John 14:1-4

Nik Hookey looks at popular beliefs and what the Bible actually says.

Nik Hookey
Nik Hookey

What do you think of when people talk about the Christian hope of heaven?

Maybe you think of a time following death, when all those who are Christians will be transported away to a heavenly place, maybe furnished with fluffy clouds, where you will sit like an angel, plucking a harp and looking serene for all eternity.

This horrible physical earth, with all its problems, will have disappeared, and everything will be, well, heavenly.

This is the kind of popular Christian belief that many people share. Many will say, of course, there won't really be fluffy clouds and harps. But the view persists that the earth will pass away and Christians will fly off to a spiritual place called heaven, where they will spend eternity in God's presence.

The problem is that this is a very recent understanding of the Christian hope and doesn't really fit with what the Bible says.

The Bible doesn't talk about the earth passing away, and Christians going to heaven. Rather, at the end of Revelation, we read about heaven coming down to earth, and transforming the earth to be the place where God's rule is known.

When the Bible speaks of heaven, it is more a description of a place where God's rule is known completely. In a sense, the story of Eden is a story of the loss of heaven - human rebellion means that earthly rule has taken the place of God's rule, or the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus in the gospels announces that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. He is announcing that God's rule will return - seen in Jesus Himself, who is completely submitted to the rule of heaven, and in lives and nature beginning to be transformed through His ministry.

The Bible also talks about resurrection. Not just Jesus' resurrection, but somehow that His followers will share in that resurrection. So how does that fit in? Is resurrection simply about us having a transformed life now?

The clues are in Jesus' resurrection. It is a different kind of body. He can appear and disappear. He is recognised, but also not recognised. But is a physical body. He can eat and drink. So our resurrection must be similar.

Earlier I said that the Bible doesn't talk about Christians going away to heaven. But what about the thief on the cross? Jesus says to him, "This day you will be with me in paradise." How does that fit in?

Paradise is an old world meaning a garden, and it is about a place of rest. Paul sometimes talks about Christians having fallen asleep. Jesus tells a parable about Lazarus being in "the bosom of Abraham".

All of these are saying the same thing. When Christians die, we're told that Jesus will come and meet us and take us to a place that he has prepared for us. (John 14:1-4) This is variously described as paradise, or my father's house, and others.

After while, Jesus will return to the earth. At that time, heaven will be reunited with the earth, and the present earth will be transformed as God's reign is known everywhere.

At that point, those who have died will face judgement, where wrongs will be put right. Those who have trusted in Christ will be resurrected, and given new, wonderful bodies. We will live physical lives, with no more pain, sickness, tears or dying. And the new earth will the best possible version of all that we know now. The new heaven and new earth.

So: no floating around on clouds. But a wonderful life with the perfect rule of God. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.