In this periodic series, we’ve been exploring the phases of man’s relationship to work through time—work in the sense of one’s labor in general, job, or vocation. In this installment, we look at work in Heaven. Previous articles include:
- Work is Not a Dirty Word, about how man was created to work.
- No TED Talks in Eden, about what happened to work after man’s fall into sin.
- Productivity & The Gospel (Part 1): Is It Legalistic?, addressing an objection to speaking of the gospel and the need to be productive in the same breath.
- Productivity & The Gospel (Part 2): It’s About Good Works, on the correct understanding of works after one is saved by grace alone.
Work is probably the last thing you think of when you imagine Heaven. After all, doesn’t the Bible describe Heaven, that eternal destination for all true believers in Jesus Christ, as a place of rest? How could there possibly be work in a place of rest?
The truth is there will continue to be work in Heaven. Many Christians find that surprising. But I think their incredulity is due to their having imbibed a platonic vision of Heaven and an unbiblical view of work. If we take the time to examine both Heaven and work as the Bible describes them, we will see that there indeed will be work in Heaven. I also believe we will gain a greater appreciation for the significance of work and an excitement about our eternal home.
We Will Work in Heaven
If you were to ask the average Christian to describe what Heaven is like, you are more likely to hear descriptions of floating on a cloud than furrowing a field. The truth is most people envision Heaven as a kind of vague, disconnected state of repose—not to mention tremendously boring-sounding. It is true that our initial state after death will be with our spirit separated from our bodies (2 Corinthians 5:8). But we will not remain so disembodied.
The final destination for God’s saints is not an ethereal spirit world, but a solid physical one. Why else would passages like 1 Corinthians 15 make such a big deal about the resurrection of our physical bodies? And didn’t God design the Earth specifically to be mankind’s habitation? Yes, God will create a new Heaven and a new Earth and we will again walk on solid ground when it is renewed (Revelation 21:1ff).
You can read in much more detail about what the eternal state will be like in one of my favorite books, Heaven by Randy Alcorn. But for now, assuming Earth is redeemed man’s final destination, we would be right to wonder, “what will we do on that renewed Earth?” The answer is that we will worship our Lord, we will wonder at His majesty, and we will work.
Heavenly Work Will Be Restful Work
Let’s address the objection I brought up in the introduction. If Heaven a place of rest, how can there be work?
It is true, the biblical authors do picture Heaven as a place of rest. Revelation 14:13 says, “And I heard a voice from Heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!'”
How can we square that clear indication of rest from labors with the claim that there will be work in Heaven?
Well, the word translated “labor” in that passage is the Greek word, kopos, which is always used to emphasize the negative aspects of work. In most places it shows up in the New Testament, English translations render it as “trouble” or “labor” or “toil”—all words with a negative connotation.
In fact earlier in Revelation, John uses the same word and the ESV renders it as “toil” (Revelation 2:2). This was the same word Paul used to describe his suffering for the ministry in 2 Corinthians 11:27, “In toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.”
Kopos is the word New Testament authors used when they wanted to emphasize the fatigue of work. And as we have already explored, the fatigue, toil, and pain which so characterize our experience of work now are not coextensive with the concept of work but are rather consequences of the Genesis 3 curse.
Work is not necessarily toilsome and painful. In other words, work is not necessarily antithetical to rest. Some of the most restful times in my life are when I am working on a hobby. It’s work, but it is restful work.
It’s interesting how Isaiah 65:21-23 describes life and work in the New Jerusalem saying there will be the building of houses (21), farming (21), and work which is no longer in vain (23). It’s that vanity of work which is so hard, isn’t it? It is not rest from work we desire, but rest from toil, frustration, and meaninglessness.
Many things will cease in Heaven. Sinning will cease, war will cease (Micah 4:3), and tears will cease (Revelation 21:4), but work will not cease. Not only will this work be restful, but it will also be enjoyable.
Heavenly Work Will Be Enjoyable Work
Before the Fall, work was enjoyable, not toilsome. It was unfrustrated by the thistles and thorns of pain and confusion which now seem so synonymous with work. That means when we are living on the restored Earth, work will be no longer be cursed but be returned to its Edenic perfection.
Why will work be so much better in Heaven? Because the curse from Genesis 3 will be lifted. “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will serve him.” (Revelation 22:3).
In other words, when our Lord makes all things new, He will abolish every case of the Mondays.
Imagine all of the things you love about work—the satisfaction, the sense of progress, the knowledge that you have brought something that was disordered into a greater state of order—but imagine all of that without the confusion, sweat, or annoyance that is part and parcel of our work now! Now, that’s a job I wouldn’t mind signing up for.
Yes, we will work in Heaven. In the eternal state, work will be more like that work which Adam and Eve enjoyed. Our work will be restful, enjoyable, and meaningful.
Work in Heaven is something to look forward to, not to dread. When the Lords makes all things new, and the taint of sin no longer has any corrupting influence, our labor will again be very good.
And as we will see in the next installment, the fact that there will be work in Heaven actually adds greater significance to our work and productivity here and now.