Heaven is for real – right here

Why is it so important to know that heaven is for real “up there,” when heaven is for real “down here”? I imagine it’s because, for many Christians, the ultimate Christian hope is going to heaven after we die and spending eternity with God where he is, and he’s up in heaven, right? And having that hope makes all our suffering down here worth grinding through, all our good deeds worth doing, all our repentance, belief, obedience and going to church worth the reward we’ll get when we’re whisked off this mess of a planet forever to live in the bliss of heaven instead.

And there may be some sort of “heaven” awaiting us after we die, but the focus of the gospel is not us leaving the earth to go to heaven; it’s Jesus bringing heaven to the earth.

God’s goal in creating earth is to merge heaven and earth right here. He demonstrated that clearly in his instructions to the Israelites to build a tabernacle in the wilderness and later a temple in Jerusalem. It was in that tabernacle and temple that heaven came down to earth. It was the place where heaven and earth met, clearly demonstrating God’s wish to be where we are, not whisk us off to where he is. We may temporarily be where he is after we die, but Jesus returns to this earth bringing us with him, and he sets up his HQ down here, not up there.

What Christians are far more interested in, then, is demonstrating heaven is for real down here, right now, because this is what Jesus came to this earth for. He came from heaven, bringing heaven to earth, taught the ways of heaven to his disciples, and told them to follow him, because in following him earth and heaven would merge in their lives too. They would literally become the temple of God, the place where heaven and earth meet, the evidence of which would be Christians doing very heavenly things “on earth as it is in heaven,” like loving their neighbours and not judging anyone as inferior or unworthy of love and respect.

They would demonstrate a very different way that would often conflict with the typical ways and cultures of this world, causing them considerable and sometimes overwhelming suffering. But turning to their Lord and King they would always bounce back with confidence and trust, proving yet again that heaven is for real right here, right now, because nothing in this world can rip heaven out of Christians. They are proof that heaven is here already – and it’s here to stay.

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We were built to be lived in

It seems almost arrogant to say that God meant to set up home here on this planet with us, and that’s why he scattered massive amounts of energy into a space that hadn’t existed before to perfectly form a tiny planet on the outskirts of a medium-sized galaxy that would support a wonderful variety of creatures and wildlife, including a creature he could relate to.

And again it sounds arrogant to say he then wiped out an entire animal and wildlife kingdom to replace it with a new creation that would suit humans, so that humans could build their own homes, and create cities and civilizations that no previous creature had been able to create. And God did that so humans would love the idea of home, want to own their own home and decorate it, and prepare it for a life of family and children – because that’s what God loves too.

Can we dare say, then, that God actually shaped this planet, and us too, purely because this is his home and we are his family? But that’s what the Israelites understood in the design of the Temple – the place on earth where God dwelt – because it included pictures of the creation from Genesis, in recognition that when God created our world it was because he meant to live here. He likes being here with us. He even came in human form and called himself ‘God with us’ to tell us in person that being with us where we are is where he loves to be.

But Jesus went one step further by claiming he was the Temple (John 2:19-21), meaning he was now God’s home on earth. And in that home, he said, were “many rooms,” John 14:2, which he would be getting ready for his disciples so they could join him in God’s home (verse 2-3) and “be with me where I am” (John 17:24).

That’s why Paul could say in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 that we are the Temple, because in belonging to Jesus (2 Corinthians 10:7) and being members of his body (1 Corinthians 6:15), we are now the place where God dwells. And it’s to us now, therefore, that God says in 2 Corinthians 6:16, “I will live with them and walk among them.”

But Paul went one step further too, by saying Christ, the Temple of God, is now IN us, Colossians 1:27. So God is not just walking ‘with’ and ‘among’ us, he is actually living in us. This is where he wants to decorate and set up home, and create his family. And that’s why he made us the way we are: He built us, in other words, to be lived in.

This is the Father’s world. This mess? How can it be?

A pastor who loved to hike the countryside wrote the hymn, This is my Father’s world. He admitted in the hymn that it didn’t seem like the Father’s world because “the wrong seems oft so strong” – but “dear to God is the earth Christ trod,” so he also believed the Father hasn’t given up on this world at all. In fact, mess though it is, he loves it.

He loves it because he created our planet as the one place in the universe where heaven and earth would come together, pictured by the tabernacle the Israelites carried in the wilderness, and the Temple they built in Jerusalem. It was there in both tabernacle and Temple that God came to dwell with his people, and his presence on this earth could be seen and felt. It was known to the Israelites as the Shekinah.

The Jews hoped the Shekinah would return after they rebuilt the Temple, because that was the sign the prophets gave that God would begin to fill the whole earth with his presence and glory – but for the next four hundred years it didn’t happen. And then Jesus appears and says at the Temple, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will build it again,” referring to himself now being the Temple. He, therefore, was the Shekinah, in whom “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:6) could be seen. In Jesus now the Father’s glory and presence could be seen and felt on earth.

Jesus then tells his followers that when God’s Spirit dwells in them they will be the Temple, and through them now the Shekinah would continue. It was the sign the Jews had so desperately been hoping for, but instead of God revealing his glory and presence in their physical Temple, he would be revealing it through Jesus’ disciples. So from pitching his tent on earth in the tabernacle and Temple, to pitching his tent on earth in Jesus, to pitching his tent on earth in the church, the Father has been dwelling on this planet, his world, bringing earth and heaven together.

But now it’s in a greater way than ever before, as he dwells in millions of humans in the church, doing in our Temple what he did in the Jewish Temple, filling it with his glory and presence in fulfillment of all those promises the Jews had dreamed of seeing, as he spreads his new creation of glory and beauty to the whole world. And when the church catches on that this is what God has us in the church for, who knows what ideas in our heads that creates?