“All these people died believing what God has promised … they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland.” Hebrews 11:13,16. NLT
There’s something in us that tells us that there’s more. That this life isn’t all there is. That somehow beyond ourselves, and past what we can see, there’s something else. One of the wise kings from the Hebrew Scriptures said, “God has placed eternity in the human heart.”[i]
This idea of eternity is identified in other places as a “paradise,” or “a new heavens and a new earth,” or more commonly as “Heaven.” In fact it’s not only referred to but its rooted in God’s vision of redemption for his creation. Ever since Adam & Eve’s fall God’s plan was not simply to restore His relationship with them but to bring them into the fullness of something new and beautiful. Something that in Jesus would begin now, and yet would be more fully realized in the future (that’s the forever part).
Therefore, as we get a hold of this idea of Heaven there are three things I want to suggest we start with.
First, Heaven is God’s promise to us.
It’s His intent and purpose in delivering His people to a place with Him forever. A place defined by God in the center and Jesus’ as its source of life. A place of hope and happiness, peace and joy.[ii] The early church lived with a clear sense of this promise: “We are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.”[iii] They lived with perspective, one eye on the present, and one looking to the future.
What makes this remarkable is not just that Heaven lies in the future. It’s that God Himself has rooted the idea of Heaven into his plan of redemption. He’s guaranteed it, not just through His word, but through His Son, Jesus Christ. That leads us to the second idea we need to get a hold of if we are going to begin to think about this idea of Heaven.
Second, the promise of Heaven is centered in Jesus Christ.
Whatever we think about Heaven we need to allow our thinking to begin with Jesus. One of the realizations that comes when we read through Revelation (or more properly, The Revelation of Jesus Christ) is that Jesus is at the center of God’s plan of redemption, and therefore we might add, Jesus is at the center of Heaven.
The first vision John has is a revelation of Jesus in the center of the churches.[iv] In the fourth and fifth chapters we find Jesus at the right hand of God, opening the scroll that unfolds the final chapters of redemption. Later in Revelation we find Jesus entertaining at the Great Banquet of the Lamb,[v] it is a table of great celebration.
Thus, not only can we say that Jesus is at the center of God’s promise of Heaven, we can say that “Heaven people are Jesus people.”[vi] People who go to Heaven will be people who know Jesus. They believe in Jesus, walk with Jesus, and even become like Jesus. Jesus is a part of their life and their move to Heaven will be somewhat expected, because Heaven will be centered in Jesus.
But there’s one more idea that we need to grab hold of as we start to shape our understanding of Heaven. That’s found in the Apostle Paul’s teaching on the resurrection. I’ll give the reference first, then the principle.
“Earthly people are like the earthly man, and heavenly people are like the heavenly man. Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man.”[vii]
Third, Jesus’ resurrected body is the first body made for Heaven.
When the Scriptures talk about Jesus’ heavenly body they are referencing His resurrected body that has come alive from the empty tomb. There we discover that He has been made alive in a new, heavenly body. A body that walks and talks, eats and speaks and carries the marks of the past (hands, side).[viii] It was this body that the disciples saw ascend into the clouds, and it is this body that will return again to bring us home to Heaven.
What we learn from the scriptures is that Heaven is something that God has promised to all those who are in Jesus Christ. Therefore, Heaven is a place where those who go there are rooted in the very life of Jesus Christ Himself. We might say, they are “centered in Jesus as Jesus is at the center of Heaven.” Our final clue to Heaven is in he hope and significance that comes in knowing that we will be like Jesus, in His resurrected body. Somehow there will be a continuance of who we are as embodied beings that carries on, and yet, there will also be an aspect of being made new.
It’s this “newness” that sets the stage for our hope in Heaven. A child that’s been lost, a family member in Christ who has passed away, a terrible disease—all these things give way to a hope for joy and happiness in Heaven.
Heaven isn’t just a stirring in our hearts, it’s God’s promise to us that something much great, and far more wonderful than we can imagine is unfolding into eternity.
This is Good News. The Good News of Heaven.
[i] Ecclesiastes 3:11, NLT.
[ii] Isaiah 65:17-18; Revelation 21-22.
[iii] 2 Peter 3:13, NLT.
[iv] Revelation 1.
[v] Revelation 19.
[vi] Scot McKnight, The Promise of Heaven.
[vii] 1 Corinthians 15:48-49, NLT.
[viii] See John 21 & Luke 24.