What can we learn about the meaning of “life everlasting” from the Bible? Researchers discovered that often even Scripture readers struggle to understand what to expect in life after death. Here are answers to the two most asked questions on the topic.¹
What Happens to a Christian Between Death and the Day of Judgment?
The period between death and judgment, called the intermediate state, is not clearly explained in the Bible. However, Christians can find comfort from Jesus’ statement to the repentant thief on the cross — Today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43) — and from Paul’s confident assertion that to be away from the body [is to be] at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). The bodies of God’s children may sleep, but their souls do not. What this likely means is that even though our bodies and souls still exist in parallel tracks, our souls are united with God in a conscious state of constant communion and fellowship.
Jesus’ promise of paradise (Luke 23:43) suggests that the believer who dies is immediately in a place of delight and beauty reminiscent of the Garden of Eden. Paul had a vision in which he was caught up to paradise, where he heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell (2 Corinthians 12:4). Jesus’ parable in Luke 16:19 – 31 portrays a poor man who died and was immediately carried to heaven — to Abraham’s side — where he was comforted (Luke 16:22, 25).
The Bible does not explain what kind of body or external form believers will have during this intermediate state. We do know, however, that believers will not receive their new and final resurrected bodies until Christ returns (1 Corinthians 15:50 – 54).
What is Heaven Like?
Right now, heaven is the literal but unseen realm in which God reigns in unimaginable glory. Moses, Daniel, Ezekiel, Paul and John were all offered glimpses of this holy place. And we know that Christians who have died are with the Lord in paradise (Luke 23:43). They are in heaven, awaiting the second coming of Christ.
When Jesus Christ returns for his bride, the church, a new era of “heaven” will begin — what might be called “life after life after death” (N. T. Wright).
Revelation 21:1 — 22:5 captures the most complete description of this new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1). John saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband (Revelation 21:2). When Jesus promised in John 14:2 that he was going to prepare a place for his disciples, this Holy City is the place he was referring to.
This eternal home will truly be “heaven on earth,” for God will re-create his world as a great and beautiful city with streets, protecting walls, a life-giving river and the tree of life — all lit by the glory of God in his inexpressible beauty. The triune God himself will live in that city with his people. All sorrow will be gone. God’s children will worship him forever, accompanied by the angels. Believers will worship God with the great songs of heaven (Revelation 7:10; 15:2 – 4; 19:1 – 3), by exploring God’s new creation and through the fellowship of the saints. Believers will reign with Christ and be responsible for governing various parts of God’s kingdom. It will be a bliss that never ends!
¹Content drawn from the “Top 100 Questions and Answers” in the NIV Quest Study Bible.
Get answers to the Bible questions you have… and questions you haven’t yet pondered! The NIV Quest Study Bible features over 7,000 notes written in an engaging question and answer format that give insight into the common, uncommon, and sometimes perplexing passages from the Bible. Learn More
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