Summary: For the believing man or woman, is not just some test, wherein if we pass we get to escape from this life into a better life. Rather it is a war in which we have been ordere...
Heaven: what is it, where is it, and are you in a hurry to get there?
These are important questions, I believe, because I sense that there is a fair degree of confusion surrounding the Biblical concept of Heaven.
Mind you, my daughter, Imogen, worked it all out some years ago, when my dad died. She worked out that Heaven was inside a box. She’d been told that Grandpa had died and gone to Heaven, and she knew at the funeral that that was Grandpa in the box, so Heaven had to be somewhere in that box!
Most people who are dying that I talk to speak of Heaven as that place where they will be reunited with friends and loved ones after death.
The death of yet another dear parishioner last week brings back to mind all the other good people that I have buried from this church. I started here in December 1990, and I think I have buried three-quarters of the congregation we then had (so the rest of you better watch out!)
Many of those good people talked at length with me before they died about their hope of Heaven, and they did so in terms of a much-anticipated reunion with lost love ones.
When I was a young man - a fresh teenage convert - I used to occasionally participate in ‘street witnessing’, where we’d stand outside Woollies Town Hall (where I used to work) and annoy the hell out of people as they went by, by handing out religious tracts (pun intended).
One of my colleagues in that work used to communicate the message purely by handing out rather attractive pictures of Heaven! These were pictures of beautiful landscapes with waterfalls and ocean views and people flying around without clothes on (though quite tastefully done).
His idea was that we would give out these pictures, and explain to people what a great place heaven was - how you got to fly, explore new planets, and have sex with a variety of people - and then, when the person expressed an interest in going there, he’d tell them about Jesus!
Does that not come close to your idea of Heaven? I know some people think of Heaven as being like one never-ending church service, but I suspect that for most of us, an endless church service approximates more closely to our idea of Hell!
You see, people use the word, ‘Heaven‘, to refer to a lot of different things! And part of the problem we have in trying to nail things down is that the Bible itself also can mean a number of different things when it uses the word.
Indeed, when the Bible uses the word, ‘heaven’ or ‘heavens’, it’s often just a reference to the sky! When Genesis says that “God created the Heavens and the earth”, it’s just a way of saying that He created all that is above and all that is below - the earth and the sky and everything in between!
Another way the term ’Heaven’ is used is to refer to the place where God is. When we say, “Our Father who art in Heaven”, we are speaking of Heaven as a place where God is, as opposed to where we are - God’s own dimension.
This is indeed the most common understanding of the term in our culture - Heaven as a sort of parallel universe, that we ourselves hope to enter upon death. It is a place that is somewhere else in the space-time continuum - in another dimension that most people rarely have contact with in life (if at all).
This is, I‘d suggest, the popular understanding of the word, though I’d suggest too that it’s not an especially Biblical one. Of course the Bible does speak of God’s special ‘dwelling place’, but it doesn’t normally refer to this place as ‘Heaven’, and, the Bible certainly never uses the phrase of anyone that they ‘died and went to Heaven’.
At any rate, there is a third and more significant use of the word, ‘Heaven’, in the Scriptures, and that is where it speaks of the ‘Heaven’ or the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ as that point to which all human history is moving. This is ‘Heaven’ as a historical event - indeed, as the crowning historical event of human history where all things come together in Christ.
This is the Heaven we pray for when we pray ‘They Kingdom come’ and this is indeed the Heaven that we read of this morning in the book of Revelation:
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more."
What we have here in Revelation chapter 21 is a Biblical vision of the world as it will one day be. It is a world of peace and of love, where ’the lion and the lamb lie down side by side’ and where we ’don‘t study war no more’. And, according to this vision in Revelation, it is a place where ’the sea is no more’!