Question: Do animals go to heaven? Do animals have souls?
The short answer: maybe yes, but to really understand the answer, we need to examine some deep topics in the Bible. Let's consider what the Bible says regarding whether animals have souls and go to heaven by first examining the role of humans.
The entire purpose of Christian salvation assumes that humans will live beyond life either in heaven or hell. The reason why humans are destined to go to hell is because of sin (our evil actions).
Animals also sin just like humans do – they sometimes kill each other, they steal, they sometimes abuse and hurt each other, etc. However, there is no concern for the salvation of animals from a biblical standpoint, which leads to two possible conclusions:
In Romans, Paul speaks about all of creation (including animals), when he says, "For the creation waits with eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of decay into the liberty of the glory of the children of God." (Romans 8:19-21 WEB)
Essentially, Paul is saying that creation is not responsible for the death that it is subjected to. Death happens because of human sin.
We as humans were given the authority to be responsible for God's creation, as it says in Genesis, "God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.'" (Genesis 1:26 WEB)
When humans sinned, it affected all of creation. These verses again indicate that animals either have no need for salvation because they are innocent despite their actions, or it means that animals do not live beyond death.
In order to decide which of these two options is true, we need to consider what it means to go to heaven. What about humans? What happens to them when they die?
Contrary to what many people believe, the Bible depicts a different outcome than what many Christians are taught. To keep things simple, most Christians are taught that when we die, we go straight to heaven or a heaven-like place.
In the Bible, this idea of going to heaven after death is only partially true.
In Revelation and Isaiah, the Bible says, "I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth have passed away, and the sea is no more." (Revelation 21:1 WEB) "For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered, nor come into mind." (Isaiah 65:17 WEB)
At the end of times, there will be a new Heaven and new Earth (combined together, since God will be on Earth with us – Revelation 21:3), and humans will again exist in a body similar to what we currently have, only perfect and immortal.
This truth is what Paul explains when he speaks of the resurrection of the dead, "It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body." (1 Corinthians 15:44 WEB) Paul's audience was concerned about what would happen to those who had already died. He explains to them that they will eventually be raised again with a spiritual body.
However, this spiritual body will not be like a ghost or a spirit. This spiritual body will be similar to the bodies we have now, only perfect and immortal. "For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality." (1 Corinthians 15:53 WEB) We will have bodies like Jesus Christ's resurrected body, which Thomas could touch. "Then he said to Thomas, 'Reach here your finger, and see my hands.'" (John 20:27 WEB)
We were never meant to exist without a body, which is why when God creates the new Heaven and new Earth, we will still have bodies like we have now, only perfect and immortal. However, what about people who have died? Where are they right now?
Based on the Bible's depiction of Judgment Day, those who have died are standing before God, with the rest of us, all at once, right now.
This may seem confusing, because we are currently bound and defined by time. But those who have died have exited time, and when we die we will also exit time into the eternal (whether it be eternal death or eternal life). This fact is why every depiction of judgment has everyone being judged at once. Jesus says, "But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then will he sit on the throne of his glory. Before him all the nations will be gathered..." (Matthew 25:31-32 WEB)
If people go to heaven in the way that many are taught, then they would have already been judged individually, which opposes what is in the Bible. According to the Bible, everyone in existence is judged all at once. So then people who have died have exited time and they are already at the judgment. Interestingly, we will arrive at the same "time" as them, when we die and exit time.
To everyone who has died before us, it
will seem like we all died at the same "time," because time becomes
irrelevant once we die. Essentially, everyone exits time at the same
time even though everyone entered time at different points in time.
In a sense, everyone who has died goes immediately to the future (in comparison to those still alive). And when we die, ironically, we will be arriving to be judged at the same time as people who have died thousands of years before us.
For more information, read What Happens After Death?
Returning to the the main question: Do animals go to heaven or have souls? The main point regarding life after death is that humans, which can live eternally, are meant to live in a body. We have a body now, and immediately after death, we will have a new body on judgment day. There is no in-between when we exist without a body.
So what about animals? What will it be like for them at the end of time?
God says, "In that day I will make a covenant for them with the animals of the field, And with the birds of the sky, And with the creeping things of the ground. I will break the bow, the sword, and the battle out of the land, And will make them lie down safely." (Hosea 2:18 WEB)
In this new Heaven and Earth, there will be animals in physical and immortal bodies, since all of creation will be made new and eternal. In addition, there will be peace among the animals and humans.
The main difference between humans and the rest of creation is that humans are made in the image of God. However, according to the Bible, God's main goal when he creates the new Heaven and Earth will be to perfect everything in creation (by removing the tarnish of sin and death). Therefore, everything he has ever created will likely exist in a perfect and immortal form. Death and decay will be no more, as Paul says, "The last enemy that will be abolished is death." (1 Corinthians 15:26 WEB)
As stated originally, since God's plan is to return his creation to perfection and immortality, it is reasonable to believe that everything that has existed will be resurrected in the new creation. This means that it may be true that animals do go to heaven in the sense that they will be a part of the new creation.