This post is one in a series of posts on a Bible study I am doing titled Heaven by Randy Alcorn and Dave McCleskey. The focus of this study is to get a Biblical view of what heaven is really like.
I think every person probably thinks about what things will be like after they die. I have heard people throw out all kinds of theories. I have an agnostic friend who tends to think that we’ll just get recycled back into the earth. I have another friend who believes that our spirits stay in our bodies until Christ returns, when we will be resurrected. I asked him what things would be like for us during the time between when we die and when Christ returns, and his answer was that, when we are dead, it is like we are asleep – we won’t notice the passing of time, so it will be like we just closed our eyes, and then we are opening them back up again. I have also heard the no-time theory attached to this, where someone said that there is not time in heaven like there is on earth, so we automatically go to heaven as if time had already passed by. This reminds me of a recent Lost episode. And I guess there are some out there who think we never really die, but just get recycled through some kind of reincarnation. Again, I’m not knowledgeable enough about those beliefs to even comment on them. Finally, there is the theory proposed by Randy Alcorn in my study yesterday. I’ll outline it for you here.
Alcorn says that when we die, our spirit goes to God (for those in Christ), or it is separated from Him (for those not in Christ). He says that when our physical bodies die, our spirits enter the “present Heaven.” This is the Heaven that God created and chose as His dwelling place. Alcorn says that we will live there until Christ returns to earth, and everyone’s physical bodies are resurrected. After this, God will recreate Heaven and Earth. The new Heaven and the new Earth will be eternally linked, and we will live in this newly created, perfect, sin-free place for eternity. So this means that Heaven will eventually have existed in 3 different states: a past Heaven, a present Heaven, and a future Heaven. Let me describe these below:
- Past Heaven – In the beginning, God created Heaven with the purpose of making it His dwelling place. He chose to dwell there, but there is no reason to believe that He must dwell there. This is the state of Heaven prior to Christ’s coming to earth, dying, and being resurrected and returning to Heaven.
- Present Heaven – The present Heaven is where people go when they die (if they are in Christ). We can’t go there physically (our physical bodies are dead, after all), but our spirits, which were created to be eternal, go there while we wait for Christ to go back to earth and to resurrect our physical bodies. The present Heaven is where Christ is now – preparing a place for us. Some scriptures that support this view, that our spirits go directly to Heaven after our physical death, are:
- “…the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
- Paul says in Philippians 1:22-23 that if he dies physically, it means he will depart and be with Christ: “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;”
- Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:8 that to be away from the body was to be at home with the Lord: “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”
Alcorn thinks that this makes it clear that our souls do not “sleep,” so to speak, while we wait for Christ’s return. Although some people may use a passage like 1 Thessalonians 4:13, which uses the term “fallen asleep” to describe those who have died, this is only a figure of speech used to describe the way people look when they die – asleep.
- Future Heaven – Although being in the present Heaven after we die will be joyful (since we will be with Christ), we still have more to look forward to. Revelation, chapters 21 and 22., describe how the old heaven and earth will “pass away,” and a new Heaven and Earth will be formed. This newly created Earth will be where our resurrected bodies, which will be different from our current bodies (imperishable, glorified, powerful, spiritual, immortal – see 1 Corinthians 15:35-58), will live forever and ever with God. Alcorn says that this future Heaven will be different from the present Heaven – for example, we will eat and drink in our new bodies on the new Earth, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we will eat and drink in the present Heaven.
I don’t know about you, but this teaching of Heaven is much easier to for me to grasp. As I stated before, I had some beliefs that we would end up living in an unknown, spiritual place as spirits that float around like angels sitting on clouds playing harps. Thankfully, this isn’t Biblical, because this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for how I would spend eternity. I’m not sure what I did have in mind, exactly, but it wasn’t that. It looks as though we are going to live in a very similar way as we do on Earth today…only better.
Click HERE to see the next post in this series.