St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror dimly (literally- “in a riddle”), but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” The heavenly vista that awaits the faithful believer has sometimes been called “the beatific vision”. We will behold the face of eternal love that is God, a “face” we now only see indirectly. Our knowledge of God is “in part” presently. Paul also says of heaven earlier in this epistle, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). This glory is revealed only as the Spirit moves within our hearts by faith. It is to have “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16b). Thus, the believer relies on the voice of Scripture to speak of heavenly things. But what does the Bible say of heaven? This will be the topic of our present study.
Question: What do you imagine heaven will be like; how do you picture it in your mind? Often people think of it as an exaggeration of things they like on earth. But if we can think of it, according to the above passage, heaven will be so very much more. What might that suggest about heaven as we compare it to what we know of this world and how the universe works?
Heaven is simply beyond our ability to understand now. All we know is a universe governed by the laws of physics and what our human senses can experience. Even our mind and spirit can only contemplate heaven in a muddled way. Yet, knowing through Christ’s death and bodily resurrection we will rise to this everlasting life with a glorified flesh, one would expect a kind of physicality to heaven. Its dimension will no doubt be more than mere height, width and breath but nevertheless it has dimension, reality, locality.
We could really stop our study here… but we won’t. Not just yet. Randy Alcorn wrote in his book, Heaven, “We cannot anticipate or desire what we cannot imagine. That’s why, I believe, God has given us glimpses of Heaven in the Bible– to fire up our imagination and kindle a desire for Heaven in our hearts.” Maybe this is what Paul means about seeing dimly into heaven. God gives us a peek. One such important glimpse God offers of heaven through the Word is when we gather together around it in worship.
We say in our liturgy that Holy Communion is a “foretaste of the feast to come”. Our present worship, while whole and satisfying, can also whet our appetites for greater things to come. And it says something very important about heaven: we won’t be there alone. We experience God in His love as a communal experience. John saw them as those dressed in white from every nation (Rev. 7:9-12). Our corporate worship “with angels, arch angels and all the company of heaven” celebrates this blessed truth. We will be together with our loved ones in heaven, all together with those who put their hope in Jesus. “… and so we will always be together with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17b). But how will we know or recognize one another there?
One clue the Bible gives us is in Matthew 22:30. In the resurrection, there is no marriage nor giving in marriage. That union, giving way to procreation also, is reserved for this life only. Thus in heaven, we will not be husbands and wives. The vow is until death do we part. Sorry, no eternal soul mates for the afterlife. Does this suggest that the family ties built on marriage are also not binding? Siblings, parent/child relationships, grandparents, aunts/uncles, etc.– do they only have meaning for this life? Scripture doesn’t specifically comment beyond the marital bond. Many have come to believe, however, as we are all children of God through Christ that we all are family in heaven. All are simply brothers and sisters. Jesus speaks this way in Matt. 10:37 and 12:46-50 about the faithful. If this is so, then all prior relationships and recognitions would not carry over into heaven (see Isaiah 65:17). We will simply be the one family of God perhaps as the true manifestation of the one humanity God intended at creation. Everyone is related by common DNA now but because heaven allows for us to “know fully”, that may mean we can actually keep in mind however many millions of individual people we will be with forever (maybe each with their own unique new name for heaven; see Rev. 2:17).
Question: Understanding the sentimental side of this issue; that is, needing to see our deceased loved one again and knowing it is them, what trouble can you foresee if we know everyone who’s in heaven forever as we know them now? Or asking it this way, would you want to be known forever is heaven as “Doubting Thomas” or by whatever shortcomings you have right now?