Are you ready for eternity?

Randy Alcorn

Rethinking Our Beliefs About Heaven


In Heaven, we'll see clearly, but won't know everything. If we knew everything, we'd be God. To see clearly and to see with far greater understanding is one thing, to see omnisciently [having total knowledge] is another. God alone is Creator, we are mere creatures. Only God is omniscient; we are and always will be finite. The popular notion "we'll know everything in Heaven" is therefore clearly wrong. When we go to Heaven we become glorified humans, we don't become God. The angels in Heaven don't know everything. Neither will we.

1 Corinthians 13:12 “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

Mark 13:32 “But of that day and that hour knows no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.”

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Remember . . . Praying is simply talking with God!

In keeping with our finite natures, we will experience process in Heaven. We will continually learn more of God "in the coming ages". As angels, also finite, strive to grow in their understanding, so presumably will we. As we learn more of God, it seems likely we will also learn more of other people, angels, and the wonders of God's creation. The sense of wonder among Heaven's inhabitants shows Heaven not to be stagnant, but fresh and stimulating, suggesting an ever-deepening appreciation of God's greatness, as shown in Revelation Chapters 4 & 5.

Ephesians 2:7 “That in the ages to come He [God] might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.”

1 Peter 1:12 “ Unto whom it was revealed [the prophets], that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.”

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Whether or not Heaven operates outside the scope of earth's time sequence, clearly the inhabitants of Heaven track with events happening in time as shown in Revelation Chapters 2 and 3. It is a hymn, not the Bible, which says "and time shall be no more". Revelation 8:1 speaks of "silence in Heaven for about half an hour". Even the presence of music in Heaven implies some sort of time duration, since meter, tempo and rests, which are intrinsic to music, are all time related. In any case, whether there is time in Heaven or not, Heaven seems to enter into the sequences on earth, right down to rejoicing over and anticipating specific events there. The entire book of Revelation shows a continuous interaction of Heaven with the sequential events happening on earth. This contradicts the notion that those in Heaven are alienated from or disinterested in what happens on earth.

Luke 15:7 “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repents, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.”

Revelation 6:9-11 “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the Word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, do You not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.”

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In Heaven, we will know each other, including those we knew on earth. Heaven will not reduce our mental capacities, but sharpen them. We will be smarter in Heaven. Scripture gives no indication of a "memory wipe" that will cause us not to recognize our loved ones and others we've known. If we wouldn't know our loved ones, the consolation of afterlife reunion in 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18 would be diminished.

1 Corinthians 13:12 “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

1 Thessalonians 4:14-18 “For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent [precede] them which are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”

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After His resurrection, Jesus was not recognized at first on a few occasions, suggesting some change in appearance. After being with him a while, his disciples suddenly recognized him. This suggests that despite any outer appearance change, the inner identity of the person may shine through, especially to eyes enlightened by Heaven.

John 20:14-16 “She [Mary] turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus said unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou? She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said unto Him, Sir, if You have borne him hence, tell me where You have laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus said unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and said unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.”

Luke 24:15-16 “And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them. But their eyes were holden [prevented] that they should not know him.”

Luke 24:31 “And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight.”

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At the transfiguration, Moses and Elijah were recognized by the disciples, even though they weren't told who they were, and they couldn't have previously known what they looked like. This may suggest we could recognize instantly people we know of but have not previously met, perhaps as a result of individual personality emanating through their physical appearance.

Matthew 17:1-4 “And after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and brought them up into a high mountain apart, And was transfigured before them: and His face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with Him. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if You will, let us make here three tabernacles; one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.”

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We will know our loved ones in Heaven. The nature of love itself is abiding in a way that transcends death. While we will no doubt lose interest in and choose not to recall many things that attracted us on earth, the shared experience of loving relationships forges a camaraderie [friendship] parallel to that of soldiers who have served together in the trenches, and who never forget what they experienced together in that foreign land.

1 Corinthians 13:13 “And now abides faith, hope, charity [love], these three; but the greatest of these is charity [love].”

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5.  In Heaven, we will recall some—perhaps most or all—of our lives on earth. This is among the most controversial beliefs, yet there is clear scriptural evidence for it: The martyrs in Heaven clearly remember at least some of what happened on earth, including that they underwent great suffering. They anticipate and look forward with strong emotion to God's coming judgment. This shows we are incorrect in assuming remembrance of unpleasant things on earth would automatically be impossible in Heaven. The change in our perspective will presumably negate any need for loss of memory.

Revelation 6:9-11 “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.”


The souls of the slain Martyrs are not actually underneath an altar . . .
There is a Gold Altar that is set in front of the Throne of God. The Throne and the Altar are both high above the Sea of Glass that John said was like unto Crystal. The Martyrs are standing before God on the Sea of Glass which is at a lower elevation than the Altar and the Throne. So it can be said that they are under the Altar because they are standing at a lower level than the Altar.

Revelation 4:6 “Before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.”

Revelation 15:2 “I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire.”

Revelation 8:3 “The golden Altar which was before the Throne.”

Isaiah 6:1-3 “I saw also the Lord sitting upon a Throne, high and lifted up.”

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In Heaven, those who endured bad things on earth are comforted for them. The comfort implies memory of what happened. If there was no memory of the bad things, what would be the need for, purpose of or nature of the comfort concerning them?

Luke 16:25 “But Abraham said, Son, remember that you in your lifetime received thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and you are tormented.”

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We will give an account of our lives on earth, down to specific actions and words. Given our improved minds and clear thinking, our memories should be more, not less acute as to our past lives on earth. Certainly, we must remember the things we will give an account of.

2 Corinthians 5:10 “ For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad.”

Matthew 12:36-37 “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned.

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The entire reality of eternal rewards points to specific acts of faithfulness done on earth that survive the believer's judgment and are brought into Heaven with us. We are told that in Heaven the Bride of Christ's wedding dress stands for "the righteous acts of the saints" done on earth. Our righteous deeds on earth will not be forgotten but will "follow" us to Heaven. The ruling positions and treasures in Heaven granted to the faithful saints will perpetually remind Heaven's inhabitants, including us, of our lives on earth, since that is what the rewards come in direct response to.

1 Corinthians 3:14 “If any man's work abide which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.”

Revelation 19:7-8 “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to Him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife has made herself ready. 8 And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.”

Revelation 14:13 “And I heard a voice from Heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth [here forward]: Yes, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.”

Matthew 6:19-21 “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust does corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust does corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Matthew 19:21 “Jesus said unto him, If you will be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven: and come and follow Me.”

1 Timothy 6:17-19 “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but [trust] in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy; 18 That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; 19 Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”

Luke 19:17 “And He said unto him, Well [done], thou good servant: because you have been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.”

Revelation 2:26-28 “He that overcomes, and keeps My works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: 27 And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of My Father. 28 And I will give him the Morning Star.” [Which is Jesus]

Revelation 22:16 “I Jesus ... am ... the bright and Morning Star.”

Jesus will be given to the Overcomers as their Bridegroom. They will be part of the Bride of Christ.

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God makes a record in Heaven of what is done by people on earth, both nonbelievers and believers. We know that record outlasts life on earth in all cases, for the believer at least to the judgment seat of Christ, and for the unbeliever, right up to the Great White Throne, just preceding the New Heavens and New Earth. Whether it lasts beyond these points we don't know, but for those now in Heaven these records of life on earth still exist.

Revelation 20:11-13 “And I saw a great White Throne, and Him that sat on it, from Whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the Books were opened: and another Book was opened, which is the Book of Life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the Books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.”

2 Corinthians 5:10 “For we must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”

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Malachi 3:16 says "a scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name." Typically, such documents were made by the King's scribes (in Heaven's case, perhaps angels), and periodically read in the King's presence, to assure worthy actions done by his subjects were remembered, and had been properly rewarded (Esther 6:1-11). The purpose of such a scroll was to keep a permanent record so that the memory of acts done to the King's glory would endure. We are told that such a scroll exists in Heaven. Do we envision the God of history destroying it, or in ages to come no one in Heaven making reference to it? It seems more likely that such records of the faithful works of God's people on earth will not be destroyed or set aside, but may even be read and rejoiced over in Heaven before God, men and angels.

Esther 6:1-11 “On that night could not the king sleep, and he commanded to bring the book of records of the chronicles; and they were read before the king.

2 And it was found written, that Mordecai had told of Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king's chamberlains, the keepers of the door, who sought to lay hand on the king Ahasuerus. 3 And the king said, What honour and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this? Then said the king's servants that ministered unto him, There is nothing done for him.

4 And the king said, Who is in the court? Now Haman was come into the outward court of the king's house, to speak unto the king . . . . . 5 And the king's servants said unto him, Behold, Haman standeth in the court. And the king said, Let him come in.

6 So Haman came in. And the king said unto him, What shall be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour? Now Haman thought in his heart, To whom would the king delight to do honour more than to myself? 7 And Haman answered the king, For the man whom the king delighteth to honour,

8 Let the royal apparel be brought which the king useth to wear, and the horse that the king rideth upon, and the crown royal which is set upon his head: 9 And let this apparel and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king's most noble princes, that they may array the man withal whom the king delighteth to honour, and bring him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaim before him, Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honour.

10 Then the king said to Haman, Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse, as thou hast said, and do even so to Mordecai the Jew, that sitteth at the king's gate: let nothing fail of all that thou hast spoken.

11 Then took Haman the apparel and the horse, and arrayed Mordecai, and brought him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaimed before him, Thus shall it be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour.”

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Memory is a basic element of personality. If it is truly us in Heaven, there must be some continuity of memory from earth to Heaven. We are not different people, but the same people marvelously relocated and transformed. Heaven cleanses our slate of sin and error, but does not erase it. The lessons we learned here about God's love and grace and justice surely are not lost, but carry over to Heaven. They are built upon and greatly expanded, yes, but not eliminated. There seems every reason to believe that just as our earthly works done for Christ will survive this life and be brought into the next, so will our Christ-centered experiences.

1 Corinthians 3:14 “If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.”

We tend to dismiss our lives on earth assuming that once in Heaven it will be as if they never happened. This is nowhere taught in Scripture. For some reason (wishful thinking may be part of it), we disassociate our lives on earth from the life to come. God, however, sees a direct connection between them. At death we are relocated, but this does not relegate our earthly lives to insignificance. On the contrary they have eternal significance. They have been recorded in the sight of all Heaven, and serve as an ongoing reference point, a point of reference for eternal rewards.

Since none of us learns everything on earth that God would desire us to, rather than abandon the lessons he wanted to teach us, he might allow us once in Heaven to review our lives on earth and this time learn everything he intended. This is speculation, but that there will be ongoing remembrance in Heaven of some aspects of our lives on earth is not speculation, but a clear teaching of Scripture.

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In Heaven, we will be aware of at least some of what is happening on earth. Another controversial concept, yet again the Bible confirms it:

The martyrs in Heaven appear to know what is still happening on earth.

Revelation 6:9-11 “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the Word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

When Babylon is brought down, an angel points to events happening on earth and says "Rejoice over her, O Heaven! Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets! God has judged her for the way she treated you" (Revelation 18:20). Since he specifically addresses them, the clear implication is that the saints in Heaven are watching and listening to what is happening on earth.

There is "the roar of a great multitude in Heaven shouting Hallelujah" and praising God for specific events of judgment that have just taken place in Revelation 19:1-5. Again, the saints in Heaven are clearly observing what is happening on earth.

When Heaven's saints return with Christ to set up His millennial kingdom, it seems strange to think they would have been ignorant of the culmination of human history taking place on earth. The picture of saints in Heaven blissfully unaware of what is transpiring on earth, where God and His angels (and they themselves) are about to return for the ultimate battle in the history of the universe, after which Christ will be crowned King, contradicts clear indications in the context. But even apart from such indications, this notion of heavenly ignorance seems ludicrous.

Revelation 19:11-14 “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns; and He had a name written, that no man knew, but He Himself.  And He was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies [Saints] which were in Heaven followed Him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.”

When brought back to earth from Heaven, Samuel was aware of what Saul had been doing and what he'd failed to do on earth (1 Samuel. 28:18). Unless he was specially "briefed" on this, it follows he must have been already aware of it.

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When called from Heaven to the transfiguration on earth, Moses and Elijah talked with Jesus about His death about to happen in Jerusalem. They seem aware of the context they stepped into, of what was transpiring on earth.

Luke 9:30-31 “And, behold, there talked with Him two men, which were Moses and Elias: 31 Who appeared in glory, and spoke of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem.”

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Hebrews 12:1 tells us to "run the race marked out for us", creating the mental picture of the Greek competitions which were watched intently by throngs of engrossed fans, sitting high up in the ancient stadiums. The "great cloud of witnesses" he speaks of are clearly the saints who've gone before us, whose accomplishments (some of them recorded in the previous chapter) on the playing field are now past. The imagery seems to suggest those saints, the spiritual "athletes" of old, are now watching us and cheering us on from the stands of Heaven. (The witnesses are said to "surround" us, not merely to have preceded us.)

Hebrews 12:1 “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us”

The unfolding drama of redemption, awaiting Christ's return, is currently happening on earth. Earth is center court, center stage, awaiting the consummation of Christ's return and the setting up of His kingdom. Logically, this seems a compelling reason to think those in Heaven might see what is happening on the earth. If in Heaven we will be concerned with what God is concerned with, and His focus is on the spiritual battle on earth, why would we not witness His works there?

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Christ, in Heaven, watches closely what transpires on earth, especially in the lives of God's people (Revelation 2 and 3). If the Sovereign God's attentions are on earth, why wouldn't those of His heavenly subjects be? When a great war is transpiring, is anyone in the home country uninformed and unaware of it? When a great drama is taking place, do those who know the writer, producer and cast—and have great interest in the outcome—refrain from watching?

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Angels saw Christ on earth. There are clear indications angels know what is happening on earth. If angels, why not saints? Don't the people of God in Heaven have as much vested interests in the spiritual events happening on earth as do angels?

1 Timothy 3:16 “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”

Luke 1:26-27 “And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.”

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Christ said "there will be more rejoicing in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who do not need to" (Luke 15:7). Similarly, "there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents" (Luke 15:10). Who is doing this rejoicing in Heaven, in the presence of angels? Doesn't it logically include the saints in Heaven, who would of all people appreciate the joy and wonder of human conversion? (If they rejoice over conversions happening on earth, then obviously they must be aware of what is happening on earth.)

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In Heaven, saints will pray to God and ask things of Him, and perhaps intercede for those on earth.

Christ, the God-man, is in Heaven interceding for people on earth (Romans 8:34 “It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.”). In at least one case, then, a person who has died and gone to Heaven is now praying for those on earth. The martyrs in Heaven in Revelation 6:10pray to God, asking him to take specific action on earth. They are praying for God's justice on the earth, which may have intercessory implications for their brethren now suffering on earth. The sense of connection and loyalty to and concern for the body of Christ of which saints in Heaven are part with the saints on earth, would likely be enhanced by being in Heaven, not eliminated by it (Ephesians 3:15 “The whole family in heaven and earth” ). In any case, we know these are saints who have died, now in God's presence, actively praying concerning what is happening on earth.

Prayer is simply talking to God. Angels can talk to God, and therefore angels pray. We will communicate with God in Heaven, and therefore we will pray in Heaven, presumably more than we do now, not less. Our prayers will be effective given our righteous state.

James 5:16 “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

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The burden of proof lies on those who would argue saints in Heaven cannot or do not pray for those on earth. On what biblical basis would we conclude this?

Revelation 5:8 speaks of the "prayers of the saints" in a context that may include saints in Heaven, not just on earth. In any case, if saints are allowed to see some of what transpires on earth, and clearly they are, then it would seem strange for them not to intercede for them. (While we are not told angels pray for people, neither are we told they do not.)

 It's a question of assumptions. If we assume Heaven is a place of ignorance of or disinterest in earth, then we will naturally assume those in Heaven couldn't or wouldn't pray for people here. In contrast, if we believe it is a place of interest in and observation of God's program and people on earth, and where the saints and angels talk to God, then we would naturally assume they do pray to God for those on earth. This is my assumption.