You are preaching to your congregation. You are proclaiming the wonders of the cross. You thunder out the incredible promise, “Not only have you been given access to God now, you have been given the promise of eternal life with Him in heaven!” Here is my question for you, “What comes into the minds of your congregation when the word “heaven” is spoken?”
Many in our churches think of images of Peter sitting at the pearly gates. Others hold ideas of sterile, all-white surroundings, with people dressed in white robes. Some imagine loved ones finally receiving their angel wings—a completely non-biblical concept.
The most common mistake in our thinking about heaven is that it will be disembodied. Most people—including Christians—envision being a spiritual floaty-thing bouncing on the clouds. These are Hollywood depictions of heaven, informed by pop-culture, not the Bible. Ideas about heaven are legion, but most are unbiblical.
This is why preaching biblical truth is so important. We must begin preaching about the earthiness of heaven. When I tell my congregation “heaven is for real” I do not mean a book about a child’s experience. Yet, the Bible’s teaching about heaven is very physical. It will be more tangible than the device you are using to read this post.
In Romans 8:19-22, Paul writes, “For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it—in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now.”
Creation eagerly awaits redemption. It is broken from man’s sin. It longs for freedom from its corruption. It groans with labor pains. This image is vital. Childbirth is painful and sometimes long. However, mothers persist in pain because they know new life is coming from it. In other words, the momentary pain is going to give way to a greater joy. Paul uses this image to talk about creation’s longing, and, in the midst of painful brokenness, for restoration. The gospel promises us this will happen.
Heaven will be physical. Eternity will be filled with walks, beautiful sounds, incredible smells, and sights to behold. There will be hugs, high-fives, and belly-laughs. This sure beats the idea of spiritual floaty things or hovering orbs of light.
It is important to mention that there will be a period of time we are disembodied: between our death and Christ’s return. The Bible does not say much about this time. Scripture tells us (2 Corinthians 5:8) “absent from the body, present with the Lord.” We will be with Jesus. This period, even if 10,000 years, will be as nothing compared to eternity in a restored creation. The period of time after Christ’s return is what the Bible focuses on when it speaks of heaven.
If we want to correct wrong thoughts about heaven, we must provide right teaching. Here are 3 reasons why we must preach the earthiness of heaven:
- Preaching the earthiness of heaven helps people see that the gospel is a message of cosmic redemption.
The gospel is not a little bit of medicine for little-bitty sinners. It is a soul-thrilling message of cosmic redemption. The gospel is the power of God to save sinners and restore a broken universe. No person on the earth today can unite all the division and perfectly heal all the wounds. But when Jesus returns, he will. The deed was paid and the transaction was notarized at Calvary.
- Preaching the earthiness of heaven helps people see the significance of the resurrection of Christ and our future resurrection.
Paul emphasized the importance of the resurrection and the redemption of our bodies (1 Corinthians 15). Without a new world, redeemed and restored from the effects of sin, a bodily resurrection seems superfluous. But we know the reason we will be raised bodily, in physical form, is because we are going to live forever in a physical universe. This is why we as Christians speak so frequently about the resurrection to come. Our hope is not in a disembodied eternity floating on clouds.
- Preaching the earthiness of heaven helps people see why we should labor for the Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.
As the Old Testament presents types and shadows of the life and death of Christ, this life can be seen as a type and shadow of the one to come. Yes, heaven will be different, yet I also believe it will be strangely familiar. We are to labor as Christians to bring the kingdom to bear in this world. We are not looking to abandon it, we are readying it for the coming King. Interestingly, false ideas of heaven may be why many Christians, when discussing the return of Christ, want to see it delayed until they experience different earthly enjoyments. If heaven is disembodied and ethereal, no wonder excitement lags.
Pastors, let’s not assume people hold biblical ideas of heaven. Let’s labor to paint beautiful pictures of what the Bible tells us the future holds—living in the physical presence of the Lamb of God. Let’s preach the earthiness of heaven.
Erik is the pastor of The Journey Church outside of Nashville, TN. Erik has written three novels, multiple Bible studies for Threads, The Gospel Project, & Bible Studies for Life, and served on the Advisory Team for the best-selling Bible study: Explore the Bible. He and his wife, Katrina, have three kids: Kaleb, Kaleigh, and Kyra.