Singing in Heaven Forever…
I used to get bored thinking about heaven. Trying to comprehend endless time would push my mind past its limit, and I would actually tire myself thinking what heaven would be like and that it would never end. I pictured myself part of a giant choir. We would stand in lines on massive risers that stretched in each direction further than I could see, and we continuously sang worship songs to God.
Now because I’m someone who usually gets a little bored if we sing more than four songs on Sunday morning, and annoyed if we sing a chorus more than three times, the thought of singing for all eternity did not strike me as heavenly. But, I figured (hoped) that I would feel differently once I was actually in the presence of God. Surely I would be compelled to sing without ceasing if I were to witness God’s complete glory unhindered.
I was thrilled to learn this was not my eternal fate.
Even though most of us probably picture heaven in a similar way, the Bible does not. I grew up thinking the goal of Christian life was to “escape” this world and “fly away” to heaven. This sort of thinking influenced me more than I thought. As a result, my life dramatically changed once I learned that God does not intend for us to escape this world.
Where is Heaven?
We usually think of heaven as being a place far away from us. We look into the sky and gaze out into the vastness of space to indicate that heaven, the place where God lives, is out of our reach. It is understandable that we think heaven is “up” because the Bible says so. After all, Genesis 1:1 says that God created the “heavens and the earth.” It is only logical to assume that if heaven is not earth, then heaven must be somewhere else. In Genesis 1 alone, heaven is used 10 times to refer to the sky or space (Gen. 1:1, 8, 9, 14, 15, 17, 20, 26, 28, 30). Jesus even ascended into the clouds, clearly indicating he left earth’s atmosphere and went “up into heaven” (Luke 24:50).
But what if we have been looking at the wrong verses? What if heaven is closer than we think? What if we are not taken from this world and transported to a far away place. What if, instead, we stay here, and Heaven comes to us? Jesus indicates that God’s will is for heaven to come to us, not for us to go to heaven.
While “heaven” can be used to describe the sky and the outer reaches of space, words have a semantic range; they can have more than one meaning. The Bible uses “heaven” to refer to more than just the space above our heads.
Heaven is where God lives
Heaven refers to the dwelling place of God. This is the most common understanding. Jesus expands on what this means by using “heaven” to describe God’s perfect will. This is best seen when he taught his disciples to pray: “‘9 Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’” (Matthew 6:9-10).
Praying for God’s will to be done on earth “as it is in heaven” shows us that heaven is the ideal. The imagery of heaven encompasses all that God desires for creation. This is why we must pray that God’s will comes from heaven to be done on in our midst here on earth.
Like “heaven” there is another term in the gospels related to God’s perfect will: the kingdom of God. The New Testament uses the terms “heaven” and “Kingdom of God” synonymously. This means what can be said of one can also be applied to the other. The gospel of Matthew records that Jesus came preaching, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2). The gospel of Mark records the same event, using “Kingdom of God” (Mark 1:15). Both these terms convey God’s perfect will ruling on earth.
Heaven is Coming
Paying attention to Jesus’ message in these passages, we notice that he urges his listeners to repent because the “kingdom of God” has arrived (“at hand”). He does not say, “Repent so that you can go to the Kingdom of God;” instead, he announces the Kingdom of God has arrived on earth through Him. Jesus declares that he is the anticipated Messiah who has come to establish God’s Kingdom on earth.
To the nation of Israel, this “kingdom” imagery was highly political. Jesus was announcing that the Messiah had come to overthrow the Roman empire. For the Jews, this meant God would rule the earth through Israel, his chosen people. Understood this way, the Kingdom of God––heaven––is not an escape from the world, but is the in-breaking of the heavenly realm––God’s will––into our earthly realm.
I used to think this sort of language only applied to our lives here on earth. I vaguely knew the kingdom of God represented God’s rule and will for our lives, because I still thought we were going to be taken away from this place. Jesus came to tell us about the Kingdom/Heaven so that we could work towards that goal, and one day, leave this world and go to it. I didn’t pick up on all the subtle clues pointing to the Kingdom coming here.
This imagery, however, is demonstrated clearest at the end of John’s 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. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘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. 21:1-3).
John’s vision closes by seeing that the final dwelling place of humanity is on earth with God. Christians may go to heaven when they die, but it is not our eternal destination. We are not on a journey to heaven. Heaven is on its way here. Every act of God through our history has been to draw nearer to us so that we may know and commune with Him.
Life With God
The Bible overwhelmingly indicates that God desires to come to earth so that he can dwell with us here. In Genesis, we see that God spent time with Adam and Eve, walking with them at a set time everyday (Gen. 3:8). God instructed his chosen people, Israel, to build a tabernacle and, later, a temple so that he could dwell among his people (Ex. 25:8; 2 Sam. 7:5-6). Isaiah prophesied that the messiah would be called “Immanuel” or “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14). The Bible reveals a relational God. He does not want to be isolated from his creation. Before we rebelled against him, he wanted to have relationship with us, and he has sought that relationship with us throughout our fallen history. God’s plan for eternity is no different.
Our eternal destiny is not one of perpetual song, but one of abundant life. We will finally be free of the sin that binds our wills against God. We will be free to pursue life unhindered by our flesh; and in so doing, through the actions of our lives––lives lived with God––we will glorify and worship Him, because His creation will once again be good. And the good news is, we can start now.
Christians don’t stay in heaven. God’s goal isn’t to bring people to heaven, but to bring heaven to us. The image of the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth is the analogy of what God does at the end of this age.
This means when Jesus says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!” he means, “Be reconciled to God, because God is coming to rule earth!” If you aren’t right with God when he comes, you have no place to go.
Teaching heaven as a place outside this world can leave those who hear the message thinking heaven is an option. If this is just a call for “leaving earth” you have no reason to go if earth is pretty good. But if God is coming here, we’re in trouble if we haven’t given up being a rebel.
One way or another, God will conquer the earth, and every knee will bow and every tongue will confess (Phil. 2:10-11).