All study begins somewhere. This post begins with Revelation 21 and 22, and follows in the tradition of Randy Alcorn’s “Heaven,” which I just read last month. Of course my post is not restricted only to the Scriptures written in Revelation 21 and 22. To claim that would be to claim that we can totally zero out everything we have ever read or been taught previously.
In my study on Heaven, I look for places where our doctrine has been shaped more by the teachings of men than by the Bible. Whether we have unconsciously absorbed Greek philosophy and mythology or we have used our systematic theology to “force” a view of Heaven, I want to uncover the ideas that underlie our beliefs and teachings on the eternal state and rectify them where necessary.
For now, I will keep it simple with four observations from Revelation 21 and 22. Methodology: unless someone can present a compelling case for these chapters to be totally symbolic, or for parts of them to be symbolic, I am going to assume they are literal.
Why it matters: our lost friends say every day “You present us with a view of Heaven that is so boring we would prefer to go to hell and party with our friends.” We have done such a poor job of explaining eternity with Christ that we can’t even sell Heaven as “fire insurance” anymore. That is not to make a case for scaring people into Heaven, but just the opposite. We should be able to make a compelling case for the eternal state being the utter fulfillment of our existence as humans.
Beliefs on the eternal state:
1) We will be in real bodies of flesh. Jesus already is and always will be. We will see His face; He will write on our foreheads. Greek philosophy taught that physical matter is intrinsically evil; we are more Western than Eastern so we absorbed Greek philosophy without a second thought. We should have had a second thought . . .
2) The nations will still exist. The wealth of the nations will be brought into the New Jerusalem. Obviously, the fallen part of everything material will be stripped off. The usual way of thinking of that is that God will redeem and restore the pure, unsinful aspects of His creation (and possibly of man’s creations, since we are God’s imagebearer and we create in His reflected glory).
3) There will be no more curse. Since the earth (and with it, the universe) was subjected to decay in the curse, the reversal of the curse applies to the earth and the universe (thus the New Heavens and the New Earth). There is a compelling case that has been made by several men over the years that Heaven will be right here, on a renewed earth. That God will restore it to its Edenic state or something even better.
4) We will serve God, including directly worshipping Him on our faces at some times. There will be jobs to do, recreational activities to choose, and some worship that does not involve our traditional ideas of “church.” As a friend has noted, even on this imperfect earth, church can take many diverse shapes. How much more in the eternal state? It will be, for example, totally possible to worship Him at a barbecue with a small group of friends. Why not? Idolatry will no longer be a danger. God will be at the center of our every activity, whether we are physically beholding Him at the moment or not (and since He is omnipresent, we may actually be beholding Him during that barbecue).
I can’t wait for the eternal state. All that is good will be there . . . without the sin part of us that makes us so war against our very own selves.