Language Matters

“Heaven.” It is the term we use to refer to the abode of God and the eternal home of His followers. Though it is unlikely that we will stop using that term to refer to the afterlife or reward, Middleton argues that “Heaven” is not usually used in the Bible in the way we use it today. In fact that term, with that connotation, is entirely missing from Revelation 21-22, the traditionally cherished depiction of God’s future world.

“Heaven” or “the heavens” is first and foremost just a term for the skies. To refer to Heaven as an entirely different, spiritual realm to which our disembodied souls will go at Jesus’ second coming is to go beyond the language of the Bible.

The better term for the future world is “the new heaven(s) and the new earth.” The origin of this phrase is plain. In the beginning God created “the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). Then Isaiah talks about the here-and-now restoration of Israel after the Babylonian Exile as a “new heavens and new earth” (Isaiah 65:17ff). The Apocalyptic writers of the New Testament then pick this term up and universalize it to describe the new order of things that will come at Jesus’ coming (Rev 21:1; 2 Pet 3:13). There is nothing in this term itself that suggests we are talking about an “other-worldly” place.

If what is to come is a “new heaven and a new earth,” there is some way in which the existence to come is different from what we are presently living.  The earth and heaven that is to come will not be the same as those in which we are living right now, but to talk of a spiritual, disembodied place separated from our present reality and call this place “Heaven” is to use language the Bible itself does not use.

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