers in sweet communion with the Triune God, we experience a taste of heaven here on earth– God’s amazing presence (Hebrews 12:22). Second, when death comes, every believer goes into the joyful presence of the Lord in heaven to wait for the consummation of all things (Philippians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 5:8). Then finally, when the Lord returns, the eternal state will come with its new heaven and the new earth. The Triune God who loves us will be there in all his glory and perfection, and we will celebrate a perfect life together in him.
Heaven stands with an open invitation to all who would embrace the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. Heaven will signal the end of human history, and the beginning of a brand new world of joy and life. Some in the Church have called it the “grand home-going.” I will see my sister again. Dad and Mom’s love for their Lord and for one another will not be disappointed. And all of the wounds of our groaning world will, at last, be healed.
Daniel J. Ebert IV, PhD, is Director of Graduate Programs and Affiliate Professor of NT at Trinity International University (Kendall) he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org