BIG IDEA: God has a plan for all things, and it includes Heaven so that he can be with us, but that can’t happen because of the corruption of creation. Therefore God must create a New Earth. So how will this final future become a reality and where will that happen?
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.
SCRIPTURE: Acts 1:1-11
1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, the was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
1 Thessalonians 4:16-18
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.
1 John 2:28
28 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.
1 John 3:2
2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
- Theology of the Ascension: Jesus’ ascension is a separate act from his resurrection. If we don’t understand the ascension, then we might start to think that Jesus, instead of ascending into Heaven, sort of evaporated into the hearts and minds of believers. Which in that case, we would have to say that Jesus is the Church, but that’s not true, and the Church cannot live up to that high of a standard. We have to understand that Jesus physically ascended.
- The Church does not equal Jesus: Historically, some Christians have believed that the Church and Jesus are synonymous, therefore if the Church conquered the world, Jesus conquered the world. But that’s not true, and it makes for a very distorted view.
- How will Heaven come about?
- Jesus will return:
- What will Jesus’ return look like? The image we have of Jesus coming in on the clouds might be figurative, and it might be literal. The main thing to remember when asking this question is that we really don’t know. But it’s not something to divide over or get too worked up about because we have so little evidence.
- Signs in the mist: “All Christian language about the future is a set of signposts pointing into a mist…but that doesn’t mean they aren’t pointing in the right direction.” – N.T. Wright
- Three Stories/images that Paul uses in Thessalonians to point us in the right direction:
- The Story of Moses: Moses goes up into the mountain to receive the law, and he comes back down the mountain after a period of time, and he was accompanied by a loud trumpet, surrounded by clouds. This parallel imagery would have been very familiar to the Jewish members of Paul’s audience.
- Daniel 7: It’s prophesied that the Son of Man will come in the clouds and lift his people up with him, rescuing them from persecution. This also would have been familiar to the Jewish people.
- Roman Emperors: When Emperors, often called “lord,” visited a colony in his empire, the people of the city would see him coming from a distance, and they would run out to meet him and escort him into their colony. There’s a word that Paul uses for “lord” that was often used in the context of an Emperor. This would have been very familiar to the Greek members of Paul’s audience.
- 1 John 2:28, John 3:2
- Words used in the New Testament to describe Jesus’ return include “coming” and “appears.” So don’t be surprised if when Jesus returns it’s maybe not exactly how we picture it because it wasn’t how God’s people pictured it when Jesus came the first time.
- The Millennial Reign: Rev. 20: This refers to Jesus’ approximately 1000 year reign. There are three traditional interpretations of what this means.
- Post-Millennialism (rare): That Jesus will not come back until the Church has reigned for a long period (1000 years) having created a kind of utopia on Earth, at which point Jesus would begin his reign.
- A-Millennialism: When Jesus comes back, he will immediately judge the world and usher in the New Heaven and New Earth.
- Pre-Millennialism: Jesus will return and reign on this Earth for 1000 years and then he will judge and usher in the New Heaven and the New Earth.
- No right or wrong answer: We cannot know how this will come about, and so it’s not something to divide over. Pastor Dave has an expectation that the Millennial Reign will look more like Pre-Millennialism.
- Tribulation: Don’t expect life on Earth to get better before it gets worse. There will be a time of tribulation that comes before the Millennial Reign.
- Judgement: This is a necessary part of how Heaven will come about. We should not fear or cringe at judgement. It’s a good thing. The Psalms say that the whole world and all of creation will shout for joy. We long for judgement and justice. We judge the wrongs of this world and ache for justice. There will be a day when the wicked will be firmly put in their place, and it’s part of the promise. Jesus tells his disciples that all peoples will be raised from the grave, and they will stand before Jesus and be judged (John 5). It’s not mean-spirited, but rather is part of God’s great love for us. He cannot leave this place unhealthy.
- Resurrection of all creation (The New Earth): Just as Jesus rose from the grave, he will raise creation from it’s fallen state. Again, we don’t know what this will look like exactly. In a way, creation is in a caterpillar state, waiting to be transformed into a butterfly. Maybe we’ll get to watch him create or maybe it will happen all at once.
- Where will Heaven Be?
- Jerusalem: Actual physical Jerusalem. That’s not to say that Heaven is Jerusalem because it’s not. The future, final, eternal Heaven will be physical and here, not in another dimension as it is now. That place will center around the city of Jerusalem in the nation of Israel, where Jesus will reign. That’s been the Old Testament and New Testament hope and prediction: Jerusalem will be restored.
- Jesus will return:
- A Theology of Proximity: The firstfruits of Heaven come right now, out of the people of God living on Earth. We are the heavenly body of Christ, citizens of the New Jerusalem even though we are residents of Seattle. We don’t have to leave this Earth to bring part of Heaven into reality now. Sideris means “heavenly body.” That’s who we are. Earth is not doomed, but rather destined to be part of Heaven. We bring Heaven in part by the way that we love on Earth, in our city, neighborhood, apartment complex, etc. Love it because God’s desire is to redeem it. Expect redemption, and work towards it.
- Theology of Authority: We don’t bring Heaven to Earth by usurping power. We are supposed to work with the people in power, with the govt. and politicians, etc. God has placed people in power, so we have to work with them and help them do God’s work.
- Theology of Work: We spend more time working than we do anything else. Your job is not a waste of time, nor is your work in vain. God will use it if we do it in faith, hope, and love.
- Ask yourself, ask a friend:
- Why has God put me here in this place?
- What foretaste of Heaven can I bring to where I am?
- Pray for Jesus’ return.