What Will Heaven Be Like?

  • By: Jac Filer
  • Time to read: 6 min.

In artwork and cartoons, we see heaven depicted as a settlement in the clouds where we sprout wings and play harps. We might be inclined to think of heaven as a boring place if this is the image that we place our hope in.

Can we get a better description of heaven from scripture? What does the Bible say heaven will be like?

The Bible describes heaven as a place of complete perfection and comfort where God dwells with His people. Our words cannot fully describe the grandeur of heaven, so we can only get a glimpse of the eternity that awaits us.

What Will Heaven Look Like?

To begin unpacking, as best we can, the mystery of heaven, let’s start with a physical description. Much of the Bible’s final two chapters, Revelation 21–22, is devoted to a detailed description of heaven.

John begins by calling heaven the new Jerusalem, which he describes as ‘prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband,’ (Revelation 21:2). Clearly, John is using a metaphor to describe the magnitude and degree of heaven’s beauty, and not to give us a picture of a literal city in a dress.

Then an angel invites John to take a closer look at the city, and in Revelation 21 we read what he saw:

  • Its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. (Revelation 21:11)
  • It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. (v 12)
  • The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (v 14)
  • The city was laid out like a square… 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long. (v 16)
  • The wall… was 144 cubits thick [and] was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. (vs 17-18)
  • The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone (v 19)
  • The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. (v 21)
  • The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass. (v 21)

From this list of features, it is clear that John wants us to understand several things about what he has seen. First, we see that heaven is pure. Its brilliance suggests that there is no darkness, dirt, or stain to be found anywhere in the city.

Next, that heaven is a gift to God’s people. The names of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles represent all of God’s covenant people.

John also shows us that heaven isn’t small. The city measures 12,000 stadia square, which is equivalent to about 1400 miles or 2200 kilometers. That distance is similar to the distance between Washington DC and Denver, or between London and Athens. In John’s day, this area would have been comparable to the size of the known world, and certainly larger than the Roman Empire at the time.

Next, we understand that heaven is immeasurably rich. With walls 200 feet (65 meters) thick and made of jasper and an interior made of the purest gold, it would be impossible to calculate the material worth of the city.

But John doesn’t stop there. On top of the gold and the jasper, he describes foundations decorated with precious stones, and gates fashioned from a single pearl each.

And that is just the outside!

Inside the gates

John has already painted us a word picture that takes our breath away. But even if we can wrap our heads around this first glimpse of heaven, we might still ask, “What will heaven be like when we are inside it?” So John continues:

  •  I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. (v 22)
  •  The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. (v 23)
  •  Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb (v 22:1)
  • On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (v 2)

Following John’s description to the interior, he draws our attention first to God Himself. And here, we witness God’s presence in all of its fullness. His presence so fills the city that we will no longer need temples, churches, lamps, or even the sun. Worship will be eternal and unceasing, and darkness will be nowhere to be found.

Just as God created the world and called it good, John’s depiction of heaven reveals it to be a complete restoration of paradise.

New Eden

Humanity had not been in such a perfect place and in such direct communion with God since the Garden of Eden. And that is precisely the image that John brings to our minds when he describes the water of life that flows directly from God, and the tree of life somehow standing at one on each side of the river.

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden… In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters… The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it – Genesis 2:8-10, 15

God created the world so that He could live in community with His people. But after sin entered the world, He sent man away from the garden and set angels to guard the tree of life (Genesis 3:24). Now that sin has been defeated once and for all, His original purpose for creation will continue.

Because of sin, the world was cursed (Genesis 3:14, 17) but in heaven, the curse is no longer (Revelation 22:3). And that is good news for us!

Will We Like Heaven?

Having examined the description and the purpose of heaven, we arrive at the question that matters most for many of us, “What will heaven be like for me?”

We might think of the things that we enjoy, such as our relationships, our pets, and even our hobbies as things that we would hope to continue to enjoy in heaven. But since we will be in the presence of God, He will be our joy, and we will experience no sorrow, no crying, and no pain (Revelation 21:4). So we will have no need for the things that comfort us on earth.

In recounting the fate of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-26), Jesus told the disciples that angels carried Lazarus to Abraham’s side after his death while the rich man suffered in the torment of flames. The rich man saw Lazarus in comfort and even pleaded for Lazarus to ‘dip his finger in the water to cool his [the rich man’s] tongue,’ (v 24).

Lazarus was clearly in a place of comfort and rest, but not like anything that he could have experienced in this life. His rest was absolute and his comfort was complete.

Better than We Can Imagine

Heaven is more than just a relaxing day off by the pool. And for this reason, we sense John’s struggle, in Revelation 21, to describe something so perfect and infinite with the imperfect and finite language that we use now.

So, knowing that our best descriptions, our best ideas, and our wildest hopes can barely begin to describe eternity in the presence of God, we take even more comfort in Paul’s encouragement:

However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen,

what no ear has heard,

and what no human mind has conceived”

the things God has prepared for those who love him

1 Corinthians 2:9