by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Saturday, May 22, 2010 at 1:06pm

QUESTION: What kinds of activities will we be engaged in when we get to heaven?

ANSWER: To answer this question, I have selected some paragraphs from chapter 32, “Heaven,” of my book, “The Faith Once for All.” Here I divide our activities in heaven into physical, mental, and spiritual.

Regarding the PHYSICAL, what about activities that give us physical pleasure in our present lives, i.e., eating, drinking, and sex? This question is neither irrelevant nor irreverent, for these are normal and good activities in this life. Concerning eating and drinking, in Rev 19:7-9 heaven is represented as a wedding feast; and Isa 65:21 says, “They will also plant vineyards and eat their fruit.” The water of life and the tree of life suggest that eating and drinking will still be natural. Revelation 7:16 says there will be no hunger or thirst there. Is this because we will always have all we want to eat and drink, or simply because eating and drinking will no longer be necessary? If the latter is the case, then the tree of life and the water of life are just symbols of “never-ending and totally satisfying refreshment by the Spirit” (John Gilmore, “Probing Heaven,” 116). There really is no biblical basis for ruling out literal eating and drinking, however.

We do have a biblical reason for thinking there will be no sexual relations in heaven, though. Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees’ question in Matt 22:23-33 implies that husband-wife relationships of all kinds will be transcended in heaven: “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (v. 30). Since sexual relations are intended for marriage only, this seems to exclude them from our new-earth relationships. This does not mean, however, that our new bodies will necessarily be genderless (see C. S. Lewis, “Miracles,” 165-166; Gilmore, ch. 13, “Sex in Heaven?”).

Millard Erickson raises the question, “If there is to be no eating nor sex, will there be any pleasure in heaven?” He rightly answers “that the experiences of heaven will far surpass anything experienced here,” as indicated by 1 Cor 2:9 (NIV), “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (“Christian Theology,” 1998, 1239-1240). Gilmore (84) says it well: “Glorified bodies will, doubtless, involve glorious action and enormous enjoyment. It would seem that some form of the pleasures of sight, sound, touch, and (less so) taste will be part of the new earth.”

Some may think we will not be engaged in any kind of physical activities, since heaven is supposed to be a place of “rest.” It is true that we may think of eternal life as in some sense a state of rest, just as the promised land was a gift of rest for the Israelites (see Heb 3:18-4:11). But this is rest from toil and mental stress, not rest from activity, nor even rest from work. Adam and Eve had plenty of work assigned to them before sin’s curse turned it into toil (Gen 3:17-19). With the curse removed from the new earth, we can engage once more in a variety of activities without toil and stress.

Thus we should note that heaven will not be rest in the sense of an absence of productive activity; it will not be just “endless rows of hammocks” (Gilmore, 176). Nor will our only activity be singing praises to God, as is perhaps some angels’ prerogative (Rev 4:8), since what angels do is not necessarily what we will do. In fact, on the new earth we will not be rubbing shoulders with angels, because they will still be in their own invisible universe while we are in our new visible one.

Nor should we expect to be bored with our heavenly activities, even though we will be engaged in them forever. A main reason for this is that our new life will be one of endless MENTAL challenges to grow in our knowledge and understanding not only of God but of the new universe. Being finite even in our new bodies, we will never have “perfect knowledge” (contra Erickson, 1235). There will be a new universe to probe and to explore, indeed, to conquer, in reference to its potential for science and the arts. Here we will finally be able to do justice to the original cultural mandate (Gen 1:28), wherein the human race was commanded to subdue and rule over the earth. When Rev 5:10 says that the saved will be “a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth” (see Rev 21:24; 22:5), this does not mean that we will rule over people, but over the new universe itself.

Gilmore sums this up well: “Heaven, if anything, is perfected action: doing more, doing it better; and having more space in which to do it. We contend that heaven is pell-mell, reflective exploration and not occupied with immobile contemplations” (73). “Adventures in the kingdom of heaven await the ransomed church” (84). The new universe “requires a magnificent full-scale active life in the habitation, use, and governing of the new earth by those who are part of the blissful eternal state” (87). But if one wants to rest, he will surely be able to do so!

Because God’s very presence will be made visible to us in a permanent theophany, and because Christ himself will be there, the most enticing and the most satisfying of our heavenly activities will be SPIRITUAL in nature, i.e., worship and communion with Jesus and the Father. Revelation 7:9-10 pictures the multitude of the redeemed standing before the throne and before the Lamb, singing praises to God and the Lamb. This will not necessarily be constant, but it will be regular.

Finally we may mention the opportunity of getting to know all of God’s saints from all ages and all parts of the globe. The 144,000 in Rev 7:4-8 probably represent symbolically the total saved from OT Israel, while the Christians from the NT era are represented in Rev 7:9 as “a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues.” Here unity and diversity are combined in a way that provides an opportunity for unlimited fellowship.

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