Eagerly Anticipating Heaven
As my family prepared to move from the Tampa area to the Nashville area last year, my middle daughter, Hannah, was less than excited about the transition and my oldest son, Joshua, was outright against it. Both Hannah and Joshua were doing well in a school they loved, had some great friends around them, were active in a karate class they enjoyed, and loved our home and neighborhood. Tampa was familiar to them. It was comfortable. It was a good place to live.
Nashville, on the other hand, was a massive question mark for them.
Would they like their new school? Would they make any friends? Would our new home have a yard as good as the one they loved so much in Tampa? Would they find activities they enjoyed?
My wife and I did our best to balance giving Hannah and Joshua the space to grieve the loss of a lifestyle they knew and loved while encouraging them that God is faithful, that He would provide, and that Christ is our comfort and joy.
The theology and logic were sound. But most 6-year-olds and 9-year-olds aren’t driven by theology and logic. They are driven by what they have experienced – what they know – and my oldest two kids knew and loved Tampa.
When it comes to thinking about heaven, I wonder if most followers of Jesus are like Hannah and Joshua. Heaven is a huge mystery to us. What will it be like? What will we be like? What will we be doing? Will we recognize each other there? So many questions.
Earth, on the other hand, is a known quantity. For many of us, it is comfortable and even if life on earth has its problems, it is at least familiar to us. The proverbial bird in a hand.
It’s no wonder why many people are less than excited about going to heaven. Some, if they were completely transparent, might even say they aren’t looking forward to heaven. How can you eagerly anticipate what you don’t know?
A wonderful thing happened to Hannah and Joshua shortly after we moved. What was once unknown was now known and they ended up glad that we moved. They love their new school, home, and neighborhood. They are making new friends and getting connected into activities. They are happy and when you ask them if it was worth it, they respond with an emphatic, “yes!”
If we want God to stir our hearts, and the hearts of our kids, about heaven, we might want to spend some time searching out what the Scripture says about our eternal dwelling place. And to the surprise of many, the Bible has quite a bit to say clearly about heaven plus it offers even more clues to what it will be like. While the main point of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) centers on entering heaven by placing faith in Christ on earth, the passage is also a great place to learn more of what heaven will be like.
Of all the parables Jesus taught, this is the only one that contains a name for one of its characters – Lazarus. Some theologians and commentators wonder why Jesus did this and a common thought is that this parable is not a story of fiction, but one based on something that actually happened. (The Lazarus in this parable should not be mistaken with Jesus’ friend Lazarus (John 11) who died after this account in Luke.) If that is the case, then we can really dig into the details of the account and draw principles of what heaven will be like. But even if the story was not based on a real person named Lazarus, we can still safely draw out principles about heaven because Jesus would surely not use false information in the parable to point people toward truth.
So what can we learn? Here are four clues about heaven based on this parable:
- We will interact with angels on some level. (v. 22) While we may or may not be escorted to heaven by an angel like Lazarus was, we will certainly interact with angels who will be present in heaven. Humans and angels are uniquely created beings (people do not become angels) and we will worship God side-by-side (check out Revelation 4-5) and interact with one another. In 1 Peter 1:12 we learn that angels long to look into the gospel. While angels understand the theology of the gospel, they have never, nor will ever, experience it first-hand. They understand grace, but have never experienced it. I wonder if angels will pull us aside in heaven and ask, “Can you tell me one more time what it feels like to have Jesus die for you?”
- We will recognize one another. (v. 23) One of the main concerns I hear from people is whether or not we will recognize each other. The Bible presents a strong case that we will. (And think about it – if gospel community is so important to God while we are on earth, why would it be less important in heaven?) Notice here that the rich man recognizes Lazarus. Couple that with David’s hope that he would see his baby who died again one day in heaven and the Old Testament’s frequent use of the expression that a person died and then was gathered to his fathers and the case is more compelling.
- We will have a physical form. (v. 24) It is interesting that the rich man asked for Lazarus to put his finger in water to cool his tongue. That makes no sense if the rich man and Lazarus did not have some physical form. While there are challenging questions about the nature of believers presently in heaven (we know they are at least in spiritual form with Christ presently), we do know that at some point we will have physical bodies based on the promise of our resurrection. These new bodies will surely be similar in ways to our present bodies (you can find clues of this based on how God created people in Eden before the Fall and by Jesus’ resurrected body), but they will also be different in that there will be no disease or physical infirmities.
- We will have an awareness of our time on earth. (v. 28) Finally, pay attention that the rich man was quite aware of his life on earth. He recognized Lazarus from his life on earth and he was not only aware that he had five brothers, but also knew they needed Jesus. Another clue to this can be found in Revelation 6, where the martyrs ask Christ how long it would be until their deaths for Him are avenged. This requires that they would have know how they died and why.
Want some more? We can also turn our attention to the first two chapters of the Bible and see God’s original intention for His creation. What we find there is in line with God’s original plan and will surely echo into His redeemed new heaven and new earth. Here are three additional clues from Eden:
- We will worship God by working and serving. Sometimes we think that heaven will be one never-ending formal worship service. Sure we will worship corporately (Revelation 5 and 6 show this to), but that will not be the only thing we do. Recall that God wanted Adam to work the ground and rule over creation as a way for Adam to worship and glorify Him. This opens the door to our activities in heaven being far more diverse than just formal corporate worship.
- We will worship God by relating with others. It is fascinating that God decreed that it was not good for Adam to be alone even though Adam had a perfect relationship with Him. God is, by definition, relational. In His timeless existence, God has always related within the trinity and He has created us with similar wiring. We are just like Him in that we are created for relationships. It was true in Eden. It is true presently under the curse. And it will be true in heaven. We will enjoy Christ-centered relationships with one another in heaven for God’s glory.
- We will worship God by fellowshipping with Him. This may be obvious, but I didn’t want to exclude it. Let’s not lose sight of the great promise that in heaven we will finally be shed of our sinfulness and we will bask in our unhindered relationship with God. Think of the most intimate worship you have experienced on earth. Think of the time you felt the closest to Christ. Those times will pale in comparison to our worship of God in heaven!
As you prepare to teach kids about the rich man and Lazarus, take some time to let your heart and mind ponder heaven. Pray that God gives you an eager anticipation for our eternal dwelling place. And let that excitement spill over into your teaching as you point kids to how, through faith in Christ, they can experience the wonders of heaven.
Here is more help for leaders preparing for the February 22, 2015 session (Unit 30, Session 4) of The Gospel Project for Kids.
Brian Dembowczyk is the team leader for The Gospel Project for Kids. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to LifeWay in 2014. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Brian and his wife, Tara, and their three children – Joshua, Hannah, and Caleb – live in Murfreesboro, TN, where Brian enjoys drinking coffee and teaching 1-3 graders at City Church.