Heaven is not our last stop. It’s the place in-between…
Is that news to you? It was for me when I first came to this realization. You see faithful folks taught me growing up that Heaven was the end-all, be-all. That was the prize at the end of the race. If we faithfully gave our lives to Jesus, we got a ticket to Heaven in return.
Well, sort of.
Sure, I believe Heaven is real. I think it’s as awesome place of peace just as the Bible describes. Yet it’s not the final destination. My faithful Bible teachers growing up failed to mention this eternal reality, probably because they themselves missed it.
But what about the songs?? “When we all get to Heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be…” Do you remember singing that one? What about all the other songs that talk about one day, you, me and the person down the pew will all ride out eternity in Heaven?
Well, those songs aren’t completely accurate.
You see, Heaven is the in-between place, not our eternal resting place. Heaven is where you go when you die. Absent from a physical form, your soul which has been given the gift of eternal life in Christ, (the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:23b NIV) goes to be in the presence of God. Paul indicates in 2 Corinthians 5 that to be absent from our physical body means we are present with the Lord. Where? In Heaven.
But Scripture also promises that one day we will reunite with our physical body. This is the beauty of Christ’s Resurrection. When Jesus reversed death, He did so for us too. One day that past reality will come to fruition.
Paul speaks of this bodily resurrection:
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 NIV
People often interpret this as us being reunited with our bodies and off to Heaven we go.
Where will we “be with the Lord forever?”
I once heard, “For earth you were created, and to earth you will return.”
Don’t believe me? Check out the end of the Bible. Caution: we are entering the book of Revelation. People don’t like the book of Revelation because its full of weird imagery that’s hard to understand. There are lots of interpretations of this book because it is so difficult to interpret. Personally, people who think they’ve got Revelation all figured out scare me. You see, it’s a book of prophecy, and if we learned any thing from the Jews who thought they had the Messiah/King figured out based on Old Testament prophecy and yet rejected the humble Jesus as Messiah, God tends to do things different than we imagine.
But here’s the last chapter of Revelation, which incidentally begins a whole new chapter to a whole new story…
1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 5 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.”– Revelation 21:1-3, 5 NIV
“To be with the Lord forever” means we will spend eternity here with Christ… on earth. Or some restored version of the earth. I don’t know what a new Heaven and new earth look like, but Heaven comes down to us. The Spiritual realm comes to indwell the physical.
I bet they didn’t teach you than in VBS.
So what’s the point? The point is, stop trying to escape. People take the concept of Hebrews out of context: For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. – Hebrews 13:14 NLT This passage is referring to worldly systems not the physicality of it all. This world is tainted with sin, but eternity won’t be. In actuality, we will inhabit the same space.
Ultimately, if we don’t understand this, Christianity is an escapist religion. Who cares about the here and now if we are all going to Heaven? Yet Jesus came to establish his Kingdom here and now. To make love, justice, grace and peace break into our world. It’s already happened, but we eagerly await it’s full coming…. on earth, as it is in Heaven.
This may challenge what you were taught growing up and encountering new ideas that push against long-held ones can be difficult. I get it. But consider the fullness of Scripture and you’ll find, God made you to be physical, and to the physical we shall return, albeit fully redeemed.
That is some good news.