“Then, we who are living and still around will be taken up together with them in the clouds to meet with the Lord in the air. That way we will always be with the Lord. So encourage each other with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:17-18 (CEB).
Always. That is a very long time. It never ends. Sometimes I tried to really understand what eternity is. I had to stop because we will never understand it completely as we only understand time as measured in minutes and seconds. But even with our simple minds, it is not difficult to understand that a lifetime, even for someone who lives to over 100 years, cannot be compared to eternity. But we can say that our life here on earth is a journey towards the place where we will spend our eternity.
But what is heaven and why do I want to make sure I will be there for eternity?
A place where God’s nature rules
I remember as a child, my parents would ask me what I would like to do in heaven. I had a huge imagination and I thought of everything that I could see and experience there. All my childhood dreams could become real in heaven. I would be able to fly, ride dolphins and never need to sleep, and many other things!
Now, as an adult, eternity is something much more than that. It will be a place where there are no goodbyes or separation from our loved ones. A place where we will be together again with faithful friends and family who have passed away. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17.) A place with no pain or sickness. All children will be treated well – with enough to eat and surrounded by love. It will be a place where there is unity – where no one lives for himself or his own interest but for the best of others. A place with no cold words, revenge or bitterness but with warmth and love towards every single person. (Isaiah 65:17-25; Revelation 21:4.)
God Himself will rule in eternity and all things will happen in His Spirit. Heaven will be filled with His characteristics, which are exactly the opposite of how we are by nature.
God cannot be tempted by evil – He cannot be worried, jealous or greedy. (James 1:13.) He cannot be bitter or get offended. He lets His sun shine on the good and the evil. (Matthew 5:45.) He is willing to forgive the most terrible sinners and to throw all memory of their sins into the sea of forgetfulness. (Micah 7:19.) He cannot become angry or irritated.
God is love (1 John 4:8,16), which means He is everything described in 1 Corinthians 13. It is hard to believe, but all those who are in heaven with Him may have a share in this same godly nature! (2 Peter 1:2-4.) And that is a promise – not only for far away in the future, but it already happens now in our life on earth!
Making sure I fit into heaven
Everyone understands that if you plan to move to another country it takes a lot of preparation. Learning the culture, studying the language, making sure your passport and visa are in place, and many more things. Think how much more important it is to prepare for eternity! To go from the starting point – from being egotistic, worrying, bound by what people think, easily angry and offended, stubborn, quick to speak, quick to judge, to becoming one who shares in divine nature – one who can be in constant peace, free from people, quick to listen, who can return the coldest treatment with absolute goodness.
For this we need a lot of training. Our daily preparation or training here on earth makes this godly nature become more and more ours while we are here on earth. The characteristics of heaven, this “godly nature”, should grow in us each day through this training so that we fit into heaven and into the spirit that rules in heaven.
Why there is no sorrow in eternity
“If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.” 1 Corinthians 15:19 (CSB).
Here Paul makes it clear that what we can look forward to in eternity is so great that all the hopes and dreams we can have here on earth cannot even begin to be compared with it.
Opening a newspaper makes it clear that the world is full of sorrow and pain. Children and women who are abused and live in constant fear, innocent people that are murdered, families that are torn apart, people living in very deep poverty and sorrow, countries at war with unending tragedy. For hundreds of years, world leaders have tried to solve these problems, but war and violence is only getting more and more. This doesn’t even include the millions of situations that are happening daily that we don’t read in the newspaper or hear on the radio or television.
Marriage problems, anger towards children, jealousy when others have more or get praised, suspicious thoughts, impatience, worry, demands on others, complaining, discouragement, laziness, anger, becoming offended, backbiting, hurtful comments, hard words, revenge, impurity both in thoughts and actions, are a part of almost everyone’s daily life and bring conflict, sorrow and pain wherever they are present. (Romans 8:19-22.)
But in eternity, peace, real love and unity will rule, not only between countries but between every single person, because those who share that eternity have learnt the wisdom of creating peace by giving up their own strong will and opinions to do God’s will.
Why I can be happy in my trials
“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure …” Hebrews 6:19 (CSB).
This hope that we have to see Jesus in person, to be raptured when He returns and to be an eternity in heaven becomes our anchor. It makes us unshakeable, and the trials do not drag us down. In fact, James exhorts us to “be glad” when we come into trials. (James 1:2-3.) How is that possible? It is possible because we know that this is the training we need to enter an eternity in heaven which is our goal. This is where we can break free from our evil desires and the corrupt influences of this world (2 Peter 1:4), and learn to react in a way that is pleasing to God. This is an opportunity to share in even more godly nature, the nature that is ruling in eternity in heaven!
Then we are not afraid to die, because we have been preparing our whole life for what comes after. Not only that, but by being faithful, these qualities of eternity become more and more ours while we are here on earth! What a bright future to look forward to!
To spend eternity in any other place than heaven is not an option for me. This is the one goal I want to keep in front of me in every decision and every situation I come into, big or small. Then I will be prepared for heaven and fit in there just perfectly.