What the Bible Says about Heaven
It can be difficult to separate the biblical picture of heaven from the popular images provided by movies and television programs. Heaven is often imagined as a place of bright lights and pillowy clouds, where angels with harps provide an eternity of celestial back-ground music. None of these images are found in scripture. The Bible describes heaven in two primary ways.
Firstly, heaven is defined by the presence of God. Of this the scriptures are clear. The Book of Revelation is perhaps the primary source for this understanding. John’s vision of heaven contains a picture of the throne of God, surrounded by a great multitude of people who bow down in worship. John writes “And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Revelation 7:10). John’s picture is clear; heaven is the place of ceaseless worship to the Lamb seated on the throne.
Does this worship involve animals? John does not say. John never mentions the presence of animals running down the golden streets of the celestial city. While he does mention “four living creatures” (Revelation 4:6-8), these creatures are clearly angelic in nature. Does this mean we can assume that animals are not present in the heaven?
Not necessarily. The second thing we need to know about heaven is that it involves the renewal of all creation. The images used to describe what heaven “looks like” hold an important theological function. Take the jewel-laden imagery found in Revelation as an example (21:19-21). John’s description is a picture of the heavenly Jerusalem. The earthly Jerusalem is but a foreshadow of the brilliant kingdom of God, here depicted as a city adorned with the finest of jewels. Similarly, much of the biblical imagery of heaven heralds the reversal of fallen Eden. Just as God created Eden had a tree of life and death standing in the center, so too the heavenly city contains a tree in the center. The difference, however, is that the leaves of the tree in the heavenly city provide healing, not condemnation (Revelation 22:2). God remakes the world.
Ultimately, John’s vision reaches its climax in the creation of a “new heaven, and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1). During his divine revelation, John witnesses the heavenly Jerusalem coming down and resting upon the earth. Heaven is not a mystical, ephemeral reality. It is a physical one. God’s kingdom is fully revealed in the act of re-creation. As Paul writes, “all creation waits in eager expectation for the sons and daughters of God to be revealed” (Romans 8:19). Scripture teaches that, as the creation itself has been subject to the effects of sin, the result of Christ’s redemption is a complete healing of all creation.
Eternal life isn’t about living as disembodied spirits upon fluffy clouds. Scripture makes clear that we receive new bodies and live upon the new earth. Thus, when we speak of heaven, we are speaking about the reality of an eternity in the presence of God in the context of a renewed creation. This is what defines the Christian understanding of heaven.