I am convinced that one of the main reasons people may not be excited about “dying and going to heaven forever” is that the usual picture of life after death is so unnatural, weird, and utterly unlike anything they really enjoy. But what if our activities in the eternal state actually look more like the most enjoyable things we do in this life, only vastly better in every way?
As I have already demonstrated, the notion of spending eternity in heaven in a kind of disembodied or semi-embodied, ethereal, floaty, and slumberous existence must go. For one thing, such a view of heaven is in some ways skewed to begin with. However, more to the point, heaven is not the believer’s eternal home anyway; a new earth is. We will enjoy our lives on this physical new earth in new bodies—as fleshly and tangible as the ones we have now. Moreover, we will continue to do many of the kinds of activities we do here, minus all the suffering, pain, and disappointment that often taints even our best experiences.
We Will Revel in God’s Direct Presence and Worship Him Supremely
By far the best thing about the eternal state is that God is there! Revelation 21:3 speaks of the new earth as follows: “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.” God’s direct, unfiltered presence is by far the best and most exciting aspect of life on the new earth.
We Will Experience Joyful Rest
The Bible describes the state of the redeemed in the afterlife as one of “rest.” For instance, Revelation 14:13 declares as “blessed” those “who die in the Lord from now on.” This is because “they may rest from their labors.” A major theme in the book of Hebrews, particularly the fourth chapter, is entering into God’s heavenly Sabbath rest. Paul likewise speaks of the “relief ” or “rest” that God will grant believers at our Lord’s second coming (2 Thess. 1:6–7).
We Will Engage in Physical Activities with Physical Bodies
This particular point, of course, applies only to the eternal state on the new earth and not to the intermediate state, i.e., in heaven. Our resurrection bodies, as we have demonstrated at length, are physical, tangible bodies of flesh and bones. Likewise, the new earth will be a literal, physical earth. Consequently, it follows that we shall engage in physical activities. Why would God furnish us with a body, complete with physical limbs, and set us on a new earth with physical properties, if we are not going to put that physical body to good use?
We Will Enjoy Social Interactions with One Another
As we observed in Question 24, we will remember our past relationships and continue to recognize one another in the eternal state. Since this is so, it makes sense that we will do more than merely recognize one another but will also enjoy blessed fellowship together.
As noted above, the primary activity in the afterlife—whether in heaven or on the new earth—will be to worship God. However, notice how those verses show the communal aspects of that worship. We will worship God not merely as solitary individuals but together, which will make our enjoyment of that worship even sweeter.
We Will Exercise Responsibility and Service
Quite a few passages state or strongly suggest that God shall invest us with various responsibilities in the kingdom. The Bible speaks of this in terms of serving (Rev. 7:15); exercising authority (Luke 19:17, 19); ruling or being put in charge (Matt. 25:21, 23); and reigning (Rev. 5:10; 22:5), to name some of the expressions used. Viewed generally, N. T. Wright is safe in saying, “The redeemed people of God in the new world will be the agents of his love going out in new ways, to accomplish new creative tasks, to celebrate and extend the glory of his love.”
This post is adapted from 40 Questions About Heaven and Hell. Learn more or request a faculty examination, media, or blog review copy. Alan Gomes preached a sermon about the nature of the resurrection life in the world to come.
“This is simply an outstanding analysis of crucial and often difficult questions about heaven and hell. Although many today avoid discussing these topics, what we believe about heaven and hell has a massive influence on how we live our present lives, and Alan Gomes has produced a discussion that is exceptionally clear, thoughtful, carefully reasoned, fair to opposing views, and relentlessly faithful to Scripture. I expect to turn to it again and again for a detailed analysis of some of these challenging questions.”
—Wayne Grudem, Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies, Phoenix Seminary