Friday, June 13, 2008

John 14... part Uno

I don’t believe in heaven anymore.

(Notice: “heaven,” not “Heaven.” The capitalization is quite important. I’ll get to that later…)

I think this myth of dying and going to “heaven” has been perpetuated by Christians and Christian culture for far too long. Sure it’s a nice idea. Sure it makes people feel better at funerals. But I find no Scriptural evidence for it. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. (An aside: I'm sure someone who cares is going to throw 2nd Corinthians 5:8 at me. Don't bother. The Greek is very clear on what Paul is saying there, regardless of what you think your translation is telling you. So don't bother bringing it up.)

In John 14:1-4, Jesus uses wedding imagery to tell his disciples about the End. Why? Because his disciples were Jews and it made sense to them. (He had a tendency to do that a lot--use wedding imagery. {ie, Communion, the End, etc.}) See, in a Jewish marriage, once an engagement was sealed, the groom would return to his father’s place of residence and build an addition onto the house. He was making ready for his bride-to-be. Things weren’t ready immediately—it took some time. The groom would then return to the bride’s place of residence and escort her to her new home.

I find it obvious that Jesus was telling the disciples that he was going away, was going to get things ready, and then was going to return and take them “home.” Here we run into another issue.

Christians like to throw around this mumbo jumbo about a “Rapture” happening at this point. Its been described in an awful series of books that have nothing to do with the New Testament as a moment when all Christians will simply disappear and be taken up to heaven. Isn’t that lovely? (Well, lovely for everyone who is taken. Not so lovely for everyone who is left. The world pretty much turns to crap at that point and its really terrible.) The only problem is that, once again, there’s no Scripture to support the idea. There’s not a single shred of evidence in the Bible that points to an event like this. Lots of theories and interpretations could lead you that way. But it takes some stretching and reading with scissors.

Hang with me.

In 1st Thessalonians chpt 4, it talks about Jesus returning to earth. It says that the “dead in Christ” and those who are “alive in Christ” will be caught up into the air/clouds/sky/etc to meet Jesus. It’s a really nice thought to think that this is saying Jesus is coming to take all of the Christians away to goto heaven and away from this "terrible" planet, right? Once again, the imagery here is ever so important. The language and terminology being used is of an important figure coming to a town. The city goes outside of the gates to meet this person, welcomes them, and then they all return back into the city together. So based on what Paul is saying here: followers of Jesus would rise (somehow) to meet Jesus in the air/clouds/sky/etc then return to earth with him. Not go off to a magical place and leave the rest of the planet to its demise. (Note: this is called Christian Escapism or Dispensationalism and has been very popular since the World Wars.)

So what’s the point?

The point is: I don’t believe in heaven. I believe in a future Heaven. But I think the Bible is clear that the Heaven it discusses in Revelation chpt 21 is a future existence on earth. Heaven will be here. According to John 14, Jesus is preparing that existence. God is going to restore this place. (Another reason why I believe God meant what he said in Genesis about taking care of this planet. But that’s another post…) Not some far off dimension with clouds and harps and all that jazz. Earth. Jesus is gonna 'make the magic happen' (to use a Jason Brown term), at some point in the future, here.

So logically, if I don’t think Heaven exists yet, where do we go (once dead) in the mean time? I don’t know. I don’t find Scripture to be 100% clear on the subject. I think it would be really odd if I died, was judged by God, sent to “heaven,” then was taken out again at the End to be re-judged and sent back to “heaven.” That makes no sense. I believe in one Judgment. I couldn't tell you exactly what that looks like or how it will take place, but I do know there’s only one. So once we're dead, and until Judgment, we wait. How? Where? In what state? I don’t know. Luke 12 points to a waiting place that’s comfortable, but obviously not “Heaven.” In clarifying what Jesus and Scripture and Judaic tradition say about all this, it leaves a lot of things unanswered. It doesn’t really bother me. Either way, in the End, its all gonna make sense. Right? Hopefully...

All that from four verses in John 14! Obviously, this doesn't cover everything--its just my thoughts (condensed as possible). But, nonetheless...

Up next: the infamous John 14:6


Tim said...

The problem here is that in order for people to buy your interpretation it has to be sexy, and frankly, your book with no ending or answers(watching "Lost" must be rubbing off on you) is not as heart warming as running through the clouds with our passed loved ones in special underwear.

- Joeseph Smith, Jr.

Honest Words at Night said...

So what happened when Jesus died on the cross if he didn't go to an eternal realm that is the presence of God or the lack thereof? What about 1 Peter 3:18-20? Hebrews 9:27? Ephesians 4:8-10? I don't know, still formulating my opinion on this as well... it's just that this view makes for some large issues with the death of Jesus. First, where did He go if there is no heaven away from earth? How would he pay for sins if he wasn't judged to have lived a perfect life? Idk, you know me, the crazy conservative lol. i see where you're coming from, but there's just a lot of implications to go along with it. and plus, i'm not exactly too awake at the moment, so forgive me if some of what i've said is irrelevant or obvious.

JD said...

I didn't say that there isn't a place where God exists. A heaven of sorts. God's dwelling, I guess, could exist, if he has one. He doesn't really have a body, and isn't physical, so I don't think I can understand that concept--much less explain it. (Besides, right now, we're all in the presence of God. The only place described as without God's presence, or "Godforsaken," would be a "hell." So, in reality, we are all experiencing the presence of God to some degree.) Anyway, I never said that it doesn't exist. I should have clarified that. Like I said, this post isn't all encompassing.

I was simply saying that wherever that is, is not a place that we are going once dead. Not initially anyway.

And to your other point: Jesus can be a bad example to use in a discussion sometimes.... I mean, Jesus isn't a human. He was human and God and I can't explain all that. But Peter and Ephesians point to Jesus interacting with humans who are dead but not in "Heaven." Humans who are in the state of waiting I mentioned. They aren't in the "Heaven" that the book of Revelation discusses.

Sure, there is an Otherworld. God's dwelling/dimension/afterlife/etc. Its just not the "heaven" that is taught by so many. Its not the "Heaven" that humanity is to spend the forever-after in. It simply doesn't exist yet.

Sometimes, you have to let go of presuppositions...

JD said...

oh, and to tim:

I'm not trying to get anyone to buy what I'm selling, so to speak. This isn't some pretty package of theology. I'm not Joel Olsteen--I care more about people discovering/rediscovering the way of Jesus than I do about my salary and image. I realize this topic isn't what people wanna hear--but atleast its honest.

But I appreciate the humor in your remark.

Saintdoc said...

That was a mouth full.
I will be interested to see the responses. It will also be interesting to see if they know why they believe they will go to "Heaven" when they die and if they can support that with scripture. People say what they believe but rarely know why they believe. I am getting ready to board a plane for Nicaragua and I will give my thoughts on the subject when I return. God Bless!

JD said...

Hope all goes well, Mike. Can't wait to grab lunch when you get back from yet another international adventure and fill me in on your travels.

PS-Hope you didn't beat anyone up at the SBC Convention.

jacobblair said...

Thanks for the post.

I can see where you're coming from. The afterlife in the NT, and most especially in the OT, is implied but is no where close to being fleshed out as are other doctrinal beliefs.

I can't help but harken back to passages such as 2 Pet. 3:13 or Rev. 21:1, if a new heaven is being created doesn't this imply a previous heaven before the Final Judgement? Then again it could be misinterpreting the Greek, both "sky" and "heaven" are the same word but I wonder why both Peter and John choose the wording if they ultimately refer to a physical renewal and not spiritual.

Then too there's Luke 23:43. What did Jesus mean when he said to the theif, "Today you will be with me in paradise?"

Is it that you lean more toward the idea of soul sleep? This would seem to fit best with what you're suggesting. Again this might be my misinterpretation of it but does Rev. 6:9-11 suggest a present afterlife until Judgement?

Anyway I too am trying to understand this. But as elementary as my understanding is on the topic, I think you can still have this "temporary heaven" without having to be pigeon-holed into dispensationalistic beliefs, (or perhaps I'm reading too much into it when you say dispensationalism.)

That's my two cents at least. When you get the time check out my bloggums (


JD said...

Ah.... Jacob makes an interesting point.

What about Jesus' famous quote on the cross to the repentant thief beside him?

That's another post and a half. For that, you need to get into Jewish beliefs pertaining to the afterlife. And, indeed, what does happen to a person once they breathe their last? If we have a soul, what happens to that soul? If we don't have a soul, what happens to us? Is there an in-between? If there is, are we still conscious? If not, what about the idea of Judgment?

Lots of questions. Too many to answer. Perhaps I'll write a post on that. Let me say that I think the idea of Purgatory (that Catholicism teaches) is absolutely absurd and has no Scriptural basis. I do think the idea of "soul sleep," or a place of waiting, is a good possibility. But to better explain that, a full post is needed. So I'll probably do that soon.

But pertaining to your "heaven" questions: the only concept we have of a "Heaven" that will be inhabited be humans is the one described in Rev 21. Otherwise, its simply "the heavens" or "heaven" (some place some where nonspecifically). I just don't think that a place of waiting and "heaven" has to be the same thing. And neither is "Heaven."

Capitalization is so important.

The Apocrypha has something interesting things to say about the afterlife. I know a lot of people who would crap their pants if I told them to read a book like that. But, take it or leave it, its worth the read.

jacobblair said...

Dante's "Paradiso" is divinely-inspired, did you know that?

i kid. but anywho i'm still trying to figure it out myself, so any insights would be great.

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