Scripture Text: Revelation 21-22
O Lord you know I have no friend like you.
If Heaven’s not my home then Lord what will I do?
The angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door,
and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.
These lyrics from a popular gospel hymn express the hope of millions of Christians. No one questions that the belief that heaven will be our eternal home is biblical teaching.
But we ought to. For it is certainly not the vision we get in the Book of Revelation. In Chapters 21-22, we have John’s vision of the life that is coming after the Eschaton. And in his vision, our eternal home is not an ethereal heaven above, but a recreated earth. The new Jerusalem descends from heaven to a new earth. There it will be the eternal resting place of God and God’s people.
In Revelation, we do not rise to heaven, but heavens descends to us. As John says, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them” (Revelation 21:3). So we ought to look forward with anticipating joy to this glorious union of heaven with earth.
John’s vision is deeply incarnational, as is the theology of the whole New Testament. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” is the proclamation of the Gospel of John, and of all the New Testament. Jesus Christ is Emmanuel, God with us, in every sense of being.
The New Testament hope is not the Hellenic hope, the hope that at death our immortal souls will be set free from the corrupting flesh. Blessedness for Plato and many of his fellow philosophers is the liberation of the soul from its bodily prison. The soul is blessed in its nakedness.
The New Testament hope, on the other hand, looks forward to that great day when mortal flesh should put on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:53-54). Rather than standing naked before God, the apostle Paul looks eagerly to that day when our souls are clothed with their new heavenly bodies (see 2 Corinthians 5:1-5). And our personal hope is the hope of all the material universe, which groans in longing for that day when it will come to share the glorious liberty of the children of God (Romans 8:21).
Eastern Orthodox theology puts this great hope into the maxim: God became a human being in order that human beings may become divine. I love this way of expressing God’s purpose in both creation and redemption. We human beings—bodies, mind, spirits, and social units—are destined by God to be one with God’s own life. No wonder we are encouraged to pray constantly: Thy kingdom come!