“In Heaven or on Earth.”

If you have been a member of an evangelical Church for any length of time you will have heard it said a hundred times over. “When we die we go to heaven.” I have taken a deep look into that proposal in my previous text under the title “Nobody gets too much heaven no more.” There is very scant biblical material to make such a claim. What is true is that we shall be with Christ after death if we have been in Christ before death. And although we are informed that Christ is at present sitting at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly realm, we also know beyond a shadow of doubt that His position there is temporal.

 The God of our forefathers raised up Jesus, whom you seized and killed by hanging him on a tree.  God exalted him to his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.

 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked intently toward heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look!” he said. “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”

Therefore repent and turn back so that your sins may be wiped out,  so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and so that he may send the Messiah appointed for you—that is, Jesus. This one heaven must receive until the time all things are restored, which God declared from times long ago through his holy prophets.

But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God. ” So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” He answered them, “You say that I am.”

The common preaching is that Jesus is together with the Father and an innumerable heavenly host. We who are part of the Church of Christ, members of His body are said to be seated with Christ in the heavenly places, we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. We have our citizenship in Heaven. All these things are spoken of us while we are here on earth. We will not have those “when we get to heaven”. They are reality now! Commonly and as a matter of course it is also claimed that all who have died in the faith are also somewhere there. But that is never said in the Word.

The very next phase of what God has planned will be played out here on Earth: “ He did this when he revealed to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ,  toward the administration of the fullness of the times, to head up all things in Christ—the things in heaven and the things on earth. In Christ we too have been claimed as God’s own possession, since we were predestined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, we should be to the praise of his glory.

What are all the things that are to be headed up in Christ in both heaven and earth?
What is included in the administration of the fullness of the times?

The kingdom of heavens, the kingdom of God, the kingdom of Christ are the core of what is taught in the gospels. From the first clarion call of John the Baptizer to the last gasping prayer of the anonymous and Dying Robber on the cross we hear of the kingdom to come. It is at hand, it is near, it is in our midst (not actually within us), it is described in many ways but noticeably always in similitudes of the things on earth. The kingdom is like things that already exist on earth. Whether it be wise and foolish bridesmaids, sourdough leavening the whole dough , or any number of different and already existing matters on earth, the heavenly kingdom is described in terms that are parallell to what we now know. And here is the crunch: The kingdom of the heavens (most commonly “of heavens” in Matthew) is never once placed in heaven anywhere in the Bible! It is a kingdom coming, not a kingdom waiting for us to go there! This is made most apparent in several ways. If we all were going to the heavenly kingdom, why would Christ have taught us all to specifically pray that the Kingdom should come to those who pray here?

“Father, may your name be honored; may your kingdom come.”

 But above all pursue (seek as a priority in this life) his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

“Now after John was imprisoned, Jesus went into Galilee and proclaimed the gospel of God. He said, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!”

“He said to them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those outside, everything is in parables,”
“He also asked, “To what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use to present it?  It is like a mustard seed that when sown in the ground, even though it is the smallest of all the seeds in the ground—”

“I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time, can he?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

“Then people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and take their places at the banquet table in the kingdom of God.”

Who goes where? Or what goes up and what comes down?

“No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven—the Son of Man.”

You may see by now that we are not going to a kingdom in heaven, but that the kingdom is coming here! The synoptic gospels are full of that kingdom that although it is being readied and prepared, it has not yet fully come. It is closely linked to the King, and where the King is, there is the kingdom. That is to say, the kingdom is not so much a location but more of a relationship. As the disciples where craning their necks to see whence Jesus was lifted away from their sight, they had it ringing in their ears that “just as he has now left you, so He will return!” And once He returns the presence of the King of Kings will begin on the earth. A foreign word for that “presence-after-arrival” is the Parousia. Until that arrival there was another Comforter given, one whose major task was to take the words of Christ and give them to us.. But before Christ left them they had asked a question. “So when they had gathered together, they began to ask him “Lord, is this the time when you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He told them, “You are not permitted to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority?”

Christ did not deny that such a restoration would happen. He did not say that the coming outpouring of the Spirit would replace Israel by the fellowship of believers. He simply said that it was not our concern when and how the Father would do what they asked. But he will do it! And as we read above, Christ will come for the restoration of all things. In order for all the promises made to Israel in the entire older testament the kingdom of God MUST be fulfilled on Earth, or else God the Truthful One is a liar! “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” Where are the nations if not on earth?

These all things must be either in heaven or on earth, somewhere in the totality of God’s creation. Sin entered and has tarnished both. To restore His creation is a major undertaking of God. He wishes to reconcile the whole world to Himself. The revolt against God that occurred in the heavenly realm has been dealt with already. Satan is cast out and has power only over the present world which is said to be in the hands of the evil one.  So he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. ” The writer to the Hebrew Christians knows that there is nothing that still needs correcting in heaven. He has purged all that by his death and his blood. The heavenly origin of everything on earth is cleaned out. But what about the world?

Do precisely according to the heavenly pattern

We must go back to the teaching in Exodus 25 and 32 to understand that the things that are to be on Earth have a prior pattern in heaven! The building of the Tabernacle was entirely predicated by the pattern that Moses was shown on the Mountain. Hebrews says it succinctly: “The place where they serve is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary, just as Moses was warned by God as he was about to complete the tabernacle. For he says, “See that you make everything according to the design shown to you on the mountain.”  But now Jesus has obtained a superior ministry, since the covenant that he mediates is also better and is enacted on better promises.” It is not a wild guess to say that the kingdom of God on earth will be patterned on another pattern known to God and known to the apostles of God. They built according to the masterplan drawn up in the heavenly place. As we have already seen the likeness of the kingdom of heaven is consistently recognizable from things on earth. Why that is important is because as the Kingdom is coming to us on Earth, we will recognize it. It is at the same time similar and totally other.

As the writer to the Hebrews informs us, the New Jerusalem, the city of God, was in the minds of the old saints. Of Abraham the writer says: “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. “ The city that is to come down from heaven to Earth is designed and drawn up in infinite detail by God in heaven, but is coming down to earth where it will be central to the rule of Christ. He says it twice in the last few verses of Revelation. First in verse 12 and then again in the last two.  The one who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!  The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. The second coming is the key to all of the last book of the Bible. He, the king of kings is coming here and where He is there His kingdom will be.

And it is never once said that the kingdom is in heaven. It is repeatedly declared to be “of heaven, heavenly” as to its origin, but never once is it said to be on location in Heaven. Heavenly is the adjective which describes the origin and design of that kingdom. It is no more the location than that I who am now living in the United Kingdom am in Sweden, although my passport declares me to be a citizen of Sweden while my domicile is the UK.

Heaven is purged and purified already, the earth still has the purifying of the sons of Levi to come.

Since heaven is cleaned up through the triumph of the Crucified what remains is to understand what must also happen to the entire creation. Creation is longing for the revelation of the glory of the children of God. She is travailing like a women in labour. The method of deliverance is clearly described throughout the Bible. It began with the promises made in Genesis ch 3. It moves on to the covenant with Noah, Abraham, and the entire people of Israel, it moves into the promises of a Davidic kingdom and a son of David on the eternal throne. The last 26 chapters of Isaiah and a central portion of Jeremiah and Hesekiel prophesy how the restoration is to be carried out on the earth, not in heaven. But it is a heavenly action on the finite creation. It will entail a “new heaven and a new earth”. Heaven in the sense that without the physical heaven the physical earth would not exist. As it already has been done in heaven, so it will be done on Earth. There is no need to purge the “Heaven of Heavens” where God sits on the throne.

Paul the apostle tells it in his letter to the Romans in chapters 9 to 11. Having declared what the Lord says about his people and having put the gentiles in their place as being beholden to Israel for their salvation he then expresses what will happen when the people of Israel return to their Messiah.
“Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God on behalf of my fellow Israelites is for their salvation. For I can testify that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not in line with the truth.For ignoring the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking instead to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes.
“I ask then, they did not stumble into an irrevocable fall, did they? Absolutely not! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make Israel jealous.  Now if their transgression means riches for the world and their defeat means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full restoration bring?

To the twelve disciples Jesus promised that they would judge the twelve tribes of Israel. To the Church in Corinth Paul promised that they might be set to rule over angels. To the faithful servant Christ promised a larger work in the kingdom. The understanding is that if we have built on the one foundation with noble things, we shall be put to use in the kingdom that comes. The kingdom that is heavenly as to its plan purpose and rulership, but is never in Heaven but on earth.

 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you not competent to settle trivial suits? Do you not know that we will judge angels? Why not ordinary matters!

When Jesus commenced His farewell teaching to the disciples he began by speaking of their apprehension and fears. They had gradually begun to understand that He was about to leave them, and they were confused about what next? Jesus spoke in the most reassuring note possible.

“Do not let your hearts be distressed. You believe in God; believe also in me.  There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house. Otherwise, I would have told you, because I am going away to make ready a place for you. And if I go and make ready a place for you, I will come again and take you to be with me, so that where I am you may be too.  And you know the way where I am going.”
We are not joining Him in Heaven, he is joining us here on earth. And he has prepared a place for us here where the final restoration of all things will take place with us as his brothers, friends and kingdom people.

Christ is only staying in heaven until the time of restoration of all things. So said the Holy Spirit through Peter in Acts 3

And now, brothers, I know you acted in ignorance, as your rulers did too.  But the things God foretold long ago through all the prophets—that his Christ would suffer—he has fulfilled in this way.  Therefore repent and turn back so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and so that he may send the Messiah appointed for you—that is, Jesus.  This one heaven must receive until the time all things are restored, which God declared from times long ago through his holy prophets.

It may be a shock to some to realize that the coming kingdom will be railed out along the tracks of the Old testament prophecies. “Heaven and Earth may flee away, but my words shall remain for ever.” Those who have rejected the Old Covenant writings will be surprised that the business of the King of Kings will be the restoration of all that has been ruined by sin, that the Hopes of the Church cannot be fullfilled without the Jewish people in a totally reconciled humanity. It may dismay some to find that the kingdom of heaven is not in heaven but on a restored earth.

By all the testimony of scripture it is no longer tenable to claim either that we go to heaven when we die or that we shall be in a Kingdom in heaven. Upon death we go to be with Christ and when he returns to the earth he will bring his own with him to this old earth and here he will rule until every last enemy that belongs to the created order has been subdued and put in subjection under Him,. The last enemy will be death. Only in this finite world does death have any power at all. Death and Hell will be the last to be conquered by Him who won the complete victory on the cross. Every calamity spoken of in the later parts of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and all the disasters spoken of in Revelation will all happen on Earth. Heaven says so.

Only those now already in Christ will be coming with Christ when he comes to meet those of us, still alive on Earth, to meet Him in the air. He wants us to be with Him where He is. And He will be here, not in the blue beyond. He will be here until everything natural has become spiritual, everything mortal has put on immortality and everything finite has become infinite.

When Jesus at age twelve berated his parents this is what transpired between the child and the parents:
“After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  And all who heard Jesus were astonished at his understanding and his answers.  When his parents saw him, they were overwhelmed. His mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” 49 But he replied, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” When Jesus speaks of a mansion prepared for his friends that house is not in heaven, but of Heaven and here on the restored earth.

(In a footnote to the phrase in my Father’s house the editors of Bible NET explain: “Or “I must be about my Father’s business” (so KJV, NKJV); Grk “in the [things] of my Father,” with an ellipsis. This verse involves an idiom that probably refers to the necessity of Jesus being involved in the instruction about God, given what he is doing. The most widely held view today takes this as a reference to the temple as the Father’s house. Jesus is saying that his parents should have known where he was.)

It is a pity that so few of Gods people today know where Jesus will be in the coming age. It begins with His return to this world. “Thy Kingdom come”. How can it be explained that the idea of going to heaven has such tenacious roots in the churches when it is virtually nonexistent in the Bible? There are a few plausible reasons.

Life on earth has periodically been very difficult for believer and non believer alike. The promise of going to heaven has been tantalizingly precious to all who suffer the madness of persecution, the deprivation of house and home here on earth, the imminent threats against the very life of the individual. Dying for the Lord seems sweet when you have a hope of a “sweet by and by”.

Parts of the Church has used the Heaven and Hell scenarios as a means of controlling and dominating the lives of the believers. In the religious sphere of politics power has been exersiced over the membership of the church because the door to heaven presupposed absolute obedience to the governing body of the Church. If you disobey the Church you will be barred from heaven and end in hell. The classic carrot and whip practice.

Painting alluring pictures of heavenly bliss has been a way of making people accept otherwise intolerable conditions on the strength of “all your needs will there be fulfilled, all your questions will be answered, and all unrighteousness will there be rectified, so you need not worry about those things here.”
It is on the strength of this “pie in the sky when you die” that ecclesiastical tyranny has been made possible in the history of the Church. The very doctrine of heaven can and has been used as an escape mechanism for both the suffering and for their tormentors. The full scale Marxist attack on all religions began as another false doctrine in the Churches. Carl Marx merely used that failing of the Church for his own ends.

Heaven and hell exist and will be populated by the likes of us, and other created beings, depending on how we as mankind respond to the Maker of Heaven and Hell. C S Lewis in one of his genial moments wrote something like this, “If you will accept it, for those who longed for Heaven, Earth was always an foretaste of it, for them who hated God every part of Earth has always been a foretaste of hell.”

If we are in Him, and if He is in the Father, we shall be where he is, and He is coming to us in all His glory and in the power of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. All power was given to Him for that task. His feet will land on the Mount of Olives and the very rock will divide under the weight of His glory and flee north and south. All Israel shall see Him whom they have pierced and turn to the Messiah they once rejected. Out of the judgement of the nations there will arise a new Kingdom with the New Jerusalem as its capitol. The promised reign of a thousand years will commence and go on until everything in creation has been submitted to Him. And then He, the King of Kings will hand back the kingdom to His father. “And so God will again be all in all.” The destiny of every man, woman, boy and girl is decided on one single point.

“Therefore, if you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Keep thinking about things above, not things on the earth, for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ (who is your life) appears, then you too will be revealed in glory with him.”

If.. then!

* * * * * * *
Teddy Donobauer August 6th 2023, Doncaster

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