Updated: Sep 28, 2022
Jeannie Marie has kindly allowed me to share her recent blog. Information about her great missions course is at the end of the blog.
My friend Glenn, who is exactly my age, died last week with no warning. He drove home from work on an ordinary afternoon just like any other afternoon—and died in the arms of his wife and two young children, from a blood clot that took his life in minutes.
Even in such shock, and deep grief, it's a reminder that we never know when the number of our days is up, and it’s time to leave this earth. Glenn was ready. And right now I can imagine him looking just like himself somehow, feeling Jesus’ firm grip on his shoulders, his baseball hat crumpled up in his hands, standing in his steel-toed boots, laughing in disbelief with one of his big, loud laughs, “What the heaven just happened to me?”
But, wait a second… IS Glenn thinking, feeling, being like this with Jesus, right now...or is he just a spirit in the clouds…waiting to hang out with Jesus in a personal way until the verrrrrrrry end of this age, on the new earth? What happens exactly the minute we die—during the in between time while we’re waiting for Judgement Day? When we don’t yet have our brand new resurrection bodies to unite with our spirits?
Sometime in the unknown future (not now), God will create a new heaven and bring it down to a new earth, a throwback to the original Garden of Eden plan. The Lord God always planned to come and live with US on earth, not bring us UP to live with him in heaven. He wants to walk freely with us in a beautiful space he created, giving us meaningful work, love, learning—with no more tears, or sorrow, or evil allowed to enter—where there is food, and drink, and exploring and life forever (Revelations 21). I just realized THAT hasn’t happened yet, even in the present Heaven.
If someone like me, who has studied the Bible, the end times, and heard thousands of sermons during my fifty years of life, still feels a bit confused about the practicality of exactly what happens when we die, and when—maybe you need a simple refresher and to do a little exploring yourself too.
Death could come to any one of us at any moment. Billions of people haven’t even heard that they have an opportunity to live forever with God in a present heaven or a future earth, so we need to get this right when we tell them about it.
I scoured the Bible with the wonderful help of Randy Alcorn and his excellent book Heaven last night, outside on my walled-in back patio garden, stoking a fire for inspiration and warmth, until one in the morning. (That book is a MUST READ, by the way, as well as Heaven for Kids).
Here’s a super simplified explanation, a heaven-for-dummies, explanation—with Bible references I expect you to click on and see for yourself.
❶ The present heaven isn’t our ultimate destination. Humans were created on earth, for living on the earth (Genesis 1).
❷ God intends for us to live forever on a new, renewed earth that He will eventually create (again) for us. He will (this next time) bring the new heaven down to live on the new earth with us. God will come and live with us (again) (Revelation 21).
❸ The present Hell is also not a final destination. Eventually, God will throw the present Hell into the Lake of Fire, along with anyone whose name is not written in the Book of Life (Revelation 20:14-15).
❹ When we die right now, our physical bodies decay and turn to the dust from which we came (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
❻ If we have the Holy Spirit, given as a deposit to guarantee our inheritance in God’s Kingdom (Ephesians 1:14), our Spirit goes to the present heaven. This has nothing to do anything we ourselves did to gain favor with God, and it has everything to do with what Jesus chose to do on our behalf, and our receiving this free gift (Ephesians 2:8-9).
❼ Later, unbelievers will be judged on the things they did (and didn’t) do at the Great White Throne Judgement; and either at that time or earlier, believers will rewarded for how they spent their life on earth (Matthew 25:31-46, Romans 14:10-12, Revelation 20:11-15).
HERE ARE SOME CHARACTERISTICS THAT SEEM TO BE TRUE OF HUMANS IN THE PRESENT HEAVEN: We are conscious. We can communicate. We remember our life on earth. And we know what’s happening here on earth (Revelation 6:9-11). We’ll recognize each other and know who we are (Matthew 17:1-4).
It doesn’t seem that we’re just spirits floating around aimlessly in the space of present Heaven. There is a physicality aspect to the present Heaven. After all, there’s sitting and standing going on in the present Heaven (Acts 7:56). We can hear because there’s singing and worshipping, and there must be a sense of touch because people are waving things as specific as palm branches (Revelation 7:9).
We can speak and reason because we see humans asking questions of God (Revelation 6:9-11). We can even smell because there’s smoke from God’s glory filling a temple (Revelation 15:8).We might even be taking care of animals, because who’s managing the horses coming in and out of heaven (2 Kings 2:11)?
The best explanation that I could imagine what the present Heaven is like, and what my friend Glenn might be experiencing there right now, is the explanation of the word Paradise.
Alcorn explains that the word Paradise is actually the Greek word Pairidaeza, meaning “a walled park” or “enclosed garden”. You can imagine the great walled gardens in the Kings palaces in the ancient world.
The same word is used for the Garden of Eden. It’s a cultivated, beautiful, secured place created by God and curated and cared for by the creativity of man.
Jesus told the thief on the cross who surrendered to him at the last minute, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Maybe, just maybe, the walled, gated, and gardened city of the beautiful, bejeweled, golden streets of the New Jerusalem is the Paradise Jesus referred to in the present Heaven, perhaps under construction even now, getting ready for its descent to the new earth (Revelation 21:10-27).
After all, Jesus told his disciples there were many rooms in his Father’s house, and he was going to prepare a place for them (John 14:1-4). Maybe we stay there for awhile in temporary bodies suited for the present heaven, while we wait for our return to earth in our new resurrected bodies (1 Corinthians 15:35-58).
It’s been exactly a week since Glenn’s instant transport to the present Heaven. If what we can surmise about the characteristics of the present Heaven are true, he really is settling into his room that Jesus prepared for him, talking to Jesus about taking care of his family for him while he’s gone, as God shows him “the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever” (Psalms 16:11).