Randy Alcorn opens Heaven, the book Tyndale published in 2004, with this thought: “The sense that we will live forever somewhere has shaped every civilization in human history.”
He begins by wondering about all the misinformation and distortions of Heaven in our society, and concludes in the first chapter that we have some decidedly incorrect views of Heaven in our western philosophy that have corrupted the Biblical view. Some of it comes from movies, television, imaginings of friends, and wild-eyed wishful thinking, most from Greek philosophy.
It is not as most suppose, a boring place of ghostly unearthly experience. Many sincere Christ-followers quote the 1 Corinthian 2:9 to conclude we cannot know anything about Heaven: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, God has prepared for those who love Him.” But read on! Verse 10 says: “These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.”
It is not as many suppose an ethereal realm of disembodied spirits floating around with no physical reality. Stopping short of verse 10, we fail to see that the descriptions of Heaven in the Bible are descriptions! They detail gardens, cities, buildings, banquets and even bodies for us; recognizable, identifiable personal bodies. A human spirit without a body is not really human, any more than a body without a spirit is. And a place that Jesus is preparing for us (John 14:2-3) is a place to which He will escort us one day.
This is why Paul goes to such detail to explain the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. Here he describes a “spiritual body,” but not a disembodied spirit. “Just as we have born the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the Man of Heaven.” (15:49) Look at Jesus after His resurrection and we can see that He had a real body, though it was somehow different from His natural body which had been crucified. Yet He was recognizable (once the disciples got past their prejudice that He was dead), He was touchable, He could eat and drink, He could walk and talk and hold conversations. This is you and me in our resurrected bodies in Heaven someday!
Now I grant that there are some things in Heaven that are difficult to understand, and I have addressed this issue previously. An illustration I have used before is going inside a mother’s womb and telling an unborn baby what to expect when he gets out into the world: sunsets, concerts, caramel, roses and massages (to cover the five senses). How could he possibly understand the heightened awareness he will have when he comes out of the boring, dark and quiet place he lives?
Ezekiel, Daniel, Isaiah and John all saw things in the next world and tried to convey them to us in language we could understand, yet even in the Scripture they fell woefully short of clarifying what they had seen. But they had not seen disembodied spirits floating on ethereal clouds! They saw real things in Heaven that we will someday understand when we no longer “see as in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” (1 Corinthian 13:12)
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared, but we know that when He appears we will be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is!” (1 John 3:2) So what in Heaven’s name will it be like when we get there?
I have recommended before, and do so again, Randy Alcorn’s excellent text, Heaven. It is not a conclusive end-all discussion of Heaven, but rather a challenge to explore for yourself what the Bible does teach about our eternal state. With sound Biblical exegesis he asserts a Theology of Heaven with careful caveats on where he is speculating and where we are certain of its teaching.
He rejects the philosophies of the Middle Ages, which taught that Heaven was nothing more than a world of light and contemplation, contrary to what the Bible described. The scholasticism of that era gradually replaced the commonly understood Biblical view of Heaven as a Garden, a City, a Place of earthly beauty, dwelling places, food and fellowship for all eternity.
No one interprets the Bible absolutely literally nor absolutely figuratively. But if we believe Jesus was physically resurrected and had a glorified body walking and talking with the disciples until His ascension, it is safe to believe His promises of a place for us are real and that when God says He will renew all things, He means that he will make all things renewed (Revelation 21:5) Note, He does not say He will make new stuff! Just like Jesus renewed body, He will renew the creation, returning us to the pure life of Eden before the Fall, but in a fuller and more complete relation to Himself than Adam and Eve had in Eden.
The Revelation 21 “passing away” of the first heaven (this is a reference to the sky, not the eternal realm of God) and the first earth will be like the “passing away” of a loved one, as Jesus passed away when He died and was buried. Then He was resurrected “new” and improved! Then our Lord’s “dwelling place” will be with us, in a “new heaven and a new earth”. (Revelation 21:1)
What in Heaven’s name will all this be like? Well, at this time, we can only imagine, but it will be REAL!