Some common phrases heard in Christendom go something like this:
When I get to Heaven, I will ______________
I can’t wait for Heaven because ____________
This world is not our “home,” Heaven is…
And here’s what I often want to ask the person making such a statement, “Which heaven are you talking about?”
I think most people, when speaking in terms like the above statements, have in mind a definition for “heaven” as the place I/we will “go to” immediately when we die. To which I might say, “well yes, and no…” So, the whole sentence might go something like:
When I die, and go to Heaven, it will be like _____________
When I die, and go to Heaven, I will ______________
This world is not our “home,” when I die I will finally be in Heaven, I will be “home.”
Before you start crying “heretic!”, hear me out on this.
I’m NOT saying that when you die you will NOT be found to be in the presence of God, in a place you can probably safely refer to as “heaven.” What I AM saying, is maybe this is a misleading word/term to use in some contexts. I think that maybe, when we make statements like the above ones, what we REALLY mean by “heaven” is the time and place described by John in Revelation 21 and 22. Let me show you:
“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down OUT OF heaven FROM God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is WITH men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” -Revelation 21:1-5 (emphasis mine)
“And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending OUT OF heaven from God.” -Revelation 21:10 (emphasis mine)
“And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, as the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.” -Revelation 22:1-3
A few questions for you to consider:
1) Do the things in these verses resonate with much of what you think about when you think about “heaven?” (i.e. God wiping away tears, no more death or pain or sorrow. In the presence of and dwelling with God. The curse on the world and all those in it being removed. Healing… life…)
2) When does John see these sorts of events taking place? In the middle of history? (such as, when people die right now?) Or at the end of history? (if you read the first 20 chapters of Revelation, you’ll discover that John is seeing these things at the end, or culmination of history as we know it now).
3) What is happening with the interaction of “earth” (our domain) and “heaven” (God’s domain)? And how does this align with the prayer that Jesus gave us, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, ON EARTH, as it IS in HEAVEN.”
Here’s what I’m getting at. There’s nothing inherently wrong with making some of the above statements about expectations or thoughts about Heaven and what it will be like. In fact, the anticipation and hope of Heaven is one of our greatest gifts. But I do think more intentionality could be given to describe WHICH Heaven we are talking about.
Jesus spoke of the “Kingdom of God/Heaven,” as God’s reigning and ruling presence on earth. It’s what He came to announce and establish (leaving us in charge of implementing it). He spoke of “Paradise” as being the place to which the dead immediately go to when they die (in the presence of God and Himself? Yes, of course. The final destination and/or home? No.) Isaiah, Peter, Paul, and John all talk about the “new Heavens and the new Earth” when talking about the end of all things, the final destination, when God truly and finally puts the world to rights and dwells once again with man as He did in the beginning. When Heaven is JOINED to Earth. Our final “home,” if you will, is not in “heaven” (God’s current realm, what Jesus called Paradise), but in the NEW heavens and earth. THAT is our final destination. THAT is our final hope. THAT is when we receive our resurrected bodies and enjoy the wonder and beauty and glory of God’s restored, renewed creation in perfect harmony, peace, and love.
I just wonder if sometimes we confuse ourselves and others when we use the two interchangeably. When we use the term “Heaven” to describe both where we go when we die, AND where we go AFTER the place we go after we die (when God puts all the world to rights, and brings all of “heaven” with him to re-join the new earth). There is “life-after-death,” AND there’s “life-AFTER-life-after-death.” Two similar, but very different realities and places.
Or maybe, if you’re like I was about 4 years ago, you never realized there’s a difference? Maybe you, just like I did, sorta lumped all we knew (or thought we knew) about “heaven” in to one big pile in our minds, and thought of it all as the “place” we go when we die. If that’s the case, I encourage you to do some reading and studying… I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Other Scriptures to read would include:
-1 Corinthians 15
-2 Peter 3
What do you think?
When you use the word “Heaven,” what are you thinking/referring/meaning?