Have you ever heard, or maybe even thought: “I want Jesus to come back, but first I really want to experience __________.” What occupies your blank? Marriage? Sex? Children? Retirement? Some kind of bucket list item like skydiving, hiking the Appalachian Trail, seeing the Grand Canyon, or climbing Mt. Everest? Those sound amazing. But do we really think God would allow some second-rate experience on this fallen, groaning planet to out-do the pleasures of heaven?
We owe it to ourselves to be honest here. Those experiences trump our ideas of heaven for a reason. Look beneath the surface to see the pleasure or longing they promise to fulfill. Relational joy, the ecstasy of intimacy, some adrenaline-inducing feat, or the peace and quiet of a restful retirement surrounded with family and friends. What can top that? Apparently, not heaven. What is shaping our views of the afterlife?
I think we often miss one of the most critical and exciting statements about heaven in the Bible. If harps, chubby angels, wispy clouds and disembodied spirits are what pop into your mind when you think of heaven, I invite you to think with me more deeply about the resurrection of Jesus. His resurrection is God’s way of telling us—showing us, really—how we’ll experience eternity. And it’s not boring!
First of all, God doesn’t throw things away. He restores them. That’s what he’ll do with your body and that’s what he’ll do with this planet. The whole creation is going to get a divine makeover that would make Chip and Joanna Gaines look incompetent. Want proof? Jesus had a body, and he never disposed of it. He didn’t float out of the tomb. He walked out in a physical, material body, complete with scars and a hole in the side. The Bible calls the resurrection of Jesus a “firstfruit.” That’s farm talk for “this is what you can expect the rest of the crop to look like.” It means our resurrected bodies will be like his.
Secondly, his resurrected body serves as a powerful reminder that sin won’t have the final word. Creation belongs to God, and he’s not finished with it. When the New Testament was written, Greek philosophy had given rise to a terrible lie. The Greeks taught that all physical matter was inherently evil and the goal of life was to escape the prison of our bodies and be free spiritual beings. In other words, everything material is evil but everything spiritual is good. Ridiculous, right? We’d never fall for an ancient heresy like that! Except…we would. We did. Search google image for heaven and see for yourself.
As a kid, I can’t remember hearing things like trees, plants, animals, and cities mentioned in the same sentence with “heaven.” As a matter of fact, I can’t recall hearing those as an adult either. But the Bible employs those terms when describing the New heavens and earth. Check out this Old Testament passage about the new age:
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den (Isaiah 11).
It’s okay if you need to read that a few times. It’s so odd and outside our scope of reality. Natural enemies dwelling together in harmony. Meat eaters and plant eaters grazing together. Infants and venomous snakes playing. A child leading a leopard. Does it blow your mind? Creation relating to itself peacefully, as God intended.
When God restores his fallen creation, the Bible says things like “The mountains and hills shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands” (Isaiah 55). When it comes to anticipating heaven, creation shames us. It longs to be released from the bondage of sin. All living things groan for restoration:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God…in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8).
God loves His creation—always has. He inspected all his work, from the heavenly bodies to the tiniest insect, and pronounced it all “good.” But like a virus, sin infected everything. Stars fade. Animals devour. Earth shakes and spews lava. People get cancer. Death and decay surround us.
But think of living forever, in a new body, on a new planet, enjoying a new quality of existence, all without a trace of sin. No threat of the Corona Virus—or any virus. No more pain. No more tears. No more thorns. No more death. No more sin. Period. In Revelation, Jesus said “Behold, I make all things new.” He didn’t say some things. He said all things. People, planet, and everything in-between.
I can’t imagine all the experiences awaiting us in heaven, but I know they make the very best pleasures and joys on this cursed planet seem small, weak and passing. Mere shadows. Mud pies in the slum. Broken earthly cisterns. We can’t outdo God.
Heaven will surprise us. But it will not disappoint us. We’ll find new categories for beauty, new palates for taste, new sensations for pleasure. Heaven will introduce relationships without burdens, higher capacities for worship, tireless activity. Redeemed culture. Food the way it was intended to be enjoyed. We’ll finally be whole—spiritually, physically, socially, relationally. Nothing will be an idol. Everything will point us to the beauty, power, wisdom, and love of our creator.
So take the most breath-taking beauty, the most pleasurable sensation, the most exquisite tastes, sounds, and sights. Take all the unmatched delights from earth and bundle them together and they’ll be shamed the first moment you spend with a gloried, resurrected body in a restored creation with King Jesus. That’s heaven.