“I’m afraid to die, ‘cause I don’t know what’s up there, beyond the sky”
If the question “What will we do in Heaven” was on a coin, the other side would read something like, “Isn’t Heaven boring?” As Christians we know that we should be excited about Heaven, but it’s hard to be excited about something when we don’t know what we are supposed to be excited about. To make matters worse, the most common response to the claim that Heaven won’t be “boring” is to, albeit unintentionally, fuel the fire of boringness, mainly by saying something like, “Heaven is great because it’s beyond our imagination!” But such an answer is like asking someone to invest his life savings in a start-up company that he knows nothing about, which isn’t sensible … or biblical. Jesus encourages his followers to be competent, not ignorant (Lk 14:28). What’s more, Paul specifically says this is true for the subject of Heaven, writing that the Holy Spirit has revealed things of Heaven to us, so we can “know” them and “speak” them (1 Cor 2:10, 12-13). We would do well to study Heaven so that we can “set our minds on the things above” (Col 3:2).
The answer to the question, “What will we do in Heaven,” depends on what we mean by “Heaven.” As discussed in another article, Heaven is best understood as existing in epochs that are altered by significant Christological events on earth. Like a pair of pants altered by a tailor, so Jesus Christ tailors Heaven. The pants are the same, but they are changed. Likewise, Heaven is the same, but it’s changed. And this is a good thing, because, for one example, we could not enter Heaven until Jesus rose from the dead (Jn 14:6). But now “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord,” because Jesus made a way for us (2 Cor 5:8).
The Bible describes Heaven much like it describes the Trinity, meaning that it doesn’t have an explicit passage that describes all of the mysteries of the Trinity, but instead, throughout the course of the entire Book, offers substantive insights on the idea of the Trinity. Such is the case with Heaven.
The Bible shows that Heaven exists in seven different epochs that range from Heaven prior to creation to Heaven in the New Creation. Three of these epochs are already passed, one is present, and three are in the future. For the purposes of our question, “What will we do in Heaven?” we need to focus on four epochs of Heaven, which include the Intermediate Heaven (Heaven as it is today), Heaven during the Tribulation, Heaven during the Millennium, and Heaven during the New Creation. Thus, when we ask, “What will we do in Heaven?” we need to specify which epoch of Heaven we mean, because while we will certainly do some of the same things in each epoch (i.e., worship), there are unique elements for each respective epoch.
For the purposes of this article, we will highlight some of the major things we can expect to do during each of the four remaining epochs of Heaven.
The Present, Intermediate Heaven (Fourth Epoch)
The best thing we get to do in the present epoch of Heaven is to be with God, something that wasn’t possible prior to Jesus’ resurrection. For the first time since the Fall, which brought separation between God and man, Jesus created the possibility for man to be with God again. Therefore, upon death, man is reunited with God.
Jesus describes our post-life destination in John 14 when he calls Heaven “My Father’s house” (Jn 14:2). He says that in this house are “many dwelling places,” and further says that believers go there when they die (Jn 14:3). This is the best description in the Bible of the Intermediate Heaven, the present epoch. That Jesus describes the Intermediate Heaven as “the Father’s House” with many “dwelling places” is not insignificant, and it might offer clues into how we spend our time in the Intermediate Heaven.
The description of a “dwelling place” in the “Father’s House” implies that Heaven is like a big house with lots of rooms, like apartments. The intended meaning is that we will have our own individual rooms within a large house, rather than our own house, or “mansion” as some translations suggest. This is significant. It’s not that we each get our own mansion, but that we live in the Father’s mansion, which is far better. We get to live in God's house!
A “dwelling place” is, by design, intended to provide several things, including protection from the elements (Mat 7:25), rest (Mk 2:15), and the prospect of hospitality (Mk 3:20; Lk 7:36). If we take Jesus’ description of the Intermediate Heaven—the “Father’s House” with many “dwelling places”—as reminiscent of a house on earth (as portrayed in the Bible), then we can assume that the Intermediate Heaven is about things like safety, rest, and fellowship, which helps to answer the question as to what we will do in the Intermediate Heaven.
We will rest
The importance of rest is established from the very onset of Scripture. God rested on the seventh day (Gen 2:2), and told Israel that the land needed to rest in the seventh year (Lev 25:4). Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). By describing the Intermediate Heaven as a “house” with “dwelling places,” Jesus implied that the Intermediate Heaven is designed to be a place of rest. This thought is encouraged with the notion that we will come back with Jesus to do more work on earth at his Second Coming (Rev 19:14). The Intermediate Heaven, therefore, is designed as a Sabbath in the intermediate period between our present and future time on earth. Our souls are not asleep, as some suggest ("soul sleep"), but alive and resting (2 Cor 5:8).
We will fellowship
The Intermediate Heaven is also a place of fellowship and hospitality. The context of John 14, the place where Jesus describes the Intermediate Heaven, concerns one of the greatest acts of fellowship and hospitality in history—the Last Supper (Jn 13). In this event Jesus took his disciples to a “dwelling place” called the Upper Room, where he broke bread and washed feet. This is one of the clearest pictures of the Intermediate Heaven available—God fellowshipping with, and serving man.
During the Intermediate Heaven God invites us into his house, and we get to fellowship with him for an indeterminate amount of time. We get to sit at his dinner table and break bread with him, with our loved ones, and with the saints of old.
Heaven during the Tribulation (Fifth Epoch)
The epoch of Heaven immediately following the present, Intermediate Heaven is Heaven during the Tribulation. This is the same abode of Heaven as the Intermediate Heaven, but Heaven has taken on a new nature because all believers are in Heaven via the Rapture and Resurrection, which has provided said believers with a glorified, resurrected body likened to Jesus’ glorified, resurrected body (1 Thess 4:13-18). The Great Tribulation occurs on earth during this period, which is a seven-year era where the world is devoid of the Church and its Christians, minus God’s special revelation of evangelists and witnesses (Rev 7:4-8; 11:1-14). There are at least a couple of things we can be sure of during this particular epoch.
We will be safe
Another aspect of a “dwelling place” is that it offers safety from inclement weather. This is especially true during the Tribulation period, where supernatural earthquakes, among other things, occur. Jesus told the Philadelphian Church, “Because you have kept the word of my perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing” (Rev 3:10), implying that they will be safe during the chaotic tenure of the Tribulation. All Christians can grasp the same hope. Jesus describes the event as a time when “there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will” (Mt 24:21), and describes Heaven as a place “where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal” (Mt 6:20).
Therefore, not only will we rest and dine with God in the Intermediate Heaven, but we will also be safe from the most treacherous time period of earth’s history.
We will worship God
Revelation 5:13 shows that we will have a grand worship service during this time:
“And every created thing which is in Heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be glory and dominion forever and ever.’”
In the midst of resting and fellowshipping, and especially as we realize our safety from the most treacherous period on earth, we will rejoice and direct praise towards the one who has allowed us presence into his house.
The Millennium: The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth (Sixth Epoch)
The Millennium is when the prayer for God’s “kingdom to come to earth” is fulfilled, which occurs at Jesus' Second Coming (Mt 6:10). Revelation 19:14 shows that a Heavenly army comes to earth with Jesus, which consists of the glorified believers who have been resting and fellowshipping in the Father’s House. Theologically, the Millennium is best understood as Heaven on earth, a new epoch of Heaven distinct from the aforementioned Intermediate abode. Believers leave their dwelling places in the Father’s House and return to the earth, which has been devastated after the events of the Great Tribulation. The Millennium is the literal restoration of the Kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6), as well as a reinstatement of the Garden of Eden (Ez 36:35; Is 51:3), two descriptions that provide several clues as to what we will be doing during this particular epoch of Heaven.
We will serve in Jesus’ government
Alongside the glorified believers who return with Christ to earth, the Millennium will also consist of unglorified believers who enter into the kingdom after the Tribulation. Because they have not died (and thus couldn’t be resurrected), and because they were not raptured, they will still be in their unglorified (earthly) bodies. The Bible implies a large group of Jewish people will be saved at Jesus’ Second Coming, and that they will dwell in the land of Israel (Rom 11:26; Zech 12:10; Ez 37:14). Isaiah says they will have long lives (Is 65:20) and repopulate the earth (Is 65:23).
As for those that come back to earth in their glorified bodies, the Bible describes them as “a kingdom of priests” (Rev 1:6; 5:10). Numbers 18 shows that the priests of the Old Testament were, in the simplest sense, representatives of God. Their sole duty was to represent God to the people, and therefore this will be the glorified believers’ job during the Millennium. As the earth repopulates and nations spread across the globe, the glorified believers’ job will be to show the power and glory of Jesus to the unglorified inhabitants of Jesus’ kingdom. A glorified believer will teach God’s Word and express God’s salvation by showcasing the power of the resurrection in his own body.
Glorified believers will, in some sense, serve as Jesus’ government as they serve Jesus as the King of kings during his one thousand year reign.
We will cultivate the earth
The Garden of Eden is history’s purest illustration of Heaven on earth, and it will, for all intents and purposes, be restored on earth during the Millennium (Ez 36:35; Is 51:3). Isaiah (35:1) cites a bounty in crops and wildlife, and humanity, particularly the unglorified inhabitants, will help cultivate the charred earth back to an Edenic beauty. One can’t help but hope that glorified believers will get to help in this endeavor too.
The New Heaven and Earth (Seventh Epoch)
The final epoch of Heaven is portrayed in Revelation 21-22 as an eternal, post-creation period in which mankind dwells with God in a New Heaven and New Earth. It’s possible that Peter’s prophecy of the “Heavens passing away” and the “elements burning up” occur in between the Millennium and the New Heaven and Earth, which would mean that the Heaven and Earth as we know them are purified into a New Creation (2 Pt 3:10). Regardless, all of Heaven’s inhabitants are glorified during this epoch, which lasts forever. Revelation 21-22 are the premier chapters for this epoch of Heaven, and they offer several insights about life in the New Creation.
We will worship
The Apostle John says that there will be nations during this New Creation, and that these nations will “bring glory and honor” into the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:26). These nations will be filled with people who are incapable of sinning (Rev 21:27).
We will see God’s face
There is an interesting verse in Revelation 22:4 that might imply that we won’t be able to experience the fullness of God, namely the Person of the Trinity we call the Father, until the New Creation. It’s possible that even during the Intermediate Heaven that our access to the Father is somewhat limited, and perhaps even afterwards while dwelling in the Intermediate Heaven during the Tribulation. This is especially true of the unglorified believers to whom John might have been considering in Revelation 22:4. Moreover, it’s difficult to tell where the Father resides during the Millennium. It seems that he might remain in the abode of the Intermediate Heaven, even after Jesus and the glorified believers come back to earth to establish God’s kingdom on earth. If this is true, then it isn’t until the New Creation, when the curse is finally destroyed (Rev 22:3) that God and man can perfectly dwell together again, like we did during the Garden of Eden. This might be what is meant when John says we will “see his face,” a profound statement considering that God once told Moses that no man can see his face and live (Ex 33:20). Whatever the interpretation, the entirety of Revelation 22 concerns the fact that God and man dwell in perfect harmony together forever.
Exploration and Cultivation
John Morris of the Institute for Creation Research (icr.org) offers an interesting speculation worth considering for this particular epoch of Heaven. It’s predominantly hypothetical because John spends Revelation 21-22 describing the New Jerusalem more than anything else; however, Dr. Morris offers some biblical data that might support his speculation:
As it relates to work, we note that Adam was given work to do. It was not burdensome, but enjoyable and rewarding seeing the fruit of his labors blossom in caring for the Garden (Genesis 2:15). It was a responsible job, for God had made him the steward of His creation. We aren't told what would have resulted had Adam been obedient, but he was the steward of the entire planet and potentially beyond. What responsibility will be given us in eternity? Scripture only reveals that "His servants shall serve Him" (Revelation 22:3) in Heaven and that he who has been "faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things" (Matthew 25:23).
Astronomers now know the universe teems with billions of beautiful galaxies never before seen, and we wonder why God even created them. Never before have humans even known of them. There are many more galaxies than there are people who have ever been born. What is their purpose, and what is their future? Let me speculate.
In a marvelous passage on the glories of Heaven we are told that we are already seated in "Heavenly places" (Ephesians 2:6) positionally declared righteous in His eyes, and able to receive His favor and participate in His plan for the ages. Might this also have a physical meaning?
Has God created this immense universe as our "Garden" for eternity? Will we have access to the stars? The same passage teaches that "in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus" (v.7). Perhaps He will assign a galaxy to each of us, with the rewarding work of developing it for His glory. We will always be welcome in His omnipresence, experiencing fellowship unbroken by sin or distance. But maybe He will expect an occasional progress report on our galaxy. Just as Adam was to "tend" the Garden, we may have the privilege of exploring and showcasing His stellar handiwork and visiting the "gardens" of others, all the while fellowshipping with Him and giving Him credit for His creative majesty. We will have an eternity of time to explore seemingly infinite space, giving glory to Him in all, and pleasing Him with faithful service. At any rate, we can dream.
If this is true—and I hope it is—then Heaven might not be as boring after all!