Great Stuff — Mark’s thoughts: Heaven is not home. Home is here.

July 15th, 2014 Post by

Another post found over on Pr. Surburg’s blog:

 

Ghent altarpieceThis creation – this earth – will be your home for eternity.  Many Christians do not recognize this fact. When they speak about their future home, they usually say that it is “heaven.”  It is a commonplace for Christians to say that a believer who has died has been “called home to heaven.”  However this language ignores, and even contradicts, a very clear emphasis of Scripture.

There is no doubt that God’s Word offers great comfort about those who die before Christ’s return.  Death cannot separate us from Christ, and instead those who die in the faith are with the Lord.  As Paul wrote, “I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ (σὺν Χριστῷ εἶναι), for that is far better” (Philippians 1:23 ESV).  This comfort is very important and it must be part of what pastors share with their congregation members.

We often describe this reality using the word “heaven.”  There are several texts that speak about the “intermediate state” of Christians – about the state of a Christian who dies before Christ returns (Ps 49:15; 73:24; Luke 16:22-26; 23:43; Acts 7:59; Phil 1:21, 23; 2 Cor 5:8-9; Heb 12:22-23; Rev 6:9-11 is often cited in this way, but there are a number of reasons to question this).  However, within the Bible as a whole they are extremely rare.  Scripture says very little about this intermediate state.  In truth, it is not particularly interested in it and instead places all of the focus upon the return of Christ and the events that will occur when this takes place.  Christians commonly use the concept of heaven to draw together these few passages about the intermediate state, even though a number of significant ones (such as the thief on the cross in Luke 23:43, and John 14:1-3) do not even use the word “heaven.”

The word “home” carries with it a sense of finality.  It is the place we really belong, and many Christians describe heaven in this way.  But Scripture teaches us that heaven is not what God intends to be our home.  Instead, heaven is like a five star hotel.  It is wonderful and blessed, and it is good to be “there” freed from the struggle against the sin, the devil and our own fallen nature. But one does not live in a hotel forever, no matter how nice it is.  Instead, it is temporary lodging until you return home.

This creation – this earth – is our home. Because of sin and the fall it needs a renovation. It needs a renewal (Rom 8:18-23; Matt 19:28). The same can be said of our bodies.  God created us as the unity of body and soul in order to live on this earth.  Scripture says that this was very good (Gen 1:31). God’s promise that has already begun to be fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is that our bodies and his creation will be very good once again.

It is important to have the right goal in mind, the right home, because all of biblical teaching is interrelated.  If we err in our understanding of the goal, then we begin to miss the interconnection it has with all that precedes it.  The loss of the focus upon the resurrected body and the renewed creation prompts a loss in understanding and appreciating the incarnation and the sacraments.   On the other hand, when we understand that bodily life in a renewed creation is the true goal we can fully appreciate the importance of the incarnation and the sacraments for us and our future.  Indeed, we can better understand who we really are and what God made us to be.

I have traced out many of these interconnections in an article entitled, “Good Stuff!:The Material Creation and the Christian Faith.”  It sets forth the marvelous way in which the material creation – the “stuff” God made – is central to his whole plan of salvation.  We see this in his act of creation, in the incarnation, in the sacraments and in the goal of resurrected bodies in a renewed creation.


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  1. John J Flanagan
    July 15th, 2014 at 12:23 | #1

    . Since believers who have died exist in “Heaven” around the throne of God and His angels, the location of the Kingdom will be of God’s choosing, whether in the galaxies above, or in a newly formed place where the physical earth was created. I believe the scriptures can be interpreted to follow both views. It will not matter to those who love God and go to be with Him. Like the thief on the cross who asked Jesus to remember him in His Kingdom, Heaven could be wherever The Lord Jesus determines it to be, and lo, what a beautiful place indeed.

  2. Pastor Sean Smith
    July 15th, 2014 at 16:25 | #2

    For the record, I do not disagree with this article. I think it is well said. However, I would like to point out the irony that just a few days ago an article titled: Rev. Klemet Preus Called Home to Heaven, by Pr. Rossow (July 9th, 2014Pastor Tim Rossow15 comments) was posted on this very site. Confusing/Crossed Messages are not very helpful.

  3. July 15th, 2014 at 16:41 | #3

    Do the confessions in the Book of Concord answer this question? If so, where?

  4. Diane
    July 15th, 2014 at 17:20 | #4

    I think what has fallen off the page in confirmation classes, funeral sermons or any sermon for that matter is the fact that the goal of the Christian and Holy Scripture is the return of Christ and the Judgment. We sing bad theology in such hymns as ‘Heaven Is My Home’. Dr. Jeff Gibbs has beautifully illustrated the goal of the Christian in his critique of the popular book, ‘Heaven is For Real’. As Christians, we state in both the Apostles’ Creed (‘from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead’ and ‘the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting’) and the Nicene Creed (‘I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come’), every Lord’s Day.

    In Christ,
    Diane

  5. Eric
    July 15th, 2014 at 17:45 | #5

    Ah, truly a GREAT STUFF topic… which immediately brought to mind a 4-yr-old video from Rev Fisk.

  6. RK
    July 15th, 2014 at 18:44 | #6

    NEW EARTH.

  7. Robert
    July 15th, 2014 at 21:05 | #7

    Despite what my friend, Mark Surburg, writes, this earth is NOT our home.

    In fact, this earth will be burnt to a crisp, every atom, indeed every molecule, will dissolve and melt in unfathomable heat. (2 Peter 3:10)

    We must also not be so quick to cast aspersions on “heaven.” Indeed, we confess that we will enjoy a new heaven and a new earth. (Revelation 21:1)

    I appreciate where Mark is coming from, but extremism on both sides is to be avoided. Heaven, indeed, is our home, so long as we confess a new heaven and a new earth.

  8. quasicelsus
    July 15th, 2014 at 23:10 | #8

    http://biblehub.com/isaiah/65-17.htm
    “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.

    Throwing this in as well.

    https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H2319&t=KJV

    New.

    For revelation 21:1
    καινός new

    as respects form

    recently made, fresh, recent, unused, unworn

    as respects substance

    of a new kind, unprecedented, novel, uncommon, unheard of


    The Isaiah passage uses καινός in the Septuagint.

  9. jb
    July 15th, 2014 at 23:19 | #9

    Heaven . . .

    Interesting topic. Place of bliss, of the mansions for the faithful, God’s residence, His abode, yet UNdefined by Google Earth.

    As Christ clearly showed, God is unbiquitous – everywhere, right? Or not?

    So exactly where is Heaven?

    What of those who faithfully, in death, have escaped the temporal mode? (time)

    If the “temporal” is no longer binding, then exactly, on what day, is the Day of Judgment/Resurrection? Kind of a loaded question.

    What exactly is the relationship between time, and eternity? Can it be perceived?

    What about the “Beatific Vision?”

    Is all of creation truly redeemed? Then what of earth? Its residents will be whom?

    What of Hell? What will be the source of heat or fire? Will it be the same source wherever Heaven is located, if it is locatable, and God is ubiquitous?

    The Confessions do not exhaust what might be by any means, they lead us toward what we will discover.

    Pax

  10. July 16th, 2014 at 05:06 | #10

    John R. Stephenson, Eschatology, Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics, Vol. XIII, p. 126:

    A series of New Testament passages makes clear the meaningfulness of ecclesiastical language of “heaven” as the final destination of the blessed. Our Lord pronounces the persecuted blessed on account of the great reward that awaits them “in heaven” (Matthew 5:12), and He counsels His disciples to lay up treasure for themselves “in heaven” (Matthew 6:20). Christians’ chief cause for rejoicing is not that they are permitted to perform mighty works, but that their names are written “in heaven” (Luke 10:20). St. Paul speaks of Christians’ longing to put on their “heavenly dwelling” (2 Corinthians 5:2), insisting that our citizenship is “in heaven” (Philippians 3:20), and reminding the church of the hope laid up for her “in heaven” (Colossians 1:5). The Christians’ imperishable, undefiled, and unfading inheritance is, according to St. Peter, laid up for them “in heaven” (1 Peter 1:4). While Scripture never forthrightly labels the final state of the people of God as “heaven,” the fact that heaven is God’s throne and dwelling place where His angels adore Him and where the fullness of salvation is stored renders the word an appropriate shorthand expression for the saints’ full enjoyment of God and His kingdom. By “heaven” in churchly usage is meant therefore God’s immediate dwelling amongst men (Revelation 21:3). The hallowed ecclesiastical term corresponds with Biblical content.

    Franz Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol. 3, pp. 542–543:

    The End of the World (De Consummatione Mundi)

    Scripture says expressly that “the heaven and the earth,” that is, the universe created by God “in the beginning” (Genesis 1:1) will pass away or perish. Luke 21:33: “Heaven and earth shall pass away [ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ παρελεύσονται].” Hebrews 1:10–12 quotes Psalm 102:26–28: “Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Thine hands: they shall perish [ἀπολοῦνται] … and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt Thou fold them up, and they shall be changed [ἀλλαγήσονται].” But while heaven and earth pass away and are changed, God will continue forever (σὺ δὲ διαμένεις, v. 11), and so will the words of Christ (οἱ δὲ λόγοι μου οὐ μὴ παρελεύσονται, Luke 21:33).

    Our old Lutheran theologians are not agreed on whether this passing away is to be defined more specifically as a total annihilation (interitus mundi secundum substantiam, κατʼ οὐσίαν) or only as a transformation or conversion (interitus mundi secundum accidentia, κατὰ ποιότητα). Luther, Brenz, Althammer, Ph. Nicolai, and others teach a transformation, principally on the basis of Romans 8:21: “The creation itself also shall be freed from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” Most of the earlier Lutheran theologians join Gerhard, Quenstedt, and Calov in assuming that the world will perish quoad substantiam. Gerhard (Loci, “De consummatione seculi,” § § 37–63) treats the subject extensively. He quotes the arguments pro and con and then gives his reasons why he regards a destruction according to the substance as corresponding more fully to the statements of Scripture.

    The chief mistake of those who seek to prove a mere transformation of the Creation from Romans 8 is, according to Gerhard, that they do not heed properly the term “bondage” (δουλεία) in the statement: “The creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” They interpret as if the Apostle said that the creatures were to be delivered from corruption, while the Apostle merely speaks of a deliverance from servitude (servitus) to corruption. “We add,” says Gerhard, “that the Apostle nowhere says that the Creation shall be delivered from corruption, a phrase that could seem to be opposed to a destruction of substance, but delivered from the servitude of corruption, a phrase that does not conflict with the destruction of substance.” It is the bondage of corruption from which the personified Creation longs to be delivered. But this deliverance from bondage could take place, according to Gerhard, not only by a renewal (renovatio), but just as well by a cessation of existence. In illustration of this type of deliverance Gerhard points to the words of Seneca to Marcia that death brings man freedom from all evils, although Seneca at the same time maintains that in death man ceases to exist. Calov agrees with Gerhard.

    Nevertheless Gerhard says (ibid., § 38): “We do not defend our opinion of the destruction of the world according to its substance as an article of faith, but we assert that this opinion is more in conformity with the emphatic statements of Scripture concerning the end of the world. Hence we do not rashly accuse those of heresy who are of the opposite opinion and describe the destruction of the world as a transformation. Many therefore would rather reserve judgment in this question [ἐπέχειν] and leave this matter to future experience than take a definite stand now.” All who assume a transformation of the creation must teach a change whereby the world in its entire present outward form really passes away on Judgment Day or comes to an end (τέλος). 1 Corinthians 7:31: “The fashion (σχῆμα, form) of this world passeth away.” Luther: “In short, whatever belongs to the nature of these temporal goods, whatever constitutes this transitory life and activity, shall all cease” (St. Louis Edition, Vol. VIII, p. 1222).

  11. July 16th, 2014 at 06:38 | #11

    Revelation chapter 21: new heavens and new earth.

    Enough said.

  12. Chris
    July 16th, 2014 at 07:39 | #12

    Two questions:

    1: Where is Christ, right now, or to where did he ascend?

    2: What does it mean for a Christian to sojourn, or to be in exile? (1 Peter 2:11; 1 Peter 1:17)

    Aaaand…the following Scripture just doesn’t seem to jive with all the trendy “re-newed” or “made anew” teaching that is out there.

    *Hebrews 12: 18-29*

    For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

    See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time ohis voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

    **

    I do agree with Rev Fisk though on his video posted in this thread…all this talk of heaven should be summed up in the ressurrection that is in Christ, without whom there is no inheritance or promise of life eternal apart from sin.

    I know we seek to maintain the sanctity of the material, since God created things in the material. However, is it necessary for some to speak of heaven as a dwelling place that is entirely NOT material, but only “of the Spirit,” that is, intangible? I think–and believe that the Scriptures support this–that heaven is both spiritual AND material, even if it’s not presently as it will be after Christ has made all things new. How else could Christ be there even now, or for that matter in the eternal age to come? See his hands and side? His scars? How he eats in a real and physical, yet Spiritual ressurrected body that lives forever; even now in heaven?

    But aside from all of this, we know for certain that we will be with him forever in a “new” (whatever) heaven and a “new” (whatever) earth, since we have been united with him through baptism into his death, having been also made to participate with him in his ressurrection.

    Christopher Jager
    Tillamook, OR
    Redeemer Lutheran, LCMS

  13. quasicelsus
    July 16th, 2014 at 16:53 | #13

    @Rev. Kevin Vogts #10
    This was a fantastic read. Thank you for providing it.

  14. Rev. Joseph Fisher
    July 17th, 2014 at 11:13 | #14

    Kevin Vogts, thanks for the info as always! I would also like to recommend an article by Dr. Louis Brighton in the 2001 Concordia Journal “Three Modes of Eternal Life” pp298-309. As he shows Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 in which paradise is equated with heaven.

    This is a very important issues as it appears that some of our brothers in the ministry are resurrecting the teaching of “Soul Sleep”. I don’t believe anyone here has but I am hearing lay-people in the area who are saying their pastors are teaching “Soul Sleep” and the lay-people didn’t know what that meant.

    The CTCR has a brief report titled “A Statement on Death, Resurrection and Immortality A Position Paper” March 15, 1969.

    Rev. Joseph Fishe

  15. July 17th, 2014 at 11:33 | #15

    Hey, Pr. Fisher, great to hear from you!

    Is that CTCR report online? I’ve got a huge stack of CTCR documents but don’t think I have that one.

  16. Diane
    July 17th, 2014 at 11:38 | #16

    @Rev. Kevin Vogts #15
    Yes, Pastor Vogts it is online. I just found it. I searched under the title and added CTCR and LCMS. The document doesn’t seem to explain ‘soul sleep’. What is this false teaching?

    Thanks,
    Diane

  17. Diane
    July 17th, 2014 at 11:44 | #17

    @Diane #16
    I’m replying to myself!:) I found a definition of ‘soul sleep’ on page 1750 of the TLSB under the topic, ‘What Happens When We Die’?

  18. July 18th, 2014 at 11:20 | #18

    New heaven and new earth = New Jerusalem. There will be no distinction between heaven and earth at the establishment of the new creation.

  19. Chris
    July 18th, 2014 at 23:03 | #19

    Rev Bolland,

    At first, I was inclined to disagree with your last post…but when you think about it, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God,” (Rev 21:3-5). So there IS no distinction between a, “Godly realm from above,” and an, “earthly realm below.” But in the ressurrection, we are united with our loved ones, together in Christ, within a new heaven–not like the old; just as we are also brought together onto a new earth in which nothing accursed can be found. Whether that speaks to an earth and heaven that is, “made anew,” or not, it does indeed seem like heaven and earth become one in the age to come.

    I’ve also heard the New Jerusalem to be described as the very people of God; speaking apocalyptically out of the Revelation’s genre, of course. This came from Rev. Fisk at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZB-4b6Eea5c

    Maybe the following verse can be explained from the “two realms becoming one” paradigm? But the verse does seem to make a heaven/earth distinction. Perhaps it’s speaking in terms of our present expectations? The verse is 2 Peter 3:13:

    “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

    The verse does say “heavens” in the plural…which could refer to the likeness of the sun, moon, stars, and all the other heavenly bodies in their various forms of glory. At the same time, revelation refers to the sun, moon, and stars as being unnecessary in the new Jerusalem because, “the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb,” (Rev 21:23).

    So could we say that all of our expectations of future bliss in a paradise of heaven are summed up in Christ Jesus, who has made all things new and brought the dwelling place of God the Father, finally, with man because of the cross?

    An eschatology of the cross…

    Kinda changes the focus, huh? (While blowing the mind, heart, and soul!!)

    Thank you all so much. Rev. Vogts, I did enjoy those snippets from Pieper. My Pastor’s library will be shrinking soon, :).

    +pax Christi+,

    Christopher Jager
    Tillamook, OR
    Redeemer Lutheran, LCMS

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