I’ve heard this hinted at here and there. Yesterday someone contacted me to ask me directly. A friend had shared with her that she had heard that we don’t believe in the existence of heaven. Usually by the time such rumors reach my ears, they are fairly widespread. So…please allow me to clear that up.
Of course we believe in heaven.
My dad passed away in August of this year and I take great comfort in knowing he is with the Lord in heaven right now.
2 Corinthians 5:6–8 (ESV)
6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
In vs 8 Paul makes it plain that to “be away from the body,” in other words, to experience physical death, is to be “at home with the Lord.” From this it is clear that bodily death doesn’t result in the cessation of existence or of consciousness or even a kind of waiting sleep. No. For the believer, bodily death results in immediate, though non-material, presence with the Lord in heaven.
This is also clear from Hebrews. This “cloud of witnesses” refers to the heroes of faith who have gone before us. They are not merely sleeping. They are actually surrounding us and consciously witnessing God’s redemptive plan at work in and through our lives. They have experienced bodily death and are now present with the Lord in the heavenly realm.
Hebrews 12:1 (ESV)
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
John’s Revelation also makes this clear.
Revelation 4:1–2 (ESV)
1 After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2 At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne.
John himself had a revelation of heaven. He saw the throne. He saw the One who sits on the throne. He saw the 24 elders and the living creatures and the heavenly host. He also so the saints, those who had been martyred for their faith. Where were they? In heaven, crying out for vindication!
So clearly, because we hold strongly to biblical authority, we believe in the present of existence of heaven and, furthermore, we believe that bodily death for the believer results in immediate and conscious life in heaven. It is completely false to claim that we don’t believe in heaven.
I wonder if this rumor springs from a message I taught from John 14:1-3. This passage is often taught to be about going to heaven when we die. I don’t think this passage is talking about going to heaven when we die. But please understand that just because this passage isn’t talking about that, doesn’t mean we don’t believe in it. Lots of passage in scripture are talking about that. I just tipped a sacred cow a bit when I suggested that maybe this passage is about something other than that.
But we do perhaps believe some things about heaven that not everyone thinks about or agrees with.
We don’t believe heaven is far away.
The cloud of witnesses in heaven surrounds us. Jesus said ” the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” That means heaven isn’t far away. It isn’t visible to our material eyes. But it isn’t a place geographically located up in the sky. You can’t get there via space ship. The distance between us and heavenly reality is not a physical geographic distance.
We don’t believe non-material existence in heaven is our ultimate end.
One day Jesus will return, the dead will rise, and we will receive resurrected bodies for which Jesus’ own resurrected body is the first fruits. Why will we need bodies like that? – bodies that are physical (Jesus’ resurrected body ate fish and could be touched) yet also at home in heaven (Jesus ascended to heaven with his resurrected body). We will need resurrected bodies that are at home in heaven and at home on the earth because there will be a new heavens and a new earth. God will ultimately answer the prayer that we’ve been praying all these years: may your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. The New Jerusalem will come down to the earth from heaven. Heaven and earth are going to become the same place and we will live there with the Lord forever.
At the present, dying and going to heaven is, for the believer, a temporary state of affairs. God did not design us for non-material existence. His purpose is that we would be his image bearers on the earth. God is not going to be satisfied with anything short of the complete fulfillment of his purpose.
So the Christian hope is not to escape earth and live forever in a non-material heavenly existence. Our hope is ultimately for the return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead and the new heavens and new earth. This is what all of creation is longing for:
Romans 8:18–25 (ESV)
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
This expectation for the return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the new heavens and earth is thoroughly and completely biblical and totally aligned with historical orthodox Christian theology. It just hasn’t been emphasized in the Bible belt of the United States in the past 200 years, so it’s foreign to many.