Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Heaven: not the end of the World XV

Series summary
[Photo by Adrian Smith]
This series began by raising the question: "what does heaven have to do with the Christian hope?" Although many Christians think of going to heaven when you die, I suggested this is to significantly misunderstand the scriptural witness. 'Heaven' most frequently simply means that part of God's creation located physically above us; this is then often extended to refer symbolically to the location of God, and then to be a kind of reverential shorthand for 'God'. In this last sense, 'heaven' (i.e. God) is the origin or agent of our hope, but 'heaven' (as other or extra-worldly location) is not our destination. This, I suggested, might be what Paul meant when he called Christians citizens of heaven. The final chapters of the Bible picture heaven coming to earth, that is, God coming to live with us, rather than vice versa. For this to happen, the entire created order needs some drastic renovation. In particular, our physical bodies will be raised from the dead and transformed. This image (resurrection) - while not the only one - is, I think, the most important because this is what happened to Jesus. By it, we can understand 'new heavens and new earth' as new in quality, not in number. This means that we are left eagerly waiting for this future, groaning for and with a world in which everything falls apart. We are aliens in such a world, not because we belong elsewhere, but because we belong to its future. In that future, perhaps it will be through and in a raised body/renewed creation that we will see God, as Augustine once suggested.

What does this matter? What difference does it make? Why should we care? There is still more to come...
Series: I; II; IIa; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV; XVI.
Ten points for the first to link to the other post on this blog with a photo by the same artist as this one.


Anonymous said...

Your closing phrase, "there is still more to come" I presume means you have more to relate on this topic; but could also be taken as a summary of the summary and a definition of Christian hope!

Anonymous said...

Sorry if someone has already commented about this- but I haven't had time to read all of your posts on this topic...

When I talk to my kids at school about this stuff (years 8,9 and 12 at the moment) we go through the Christian hope of resurrection, the renewal of earth etc (not flying off to live on clouds). But then they always ask, "So where do I go if I die tomorrow?" Now is it ok for me to call this place 'heaven'? Or should we call it paradise (Jesus to the bloke on the cross)? Or do we know much about it at all?

byron smith said...

Matthew - yes and yes. I've used the same phrase a few times before. In fact, this issue (of whether there is still more to come) was the subject of some of my earliest posts.

byron smith said...

Lachlan - glad to hear you're working on claring the confusion early! A noble task. The most straightforward answer is 'with Christ' (Philippians 1.23). Though of course it only appears straightforward. For where is Christ? I think there are two answers (not necessarily mutually exclusive): with the Father (John 13.1) and hidden (Col 3.1-4). So, yes, I think it's ok to call this 'heaven', I just don't think it's particularly helpful to give it straight away, since it reinforces the numerous misconceptions on the subject that I've been trying to clear up.

As for time to read all the posts, no problem - it has grown a little epic, hence this summary so that it's easier to find the specific post(s) you're interested in. At the end, I'll also publish a numbered list.

Emma said...

I haven't scored any points on your blog, byron... or maybe there were two once upon a time... where do these points lead me? can I buy a vowel?

it's very cool that whole think about God coming to dwell with us, to make his home with us! It brings on the "thrill of hope" like in my favourite hymn of the impending silly season:

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!

the "weary world" rejoices because the first coming of Christ fortells the second, when creation will be renewed!

byron smith said...

Thanks Em, I love that verse - sends a chill down my spine every time.

As for the points, they are a form of glory, gained through meritorious works (guessing). They enable you to move up the leaderboard.

-bw said...

and the points are a great source of procrastination during stuvac!

the other post on this blog with a pic by the same artist can be found here

(if I've been able to get the link working!!)

Christian A said...

I’ve been chatting to friends recently about the “prosperity gospel” with Byron’s ‘end of the world’ series in mind. And I think that conservative evangelicals like me often take the wrong approach when we respond the issue.

We say the “prosperity gospel” is wrong because it promises us material blessings as opposed to the spiritual blessings God actually promises us like forgiveness and ‘salvation’. But I think the main issue is eschatology: God does promise to materially bless all those who come under his son’s rule…but it will happen when Jesus returns to make everything new.

(Thanks for the nourishment served in 15 bite-sized chunks Byron!)

byron smith said...

Christian - good thought. Perhaps we could add that the heart of 'wealth' is relational (perhaps a better term than 'spiritual', which has so many different connotations flying off in every direction). And this is why we get something (by the Spirit, hence 'spiritual') of that wealth now, a firstfruits of relational riches with God and his family.

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age--houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions--and in the age to come eternal life. Mark 10.29-30.

byron smith said...

Oh, and getting back to Matthew's first comment at the top of the page, the more to come in this series is to answer 'why does this matter?'

Anonymous said...

Thanks Byron, great post. This series has been so very helpful in being clear on what our hope is - and thus so encouraging!

Anonymous said...

Lachlan B: you asked "So where do I go if I die tomorrow?...do we know much about it at all?"

Well, we know quite a lot. The New Testament does not speak of life after death, but rather of life after Judgement Day.

The following statements are typical of a recurring theme throughout the Old Testament:

"Our days on the earth are as a shadow and there is no abiding." (1Chr 29:15) "His breath goeth forth, he returneth to the earth; in that very day his thoughts perish." (Ps 146:4) "For the living know that they shall die, but the dead know not anything at all...whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in Sheol, whither thou goest." (Ecclesiastes 9:5-10).

Step by step we see that there is no abiding on the earth; when we die our thoughts perish; there is no reward or punishment of any kind immediately upon death.

Besides which, what need would there be to open the books on Judgement Day if judgement had already been carried into effect?

Martha, the sister of Lazarus, provides us with a clear and unambiguous statement of what the followers of Jesus believed about death and its immediate aftermath.

Check John, Chapter 11, taking particular note of "...I know that he (Lazarus) shall rise again in the resurrection at the LAST DAY."

For Martha - there was only the grave until that day came.

For Jesus - his next words and actions confirmed that death meant only the grave and that life was to be lived only on this earth.

How has it escaped attention that the 4 days dead Lazarus should already have been received into heaven or damned to hellfire for all eternity if generally accepted teachings about heaven and hell are correct?

byron smith said...

Bec: ten points. Almost there!

byron smith said...

Sorry - I missed your comment earlier. I'll to the other comments later.

byron smith said...

Since I said I'll 'to the other comments later', I'll 'to' them now...

Vynette - these are some great points you're making. I assume you more or less with what has been called traditionally 'soul sleep' - that the death are not presently conscious, but 'sleep' until their resurrection. In my answer to Lachlan I tried to avoid saying anything about this, since I remain undecided. A friend from college has just written a project beautifully titled Dawn of the Dead in which he argues your line (I think - if I am understanding your point). I am certainly sympathetic. I'm curious, how do you understand Paul language of departing and being with Christ in Philippians 1.23? And that this would be 'better by far'? That seems to me to be amongst the strongest points against soul sleep.

Drew - thanks for the encouragement!

Anonymous said...


I read Phillipians 1:23 in the light of Paul's 'day of Christ' of the previous verses 6 and 10, 2:16, and Corinthians 1:8 and 3:13.

Paul looked forward to this 'day of Christ', the day of the resurrection of those who died "knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise us up also with Jesus." (2 Cor 4:14)

In 2 Timothy 4:6-8 he again writes of his 'departure' and of the 'crown of righteousness' he will receive on the day of Christ.

In the interim, however, he will be with Christ in the sense of being one of the 'dead in Christ' of whom he spoke in 1 Thessalonians 4:16.

These texts, read in conjunction with Daniel 12:2, and the following from John 5:28-29 give a fairly clear idea of where the dead really are (in my view of course): "Marvel not at this: for the hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment."

byron smith said...

Here's an abstract for an article arguing along very similar lines to me. Pity the whole paper isn't on the web.

byron smith said...

Thanks Vynette, that's very helpful

Anonymous said...


Although late to the party, I've read parts of this series, and now plan to read it all from "cover to cover". Keep up the good work.

You said "Here's an abstract for an article arguing along very similar lines to me. Pity the whole paper isn't on the web."

Try here, an article from Journal for Christian Theological Research, which I think grew out of that abstract, although I've yet to digest it.

byron smith said...

Hey Shamus, good to hear from you! Thanks for the link. Make sure you also check out the final post in this series where I try to draw a few implications.