Recently, I was given the opportunity to research what Heaven will be like, with the focus: “What happens when a Believer closes their eyes for the last time?” Regardless if you are young or old, healthy or not, it is a very interesting question to ponder. Scripture tells us our life-span is predetermined (Job 14:5, Psalm 139), so when we stop to consider, we cannot deny that we all have a date with death. Yet in all my years in church, I don’t recall any sermons on what happens next.
As I’ve talked about this new project with friends, I’ve gotten the full gamut of reactions, everything from “I’ve never really thought about it” to “Yikes, what a depressing topic!” Why is it that we don’t want to talk about what happens after we die? As Believers, we celebrate Jesus conquering the grave and death, so why aren’t we excitedly thinking about and talking about our future home?
As I write, I am in a unique situation of desperately wanting to know what we can look forward to after death because the life of a very special person is ending. Never have my husband or I witnessed someone living each day to the fullest, wanting to do God’s work with every breath left in him. He still has weekly coffee with a group of men, because there is a non-believer he needs more time with. He hopes for one more chance to talk with his atheist mother, whom he so desperately wants to accept Christ. Every call and text between us are funny and scripture filled. I joke with him that he is my “preacher on speed dial.” There is a peace and joyfulness about him that can only be because of Jesus. He knows where he is headed and is excited to arrive. Of course, he is sad to leave his beautiful family behind, but knows they will join him in due time. He is the one who asked me to ponder this question and to work on a final sermon with him. The past few weeks have been a gift to me, as I gain vision of what everlasting life will be, and hearing first hand responses of someone saying good bye. To think, I never knew of Denny Pattyn prior to January 27, 2021. I am honored to have had these borrowed eight months with him and know our friendship will continue for eternity.
With all that said, you understand there is a timeliness to my research, so I started by considering that our uncertainty might be from the enemy confusing us. I believe there is an opposing realm that doesn’t want us to be excited about Heaven. There are spiritual forces working against us, so we stay quiet; feel embarrassed talking about “strange topics” in public; and if we broach the subject, we allow ourselves to get brushed over, even silenced in polite conversation. The enemy only has our time on earth to do his work. He most definitely doesn’t want us to feel confident in our eternal salvation.
In my quest to learn more about what happens when a Believer dies, I consulted one of the foremost experts on the subject, Randy Alcorn. His book, “Heaven,” is considered one of the best tools to understand the clues the Bible gives us about life everlasting. I’ve learned that at death, everyone has the first of two judgement days. For the record, this was new to me; I only knew about one judgement day!
“When we die, we face judgement, what is called the judgement of faith. The outcome of this judgement determines whether we go to the present Heaven or the present Hell. This initial judgement depends not on our works but on our faith. It is not about what we’ve done during our lives but about what Christ has done for us. If we have accepted Christ’s atoning death for us, then when God judges us after we die, he sees his Son’s sacrifice for us, not our sin. Salvation is a free gift, to which we can contribute absolutely nothing (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).” Randy Alcorn’s Heaven p47. (Side note – I have not addressed in this blog, but should explain: the second judgement is the judgement of works, which Alcorn describes: Our works do not affect our salvation, but they do affect our reward. Believers and Unbelievers will face final judgement at the end of the old Earth and just before the beginning of the New Earth. (Revelation 20:11-13)).
I wonder if some of our hesitation in pondering Heaven is that we truly don’t know what to expect? We’ve probably all heard snippets from people who’ve had visions of vibrant colors or smiling ancestors, maybe even friends who have survived a terrible tragedy and experienced moments in Heaven, but can we really fathom what Heaven will be like?
We can learn a great deal by reading Revelation 6:9-11:
• Our identity remains (v9)
• We will have memory of life on earth (v9 and 10)
• We will have vocal cords and the ability to raise our voice (v10)
• Ability to intervene through intercessory prayer for people on Earth (yeah!), (v10)
• Be in relationship with the Lord. Have access to ask Him questions, He will answer, thus we can learn in Heaven (v10 and 11)
• There will be time (v10 and 11)
• We will have a body and it will be clothed (v11)
• He will know us, our unique name and story (v11)
• Family connections in place (v11) … and more, just from three short verses.
Once we are in Heaven, it’s like a fast-pass to meet Jesus and other Believers who have gone before us. I can picture the fanfare that will occur when we arrive: Just like the best Thanksgiving Day Parade and returning heroes’ ticker tape parade of swirling confetti, trumpets blaring, drums beating. I imagine the Gospel’s Hall of Famers (Hebrews 11) like Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, King David, and Rahab lining the road. And the beaming smiles and hugs we will receive from our personal cheering fans in the stands. I now Denny will be there, all six foot four of him, arms wide open as I arrive.
We will do work and hobbies we’ve enjoyed on Earth. We will remember and interact with people, plus the Curse will be gone. Meaning the enemy won’t be distracting us, our emotional and physical suffering will be gone, even our ailing bodies won’t be ailing in Heaven. We will be given God projects to do. Can you imagine brainstorming and spit-balling with amazing Believers from all generations? I hope I’m persuasive enough to be assigned to return to Earth in a vision, or as a stranger in the crowd, creating “God Stops” (no such thing as coincidences) for those still alive. I’ll be honest, all of this sounds far more enticing than being a sweet, plump cherub, floating around on clouds with a harp in my hand!
And it will be beautiful. Use your imagination and think of a favorite place in creation where you feel most at peace, most connected with your Creator. My understanding is those places will be there, and even more breathtaking! Randy Alcorn wants us to consider that “God created Earth in the image of Heaven, just like He created mankind in His image.” Heaven, p. 54.
I am barely scratching the surface of what happens when a Believer leaves Earth, and as I dig further into this new project, my hope is that I will invoke curiosity to start your own journey. What I’ve learned, while we have days remaining on Earth, we have work to do. We need to encourage our loved ones to accept their invitation to eternal life. The Truth is written that through the grace of God and the belief in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sins, we can be 100% sure we are actually going to Heaven (John 14:6). If you haven’t made that destiny-changing decision, do so now! (Romans 10:9, John 1:12).
The hard truth is, not all our loved ones will be there. Jesus shares this reality in the parable of the Rich Man and the Beggar (Luke 16:19-31). Let me also suggest a few thoughts to journal:
• How can I intentionally develop relationships that will last into eternity?
• How can I truly learn scripture so it doesn’t get manipulated (as it did to Eve and Adam, which got us in this mess to begin with), as well as defend my faith?
• How can I change my mindset to anticipate and get excited about my everlasting destination?
Please pray with me:
Lord, Heaven sounds amazing, beautiful and joyful. Thank You for offering it and promising it to all Believers. Please teach us to be alert, and to fight the opposing force that doesn’t want us to know and be excited about life everlasting. We understand that we aren’t guaranteed days, health, safety…only the salvation You offer. Please encourage Your children in ministry to teach more on this topic. Let us be excited as we wait to meet You face to face. Father, comfort and protect Denny’s family during these final breathes, and if there is more for Denny’s already robust legacy, please direct those of us on Earth to carry it out. Amen