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Heaven, the Church and Israel in Eternity

I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.

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Introduction: Heaven, the Exciting Adventure

Huckleberry or "Huck" Finn is a fictional character created by Mark Twain who first appeared in the book The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and he is the protagonist and narrator of its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). He is 12 or 13 years old during the former and a year older, around "thirteen or fourteen, at the time of the latter book.

He is the son of the town drunk, 'Pap Finn', whose wife was dead. So Huck was technically an orphan.

Sleeping on doorsteps when the weather was fair, in empty hogsheads during storms, and living off of what he receives from others, Huck lives the life of a destitute vagabond. The author metaphorically names him "the juvenile pariah of the village" and describes Huck as "idle, and lawless, and vulgar, and bad", qualities for which he was admired by all the other children in the village, although their mothers "cordially hated and dreaded" him.

Huck is an archetypal innocent, able to discover the "right" thing to do despite the prevailing theology and prejudiced mentality of the South of that era. An example of this is his decision to help Jim escape slavery, even though he believes he will go to Hell for it.

By the time we start the book : The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck and Tom Sawyer had become rich and Huck was living with the Widow Douglas who had adopted and tried to 'civilize him' .However, Huck became bored with the Widow’s decency and regularity and ran away, but, at last, reluctantly returned when Tom told Huck that, if he returned, he could be part of Tom’s gang of robbers.

Upon return, the Widow begins to try to civilize him again, making him follow strict rules and makes him uncomfortable a second time. Meanwhile, the Widow Douglas’s sister, Miss Watson, teaches Huck how to spell, critiques his posture, and tells him about Heaven and Hell.

Wanting a change in his circumstances, any change, Huck says he would rather be in Hell than in Heaven, much to Miss Watson’s consternation. She responds that she is living her life such that she can go to Heaven.

Miss Watson doesn't understand that Huck says that he wants to go to what she calls the 'bad place', since she doesn't want to utter the word Hell, because he is so bored sitting inside with her that he would go anywhere to get away. She tells him about heaven, the "good place." There, she says, people have nothing to do but go around with a harp, singing all day. Huck is singularly unimpressed with this vision of heaven. He clings to his desire to go to the bad place, especially when he learns from Miss Watson that probably his good friend Tom Sawyer will end up there.

Sadly, many people think of a vision similar to this when it comes to Heaven and the afterlife, rather than the place of beauty , perfection and joy that the Bible claims it to be. The Bible envisions a place without the horrors caused by sin and death; a place where there is no more mourning, or crying or pain. It is anything but a dull dwelling where we have nothing to do all day but sing, or do something boring where all the fun of earthly activities has ended. It is rather all of the beauty and pleasure that we have on this earth and more, without the evil and pain that ruins the original wonderful creation that God made in the first place.

Many have wondered what we, as members of the Body of Christ, the Church, will be doing in the eternal state. Well, the Bible doesn't give us a lot of detail on that. However, there are some hints and clues that lead us to believe that we will not be idol during eternity. Indeed that would go against the very nature of our God. I am reminded of what our Lord told the Jews who were getting upset with Him for healing on the Sabbath. He said to them:

“My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” (John 5:17)

Our Lord is a God of creativity and activity. And He will have much for His people to do in His service for the never-ending centuries that we have ahead of us.

Let's look at some of the Scriptures that tell us about the future and the eternal state and see if we can piece together what God is trying to show us about our place of abode after this life on earth is only a distant memory.

But first it would pay for us to remember the goal of history and the reason that we even exist in the first place.

I. The Goal of History

In looking at the Body of Christ, Paul calls it a mystery. However, it was in God's mind from eternity past. And somehow He will use us to play a roll in His ultimate purpose for the design of this magnificent universe.

The Bible tells us in Genesis 1:1 that:

"In the beginning God created the Heavens and the earth."

But for what reason was it created? The Apostle Paul gives us some insight on that in Colossians 1:16. It says:

"The Son, (Jesus Christ), is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him."

As we see here, though all the Trinity was involved, Paul specifically names Jesus and says that the universe was created by Him and for Him. It was created for His pleasure and for His glory. The prophet Isaiah quoted God Himself when in Isaiah 43:7 he says:

"Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made."

We see also in Psalm 19:1 that the psalmist proclaims that:

"The Heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands."

Scripture teaches us that man was the crown of God's creation. On the last day of that creation, God said,

“Let us make man in our image, in our likeness” (Genesis 1:26).

Thus, He finished His work with a “personal touch.” God formed Adam from the dust and gave him life by sharing His own breath (Genesis 2:7). Accordingly, humanity is unique among all God’s creations, having both a material body and an immaterial soul/spirit.

And man had a job to be a co-regent of sorts. He and his wife, Eve, were to multiply, fill the earth and subdue it; and rule over everything (1:28).

With the creation of mankind, both man and woman, God said the His creation was 'very good.' (Genesis 1:31). It was perfectly adapted for the purpose for which He had made it, to bring Him glory.

Unfortunately, we see from Genesis 3 that, being deceivingly egged on by Satan, who Himself had rebelled earlier and wanted to be as God, Eve rebelled against the Lord. And Adam followed suit, knowing full well what he was doing.

This immediately marred the creation and caused man, who was to have an eternal relationship with God, to die both spiritually and physically.

Adam, being the head of the human race, was held responsible for this and all who are born from him, meaning the whole of humanity, fell in him and became sinners by nature and by choice (Romans 5:12). Now all are separated from a holy God for eternity, in rebellion against Him and under His wrath (Romans 1:18-32).

But, thankfully, Jesus, the Son of God, and Second Person of the Trinity, became man in order to be the first of a new humanity of those redeemed by His death, burial and resurrection to save them from their sins. He became our substitute and took upon Himself our sin, paying its penalty of death and giving His righteousness to us in return (II Corinthians 5:17).

This new humanity, which Jesus the second Adam is creating, is to bring the glory to God that the first man, Adam, could not do. According to Paul in I Corinthians 15:20-28, the goal of history is put all things under subjection to Christ, ending all rebellion against God . Then He will hand His Kingdom back to God the Father, after abolishing all rule, authority and power, so that God the Father might be all in all (15:28). The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For that we can thank God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (15:57).

So, in general, in Heaven, mankind will be back under God's rule totally without rebellion, bringing Him glory in whatever way He sees fit for us to do. According to Revelation 21, there will be a New Heaven and a New Earth in which there is righteousness.

Philippian 1:21 tells us that we will receive new bodies that are like Jesus' glorious body. It would stand to reason that just like Jesus' body looked much like His old one which his disciples could recognize, ours will be the same.

And the New Heavens and New earth seems from Scripture to resemble the Old Heaven and Old earth, minus the sin, death and decay. And so Jesus will have rescued what Adam had lost in his rebellion when all things are made new.

II. The Body of Christ and Israel In Eternity

However, what about the distinctions between Israel and the Church in eternity. Israel was God's chosen nation. God promised their patriarch Abraham that he would give him a land and a seed and that all nations of the earth would be blessed through Him (Genesis 22:18). Later God promised King David, Israel's King, that he would have a descendant sitting on His throne forever (II Samuel 7:16).

Sadly, Israel rebelled and God temporarily set them aside, according to Paul, and started this unprophesied period in which we now live known as the Dispensation of Grace. During this time God is not dealing with one nation but with all nations and placing both Jew and Gentile alike in the Body of Christ, the Church.

This dispensation will end when Jesus returns to take away the Church in an event called the Rapture. The dead in Christ will rise first, then those who are alive and remain will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. They will be taken into heaven where they will escape the wrath to come, known as the Great Tribulation. And Paul says that we will ever be with the Lord (I Thessalonians 4:13-18).

But that isn't the end of the nation of Israel. In Romans 9-11, Paul tells us that God hasn't finished with this nation. All Israel as a nation will be saved and the Lord will fulfill all of His promises to His covenant people. They will get their land and they will have Jesus, who as the God-man, is a descendant of David and will reign on his throne throughout the Millennial Kingdom and into eternity. Further, because of Jesus, all nations will be blessed through Abraham's seed.

If that is true, what will become of the Body of Christ? According to Paul, our citizenship, as members of the Church, is in Heaven (Philippians 1:21). Colossians 1:5 speaks of the hope which is laid up for us in heaven. Indeed, before God, believers are already given a position “in heavenly places” and are “blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3; 2:4-7).

But does that mean that the Body of Christ will not be connected to earth at all ever again once we are caught up to meet the Lord in the air in the rapture? Some would erase all distinctions by the time we reach the eternal state between Israel and the Church. But there is nothing to indicate that this will happen in Scripture. However, if the distinctions remain, does that mean that both groups can never share space with one another?

We have to remember once again that the Body of Christ is told:

"So shall we ever be with the Lord." (I Thessalonians 4:17).

Jesus will be on earth during the Millennium and beyond. So, how do we handle this being citizens of heaven and being on the earth? I think Charles Baker, in his Dispensational Theology does well when he says:

The Body of Christ is ever with Christ and the members of His Body will have glorified bodies which will not know the limitations of space and matter which we experience today. Christ will reign upon the throne of David during the Millennium, but this does not mean that He will be sitting upon a throne in Jerusalem twenty-four hours a day for one thousand years. There will doubtless be frequent communication between heaven and earth in that day (John 1:51). and wherever Christ goes, the members of His Body will accompany Him. In the Consummation, after the Millennium, Christ will have His throne in the Heavenly City (Revelation 21:22; 22:3). If the members are to reign with Christ it is only logical to suppose that they will be with Christ. To be with Christ means to be in the heavenly city, although it does not mean to be confined to that city."

So, to take Baker's logic to its conclusion, we as members of the Church, though citizens of heaven, will not be confined to heaven either. Just like being a citizen of Michigan doesn't make you any less so if you are visiting Ohio, so being a citizen of heaven does not make you any less so if you happen to be on the earth.

it is also interesting that citizens of Michigan and citizens of Ohio are both citizens of the United States of America, just as the Body of Christ and the people of Israel, though distinct, are citizens of the Kingdom of God. By the kingdom is meant God's rulership over all. Paul talks about this concept regarding the Body at least 14 times in his epistles including Colossians 1:13 where He calls it the Kingdom of the Son He (God) loves. We have been delivered from the dominion of darkness into that Kingdom.

And what will we be doing in the eternal state? Paul gives us a bit of insight into that in I Corinthians 6:1-3 when correcting the saints in Corinth who were going to court to sue their fellow Christians. Paul told them:

"Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the matters of this life?"

Apparently, we will play some sort of role in helping Jesus judge the world. And also Paul goes on to say that we will judge angels. The Greek word here can mean 'rule or govern.' This means that we will have some rule in eternity over holy angels. Since angels are ministering spirits to to serve the saints (Hebrews 1:4), it seems reasonable that they will serve us in glory.

III. Scriptural Glimpses of Heaven

In looking at what the Bible says about the day to day activities of heaven there isn't much from the writers of Scripture. Its as if they are at a loss for words to describe it. They mostly use negatives to say what isn't there.

When John got a glimpse of Jesus in his heavenly glory it overwhelmed him and he fell at Jesus' feet (Revelation 1:17).

We know life in heaven will have no more sickness, sorrow pain or death. Imagine a world without greed, selfishness, anger, or injustice. A world where cancer is no longer a threat, poverty is eliminated, and apologies are an unnecessary thing of the past. It’s almost impossible to consider—and yet it’s the life we all desire. One might even say it is the life we were originally made for (Revelation 21:4).

The New Jerusalem is described in that time as beautiful and brilliant. John said that:

"Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal clear jasper."

There is no doubt that all of God's New Creation will be the same.

The New earth is said to have cities flourishing with people. And all of the nations will bring their glory into the holy city, where Christ reigns as King (Revelation 21:24).

And that leads to the greatest thing about eternity. The tabernacle of God will forever be with man. And He will reign forever and ever (Revelation 21:3). He will make it a place of total safety and security where we are completely loved by Him.

Conclusion

When all is said and done what we are all headed for at the end of this mystery period and the total fulfillment of Israel's prophecy is what Paul has called the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times in Ephesians 1:10. It is a time when God will gather all things together in heaven and earth under one person, the Lord Jesus Christ. The universe will be totally unified and history will culminate with God being glorified forever just as He was in His original creation.

We that know all of this don't have to wait to make God preeminent in our lives. We can bow before Him now and give Him the praise and glory He now deserves.

When I think of all these things it makes me want to break out in the doxology of the Apostle Paul:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”

“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36).

Eternity, far from being dull and boring, will be the most exciting time that we can ever imagine. I'm looking forward to it and all that God has in store for those He loves. May we praise His name forever!

© 2021 Jeff Shirley

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