Friday, February 28, 2014

What is Heaven like? (Part 1)

Look at Earth from the Heaven

(Part of a series on death and the hereafter)

God created heaven. Therefore, he did not always dwell there. He chooses to dwell there, but He needs no dwelling place. Finite humans do. Since God needs no accommodation, it would make sense that heaven is accommodated to furnish us after death. One day in eternity we will dwell in a physical new earth, but until then we must dwell in heaven.

A dangerous unbiblical idea crept into the church through the Greek philosopher Plato and the teachings of the Jewish writer Philo (c. 20 BC – A.D. 50) and the Christian writer Origen (A.D. 185 – 254). It is the worldview teaching that immaterial things such as the soul are good and material things such as our bodies and the earth are
bad. It has damaged our ability to understand what Scripture says about heaven and eternity. They taught what they called a more spiritual view that human spirits are better off without bodies. Does the idea of having bodies and eating food in a new, redeemed Earth sound unspiritual to you? Then you have been affected by this unbiblical understanding of reality . It is called Christoplatonism

Heaven is a physical place, not simply a spiritual place. For example, we are told there is smoke in heaven, and scrolls, elders with faces, martyrs wearing clothes, people with palm branches in their hands (Rev. 7:9), musical instruments (Rev. 8:6), horses coming and going (2 Kings 2:11; Rev 19:14), an eagle flying (Rev 8:13). Are these all merely spiritual or symbolic? Revelation, after all, is apocalyptic literature, so all of it is symbolic, right? 

The letter to the Hebrews adds that earthly priests serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven (Heb 8:5). Moses was reminded to make the Tabernacle according to the pattern shown you on the mountain (Heb. 8:5). If the Tabernacle is physical, could the original be physical too? The earthly sanctuary was a copy of the true one (Heb 9:11, 24). 

In fact, the New Jerusalem is presently in the intermediate heaven (Heb 12:22). Hebrews seems to say that Earth is the derivative while Heaven is the source. Might our Earth actually be the shadow and Heaven the substance? 

Perhaps we should stop viewing Earth and Heaven as opposites and begin thinking of them as overlapping. C.S. Lewis wrote that “the hills and valleys of heaven will be to those you now experience not as a copy is to an original, nor as a substitute is to the genuine article, but as the flower to the root, or the diamond to the coal.”[1] Often our thinking is backwards. Why would heaven be a copy of earth? Isn’t it more likely that earthly realities are derived from heavenly originals?

Is heaven a real place? Yes, it is a real place, and it is a created place, but it is not part of our creation and not part of our dimension. (Gen. 1:1; John 14:2-3; Col 1:15-20; Heb. 9:24). In order to get to heaven, we must leave this creation.

Is Paradise a physical place? Jesus told the thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). What did he mean? Paradise is from a Persian word pairidaeza, meaning “a walled park” or “enclosed garden.” In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Greek word for paradise is used to describe the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:8; Ezek 28:13). When Adam and Eve were driven out of Eden, it seems it retained its identity as a physical place no longer accessible to mankind (Gen 3:24), guarded by cherubim, residents themselves of heaven where God is enthroned (2 Kings 19:15). The physical Eden apparently still exists somewhere, perhaps removed to a different realm, perhaps in the present heaven, perhaps in the center of the New Jerusalem (Rev 2:7; 22:2). Paradise, an enclosed garden, is a place where nature is under mankind’s dominion, and it is a physical place. The tree of life is there (Rev. 2:7), and it will be in the New Jerusalem, too (Rev. 22:2). Where we go after death now is the intermediate heaven.