The New Heavens and New Earth. (Part 1)
In our western church, this theme "the new heavens and new earth" is seldom mentioned (though it's starting to get more attention lately). If heaven is thought about, it's thought about in the context of dying and leaving your old dusty, sinful body behind and floating off into the light, where there are chubby angels sitting on clouds awaiting your arrival (Oh yeah, Peter is guarding the gate, he's got the keys).
But does the Bible actually speak about heaven in this way? Let's start with the Hebrew writings/OT.
The OT scriptures use "heaven" in various ways. We see that "heaven" is part of the created order (Gen 1:1). Heaven refers to the stars and planets around us (Psalm 19) The Hebrew word for Heaven is "Samayim" which refers to God's realm as well as the stars, sun and moon above us. Sound confusing? Hopefully not, but heaven in how the Hebrews used the word was not some place you go when you die, they used another word for that, which was called Sheol. Heaven was the sky above them( stars, sun, moon) as well as God's realm, the hebrews had this idea that they lived in a dome (not like a football dome), the Hebrew word is raqia (Gen 1:1) Which somehow the stars, sun and moon were in this Dome. Here is a Scripture referring to God being outside of the space time universe, Isaiah 66:1-2 says:"heaven is His foot stool to rest His feet on," Basically the Creator (Elohim, YHWH) dwells outside of our solar system (heaven) in His heaven.
The problem that exist between the OT/NT scriptures and 21st century believers is a language/cultural gap. We should not discourage ourselves, or think lowly of ourselves for not understanding this, but instead we should immerse ourselves in the thought world of the writers of Scripture (by doing this, we will be better friends, pastors, preachers, family members to those around us).
Do the NT writers talk about going to heaven when you die as the final destination of the believer?
The NT does deal with believers going to "God's realm" outside of our space timed universe when they die. We have some passages that refer to being in God's realm when you die. In Luke's account we have one criminal who is told by Jesus, "truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise." So in one sense, we as believers do enter into God's realm when we die, but the problem for many Christians is that, that's the final/last destination forever.
So why has a couple of passages influenced the churches eschatological hope? (eschatology means: the study of last things). I am not 100% sure to be honest, but I believe there are some reasons we can give to this question. For one, the NT spread to a Greek/gentile world (Starting with Paul's ministry). The Greeks were heavily influenced by Plato and many other Greek thinkers, and some of these thinkers embraced a worldview that endorsed: good and virtuous souls go to a good place when their souls leave their body, and evil souls go to a bad place when they die. Certainly we see that Jesus talked about a future judgment where the righteous would be rewarded and the wicked punished at His second coming, when the dead would be raised/resurrected back to life. But maybe certain Greek Hellenistic thought patterns influenced the Church Fathers (who were coming from Greek backgrounds and not Jewish backgrounds like the early apostolic church) and all the way up to our present day.
The first Christians were Jews who had the belief in a earthly bodily resurrection, which was a Jewish belief found in the scriptures (Dan 12: 1-2). The book of Daniel talks about a future judgment that would occur on earth and God would raise evil and righteous people back to life. The New Testament speaks more about a future resurrection than a disembodied heavenly existence after death (Resurrection theology changes everything).
In my next post, I'll be attempting to explain the ultimate destination of the believer, which consists of "The New Heavens and The New Earth."I want to leave you with these questions and Chapter below.
1. What if God wants the earth renewed?
2. What if God desires that you would play a role in fixing his creation through his Spirit?
3. What if Jesus and God totally care about the world as a whole?
4. What if the world is heading to a renewal and complete make over, how does that change the way we see the world now?
5. What if the end of the world as we know it, isn't so scary but exciting?
6. Have you thought about your own resurrection?
Here is a chapter I would encourage you to read 1 Corinthians 15.