I’ve never been on a cruise ship, yet when a Web site for a cruise line got my attention, I found myself face-to-face with intriguing photos: people snorkeling on island beaches and shopping in open air markets, kids on waterslides, crowds enjoying a concert or show, endless buffets with every kind of food, cabins with a balcony view of the ocean, and staff ready and eager to serve. I’ll admit that seeing all those pictures sparked my desire to go on a cruise.
Now, could you imagine a cruise Web site without a single picture: no beach, no tempting dessert buffet or balcony with a view of the ocean? While this would be hard to imagine for a promotional Web site, this is how the Bible approaches the topic of heaven.
The Bible provides little information about life in heaven: no detailed descriptions of our heavenly homes or lists of intriguing activities. So why would God provide a way for us to have eternal life by sending His Son to die on a cross and then not provide any specific details about our future life in heaven? The answer is simple: the Bible focuses on how we get there, not what we get there.
The Gospel of Matthew includes 11 parables by Jesus in which He says, “The kingdom of heaven is like . . .” However, not one of them provides any details about life in heaven. Instead, these short parables help us understand what it means to live a faithful life on earth. Seven of these “kingdom of heaven” parables are in Matthew 13.
Verse 33 says, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”* The leaven (Jesus’ teaching) has an effect on the entire loaf (the person). Verse 44 tells us that “the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Verses 45, 46 reveal that “the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” The focus of these “kingdom of heaven” parables is on what it means to live as one of the faithful who will experience the resurrection someday in the future. The Bible tells us that what we need most is a life-changing relationship with the One who can call us from the grave. Luke 14:11–14 says, “ ‘For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’ Then He also said to him who invited Him, ‘When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.’ ”
Jesus, the Friend of the faithful, will be the One who calls out His special people from the grave. First Thessalonians 4:16 says, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first,” and 1 Corinthians 15:52, 53 states, “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.”
The Bible describes those who have been faithful as waiting in the grave; they “sleep,” waiting for the trumpet call of God (John 11:11–14). When Jesus returns, He will raise them from the grave and give them the gift of immortality. His faithful people will receive eternal life in new bodies, not in their old perishable bodies. In heaven there will be no more cancer, sickness, disease, deafness, blindness, paralysis, or any kind of physical or mental challenges.
This understanding about the resurrection does not represent a new theory or fad. Some of the great Protestant Reformers such as Martin Luther and William Tyndale believed that God’s righteous people will receive immortality at the time of the resurrection when Jesus returns.
We don’t have to add anything to God’s Word. The Bible provides a clear message about the resurrection that doesn’t need any modifications. It’s like this: I like to eat, but I’m not fond of cooking. That would be a bigger problem if I did not have a wife who likes to cook. However, when I’m faced with the need to cook dinner, for me, pasta and opening a jar of spaghetti sauce are better than trying to follow a recipe for lasagna soup.
Following the recipe can be a great challenge. I may start out with a commitment to stay on track with the directions, but then I imagine how the dish I’m preparing might taste better with a little more salt, or more water or more basil, or if I cook it with a little more heat and less time. Then, of course, we have a disaster for dinner.
It’s the same when it comes to following God’s Word. We don’t have to add anything. We can follow the recipe. We can trust in Him. When the Bible neglects to give us specific details about heaven, we can rejoice. We don’t need what the Bible doesn’t provide. To move away from the Bible’s “recipe” brings disaster to our spiritual lives.
The Bible proclaims that if we believe Jesus rose from the grave, then we can trust in the future resurrection of His people. In 1 Corinthians 15:12–14, Paul, wrote, “Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.” Just as surely as Jesus rose from the grave at the first light of dawn on the third day after His crucifixion, we can have faith that He will resurrect His faithful ones when He returns.
However, there’s a much smaller group whom Jesus will also take to heaven with Him: His faithful people who are still alive. In 1 Corinthians 15:52, Paul describes the righteous who are alive at His return. He says they will be changed “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.” And in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17, he adds that “the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.”
When Jesus returns, the faithful dead who are in the grave will hear His trumpet call. At the same time, the righteous who are alive will be translated from their mortal bodies into immortal bodies in the blink of an eye. Those who have put their trust in Him will receive new, glorious, incorruptible bodies. They will become complete in an instant.
Jesus also made it clear that in the resurrection His people will not be floating spirits. Just as Jesus had a real body after His resurrection, so will those who are translated or resurrected at His return. Thomas placed his hand on the resurrected Jesus and confirmed that He had a real body (John 20:27). As His disciples recognized Jesus, so we will also recognize each other. We will be reunited with friends and loved ones to live together with Him and them forever.
In John 14:1–3, Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” Jesus did not provide detailed promotional descriptions about the place He’s preparing for us in heaven. He wants us to focus on how we get there, not what we get there.
So how do we get there? Whether we die and are resurrected or we live until His second coming, if we know Him as our Savior, we can be assured of living with Him when He returns.