WHAT WILL WE DO IN HEAVEN?

A friend from long before Facebook posted this question on my timeline the other day.

“Max, my feeble mind has been wondering about a question I am sure you can answer. In heaven we are to have new bodies and if not spiritual we will have to eat etc. In serving God will some of us be farmers, weavers etc?”

Thanks for this very good and thought provoking question, my old friend.

Believe me, this gentleman is not in any respect feeble minded! I have known him since we were both small boys. As an adult he always had a reputation of being one of the best high school science teachers around. I am sure that many of his former students would tell you the same thing.

This is a question that has been pondered by many people for a very long time. The subject of heaven is one about which there is much misunderstanding due to the influence of many different extra-Biblical beliefs and superstitions. I hope we can shed a little light on the subject.

Greek philosopher Plato (428/427 BC – 348/347 BC) had a complex idea of a kind of evanescent, noncorporeal, disembodied afterlife which, in some very definite ways, is still around today. So did various other religions and superstitions of long ago. Heaven still is a very lively topic of discussion and investigation. In 2005 Barbara Walters traveled around the world for a special on ABC in which she interviewed people from different faiths and different backgrounds on the subject. The ABC article about that program reported a poll which concluded that 9 out of 10 Americans believe in heaven. Perhaps the most recent sensational discussion of the topic has been that surrounding Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon from Virginia, who, during a seven day coma brought on by bacterial meningitis, reported in his book, “Proof of Heaven” his near-death experience of going to heaven and coming back. As fascinating as all this is, none of these sources are definitive about heaven.

We want to know what has been revealed to us about heaven from heaven itself, that is, from those who are in heaven. First, we know that God is there from scriptures such as …

God looks down from heaven on the children of man(Psalm 53:2).

We also know that Jesus came down from heaven;

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” (John 6:38).

But what about going to heaven? Are we going there – or not? I didn’t ask what about eternal life. I fully believe there will be a resurrection as does the questioner, but where will we be eternally? There is not one time the expression “go to heaven” or “going to heaven” is used in reference to man. Jesus was seen as he went into heaven after his resurrection (Act 1:11).

Certainly there is a place people go at the time of death to await the resurrection. Jesus told his disciples who were saddened at his announcement to them that he was soon to leave them …

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:2-3).

It [rooms, mr] is taken from the verb to remain, and signifies the place where one dwells or remains. It is applied by the Greek writers to the tents or temporary habitations which soldiers pitch in their marches. It denotes a dwelling of less permanency than the word house. (Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible, via eSword).

Barnes goes on to conclude with most other commentators of the time that this had to mean the final dwelling place of those who pass from this life to the next. English theologian and New Testament scholar N. T. Wright in commenting on the term that is mistakenly translated “mansion” says… “the word for “dwelling places” here, monai, is regularly used in ancient Greek not for a final resting place, but for a temporary halt on a journey that will take you somewhere else in the long run.” Almost all the later translations of this verse have “rooms” or “dwelling places” instead of mansions. The idea is more like we think today of staying in a motel as we make our way from one place to another as we move from one home to another in a distant city.

In Luke 23:43 Jesus told the criminal who was crucified with him when he asked him to remember him when he came into his kingdom; “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Clearly this is not to be understood as a permanent dwelling place. The word itself comes from the Persian language and literally means “a beautiful garden.” Again Wright says;

“Despite a long tradition of misreading, paradise here means not a final destination but the blissful garden, the parkland of rest and tranquility, where the dead are refreshed as they await the dawn of the new day. ”

Paul said for himself, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” than to live on in his present state of imprisonment (Phil 1:23). For those who die in faith there is that underlying promise of being “with Jesus” at once. What that will be like and exactly where that will be we are not told. We presume it will be heaven since we will be with the Lord.

But that leaves the whole matter of the resurrection as something that will occur sometime in the future. The resurrection has to do with the body. It has to do with what is “planted” in the earth following death and what will come forth in due time.

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:20-21).

Paul does not mean that we will receive citizenship when we get to heaven. The figure he uses here must be understood in connection with the Roman Empire and the city of Philippi in particular. The Roman Empire would establish outposts or colonies of Rome in their conquered territories. Philippi was one such outpost. They encouraged retired Roman soldiers to live in these cities as models of Roman citizenship. They didn’t want Rome overrun with these retired soldiers! That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t want us in heaven – just that he has use for us elsewhere!

According to the apostle, when the Lord comes from heaven the earthly, mortal bodies of the citizens of heaven will be transformed. We will be made to be like him.

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:1-3).

And yes, Jesus did eat after his resurrection. At one of the several recorded instances of his appearing to his disciples after the resurrection he ate fish in their presence (Luke 24:36-43). Presumably in our resurrected bodies we will be able to enjoy food as before death. Whether we will need food or not we are not told.

Paul addresses the connection between the present state of those who are “not in the flesh but in the spirit” and what will be in the future for them in Romans 8:9–11. He said that God by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead will “give life to your mortal bodies.

When the Lord does come and the dead are raised, (1Th 4:16), their bodies redeemed renewed and freed from the curse brought on by sin, then the whole creation will be redeemed as well. At that time …

“…the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:19-23)

That scene is painted for us in the dramatic language of Revelation 21-22:5. Verse 1 of that reading says … “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.”

John then saw the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven to the new earth. Heaven and earth are then joined. God’s dwelling place is with men. Now, notice in particular what is said about that city within this broader text.

By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 21:24-27; 22:2).

Admittedly the language of Revelation is highly figurative, but these verses seem to be saying that life in that renewed creation is going to go on much like life in the present. Certainly everything that makes life miserable here – the things that cause sickness and disease and death; things that bring conflict and wars will be ended. There will be nations that will need healing in some sense. The leaves of the tree of life is there to do that. Obviously these nations are going to be under the benevolent rule of God. To me it sounds suspiciously like this will be, not the end of anything, but the beginning of a new creation!

But what will be our occupation there? The traditional idea of angels lolling about on puffy clouds plucking on harps of gold does not appear in this picture. It doesn’t actually appear anywhere in the Bible. That concept has more in common with Plato than with Jesus or John or Paul.

What makes us most happy here and now? From what do we derive the greatest satisfaction? Doing nothing? Engaging in leisure pursuits? Hobbies? We may enjoy doing nothing for a while, but doing nothing is for resting. We get tired of doing nothing. We may enjoy leisure for a while but we get bored with hobbies. Or is it doing something productive or creative – something that is beneficial to ourselves and others – that brings us the greatest satisfaction?

Now, consider this. If God is restoring his good creation as it was in the beginning (although developed and perfected now into the great city of the New Jerusalem) what will man’s occupation be? His original mandate for the human race was for them to “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” It would seem that our role in the “new creation” would be much the same. Will we not resume the role he gave humanity in the beginning – doing what we were always made to do – ruling over, tending, extending, perfecting God’s good creation?

Although the Bible does not elaborate on this, my suspicion is that we will be engaged in whatever is required for the running of God’s “very good” creation. I personally do not think anyone will be unemployed, nor will there be any detestable “dead end,” low pay, dehumanizing jobs there. I can only picture that in that life we will do what we love and love what we do, whether farming, weaving, sewing white robes, sweeping the street of gold or polishing the pearly gates! We will love our jobs because we will be doing everything to the glory of God and for the benefit of others. After all, that is what we were made for!

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