What will we be like in heaven?

Death is the terrible reality of life. People cope with the death of a loved one and the reality of their own impending death in many different ways. The Christian perspective of death gives abundant Biblical comfort to those who are saved. True Biblical comfort does not seek to minimize the pain of death, nor does it attempt to ignore the reality of death’s sorrows. True Biblical comfort places death in its proper perspective. Death is a defeated enemy. For the child of God, death is the end of this life and the beginning of life eternal. At death the saved enter directly into heaven. This is a great, and Biblical, source of comfort. The words of the Apostle Paul reflect the believers conviction, “We are willing to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” Since the deceased believer goes directly into heaven, what will he be like? What form will the believer have in heaven?

When a person dies his spirit is separated from his body. The spirit is the indefinable, non-material part of the man. Though there is a theological distinction between the spirit and the soul, this article will use the terms interchangeably. The spirit is not currently apparent to human senses but it is nonetheless a very real component of the human make-up.

The death of the body does not eliminate the conscious existence of the person. The death of the body does not end the distinct identity of the person. Human identity is not wrapped up in the physical form, nor is it contained in the material brain. The identity of a person is connected with the spirit. At death the spirit of the believer consciously enters into heaven. Luke 16 gives the clearest description of what happens after death. Lazarus, the child of God, entered directly into heaven and received conscious comfort. Lazarus’ identity remained distinct from the others in heaven and remained aware of what was happening to him.

At death the Christian’s spirit leaves the body behind to enter the joys of heaven. This separation from the body is not a loss for the person. Though the spirit is immaterial, it is not inferior to the physical. The believer is not somehow less in heaven than on earth because he is without a physical body. The spiritual body will be far greater than this earthly body could ever be. Consider angels as an example. Angels are spiritual beings. (Hebrews 1:14) They are given the ability to manifest themselves in human form, but they are not physical creatures. The lack of a physical body does not make them less than human. In fact, the Bible says that humans are a little lower than angels. (Psalm 8:5) Angels are powerful creatures and the absence of a physical body is no defect or hindrance to them. Likewise, the believers spiritual body will not be inferior in any way to the earthly body. The Christian will be more real and alive than ever before. At death all that is left behind is the sin broken body and the corruptions of the cursed flesh.

Though the Bible does not speak directly to identity, it seems the spiritual form will retain recognizable characteristics of the individual’s identity. I doubt the spiritual body will have the same features as the earthly body, but it seems that believers in heaven will be distinguishable as the individuals they were on earth. In Luke 16 Abraham is recognizable to the rich man. When the three disciples saw Moses and Elijah at Jesus transfiguration (Matthew 17), they recognized them for who they were.

We are not given much information about the activities of the souls of the just in heaven. In Revelation 4 and 5 the Bible describes a group of 24 elders. Who they are is unknown, but it is evident they are deceased believers given a special place in heaven. They surround the throne of God singing His praises. Revelation 5 tells of a huge host of saints who sing praise to God. Whatever else the souls of the deceased will do in heaven the Bible makes clear they will be praising God and rejoicing in His glorious presence. Believers look forward to the rapture when the spiritual body will be reunited with the physical body. Believers will then live forever with body and soul joined together in a glorified physical body.

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Will we know our loved ones in heaven?

One question that weighs on the hearts of many who have lost ones who were very close to them is whether we will recognize those loved ones in heaven. The Bible does not specifically address this question, but it does offer some hints to help us answer this question. One such clue is from when Jesus was transfigured (Mark 9). When Peter, James and John saw a glimpse of Jesus’ glory they also saw two men standing with Him. These two men were Moses and Elijah. Though the disciples had never seen either of those men they recognized them for who they were. The text seems to indicate that they just knew, by some unknown means, who the men were. Though it is possible that Jesus later told the three men who was standing with Him and that part of the conversation was just not recorded for us. Another passage that gives some help in answering this question is Luke 16. Jesus recounts the tale of the rich man and Lazarus. After death, the rich man in hell was able to look across to heaven. He recognized Abraham, whom he had never known in life, and Lazarus whom he had seen in life. This passage is a pretty clear indication that though we will have been given glorified bodies Christians will still be able to recognize one another in eternity.

I do not think we will recognize one another because of similarities to our current physical appearance. In 1 Corinthians 15 we are told that the earthly body will be replaced with a glorified body. The glorified body will be free from the corruption of sin and delivered from all the infirmities of the earthly body. The glorified body will be as unlike the earthly body as a stalk of wheat is unlike the seed. Whatever the physical appearance will be, it seems that we will be able to identify one another in heaven.

Many who ask this question do so seeking comfort that they will be reunited with loved ones. The certainty of seeing loved ones again in heaven is very comforting, but the Biblical description of interactions in heaven all revolve around our relationship with God the Father and Jesus. The relationships between believers in eternity are going to be very different from our earthly ones. The joy of a spouse or beloved child will be replaced by much greater joys. The relationships will be unlike what they were in life, but that difference does not mean they will be inferior. The relationships in heaven will be greatly superior to any and all relationships on this earth. All believers will rejoice together in perfection, harmony and eternal praise to God.

Is Hell really eternal?

One of the most difficult doctrine in Christianity is the Biblical teaching about hell. The classic teachings on hell describe a place of intense pain and suffering, a place of fiery torment and a place of unending judgment. The hell described in the Bible is a horrific place. Any right thinking person recoils at the thought of anyone undergoing such horrible torture. For many, the worst part of hell is the unending nature of it’s torments. The doctrine of an eternal hell has prompted people throughout history to search for other ways of explaining hell that won’t be so terrible. Some have taught that God will not really send anyone to hell. Many teach that God will only send the worst of the worst to hell. A number of groups teach that most of those who suffer in hell will only do so for a limited amount of time. Still others deny any thing like hell even exists. Unfortunately, for those who claim to believe the Bible, hell is described in such a way that its realities cannot be denied. Consider a few passages.

Revelation 14:9-11
And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.

Revelation 20:10
And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

2 Thessalonians 1:9
Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power

Matthew 25:41
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

Matthew 25:46
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

For those who believe in an eternal heaven of bliss, the doctrine of eternal hell is a necessity. The Bible could not be more plain. Hell is eternal. The same words are used to describe the length of heaven’s joy as are used to describe the length of hell’s suffering. Both are said to be “everlasting”, “eternal” and “forever”. One cannot change the meaning of these words as descriptors of hell without also changing their meaning in relation as descriptors of heaven. The righteous will enjoy heavenly bliss for the same eternity that the lost endure hell’s torment. Scriptures offer no hint that the souls of the condemned cease to exist at some point in the future. All the Bible says about hell declares that it is a place of unending, eternal torment in which the condemned will consciously endure physical and spiritual agony.

Despite the horrors of hell, God is not cruel and pitiless. In His mercy God has provided a means of salvation. He has promised those who trust Jesus alone for salvation from sin will be forgiven of all guilt and made righteous. Hell is a place of judgment, first built for Satan and the demons that follow him, and into which all those who refuse to obey the gospel will be cast. Those who do not believe are already condemned, but if any turn to Jesus for salvation he will escape condemnation and be given eternal life.

Do babies that die go to heaven?

Few tragedies in life tear the heart as the death of a little child. A life cut off before it has even gotten past the beginning is a tragedy that leaves all involved in deep sorrow. Though the child was not able to live a full life, she may never have learned to walk or talk, yet the tiniest infant is an eternal being with an eternal soul. The eternal state of that soul is a matter of great importance.

Most people who believe in heaven and hell are inclined to think a baby that days is given a free trip to heaven because he has not had a chance to do anything wrong. This perspective is certainly appealing, but is it Biblical? When considering the eternal destiny of any person, be he infant or adult, sentiment and superstition have to be rejected. Only God can declare the eternal destiny of a person. Only God’s Word teaches what conditions must be met for one to go to heaven. To answer this difficult question all sentiment must be set aside and Scripture be allowed to speak for itself without interruption by the heart of men.

First, every person, is under the curse of sin from the moment of conception. David declares this in Psalm 51:5, “In sin did my mother conceive me.” From the moment human life springs into existence the spirit of man is in bondage to sin and separated from God. The infant, though limited in ability to express and understand sin, is not free of sin. The infant labors under the same curse that afflicts the adult. The curse of sin is why death is found among infants.

Second, God’s grace is extended to all who will believe. Salvation is by the grace of God, through faith in Him alone. The little child is not able to respond in faith to the message of salvation. The infant is not able understand the Word of God, feel his own weight of guilt, repent or trust Christ alone for salvation. However, the infant is not without hope.

Though the Bible is not definitive on this matter, several passages give hope. These passages give confidence that the little child is not condemned in his guilt but God in His grace holds the child in innocence because of the little one’s physical inability to believe and be saved. In Psalm 106 the children of the idolatrous and disobedient Israelites are said to be innocent. The book of Jeremiah describes the children of vicious, oppressive idol worshipers as innocents. In the gospels Jesus says, “Allow the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” He seems to be saying that heaven is populated by little children. Not just those who receive Him with childlike faith, though He does say that elsewhere, but heaven is filled with children.

Though the Bible is not as clear on this matter as we would like two things are certain. God is good, always doing what is best in every situation and every life. Every child that is in heaven is in heaven because of the grace of God and the blood of Jesus. No child is free of sin and guilt. No child, however small, deserves to go to heaven. God’s goodness and grace exceed all human comprehension.

Do people who die become angels?

Many wonder what happens to them after death. Because this question is such a presing one, many different answers and speculations have crept into the popular understanding. Much of this speculation is nothing more than superstition. Some speculation finds roots in the Bible. One such superstition is the belief that when someone dies he becomes an angel. Angels are a completely different kind of being from humanity. Angels are might spiritual beings which were created by God, probably on the first day of creation before God created much of anything else in the universe. The angels of heaven are God’s servants and messengers. Some angels spend all their time worshiping God. Angels were created by God before He created mankind and serve specific, God ordained purposes. Man was created by God in His image on the sixth day of creation.

Though the Bible gives us only a little bit of information about angels, it gives abundant information about what happens to a person after death. At death people do not stop existing. At death the individual does not disappear and go into nothingness. After death the person enters into either heaven or hell. In Luke 16 Jesus tells of two men who died. When these men died, one went directly into hell and the other went directly into heaven. At death the person goes immediately into heaven or hell. Those who have turned from their sin and trusted in Jesus for forgiveness go directly into heaven. Those who have not trusted Jesus for salvation go directly into hell. In hell the dead endure conscious sufering and torment. Those in hell are not able to leave or to have any involvement with events on earth. Those who go into heaven join the angels in service and worship of God, but they do not become angels. The dead in heaven appear to have some awareness of what is happening on the earth, but no involvement with earthly affairs.

The book of Revelation depicts the saints of God around the throne of God, praising Him and pleading for His justice to be executed on the earth. The book of Revelation shows the angels around the throne of God praising Him and going out into the world to do His bidding. Though angels and the saved dead share the abode of heaven and join together in the worship of God, the Bible, particularly the book of Revelation, shows them to eternally continue as two distinct groups.

Why do bad things happen?

The world is filled with scenes of tragedy. The world’s woes show in gory detail that all is not right with the world. The calamities that affect every person and place on this globe have prompted some to wonder about God. If there is a God who is all powerful and rules everything, why does He allow terrible things to happen? If God is good, why does He let so many bad things take place? These questions are sometimes phrased in such a way as to imply that disaster proves God does not really exist.

The Bible provides a coherent explanation for the existence and purpose of misfortune and misery in this world. The history of bad things begins at the very beginning. God created everything and everything He created was perfect. Everything worked as it was intended. Death, tragedy, sorrow and despair were nonexistent until God’s creatures began to rebel against Him. The rebellion began with an angel named Lucifer, who was joined by countless other angels in opposition to God. Lucifer then persuaded Eve to disobey God and eat the fruit He had forbidden them. Adam joined Eve in disobedience and the whole human race was plunged into sin and death.

Following Adam and Eve’s sin, God spoke to them and declared judgment against them for their rebellion. In Genesis 3 God tells Adam, “Cursed is the ground for thy sake.” The sin of man brought down God’s judgment which encompassed all creation. Everything in creation is now cursed because God’s creation rejected Him. The apostle Paul declares in Romans 8, “We know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now.” All of creation groans in intense agony because of sin. Bad things happen because man rebelled against God. God does not delight in the suffering anyone, but He will always be just. Sin will always be punished. Part of that punishment is the present suffering that fills the earth.

To decry the goodness of God because we don’t like the consequences of our sin against Him is foolish. Such outcry is a bit like a guy in prison complaining that the other inmates are mean to him, the guards don’t like him, his bed isn’t comfortable and he doesn’t get to decide in which cell he sleeps. Judgment is not pleasant and has consequences far greater than the mere pronouncement. A sentence of imprisonment always involves many inevitable unpleasantnesses. The sentence of death that came upon the world involves many unpleasant deaths and much suffering along the way. This is not to make light of the severity of suffering. Compassion moves us to aid and comfort those enduring greater agony because of sin. God in His mercy has done much to mitigate the severity of man’s suffering in this life.

God in His wisdom has not removed all the painful, present consequences of sin. The tragedies of this life serve a good purpose. The sorrows of life cause us to turn our eyes upward. What good would it do us to go through life free of pain, free of sorrow, live to a full age and then die peacefully in our sleep? The warnings of the judgment of sin would seem empty and even kind of silly. The suffering of this world remind us that we live in a place broken by sin. The sufferings of this life remind us that the consequences of sin are terrible. These tragedies remind us of sin’s horror and provide opportunity for repentance. The mercy of God gives men a temporary taste of sin’s judgment that they might be motivated to turn from sin to Him for salvation.

Why did people in the Bible live so much longer than we do today?

Anyone reading through the book of Genesis will soon notice people lived a whole lot longer than they do now. A little math in Genesis 5 will reveal that Adam died at the age of 930. His son Seth lived to be 912. Methusaleh died at the age of 969. All but three of the first ten patriarchs lived over 900 years. After Noah’s flood human lifespans dropped dramatically. The first death recorded after the flood is of a man 239 years old. For the next several generations, most of the men lived 175-250 years. By the time of Moses, the recorded life spans were much closer to our own. After Moses no generation had an average life span significantly longer than those of modern man. For the first quarter of human history, man appears to have averaged a life span of nearly 1,000 years. (Genesis 5) Over the next 1,500 years man appears to have averaged a life span of around 200 years. (Genesis 11) Throughout the second half of human history, up to today, the life span seems to average around 70 years. Why the changes? What happened to man?

The Bible does not give us any definite answer to this question, so we are left with speculation. It seems that two things are the primary factors in the incredible decrease in human life span. First is the destructive effect of sin on the world and the human body. When man sinned he immediately fell under the penalty of death. Man was separated from God who is the only source life. (Genesis 3:8) This separation from God results in physical death. (Genesis 3:19) Not only did man’s sin bring death, it also brought a curse upon the entire world. As man moved farther and farther from God, the effects of sin upon his life would have become more and more pronounced. Romans 8:22 says, “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together.” All creation is in agony because of sin. The human body has been devastated by sin and the effects continue to wreck our health and strength today.

The agony of sin’s curse includes an environment that is inimical to human life. The other factor in man’s shortened lifespan is the radical changes in the world after the flood. We do not know for certain anything about the world before the flood, but we can be confident that the world immediately after the flood was a world ravaged. The living conditions after the flood were much less conducive to life than those pre-flood. To add to the harsh conditions of the flood shattered world, at the tower of Babel the language of mankind was confused and population scattered. The population became divided in small groups and driven by God out of the area, isolating pockets of people from the rest of humanity. The difficult conditions brought about by man’s continued rebellion against God would have horribly diminished man’s life.

All speculation aside, we know that death is the result of sin. No matter how long men may live, death is inevitable. Death is not the result of errors creeping into our DNA, or certain proteins no longer working properly. Death is the result of man’s separation from God. Only reconciliation to God through the forgiveness of Jesus will remove the spectre of death and give men eternal life.

What is the resurrection?

Some time in the future there will be a restoration to life and judgment of every person who has ever lived. Hebrews 9:27 says, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:” All men will one day be resurrected to be judged by God.

First there will be a resurrection for the saved. That resurrection takes place during the rapture, an event made popular recently in the Left Behind series of books and movies. The Bible reveals to us in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 that the dead bodies of the saved will be restored to life and taken up to meet Jesus. The saved who are still alive at the time of the rapture will then be taken up to meet Jesus.

Those who have been raptured will be taken into heaven and judged by Christ for how they have served Him. As His servants, they will answer to Him for how they have used what He has given them and how they have worked for His kingdom. This judgment is not a judgment of sin, for the believers sin has been taken away. This judgment is a judgment of stewardship, in which the believer is rewarded or rebuked depending on the faithfulness of his service for Christ.

Eventually, the believer will enter into a perfect eternity in the New Heaven and New Earth. This perfect eternity has nothing to do with floating around on clouds and playing harps. The Bible tells us almost nothing about this eternity. What we do know comes from Revelation 21 and 22. For the believer, eternity will be completely free from all sin, sorrow and suffering. All who are saved will live on this earth in faithful service to God, glorifying and enjoying Him forever.

Long after the believer’s resurrection will be the resurrection of the unsaved. Just before God wipes out this universe He will bring before His throne for judgment all who have died without trusting Jesus. Revelation 20:11-15 gives a terrifying picture of this event. “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”

All the unsaved will stand before God and be judged for their disobedience to His Word. Because they have not believed in Jesus, God finalizes their condemnation. This judgment is not a second chance at salvation, but is the final official declaration of their guilt before God. All those who have not believed Jesus for salvation, Satan and all the demons will be condemned and sent into the Lake of Fire forever. In the lake of fire they will suffer for eternity, paying the penalty of their rebellion against God.

The resurrection of the saved is a resurrection to life and eternal joy. The resurrection of the unsaved is a resurrection to death and eternal suffering. None have to endure the eternal suffering of the Lake of Fire. When He died on the cross, Jesus paid the consequences and suffering of sin. He extends salvation to all who will turn to Him and trust only Him for forgiveness of guilt and cleansing from sin. God promises eternal life to all who believe Jesus to salvation.

What Happens After Death?

The question of what happens to a person after death is a matter of great importance. If there is some sort of existence after death, we do very well to understand as much about it as possible. We are wise to learn what it is like, if there is a place of reward or  punishment, joy or sorrow.

Opinions about the afterlife cover a broad spectrum of ideas. Some believe nothing happens after death. The body is placed in the ground and the person no longer exists anywhere in the physical or spiritual universe. Some believe the spirit of the person is reborn in the body of another creature to atone for wrongs done in previous lives. After many such reincarnations the spirit is finally able to be peacefully united with the universe. Some believe the spirits of good people go to heaven and the spirits of bad people go to hell. The list could go on and on. Truly many questions exist about the afterlife.

The first and most important thing to consider is that no one has died and returned to life to tell us what things are like on the other side. Yes, people have had visions or dreams in which they claim to have seen heaven, hell or the spirit world. Whatever your opinion of their claims, one thing is certain, they did not die and return to life again. Beyond that, even if someone did claim to die and return from the dead to tell us what it is like, there would be no way to prove his claims.

Capturing evidence of the afterlife is impossible. The issue of understanding what happens after death begins with recognizing you are going to have to believe someone’s view of the afterlife. Will you believe the Vikings and their visions of Valhalla? Will you believe Buddhist or Hindu concepts of Nirvana? Will you believe the Muslim ideas of Paradise? Will you believe the Atheist’s idea of death as final? Will you believe the Christian teachings of Heaven? One’s understanding of what happens after death is a matter of faith. You must decide who you are going to believe. I invite you to believe the information that comes directly from the One who created man, who has died and returned to life, who created Heaven and Hell and who has told us what happens to those who die. The Bible is the only reliable source of information about what happens after death.

The Bible teaches that man is a living soul. When God created man He breathed into man the “breath of life and man became a living soul.”(Genesis 2:7)  God formed man out of the dirt, but He gave to man something else, something that was not from dirt but directly from God. He gave to man a spirit, a soul, which does not crumble away or cease to exist but lasts forever. Ecclesiastes 12:7 says, “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” So the first thing we need to know is that death does not end our existence. Our body returns to dust, but our soul returns to the God who created it.

At death, God deals with the soul of man according to his relationship with Christ. John 3:18 says “He that believeth on (Jesus) is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Before we die our fate is already decided based upon whether or not we have believed in Christ for forgiveness and salvation.

At death the soul goes immediately into heaven or hell. In Luke 16 Jesus tells about two men, one rich the other a beggar. These two men died and one went immediately into heaven and the other directly into hell. We know this was immediate because the man in hell prayed that someone would go tell his brothers lest they also come to hell. The entered immediately into a place of punishment or blessing, without long delay, a time of sleep, limbo or purgatory.

The deciding factor in where the soul goes is if you have turned to Christ for salvation. This issue is not decided based upon whether you have been good, gone to church faithfully, been baptized, confirmed or prayed over. The decision is made by you. If you believe Jesus is God the Son who became a man, died on the cross to forgive your sin, rose from the dead three days later and if you have confessed Jesus as God trusting in only Him to remove your guilt God declares you will have eternal life in His presence. If you trust Jesus for salvation you will enter into heaven and live forever in joy. If you do not, you will enter into hell and be forever separated from God in sorrow and suffering.