This week we celebrated Easter Sunday, a day to reflect on our Lord’s resurrection from the dead. We were not alone in this celebration. We joined with countless Christians strewn across this unique world God has made. Although we are not united by location, we are united with all people who call upon the name of King Jesus in order to be saved.
I’d like you to join me on a bit of a journey to expand our understanding of what Easter is all about. On this journey, we will connect our understanding of some of the most important concepts in the Scripture (Heaven, God’s presence, and His desire to meet with us) WITH Easter—with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.Let's connect our understanding of some of the most important concepts in the Scripture with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. #Easter Click To Tweet
What & Where is Heaven?
Have you ever wondered what or where Heaven is? As we read through the Gospels, we see two interchangeable phrases that communicate Heaven: ‘the Kingdom of God’ and ‘the Kingdom of Heaven.’ Depending on the account, each Gospel author is thought to have chosen his wording based on his target audience; Jew, Gentile, or both.
Some may feel apprehension at this idea, but textual reality doesn’t affect our doctrine of inspiration in any way. As well-know and trusted scholar, Dr. Michael Heiser says, “The Bible is a divinely inspired human book.” God’s inspiration can and does take into account the personality, character, and reality/world of both His contributors and their audience.
In Matthew, the Gospel written for a Jewish audience, Jesus said, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” In Mark’s Gospel, which was written for a broader audience, Jesus is recorded to say, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand…” In both cases, the two phrases communicate the same truth: God’s rule and reign through King Jesus are a present reality. But more than that, this is Heaven.
The Bible uses ‘Heaven’ in various ways. When we read about the birds of the air (Matthew 13:32), the redness of the sky (Matthew 16:2), our Lord’s call to repent at the present reality of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 4:17), or even Paul’s fantastical statement about being taken up into the ‘third Heaven’ (2 Corinthians 12:2), what we’re reading are alternate English renderings of the same Greek term; οὐρανός.
How do we distinguish what we mean when we say Heaven? How do we know the difference between air, sky, some mystical, invisible place, and what we’re referring to today? The answer, albeit oversimplified, is that heaven (as Jesus refers to it) is wherever the ruling and reigning presence of God abides.
This is the ‘Heaven’ Jesus instructs us to pray onto the earth (Matthew 6:10). This is the Heaven some speak of living in when they die. This is also the very Heaven God has always intended to reunite with His fallen creation. (Revelation 21:1-4)
You and I were raised with overtly Platonistic notions that we will ‘go to Heaven’ when we die. This has left us with a ‘Heaven’ which amounts to some distant, disembodied place filled with angels with harps and streets of gold. But, as Dallas Willard pointed out in his work The Divine Conspiracy, Heaven is also, and importantly, here and now.
“The damage done to our practical faith in Christ and in His government-at-hand by confusing heaven with a place in distant or outer space, or even beyond space, is incalculable. Of course, God is there too. But instead of heaven and God also being always present with us, as Jesus shows them to be, we invariably take them to be located far away and, most likely at a much later time – not here and not now.” (Willard, pg. 82)
Willard goes on to ask a very profound question in light of this: is it any wonder we should feel ourselves so alone? Make you think, doesn’t it?
Besides an antidote to loneliness, a proper understanding of Heaven as a present reality has far more profound implications than we realize and definitely more implications than I have time to address today. To be clear, understanding where and what Heaven is is important to understanding the purpose of Easter.
God’s word teaches us that Jesus declared the Kingdom of Heaven was present (that is ‘where’) and that Heaven consists of God’s rule and reign (that is the ‘what’). This helps us when Jesus says “all authority in heaven and on earth have been given to me…” (Matthew 28:18)Some may feel apprehension at this idea of different wording for different audiences, but textual reality doesn't affect our doctrine of inspiration in any way. #biblestudy Click To Tweet
The Usual Questions
Several good questions arise here, let’s take a moment to address at least two of them:
- What about the Lord’s prayer referenced? Doesn’t it say “on earth as it is in heaven”? Doesn’t this make explicitly clear that there are two separate locations? Yes and no. What we’re taught to pray for is God’s Kingdom to invade earth; His presence, His light, His rule, and reign. We’re never instructed to pray, “take us to heaven.” Nor does the Bible indicate some disembodied Heaven as an ultimate destination for eternity.
- What about (1 Thess. 4:17) and being caught up with Jesus in the air? Interestingly enough, the term here is not οὐρανός. The air here is literally the atmosphere. According to the word Paul used, we should see that our meeting with Jesus (whenever this occurs) is not our permanent destination. Heaven is a present reality (that’s where it is) as well as God’s rule and reign through King Jesus (that’s what it is). And this is important for what comes next.
God Desires to Meet With Us
Genesis implies that God brought heaven down when He walked with Adam and Eve in the garden (Genesis 3:8). Heaven met earth when God spoke to Moses through the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-17). As we read at the outset (Numbers 7:89), Heaven regularly came to earth through God’s designed meeting place, the Tabernacle’s Mercy Seat.
God’s desire to meet with His people, is an undeniable truth, which is also connected with Heaven. However, in light of sin, this meeting with God was hindered. Restoration was something that required more than just praying Heaven down as we’ve been invited to do now by King Jesus. In fact it required God to move first. The first thing required was God’s mercy; the second, a mediator, and third, a cleansing.
- Mercy, of course, is God’s gift (and is still required today) but praise God the Scripture says, “He so loved the world that He gave…”
- The mediator (in the Old Testament) was a mere man (a son of Adam). Our mediator is Jesus (the second Adam) and He came two-thousand years ago. Along with 1 Timothy 2:5, Hebrews 4:14-16 Says,
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16 (NASB)
- Lastly, the cleansing of the Old Covenant came (symbolically) through the blood of sacrifices made by human hands. In reality, it was simply the forbearance of God overlooking the sins of the world (Romans 3:25). We know now that true cleansing could only come through the blood of Jesus.
In the sermon two weeks ago, ‘What is Church?’ we walked through a passage in Hebrews 10:19-22, learning how Jesus’s body (which is the veil) and his blood (which cleanses us at the mercy seat) provided for us a new communion with the Father.
This communion was God’s intention all along. This was God’s remedy for the fall of man. This is what Easter has to do with Heaven, God’s presence, and His desire to meet with us. Without the work of the cross, we are without hope. We are alone. We are dead in trespasses and sin.
But with the work of the cross, Heaven has invaded earth, God’s rule and reign are present realities; we can commune with God.
Communion with humanity was God's intention all along and Easter was God's remedy for the fall of man. #Resurrection #Easter #Jesus Click To Tweet
[This was] in accordance with the eternal purpose which (God) carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.” Ephesians 3:11-12 (NASB)
This week, churches in our world have rightly declared the centrality of the resurrection. After all the Apostle, Paul plainly tells us that if Christ has not been raised, then our collective faith and preaching are both useless (1 Corinthians 15:14). But that’s not the only point God makes concerning the resurrection. And this is where it all begins to tie together.
Although this may sound controversial, you’ll find it is entirely in line with orthodoxy; but resurrection is a means to an end, not the end itself.
If being raised to a new life comes without the promise of eternal communion with God, without Heaven properly understood, it is not a gift worth having. Why would anyone want to live forever void of the very presence by which we live, and move, and have our being? (Acts 17:28) A more accurate question is; “How COULD anyone think that they’ll live forever void of the presence by which we live, and move, and have our being?”
I believe it was Lenord Ravenhill who first said, “Everybody wants to go to heaven. They just don’t want to meet God when they get there.” Now Ravenhill was referring to judgment, but the point is the same; resurrection without communion has never been on offer. And whether we know it or not, we wouldn’t want it if it was.Paul plainly tells us that if Christ has not been raised, then our collective faith and preaching are both useless. #biblestudy #Christianity Click To Tweet
God’s Plan Revealed in Exodus
Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. Exodus 25:8 (NASB)
This desired meeting is the design of the new heaven and earth with its resurrected citizens.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” Revelation 21:1-4 (NASB)
I hope we can see that all of redemptive history has been and is leading to ONE ultimate reality. Heaven meeting earth, God’s rule and reign, on earth (albeit a new one), and communing with His people forever!
One last thing concerning resurrection: our renewed communion with God is established forever. This truth is found in the Gospel of Mark; in a critical statement that Jesus makes to some argumentative Sadducees.
“But regarding the fact that the dead rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living…” Mark 12:26-27 (NASB)
Our communion is established forever because our God is the God of the living. He is not and never will be the God of the dead. In King Jesus, we have resurrected life because, in the resurrection, we too are made alive.
The communion that God intended to reestablish through the cross and Jesus’ resurrection is a communion like He has with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. A fellowship in the company of those listed in the ‘Hall of Fame of Faith’ (Hebrews 11).
In this message, I aimed to expand our understanding of what Easter is all about. We’ve connected our understanding of some essential concepts in the Scripture (Heaven, God’s presence, His desire to meet with us, and last but surely not least resurrection. I hope we all have a greater appreciation for the size and scope of God’s great story!Redemptive history has been & is leading to ONE ultimate reality. Heaven meeting earth. #Heaven #Jesus Click To Tweet