If you ask me: “Do you think you’ll go to heaven when you die, Misha?”, I’d have to say no. Jesus promised the thief on the cross ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise’, so I believe that when we ‘fall asleep in Christ’ we will be with Him in a pleasant place, waiting… Rather than going away to a remote place called heaven, I believe that when the time is right (from God’s perspective), heaven will come to us as the ultimate answer to Jesus’ prayer: “Your Kingdom come”.
Paul writes that when Christ returns, we will meet Him in the air (1 Thess. 4 v 17). In the Middle East, when important people visit a village, everyone will go out to meet them to escort them in. The more important the person, the further afield the meeting point. Imagine that! You and I, caught up into the clouds, not to live there, but to be like the Palm Sunday crowd who joined Jesus outside Jerusalem and welcomed Him in. Soon, Christ is coming to stay with us! We’ll escort Him back to earth where God’s Kingdom will be fully realised in our lives and in our tangible reality! Have you heard of what some have called ‘thin places’? Places where you can almost reach out and touch the real reality of God’s Kingdom? Now, take the ‘almost’ out of it. One day, God will be King right here in our world. His reign will be forever, peace fully restored and everything once again a temple to God’s glory.
As we have seen over these past few days, all of history has unfurled for a purpose with God shaping and directing it. The story of God’s holy nation progressed towards a designated point, until it came to its climax in Jesus. He lived, died, and rose in a real place, at a real point in history. That beautiful story is a love story of a God who never lets go. A God who makes us beautiful and gives us a place of honour in His plan. A God who acts. It’s not just a distant story, it is the beginning of our story too. And it will continue in very real terms.
Heaven and earth were always meant to be two integral parts of the same good creation. Separation and misalignment are a result of the fall, not God’s intention. His life is the only life there is and it sustains us every nanosecond in this ‘real world’ whether we know it or not. And on this earth, healed, restored, recreated, but still THIS earth, we, healed, restored new creations in glorious real bodies, with pure hearts and right spirits will be fully and gloriously human. Far from whisking us away to a fluffy spiritual place, God will be with us in what we are used to calling ‘the real world’ (hint: there is only one world and all of it belongs to God). At that time God will have done away with our idolatry and sin, completely and forever. We will be ‘like a beautiful bride, prepared’. Then we are ready to reign with Him in love and peace.
For now, we very much live in a now-and-not-yet world where re-creation is both ‘present’ and ‘still in progress’. By grace, as a community of believers, we are part of this re-creation process. In us, the Spirit prays for what we ought to desire but don’t always appreciate. As we are changed, a bit more of creation is liberated as we become like penicillin in a petri dish – or as Jesus said: Salt. Light. Yeast working its way quietly through the dough.
And for now, we look forward with mixed anticipation and apprehension not only to the Christ’s return, but to what these next months might bring. We still at times ache in body and mind. We often yearn. We call this a wake-up call, yet I have been nodding off as much as I have been trimming and re-fueling my lamp. Progress is slow and happens in places I didn’t look or expect; not infrequently despite me rather than because of me. If you feel the same at times, let me reassure you: All of Scripture taken together, from the first page to the last, is the story of a God who is completely faithful and committed to His promise to His people, and who has the power to keep it.
He holds onto us no matter what. He stays with us even when we wish we could have a holiday from ourselves. He came near to us when we were furthest from Him, placed Himself between us and all that afflicts us, and removed the black oil spill from our hopelessly sticky feathers. He let Himself be swallowed, then exploded death from the inside. Something very real changed as Jesus died and rose again, and it makes a very real difference. The door is open. The wedding invitations are out. And let me assure you: You are invited to the party when Jesus comes back. If you want to go, nothing can prevent you. Stay plugged into God, and see you (t)here!