By Jared C. Wilson
Even though I grew up going to church and hearing about the “end times” and everlasting life, heaven always seemed like an intangible, far-off idea.
I believed that because I had repented of my sin and placed my trust in Jesus, I would “go to heaven when I die,” but my vision of heaven was populated by clouds and golden palaces and angelic visions.
It wasn’t until I began studying the biblical teaching on heaven that my vision shifted. Heaven became a little more “fleshed out.” See, we tend to think of heaven as the ethereal home of disembodied spirits. And in a way, of course, it is.
But we forget Elijah is in heaven. And so is Enoch. And so is the risen, glorified, incarnate Christ. Jesus is there, taking up material space. He is touchable, present. Clearly, heaven is not less real than earth but more real; it is richer than our four-dimensional space, more vibrant, more colorful.
It also helps to know heaven is not simply a location “out there” somewhere, but, biblically speaking, heaven is more accurately defined by “the place where God is.”
It helps further to know, then, that when Jesus came into the earth the first time around, He was announcing the kingdom of heaven was “at hand.” And some day, according to Scripture, the Lord will return, and He will bring with Him a new heaven and a new earth, the restoration of all things.
Here are three things this biblical vision of heaven changes:
1. Going to Church
Suddenly church isn’t simply about improving my spiritual life or hearing a religious pep talk to get me through the week. Suddenly, church itself becomes a taste of heaven!
And when we gather with our brothers and sisters to celebrate the gospel and sing the praises of the sovereign Lord, we are providing a picture of what it will be like on that coming heavenly day.
Through our worship, we also “stake a claim” for heaven here on earth, giving others a window into the world where God’s will is done in the reconciling of people to Himself for His glory.
2. Going to Work
Many of us are tempted to simply treat our days like punching a clock for that paycheck, something to keep us warm and well-fed. If we dare to dream big, we think along the lines of the American Dream, of investing for our financial future, or putting the kids through school or leaving them a good inheritance. But the immediacy of heaven transforms the way I view work.
If in fact my daily work is a part of God’s mandate to His people to take dominion and subdue the earth, then my workday becomes brimming with heavenly possibility! Through my work, I am laying up treasures in heaven.
I work now “as unto the Lord,” trusting that even the mundane things I do are being stewarded by Him to accomplish His purposes on earth—and in the earth to come.
3. Dealing With My Past
I believe because I’ve trusted in Jesus for my salvation, His perfect obedience becomes mine, and therefore my sins are forgiven and I receive the promise of living with Him forever. But because my struggle with sin is a daily reality, the promise of heaven becomes a daily encouragement.
Further, as I struggle with wounds and hurts and accusations, as I deal constantly with pain from my past, by keeping my vision heavenward, I can find great consolation every day in knowing He will make all things new, wipe away every tear, and even vindicate and validate all my suffering and pain.
However great the trouble I’ve been through in the past, I know God will compensate me much more greatly in the future, which gives me tremendous joy in the present.
I don’t know about you, but this changes heaven for me! No, heaven doesn’t change, but my vision of it does. Heaven becomes more real and more immediate, and in doing so, it changes my vision of things in my everyday life. Suddenly heaven doesn’t seem so far off, but rather like it’s around every corner!
JARED C. WILSON (@JaredCWilson) is managing editor of For The Church and author of numerous books, including The Story of Everything: How You, Your Pets, and The Swiss Alps Fit Into God’s Plan for the World.