If you’re a Christian and you die before Jesus returns, you will experience two different Heavens.
Why is that? Because there is a difference between the Heaven we go to when we die and the Heaven we experience when Jesus returns to Earth to make all things new.
Chances are this is new to you. Some of you may even think I’m talking crazy or, even worse, talking heresy. Most Christians lack proper teaching on the Bible’s description of what comes after death. The church has let Hollywood depictions of Heaven determine their convictions. Others have let fictional tales of the afterlife or someone’s I-died-went-to-Heaven-and-now-I’m-back-to-tell-you-what-I-saw account form their beliefs about Heaven.
But the Bible speaks plainly enough for us to draw accurate conclusions about what is coming after death. And one of those plain teachings is that there are two different Heavens most believers will experience. The reason I say most is that when Jesus returns to Earth, there will be Christians alive on the Earth who will not taste death. But most Christians will die before Christ returns and experience two different Heavens.
Future posts will detail the specifics of each Heaven, but this post establishes the reality of two different Heavens.
Theologians use various titles and descriptors to designate these two Heavens. Some call them Present Heaven and Future Heaven. Others use Intermediate Heaven and Eternal Heaven. Perhaps these descriptors already inform you about the difference between the two, but I’ll briefly elaborate on them.
Christians who die go to Heaven immediately (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21-23). We spoke about this in the last post about two judgments. If we trusted Christ for salvation in our lives, then we will enter the presence of Christ in Heaven. The people of God — from Abel to this present hour — who have died are in Present Heaven.
There is no soul sleep. We close our eyes in death in this world and open them in the next. Immediate. And the place where Christians reside in that moment is Heaven. We will dive further into the details and descriptions of Present Heaven in the next post.
The Bible repeats that Jesus is returning to Earth. When Jesus returns, he will raise the dead and judge each person according to their works. This means those who were in Present Heaven with Jesus reunite with their bodies at the resurrection, which are now physically on the Earth.
Catch this again: those who are now in Present Heaven with Jesus will reunite with their body here on Earth when Jesus returns in his Second Coming.
After this Great White Throne judgment, all things on the Earth (and the entire universe) are made new. This is the long-awaited New Heavens and New Earth.
Jesus doesn’t whisk believers away to another realm or dimension after the judgment. No, believers remain here on the Earth. In Revelation 21:2, John says, “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” John sees the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from Present Heaven to the Earth.
This isn’t a temporary setup or situation. Because in the next verse he records, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”
The dwelling place of God (Present Heaven) is now with man (Earth). Heaven comes to Earth. Earth becomes Heaven. The Intermediate Heaven gives ways to Eternal Heaven.
Those who are in Christ will go to Heaven when they die. This Present Heaven is only a temporary stay as we await Jesus’ return and the establishment of Heaven on Earth forever. Forthcoming posts will describe each of these Heavens in more detail. But it is important to understand that where believers go now is not the place they stay forever.
This doesn’t mean Present Heaven lacks glory. Jesus is there in splendor and majesty, and we will marvel at the feet of the Lamb. But it does means Present Heaven is not the fullness of God’s plan. God’s ultimate plan is for the resurrection of our earthly bodies and the restoration of the universe. Future Heaven is where we should direct our eyes and hearts the most.
By neglecting the proper biblical teaching on this subject, many believers lose the richness of what awaits us. Eternity in Heaven will play out on the stage of the universe where we currently live. Heaven is not an abstract, ethereal world. At least not the Heaven the Bible describes. But the Heaven most often imagined by even the most faithful Christians pales compared to what God has actually prepared for us.