Sit through many Christian funerals, and you’ll hear the word “heaven” bouncing around from pulpit to pew to piano. Uncle Gary is now “in heaven,” the preacher will proclaim. “Grandma Jones is in her heavenly resting place,” a family member will say. When the music starts, the choir will sing that we are but strangers here; heaven is our home. Heaven, heaven, and more heaven.
There’s only one problem with that, and it’s a serious one: we hear gobs and gobs of talk about a really nice stopping place along the way, but little if anything about our ultimate destination.
Think of it this way. Suppose I’m moving out-of-state, to a new home, built according to my exact specifications. It’s tucked into a beautiful wooded area, near a sparkling blue pond, with every creature comfort imaginable. I’ve been pining my whole life for this move. And the time has finally arrived. Now it’s a two-day drive to get there, so I stop and spend the night in a hotel room overlooking Rocky Mountain National Park. Gorgeous scenery there. Grand vistas. Now, that park and that room are very nice, but when morning dawns, I put that hotel in my rear-view mirror. And I won’t be disappointed to leave. It’s not like I desire to stay there. No, my sights are set on my new, lovely, perfect home, constructed especially for me, just waiting for me to move in.
I don’t confuse this really nice stopping place for my ultimate destination.
But Christians? We do so with sad and pervasive regularity. When talking about God’s ultimate destination for us, we’ve grown sloppy in our language, nearsighted in our gaze, and un-Easter in our hope. We act and speak as if dying and going to heaven is what the faith is all about. It is most emphatically not. As one book title puts it, Heaven: It’s not the end of the world. Indeed, it’s not. For Christians, heaven is a very nice spot to “spend the night,” but it’s anything but our new home.
As for me, I can’t wait to get out of heaven.
Where and Who?
What happens when believers in Christ die? They go to a place called Paradise (Luke 23:43). They are with Christ (Phil. 1:23). Or, if you prefer, they go to heaven. This is all well and good. Indeed, better than good! We are with our Lord. We are with the saints and angels. What could be better? Actually, there’s a whole lot that could be better. Much better. And it will be.
When we’re in heaven, we are not yet where God wants us to be.
Nor are we yet who God wants us to be.
Where does our Father want us to be? He wants us on earth, specifically, the renewed earth (Isaiah 65:17; Rev. 21:1), which is also called “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from God” (21:2). The Creator did not make earth as our terrestrial hotel room, where we stay until we go live in a palace in the clouds. The exact opposite!
From the beginning, God made earth as humanity’s home. Evil has corrupted it, to be sure, so that “the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth” while it awaits the return of Christ, when it will be “set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21-22). The whole creation is waiting, not for the children of God to go to heaven, but for Christ to return and make creation free of corruption. Then it will be, once more, the dwelling place of God’s sons and daughters.
If the renewed earth is where our Father wants us to be, who does he want us to be? He certainly doesn’t want us to be angels or spirits or disembodied ghosts. He wants us to bear the bodily image of his Son, the resurrected Messiah. But we can’t really do that if we are still in paradise, with Christ, in heaven, while our bodies are decomposing in the grave. So, when Jesus returns, he will raise and glorify our bodies. No matter what’s happened to them—buried, burned, cast into the sea, dismembered, it matters not—he who spoke all creation into being with his word, will speak our bodies back into being by that same word.
Then, the where will match the who: we will be embodied, perfected, glorified people standing on a renewed, perfected, holy earth. There we will go about the task of being fully human, as God intended. The Lord’s story will have come full circle, from creation to recreation: from Genesis, where one man and one woman were living and working and worshiping in Eden, to Revelation, where a resurrected humanity is living and working and worshiping all over God’s green and glorified earth.
Leaving Heaven’s Hotel Room
Why can I not wait to get out of heaven? Because heaven is not my everlasting home. It’s like that hotel room where I stay while on the way to my new, lovely, perfect home. Oh, yes, it’s the best hotel room ever. No argument there. It’s complete with angels and saints and Jesus.
But, when the morning of the new creation dawns, I’ll pack my bags, leave my key at the front desk, and step down into the perfect earth with the perfect body that the Creator has provided for me. Won’t you join me? Let’s stand in our resurrected bodies beside the resurrected Christ and gaze upon the world of glory, the new Zion, come down out of heaven to earth.
Heaven is great, don’t get me wrong. But the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, living in the new earth as fully bodied humans, reflecting the glory of the fully bodied Messiah—that’s the goal. That’s the destination. That is our final home.
Home, for the Christian, is not the hotel room of heaven but the new earth of the resurrection.