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This series offers an overview of the chief teachings of the Christian church.

David’s description of eternal life is as good as any the Bible provides, if perhaps not as colorful as some: “You will show me the path of life, in your presence is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11) No picture language about harps (Revelation 5:8), or pearly gates, or streets of gold (Revelation 12:21); for David, it is heaven simply to be in the undiminished presence of God. No pleasure can top that, and it lasts forever. This intimate knowledge of God is described by John in his first letter: “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (I John 3:2) To be in the presence of God, our Maker, Redeemer, and Sanctifier—that is joy enough for the hungry soul.

But because we are currently camping our way through this material world (II Corinthians 5:1) and living in these bodies of flesh, pictures are helpful in getting us thinking about what is to come. What the Holy Spirit has to say about eternal life falls into two classes of ideas; I would call it a distinction between the instructive and the inspirational. The instructive would be those descriptions of heaven and eternal life that we can take at face value and think “that’s what it will be like!” When John, in the Revelation, is told that the multitude in white robes who “come out of the great tribulation” (7:14) will no longer suffer hunger or thirst or feel the tears running down their cheeks, every believer can draw (and probably has drawn) immeasurable comfort from that promise. And when we wonder about our own resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 offers a study in contrasts between our present body and what is to come. The present body is perishable, dishonorable, weak, natural; but the promise is that your body and mine will be imperishable, glorious, powerful, and spiritual. We can take those assurances as hard facts.

But Scripture also provides many figurative, but inspirational, descriptions: Revelation 21 describes the New Jerusalem coming down with streets paved with gold (yet crystal clear), having twelve foundations made of precious stones, and gates of pearl—and this assures us that this heavenly place as a home for our resurrected selves is far more magnificent than Rome, or Singapore, or New York. And such is the point—to be excited and thrilled at the prospect that the place reserved for us is so great. We would only detract from the vision if we quibble about how gold can be clear, or whether the harps will be concert-style or Celtic.

What Scripture teaches us about eternal life has but one purpose: that we should pursue it, embrace it, seize this promised inheritance. One aspect of eternal life through faith in Christ is that this life is ours, now, even while we are in this world: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (John 5:24) We are residents of heaven, and so ought to live that way: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Colossians 3:1-2) As for our activities while here on this earth, Peter says, “Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless.” (II Peter 3:14)

What Scripture teaches us about eternal life has but one purpose: that we should pursue it, embrace it, seize this promised inheritance.

Peter Reim is a former pastor who now teaches English at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. He makes his home in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.