Which option below best describes eternity?
a. A long time.
b. A really really long time.
c. A really really really really long time.
d. Existence above and beyond time.
I’ll take “d.” God exists beyond measurable time and space. We won’t need clocks in heaven. I presume that eternity with Him also means living beyond the tangible realm of created reality as we know it now. According to the apostle Paul; “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. (1 Corinthians 2:9).
That’s why our top priority is to love Him.
The Bible often uses fixed terms for heaven (a place with “pillars”, “pearly gates”, “foundations”, “windows” and “golden streets”). Jesus often spoke of the kingdom of heaven as something we “enter into.” He also said it was “not of this world” (John 18:36). He told his disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you.” and He called that place His “Father’s house” (John 14:2).
However, this does not mean heaven can be found on a map. These descriptions may well be parabolic. God is inspiring in us a hope for something more real and lasting than anything we can currently see, hear, touch, smell, taste or measure.
Poetic language in Scripture promising a “new heaven and a new earth” does not necessarily consign us to an eternal future in tangible terms. While Jesus spoke of heaven and earth passing away (Matthew 5:18), Paul seemed to expect the redemption of creation, liberating it from its bondage to decay (Romans 8:21). This makes me scratch my head.
Paul spoke of wanting to be “clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:4). In fact, this is the purpose for which God made us (5:5). He used metaphors like a twinkling eye and a trumpet to explain our heavenly hope more as a transformation than a destination:
I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)
The apostle Peter spoke of an imperishable and undefiled inheritance which will not fade away, reserved in heaven for His children (1 Peter 1:4). The Hebrew author wrote figuratively of a “greater and more perfect “tabernacle” that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation.” (Hebrews 9:11).
For you and me in the here and now, eternity remains a humbling mystery. It’s also an amazing promise. Listen to the apostle John: “This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life.” (1 John 2:25). Can we claim this promise without knowing the details?
When Jesus prayed for His followers just before going to the garden of Gethsemane for the last time, He defined eternal life in personal terms: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3).
Instead of trying to measure the distance to heaven or its dimensions or duration, our top priority is to know God the Father. To know Him is also to trust and love Him. Since He has made Himself personally accessible to us through Jesus, we have access to eternity through Him. And if you are reading this now, you still have time to make knowing and loving God your top priority.