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In the past few years, several books about the existence, nature, and whereabouts of Heaven have been released to the American market. Ranging from what it will look like to a “history” of the heavenly realm; many of these texts miss the mark about who is there and what it is that will be happening upon our arrival. In addition, some authors miss Earth’s role in the coming of the Kingdom. Some suggest that we must make earth into heaven before Christ will return or that Earth will in fact become heaven upon Jesus’ return. What is the reality? With all of these differing opinions, is it possible to know the truth or any truth about where we will be: 1) if we die before Christ’s triumphant return or 2) what will happen if we are still on earth upon His arrival. Scripture gives us some clues but not a single cohesive picture. What will be our ultimate home? How are heaven and earth related? How are they different? The intent of this examination is not to focus on what glory will be like, although some of these questions will naturally creep into the discussion. The goal is to try and reach a consensus about where we as believers in Jesus Christ will live in glory and discover the relationship between Heaven and Earth. Before we can explore the theology behind our beliefs regarding the afterlife, it would be profitable to examine how Scripture views the words “Earth,” “World,” and “Heaven.1” While there is some overlap, each of these words has its own connotation when it comes to describe the created realm. “Earth” is closely tied to “heaven” throughout the Bible. From the beginning in Genesis chapter one all the way to Revelation 21 the two are frequently connected to one
Interestingly there are only a few places where all three words are used in the same sentence (Psalm 89:11; Jer. 10:12; 51:15; Acts 17:24). In all of these cases, they make the point that God is the one who made all these things.
another to describe the work which God made. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”2 The first chapter of Genesis is the most “earth” heavy chapter in the Bible. The word #r,a (erets meaning earth) is used twenty times in thirty verses. In addition, this description of earth means that part of creation beneath which is our feet. Literally the ground we walk upon. This is clear from the description of the creation of Adam. God literally takes the dust from the ground and fashions a man from the earth and breaths life into the body.3 Also, “earth” can mean the physical creation of the planet Earth itself. Essentially meaning the place where we are, where we live. World has a slightly different meaning. While in some cases it can mean the ground we walk upon4 it is a much broader term. Quite often it is used to describe the creation as a whole.5 In fact this is the most common usage with such descriptions as “from the foundation of the world.” Alternatively, it is used to describe the people who live on the earth, in the world.6 Finally it can also mean the age that we live in or the philosophy behind the actions, decisions, and lives of the people in the world.7 Since there are multiple Greek words behind the English translation it can lead to confusion
Genesis 1:1 New American Standard Bible (NASB) Genesis 2:7 not the same Hebrew word but the English translation can mean the same, in this case “ground” 4 1 Samuel 2:8 “He raises the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the ash heap To make them sit with nobles, And inherit a seat of honor; For the pillars of the earth are the LORD'S, And He set the world on them.” 5 Psalm 9:8 “And He will judge the world in righteousness; He will execute judgment for the peoples with equity.” 6 Perhaps the most well known use of “world” in this way is Jesus conversation with Nicodemus in John chapter three. “World” in this passage clearly means people as Jesus describes Himself as bringing light into the world but that men love darkness rather than light. The Greek word behind this translation is ko,smoj (kosmos). This term is also used to mean the created universe but in this particular instance Jesus is using it to describe those for whom He came to save. 7 Matt. 13:22 “And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” aivw-n is the word translated as world in this passage. It can mean “age,” “eternity,” “existence,” or “this present life.”
concerning the many meanings of this one word. Examining these usages is a context driven study and each of these uses gains its meaning from the surrounding text. Lastly there is the word “heaven(s).” This is perhaps the most difficult term to try and nail down the meaning. People today use this word in different ways which can affect how we read it in the Bible. Again, there can be different meanings based on the context of the Scripture passage as well as who is doing the speaking. First, it could just mean sky; where the birds fly.8 It is also used as the place where God reigns. It is of great importance to note that the heavens themselves are part of the realm created by God. There was a time when the heavens did not exist. Genesis 1:1 says God created the heavens and the earth. When the earth came into being the heavens did as well, by God’s command. Earth: What Happened? Perhaps the best glimpse of what eternity will look like is contained in the first chapters of Genesis. What was mankind’s function in the created order of things? First there is what is called the Creation Mandate: Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.
Genesis 1:20 “Then God said, ‘Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.’”
Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."9 This is what mankind’s job description was at the beginning. We were called by God to increase the number of image-bearers and to take care of the animals which he had created. In Genesis 2, we have some more details about the creation of mankind. Scripture tells us: The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."10 Here, in addition to the work man was to perform, was a command from God that the only tree not given for food, in fact the only plant at all that man could not eat, was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So, in the garden mankind was given a commission (to take care of creation) and a command (do not eat). That was our primary purpose but in addition to these things man also had relationships in the Garden. First, there was his relationship to God. Other than the two sections quoted above, there is not any other communication recorded between God and mankind prior to the Fall. However, it seems clear that a close relationship did exist between the Creator and His image bearers. Not much is written and it is perhaps speculation but prior to God confronting man and woman about breaking his command, the Bible states, “They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD
Genesis 1:26-28 New International Version (NIV) Genesis 2:15-17 NIV
God among the trees of the garden.”11 The word translated as “presence” could also be translated as “face.” So, the man and woman heard a sound that they knew to be that of God walking in the garden.12 It may be that man and woman had conversations with God face to face. Mankind in those very early days had communion with God we cannot fully appreciate in our present fallen state. Secondly, mankind was to have relationships with one another. As part of our responsibility to fulfill the Creation Mandate, man and woman were to multiply on the earth. It is not overstating the fact to say that this would require a close intimate relationship. Starting with one man and one woman, these two would be the progenitors of all future generations. Now we can assume as their children would grow and begin families of their own having a relationship with their respective spouses, parents, children, grandchildren, and so on they would knit together into one large human family. They would also, as a human community, be fulfilling their second commission to have dominion over the earth. They were to cultivate and maintain it together as one people. Finally there would have been relationships with the animals. This may not be very clear on the surface; after all, do we not have some connection with animals today. Yes, we as human beings do have an attachment to some of God’s creatures. Many people have various animals as pets. There are others that we can visit in our local zoo or aquarium. However, these types of owner/pet associations are not exactly what were originally intended. Looking again at Genesis chapter two there are hints at the kind of bond that man and animal should have:
Genesis 3:8 NASB It is interesting that they could discern this particular noise from that of the rest of the animals in the garden. It is an indication that they were familiar with God and had walked with Him “in the cool of the day.” It may very well have been His custom to visit man and woman in the garden. However, it is impossible to say how long this type of relationship existed.
Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him." Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him.13 There is a problem with man and that is as God says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” This is the only thing that God says is not good about His creation. All of the physical properties that God made and their physical condition were all “very good.” But mankind, and in this case Adam, was not made to be alone. What is even more interesting is that God does not say that He Himself would fill this need. Instead, there is a search, by the man and God, for a helper. God forms all the creatures and Adam names them. Every living thing that God brings to Adam, he names, not God. This is significant in that, even though a “suitable helper” was not found among any of the animals, man had a direct relationship with them in their creation. Adam was not the agent of creation but he does have a small role, alongside God,14 in each creature’s coming into being. As a result, there would indeed be a connection between mankind and the animals in the Garden of Eden. Randy Alcorn, in his book Heaven, devotes an entire section to the question about animals in glory? He states:
Genesis 2:18-20 NASB This is the first instance of God and man working together to accomplish a task.
Scripture says a great deal about animals, portraying them as Earth’s second most important inhabitants. God entrusted animals to us, and our relationships with animals are a significant part of our lives. Isaiah 11:6-9 speaks of a coming glorious era and Earth when “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.15 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.16 The context here is the afterlife, when all things will be restored to what they were made to be. The need for restoration comes from man’s failure to obey God’s command. The man and woman both eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, something God expressly commanded Adam not to eat.17 As a result, mankind fell from the perfect state in which God had created them. This wounded our ability to fulfill the commission God had given us. Our job, as human beings was now broken. Both our mandate to fill the earth and our ability to rule over the earth and subdue it was damaged. What is more, all of the relationships we were to have as part of the plan of creation were now thrown into chaos. Our ability to commune with God was now changed to the point that we as humans could no longer walk with Him as we had done
Not unlike Gen.1:30 where every green plant is given for food for all the animals God had created. Seeing a lion eat grass may be foreign to us but it was a daily occurrence for Adam and Eve in the garden. 16 Randy Alcorn, Heaven (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 2004), 373. 17 Genesis 3:1-13
previously. A mediator would be needed for mankind to again be able to enjoy all the benefits of a relationship with their Creator God. Our relationships with each other were also broken so that the human family would no longer be a team but each individual would be looking out for themselves first and (maybe) others second. And lastly, the earth itself was affected by the curse God placed on humanity. It would now work against us and our labor would now be toilsome rather than glorifying or gratifying. The effects of the curse do not end with the closing of the third chapter of Genesis. As the collapse of the human family continued, one brother would rise up to kill his sibling. Mankind as a whole would show their pride by building a tower to “make a name” for themselves. A tower that would reach to heaven, into the very face of God. The unrestrained sin brought God’s wrath on all of the creation. He would wipe out virtually everything on the face of the earth except for eight people and two of “clean animals and animals that [were] not clean and birds and everything that [crept] on the ground.18” After the great flood God announces that the animals themselves would now live in fear of all mankind and they are now given to us as food, just as the plants had been in the Garden. So creation is scarred because of our sin. Things do not work as they should. Creation is damaged because of our sin and all of our relationships, with God, the creatures, and each other, have been changed. However, there is hope. Christ brings with Him the Kingdom and the promise of a restoration of that which has been cursed because of human sin and rebellion. When we try to discover what constitutes the bliss of the life of the resurrection according to Jesus’ preaching, we nowhere find an elaborate
Genesis 7:8 NASB
or explicit “description.” But, just as in the case of the whole of the proclamation of salvation, we find only the affirmative promise in all kinds of widely scattered pronouncements. The gospel is without any apocalyptic revelations about the great events of the future. Again and again salvation is represented as the gracious communion of God with his people, as the deliverance from life’s distresses, as the fulfillment of the promise, as a compensation for temporary oppression.19 In Him we are becoming and will eventually be truly free of the curse and its effects. We live in the tension of having the kingdom proclaimed to us and sharing a foretaste but the fullness of that kingdom and the physical presence of the King are yet to come. Heaven: Temporary Quarters? Naturally, as we think about the return of the King, speculation arises about where that kingdom is located. Many in our society today simply think of heaven as “up.” It’s the sky. Genesis one says that the heavens and the earth were created by God. It is interesting to note the interchange between “heavens” plural and “heaven” singular.20 Matthew Henry in his commentary says the “heavens” can be seen as three parts. Where the birds fly he describes as the first heaven. The sun, moon and stars, are in the second heaven and God resides in the third heaven. He draws this out from Paul’s description of the man caught up into the “third heaven” in 2nd Corinthians 12:2-4.21 An equally
Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1962), 273
This is probably due to the use of (shamayim which means “heavens”) which has the Hebrew plural ending and ouvrano.j (houpanos which means “heaven” or “sky”) which is in the Greek singular. In Genesis 1:1 verse of the Septuagint, the Greek singular is used whereas the Hebrew uses the plural. 21 “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know-- God knows. And I know that this man-- whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows--was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.” (NIV)
adequate explanation may be that the “third heaven” mentioned in the epistle simply means the highest heaven or the place where God is. Another point that should be made is that Christ “ascends” after His resurrection. Luke says that “While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.”22 Luke repeats this picture at the beginning of the book of Acts with a few more details: After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”23 Mark is the only other gospel writer that mentions the ascension of Jesus.24 There have also been other individuals who were taken up into heaven, most notably Elijah as recorded in 2nd Kings chapter two. Another instance is that of Enoch. All Scripture says is that he walked with God and then he was not there because God took Him, presumably to be with Him.25 In Revelation chapter 11 is a description of two witnesses whom God resurrects and then calls up to heaven saying “Come up here.” They ascend in the same manner as Christ. Perhaps a better description of the location of heaven is that it is where God rules from His throne. Isaiah 66:1 says, “This is what the LORD says: Heaven is My throne,
Luke 24:51 NIV Acts 1:9-11 NIV 24 This is in the longer ending of the gospel which is not present in the early manuscripts of the gospel. 25 Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:5
and earth is My footstool. What house could you possibly build for Me? And what place could be My home?”26 Jesus also uses this in His teaching about oaths (although He does not quote this verse directly). In the Sermon on the Mount Christ says: Again, you have heard that it was said to our ancestors, You must not break your oath, but you must keep your oaths to the Lord. But I tell you, don't take an oath at all: either by heaven, because it is God's throne; or by the earth, because it is His footstool; or by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King. Neither should you swear by your head, because you cannot make a single hair white or black. But let your word 'yes' be 'yes,' and your 'no' be 'no.' Anything more than this is from the evil one.27 The point is that heaven is where God is seated and reigning as Lord of the Universe. It is the throne of the King where he rules over the kingdom that Christ brought through His ministry and sacrifice. What is happening in the place where God rules over history? Isaiah had a brief picture shown to him as God called him to the office of prophet. In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" And the foundations of the thresholds
Holman Christian Standard Bible; This is the verse that Stephen quotes as he is speaking before the Sanhedrin in Acts 7. 27 Matthew 5:33-37 NASB There is also a similar passage later in Matthew (23:16-22) in which Christ talks about swearing an oath by the temple, offering and by heaven. He states that on who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and He who is seated upon it.
shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.28 The prophet is shown the power of God’s glory. The heavenly beings sing the Lord’s praises. A similar picture is given in Revelation chapters four, five and seven. The apostle John is shown more of God’s throne room. Around the seat itself are angels and the twenty four elders each seated on a throne of their own. Then, before the throne of God are 144,000 Israelites and the “great multitude.”29 All of these people and angels are praising God their creator. They sing and praise His holiness, they sing of His justice, and they sing of the salvation wrought by Him through His Son, the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. The people pictured in these chapters of Revelation are again able to be in the presence of God Himself and commune with Him. This is different from how it was presented in the Garden of Eden and is also different from how it will ultimately be when the Kingdom comes in its fullness. Ultimately though, those mentioned here are still waiting for the culmination of the Kingdom. One clue comes follow the breaking of the 5th seal in Revelation chapter six. When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You
Isaiah 6:1-4 English Standard Version (ESV) There are also 144,000 men who are chaste and “follow the Lamb wherever He goes” mentioned in Revelation 14. While we cannot say whether or not these were also in the throne room of heaven, they are present with the Lamb on Mt. Zion. The artist depiction of the heavenly throne room on the next page shows this group to be present.
refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.30 It seems clear from this passage that there is an expectation that things are not finished yet. Here, these martyrs are in heaven with the Lord but are waiting and asking how long before the end? Randy Alcorn draws several conclusions from this passage. One is that “there is time in…Heaven. How long, Sovereign Lord…God answers that they must ‘wait a little longer’ until certain events transpire on Earth. Waiting requires the passing of time.”31 He also notes, “The people of God in Heaven have a strong familial connection with those on Earth, who are called their ‘fellow servants and brothers.’”32 So we also see that, in heaven our relationships with each other are restored in some fashion. Again, this is not the same as it was originally but it should be noted that those who have gone before us can in some way relate to events on Earth while they wait for God to bring the Kingdom in on the Last Day. And we are not waiting for the restoration of all things alone. For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God's sons to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to futility--not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it--in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom
Revelation 6:9-11 NASB Alcorn, Heaven, 67. 32 Ibid., 67.
of God's children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now.33 Creation too waits for the curse to be lifted. It is waiting for all of God’s children to be made known. We do not always remember that we are not alone in the suffering that is brought on us by sin. We are waiting for our glorified bodies or as Paul says, our “house from heaven.” Note that it is a house from heaven, not a house for heaven.34 It is a body that is made for earth. Tied to this is Christ’s comfort from John chapter 14, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.”35 The place where we go when we go to heaven is God’s house, not ours. Heaven is what we call our Intermediate State. It is where believers go if they die before Christ returns in glory. We do not receive our resurrected bodies at this time. The Westminster Confession states it this way: The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption: but their souls, which neither die or sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them: the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies.36
Romans 8:19-22 HCSB 2 Corinthians 5:1-4 For we know that if our earthly house, a tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. And, in fact, we groan in this one, longing to put on our house from heaven, since, when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. Indeed, we who are in this tent groan, burdened as we are, because we do not want to be unclothed but clothed, so that mortality may be swallowed up by life. (HCSB) 35 John 14:2 NASB 36 The Westminster Confession of Faith, XXXII.1
Upon our deaths we go immediately to be with the Lord.37 Again, the picture in Revelation 7 comes to mind with the great multitude gathering before God to praise His holy name. Waiting and worshipping with one voice while those He is calling to Himself search for and receive His saving grace. Being in heaven is the “common” view of the afterlife. For most believers and some theologians (and many unbelievers as well), what we are going to be doing for all eternity is being with God, by His throne, singing praises to Him. Heaven is the place where we go to be with God and worship. How did we reach this conclusion of all things? In their work Heaven: A History, Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang offer an interesting account of the decline of the belief in a hereafter. In a lecture at Harvard Divinity School in 1961, Hans Jonas presented: a theology without heaven….“The modern temper is uncongenial to the idea of immortality….” To be eternally remembered by God or, mythically speaking, to be inscribed into the heavenly Book of Life, was all Jonas could offer to his audience. We will have no individual, conscious life after death. The existentialism of Sartre and Heidegger, “this extreme offspring of the modern temper or distemper,” has no room for immortality. “And we,” the lecturer continued, “whether of its doctrine or not, share enough of its spirit to have taken our lonely stand in time between the twofold nothing of before and after.”38
Ecclesiastes 12:5-7 They are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets--before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. (ESV) 38 Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang, Heaven: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 346.
While this is in the extreme of radical theology, the point is driven home. Our culture does produce the belief that he who dies with the most, wins. It was essentially a collective change in theology across the board. At the one wing, there is the “God is dead” theology that says there is no heaven because there is no God to worship. Another view lives in disbelief of a God that would create angels and other beings to worship Him all of the time.39 The other extreme is a belief in heaven where we will relax all the time and have no responsibilities whatsoever. These are the inheritors of the “Elysian Fields” view of heaven where there is nothing but bliss. This was probably brought on the late 1980’s and early 1990’s with the angel worship that seemed to take the United States by storm. Pictures and statues present beautiful angels who we go to be alongside. There is even the mistaken belief in some circles that we will become angels in glory. Also, more liberal theologians and mainstream denominations unspoken (or outspoken) belief that in reality everyone will go to heaven. A popular song today, written by a post-modern generation folk rock guitarist says, thinking about what his life was like as a boy, “If heaven is all we want it to be/Send your prayers to me care of 1983.”40 This reflects a view that heaven is in fact what we make it to be, rather than where God rules. In response to these trends, conservative theologians have clung to the truth of the afterlife. However, they have not really examined why this change has crept into our society and into the pews (and probably some pulpits) of our churches. The Christianity of Western society has not addresses what we will do or what we will be in glory. This comes out most clearly in our evangelism. What is being seen as the motivator of our
Ibid., 347. John Mayer, “83,” Room for Squares, Sony Music Entertainment, 2001.
evangelism is not to bring people into a right relationship with God through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ but rather a desire to bring souls into heaven. Returning to communing with God is almost seen as a secondary fringe benefit. But in reality, heaven is a temporary residence while we wait for the New Heavens and New Earth to be created. Heaven is not our home, Earth is. The New Earth: Our New Home The concept of both the heavens and the earth being made new is not solely a New Testament idea. The book of Isaiah says (God speaking), “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.41 And in the next chapter, “‘For just as the new heavens and the new earth which I make will endure before Me,’ declares the LORD, ‘so your offspring and your name will endure.’”42 The Lord is responding to Israel’s plea for Him to return to them. In God’s response, He tells them that the land will one day be full again. The land will be filled with those who remained faithful as well as those who were not seeking the Lord but found Him because He called them.43 God will make new heavens and a new earth and He is going to make Jerusalem into a city of joy. The design here is that mankind will come to Him to worship. It is a picture of the restoration of the relationship between God and His image-bearers. "And I, because of their actions and their imaginations, am about to come and gather all nations and tongues, and they will come and see my glory.
Isaiah 65:17 NASB Isaiah 66:22 NASB 43 Isaiah 65:1-16
"I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations-- to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations. And they will bring all your brothers, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the LORD-- on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels," says the LORD. "They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temple of the LORD in ceremonially clean vessels. And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites," says the LORD.44 Gentile nations, some of whom have never heard of the Lord, will receive the word of the Lord and return to the land to worship and bring offerings to God. God will even make some of them “priests and Levites.” Those are roles that were originally intended only for Israel as God’s people and light to the nations. But in the restoration, even the Gentiles have a role in the worship of God, a role made possible through Jesus Christ. The New Testament gives a fuller picture of the events around the creation of the new heavens and the new earth. In 2nd Peter chapter three, the apostle is writing to comfort his readers regarding their waiting and longing for the Lord’s return. He says that the Lord is not slow in His coming but is waiting for all to come to repentance and a saving knowledge of Him. Then he writes: But the Day of the Lord will come like a thief; on that day the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, the elements will burn and be dissolved, and the earth and the works on it will be disclosed. Since all these things are
Isaiah 66:18-21 NIV
to be destroyed in this way, it is clear what sort of people you should be in holy conduct and godliness as you wait for and earnestly desire the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be on fire and be dissolved, and the elements will melt with the heat. But based on His promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will dwell.45 Wherever you are right now will not be the same. While it is true that the creation is waiting eagerly for the sons of God to be revealed, it too is going to be changed. The old, as Peter writes here is going to be burned and dissolved and the new will arrive. That is the way Anthony Destefano’s view of glory falls somewhat short. He writes, “If you want an idea of what heaven is going to look like, go take a walk around the block. If you want to know where it is…It’s right here, under our feet.”46 While Destefano is right in that the earth is going to be our “final destination” it will not be like it is now. Everything is going to be changed. What is more, the new heavens and the new earth will be where righteous dwells. In Revelation chapter 21 the new heavens and new earth are made before the eyes of John. He sees the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven. Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell
2 Peter 3:10-12 HCSB Anthony Destefano, A Travel Guide to Heaven (New York: Doubleday, 2003), 37.
among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them.47 If there is a single focal point to all of Scripture it is in this passage, God is our God and we are His people. Man’s dwelling place is not with God in heaven or the new heaven, God’s dwelling place is on the new earth with man. God is going to make all things new and he is coming to be with us. God redeemed those who are his and will then come to tabernacle among them in His holy city. This is made most clear in the manner of the return of Christ. Much has been recently made of the 1st Thessalonians chapter four passage: For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.48 Now, the context of this passage is that Paul is comforting the Thessalonian church. Some of their brothers and sisters in Christ have died and they are concerned that those who have passed away will miss Christ’s return. The Messiah comes and those who have died come with Him. As we noted earlier, he indeed is returning the way he left.49 Christ in the gospel of John says this about His return, “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is
Revelation 21:1-3 NASB 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 ESV 49 Acts 1:11
coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.”50 So it is clear that the dead are going to be raised when Christ comes back to earth in His glory. This is not the end of the story. These verses should also be examined in the light of Christ’s words to His disciples in the gospel of Matthew chapter 24: Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the
John 5:28, 29 NASB
Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.51 Christ’s point in telling the disciples (and us through their testimony) that they should remain awake and alert to His coming; be ready. But there are clues to the manner of His return in the text. He makes the point of saying that His return will be like the days of Noah. In the days of the flood52 God warned Noah of the impending destruction about to be wrought upon the earth because of man’s sin. The Lord had decided that everything upon the earth was to be destroyed because the unrestrained and unrepentant sinfulness of mankind had “grieved” Him.53 But Noah finds grace in the eyes of the Lord. He and seven others, in addition to the animals on the ark, are saved from the judgment of God. Now, Christ says that His coming will be like the days of Noah. People will continue to live their lives, just as they have done, right up to the event. The ones who were taken by the flood were those who were being judged by God. The ones who remained were Noah and his family. This is an important distinction to keep in mind when examining what Christ says in Matthew. Jesus said when He returns, it will be the same as those days. We should not be surprised to see people continuing to go about their daily routines as though nothing is going to happen. But, as the Lamb of God returns, the ones who are left will be those who are waiting for His return, the ones who are His. They will be gathered by the
Matthew 24:30-42 ESV Genesis 6-9 53 This is perhaps one of the saddest stories in Scripture. The Lord says that He was actually sorry that He had decided to make man.
angels. This does put a different view of how we will meet the Lord when He comes in power.54 Traditionally, the “rapture” is seen as God taking the church, the believers, out of the world. But if we understand that the coming Day of Judgment will be like that of the Great Flood in the days of Noah, the picture is quite different. Those who are going to be judged by God are taken out of the world. The ones who are left and remain will be caught up in the air, forever to be with the Lord. And we all, with our Lord, set our feet on the New Earth, our final home. The King has returned and Christ comes to reign.55 That is the “end of the beginning.” God comes to restore all things. Christ makes it possible for us to once again walk with God in the new world He has made. We again have a home that is unstained by our sin; and will never be cursed and broken by our failure. “As Peter suggests at the end of The Last Battle, Heaven will be the place where everything is allowed because everything we will want to do there will be good.”56 Now that we know where our home will be, it should encourage us to know that there is more continuity to the hereafter with our world today rather than an expectation
The popular Christian fiction series “Left Behind” presents a clear picture of how the world will be made new according to the Dispensational view of Scripture. However, it fails to take into account the first judgment of God upon the earth which is the key to understanding how the New Earth comes to be. 55 Ezekiel 37: 24-28 My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them. They will live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons' sons, forever; and David My servant will be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. And the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever. Daniel 7:13-14 I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed. Matthew 25:31 But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Hebrews 1:8 But of the Son He says, "YOUR THRONE, O GOD, IS FOREVER AND EVER, AND THE RIGHTEOUS SCEPTER IS THE SCEPTER OF HIS KINGDOM. 56 Will Vaus, Mere Theology: A Guide to the Thought of C. S. Lewis (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 219.
of not knowing what it will be like if God were to remake everything over. Christ’s work on the cross was powerful enough to bring us back home to our Creator and to reverse the curse on all of creation itself. Even the world “knows” that it was meant to be more than it is now. Christ is capable of making all of us what we are to be. In C. S. Lewis’ book mentioned above (The Last Battle): Digory, Polly, Peter, Edmund, and Lucy experience a railway accident and suddenly find themselves in a new country, which in some parts remind them of Narnia and in other parts reminds them of England….The old Narnia had a beginning and an end. It was but a shadow, a copy of the real Narnia. In the same way, Digory says, our world is only a shadow or a copy…All that really matters in the old Narnia is drawn into the real Narnia. Of course this real Narnia is different, as different as waking from dreaming.57 Lewis probably has the picture of what the New Earth will be like closer than most theologians. A place that is not unlike where we are now but also not the same. We should look forward to that day when we meet our Lord and Savior and walk with Him on His creation. “The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”58
Ibid., 212. C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1970), 183.
Bibliography Alcorn, Randy. Heaven. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 2004. Destefano, Anthony. A Travel Guide to Heaven. New York: Doubleday, 2003. Lewis, C. S. The Last Battle. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1970. Mayer, John. Room for Squares, 83. Sony Music Entertainment, 2001. CD. McDannell, Colleen and Bernhard Lang. Heaven: A History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001. Ridderbos, Herman. The Coming of the Kingdom. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1962. Roberts, Arthur O. Exploring Heaven: What Great Christian Thinkers Tell Us About Our Afterlife with God. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003. Tada, Joni Eareckson. Heaven: Your Real Home. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995. Vaus, Will. Mere Theology: A Guide to the Thought of C. S. Lewis. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004.
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