Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Heaven and Hell in the Present: Part 2

*For the first part of this Question, please see the previous post.

Q: If you think heaven is a physical place, do you think it includes the new Jerusalem?

In the previous post, we discussed that Scripture does seem to indicate that both the present Heaven and Hell are physical places. There are popular ideas that abound that suggest that Heaven and Hell are on Earth or are states of mind (among other ideas), but the Bible speaks of a place that is separate from Earth and is more than a simple state of mind. These places are genuine, external realities -- just like Brighton, MI is a real place that real people can go to, so are Heaven and Hell (although you don't book these trips through a travel agent!).

Although these places exist in the present, the question above is a great one because the Scriptures describe the final destination of the saved as the "new" Jerusalem ... so is this "new" Jerusalem a part of the present heaven?

Upon an initial reading of the passages that refer to this place (Revelation 3:12; 21:2) it seems possible that the New Jerusalem is being held in the present Heaven with God until this glorious day. Here are both passages:

12 Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. (Revelation 3:12, NIV, emphasis added)

2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (Revelation 21:2, NIV, emphasis added)

By just reading these above descriptions, it seems entirely possible that the New Jerusalem is with God presently, awaiting its revelation at the end of time. However, we must remember the context of Revelation and what is happening:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who testifies to everything he saw--that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 1:1-2, NIV, emphasis added)

Much of what is being revealed in the book of Revelation is future-oriented (at this point, it would be possible to open a humongous can of worms on interpretive issues relating to Revelation -- for the sake of simplicity, everything is future at least as it pertains to the point of view of the human author, John; whether these events were fulfilled in AD 70, are all yet future, or any other of the myriad other possible interpretations, to John they have not taken place yet).

Since this is a revelation of a future event (at the consummation of human history), it is not necessary to assume that the New Jerusalem is a present reality, even if in the future it will come down from Heaven from God. For some clarity on this, we need to go back a verse before Revelation 21:2.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. (Rev 21:1, NIV, emphasis added)

According to the revelation that John is receiving, the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven from God after the first heaven and first earth had passed away. This is clearly a yet future event.

Several other passages point to the reality that at the final judgment, God will destroy the present heaven and earth and make all things new (e.g. Isaiah 66:22; Matthew 5:18, 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33; 2 Peter 3:10-13; and Revelation 21:5).

Therefore, the present physical heavenly place does not include the New Jerusalem. God will create and prepare this new city for His redeemed at the end of time, and when it is prepared it will descend from Him in heaven to the new earth.

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