Jesus frequently referred to the ‘kingdom of heaven’. Heaven is regularly referenced in the Bible, the collection of books and letters, which Christians recognise as inspired by God.
Jesus used parables – simple stories - to describe heaven, often implying that we can catch a glimpse of heaven as we draw close to him. Talking about his ‘heavenly Father,’ he told his followers that when he left them he was going to his ‘Father’s house’ to prepare a place for them. The Bible explains that Jesus was ‘taken up into heaven’ after he was raised from the dead and had appeared alive to many people, eating meals with some of them, showing that he was not a ghost or an apparition but a living, breathing, physical body.
Christians believe that Jesus is preparing a heavenly home for his followers and, just as Jesus was physically raised from the dead, death will not be an end but a new beginning of life with God as citizens of his heavenly kingdom.
"It is not possible to know beyond doubt what the future holds, but Christians believe that Jesus came from heaven and returned to heaven."
It is not possible to know beyond doubt what the future holds, but Christians believe that Jesus came from heaven and returned to heaven, where he continues to interact with his followers by his Holy Spirit, so he is best qualified to explain what heaven is like.
A vision of heaven
One of Jesus’ closest followers, John, had a vision of heaven, which he describes as a place where sadness, pain and death itself end once and for all. He wrote about the vision in the last book of the Bible called Revelation.
Revelation is the Bible’s most mysterious book using deeply poetic picture language to depict what might be thought of as indescribable. John uses extravagant images of cities, weddings and a fruitful garden city to share his vision of heaven as a place of peace, happiness, justice and enjoyment of God’s presence.
Beyond that, the Bible gives only hints of what humans will experience beyond death. However, the hints are sufficient to thrill us that humans should anticipate an exhilarating and beautiful experience in the magnificent presence of God.
Christians look forward to heaven as place where people will find complete healing and everything about their identity enhanced to its full potential. In that context they will enjoy the love of God and of each other forever.
As a result, Christians face their deaths with two confident beliefs.
- Firstly, God is just. It is absolutely inconceivable that someone will suffer a fate that they do not deserve.
- Secondly, God is endlessly loving. The Bible says that nothing in either life or death can separate people from the love of God.
- The Christian faith has no suggestion of reincarnation.
Some Christians are confident that every single man and woman in the planet’s history will be welcomed into God’s presence, forgiven and accepted because his love is triumphant.
Other Christians maintain that a decision on earth to seek God’s forgiveness and to follow Jesus is required in order to be sure of being accepted into heaven. People who reject God during their lives will have their earthly decision respected. Some Christians believe they will cease to exist altogether; others believe those who reject Jesus will suffer an eternity of agonising regret.
There is a belief among some Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians that there is a transitional state between this life and heaven known as Purgatory. These Christians believe this is a place where human souls can be purified and made ready to spend eternity with God. It is seen as joyless, because justice needs to be done for a lifetime’s wrongdoing, but it can be shortened by the prayers of those still alive on earth.
Purgatory is not mentioned in the Bible, but the concept has existed since the early centuries of the Christian church. During the 16th century there were substantial upheavals in the Christian church. Churches which have been founded since then (Protestant churches) do not have this belief in purgatory.