Where do you think we will spend eternity? Common answer: in heaven. Where do you think Jesus is, is coming from, and will take us after we die? Common answer: again, heaven.
It is common to believe that heaven is this perfect place, with pearls in the gates and streets paved with gold (Rev 21:21); with no more tears or pain (Rev 21:4); Jesus comes from the right hand of God on the clouds (Matt 26:64), and takes us to be with him (John 14:1-6), up in heaven.
A few weeks ago the Psalm for the day at 8am was Ps 113 – where we read “The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?”(v4-6) In other words, God reigns from on high, above both the heavens and the earth.
In Revelation 21, in that vision of eternity, God comes down out of heaven, and dwells with us down here – not up there!
In Greek, the NT word for heaven in ‘Ouranos’ (from which we get Uranus). This word can mean the entire world, or it can mean the skies (where the clouds are), as opposed to earth that we stand on. If we put these two words together – heaven and earth can mean sky and land.
So – where is God now? Where is my saintly grandmother? God is reigning on high, and Grandma's spirit is with him in Christ. [We often call this heaven, as a shorthand phrase. But as you see it’s a confusing and possible misleading term]
But on the last day, Christ will come down to us, and Grandma's spirit will come with Jesus, and be united with her resurrected body. And Jesus will reign in the New Jerusalem on the new earth and heavens. Because both the first heaven and earth will have passed away (Rev 21:1-3). Yes - you read that. Rev 21 tells us the first heaven passes away!
What difference does all this make? Isn’t this abstract, and hair-splitting?
For me, the categories of heaven as perfect/eternal; and this earth as condemned, flesh-filled, and doomed are too simplistic. If God’s plan is to restore earth – if there is some continuity for the role of earth in God’s eternity – that adds to the responsibility we have to steward it now.
Rev David Rietveld
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