Christian author Randy Alcorn has studied the topic of heaven intently, and believes that many Christians will be surprised at the similarities between the new heavens and the new earth with present realities. In anticipation of an upcoming national conference, Alcorn gave an interview with The Gospel Coalition about his perspective on eternity.
There are many far-fetched ideas about heaven; for instance, some believe it will be full of material wealth, or that man will have supernatural powers, or even that we will float around in the clouds and play on harps for all of eternity. Randy Alcorn has quite a different perspective after studying the subject for several years, and will speak on the similarities and differences between our everyday lives and the life that awaits us in the new heavens and the new earth at the "Coming Home: New Heaven & New Earth" conference next month in Florida.
Alcorn, who is also the director of Eternal Perspective Ministries, wrote "Heaven" as a biblical perspective on eternity that many might find eye-opening. "Christians faced with death often feel they're leaving the party before it's over, going home early," the author says - "They're disappointed, thinking of all the people and things they'll miss when they leave." Quite the contrary, Alcorn believes that the scene awaiting the redeemed in heaven will be like the epic party that the father in Luke chapter fifteen threw for his prodigal son. "The celebration is already underway at our true home, where we've not yet lived-and that's precisely where death will take us," he says.
Jesus' followers are commanded to seek heavenly things (see Colossians 3:1). When tragedy strikes, having an eternal perspective on life will give the Christian hope (see Romans 8:18). "[Heaven is] an actual place where the eternally incarnate, resurrected Christ lives," Alcorn says - "If we don't understand this future glory of heaven that awaits us, we won't see our present sufferings shrink in comparison to its greatness."
Some may wonder whether we will have the same free will in heaven that Adam and Eve had before the fall, and thus the potential to sin. "The Bible says that God cannot sin. It would be against His nature. Once we're with Him, it'll be against our nature, too," Alcorn says - "Sin will have absolutely no appeal to us. It will be literally unthinkable. The memory of evil and suffering in this life will serve as an eternal reminder of sin's horrors and emptiness."
Revelation 21:4 says:
"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," (English Standard Version).
Death and pain are the results of sin (see Romans 6:23), and the end of these things signifies that sin will have been eradicated. "We'll have true freedom in heaven, a righteous freedom that never sins," Alcorn says.
The author stresses that heaven is not an ethereal, disembodied spirit world (noting that the new heavens and the new earth differ from the current heaven and earth, which exist prior to Christ's second coming and our resurrection). "The ultimate heaven where we'll live forever is defined by resurrection, and resurrection is by definition embodied," he says. Alcorn believes that our physical features will remain much the same, and that we will be able to recognize one another - for instance, Christ's resurrected body had retained the nail prints from His death on the cross (see John 20:24-29), and in Revelation chapter seven we see people of different races from every tribe, tongue, and nation worshipping the Lord.
What age will we be in heaven? While there is no direct teaching in God's word on this subject, Alcorn speculates that we will be at the peak of our physical vitality. Other theories are that we will perhaps be the age that Jesus was when He died, between 30 and 33 years old.
Because passages in Isaiah mention children being in heaven (see Isaiah 11 and Isaiah 65), the author believes that children who die prior to reaching their physical peak in life will be the same age that they were on earth. He believes that Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount could support the idea that such children get the chance to grow up in heaven (see Matthew 5). "You've experienced mourning, I will give you laughter. You were deprived of raising a child who died at a young age, maybe you will be able to be there with your child as he or she grows up on the new earth without threat of death, harm, abuse, or anything else," Alcorn says - "To me, somehow, I just believe it would be just like our God to perhaps do that. Then, the rejoicing there will be in contrast to the loss and the misery and the suffering on earth."
Although we won't be married to our spouses in heaven - because earthly marriages are a picture of Christ and His bride (see Ephesians 5:31-32) - Alcorn believes that we will be even closer relationally to one another than we have ever been. Sin will cease to exist in our hearts, and we will love one another more fully than we ever could in this life.
Because there won't be marriage relationships in heaven other than that of Christ and His bride, we shouldn't expect that there are sexual relationships in heaven. "We should expect those relationships with family to be special and continue forever, but in couples - with no marriage - it would seem to me that the sexual relationship would not be something that we would expect," the author says.
Although Alcorn believes that our gender will still be either male or female, he reads Jesus' statement in Matthew 22:30 to mean that we will be celibate in heaven. "There are greater joys that await us," he says - joys which will supplant the idea of sexual intercourse.
Some may think that life after death will be somewhat listless, but we can rest assured that heaven will be filled with unending joy (see Psalm 16:11). "Our desire for pleasure and the experience of joy come directly from God's hand," Alcorn says. Make no mistake, heaven will not be boring. "When we see God as He truly is-an endless reservoir of fascination-boredom becomes impossible," says Alcorn. As children of God reigning over the new creation, those in Christ will have plenty to do in eternity.
In a series of "Ask Pastor John" episodes at DesiringGod.org, Alcorn gave insight into whether there might be sports and even leisurely travel in heaven. "I believe there is every reason to expect there would be," he says - but don't expect to always come out the winner in a competition. "It's ok to have a competition and have it not all be about you ... we can have vested interest in someone else's success," he says.
As for travelling, Alcorn says that the idea of leisurely vacationing in heaven is not too far-fetched. "The new earth will correspond to the old earth in the same way that our new bodies will correspond to our old bodies - a better version of the same - but not fundamentally different, except in the sense of [being] perfected," he says. Alcorn ventures to say that there could be automobile, air, and space travel in heaven, which he supports in part with the fact that the new Jerusalem has roads (see Revelation 21:21). Why not just teleport there, the way that Jesus did in His resurrection body? Alcorn believes that this might be a power reserved for God alone. Jesus may have teleported prior to His death on the cross (see John 6:21 and Luke 4:29-30), so His ability to suddenly appear in the room with the disciples after His resurrection doesn't necessarily indicate that our resurrected bodies will do the same.
Alcorn also believes that we will regularly feast in heaven, as the practice is mentioned in Scripture almost 200 times (see Matthew 8:11). "Feasting involves celebration and fun; it's profoundly relational. Great conversation, storytelling, relationship-building, and laughter happen during mealtimes," the author says.
Some might criticize the notion that we will enjoy heaven in such a physical way, but Alcorn doesn't think that this takes away from heaven's majesty. "The idea that physicality is inherently unspiritual is not biblical," he reasons.
Alcorn believes that having an eternal perspective will also spur the church to do better evangelism. "When Christians understand [that] heaven is an exciting, physical place on a redeemed world with redeemed people in redeemed relationships without sin and death, where there is music, art, science, sports, literature, and culture, it's a great source of encouragement and motivation," he says. Alcorn believes that the promise of no more death or pain in Revelation 21:4 should be shared with non-believers as well. "We should unapologetically tell them that the happiness they long for, the reconciliation to the God from whom happiness flows, is found in Jesus alone," says Alcorn - "This is what makes the Gospel 'Good News of great joy!'"