New Heaven

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Shamayim

The first book I wrote remains unpublished. I called it Shamayim, a Hebrew word for Heaven, or more properly ‘Heavens’.

It is  the story of a man whom angels visited to disclose the history of the world from the very beginning. My aim was to make the bible come alive with action stories and flights of fancy and I read it to my two young children at their bedtimes, each chapter as it came off my printer. Today, I am writing something very different and what you will find in the paragraphs below are my more biblical answers to questions concerning Heaven.

The other day I received an email from a friend and past fellow local church member now living in the USA.  He asked a number of questions under the heading of ‘What happens to us in Heaven’. He ended with, ‘So what will be different in Heaven and/or the New Earth that our characters, our personalities are so changed that I am still “me” but I no longer sin and we all live happily ever after?’ I responded as best I could, but as I was doing so I realised that I had not written about this before and that it would be a good subject for an article. Let’s start with briefly examining the biblical words that relate to the afterlife.

Biblical Words Relating to the Afterlife

Various Hebrew and Greek words describe the afterlife. It is all a little confusing, mainly because ancient Hebrew and Greek ideas of the afterlife differed and different words were used to describe similar concepts. For instance, ‘Sheol’, although meaning ‘death’ or ‘the grave’ stood for aspects of Hell. Similarly, words such as ‘paradise’ and ‘Abraham’s Bosom’ described aspects of Heaven.

Paradise (Luke 23:43 and 2 Corinthians 12:2-3),and Abraham’s Bosom (Luke 16:22) both describe the intermediate state we usually know as Heaven (1 Peter 1:4, 12;  3:22; 1 Thessalonians 4:16;  Philippians 3:20).

I say ‘intermediate’ because the New HeavenEath (2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1) is the final destination of the ‘redeemed’.

When born-again believers die physically, God transports them in spiritual form into the heavenly realm where he resides. After the Great Judgment God will discontinue Heaven and create instead a new Heaven and Earth that I refer to as HeavenEarth. 

Revelation Book hardcover

By the way, if you would like to read more about HeavenEarth, I have written many articles and books that include this topic. For instance, a series I wrote for this site which you can read by clicking HERE and then “next post” etc. I have also written an updated version of my book “The Book of Revelation: In the light of the Stars” which you can purchase in e-Book or paperback HERE.

Hades is the Old Testament word most often used to describe the pre-Jesus afterlife and it also occurs in such New Testament passages as Luke 10:15 and Revelation 1:18. Another word to describe Hell is Tartarus, as in 2 Peter 2:4. The word Hell describes both an interim and a final state in that it is used for both Hades and what John referred to in Revelation 20:13-14 as ‘The Lake of Fire’.

However, the passage in Revelation indicates that while Hell is intermediate, the Lake of Fire is the final destination of the dammed.

So, to avoid confusion and ambiguity, I find it better to refer to Heaven as the interim home of the ‘saved’, the New HeavenEarth as their final home, and Hell as the interim abode of the ‘unsaved’ with the Lake of Fire as their ultimate fate. Strictly speaking, Paradise is a kind of interim heaven and Hades is a kind of interim Hell. Paradise will ultimately merge into Heaven and Hades into Hell. 

I have used the words redeemed and dammed to describe the two ultimate classes of humans.

As I see it, the distinction between the two is that the redeemed are those who have been spiritually regenerated (born again) by the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus, and the dammed are all others.

Theologians debate whether God will ultimately redeem ‘good’ people from among those who are not disciples of Jesus, young children, and so on, but I think the biblical evidence points to the opposite conclusion. My reasoning is that Jesus stated that “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He also said that only those born of the Spirit could enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:5). Hebrews 9:27 states that ‘man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment’ and so it stands to reason then that only those born again of the Spirit in this lifetime, in and through Jesus Christ, will enter Heaven.

Theologians also debate whether The Lake of Fire is a condition of conscious eternal punishment or simply annihilation.

Next, I will attempt a response to the question my friend posed: ‘‘So what will be different in Heaven and/or the New Earth that our characters, our personalities are so changed that I am still ‘me’ but I no longer sin and we all live happily ever after?”

How are we Made Fit for the Afterlife?

After we are spiritually regenerated by the miracle of re-birth, we start a process of transformation that slowly conforms us to be like Jesus. However, I know of no one who could claim that by the time physical death occurs they will be perfect. Whatever progress we make whilst on earth will contribute toward our reward and eternal utility, but it cannot transform us into a sinless state. How then can we ever enter into the sinless and perfect heavenly realm?

The answer must be that we can do nothing to achieve this for ourselves. Paul put it like this: ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast’ (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Therefore, it is not a stretch at all to believe that God will supernaturally and miraculously wash us clean of all sin as we enter into Heaven. After all, we have no problem accepting that life itself is a mysterious divine gift, and that the New Birth is an equally miraculous un-earned gift, so why not a third miraculous transformation?

To look at it from another perspective, those now in covenant with God, saved in and through Jesus Christ, experience a third miracle of life.

  • The first was to be born into this world,
  • The second was to have been born again into communion with God,
  • And the third is the complete deliverance from all desire or inclination to sin. This third divine gift will not override our ability to exercise free will because when we see Jesus face to face and experience first-hand the wonder of Heaven, we will not want to choose any other state for ourselves.

John wrote that ‘now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is’ (1 John 3:2). He is writing about the second coming of Jesus, but the same must surely apply to those of us who get to see Jesus prior to this event. So, three points apply:

  1. That we are right now children of God,
  2. That God has not yet succinctly revealed what we will be like in heaven, but
  3. We shall be like Jesus.

Jude included the following words in his doxology: ‘To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy’ (Jude 24). This is KEY to understanding why/how sinful beings like us can be assured that we will be acceptable to God and safe from falling again into sin in the life after this one.

Another text along the same lines is Hebrews 7:25: ‘Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them’. So, we do not get ourselves or keep ourselves in a sinless state in the hereafter, but God does! Like other aspects of salvation, it is a work of divine grace and all we have to do is to accept it.

Another question sometimes asked is something like, ‘So OK as a born-again believer I will be in Heaven when I die, but what will I be like? I mean, will I have some sort of body?’

What Form Will we Have in the Afterlife?

Here is where the scriptures do not give us too many clues. When Jesus was on the Mount of Transfiguration, the three disciples saw him talking with Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:1-8). This must mean that these Old Testament saints had form and characteristics sufficient for the disciples to recognise them. We can assume therefore that whatever form we have after death will be recognisable to others as ‘us’. Additionally, they spoke to Jesus in full sight of the disciples and so we can also assume that we will be able to communicate in Heaven.

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul wrote of the Great Resurrection and in doing so disclosed some key information about our spiritual form after death: ‘There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies’ (vs 40). He went on a few verses later to write, ‘It (referring to the physical earthly body) is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body’. Then in 2 Corinthians 5:1-4 Paul wrote: ‘Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.  Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed , we will not be found naked.  For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life’.

So we can gather from all this that after death we will have definite spiritual bodies, but we don’t have details about them.

Perhaps a more important question is one that has to do with rewards and activities in the afterlife.

What will we Have and Do in the Afterlife?

We know from many scriptures that we will worship God in Heaven and that there will be much joy and singing there (Hebrews 12:22-23 and Revelation 5:13). But will there be productive activity, learning, and positions of responsibility?

Paul writes concerning himself and others that ‘there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing (2 Timothy 4:8). What is this ‘crown of righteousness’? Perhaps a reward or appointed office, or maybe Paul is just using picturesque language to convey the idea that our reward and state is simply the fact that we will be with Jesus in Heaven. However, in 1 Corinthians 3:14 he writes of a conscientious church leader as one who will receive his reward and in 2 John 8 the apostle writes of obedient believers receiving a ‘full reward’. Jesus also spoke of those who are persecuted because of him receiving a great reward in heaven (Matthew 5:11-12). He said something similar in Matthew 16:27 and so we gather from this and other scriptures that there are rewards in Heaven, but just what they are is hard to imagine. Heaven is a non-material realm and so rewards cannot be riches or possessions, which in any event Jesus cautions against (Matthew 6:19-20). In a similar way, Jesus taught and modelled that in terms of office or position the ‘greater’ was the servant of all (John 13:12-17). However, in his parables, Jesus indicated that there would be levels of service and responsibility in Heaven (Matthew 25:21 and 19:28) so there are some forms of differentiation in the after-life.

A big idea implied in these and other texts is that rewards and responsibilities are not carrots to entice us to follow Jesus but simply glimpses into a future glorious reality.

In 1 Corinthians 2:9 Paul wrote that ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’. Just after making this statement, he wrote that God reveals these things to us Spirit to spirit, so I guess that instead of intellectualising these things we need to receive them spiritually and intuitively.

Concerning further learning in the afterlife, I am not at all sure, but I don’t think that intellectual study will have much if any part in Heaven. Jesus, Paul, and others made it clear that knowing the Lord is more important than knowing about him. Paul wrote: ‘I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better (Ephesians 1:17). Then there is that wonderful statement in 1 Corinthians 13:12 ‘Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known’. Many years ago, I sat with a group of theologians and one of them asked the question: ‘When you get to Heaven, what will you ask Jesus?’ One man spoke passionately about how he was going to ask Jesus to explain all the hard to understand bits of the bible. I think he was a little peeved when I asked him, “Why would you discuss scripture when you are standing in the presence of the Living Word who is its subject”

Conclusion
There really cannot be a satisfactory conclusion for an article like this. Paul called the relationship between Jesus and the church a ‘profound mystery’ (Ephesians 5:32) and Heaven too is something so profound and unimaginable that we just cannot grasp it without actually being there.

Heaven is a dimension beyond our earthly dimensions of space and time. We, three-dimensional beings cannot adequately conceive of the glory of what lies beyond the grave. Shamayim is a good name for Heaven because it is a word that sounds so wonderful on the tongue, but which is so unknown to us. However, what we do know is that Jesus is in Heaven and has prepared a place for us (John 14:2), a place of glory, joy, singing, meaningful activity, and deep satisfaction.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.  The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen. (Revelation 22:20-21)

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Old and New Earth

The New Earth

Revelation Revisited New HeavenEarth

The very first seven words of the Bible are, ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth’, and the first seven words of Revelation 21 are, ‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth’.

Seven is a number that occurs many times in the Bible, particularly the book of Revelation, and symbolises ‘completion’. So now, as we come to the final chapters of Revelation, we find the cycle of creation completed and a new cycle inaugurated. Revelation 21:1, which I have just quoted, continues with the words, ‘for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea’. Other scriptures also describe something of how the old heavens and earth will pass away, for instance, 2 Peter 3:10 has; ‘On that Day the heavens will disappear with a shrill noise, the heavenly bodies will burn up and be destroyed, and the earth with everything in it will vanish’ (TEV). Isaiah prophesied the end of the old with the words; ‘All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shrivelled figs from the fig tree’ (Isaiah 34:4). John echoed these words in Revelation 6:13-14 where he wrote; ‘the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place’.

The specific detail that ‘there was no longer any sea’ is interesting. I believe that John was connecting us back to the Genesis account of the first creation where it states that ‘the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters’ (Genesis 1:2). What I understand from this is that John wants us to know that the new creation will not be a gradual process like the first, but will be brought about in a sudden and swift manner. There could also be a second level of meaning to the absence of any sea because ‘sea’ in Old Testament times was sometimes seen as the breeding ground of evil, the place of the unsaved dead, and a symbol of rebellious nations – so the new world will not contain any of these elements.

Tree of LifeAlthough from verse 2 of Revelation 21 the symbol of a city, the New Jerusalem, replaces the ‘new world’ analogy, I am going to stick with it a while longer to draw out some of the other connections back to the Genesis account of the first creation. Genesis 1:16 records that on the fourth day ‘God made two great lights — the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night’ but Revelation 21:23 states that the new creation ‘does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp’. Genesis 2 tells of how God created a place for mankind described as a ‘garden in the east, in Eden’, (Genesis 2:8) and how a river watered this garden. In Revelation 22 we read of a ‘river of the water of life’ flowing down the centre of the new creation. Genesis also records the trees that God planted in Eden to provide food, as well as with the Tree of Life. Revelation carries this imagery into the new creation with the words; ‘On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations’ (Revelation 22:2).

The central idea of all of these comparisons is that the new creation will be superior to the first.
There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ (Revelation 21:2), and ‘No longer will there be any curse’ (Revelation 22:3). Of course, the biggest difference between the old and new creations is God’s direct presence with His people. In the old creation God was personally and directly present with His people relatively infrequently, for example:
  • In His meetings with Moses in the Tabernacle,
  • In His few personal manifestations to the prophets, and finally,
  • During the short life of Jesus of Nazareth.

Since then God has been indirectly present in and through His church through the ministry of the Holy Spirit… but in the new creation, He will dwell permanently with His people.Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them’ (Revelation 21:3) See also Revelation 21:22 and 22:3-4.

The old creation started with God walking in the garden with Adam and Eve, but, as we know, the sin of rebellion soon ruined everything. In the new creation there will be no more sin, nor even the possibility of it, for the devil and all his followers will be removed and only God and His people remain.

And the truly good news is that if you and I know Jesus as Saviour and continue to follow Him as Lord, then we will one day experience the new creation, the HeavenEarth, the eternal dwelling of God with His people. Amen!
In my next and probably last post in this series, I plan to show how the New Jerusalem depicts not only the final state of creation but also  the church throughout the ages… I am looking forward to writing about this!

 

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About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.