The Scriptures are not very explicit about what heaven is like. When Paul was caught up to the third heaven, what he heard there could not be uttered. Most of what we “know” about heaven is inferred, and that is certainly true about the nature of relationships there. Let’s consider three main categories of heavenly relationships.
Our Relationship with Divine Persons
By far, the most wonderful thing about heaven is that the divine persons will share it with us. Scripture is replete with references to God’s deep desire to be in relationship with us. Genesis describes the creation of the garden paradise that God visited daily to enjoy communion with Adam and Eve. Notwithstanding the tragedy of the fall, that picture is developed in Revelation, where God dwells eternally in a city paradise with His redeemed.
The heavenly depictions in Revelation accord with our Lord’s High Priestly prayer. There, He sublimely defined eternal life: “This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Joh 17:3).1 He prayed that those whom His Father had given Him out of the world “may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one,” and continued, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (vv22-24).
The entire biblical panorama concerns God moving in time to fulfil His own eternal purpose that we should be in perfect relationship with Himself. To that end, the apostle Paul explained that our salvation was to fulfil God’s good pleasure that, by predestination to adoption, we should be in relationship with Himself as sons (Eph 1).
Implicit in our relationship as sons is not just eternal intimacy as God’s children, but also the dignity of being His heirs with Christ (Rom 8). Furthermore, we will have the honour of servants of God: “His servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads” (Rev 22:3,4). To serve God is not a demeaning, servile thing. By contrast, Hebrews 3 explains that Moses was worthy of glory as a servant in God’s house. Of how much more glory will those who serve in His heavenly house be counted worthy!
The Holy Spirit uses many metaphors to describe our relationship with the Lord Jesus. He is our Saviour, Redeemer, Shepherd and Great High Priest. How gracious that our Lord is not ashamed to call us brothers (Heb 2:11). When we are finally conformed to His image, then He will manifestly be the firstborn among many brothers (Rom 8:29). However, at the moment of our rapture, Christ our Head, who gave Himself for us, will come to claim His Body-Bride, and for all eternity we will be “the fullness [fulfillment] of him who fills all in all” (Eph1:23).
Our Relationship with the Angelic Host and Other Created Beings
Hebrews 2 amplifies the truth of Psalm 8 that God always purposed that humankind should be over all the works of His hands. God temporarily reversed His ultimate plan and made Adam lower than the angels. It was in this state of humility that Christ became incarnate. However, upon His resurrection and ascension, He was exalted to the position for which He was ultimately destined – “far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” (Eph 1:21 KJV).
In accordance with the Lord Jesus’ teaching that in the “new world” those who had followed Him would sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Mat 19:28), Paul reminded the Corinthians that in God’s future order they would have the honour of administering angels and the rest of the world. How inappropriate, therefore, to be taking their matters against each other before a human court.
Our Relationships with Fellow Believers
Our relationships with each other in heaven will not be the same as on earth. Challenged by the rather implausible scenario of a woman married consecutively to seven brothers, the Lord did not dismiss the notion of any relationships in heaven, but rather stated that they would not be the same as here on earth. So much of the New Testament’s imagery implies community and relationship – mutual members of the body, sheep in the flock, children in the family – and it seems unlikely that the Holy Spirit would use such metaphors if they would immediately be redundant upon completion of our salvation.
Paul spoke about henceforth knowing no one after the flesh (2Co 5:16). Though still a fallen human, he now had an entirely new way of relating to people (including Christ) by the Spirit. Ultimately all our relationships will be transformed, as the way we regard each other will be elevated above the temporal, sinful ways of earth.
“We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet … we shall be changed” (1Co 15:51-52). Relationships which are presently strained by our sinfulness will be gloriously sustained by one un-grieved Spirit and our singular ambition to glorify God. Rivalry and selfish ambition, unfulfilled expectations and broken promises, careless words (and those calculated to hurt), misunderstandings, wrongly judged motives, anxiety, fear, guilt and shame – all of these will be forever gone in one glorious moment!
Thus, with such a changed perspective, each of us will gladly be in accord with our Lord’s evaluation at the Judgement Seat, where every word and deed will be assessed. He will bring to light the complete backstory – each contributory factor, with every motive and mitigating circumstance (1Co 4:5). With our redemption complete, every situation scrutinized and every hurt healed, we will proceed from the Judgement Seat in perfect harmony.
There will be nothing to divide. Even now in the spiritual realm there are no ethnic, social nor gender differences, but Christ is all and in all (Col 3:11). That will be perfectly and permanently so when we finally get to heaven.
Why does any of this matter? Anticipating the certain fulfillment of God’s future plans, Peter says, “Since all these things are thus … what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness” (2Pe 3:11).
May we henceforth live in light of what we will be then!
1 Bible quotations in this article are from the ESV unless otherwise noted.