Question: Do animals go to heaven when they die?
At the close of the beloved Christmas film “It’s A Wonderful Life,” the family is gathered around the Christmas tree singing Auld Lang Syne. A bell tinkles on the tree and the youngest daughter says, “Look daddy! Teacher says that every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.” To which her father replies, “That’s right!”
There is an appropriate place in all of our lives for a little fantasy, and children especially, whose developmental growth often takes shape in the realm of imagination, can safely navigate from such stories into the realm of reality as a healthy process of maturation. Sometimes our understanding of heaven needs to make the transition from fantasy to reality, from what we imagine and hope to what the Bible actually says. Fortunately, the Bible has much to say about heaven.
The Bible speaks frequently about resurrection from death, and always in exclusive reference to human beings:
John 3:5-7 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’
Since animals were not created in the image of God with a spirit, they cannot be raised from the dead to eternal life. Once resurrected, human beings will continue their personal, physical and spiritual existence forever:
1Cor. 15:42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable…
That being said, it is also true that there will be animals in heaven, just not resurrected animals that had previously lived and died. We know that in the new heavens and the new earth all creation will be restored to a pre-sin / pre-Fall state in which disease, death and entropy will cease to define existence:
Rom. 8:21 …creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay (i.e., entropy) and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
The created universe will be restored as a manifestation of heaven in the physical realm. The resurrected redeemed human race will exercise dominion over the earth without the use of brute and deadly force throughout eternity. Men and animals will peacefully coexist.
Is. 11:6-9 The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.