The book of Revelation, and the whole of Scripture, gives us a bit of a different picture of heaven than the "popular view." The common view is that heaven is the final destination of the redeemed and that heaven is osme ethereal sphere up in the clouds--a kind of spiritual 5-star resort or amusement park where everybody gets their own mansion. As N.T. Wright has persuasively shown, in Surprised by Hope, the biblical idea of heaven is rather different from the common view. The biblical idea is not so much that you go “up” to some place called heaven when you die, but rather that God eventually makes his “home” on a recreated earth and lives with the redeemed forever. Now, the Bible does speak of heaven as another dimension, if you will, where God "resides." Wright has described it as something of a "control room," where God's presence and Kingdom is most emphatically real. Believers do go to heaven, or "paradise" when they die. But this is the intermediate state. It is life after death, not "life after life after death."
The substance of Christian hope is the eventual bodily resurrection of all believers (evidenced in Jesus Christ rising from the tomb) and the promise of the final healing and restoration of God’s good creation. God will eventually make his home with created reality, heaven will meet up with earth, the marriage of the lamb and the bride will be complete. Creation will still exist, but will be redeemed and there will be no more tears or pain. This biblical idea of the “new heavens and new earth” has wonderful implications for our lives. In our struggles with life: whether depression, anxiety, marriage or relationship difficulty, job loss, physical suffering, sickness, etc., biblical hope is the promise that everything will be healed, restored, completed, and fulfilled. Our hope lies in the promise that, as Job proclaimed in the midst of his suffering, our redeemer lives and one day he will stand on the earth. The frustrations, sorrows and sicknesses of this life will be wiped away (along with every tear) and we will rejoice in the eternal, visible presence of God–who will make everything right.
Some questions for reflection:
1. What do you think happens to people when they die? Where do they “go”? What kind of existence is it?
2. How do you picture heaven? Do you think your picture of heaven resonates with the biblical idea of the “new heavens and new earth”? Why or why not?
3. What difference does it make to your life that God is planning on restoring the creation that he made?