One of the most precious words to Christians, heaven speaks to our greatest hope—that a far better world is awaiting us. It is the promise of Jesus in John 14:2: “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.”
Though it is a central concept to Christianity, heaven can also be confusing—many words and phrases are used to describe it. It is called Paradise (Luke 23:43), the Jerusalem above (Gal. 4:26), the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 25:1), the eternal kingdom (2 Peter 1:11), our inheritance (1 Peter 1:4), Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:22), and a better country (Heb. 11:16). Why describe heaven in so many ways? Perhaps because it is like a diamond with countless facets, each one reflecting an aspect of heaven’s glory.
At funerals, we’ll often hear things like, “Sally is cultivating God’s flowers now” if Sally was a great gardener, or “Bob is now riding heavenly waves” if Bob was a surfer. In other words, heaven, to many people, is their idealized earth, or earthly activity—only without death and suffering. But, heaven isn’t something we get to make up in our mind. When we die it becomes real; heaven is a real place that already exists—and nothing we can imagine comes close to its glory and wonder. Paul saw it (2 Cor. 12:2) as did John the apostle in Revelation. Heaven is a very real place. Because we are united with Christ, Christians already own real estate there (Phil. 3:20), and we are already legal residents (Eph. 2:6). Because of this, we are merely “renters” here on earth. Our future home is the only permanent one we will ever know (2 Cor. 5:1). When life is difficult, that’s an important truth to cling to. As Irish songwriter Thomas Moore said, “Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.”
The word heaven embodies all our hopes and dreams of our future with God. Perhaps no phrase better captures our imagination than what the writer of Hebrews calls it: a better country. That’s what we truly long for and visualize; a real place, not just some ethereal existence among the clouds playing harps. Peter reminds us that our present earth and heavens will be burned up and God will create new ones—and we will live there forever (2 Peter 3:7-13).
“Faith is the Christian’s foundation, hope is his anchor, death is his harbor, Christ is his pilot, and heaven is his country.” — Jeremy Taylor, 17th century cleric.