Written by Joshua Belter
While it is impossible to fathom what heaven on Earth will be like, many of our perceptions regarding heaven lack imagination. The typical image we envision tends to be a large crowd of people all uniformly dressed, standing in some ephemeral white space (usually resembling clouds), with a large light somewhere in the distance that we label “God.”
Yet the Bible doesn’t describe such a place. Rather, it describes our unity with God as very active and full of colour. My old theology professor Douglas Harink explained to me that we don’t become spirits or souls floating around at death, because that’s not what happened to Jesus. As 1 Corinthians 15:44 explains, we will have the same bodies, they will merely be changed from physical to spiritual.
Pastor Mike Winger (of YouTube fame) says that if the New Jerusalem is heaven on Earth, there will likely be as many activities then as there are now, but we will carry them out with minds transformed to be like Christ. To put it simply, we will still have pleasures, just holy pleasures. Heaven is a place where the fullness of joy described in Psalm 16:11 becomes ubiquitous.
However, this fullness of joy isn’t a distant concept we hope to attain someday; it is available to us now. I found myself re-pondering this with the passing of Tim Keller in the spring of this year. Keller stated in a 2013 sermon that it is love that makes one’s life meaningful; since Jesus is God, and therefore the embodiment of love, His life had ultimate meaning.
For me then, if I am to emulate Christ, should I not also live in such a manifestly apparent love? Of course, Christ’s love is infinite; any love that emanates from me as I walk daily with Christ is not produced through my own strength.
Yet by emulating Christ’s love, the joys of eternal life should be experienced here on Earth.
Peter Reid, director of Torchbearers International, taught me this truth when I was a student of his in Germany in 2016. He explained how John 3:16 doesn’t say that whoever believes in Jesus will go to heaven, but that whoever believes in Jesus will receive eternal life.
The gospel would sound silly if it was only a promise of dwelling in some future destination we know little about. Rather, the fullness of joy promised in eternal life is also available now to those who put their hope in Christ.
It’s true that the temptations of this world pose a risk that could prevent us from living in such a reality, but this is why we rely on Jesus’ strength and not our own. Again drawing from Keller, he said that true courage is not just the absence of fear (the fear of sinning in this context), but the presence of joy.
Hebrews 12:2 say that it was for the joy of pleasing His Father and redeeming us that Christ endured the cross. Christ says we also ought to have courage, for through His courageous love He has overcome the world (John 16:33). Love begets courage, and the courage to live in eternal love begets joy.
While the unity of heaven and Earth in Revelation 21 is a lovely promise, the promises of eternity are available to us now. Christ holds onto us, and if we look at what He accomplished through His courageous act, we can face all things in this life, and have a foretaste of the fullness of eternal joy now.