I am more conservative than most guys my age. I like being a Southern Baptist, driving a Grand Marquis, and wearing sweaters. Even as a teenager I enjoyed old hymns more than the praise and worship sets at youth camp, which at the time usually made scratching “a back next to ya” a prerequisite to glorifying God. One of the popular songs during those years--which I have since come to appreciate--was I Could Sing of Your Love Forever. Often during this song the worship leaders would pause to tell us over the sound of gentle guitar strums that this was what we would one day be doing in heaven for all eternity. As they went on to repeat the chorus several more times, I secretly became a little less excited about heaven. “But hey,” I thought, “singing a really long praise song sure beats going to hell.”
I was glad when I later learned that eternity is not what the 1990’s worship leaders said it was. Singing will certainly be a part of what we do, but the Bible tells us that the eternal existence of believers will be a fully functional, multi-faceted life that’s lived in physically resurrected bodies inside a perfect city called New Jerusalem (Rev. 20-22). Personally, this sounds much better to me than a never-ending song service.
Still, the guys at camp did get the most important thing right, which is that the central focus of heaven is the presence and glory of God. Ever since Adam and Eve were banished from Eden, God began revealing His plan to bring us back into His presence. The signs were increasingly clear: Noah’s ark, Mt. Sinai, the tabernacle, the temple, the incarnation of Christ, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit all point forward to a time when “the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev. 21:3). In fact, Jesus’ definition of eternal life is, “that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent,” and, “to see my glory” (John 17:3, 24). Heaven may be more than singing, but it is all about worship.
The 17th century theologian John Owen wrote, “Many will say with confidence that they desire to be with Christ and to behold his glory. But when asked, they can give no reason for this desire, except that it would be better than going to hell.” Jesus is the point of having eternal life, not just a means to it. Without understanding this even people who consider themselves Christians are likely one day to hear Him say, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matt. 7:23). The way to eternal life is not just to know that heaven is good but to trust in and worship Christ as the reason for living eternally.