Is Heaven Our Destiny?
Author: Dwight A. Pryor
THE BELIEF IN LIFE AFTER DEATH IS nearly universal among the world’s religions. Unique to the biblical faiths of Judaism and Christianity, however, is the conviction that there will be a life after life-after-death (to borrow a phrase from N.T. Wright). In other words the afterlife will not be our final destination, but we shall be materially embodied once again in the resurrection of the dead at the Last Day.
The implications of this seem not to have registered fully on the popular Christian culture, which tends to define salvation as “going to heaven when you die.” In a carryover from medieval times, when the travails of this present world were countered by the Church’s otherworldly spirituality, the common sentiment among Christians today remains:
This world is not my home; I’m just a passing through. My treasures are laid up, somewhere beyond the blue. Just over in Glory land we’ll live eternally …
This popular point of view runs counter to the witness of Scripture — which indicates that our ultimate destiny as believers is not “heaven” but a new “heaven and earth” (the biblical idiom for created cosmos).
THE VISION OF A NEW OR RENEWED universe is common to both Testaments, as well as to Jewish apocalyptic literature during the four-hundred year intertestamental period. The earth will go through a period of judgment, purging and cleansing at the Apocalypse before it is restored at last to the pristine condition of Gan Eden (Garden of Eden).
The Apostle Peter foresaw that Day of the Lord when the cosmos will dissolve into its elements by fire, to be renewed according to God’s promise by “new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home” (2 Pet 3:13). The Hebraic terminology “new heavens and a new earth” derives from the prophetic vision of Isaiah (65:17ff), in which a new Jerusalem will become a joy and delight to the nations and the natural created order will be restored to innocence and shalom, so that “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox” (65:25).
This end-time scenario of course is found also in the Apocalypse of John. The Apostle envisions a restored heaven and earth, after evil and wickedness have been destroyed, with the “holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev 21:1-2).
Then the Creator himself will descend and take up habitation among redeemed humankind. “He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (21:3). The “Immanuel” (God-with-us) that found fulfillment in the Incarnation will come to its consummation in the Last Days when the Lord God will dwell fully and perpetually in the midst of His people (Ezekiel 37: 26-27).
The creation itself shall then be set free from its enslavement to futility and decay to obtain the “freedom of the [resurrected] glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). It will be purged, purified, transformed and glorified. It will not be annihilated, but made new or renewed. As the One seated on the Throne promises, “Behold, I am making all things new!” (Revelation 21:5).
THE HOPE WE HAVE IN THE LORD therefore is far grander than some post-death consciousness or some everlasting state of disembodied bliss. Our final home will not be “over in Glory land.” Heaven will be but a temporary layover on the way to a better world.
Our ultimate destiny is to dwell forever in the House of the Lord. His habitation will be in a renewed heaven and earth. We have no need of resurrected bodies in heaven. But when at the Last Day heaven comes to earth and the Jerusalem which is above, whose architect and builder is God (Heb 11:10), descends upon the present city — then indeed we will need and will prosper in the transformed physicality of resurrected bodies.
Like the risen Jesus, our bodies will be in continuity with our previous existence, and yet also new, glorified and animated fully by the Spirit. Then we shall walk with our Redeemer and have unhindered fellowship with the true and living God. Our joy will be complete and His purposes for the creation will be consummated. That is our destiny!
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