What the Bible says about paradise
It can be difficult to separate the biblical image of paradise from the popular images provided by movies and TV shows. Heaven is often imagined as a place of bright lights and mellow clouds, where angels with harps provide an eternity of heavenly background music. None of these images are found in the scriptures. The Bible describes the sky in two main ways.
First, the sky is defined by the presence of God. From this the scriptures are clear. Perhaps the main source of this understanding is the book of Revelation. John’s vision of heaven contains an image of the throne of God, surrounded by a great multitude of people who bow down in worship. John writes, “And they cried with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God, which sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Revelation 7:10). John’s image is clear; heaven is the place of incessant worship of the Lamb seated on the throne.
Does this worship involve animals? Jean does not say it. John never mentions the presence of animals running through the golden streets of the heavenly city. Although he mentions “four living creatures” (Revelation 4: 6-8), these creatures are clearly angelic in nature. Does this mean that we can assume that animals are not present in the sky?
Not necessarily. The second thing we need to know about heaven is that it involves the renewal of all creation. The images used to describe what the sky “looks like” have an important theological function. Take the jewel-laden imagery found in Revelation as an example (21: 19-21). John’s description is a picture of heavenly Jerusalem. Terrestrial Jerusalem is only a foreshadowing of the shining kingdom of God, represented here as a city adorned with the most beautiful jewels. Likewise, much of the biblical imagery of heaven heralds the overthrow of fallen Eden. Just as God created Eden, there was a tree of life and death in the center, so the heavenly city contains a tree in the center. The difference, however, is that the leaves of the tree in the heavenly city provide healing, not condemnation (Revelation 22: 2). God is remaking the world.
Ultimately, John’s vision culminates in the creation of a “new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21: 1). During his divine revelation, John witnesses the heavenly Jerusalem coming down and resting on the earth. Heaven is not a mystical and ephemeral reality. It is a physical. The kingdom of God is fully revealed in the act of recreation. As Paul writes, “all creation eagerly awaits the revelation of the sons and daughters of God” (Romans 8:19). The scriptures teach that, as the creation itself was subjected to the effects of sin, the result of Christ’s redemption is a complete healing of all creation.
Eternal life is not about living like disembodied spirits on fluffy clouds. The scriptures clearly indicate that we receive new bodies and live in the new earth. So when we talk about heaven we are talking about the reality of an eternity in the presence of God in the context of a renewed creation. This is what defines the Christian understanding of heaven.