Myth #1: The Christian’s home is in heaven.
When Christians die, we rejoice that they have been called home to heaven. There is truth and comfort in this. But we need to be careful when we refer to heaven as our home. Heaven is neither our original home nor our eternal home. When God created the heavens and the earth, he also created heavenly creatures (e.g. angels) and earthly creatures (e.g. humans). Heaven is not the home for which we were created.
When God created our earthly home, he did not give us second best in anticipation of heaven. He declared that the earth was very good, or, as the Hebrew could also be translated, very beautiful (Gen. 1:31). The problems we experience are not because the earth is second-rate; they come from sin. God delights in what he has created and so should we.
At the point of death, Christians will be at home with Jesus as we await the general resurrection, but heaven is only a temporary home. In heaven, the martyrs cry “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:10). On earth, all creation groans as it awaits its liberation from bondage to corruption (Rom. 8:22). It is at the point of Christ’s return that the earth will be renewed and we will truly be at home.
Myth #2: Christians will live in heaven forever.
Christians will not live in heaven forever. In 2 Corinthians 5:1-8, Paul uses a series of metaphors to address the pressing pastoral issue of the state of Christians who have died before the resurrection.
In the first metaphor, the earthly body is likened to a tent that will be destroyed at death. This tent will be transformed to a permanent house at Christ’s return (2 Cor. 5:1). But what happens in the meantime? Paul now switches his metaphor from buildings to clothes. The earthly body is likened to clothing. Paul longs to be over-clothed (2 Cor. 5:4). Death is not a certainty. Christians who are alive at the time of Christ’s return will evade death and be over-clothed with a new body without needing to discard the first set of clothing. But if Paul dies before Christ’s return, the logic is clear. The current clothing has been removed and he is not yet over-clothed. He will be naked (2 Cor. 5:3), a state from which he recoils. An eternal, bodiless existence is not the Christian hope. Within this despair, Paul offers comfort through a third metaphor of homelands. If Christians die before the second coming of Christ, we will be absent from the body but at home with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). Heaven may not be our final home, but insofar as we are with the Lord, we will indeed be at home as we wait.
Myth #3: Only heavenly pursuits matter because the earth will be destroyed.
The Bible talks of two destructions of the earth—once in the past and the other in the future. The former destruction by flood in the days of Noah helps us to understand the nature of the future destruction by fire. Water and fire are both elements of cleansing. Destruction in the flood did not mean annihilation. There was rebirth of the same earth after the deluge. The New Testament repeatedly talks of the final destruction of the earth in language that is reminiscent of the flood (e.g. Matt. 24:37; Luke 17:26-30; 2 Pet. 2:4–10; 3:3-6). As in the days of Noah, this future fiery purging will expose the works that have been done on the earth (2 Pet. 3:10). In exposing these works, some works will be burnt up as wood, hay, and straw; but others, like precious jewels, will be refined and remain (1 Cor. 3:12-15). This picture of the enduring nature of purified, human accomplishments is seen in the image of the glory and honor of the nations being brought into the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:24–27; cf. Isa. 23:18). This raises a multitude of questions, many of which remain unanswered, but it reminds us that the effects of the resurrection in conquering the curse of the fall are more pervasive than we often think.
Myth #4: When Jesus returns, it will just be a visit to pick us up and take us to heaven.
When Jesus returns to the earth, he intends to stay.
Physical bodies need a physical world. Without air, food, and water we perish. If we really believe in a physical resurrection (which is clearly the teaching of the Bible), these renewed, physical bodies will also need a renewed earth in which to live. At the return of Jesus, all will be made new. It is important at this point to define the word “new.”
There are two words for “new” in Greek. One is the word kainos, which means new in kind; the other is neos, which means replaced. To illustrate, there are two women who are married to men with gambling addictions. The first woman’s husband goes to “Gamblers Anonymous” and through this overcomes his addiction. The second woman divorces her husbands and remarries. Both women say, “I am married to a new man,” but they mean different things by “new.” In Greek, the first woman would use the word kainos, as the same husband has been renewed; the second woman would use neos, as the former husband has been replaced. When the Greek New Testament describes new heavens and a new earth, it uses the word kainos. The earth will not be discarded, it will be renewed. The former things will pass away and the effects of sin will be removed (Rev. 21:4). There will be no need for a temple in this city, for Jesus’s presence will be with us forever (Rev. 21:22). Jesus intends to stay and to rule this renewed world that is rightfully his.
Myth #5: Jesus was raised to heaven, and we will be too.
The climax of each of the gospels is Jesus’s resurrection. But Jesus was not raised to heaven; he was raised to earth where he appeared for forty days. It is important not to confuse the resurrection and the ascension. It is the resurrection—not the ascension—that is the first fruits of the Christian’s hope (1 Cor. 15:20). Jesus was raised to earth (and ascended to heaven).
Resurrection is physical and should not be confused with immortality. When Paul addressed a Greek audience in Athens, many scoffed at him because of his teaching on the resurrection (Acts 17:16–34). It is not that Greeks did not believe in life after death. Many did. They had no category for the resurrection of a physical body.
The resurrection of Jesus was earthly and physical. The gospel writers emphasize the senses of touch (Luke 24:39; John 20:27), sight (Matt. 28:6; Luke 24:39; John 29:27), and taste (Luke 24:41–43). Thomas recognizes the wounds of Jesus’s hands and side (John 20:27). The body, once buried, has been gloriously raised. Jesus’s bones will not be found by an Israeli archaeological dig.
Christianity is a resurrection religion. The resurrection of Jesus needs to be preached to every generation—not least to our own—lest we replace this central tenet of the faith with an understanding of immortality that is devoid of resurrection. Earth is our home. We will be raised as Christ was raised; and although we do not know all the details of what this will look like, we know that “we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2).
Ian K. Smith is the author of Not Home Yet: How the Renewal of the Earth Fits into God’s Plan for the World.