What Does Heaven Look Like?
If you close your eyes and imagine heaven, what do you see? Do you see roads paved with gold and serene landscapes? Do you see mansions and angels? The Bible refers to heaven in several places and we sing of heaven in our songs and hymns of Zion, but none of us really know the full extent of its beauty and peace!
Thoughts of Heaven
Stop! Before you read past this first paragraph, look away or close your eyes. Visualize heaven. Take your time.
Each one of us has some perception of heaven. Of course, we have been influenced by scripture portions, songs, artists and discussions. Yet, the fact of the matter is that we simply don’t know. Why do we not know?
Apostle Paul writes: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). Juhani Uljas repeats this in a different way: “Scripture speaks much about the reality of eternal life, but little about what eternal life is like” (The Treasure Hidden in a Field, LLC, 2003).
In John 14:2, Jesus tells His disciples, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” However, He did not describe the mansions, nor did He give other descriptions even though He had come to earth from heaven and would have been the perfect authority.
When I was given the task to create a summer services presentation on “Heaven,” I had no idea how to proceed. In fact, even now years later, I do not feel any more prepared to write about heaven. I suspect most can relate to my sentiments. How well did you visualize heaven and what would you have to say about the topic?
Over the years I have occasionally been asked to repeat the presentation. When I ask people to describe heaven, most audiences relate more of how they expect to feel in heaven: they are joyful, serene, calm and happy as they sing praises, without sorrow or tears. Most descriptions include clouds, streets of gold, musical instruments, green pastures and the like. Some people picture being in a setting associated with their memories of beautiful places, such as a seaside or mountain scene. Of course, no human who died and went to heaven has returned to describe it. The poet Niilo Rauhala comments, “So little we speak of heaven.”
The verses of one song relate about the indescribable wonder of heaven. “No tongue its beauty tells” and the verses speak about eternal life, no tears, and “God has a joy prepared which mortal ear has never heard nor mortal vision shared, which never pierced a mortal breast, by mortal lips was ne’er expressed” (SHZ 586).
However, the children’s song 448 speaks specifically of treasures in heaven. The song relates of golden crowns, white robes, harps, and streets made of gold. There is a fountain of life with streams of comfort flowing. In heaven there is eternal light and anthems of praise.
We are also familiar with song of Zion 587, which enthusiastically resounds with, “Joy, joy, joy” bursting forth from an innumerable throng of singers! I imagine that all angels will be granted perfect singing voices, voices that will never tire.
Do you now have a clearer picture of heaven? Personally, after thinking about this subject, it feels as though the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know. Most discussions have centered around the desire of people one day to be able to rejoice eternally in heaven. I never hear of the alternative, of a desire for eternal torment. Moreover, I have never met anyone who didn’t express the expectation of arriving one day on heaven’s shores. And I have heard stories from both believers and others who relate of angels coming to take a loved one at the moment of death, and of being drawn towards a bright light. The martyr Stephen saw “the heavens opened, and the son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56) but not heaven itself.
How can our limited human understanding begin to grasp something that is far beyond human experience: something that is so perfect, and something that begins but never ends? Who can grasp eternity or infinity? How did our God create everything from nothing with His Word only? Reason is limited. We can only see faintly with eyes of faith. Apostle Paul says, “For now we see through a glass, darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12).
We have often been reassured of the pathway to the destination. The bloody footprints of our Redeemer mark the way. Former saints have traveled that narrow way; our escorts today help us keep our feet on the old paths, the tried-and-true way. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
Heaven waits for all who remain believing and endeavoring in faith to the destination. Even if we neither understand nor see, by faith we have a sure hope of one day experiencing the bliss of heaven. Our vision will be clear.
Heaven of Grace, Heaven of Glory
In sermons and in writings I have encountered the phrases “heaven of grace” and “heaven of glory.” I wanted to know more about what these terms mean, especially when juxtaposed. So I turned to my friend, our congregation’s pastor Jouko Haapsaari for insight. Here is an excerpt from our text message exchange.
Matt: Jouko, we sometimes hear people speak of a heaven of grace. What do we mean when we speak of this?
Jouko: Isn’t it interesting that the Bible says Apostle Paul was “caught up to the third heaven,” as he writes in 2 Cor. 12:2. And in the Lord’s Prayer in Finnish we read “Our Father, who are in heavens.” Note the plural. So, the concept of heaven is deeper than we think.
Matt: That is interesting. Also, in English we sometimes say “the heavens,” and maybe to some that’s a poetic way of saying the sky or “the skies.” But in the King James version of the Bible it mentions “heavens” such as in Deut. 10:14. “Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the Lord’s thy God, the earth also, with all that therein is.”
Jouko: God is mightier than we think. And why wouldn’t He be?
Matt: Yes, He is. I ponder the heaven of glory. What is that exactly?
Jouko: I remember some old ministers preached about heaven on earth – in God’s kingdom. They said that the descriptions of heaven, for example in Revelations, refer to God’s kingdom as the heaven of glory. The beauty of God’s kingdom can only be seen by one who is already therein. Also, I think that the heaven of glory is the goal of faith, eternity there where God is. It is those mansions that Jesus promised to prepare for His own, in John 14:2.
Matt: It will indeed be glorious. Grace will no longer be needed in eternity, right?
Jouko: I remember hearing about faith, hope and love, that in heaven faith will change to seeing, and hope to eternal bliss; neither faith nor hope will any longer be needed. Only love will make it all the way to heaven. Grace won’t be needed either because there we will no longer have temptations or sin! What a wonderful place.
Matt: That is such a wonderful thought to hold on to: no more temptations or sin.
Jouko: Indeed. Here we are tempted and must battle daily for our crown.
Matt: But while grace is yet needed, we are – or we can be – in the heaven of grace. I’m not sure if this is a saying that everyone knows about. How would you explain this concept to, for example, a confirmation student? Or to someone who has just received the grace to repent of unbelief?
Jouko: Grace as a concept means unmerited goodness from God. When a person is in the heaven of grace, he or she is under the protection of God’s grace. The most wonderful gift from God is the forgiveness of all sins that we can enjoy every day; it is unlimited even to the biggest sinner. God is good!
Matt: So, thinking of what a young one might wonder about this, are we in the heaven of grace at all times?
Jouko: The Bible mentions “standing in God’s grace” only twice (Rom. 5:2 and 1 Pet. 5:12), but it is enough. Every Word from God’s mouth will stand forever.
Matt: Who is standing in God’s grace? Is that us?
Jouko: Yes, it is us. God’s children sure have a reason to wonder and be thankful for it. Sometimes we try to think in our human way what the heaven of glory will be like. Have you ever thought about it and how do you imagine it will be? Or have you heard others describing it?
Matt: It will be like an unending dream, complete rest and happiness. Nothing uncomfortable or pressing. No worrisome thoughts. But even these words feel lacking in capturing what I wish to express. One thing I think of is how Finnish people write in death announcements, “jälleennäkemisen ihanassa toivossa,” which means “clinging to the wonderful hope of seeing each other again.” That makes me think maybe we’ll know our loved ones who also inherit heaven’s home. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? My grandparents for example. Or my sister who only lived a short moment. Oh, how I’d love to see them and know them.
Jouko: I agree. How good it will be to meet those, who we have missed here after their time was over. It also feels so comforting to think that I won’t feel temptations of sin, and only love prevails.
Matt: So, while we await our eternal life in heaven, in the heaven of glory, we have this wonderful gift of the heaven of grace here on earth. When through God’s goodness, we taste God’s grace and a foretaste of heaven. That is what heaven of grace means: through grace we are given a foretaste of heaven.
Jouko: Exactly so, and that is why believers in biblical times compared this heaven of grace – God’s kingdom – to a golden candlestick, without any fault or blemish. God’s grace is so wonderful and perfect that it is the closest we can come to heaven while yet here on earth.
So Little We Speak of Heaven
we speak of heaven.
Our eyes press shut,
darkness fills the room.
Children of prayers lie yet awake,
not playing together –
night’s blanket enfolds
we speak of heaven,
though the glow of evening is like
the arm of daylight
me puhumme taivaasta.
Silmämme painuvat kiinni,
pimeä täyttää huoneen.
Huokauksen lapset valvovat,
eivät leiki keskenään –
yön peitto kääriytyy
me puhumme taivaasta,
vaikka illan kajo on kuin
1. What is your idea of heaven? What is the basis of this idea?
2. We learn that in heaven “faith will be changed to seeing.” What will we see?
3. What in your personal experience prepares you for heaven? What causes you to yearn for heaven?
4. If it happens as people say, that we will have a joyous reunion on heaven’s shore, who will you see first? Or will we recognize loved ones that have gone before?
5. What is the rest of the righteous?
6. Will we become angels when we die?
7. Read 1 Thess. 4:16,17. Discuss.
8. What can we learn about heaven from the story of Lazarus’ death?