Heaven On Earth

A Pleasant Respite

Nine years ago, I spent much of spring and summer on the island of Saipan with my fiancé, meeting her friends and church-mates, and preparing for our August Wedding. We had a routine, of sorts. Liberty picked me up at seven in the morning and drove us to the beach where we read the Bible. Then we exercised at the gym before she had to get ready for her work as a newspaper reporter. We usually met for lunch and after she got off work, we spent most evenings at church or at a Bible study in a home.

While on this self-funded sabbatical, I had plenty of free time to rest, read and relax while Liberty was at work. I enjoyed reading in the lobby of my hotel, located across a road from the beach. As a cool ocean breeze swept through the open lobby, I periodically paused from reading to gaze at a flame tree and the ocean beyond.

Whenever we temporarily leave behind our busy, stress-filled lives to visit beautiful tropical settings, they seem by comparison a sort of heaven on earth. We even refer to such places as a tropical Paradise. Of course, Christians know that no place on this sin-marred world can compare to the original creation or to the life to come. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, “Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.” 1

Even so, this island setting, with my usual responsibilities temporarily removed, primed my heart to better appreciate what the Bible proclaims about our eternal home. It was providential, not coincidental, that one of the books I read in that Saipan hotel lobby was Anthony Hoekema’s The Bible and the Future.

Heaven On Earth

For me, the phrase “Heaven On Earth” brings to mind feeble attempts to create for ourselves a heaven of our own making that we control and manage. Such a focus easily transforms any hard tasks or sacrifices associated with following Jesus into obstacles to avoid. How different this is from Jesus’ invitation:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:28-29

We can find rest for our souls now as we live in a fallen world even though we spend most our time away from the pleasant inns. But, what I found so comforting and restful, what stirred my heart as I read in that hotel lobby was contemplating what the Bible said God was going to do in the future.

I have to confess that, prior to this, I never spent much time studying the subject of heaven. Knowing that God would be there, that there would be no more crying or pain, that “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” 2 was good enough for me.

I also hadn’t given much thought to the significance the Bible places on our bodily resurrection nor did I concern myself over what it would be like in the intermediate state before the resurrection. I was content that I would be made clean, rid of sin forever.

I hadn’t considered how relevant the new earth is to my future, perhaps because my first Bible instruction came from dispensationalists who taught that the new earth was for Israel and heaven was for everyone else.

But, what if our eternal home is on a perfected earth, one restored to its original goodness and without any possibility of sin? What if our “heaven” really is on earth?

Our Eternal Home

It is commonly taught, based on 2 Peter 3:10, that our earth and the cosmos will be completely annihilated and replaced by a new heaven and a new earth spoken of in Isaiah 65 and Revelation 21. But is this interpretation correct?

After the Fall, God subjected all of creation to futility, not just humanity. Both the cosmos and humanity groan under the curse that resulted because of sin (Romans 8:22-23). But God didn’t subject creation to a futility without remedy; he subjected it in hope. Just as we eagerly await our bodies’ redemption so all of creation eagerly awaits liberation from its bondage to decay (Romans 8:21). To destroy creation to secure its liberation makes no more sense than to annihilate Christians to deliver them from their body of death! Neither our physical bodies nor the physical universe is discarded; both are redeemed.

The biblical evidence suggests that Christians are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) destined to live in eternity on a new earth (Revelation 21:1). The word “new” in both cases is the Greek word kainos that denotes new in the sense of being qualitatively better than what has existed until now. 3 The writers could have chosen the word neos had they wanted to denote new in the sense of something not previously existent.4,5

2 Peter 3:10 tells us that, at the end of time, all wickedness will be exposed and judged just as it was in the flood (2 Peter 3:6). Unlike the flood, this judgment liberates both the earth and redeemed humanity from the curse.

The Importance of the Resurrection of the Body

Mankind is not fully human without a body. Hoekema notes that if we are not raised into physical bodies, then the Greeks were right – that matter is evil, contrary to God’s declaration that his creation was good.6

”For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Death, the last enemy to be defeated (1 Corinthians 15:26), was the first enemy humanity faced because of the Fall (Genesis 2:17). When our bodies are resurrected, changed from corruptible to incorruptible, from mortal to immortal, then death will have neither victory nor sting (1Corinthians 15:54,55). Created to live on earth, redeemed humanity will do so forever.

A Beautiful Portrait

Look how our future is woven through the pages of Scripture:

  • Abraham (not just his descendants) was given all of Canaan for an everlasting possession (Genesis 17:8), yet he did not own a foot of ground in it (Acts 7:5) Instead he looked forward to a city prepared by God (Hebrews 11:10,16). His future possession and ours is on the new earth. We are strangers and exiles on this present corrupted earth (Hebrews 11:13).
  • Isaiah foretold of a new earth devoid of all sorrow (Isaiah 65:17-19).
  • Genesis 17:8 and Psalm 37:11 promised the meek they would inherit the land of Canaan, but Jesus extended that promise to include the entire earth (Matthew 5:5).
  • Christ’s suffering wiped away our sins and He will return from heaven to dwell with us after God restores all things (Acts 3:18-21).
  • Christ’s blood purchased men from every tribe, tongue, people and nation to become a kingdom of priests who serve God and reign upon the earth (Revelation 5:9-10).
  • God dwells with his washed and perfected redeemed on a perfected and cleansed earth (Revelation 7:14-17; 21:3-4).

There will be a time when our stay at a pleasant inn will not simply be a respite from a fallen world. Creation will have been liberated from the curse. All of it.  Every. Last. Inch.

Best of all, Almighty God and the Lamb who was slain for our redemption will dwell forever with us.

He is coming soon.

Amen. Come Lord Jesus.

 

 

 

Reference: Hoekema, Anthony A., The Bible and the Future (1979). Grand Rapids, MI:Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Notes:

  1. C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, (1962). New York, N.Y.: Macmillan Publishing Company, p 115
  2. 1 Corinthians 2:9 NKJV
  3. Colin Brown, ed., Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 1986), s.v. “New” by H. Haarbeck, H.-G. Link, Colin Brown
  4. Colin Brown, ed., Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 1986), s.v. “New” by H. Haarbeck
  5. When translating Isaiah 65:17 from Hebrew to Greek, Jewish scholars used kainos as well. (Colin Brown, ed., Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 1986), s.v. “New” by H. Haarbeck, H.-G. Link, Colin Brown)
  6. Hoekema, Anthony A., The Bible and the Future (1979). Grand Rapids, MI:Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., p 250

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