In a literal sense, heaven is the eternal dwelling place of God (Gen 24:7), the angels (Gen 28:12), and the saints-Christians who have died (Eph 2:6; Rev 20:4). The imagery surrounding heaving in Scripture is filled with pictures of an otherworldly paradise, the world as it was meant to be in all of its original perfection. Heaven itself is not an image in Scripture-it is a real place, in the same way earth is a real place, in the same way earthis a real place. But it is surrounded by images that express truths about heaven-a place so different from our daily experience on earth that we cannot comprehend it-and images for what heaven represents in our human experience. Heaven symbolizes the hope-for destination of people, a place beyond death and better than anything we can imagine, where God himself prepares a place for us to live with him forever.
A PLACE FIT FOR A KING
Heaven is so different form this fallen world that the only way biblical writers can explain it is through the use of cryptic images. It is a remote place that we can only see dimly, as if through a cloud, due to the limitations of our earthly existence (Acts 1:9; 1 Cor 13:12). Nevertheless, the Bible writers try to translate the realities of heaven into familiar pictures. One common theme in descriptions of heave is that of a royal throne room where God sits in glory and judgment, with his robe filling the space in resplendence (Ps 11:4; 47:8; 103:19; Isa 6:1). Heaven is also portrayed as a temple (Isa 6:1; Rev 3:12; 21:22). It is the eternal place of worship and the fulfillment of all that the earthly temple represents-a place where God dwells among his people (Rev 21:3). Most frequently heaven is portrayed as a city: “Then I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, dressed like a bride ready for her husband” (Rev 21:2). In all of these instances heaven is a place of splendor, majesty, and beauty. It is an enameled and regal city of jewels and gold (Ezek 1; Rev 21). Yet it is also a place designed with us in mind (John 14:1-6).
A PLACE OF PERFECTION
Heaven is so otherworldly to us because it is a place of ultimate perfection and the satisfaction of every good desire. Those who live there have washed robes (Rev 7:14) and white garments (Rev 3:5). They are spotless (Rev 14:4-5). In heaven, sin no longer separates us from God, because sin does not exist there. Every tear is dried, and every wound is healed (Rev 21:4). Every thirst is satisfied (Rev 21:6). Every person dwells in light, for no darkness is there (Rev 21:23-27). All of these are aspects and images of the perfection that is integral to heaven. And heaven becomes a sign of all the good that God has writing for us.
A PLACE OF REST
Scripture also offers images of the fulfilled longings that heaven represents to human experience. Symbols of rest are common throughout Scripture (Isa 66:1; Heb 3:11; 4:9-11; Rev 14:13). Hebrews 3-4 makes clear that the Sabbath is a symbol of the eternal rest we will find in heaven. Another common image for heaven is of a reward. As people are judged when they die, those who are found in Christ receive a reward for their righteous deeds (Matt 6:2-4; 10:42; 2 Tim 4:8; Heb 11:26; 1 Pet 5:4; Rev 22:12). The imagery of rewards and crowns in heaven is in keeping with the royal throne room symbolism mentioned above. Despite all the glory and splendor, heaven is also pictured in Scripture as our home. Jesus prepares a room for each believer there (John 14:2-3). That is why Christians speak of death as a home-going-heaven is the place where we will truly be at home, unlike this world, where we are in some sense strangers on a journey through a hostile land (Eph 2:19; Phil 3:20; Heb 11:13-16; 1Pet 2:11).
All of these images for heaven-both those that portray a reality about the place of heaven and those that portray a reality about what heaven will mean for us individually make us long for the day we will be in the Lord’s presence. In a prophetic sense, heaven hold out the hope God offers to each person because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross. Without God’s gracious and singular alternative (faith in Christ), heaven would be an empty hope, With Christ as our way, truth, and life, we don’t have to be troubled (John 14:1-3). Heaven symbolizes wholly positive images, and together they make up a picture that show us the grand day when we enter our heavenly reward. Every longing we experience on earth will be perfectly fulfilled as we worship God for eternity in a place of ultimate beauty and comfort. We were made for heaven, and only there will we be truly at home. One of the thieves crucified with Jesus realized that his only hope of heaven was in the unusual man who was dying next to him. Their brief exchange points to the moment of faith open to every person: “Then he said, Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.’ Jesus said to him, ‘I can guarantee this truth: Today you will be with me in paradise’ ” (Luke 23:42-43).