The following is the final post in a series of eight posts exploring the beauty of gender from a biblical perspective. Read the first post, The Beautiful Difference. Read the second post, The Body of Gender. Read the third post, The Great Invitation. Read the fourth post, Authority that Submits. Read the fifth post, Submission from Authority. Read the sixth post, More on the Church as Family, Please! Read the seventh post, OK, But I Have A Question…

Heaven — it’s a word that we fill with our best thoughts of what life should be. Glorified bodies, fellowship with God’s people of all time, striking, overwhelming beauty, and all without sin’s pain and death! Yes, these are a source of great hope, but they are still not the Bible’s first answer to what makes Heaven, Heaven. That answer is: God is there. It’s that we will see God and know Him — this is the eternal life God has designed us for from the beginning (John 17:3) [1]. Without His presence and our fellowship with Him, everything else would be numbing emptiness! Even our getting gender right will fall short in a Heaven that’s missing God. Nevertheless, Heaven still is the best place to finish our series [2]. As the end of God’s recapitulating Story, Heaven is the perfect place to review our quest for God’s mind about gender [3].

Heaven is a place of life.

God at the center really makes Heaven another way of talking about life — real life, human life as it was designed to be. In Revelation’s account Heaven is a place that flows with living waters (Rev. 22:1). It’s where we eat from the tree of life (Rev. 22:2) and drink from wells of living water (Rev. 21:6). It’s where the antithesis of life, death, is no more (Rev. 21:3). All of this “life” in view means we must take care to note all of Heaven’s features and understand that they are intended by God for the abounding and flourishing of human life. Nothing is missing for fullness of life, and this is where gender enters. As we noted in earlier posts, gender is the meaning of our embodied persona and that makes gender as eternal as persons and bodies. The resurrected and glorified Christ is our cue. In Heaven, we will see him as a man (male) and a Jew! [4]. We also see him as metaphorically “married” to his bride — you and me (Rev. 21:2–3, 9; 19:7–9). Besides affirming the goal God has always had for relationship with us [5], the marriage metaphor in Heaven means that the significance of gender differences is not just for marriage now. Gender differences are human, and therefore something for all of us, now and forever [6].

Heaven is a place of freedom.

God at the center of Heaven also means that Heaven is a place without sin, and that, by definition, means freedom! [7]. Freedom, of course, is what we all desire and love as a real part of life. It’s the core of our social institutions as democratic societies. But Heaven’s freedom is not America’s freedom — the freedom to do what you want and be the master of your destiny [8]. No, Heaven’s freedom is the same freedom of our salvation now and that’s a freedom the Bible even describes as slavery(!) [9]. How can that be — freedom that is slavery? The key is to understand that real freedom, freedom as God intends and the freedom of His Heaven, is always freedom constrained by His good, created design. It’s not freedom to do what you want to do; it’s freedom to do what God made you to do. And in addition to righteousness — what would Heaven be without righteousness! — it means the Beautiful Difference and the Beautiful Equality belong in the Story of gender, because God is the creator of both. Both are real and both co-exist without compromise in God’s world.

This is what makes the differences between the “orders” of human life we explored in part 5 as part of Heaven, too. I know it gets “cringey” to think about difference and boundaries as part of our life in Heaven — because difference in our sin and self-dominated power equations of this world automatically means inequality [10]. When there is difference, someone is “less,” someone is inferior, and it’s all very personal. But cutting everything down to a vanilla sameness is not the Bible’s picture of Heaven, either: (1) What are we to make of the doctrine of rewards with greater and lesser according to faithful service to the Master now? [11]. (2) Jesus says what we do now with our God-given “talents”\“minas” determines the different functions we will have in the future (Luke 19:11–27, esp. vv. 17 and 19). The scenario there seems similar to how God assigns everyone’s different function in the Body of Christ now (1 Cor. 12:7–11). (3) In Heaven, national/ethnic identity is retained — Jesus is still Jewish. Are there going to be governing “orders” there, like kings and, well, non-kings (see Rev. 21:24)? The point seems pretty clear that Heaven is not a place where everyone’s sameness is the order of the day. The God-ordained differences, including gender, have meaning for humanity’s eternal well-being. They must have, or God wouldn’t have left them in his Heaven! [12].

Heaven is a place of grace.

For all its beautiful diversity, however, Heaven is the full display of the generous and gracious heart of our God, and this makes Heaven a place of God's Beautiful Equality for us. We are talking about the divine attributes of grace and mercy. They are the Gospel that God has been preaching to us since the creation of the world [13]. They are the Gospel of our rescue and restoration from sin in the cross of Christ. They are the Gospel that shuts the boasting mouth of all those proud of this world’s values. They are what makes the greatest of us thrilled to be doormen in God’s presence (Ps. 84) and to ask, “Who am I, that You… ?” (1 Chron. 29:14). They are the Gospel that understands all good in us as really God’s work through us [14]. And they are what covers our fear of difference shading equality now and in Heaven. The Beautiful Difference and the Beautiful Equality we have been speaking of for gender these eight posts are not antithetical or warring propositions. The Gospel says otherwise. Grace says otherwise. Heaven says otherwise, too.

There’s probably no higher ground upon which to close this series about God’s mind for us about gender than his glorious grace, so I won’t attempt it. However, if I’ve spoken close to God’s mind, grace should permeate the message and the result should be compelling, winsome and empowering. I hope that you have found it to be so.


[1] The covenant formulary reflected in Rev 21:3 (“They will be my people and I will dwell among them.”) is the goal of the Bible’s covenant and kingdom program (Samuel Terrien, The Elusive Presence: Toward a New Biblical Theology [Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2000]).

[2] Tops in my “Best Books” list is one about Heaven: Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing by Peter Kreeft (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius, 1980). Highly recommended!

[3] The church father Irenaeus might be the earliest to comment on God’s Story as a recapitulatio mundi (Irenaeus, Against Heresies. 4.12.3; cf. 3.12.11). William J. Dumbrell’s The End of the Beginning: Revelation 21–22 and the Old Testament (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2001), is a good source for exploring Heaven and other biblical themes.

[4] See Rev 22:16. The Jesus who gives the prophecy of Heaven (and Revelation en toto, Rev 1:1) is still “the root and descendant of David.”

[5] See Part 2, n. 6.

[6] Retention of human gender differences for Heaven runs counter to ancient and modern Gnosticisms some of which pose a radically androgynous narrative of Heaven. The “Jesus” of Gospel of Thomas 22 is an ancient example: ‘When you make the two one…and when you make the male and the female one and the same, so that the male not be male nor the female female…then you enter [the kingdom].’ Judith Gundry-Volf considers modern ‘Gnosticisms’ of this kind in part 1 of her essay, “Beyond Difference? Paul’s Vision of a New Humanity in Galatians 3:28,” in Gospel and Gender: A Trinitarian Engagement with Being Male and Female in Christ, ed. Douglas A. Campbell [London: T&T Clark, 2003], 9–16.

[7] The root of the biblical words for salvation is the notion of deliverance, or “being set in an open space.” It is the opposite of sin, which is being closed in and imprisoned (W. Foerster, “σώζω,” TDNT, 7:965-1004; C. Brown and J. Schneider, “Redemption,” NIDNTT, 3:205-216).

[8] Tim Keller calls this the real “American Idol” (Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters [New York, NY: Penguin, 2009], 75.)

[9] The Christian life is a life of slavery. We are God’s bondservants (1 Pet 2:16), slaves of Christ (Eph 6:6), and enslaved to righteousness (Ro 6:19).

[10] Gal 3:28 is the starting place for egalitarian visions of Heaven as the new creation leveling gender difference. See Gordon D. Fee, “Male and Female in the New Creation: Gal 3:26–29,” in Discovering Biblical Equality, 2d ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2005), 172–185, and Aimee Bird, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2020), 127. Anti-essentialism in secular and Christian egalitarianism moves in the same direction. For example, see Christa McKirland’s “The Image of God and Divine Presence: A Critique of Gender Essentialism,” in Discovering Biblical Equality, 3d ed. (Downers Grove, IL: 2021), 282–309.

[11] Scripture on rewards: 1 Cor 3:8, 10–15; 2 Cor 5:10; Luke 12:47-48; Matt 16:27; Rev 22:12; Col 3:23, 24.

[12] This is not to require that the Beautiful Difference of our heavenly gendered life looks exactly like it does here. It is only to assert that gender differences must have some significance in the new creation — just as they do in this one. Sam Andreades’ words remind us of the stakes now and forever: “When there stops being masculine and feminine, there stops being the harmony that expresses God well in the world” (Andreades, enGendered: God’s Gift of Gender Difference in Relationship [Wooster, OH: Weaver, 2015], 190).

[13] Scot Hafemann speaks of the 7th day’s rest of the creation story as the “Gospel of Sabbath.” God ceased from creating because absolutely everything had been graciously provided for the fullness of human life. There was nothing more to do in this regard (Hafemann, The God of Promise and the Life of Faith [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001], 41–60).

[14] Gal 2:20: It is not I who live, but Christ in me, says Paul. I love Karl Barth’s words on the language of Phil 2:12–13: “The distinctive thing about Christian or theological ethics is that we do not have to do any carrying [work] without remembering that we are carried” (Karl Barth, Ethics [New York, NY: Seabury, 1981], 516).