“Is there an afterlife?” Everyone faces this question when considering one’s eventual death. Many people assume a picture of the afterlife imagining that they will be spirits living in ghostly bodies and in a state or place of heaven much like Elysium believed in the ancient classical world.
How real is this afterlife and the world to come? Many people do not have a image according to the descriptions of the heavenly kingdom and eternal life in the Bible. The first Christians looked forward to being transformed into a glorious body to live in the heavenly kingdom (Phil 3:20–21). These early Christians anticipated the one hope of eternal life by this redemption of the body (Rom 8:23–25; Eph 4:4).
The Book of Revelation illustrates an eternal dwelling with the colors of the rainbow. Many if not most are hesitant of what to accept as literal or figurative in the Book of Revelation. Revelation includes promises to the faithful including the gift of hidden manna, a white stone, and a morning star (Rev 2:17, 28; 3:5). Is the text describing reality? Sadly, some believers perceive that Revelation is mostly figurative and do not know of what they hope to receive. They revert to the common perception of “heaven” according to family tradition. However, other books within the Bible help readers to understand Revelation and especially grasp a realistic picture of eternal life. Biblical texts like the Epistle to the Hebrews describe the reality of the heavenly country and help clarify the symbolism in Revelation.
In Revelation 20, John saw earth and heaven move away (Rev 20:11). After God’s judgment of the world, He also saw “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1). According to Hebrews, the heavens and earth will perish and yet change (Heb 1:10–12; cf. Rom 8:19–23). Hebrews calls this “the world to come” (Heb 2:5; cf. 6:5). Peter predicted the new heavens and new earth when he described the reality of the Creation, the Flood, the coming destruction of the heavens by fire, and fire exposing the earth (2 Pet 3:5–12). Peter added in declaration, “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13 ESV). The reality is that God promises a better country that is heavenly for the faithful to live eternally (Heb 11:16; cf. 2 Tim 4:18; 2 Pet 1:11).
John also reported of the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming out of heaven from God (Rev 21:2, 10–14). Hebrews affirmed that God has prepared a city for the saved (Heb 11:16). Revelation symbolically describes the city as Christ’s bride, the church, and also alludes to a real city. John saw the city surrounded by 1,380 miles of walls foursquare and made of reddish jasper with 12 open pearl gates, and within its streets of glassy gold, the river of life flowed through the middle and the tree of life bore its fruits on each side (Rev 21:15–22:4). Revelation captures the glory of God’s eternal city whether the details are figurative or not. The reality is that God has a city for His people. According to Hebrews, Abraham looked forward by faith to “the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb 11:10). The writer of Hebrews encouraged the faithful as they have come “to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,” where angels are in festal gathering with God and Christ (Heb 12:22).
Jesus will bring His people into His glory (Heb 2:10). For this reason, Revelation displays the wonder of God’s promises in astonishing words, and texts like Hebrews attests to the reality of God’s eternal blessings. All of this is recorded for the earnestness and full assurance of hope until the end (Heb 6:11–12). The writer of Hebrews encouraged, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Heb 10:22–23).