What’s heaven like? The obvious answer is: awe inspiring…!
When the apostle John, exiled on the island of Patmos, has a vision of the glory of heaven he falls face-down as though dead. Ezekiel, in the Old Testament has a similar experience and the reaction is the same.
Over the years I have often spoke n to people who had a near-death experience, which gave them just a small glimpse of what is on the other side. Rather typical is the story of Harry de Kroon, a man whose faith has now turned to sight. Harry used to enjoy telling the story of when he was just a young pre-schooler. On one occasion he fell into a canal in his native Holland. They dragged his unconscious body from the water and commenced CPR. After a while he struggled groggily to his feet and promptly walked back to the canal and jumped back in. Pulling him out of the canal a second time they asked him why he was being so silly by jumping back in the water. He told them that he wanted to go back to the beautiful gardens and flowers at the bottom of the canal. Harry, for the rest of his life, was convinced that for his encouragement the Lord had given him a glimpse of the splendour of that world that we enter when our last breath fades from our bodies. In Harry’s case it helped remove his fear of death and inspired confidence in the reality of the spiritual.
In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul speaks of a similar experience. He tells how he was “caught up to paradise”. Paul himself is not sure just how that all happened. Was it a near-death experience from that occasion when he was stoned and left for dead, or was it a vision? Nevertheless Paul says that he heard “inexpressible things” – things you can’t put into words.
Although the Bible is remarkably restrained in what it tells us about heaven there are a couple of things we can be sure about. Let me mention three.
First, the moment of our death is also the moment of our entrance into the glory of heaven. Our spirits leave our bodies and go to be with our Saviour. When Stephen was martyred he prayed, “Lord Jesus receive my spirit.” Thousands of God’s children have prayed the same way in the hour of their death. Christians have this wonderful certainly that death is not the end but that their inner self lives on in that place we call heaven and which Paul spoke of as Paradise.
Second, the splendour of heaven is especially the presence of God. What overwhelmed both the prophet Ezekiel and the apostle John was the glory of the living God whose throne is in heaven. And the wonderful thing is that at death we will be – not just be in a wonderful place called heaven – but with our Lord. Paul tells us that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. That is immensely comforting for Christians. We actually go to be with Jesus.
Third, we remain there in a spirit-existence until Jesus returns to reunite us with our bodies at the resurrection. Today there is often a lot of sloppy, unbiblical talk about those who have departed this life. There is, for example, the misconception that at death they become angels. While I admire the humour of the cartoon strip Pearly Gates, it encourages that misconception that after this life we sprout wings and then spend eternity floating on clouds and strumming harps. Not so!
The Bible may not tell us much about heaven, but what it does say is for our encouragement. As the apostle Paul put it: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”