I was asked, “are we going up into heaven, or is heaven coming down to earth, and just where is heaven supposed to be if the earth is destroyed?”
They seem like foolish questions that really have no importance to our lives, but it seems to be the question that runs through the back of minds of most believers, and not just followers of Christ, every religion has a concept of an afterlife. It is after all, our hope. One of the things that give us trouble when we try to understand something like heaven is our tendency to look at things so literally. Let me explain: You will find the word all repeatedly throughout the bible, and it tends to apply to judgment or battles where the enemy or a nation is supposed to have been entirely wiped out. A simplistic understanding demonstrates that for the most part, that did not happen. In other instances all Israel bowed and agreed to some covenant of repentance several times, and yet you can read that moments later some are found doing just the opposite because they had not been involved in the covenant and had not made that agreement. Or an even more simplistic example would be the marital agreements we make, only to break, ignore, and stomp on that agreement, despite the fact that they are made before God and witnesses.
Where do I stand on this? I believe heaven is a real place, and thoroughly functional. God is not waiting for a last minute decision and then speak it into existence. The reality of a heavenly home was one of the main reasons Jesus spoke so adamantly to the disciples, assuring them by saying, I am telling you the truth.
There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live.
(John 14:2-3 MSG)
I used the Message version because we, as a christian community, get too hung up on physical desires like palatial homes instead of finally being in the presence and dwelling of the Father that longs for you and I, the real purpose of heaven.
The movie Heaven Is For Real released around May of 2104. In it, a young boy experiences heaven, has in depth conversations with Jesus, meets relatives he never knew, could see his own parents grieving in the hospital, and returned back into his body.
What did the religious community do in response to this film? Ridicule it, just as the Pharisees did to Jesus Christ so many years ago. The big name church leadership angrily asked why we are so focused on a place that could be little more than the drug induced imagination of a young child. They even stated that the mother of this child was now saying, it did not happen the way the movie portrays (this aspect is where you have go in with your eyes wide open.) A guy in my bible study essentially said the same derisive things. That same religious community got together, convened their own high council, and decided that as a church body we needed to stay away in protest from illusory concepts such as heaven.
My own experience when reading the book, and then seeing the movie was comparable to each other. Let me make a point here: I am not an avid reader but I do indulge on occasion. On one of those occasions, I read The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy. Later a movie was made about the book and I went to see it. (I could tell you that my girlfriend read the book, The Dome. Now she is watching the television series and finds it sorely disappointing because it does not even remotely follow the storyline of the book.) I thought they did a real good job with Heaven is for Real, and captured the doubt and typical human emotion.
God spent a tremendous amount of time throughout history convincing men, like Abraham and Jacob, by showing them signs. I did not see this any differently in the movie, and felt they captured the apprehensions of not only a families reaction, but the entire local church as they struggled to believe. What I had to come to grips with, was why would a church, filled with “followers” of Christ, not believe in the reality of heaven? The only explanation I could come up with is that it was not talked about from the pulpit. Oh, there we go, put the blame on the padre, he is the easy target. No doubt the pastor carries a tremendous weight, but what about us, or another way of saying this, what about you. Why do you not read what God has said about heaven? Doesn’t God’s designs on heaven convey what he thinks and feels about us, and reflect his character. So, do not tell me a comprehension of heaven is not important, and not real.
I deem myself to be a mature believer and reasonably knowledgeable, and the word pictures that the book painted for me registered as true in my spirit. Beside that, the art of being a skeptic is deeply ingrained in me, therefore I look at everything with a critical eye, and nothing about the book or movie set off those alarms in me. The movie took me even deeper as I almost immediately felt like my spirit began to travail because of the longing to be with Jesus; free of this tortured body I live in. No, I am not physically scarred and bent over, but I will say that with the death of Robin Williams, a man I have watched since his advent on television, that I have a deep understanding of his emotional anguish, and I rejoice over the fact that someday soon, in the twinkling of an eye we will be changed.
Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:51-52 KJV)
Paul, writing to the church in Galatia, gives us a starting point for our search and understanding when he says,
Galatians 4:26 KJV But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.
Though we do not really know where heaven is at (such as sitting in another galaxy), God does not seem to be hindered by space and time. Therefore, as far as you know, you may be standing in the “above” right now and not know it.
God’s word tells us that the things, which are seen, are temporary; that must mean that we are surrounded by an unseen world, perhaps one in which the heaven we long for is all around us. We are certainly surrounded by an innumerable cloud of witnesses, angels; those that have gone on ahead of us. Where are they staying?
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, (Hebrews 12:1 KJV)
I feel strongly, based upon what the bible says that Jerusalem is the center of activity and life in the bible. It was where the temple was and will be again, and it was the home of the forerunner of Jesus Christ, King David. In that regard I grasp how it can be the mother to us all, as Paul said in Galatians 4:26. There has to be something more to this.
I get the sense that the new Jerusalem is a living, breathing entity, and we are a part of it.
If you do a search for “the kingdom of heaven” you will find that this phrase was the repeated topic of discussion throughout the gospel of Matthew.
(Matthew 4:17 KJV) From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
While I can determine (from the passage) that there is a need to repent in preparation for the kingdom, and that the kingdom of heaven is near in terms of time, it does not answer the question about where heaven is.
I Changed my search to “new Jerusalem”
(Revelation 3:12 KJV) Him that overcomes will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.
Do I want to be considered a pillar worthy of being in the temple? Absolutely, but should you ask me if I feel like one, the answer would be no most of the time.
Upon the over-comer Jesus will write the name of God, and the of the city of “my” God, which is new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God.
Doesn’t God writing his name upon us imply ownership? If you watched the movie Toy Story, then you understand the idea of a kid writing his name on a toy to show ownership. We, of course, are not toys, but having been paid for, and being in agreement with God’s design and plan, we have placed ourselves voluntarily into his ownership. Yet, he is the one that willingly wanted us, and had designs upon us before time began.
“..the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God:”
Jesus, speaking to the church, talks about Jerusalem as though it is outside of himself, then this New Jerusalem, our new home, may be an aspect of God himself.
And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. (Revelation 21:22 KJV)
I think we can all agree that Christ is the Lamb.
Revelation 5:12 KJV Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.
You might say, wow, that’s great, but what does any of that mean to me, and how does it explain where I might find the new Jerusalem? It means a lot because we are in Christ. Let that sink into your head for a minute. We are not just associated with him in relationship we are in him. Some might say this is merely an aspect of our adoption into the family. While I get that, I believe this integrated relationship is much deeper than we understand. We have actually been deemed by God to be IN the son.
So, what do you do to prove your point? You dig up passages.
Ephesians 1:22-23 CEV God has put all things under the power of Christ, and for the good of the church he has made him the head of everything. (23) The church is Christ’s body and is filled with Christ who completely fills everything.
The word fullness conveys the whole nature and attributes of God that are in Christ. While the term ‘filleth’ (old English for fills) implies – to press; to crowd; to stuff. Hence, to put or pour in, till the thing will hold no more.
Ephesians 5:30 seems to take this idea of being an integral part of Christ’s body beyond the mere church unity concept
For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. (Ephesians 5:30 KJV)
This should ring a bell for Jesus said that out of your bellies shall flow rivers of living water. How many people do you know that live like that? Not many.
John 7:38 KJV He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.
We, this delightfully broken body of Christ, spend most of our time telling the other aspects of the body, that same body that makes us the body of Christ, the temple in the new Jerusalem, that we are out of line, to exuberant, and that our freedom in the Holy Spirit went away with the days of the disciples. I find it annoying just writing about it because it happens all the time.
Although Ephesians 5:25 – 30 can easily speak to the body of Christ, it can also speak to the individual for verse 30 states, “we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.”
Ephesians 5:25-30 KJV Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; (26) That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, (27) That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. (28) So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. (29) For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: (30) For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
And yet Christ, as a spirit being, unaffected by the fleshly body he still wore, walked through the wall to enter the room where they were waiting as he had directed them to do. Paul in his writing to the church at Rome said,
Romans 8:9 KJV But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
Therefore, we are covered, enveloped in every aspect of his image, and in every way a part of that temple, and the columns that are a part of it.
Now where does that put us, in heaven, or here on earth? If I extrapolate and say that the kingdom of heaven is here now because of our unique relationship with Christ, there is some truth to that. And yet, we know that the New Jerusalem comes down out of heaven.
And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Revelation 21:2 KJV)
The answer to the question is not so clear, but lends itself to heaven currently being above. Imagine the logic of that, for up is always down to someone else. Kind of like when Paul Simon wrote these words in a song, “one mans ceiling, is another man’s floor”. It is all relative. Years ago, as I sat in a meeting held by brother Kenneth Copeland, he proclaimed that in his time in prayer, prior to coming on stage, that he saw a vision of heaven and said it was like a bubble. A bubble that surrounds us, that we cannot see, and yet awaits that moment when it will be revealed. I honestly do not know, and yet I know it exists, is awaiting all who come to the Father through a relationship with the his Son, Jesus Christ, and will eventually be here upon the restored earth.