As we discussed heaven, my wife asked a fascinating pair of questions: “How do you think God’s presence with us in heaven will compare to His presence in Eden? Will it be as intimate?” These questions get us right down to the heart of why we want to know about heaven. Once, God walked with us in the garden in the cool of the day. Once, we related to God and to one another with no barriers, no shame. Once, we did not die. Will it be so again? Will heaven answer the yearnings for love and life that are in every heart?
In both the Old and New Testaments, the same words we translate as "heaven" can have different meanings depending on the context. First, heaven can mean simply the sky above us, either the atmosphere where the birds fly or space where the stars are flung. In that sense, heaven is simply part of this reality where we live. Second, heaven can mean the realm of God, a “place” beyond our sense perception. Heaven in this sense is spiritual, for “God is spirit” (John 4:24), and heaven is where we consider the uncontainable, omnipresent God to dwell. This is the main way we think of heaven today.
We see both these senses used in one of the Bible’s most important passages on heaven. In Revelation 21:1, John sees “a new heaven and a new earth.” Here, heaven means the sky and the deeps of space in which our earth resides. But John also sees the new Jerusalem “coming down out of heaven from God” (21:2). Here, heaven is a spiritual reality. The wonder in this passage is that the two senses of heaven are being joined. The heavenly city is coming from the realm of God to the realm of man. This means that the divide between God and His creation will be closed. After sin’s long interruption, we will in heaven at last become all we were meant to be.
So let’s peek in on John’s vision to glean some thrilling information about what heaven will be like at the consummation. The Apostle reports that he heard a loud voice declare, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (21:3–4). Two foundational truths about heaven arise from these verses.
The text tells us that mourning and pain will disappear. This is not because we will lose our memories, our emotions, or even our nerve receptors. It is because any cause for such anguish will be gone. Heaven will be, in a sense, even more real than this “real” world we live in now.
How may we be sure of this? We anchor our hopes to the Son of God who became man for our sakes. We know that Jesus has ascended into heaven and still retains His resurrection body. So Paul could write that Jesus “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:20). The body that Jesus has now is the very same kind of body we will have in heaven. Jesus has been outfitted, so to speak, for an embodied life in heaven. His body has been transformed, but it is also still Him, still Jesus. So, too, we will be ourselves, only more so as we too receive resurrection bodies fit for embodied existence in a real heaven.
Throughout Scripture, we read that the intention of God has been to create intimate communion with His people. Salvation history may be summed up in the phrase: “I will be their God, and they will be my people.” In Revelation 21, we see this vision fulfilled. The triune God will dwell, will have His very life, in intimate relation with the community of people to whom He has bound Himself forever.
Heaven is described in terms of the the new city of Jerusalem. There will be robust interaction among those who are the people, the body, the bride of Christ. We will relate in love to one another. But at the same time that God will relate to all of us as one body, God will also relate to each of us personally. He will wipe away every tear. A hand to the face to gently daub away a tear is deeply intimate. That’s how close His healing presence will be to each person in heaven.
In summary, the stab of longing in our hearts for our Lord since the fall will be fulfilled in heaven. The intimacy we will have with God and one another will be even greater than that of our first parents.