I fairly regularly get asked this question in various forms: How will the people in Heaven view Hell? How can they enjoy the glories of God while others are suffering? My answer has two parts—a direct answer and a crucial context for that answer.
First, we get a sense of the direct answer in Revelation 19:1–6 as part of John’s vision of the end times:
After [the declaration of judgment against Babylon] I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying,
“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; because His judgments are true and righteous; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants on her.” And a second time they said, “Hallelujah! Her smoke rises up forever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” And a voice came from the throne, saying,
“Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great.” Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying,
“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.”
Here is the direct answer: Those in Heaven praise God when they see his judgments against evil. We will praise him for fulfilling his role as the perfect judge. I’ve written before that “It’s Not Wrong to Long for Justice.” Justice is good. It’s desirable. It causes us to worship. And in the Revelation passage above, we see an example of that. In fact, if you read the psalms while looking for examples of God being praised for his judgments against evil, you might be surprised by how often you run into it. “Our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God” when he “inflicts his wrath” against it, according to Romans 3:5.
As I wrote,
Our love of justice is a reflection of our love for the perfections of God’s character. He is righteous. He is loving. He is good. In the deepest part of us, we know that everyone who rips away at God’s reflection on earth rightfully deserves condemnation, and we desire the fulfillment of that condemnation. It’s when we recognize that this applies even to our own sins that we become desperate for grace.
And here we come to the context for the direct answer: God’s greatest glory is not his perfect righteousness or his wrath against evil. It’s his grace—the grace Jesus, as “the radiance of [God’s] glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Heb. 1:3), displayed for all to see on the cross. This truth is also revealed in Revelation in a passage that always stops me short in its unexpected and overwhelming beauty.
The passage comes in Revelation 5. Here’s the set up:
I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it. Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it…. (Rev. 5:1–4)
Remember, when the seals are broken, judgments against the sinful world are released. But who is worthy of bringing about this judgment? John is told, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals” (Rev. 5:5). From reading this response, your first inclination might be to think that Jesus is able to break the seals—he is worthy of doing this—because he’s perfectly sinless, perfectly righteous, that this is what makes him worthy of judging.
But the text does not say this.
In fact, this is the unexpected reason it gives as to why Jesus is worthy to break the seals of judgment against humanity:
And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” (Rev. 5:9)
Jesus is worthy of unleashing final judgment not because he’s righteous (though his righteousness made it possible), but because he died for our sins, purchasing people for God with his blood. His loving, self-sacrificial grace on the cross demonstrates the pinnacle of God’s glories, and all of God’s eternal judgment against evil must be seen in light of what Jesus first did for us—his suffering and death for his enemies. Though God’s actions as judge are praiseworthy, this is greater and more praiseworthy than even his actions as judge.
This is the God we worship—the God who is both just and the justifier (Rom. 3:21–26). We see his good justice not only as good in itself, but also in light of his unexpected and beautiful role as justifier. Goodness on top of goodness. Glory on top of glory. And we will rejoice in him forever.