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Heaven (Part 2) - The Physical Aspect

Heaven's Gates

by Dennis Pollock

In a previous devotional we looked at the current disinterest in heaven seen in the church as contrasted with the emphasis upon it in the Bible and in the teachings of Jesus. Quite a few Christians today, and many ministers don’t seem to want to say much about heaven. It seems kind of antiquated these days. Their thought seems to be, “It was no doubt a great subject to preach on when people had things so hard, in order to give them hope, but in today’s world, we’re better off focusing on our day to day problems and issues, and leave the future to the future.”

The Bible says otherwise. The truth is, every believer desperately needs a Biblically-informed view of the life that we will experience after our life on earth is finished. The apostle Peter writes, “Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless…” (2 Peter 3:14). In Peter’s mind, the more we look forward to that beautiful and blessed life God has for us in eternity, the stronger should be our commitment to living here on the earth “in peace, without spot, and blameless.”

Is Heaven “Physical?”

In this study we are going to look at the physical aspect of heaven. That may seem a curious thought to many of you. Perhaps you assumed heaven is an entirely spiritual place without anything tangible or physical whatsoever. If that is what you believe, you are not alone. Most people assume this to be the case. They can even quote a few Scriptures which they believe supports this view. Does not the Bible say that “God is spirit?” And aren’t all things physical inherently evil, corrupt, and temporary? So in heaven there will surely not be anything resembling flesh. We will all be mystical spirits who float from cloud to cloud with our harps in our hands, playing and singing hymns throughout eternity, right? Wrong!

Author and student of what the Bible says about heaven for many years, Randy Alcorn, has created the term: “Christoplatonism,” which refers to the erroneous mixing of Christianity and the views of Plato. In Plato’s mind all flesh and all material substance was evil and would never stand the test of eternity. Many Christians, in view of the many Scriptures that speak of the sin nature as “the flesh” have assumed this much be correct, and decided that heaven will be all spirit with nothing physical and nothing tangible (capable of being felt or touched).

This might sound right if you read through the Scriptures quickly and did not pay much attention to many of the details, but any good student of the Bible knows this cannot possibly be correct. The major truth standing directly in the path of this assumption is the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. It is certainly true and Scriptural that when Christians die, their spirits are immediately transferred to that place where Jesus dwells. As Paul puts it, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” But that is not the whole story, neither is that the permanent and eternal state of the believer.

The Dead Shall Rise

There is coming an event that our world has never seen before, which will be the biggest, most dramatic event in the history of our planet. Jesus Christ will return for His own and take them to Himself in that great catching away that we call the Rapture of the church. But just preceding the taking of the believers will be a mass resurrection of the dead. Of course dead people have been raised before, some in the ministry of Jesus, some in Paul’s ministry and Peter’s, and no doubt a few others here and there throughout the history of the church. But our world has never seen anything like this.

Jesus declared: “… for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth–those who have done good, to the resurrection of life…” (John 5:28). Paul writes, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first…” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). All those who have died in Christ shall be raised from the dead!

This sounds a bit confusing. After all, does not Paul tell us that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. And if these Christians are already with Jesus, why do they need to be raised? Why bother with their bodies?

Back to Eden

It would seem that God is determined to bring us back to the state of our first father and mother, Adam and Eve, for our life with Him in eternity. Adam and Eve were not mere disembodied spirits, floating here and there, singing songs in some mystical, non-tangible, barely-real existence. They were real people with real bodies working in a real garden with real trees, real rivers, and real ground beneath their feet. Even love-making was a part of this experience, as they were commanded to multiply and fill the earth before they ever sinned. Marriage and love-making will be done away with in our eternal state, but our heavenly home will be every bit as real as Chicago, Illinois, Los Angeles, California, Nairobi, Kenya, or Beijing, China.

The Bible teaches that the bodies of the saints shall one day be raised and will once again clothe their spirits, and all God’s children will live throughout eternity in the three-fold state which God has always intended for human beings: spirit, soul, and body. But some things will be missing. Most notably, the sin nature. As it turns out, our bodies are not evil at all. After all, God created the body, and nothing God creates is evil in itself. Sin somehow worked its way in and through our bodies until they became, as Paul put it, “this body of death.” But this was not the original state of the body, and at the resurrection Jesus will perform a delicate surgery on our raised, perfected bodies. The sin nature will be completely removed, along with the ability to age, be sick, and every other miserable affliction associated with the physical side of our humanity. As with Adam and Eve at the first, our bodies will be both physical and spiritual, and serve as no obstacle whatsoever in our fellowship with God.

The Worst Car Ever

Red Yugo

Quite a few years ago I made the worst automotive decision of my life. I bought a Yugo. At the time I was making very little money, and when the opportunity presented itself for me to own a car that was only a year old and still under warranty, I jumped at it. For only $88 a month I was driving a nearly new car. I was so proud of my bright red Yugo!

I soon found out why these cars were so amazingly cheap. They were cheaply made. That car was in the shop almost as much as it was at our house. It constantly broke down. Before long I had the terrible realization that I was stuck with this car, and it was making my life miserable. And then a lady did me a tremendous favor. She ran right into the back of me, totaling my car. I tried to pretend I was upset, but in truth I was jumping for joy on the inside. I knew I was free once and for all of that terrible Yugo. The car was taken to the junkyard, but I was not. I got out of the car and went home. I was without a car for a season, but soon I purchased another vehicle. After living with a car that constantly broke down I went for a van made by a company known for its reliability. It was a night and day difference. That van lasted many years and ran beautifully.

You shouldn’t have to think too hard to see the meaning behind this illustration. When we die our “Yugos” will go the junkyard (the graveyard) but we will not be in them. We will go home to be with our Lord Jesus. Absent from our bodies we will be with our Savior. But we will not remain “vehicle-less” forever. We will be given a new, improved model which will last us not for a decade, but for eternity. Of course the illustration is not a perfect one. It would be more Biblically true if I could tell you that my old Yugo was fixed and improved by a master mechanic and given back to me as a “Super-Yugo,” which has never failed to this day. But I think you get the idea.

Resurrected Bodies Require a Physical Heaven

The resurrection of the dead is the death-knell for the doctrine of heaven being some sort of totally spiritual, non-physical place where we live in some dreamy existence utterly unlike anything we have known on earth. Theologian Anthony Hoekema wrote:

Resurrected bodies are not intended just to float in space, or to flit from cloud to cloud. They call for a new earth on which to live and to work, glorifying God. The doctrine of the resurrection of the body, in fact, makes no sense whatever apart from the doctrine of the new earth.

We’ll get into the doctrine of the new earth in a future study, but for now, if you still doubt that physical aspect of heaven, consider this: Jesus Christ is called the Firstfruits of the dead:

But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20)

Firstfruits is an agricultural term and refers to the first ripened crops in a particular harvest. Although various crops typically ripen at about the same time, there are always a few plants which beat the others in the ripening process. While the others are still growing and ripening, those few plants have already reached the peak of perfection. They are the firstfruits of the harvest. In this business of the resurrection of the dead, there is precisely one “firstfruits” plant which has ripened long before all the others, and that, of course, is the Lord Jesus. When He was raised from the dead, never to die again, His resurrection and His resurrection body is a demonstration of that which is to come for all who put their trust in Him. In other words, if you want to see what type of body you’ll have once you have been raised and are in your eternal state, just take a look at the body of Jesus. Paul affirms this clearly, writing:

We also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body… (Philippians 3:20, 21).

Flesh and Bones

So what can we learn about our future eternal bodies? Let’s consider a couple of verses that speak of Jesus after being raised from the dead. In Luke the resurrected Jesus says to His disciples:

Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold, My hands and My feet, that it is I, Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have. (Luke 24:38, 39)

Jesus declares to His apostles, “It is I, Myself.” Not some ghost, not some slight resemblance of Him that is utterly different from the Jesus who had walked with them along the dusty roads of Israel. It was the same Jesus, same personality, same looks, and even the same wounds that He incurred on the cross. He invited the disciples to touch Him, and declared that He still had “flesh and bones.” Not protoplasm, not some foggy mist that you could stick your hand right through, but a real, flesh and bone body which could be touched. And to make the point even clearer He asked for some food and ate fish and honey in their presence. There is nothing quite so human as eating a meal! But this was not merely for us to recognize that Jesus was truly raised, but also for us to get a glimpse of the resurrection bodies that we will have throughout eternity!

Heaven is real! It is not some fantasy made up by men who wish for a better life. It is, as Jesus puts it, “The City of God,” that amazing place where our holy Creator lives. Jesus has been preparing special dwellings there for those who love Him, those blessed men and women who have received Jesus as their Savior and Lord, and have been given citizenship in God’s celestial home.


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