In our current teaching series, we're looking at the question: What happens when I die? It's such a huge topic that we can really only scratch the surface, but we want to take some time on the blog to go through some of the more popular questions.
Some questions are so important that we'll be devoting entire posts to a single answer, but in this post, guest blogger Jamie McAdams answers a few questions about what it will be like when we're raised back to life, when heaven takes over earth.
Will we know people from this life?
We have good reason to say a clear 'yes' to this one. In the resurrection, we will be like Jesus (1 John 3:2). Jesus talked about preparing a place for us, and He won't forget us when we get there!
One of the most important ways that humans reflect and glorify God is in our relationships with each other. The Bible is clear that loving our neighbours reflects the way that we love God. Our relationships will matter forever, so it makes sense that they'll continue. There are ways that our relationships will change in the future (always for the better!), but one thing that we can count on is that we'll be together with people we know and love, and we'll recognise each other.
It's true that Jesus' friends didn't recognise Him straight away (John , Luke ), until He revealed Himself to them (John , Luke 24:30-31). But He revealed Himself in ways that His friends would recognise - calling Mary by name, breaking bread with His friends. There was something new and different about Him, but as soon as He made it clear who He was, they had no doubt who they were with.
We honestly don't know if it will be like that when we're all raised, we might pick up on subtleties straight away that the disciples missed, or it may well be a journey of discovery. But we do know that in the Bible people expected to see their families and people they'd heard of.
When a King died in the Old Testament, the Bible would say that he "slept with his fathers" (that image is used a lot: see e.g. 1 Kings , , , ). They went to join their fathers who died in the faith, and so will we.
When David's son died, David said that he will "go to him" (2 Samuel ). He wouldn't simply go to the same place, he would go to be with his son.
So we know that we will be changed, and that our family in the faith will be changed, but that we will know and recognise them and enjoy their company in the presence of God.
Will we be able to eat and drink?
Yes! Feasting is one of the most popular pictures that the Bible gives us for what heaven is like. Jesus said "many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew - "reclining at table" describes how they ate at the time, lying down by a low table surface). In Luke , one of the guests at a meal said “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” and Jesus responded with a parable about heaven where God invited many to join Him in "a great banquet".
My favourite passage, though, is in Matthew 26:29. At the last supper, Jesus says "I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.” - we will get to join Jesus in drinking wine when the Kingdom is brought fully to Earth - and (according to John ) we know He had great taste in wine!
Will we be able to remember things from this life?
Isaiah 65:17 says that when God creates new heavens and a new earth, "the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind." Now, on a literal face-value interpretation of that verse, it certainly sounds like the answer is a resounding "NO!" but it's more likely that it's expressing the idea of God dealing with the miseries and suffering of His people so completely that they won't cross their minds. It won't be a pain that they keep living with. I don't think God is saying that we'll forget what He has rescued us from, or how He has worked in our lives.
Indeed, one of the pictures we're given of heaven is that it's a city with twelve foundations, inscribed with the names of the Apostles so that we can remember what God has done through them.
We're also promised rewards in heaven based on our faithfulness - we'll touch on this later in the teaching series, but it is important here in conveying that what we do now really will matter throughout eternity. We will see the fruit of our work and rejoice over it (without pridefulness), and it will have a profound effect on our life in future.
So what about the moments we want to forget?
I think that when we are brought to perfection - that is, when we become like Jesus is now - that we will see the moments we dislike and understand them more fully. If it's our sin that we wish to forget, I think we will see it as something that we have been rescued from perfectly, and how He delights in us completely. It has been dealt with and taken from us. We understand that in part now, but we will feel it in a way that we can only glimpse at now. When we're unrelentingly certain of God's joy over us, when there is no risk of falling into sin again, and when we know complete release from guilt and shame, we will be able to see our salvation from darkness as glorious.
If it is what has been done to us, we will know how fully God has restored us and washed us from all of it, and that the sin that harmed us has been thoroughly and entirely paid for.
When Jesus saw Thomas in John 20:26-29, Jesus showed him the marks of the nails in His hands and the scar on His side. That is, He showed Thomas the scars from the darkest moment of His life. If it's good to forget pain & suffering ever existed, Jesus scars seem odd. As it stands, His sufferings are a source of glory and redemption. He can see the scars without the pain & shame coming to mind, because that won't be what matters.
I think that the passage we saw from Isaiah tells us this: if a memory does not glorify God and cause us to delight in Him - if all it causes is pain - then it will be remembered no more. One way or another, by cleansing and renewing our minds, we will be free, in a way that we really can know here and now, but that will be fulfilled in the world to come.
We will finally be past all of the memories that come to haunt us now, and the memories we cherish will become all the brighter when we see just how much more God was doing than we ever hoped or imagined,
Will there be sports and entertainment there?
When God created us in His image, He created us to be culture makers. God is a story-teller, so we tell stories. God is an artist, so we create art. God sings over us, so we should sing. God laughs, and so should we. God became flesh and made the best wine, so we should appreciate His gifts. James says that "every good gift and every perfect gift is from above" so it is totally fitting that they will continue on wherever God is.
It's incredible to reflect on what our hearts and minds will be able to express when we see Jesus and become like Him, when we see clearly and not through a glass darkly. How much more delight we'll capture through songs and art - and then to be in the presence of every tribe, and nation and people and tongue, all with their own unique histories and cultures, all redeemed and sharing their stories, their laughter and their music.
For me, Sports are particularly fascinating to think about (which is absolutely not how I feel about sports in this world), because they are, at their best, a celebration of what our God-given bodies can do when guided towards a given task - which is a beautiful idea - yet the way we watch and participate in sports now causes pride, despair - even violence.
Imagine, though, what it would be like to want to win, not for your own name, but to glorify the one who made you. Imagine that when you lose you are not wounded or offended, but overjoyed for your opponent and ready to start again so that he can celebrate with you next time around. Imagine competing with a restored, healthy, pain-free body where you have an eternity to discover your strength, where you can compete with friends and watch them discover their strengths, all without weariness or boredom.
In short, I'm pretty sure that not only will sports exist, but that even I will like them.
Will there be pets?
This is surprisingly tricky! The Bible doesn't address the question of pets directly (animals were kept almost exclusively for farming and sacrifices in Israel when the Bible was written), so we'll look at some of the things that it does tell us about animals and then I'll tell you what it leads me to think about.
To start with, animals were part of God's good creation, and His intention was for us to lovingly rule over nature with Him, and the pictures we have of the new earth in Revelation 21-22 lead me to believe that will be His intent in the New Earth - that it will be like Eden, free of sin, futility and frustration and that we can embark in the work we were created for. There are numerous references to animals to help us picture what a restored creation will be like, so I'm certain that there will be animals in the new earth.
The Bible has many passages about caring for animals as well - we shouldn't muzzle an ox while it treads grain (Deuteronomy 25:4). Proverbs says that "whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast."We should love and care for animals - it is a reflection of God's care for nature, so I think the feelings we have for our pets will be fulfilled spectacularly when we rule with God as he intended.My imagination flares when I try to imagine how that works. I have no experience of living in a perfect world, and while we have a lot of 'big picture' truths, a lot of the details remain to be discovered.
At this point, I concede that there is so much we simply don't know, but I cannot wait to find out! Whatever the answer is after we've gone through the information we do have available, it will be better than I can ever imagine.
What would it be like to steward animals like God does without any fear of harm to us or them? Where there is no distinction between tame and wild that holds us back? Would we want to domesticate them and keep them as pets, or would we find our relationship with animals more enjoyable as we walk together freely? I think there will be more variety in the animal world than we can imagine (there's already more than I can imagine in this world!), and in a world where there is no death, sickness or pain, where nothing can harm us, even the animals that make me wince now will be innocent there. I won't have to fear tarantulas, sharks, scorpions or tigers. I won't have to worry about disease from insects, mice, and rats. Every creature we see will do us good. I will be able to see things that David Attenborough could only dream of, and so much more.