I have a problem. I am too much in this world and not enough in the next. It concerns me because Paul said that “all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8) will receive a special crown. I’m competitive. I enjoy competing when I know there’s something to go for. So did Paul. He spoke of pressing “on toward the goal to win the prize” (Philippians 3:14).  And this baffles me. The incentives that are held out in the whole package of heaven have not grabbed my attention as much as they should.

They did for my grandmother. She had her bags packed. And when we were two days from a special vacation, Karis, then six, said, “I’m so excited.” I asked her, “Is this the most fun thing you will ever do, go on a plane, then a boat.” She answered, “No.” “Then what is?”  Without a pause, “Going to heaven.” We had talked about heaven with our kids after losing our third child at birth, and it caught her imagination. Notice the age. Young children dream about heaven and old people think about it, because they are going there soon. Not enough of the rest of us. Like one teenager said, “Heaven’s a nice place, but nobody is in a rush to get there.” We’ve heard people say: “I’d like to raise a family first,” or “I hope Jesus doesn’t return before I take my trip to Scandinavia,” as if to say, “Heaven’s all right, but so is this life.”

We operate between two worlds, as different as spam and steak. In Christ I am free—sort of. I’m a conqueror, in fact, more than a conqueror, but often my experience tells me that I’m anything but. We find ourselves on the way, not there. I am seated in the heavenlies, but I’m also seated in a folding chair. The truth is: we’re not home yet. And home can have a surreal outlook to it. Some need to be convinced. Tell a teenager that heaven is like a wonderful worship service, only extended for centuries, and he might say, “Great, and do I get to play a harp? Can you show me to my cloud?” Culture’s caricature has overtaken us. Nothing to do but sing and take walks on golden streets. Boring! We need to discover what the new earth will really be. 

Jesus told His disciples, “At the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones…” (Matthew 19:28). The word “renewal” literally means rebirth or new birth. The earth was born once in the beginning, and it will be born again. Far from escaping out of the earth, we are occupying the earth as our eternal home. At the end of the story  we are back to the beginning, because God is the Alpha and the Omega (Rev. 21:6). The end interprets the beginning, but the beginning also interprets the end. You can look to the last chapter to see how the story ends, but you have a clue to the end by reading the beginning. We start with a good earth—and we end there. Instead of us going to heaven out there, heaven is coming down! 

We have had some wrong ideas about the hereafter. We have over-spiritualized it, making heaven remote and less appealing. It is the work of demons to portray the physical realm as unspiritual (I Tim. 4:3,4). We are biblical Christians, not eastern mystics. We say in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the resurrection of the body,” and in the new earth we will have physical bodies. We are not spirits floating around in space. As Randy Alcorn, author of the excellent book Heaven says, “The earth matters, our bodies matter, animals and trees matter, matter matters” (p. 85). Make heaven other-worldly and it loses its fascination. I remember reading with disappointment about streets of gold and pearly gates. It didn’t grab me. 

After Jesus returns, the earth will experience an eternal makeover. In fact, we won’t go to heaven—heaven will come to us (Revelation 21:2,3). It will be more physical than we have thought. Two examples.  Our daughter, Karis, enjoying a delicious meal on our deck one summer evening, said, “I sure hope there’s food in heaven.” If we think that we are spiritual beings, we won’t expect food. But it sure sounds like we’ll be eating. Jesus said at his Last Supper, “I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God” (Lk. 22:16). He had “The Last Breakfast” with His disciples after his resurrection in a body that could walk through walls but could be touched. We are promised a wedding supper to kick things off, and I can’t imagine a celebration meal without food. Isaiah tells us that the best cook is God: “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines…He will swallow up death forever” (Isaiah 25:6,8).

So you can count on food, Karis, but not jello with carrots in it. It was never intended that jello should have carrots in it, and I received this prophetic word, “Yea verily, thou who hast contended with green jello and shredded carrots, thou shalt contend no longer. For lo, it shall not be found in the new earth, neither shall anyone make it henceforth.” I am not sure about coffee, but we will “drink from the spring of the water of life” (Rev. 21:6).

What about animals? God sure put a lot of them on the earth. When He affirmed that creation was “very good,” that included the animals. And listen to this word about the future: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).  Sounds like the new earth includes animals. Picture Jesus showing you around the mansion he has prepared for you. Then that special pet you loved and had a funeral for when she died runs up and gives you a friendly lick. It would be just like an extravagantly loving God to let us once again care for the pets we enjoyed in this life. My good friend Pastor Drex Morton told me that his father had three visions just before he died, one of which was of his long since dead cat Beauregard! Sounds like God to me (even though most cats have a tougher time repenting than dogs!).

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