Hitherto, we’ve explored one of the greatest misconceptions of our time, namely that a believer’s final destination is Heaven. This idea that God’s plan for his people is to spend eternity in a place called Heaven, where’ll enjoy an ethereal existence is so pervasive and influential, it’s nearly impossible to conceive of the Biblical alternative, namely a material existence on a renewed earth with an immortal and imperishable body.
We’ve seen that both the first two chapters of Genesis and C1st Jewish expectations corroborate the Biblical truth of an eternal and material life on earth, and refute the notion of Platonic heaven as a believer’s eternal home.
We See - What We’re Told to See
The optical illusion above is an example of how we can interpret the same image in two different ways. We can see a skull or a couple playing cards, by simply suggesting either.
When it comes to interpreting the New Testament’s passages on Heaven, we do much the same thing. We’ve been so inculcated by the pervasive influence of Platonist ideas, that we come to the New Testament passages on Heaven wearing Platonist filters, and not a Biblical lens.
1 Peter 1 :3-4, 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,
Col 1:5, 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel.
Taken at face value these passages (and many like them) would seem to support the notion, that we’re meant to go Heaven to receive our inheritance.
We Won’t Get Fooled Again
However, the original audience wouldn’t have understood this to be Paul’s meaning. The key to finding the intended meaning is to read these passages in a C1st context.
Our inheritance being stored in Heaven doesn’t have to imply that we need to go there to receive it. If I invite you to my house for a beer, because I have kept one in the fridge waiting for you, doesn’t mean that I intend to sit inside the fridge with you in order to drink it.
Or let’s say you’ve been saving a small portion of your wages all your life. Every week you place $100 in the bank, where it’s kept secure for you. When the time comes to retire, you’re not going to move into the bank vault to enjoy your hard-earned money.
You see these passages provide comfort to the believer that our future inheritance is secure because God’s looking after it in Heaven. But when Jesus returns it will be brought to earth for us to enjoy.
Oops I missed the Rapture
Doesn’t Paul say somewhere that we’ll be taken up to meet Jesus in the air? Here it is;
“For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming Parousia of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the cloud to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 1 Thes 4:16ff
Here's the thing, we see what we want to see (ie the Rapture) or we can see the passage as the original audience would have understood it.
The word most commonly used to describe the 2nd coming is “Parousia” (yes there’s a Greek world for come “erchomai’ but it’s not often used when alluding to the 2nd coming).
There is no English equivalent to the word Parousia. It has two aspects of meaning, it can mean the presence of someone important like a king or even God, and is used also for the visitation of a noble or king or Caesar, when they come to visit a city within their empire.
When Caesar visited a city, the citizens were obliged to leave the city, in order to greet him before he entered the city. Great fanfare and pomp would accompany the procession as they walked together (the king and his people) back to the city. It was a time of celebration, on account of the honour bestowed on the city.
Similarly, the only correct term to describe the return of Jesus Christ is Parousia, our king’s returns to earth. A time for great celebration. Paul is saying that we his people will metaphorically go out to meet him (in the air), so that we can accompany our champion back into the city, and there he will remain with us always, and forever.
Vic Matthews, has three degrees B.Optom, B.Arts & B. Christian Studies. He is a kiteboard tragic, who now works as a Christian Copywriter. He can be found at http://trustworthycopywriter.com/writing-services/christian-copywriter/
Vic Matthews' previous articles may be viewed http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/vic-matthews.html