A Progressive Christian Blog

Heaven? Which Heaven?

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.

For a good place to start, check out Surprised by Hope, by N.T. Wright.

"Surprised by Hope" by N.T. Wright

"Surprised by Hope" by N.T. Wright

Other Scriptures to read would include:
-Revelation 21,22
-1 Corinthians 15
-Romans 8
-Philippians 3
-Ephesians 1
-Isaiah 25
-2 Peter 3

What do you think?
When you use the word “Heaven,” what are you thinking/referring/meaning?

12 Responses to “Heaven? Which Heaven?”

    • colbymartin

      tiger,

      i happen to know the guy who “wrote” the thing, and i don’t think he’d mind… ;)

      Reply
  1. Sharon Benson

    I must admit, I lumped it all together, and didn’t give it much thought necessarily. My view has always been simply, heaven, and the New Jerusalem will be soooooo much better than here; perfection always is!
    In both places, we will be in the presence of GOD, I can’ t think of anything I am looking forward to more!

    Reply
    • colbymartin

      thanks sharon.
      like i mentioned, that’s sorta how i used to approach it too. then my eyes were opened to so much of the reality of what God’s desire is for his creation and his created. hopefully we never minimize any of it to just some ethereal “playing harps and singing songs on clouds” all day (cause, uh, honestly, WHO would consider THAT Heaven?!)

      Reply
  2. Claire

    I’ve thought about this somethimes but no one’s ever mentioned it and it almost seems taboo to break with the traditional thinking. I hoped that the streets weren’t really paved with gold and we don’t all sit around in guilded chairs.

    My thinking is that Heaven, as it presently exists, is beyond my imagining. Beyond what is human and physical and tangible. I liken it to what it might be like if the other 90% of our brains were activated. Maybe think of dying and going to Heaven as an enlightenment of sorts, where mysteries are revealed and understanding is gained. We will be in the presence of God, our creator and savior, and we will gain knowledge of Him that we don’t posess and can’t comprehend now. I suppose, I preceive Heaven as a place of Enlightenment.

    Don’t laugh, but when I think of the New Heaven and New Earth combinded, I visualize myself in my physical form, laying down in a meadow by a stream and taking a nap. I really see this New Heaven as a place of Rest and Comfort.

    Reply
  3. colbymartin

    claire, your sentiment that “no one’s ever mentioned it, and it almost seems taboo to break with traditional thinking” is so frustratingly true. God’s ultimate hope and plan for the world SEEMS like it should be a BIG topic deserving of LOTS of attention and thought. but we kinda just tend to focus on “getting souls in to heaven” and stop there. what about what God is planning to do one day? and how might that affect how we live now? if God will one day renew and rebuild and restore earth, can we get in on that action NOW?

    i think i know what you mean when you say that heaven, as it presently exists, is beyond our imagination. i say again (like i mentioned in my sermon back in july) that that’s probably just how john felt when he was trying to convey what he saw going on in heaven (right now) in revelation 4 and 5. sights, sounds,smells, all too much to explain and describe… and yet the cool thing is (i think) that he TRIES to. he doesn’t shy away from it. he doesn’t toss his hands up and say, “ah well, it’s all just too marvelous and crazy for me to comprehend, so i’ll just forget about for now and wait until i will understand.”

    you sound like paul in 1 cor 13, “but when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away… for now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. now i know in part, but then i shall know just as i am also known.” i definitely think that when we die and are in paradise that we will grow in our understanding and our capacity for learning. and then even more so once we receive our resurected bodies and enter the life AFTER life after death, on the new heavens and new earth. our faculties (like the other 90%) will be fully realized and in tune. we won’t know everything, of course, for then we’d be god. we’ll still learn, grow, progress, evolve (poor word choice, maybe), build, create (yay!). the ‘enlightenment’ you speak of will be true for our minds, yes, but also our hearts and bodies… as we learn what it finally and fully means to love and beloved, serve and be served, give and receive…

    you, my dear friend, are welcome any time to lay by that river of life and enjoy the rest and peace of the new heavens and new earth…

    Reply
  4. Jamie Gavin

    Colby,

    I love reading your blogs! You are an amazing writer and I enjoy reading your work! Thanks! You ROCK my friend.

    Jamie

    (And I agree with Claire…rest and comfort!)

    Reply
    • colbymartin

      Thank you Jamie!
      Glad that you take the time to read when I post, and if it’s a blessing in any way, then praise the Lord!

      Reply
  5. Joe Gasso

    Colby that was Brilliant! Very insightful perspective. Everyone here is right you have a gift. And I think you should name your blog ‘DEEPTHINK” . Keep it up, good Job.

    Joe

    Reply
    • colbymartin

      Ah thanks, Joe…
      I hope to expound more on these thoughts about “heaven” in later posts.

      Loved having you back in the ‘discussion’ last night.

      Reply
  6. Janice

    First I must say you do an amazing job of articulating your thoughts. I wish I could do that, I tend to confuse people more than shed great insight on topics. It is a gift and I’m glad you’re using it for good.

    As for the topic of Paradise and Heaven… I am guilty of using the term Heaven for both. I am fully aware of the difference. Just habit.

    I’m not surprised that you just learned the difference 4 yrs ago and that many in the church today have never been taught the difference. I’d venture to say that alot of people who just started going to church or have become Christ followers in the past 6 yrs. haven’t been enlightened on the topic or at least have heard very little about it. Many of today’s churches are “seeker sensative” and the topic of things such as evil, hell, death, end times, paradise and heaven don’t get taught from the pulpit so if you’re not in a bible study group you may never hear such things. That’s a good reason to be part of a life group so you can explore such topics!

    Reply
  7. jill

    WOW…very interesting! I will admit I have lumped it all together because I never have been introduced to this idea before. First of all, you are an amazing writer and truly gifted but better yet, you challenge people to dig deep and think at a completely different level. which for me, ultimately brings me closer to God. i am reading and exploring His word like i wouldn’t normally be doing. The other night I was so perplexed by 2 simple words you had said to me…”Which heaven?” very confused, i couldn’t stop thinking of what that might mean so I dug and did some more digging until i understood what you meant. like i stated @ the beginning…WOW. i have lots more reading i would like to do now that i have been enlightened and to you i say…THANKS! (it’s nice to have thoughts on a subject that @ one time you didn’t have)

    Reply

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