13 Jul 2006

Heaven is a Wonderful Place

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Christian hope, eschatology, Exegesis, Hermeneutics

Heaven is a Wonderful Place

Christians have read about, sang about, and prayed about heaven for nearly two thousand years! Before Christians, the Jews also expended a great deal of mental energy reflecting on the nature of heaven. This is as it should be. It would surprise many an evangelical today that many common conceptions of heaven are quite new and different from historical Christianity. Many of these common ideas are rooted in Enlightenment separation of the spiritual and physical and a Greek Platonism rather than biblical theology.

Perhaps my experience was common enough to be typical. But perhaps not. While I was growing up in church, and on into my adult years, my mental picture of heaven was something less than appealing to me. I grew up with the idea that heaven was going to be super “spiritual.” By “spiritual,” as I then conceived it, I meant immaterial. Heaven was where our “souls”(but not our body!?) went to. I imagined ghostly wisps of air floating around the universe. In my thinking then heaven was more of a state than a place. Apparently I was not alone in these thoughts because one of the first questions to arise when we did talk of heaven was “Will we know each other in heaven?” There are lots of hidden assumptions in that rather “innocent” question.

However, I now have a radically different conception of the nature of heaven. Now I understand that the doctrine of creation, the kingdom of God, and redemption are all related to a biblical doctrine of heaven as well.

Heaven is not somewhere “out there beyond the blue.” Heaven will be the new heavens and the new earth. Scripture plainly teaches that God will — at the end of this age — renew this present world. This is clearly the thought of such passages as Isaiah 65.17-15, Isaiah 66.22ff and others in the Hebrew Bible. But this thought is not limited to the First Testament but brought into the New through Paul and Peter, both of whom speak of the new creation. One of the most important texts, theologically speaking, on this point is Romans 8.19ff. Here Paul affirms that creation itself (ktisis) groans and waits for the day of redemption.

Peter, in his short epistle we call 2 Peter, describes the day of the Lord in chapter 3. Yes, this world will be destroyed. But we must not assume the word “destroyed” means nonexistence. Peter compares the final destruction by sea of fire to destruction brought by a sea of water in Noah’s flood (3.5ff). The world did not cease to exist in Noah’s day . . . but it was “destroyed” (Peter uses the same Greek word in both v. 6 and v.10). Peter in verse 10, after saying the world would be destroyed by fire, says the earth will be “laid bare.” Much as it was laid bare after Noah’s flood. So, as Mark Black writes in his commentary on 2 Peter, Peter is talking about the purification of the world by a sea of fire. That purification ushers in the “new heavens and new earth” (3.13).

This renewed and purified earth is going to be our eternal heaven. God’s kingdom will be here for eternity when the New Jerusalem comes down to earth (cf. Rev. 21.1-4). Heaven is the goal of God’s creation. There will be beauty in the plants, the flowers and . . . yes . . . even the animals. Most of all, we will fellowship with our Father around his table. Indeed there is great biblical teaching in that children’s song: “heaven is a wonderful place filled with glory and grace – I’m going to see my Savior’s face – Heaven is a wonderful place.”

Bobby Valentine, i.e. Stoned-Campbell Disciple

Those interested in exploring this understanding of heaven further should consult my recent book, with John Mark Hicks, Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding (Leafwood 2006) which is easily obtained through Amazon.Com. The biblical and historical roots of this doctrine in the Stone-Campbell movement are explored in detail in ch. 11.

15 Responses to “Heaven is a Wonderful Place”

  1. Velcro Says:

    Bobby, Great Post.

    I’m really looking forward to Heaven. I think that maybe the biggest conception about heaven is that it is a destination. From this perspective we tend to just make it this place where we start over. Somehow we’re born in this world, then we die, then we start over in Heaven.

    Spiritually, heaven starts for us when we become Christians. Yes, heaven is a place, but it should be more of a mentality as in loosing and binding, as Jesus spoke about.

    Again, good post!

  2. Ancient Wanderer Says:

    Question: In this renewed earth you see in Isaiah 65:17-25 …who are those 100 year old sinners (65:20c) and why are they on this new earth?

    Question: In this renewed earth you see in Isaiah 66:22ff …are we going to once again renew Sabbath worship and will we be killing these lambs we find lying beside lions? And why is hell in this new earth(66:24)? I don’t want to go to or stay in a h-e-a-v-e-n that has hell as part of it. Does anyone else?

    Or is this one of those “i get to determine what’s symbolism and what isn’t” theologies?

    C’mon josh you don’t agree with this new heaven-new earth concept…just say so it won’t hurt, your ‘world’ won’t end…they’ll still invited you to tea with alice!!!!

    I’ll make a friendly [Christian] wager…every post, and there will be few, won’t take a stand for or against in a strong way on this new heaven-new earth concept as you say it exists in your book. [[I hear echos in the valleys]].

  3. Stoogelover Says:

    Thanks … my understanding of and appreciation for heaven has changed greatly over the past few years.

  4. L'bug Says:

    “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I AM GOING THERE to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and TAKE YOU to be with Me that you also may be where I am.” John 14:1-3
    Everything I need to know about the return of Christ can be learned and must be rectified with these verses from the very mouth of our Lord.

  5. Tom Says:

    Very interesting. But I tend to lean toward a totally new creation, not just a rehab operation.

  6. preacherman Says:


    I am going to order your book soon.

  7. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    AW, is that the pirate in you, πŸ™‚
    If you would present some scriptural reasoning as to my misunderstanding I would be in your debt.

    L’Bug in what way is John 14.1-3 incompatible with the general tenor of Isaiah, Romans and 2 Peter?

    Tom on what scripture do you support your view with?

    Romans 8 seems to be nearly beyond dispute: “The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in the HOPE THAT THE CREATION ITSELF WILL BE SET FREE FROM ITS BONDAGE TO DECAY AND WILL OBTAIN THE FREEDOM OF THE GLORY OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD . . .”

    “Creation” here is not humanity. It is not the church. Paul is clearly talking about Genesis 3. Now if salvation is truly cosmic as Paul claims in both Colossians and Ephesians then what he says here in Romans makes perfect sense and it is in total harmony with Old Testament and Jewish thought of the time.

    Bobby Valentine

  8. Bill Says:

    Can you see me slowly stroking my beard?
    I’ll be churning this over and over for the next few days…probably ’til your book arrives and I can do some serious digging.
    Thank you for this stimulating post, brother. I can feel myself being sharpened!

  9. Ancient Wanderer Says:

    I thought I had by presenting those questions about your proof texts in Isaiah (still waiting for answers to most textual arguments made thus for). But after you’ve written a book that presents your views to the public… well I doubt I could “prove” anything to ya’— matey πŸ™‚

  10. Tom Says:

    2 Corinthians 5:17 All things become new. In salvation God creates a new person, doesn’t just cover up the dirt and rust on the old. Just trying to be consistent. But Bobby, you are obviously more educated and researched in this particular area. I ssubmit to your scholarship.

  11. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Now AW, simply because I have some “published” thoughts on this does not mean I know everything. Both this blog and the book are offered in a spirit of inquiry and exploration. I am not going to get offended if you choose to disagree.

    But I will still ask you questions. Isaiah 65.17ff is poetically describing what life looks like to him in the New Heavens and New Earth. Vv.20 suggests that life, contrary to on earth, is secure and not a vapor. On the Sabbath issue in 66.22f I believe that if you will follow this through that biblical teaching on “heaven” is directly rooted in the Old Testament teaching on the Sabbath. Heaven will be the fulfillment of the Sabbath . . . the greatest year of Jubilee. Hebrews 4 says there “remains yet” as Sabbath rest for God’s people which is clearly heaven. I see no difficulty here.


    I certainly hope I did not offend you brother. That was not my intent at all.

    I do want to address 2 C 5.17 briefly. This is a debated passage on several fronts and I recommend the discussion in John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus on this text.

    Not that Paul is speaking of the present situation “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.” This is a description of the NOW. If you are in Christ (and I believe you are) and if I am in Christ (and I believe I am) then at this very moment I AM (not will be) a new creation. There is continuity here.

    Thank you guys (and possible gals) for the vigorous discussion.

    Bobby Valentine

  12. Velcro Says:

    A.W. ~ Thoughts and theories about heaven are interesting. But that’s just what they are… thoughts and theories. They are about as accurate as thoughts and theories of the end times. No one can know for sure. Arguing about who or what is right is wasted energy; that’s just my opinion.

    I believe some things God has left as speculative

    However, as it is written:
    “No eye has seen,
    no ear has heard,
    no mind has conceived
    what God has prepared for those who love him”
    (1 Corinthians 2:9)

    “For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct Him?” (1 Corinthians 2:16)

  13. Tom Says:

    Offended? Me? Not likely. And I wasn’t being facetious, either. I know, I know it often appears that way.

    Praise God that this won’t be on the test when we stand before Messiah at the Bema Seat.

  14. CFOURMAY Says:

    I really agree with this all of this. I think all of it is very close to the truth. I still think it is not quite that easy. But this is definately what the Bible leads me to believe. There are a couple of passages that confuse me sometimes about all of this. BUt I do think this is the most reasonable conclusion and vision of heaven that humans are capable of understanding.

  15. Mark Says:

    Hey Bobby,
    There are definitely some aspects of scripture that point to the earth being renewed, as you’ve suggested. I am convinced that creation theology undergirds everything else in the Bible. Everything is in some way related to creation and recreation. You are certainly right about the influence of Platonism that also affects us. I had some tough discussions with one of my elders who was at the time teaching Revelation. He is convinced that your soul just leaves this old body behind and goes on to heaven. I just can’t let go of I Cor 15 which states clearly that my physical body matters. I will be physically resurrected as Christ, the first fruit, was resurrected. It does seem most likely that we will physically be somewhere. If it ends up being a renewed version of this earth where no suffering or tears will be present, that works for me.

    It is very difficult for us to discuss things about the spiritual realm because we really don’t have a proper mental category for the subject. If I say, “Imagine a spirit”, you might think of water vapor or steam or that green smoke floating around like the Ten Commandments movie…all physical things. When we discuss things like this, we’re really grasping for the right metaphor that always seems a little out of reach.

    However this all works out, I know heaven IS somewhere I want to be. I don’t have to understand everything about where it is and what it’s like to know I want to be there.

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