What awaits us after death? To most, this question it is too frightening to think about, while to others, they cannot wait to know. For the Christian, the afterlife is a great thing. However, to many Christians the thought of heaven is actually scary. Many think that it will be boring to just float around and sing songs for all eternity. However, as I wrote about in a previous article, the eternal heaven is not some spiritual realm; it is a restored world. So, the question should not be “what awaits us after death.” Instead it should be something different – What will life be like in Heaven? In this article (part one in a four part series), I will discuss the question, “will we be ourselves in Heaven?” This will include a look at our resurrection bodies and other topics such as memories, emotions, desires, etc.
When a Christian thinks of heaven they automatically think of the present heaven where Christians go when they die. However, this is not the heaven that we will live in forever. Scripture is clear that after Christ returns he restores the world back to a sinless paradise which existed before the Fall of Man. 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1 call this place the new heavens and new earth. It is this eternal home that I want to concentrate on in this series.
A Physical World and Physical Bodies
After the return of Jesus, not only is the physical world transformed, but so are our bodies. Yes, we will have physical bodies throughout eternity, and we will live on a physical world in a physical universe. In fact, they are the very bodies you have right now, but with all the marks of sin and the curse removed (the same thing for the earth and universe). Understanding this helps us to answer some of the greatest and most meaningful questions a human being can ask: “What we do in heaven? What will life be like on the New Earth?”
Scripture does give us a look at what life is going to be like in heaven, although it is usually in the negative, “denying to the life to come those features of life which are the result of sin and the curse of God.” For example, Revelation 21:4 tells us, “He [God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Referring to Revelation 21:1-4 scholar Cornelis Venema says:
“Surely no one can adequately describe all that this stirring vision promises God’s people. No child of God, however, who has felt deeply in pain and brokenness of sin and the curse – in sinful indifference to God and others, broken relationships, the terror of crippling disease, the boredom and barrenness of life without God, the injustice among people and nations, and so much more – can read these words without being stirred. For they flame an eagerness and longing, like that of a little child who waits expectantly, even impatiently, for the fulfillment of a parent’s promise.”
We will enjoy the blessings of a freedom that no constitution will ever grant – freedom from sin and every effect of the curse. The life to come will be freed from ignorance and error (John 6:45), free from fear and death (Hebrews 2:15; 1 Corinthians 15:26; Revelation 2:11; 20:6, 14), free from dishonor, weakness, and corruption (1 Corinthians 15:42), and free from every single form of futility and frustration, from hunger and thirst, and from sickness and affliction (Matthew 5:4; Luke 6:21; Revelation 7:16-17; 21:4).
Since Scripture only gives us the basics of the life to come, how can we know what our daily lives in heaven will be like? A good place to start can be summarized in the way Venema says about heaven: “Considering the substantial continuity between the present and new creation, it follows that the life to come in the new creation will be rich and full of activity in the service of the Lord as was intended at the beginning.” To put it simply, the best way to begin thinking about what life will be like for eternity, we need to keep two things in mind: 1) the resurrection body of Jesus; and 2) the fact that the next life will be this world – a physical one (think about what God created before sin came into the world). Although Scripture does not give us every detail about the next life, it does provide us with more than what most realize. In this article, I will discuss our resurrection bodies and our memories of this current life.
What about our resurrection bodies?
As I have noted in another article, our resurrection bodies are the same ones that we have now, but free from the devastating effects of sin. In any case, Christians have always had some good questions pertaining to our glorified bodies: what will we look like, how old we will be; will we still be male and female; what about desires, emotions, and ethnic groups? Will we still be white, black, Asian, skinny, fat, tall, or short? As I noted above, there are two things to remember when we discuss these topics: 1) Jesus’ resurrection body; and 2) what did God create before sin came into the world.
Will we be ourselves? What will we look like? How old will we be?
Many Christians are concerned that we will not be ourselves in heaven. However, this kind of thinking is not Christian, but has more to do with mystical types of religions. To answer the question of “what will we look like,” is simpler than most realize. Remember that Jesus was recognized after he resurrected. He didn’t become someone else. Elijah and Moses were still Elijah and Moses at the Transfiguration of Christ, Jesus spoke about us eating with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 8:11), and Lazarus is still called by his name in the present heaven (Luke 16:25). Why would he lose it in the eternal heaven? A Christian’s name is also written in the book of life (Revelation 21:27), and the names of the apostles and tribes of Israel are on the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:12, 14). Scholar Randy Alcorn makes an excellent point:
“If we weren’t ourselves in the afterlife, then we couldn’t be held accountable for what we did in this life. The Judgment would be meaningless. If Barbara is no longer Barbara, she can’t be rewarded or held accountable for anything Barbara did. She’d have to say, ‘But that wasn’t me.’ The doctrines of judgment and eternal rewards depend on people’s retaining their distinct identities from this life to the next.”
Quite simply, we have to retain who we are and who we were in order for heaven (and hell) to make any sense at all. We will be the same person in heaven as we were in this life (except without sin, of course).
What about our age? How old will we be after the resurrection? The Bible does not tell us exactly what age we will be for eternity. However, there are a few different things to consider. Scientific studies show us that humanity reaches his peak sometime in the twenties or thirties. It is after this time in our lives that our body’s ability to maintain itself declines. It is when this happens our bodies begin to literally die. It takes years, but aging after our peak is, in fact, a process of decay and death, something Scripture looks negatively on.
It is also worth remembering that Adam and Eve were created with apparent age. They did not go through childhood, and they were not created old and hunchback. Jesus was resurrected while in his thirties, and it is pretty safe to assume that he will not grow old and wither away.
All of this brings us to another question: what about infants and small children who died young. I have already written about the salvation of children in another article, so here I want to talk about what age they will be resurrected. One scholar states:
“This issue [about age at the resurrection] caused the spilling of much theological, especially during the Middle Ages….By the late thirteenth century, the church’s emerging consensus was this: ’As each person reaches their peak of perfection around the age of 30, they will be resurrected, as they would have appeared at that time – even if they never lived to reach that age.’ Peter Lombard’s discussion of the matter is typical of his age: ‘A boy who dies immediately after being born will be resurrected in that form would have had if he had lived to the age of thirty.’ The New Jerusalem will thus be populated by men and women as they would appear at the age of 30…but with every blemish removed.”
That last sentence is very important. Some people look much older, and are sickly at the age of thirty. This does not mean they will be sickly in heaven. We will be free from disease and other effects of sin in the Restored World. No longer will people have cancer, diabetes, and mental or other physical disorders. We will be resurrected with young and healthy bodies like they were meant to be.
Also, concerning what age children who died young will be when they are resurrected, Scripture is not clear. Like the quote above notes, it is possible that they will be resurrected as adults. However, Alcorn believes that it is possible that they will be allowed to have their childhood on the New Earth. He says:
“If so, these children would presumably be allowed to grow up on the New Earth-a childhood that would be enviable, to say the least! Believing parents, then, would presumably be able to see their children grow up-and likely have a major role in their lives as they do so. This would fit something I’ll propose later, that on the New Earth many opportunities lost in this life will be wonderfully restored. Although it’s not directly stated and I am therefore speculating, it’s possible that parents whose hearts were broken through the death of their children will not only be reunited with them but will also experience the joy of seeing them grow up…in a perfect world.”
As Alcorn says himself, he is speculating on the idea that children will get to grow up in heaven. It is possible, as nothing is impossible with God, and that he is the giver of good gifts. I am cautious about accepting this, but I’ll admit it is possible.
Although we do not know exactly what age we will be at the resurrection, it is obvious that we will be young and healthy. We also must remember that being tall or short is not sinful. I’m sure there will be both in heaven although people who were tall or short because of diseases and genetic mutations will have those disabilities removed. What height they will be in heaven is anyone’s guess, but it will be according to God’s original purpose for them if that disease never occurred.
Will we still be male and female?
Concerning gender, it is significant to realize that Christ was still a male after his resurrection. He didn’t become a female or an “it” after coming back from the grave. Since Paul tells us that our bodies will be like his there is no reason to think that we will lose our gender. As noted earlier Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Elijah, Moses, and Lazarus were still male in the afterlife. Also, God created male and female before the curse was put on creation. Being male and female is a part of being human. We will not lose that (I’ll discuss marriage in another article in this series).
Will we have emotions and desires?
Scripture tells us that God experiences emotions. He loves, enjoys, laughs, takes delight, rejoices, and even becomes angry, jealous, happy, and glad. Emotions themselves are not sinful. Anger and jealously, for example, are aimed at sinful actions, but many others are not (I wrote an article on God’s jealously and the purpose of it). Revelation 21:4 tells us that there will be no more crying and that God will wipe away our tears, but not all tears are bad. There are tears of joy, which I bet every Christian will have on the first day of the new heavens and new earth (and probably afterwards as well). The tears that God will take away are the tears that result from pain and misery. Scripture does tell us that there will be laughter in heaven (Luke 6:21), and of course, we will be joyful and happy there as well.
Will there be ethnic and people groups?
The Bible tells us that God has redeemed people from different tribes and people groups. Why would God erase these distinctions in heaven? Will he make black people white, or white people black? Will he take away the characteristics of Asians or other groups? Personally, I do not think so. Jesus didn’t stop being a Jew after he resurrected. It is also unlikely that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will stop being Hebrews. They will always be Middle Easterners. We will still be Scots, Russians, Koreans, Polynesians, Indians, Arabs, etc. on the Restored Earth. It is not sinful to be Chinese, Hispanic, or English.
Will we remember our past lives?
This is a very sensitive topic for many. How can heaven be heaven if we remember this life? What about loved ones who have gone to hell? Many suppose we will not remember this life or others because of Isaiah 65:17: “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” I’ll let Alcorn do the talking:
“However, this verse should be viewed in context. It’s linked to the previous verse, in which God says, ‘For the past troubles will be forgotten and hidden from my eyes.’ This doesn’t suggest literal lack of memory, as if the omniscient God couldn’t recall the past. Rather, it’s like God’s comment to Jeremiah: ‘I…will remember their sins no more’ (Jeremiah 31:34). It means God chooses not to bring up our past sins or hold them against us. In eternity, past sins and sorrows won’t preoccupy God or us.”
Christians in the present heaven clearly remember their lives on earth (Revelation 6:9-11). Jesus also promised in Luke 16:25 that those in heaven will be comforted. “The comfort implies memory of what happened. If we had no memory of the bad things, why would we need comfort? How would we feel it?”
In fact, recalling the bad things that happen in this current life will actually intensify God’s mercy and love, and will allow us to fully experience the glory and perfection of heaven. “As such, we will ever remember the greatness of God’s grace in redemption.”
What about remembering loved ones who are in hell? This is a tough issue for everybody. First, it should be noted that Revelation 6:9-11 tells us that Christian martyrs in heaven remember the way they died and they even cry out for justice. J.I. Packer says it well:
God the Father (who now pleads with mankind to accept the reconciliation that Christ’s death secured for all) and the God the Son (our appointed Judge, who wept over Jerusalem) will in a final judgment express wrath and administer justice against rebellious humans. God’s holy righteousness will hearby be revealed; God will be doing the right thing, vindicating himself at last against all who have defiled him…God will judge justly, all angels, saints, and martyrs will praise him for it. So it seems inescapable that we shall, with them, approve the judgment of persons-rebels-whom we have known and loved.”
I know that many do not like this, but it is nevertheless biblical. In heaven, we will have God’s perspective on things. Hank Hanegraaff notes that it will be “as though we will be in a courtroom with full awareness of the scenes that have played themselves out in the course of human history. And we will know with certainty that the Judge of heaven and earth has taken every converging factor into perfect consideration. We will know that we know that the judgments of God are altogether right and true-that they comport with perfect love and perfect justice. In eternity we will likewise fully comprehend that all who are in hell are there because they spurned the relationship that could have been theirs.”
Heaven is the great hope that Christians wait for. The Restored World is where Christians will live for all eternity. As we saw in this article, we will have physical bodies, and we will continue to be ourselves. We will retain our identities, and we will have memories of this current life. Throughout the rest of this series, I will discuss the physical world that we will inhabit and what our daily lives will be like for eternity.
 Cornelis P. Venema. The Promise of the Future (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2000). 469.
 Ibid., 471-472.
 Ibid., 470-471.
 Ibid., 469.
 Randy Alcorn. Heaven (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2004). 287.
 Hank Hanegraaff. Afterlife (Brentwood: Worthy Publishing, 2013). 47.
 Alister E. McGrath. A Brief History of Heaven, 37-38.
 Alcorn, 298.
 Alcorn, 344. See also Hanegraaff, 32.
 Alcorn, 344.
 Hanegraaff, 33.
 J.I. Packer. “Hell’s Final Enigma,” Christianity Today (April 22, 2002): 84.
 Hanegraaff, 35.