When is Heaven?

BIG IDEA: Heaven will come in three distinct WHENS: (1) LIFE NOW: full embodiment/physicality, but only the partial presence of the triune GOD through the presence of the Holy Spirit (so it is right to hope and cry out for more of Heaven to come); (2) LIFE AFTER DEATH: full presence of the triune GOD, but only partial embodiment/physicality (so it is right to hope and cry out for more of Heaven to come); (3) LIFE AFTER LIFE AFTER DEATH: full presence of the triune GOD, and full embodiment/physicality on the New Earth (so there is no longer a need to hope and cry out for more of Heaven). Thanks be to God.

SERIES: Heaven: We all have big questions about the topic of Heaven. Some say it’s escapist to spend time thinking about Heaven. That’s not true. It’s arrogant not to spend time thinking about our inevitable end and what might come afterwards. Instead of living in denial of death, the fear of death, we ought to embrace Jesus’ victory over death and dwell on what’s to come. Our lives are brief. And therefore the wise will consider the end and the after. Let us, like the wise, consider Heaven: the who, what, when, where, why, and how of Heaven.

SCRIPTURESLuke 23:39-43
39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ 42 And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.'”

Philippians 1:21-24
“21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

 

KEY CONSIDERATIONS

  • Keep swimming: Because though we may not be able to see the shore through the fog, we know it’s not far away.
  • Time: We feel the pressure of the constant ticking of time. We grow weary of life, and we ache with the question, “When? When, O Lord, will Heaven come?” We long for relief from this world, from loneliness, etc. When will we reach the shores of Heaven?
  • The Three Whens of Heaven where “Heaven” is defined as the Place of the Presence of God:
    • Life Now (The Church Age): full embodiment and physicality, but only the partial presence of God through the Holy Spirit.
      • The Holy Spirit (John 14): God sent us the Holy Spirit who is now with us, living within all of those who have received Christ as their Savior. In this sense, Heaven is now with us because the Spirit of God is now with us.
      • Heaven and Earth are not detached: The things we love about this life are things that resonate with the things we were originally made for; they are previews of the greater life to come. This is why we can experience Heaven now.
    • Life After Death (Intermediate Heaven): The full presence of the triune God, but only partial embodiment and physicality (Rev. 8:9-11).
      • Our usual picture of Heaven (Luke 23, Philippians 1, 1 Thessalonians 4:3): This is the Heaven we often think about when we think about Heaven. This is the Heaven that happens immediately after death.
      • Is it better or worse than life now? It’s clear from the things that Paul says that it is far better because we get to be in the immediate presence of Jesus.
      • Are we conscious or are we asleep? Sleep in this instance is more a euphemism for “death” rather than actual literal sleep. The dead are asleep to life on Earth, but awake to God. You could think of it this way: their physical bodies are asleep, but their spiritual bodies are awake.
      • Is it a physical place? It’s a real, spatial dimension, but it’s not exactly the same as the dimension we live in now. We couldn’t travel there if we just created a fast enough space ship and had a map, but it does seem to be spatial, physical.
      • The Ascension of Jesus: Where did Jesus go when he ascended into Heaven? He went to the Intermediate Heaven. Some would argue that the Resurrection and the Ascension are the same thing, but the Bible makes it clear that these are distinct and different events. When Jesus ascended, his real, physical, resurrected body went with him to this other dimension.
      • From Intermediate Heaven we learn that Current Heaven and Current Earth are not places that exist on the same plane or in the same space-time continuum. They are different dimensions of God’s good creation. Jesus is not so far away in this distant land called Heaven, they are somehow and almost on top of each other just in different dimensions. He is right with us while also being in Heaven. It’s like the control room for Earth, where instructions are given and angels are sent out.
      • “Paradise”: The word Jesus used when he spoke to the thief on the cross is the same word used in Genesis for Eden. Heaven must be a place very much like the Garden of Eden before the Fall.
      • Purgatory: The idea of Purgatory doesn’t seem biblical. Purgatory is the idea that one group goes straight to heaven and another group goes to a place where they have to work out their salvation based on their sins in life. Instead, we all get the same reward, the same grace. Often people will site 1 Cor. 3 in defense of Purgatory, but it’s a misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the text. To those who believe in Purgatory, you’re in for a great surprise when you die and have the gift of immediate paradise.
    • Life After Life After Death (Eternal Heaven or the New Earth): The full presence of God and full physicality and embodiment.
      • When is Jesus returning? This is practically an age-old question, and it’s okay to wonder about, but it’s unhealthy to try and predict. The simple answer is that we don’t and we can’t know when Jesus will return. We can, however, know that it is in fact a specific day sometime in the future. And it is when Jesus appears that he will usher in the New Heaven and the New Earth. We will receive the personal presence of Jesus, being forever united.
      • “Everlasting” vs. “Eternal”: Though they may be similar terms, the word “everlasting” may be easier to understand. We will not be eternal as God is eternal, but we will experience everlasting life.
    • A Brief Comment About Time:
      • Is there time in Heaven? Our frustration with time is evidence of our being created for eternity. There seems, however, to be time in Heaven because….
        • Adam and Eve did not exist in a timeless place before being created.
        • Jesus, even in his resurrected body, existed in time.
        • The New Heaven and New Earth are discussed in relation to day and night. There’s even mention of seasons.
      • Okay, so will time be the same as we experience it now? It will be similar, though perhaps not exactly the same. 
      • Okay, what will change about time? There probably won’t be any clocks. And here’s why:
        • There is a torment to time, and we see this in people who are obsessed with time. For most of us, our relationship with time is strained at the very least. Ancient sundials always included depressing or sad phrases about the passing of time and fleeting nature of life. Since the Fall, we have begun to track time and the more we track it, the more it haunts us.
        • Time is only a bad thing, only a punishment, when it is scarce. Heaven is a place in time, in sequence, in succession, but there is not scarcity of time. Time is endless. We will be less aware of time because it won’t be running away from us. It will be limitless.
      • So when does this all happen? Right now! And then it will progress from Life After Death to Life After Life After Death.

OUR RESPONSE:

  • Pray for Heaven now: It’s okay to pray the common prayer, “Lord, may Heaven come now!” And God will likely respond by giving you a taste of Heaven while also telling you that you – we – have to wait to see the rest.
  •  Live in the full knowledge of Heaven on Earth now and in the future.

Want to study this topic more?

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