As I was driving to the office the other morning, I was listening to a religious radio program that was airing a recording of a daughter of a well known evangelist as she described heaven. She went to Revelation chapter 21 and begin to describe the splendors of heaven. I gripped the steering wheel and said to her (as if she could hear me), "Revelation 21 isn't talking about heaven!"
I have even heard Baptist preachers talk about the pearly gates and golden streets of heaven and that we will be in heaven forever. The Bible does not say that there are pearly gates or golden streets in heaven and it certainly does not teach that we will be in heaven forever.
The pearly gates, walls of jasper and golden streets in Revelation chapter 21 describe that beautiful city, the New Jerusalem, that comes down from God out of heaven to the new earth at the end of the millennium. Revelation 3:12, 21:2 and 21:10 all mention the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. If the city comes "out of heaven" then it is not the same as heaven.
In 2 Corinthians 12:2, Paul tells about a man that was caught up into the third heaven, so there must be at least three heavens spoken of in the Bible. The first heaven would be where the birds fly and the clouds float, roughly called our atmosphere. The second heaven would then be where the sun and stars are. The third heaven, described by Paul, is where the throne of God is located.
It is interesting that in Genesis 1:1, it says "In the beginning God created the heaven and earth." In the Hebrew, the word "heaven" used in Genesis 1:1 is neither singular nor plural, it is dual. In English we only have singular, signifying one, and plural, signifying more than one. However, in Hebrew there is also dual, which signifies two. Being dual would indicate that God created the first and second heavens but not the third heaven, where His throne is, because it was already in existence.
We are often given the idea that when we die we will go to heaven where we will float around on a cloud and play a harp forever. Offhand I cannot think of much that would be more boring to me than to float around on a cloud and play a harp forever. The Bible does not teach that we will float on clouds. However, the book of Revelation in chapter five tells us that the 24 elders have harps, and in chapter 14 it says that the 144,000 have harps and in chapter 15 it tells that those who overcome the Beast (Anti-Christ) have harps.
In each case the harps are connected with singing. The people sing praises to God accompanied by their harps.
Another idea is that when we die we become angels. Or sometime we hear that we will have to "earn our wings." Both of these ideas are completely false. Angels were created as angels sometime before the creation of man in Genesis chapter one. Humans were created as humans and will never be angels. The two are completely separate beings.
Some speculate that Genesis 6:2 teaches that angels married women and produced offspring. That is impossible. First, Jesus told us that angels do not marry. There were a certain number of angels created and they did not reproduce to make more angels. Second, God created things, both plant and animals, to reproduce after "their kind." Angels and humans are not the same "kind." They are two completely different beings.
In Revelation chapters four and five, John was caught up into heaven and we are given a glimpse of what it is like. First, God's throne is there. Second, the Lamb, Jesus, is there. Third, angels are there. Fourth, saved humans are there (24 elders). Fifth, four beasts (living creatures) are there who give glory and honor and thanks to God continually. Nothing is said about jasper walls or pearly gates or golden streets. It is all about who is there and not about what is there.
Now about being in heaven forever, as we so often hear. 1 Thessalonians 4:17 teaches that at the resurrection and rapture we shall "meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord." In Philippians 1:23 Paul had "a desire to depart and to be with Christ; which is far better." Those who are saved, when they die, will immediately go to heaven to be with the Lord and will be with Him forever. There is not room in this article for a detailed study but just let me give you an overview. When saved people go to heaven at death, they go there without their bodies. Their bodies go back to the dust of the earth. At the resurrection the Lord will bring all of those people who are with Him in heaven back to the earth and will give them new bodies, which will be done quickly, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. Then at the end of what is called the Tribulation Period, He will bring all of those people back to the earth where He will set up His kingdom and will personally rule on the earth for 1,000 years. During that 1,000 years there will be people on earth in their glorified bodies and will also be people in their natural bodies. If we are to be with the Lord, we will have to be back on the earth, and not in heaven, for that 1,000 years.
At the end of the 1,000 years some major changes will take place. All of the lost people will be cast into the Lake of Fire, described in Revelation 20. Then God will create a new heaven and a new earth, described in Revelation 21.
Isaiah 65:17 says, "For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind." The word "heavens" in this verse is the same Hebrew word as used in Genesis 1:1. It is also a masculine dual noun, indicating two. So, we must conclude that the new heaven that God will create is not the heaven where His throne is located, but the first two heavens we mentioned earlier that is connected to the earth. The same heavens He created in Genesis 1:1.
On this new earth the holy city, the New Jerusalem, shall descend to the earth out of heaven. Then our abode will be on the new earth, not heaven, and God himself shall be with us and be our God. It is at this point, that is, on the new earth, that it says that God shall wipe away all tears, that there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, nor pain.
The Bible leaves us at this point where we enter a new dimension, eternity. What happens from there no human knows.
That brings us back to our original question. If there are no pearly gates and golden streets, what is heaven like? I suppose my answer would be, what difference does it make? We will be with the Lord and that is really all that matters.