heaven: some things to remember

This is the final post in a series, Heaven: Out of this World?

When we reorient ourselves around a view of heaven that is not merely “out of this world” there are some important things to remember.

1. When considering specifics of the afterlife (heaven, hell, consciousness, etc...), we need to remember: don’t get caught up in the details. There is much ambiguity when it comes to the afterlife. For example, at one point, Paul describes death as a vague spiritual experience of resting “with Christ” (Phil 1:21). Elsewhere, however he talks extensively about our resurrection bodies (1 Cor. 15). While “spiritual” (different than our current bodies), Paul envisions a future physical reality. Which view is right? Well, maybe it is both. There may be two realities after we die. N.T. Wright describes this distinction by saying there is “life after death” – this “resting with Christ” – and then there is “life after, life after death.” And it is this second distinction – this time in which Christ returns and gathers his resurrected people in the new heavens and new earth – that much of the Bible is talking about.

But we just don’t know exactly what this will all look like. What will “resting with Christ” be like? Conscious experience? Like sleeping? We can only speculate. And what do a new heaven and a new earth look like? Earth, but a little better than now? It’s something totally new, yet an extension of God’s good creation. It’s still physical. But really, who knows!?! Again, we can only speculate. When we try to figure exactly how this works, we run the risk of distracting ourselves from the main point of it all: the hope that resurrection - new life - actually happens!

2. Not getting caught in endless speculation, we’re then called to remember that life in this world – the physical world around us – still matters to God. The “it was very good” of the creation story carries forward in this vision of the new heaven and new earth. God is not done with the earth and the physical side of creation.

Things like caring for the environment, feeding the hungry, working for the common good of people around us can reflect God’s plan of redemption for the world. How we treat the physical world and those around us is our testimony as Christians to our hope in the resurrection and a new heaven and a new earth. Our actions can become a foretaste of heaven.

3. And finally, in relaying this hope, we must remember such a reality is not our own doing. God initiates the new heaven and earth. Jesus announces and initiates the kingdom of God in the world. As followers of Jesus, we are exactly that: followers – empowered by the Holy Spirit to participate in God’s plan of salvation for the world.

New heavens and a new earth. The kingdom of God. Future hope, indeed. But present reality as well. Revelation 21 sends us off with a vision of completion that is most inspiring to keep hoping in this salvation:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.” (Rev. 21:3-6 NIV).

This series is adapted from a sermon I preached at Killarney Park MB Church, Vancouver BC.

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