The place Christians go after they die is not a non-material world, cloaked in white, filled with the sounds of a plucked harp.
I hope that didn’t burst your bubble. But it’s true. Most pop-culture ideas of Heaven are so far from the biblical description that there bears little resemblance at all to the reality. However, most Christians have swallowed shallow depictions of Heaven as their understanding of the life to come after death. These adopted beliefs about the world that awaits us leave us lacking any desire to experience that world.
But we need to know what to expect after we die. We highlighted in a previous post that our ultimate eternal destination is the New Heavens and New Earth that follow the return of Christ. But until Jesus comes back, those Christians who die go to Present Heaven.
From an earthly perspective, there have been people in Heaven for hundreds and thousands of years. Those same people may have only lived fifty or eighty years on Earth. Given the time we will spend in Heaven, it’s important to know what to expect.
What is that existence like? What is happening in Present Heaven right now as we await the Second Coming of Jesus?
Those are the questions this and future posts seek to answer. This post begins with the question: Is Present Heaven a physical place?
Many people imagine Heaven as a place where our soul floats around on clouds in an all white setting. Our depictions of Heaven often lack substance and weight.
Taking passages of Scripture as my guide, I want to highlight several strands of arguments for Present Heaven as a physical place.
1. Heaven will contain physical properties and realities.
Many think of Heaven as a non-material world. The most common image is of souls being glowing orbs or floating balls of light. Yet we know that the physical body of Jesus is in Heaven. When Christ ascended, He ascended in a material body. He rose from the grave and showed himself to His disciples. People touched him. He ate food. And with that body, He ascended into Heaven.
When Stephen sees Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father (Acts 7:56), he sees a physically embodied Jesus. Standing requires something to stand on. We are also told Jesus sits on the throne at the right hand of the Father. Thrones are physical objects. For Jesus to sit down, the throne has to be a tangible throne with an actual seat.
In Revelation 6:9, we are told about the Christians around the altar who died during their earthly lives for their faith and witness. They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer (Revelation 6:11). I’ll come back to this passage in a moment for another point, but notice they wear white robes. Robes are tangible objects. This is not metaphorical for something else. Gathered around a physical altar and wearing physical robes, the martyrs cry out with their voices. Voices crying out require vocal chords and diaphragms, which are material properties.
These passages imply there are physical components in Present Heaven.
2. Christians in Heaven may have physical bodies.
This is a foreign idea for most Christians to adopt. The reason? Because we’ve been told our spirit goes to Heaven when we die, and our body remains on the Earth until the resurrection of the dead.
I don’t disagree with that assessment. But that assessment doesn’t mean our spirits cannot inhabit a temporary body in Present Heaven.
The martyred saints in Revelation 6:9-11 wore white robes and cried out with voices around the altar. Everything about that description is physical. You don’t place robes around floating spirits or non-material souls. They were under the altar. Altars are physical objects, and for the saints to be under the altar, implies even further the physical nature of both the altar and the saints. Again, if these are not physical realities being described, then the passage makes no sense.
The next post in this series will deal exclusively with the subject of having physical bodies in Present Heaven.
3. Saints in Heaven keep their memories of earthly life and have some knowledge of current affairs.
People often wonder if believers who have died know what is happening on Earth. Some question whether or not we retain our earthly memories. I want to mention two passages of Scripture that I believe answer these questions.
Revelation 6:9-11, which I’ve used multiple times in this post, is helpful. Verse 10 says the martyred saints in Heaven called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”
Notice the saints are aware that the people who killed them still walk the earth. They know their murderers still haven’t faced justice for their actions. So they ask the Lord how long.
Another passage of Scripture is 1 Samuel 28. Samuel the prophet is dead. Saul the king needs direction and help, but he has nobody to turn to. So Saul calls upon a medium, a forbidden practice in Israel. He visits a medium at Endor and disguises himself so she doesn’t know he’s the king. When she asks him who he wants her to bring up from the dead, Saul requests for Samuel.
She does it.
It upsets Samuel they’ve done this, but Saul begs for help and wisdom about what to do. But Samuel responds in verses 16-17, “Why do you consult me, now that the LORD has departed from you and become your enemy? The LORD has done what he predicted through me. The LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors — to David.”
Samuel is dead, yet he knows that since his death the LORD has done what Samuel had predicted during his earthly ministry as a prophet. He knows Saul’s kingdom crumbles as they speak.
We don’t become omniscient in Heaven. So saints must see some things that unfold in the theatre of God’s glory on Earth. And to see requires eyes.
These two passages alone give enough insight that some level of knowledge about earthly affairs and our previous lives on earth exists in Present Heaven.
Trying to imagine a non-material Heaven is not only hard, it’s impossible. Whatever you create in your mind as something to see is itself a material object. The reason that is so crucial to grasp is that Heaven is not appealing to us as an immaterial place. If we cannot imagine it, we cannot long for it. We are not soul’s that happen to have bodies. God made us as embodied creatures with material bodies and a soul. Trying to envision an immaterial world we inhabit is not only difficult, but is unnecessary.
Present Heaven isn’t an immaterial place with spiritual floaty souls drifting around. Heaven’s physical qualities and attributes described in Scripture give us pictures of what awaits us. Those pictures give tangible handles that produce far more excitement than the idea of spiritual floaty things. The chief of those pictures is that of Jesus in a physical body dwelling with His sheep.