[This article was contributed by Apollos]
Imagine you were born without knowledge of who your real parents were. This occurs before the age of information, modern transportation and photography. Through your childhood you wonder about what became of them, and why they are absent from your life.
Then after some years you receive astounding news. You discover that you had been separated from your parents by a tragic event that was out of their hands, and now they are on the furthest side of the world from you. It is not possible at this time for them to come to you or for you to go to them, but you are able to correspond with them. As a result of ongoing letter writing you discover, simply through their words, that they are the most loving parents you could ever hope for, and they deeply long to be close to you.
You also learn another astounding piece of news. They have another son – an unknown brother to you – who also lives in your own country. You manage to locate him and the two of you quickly become close friends.
One day the brother says to you that he has exciting news. The parents have written him a special letter saying that very soon they will be able to arrange for him to come and live with them permanently. You are happy for your brother and wonder when you will receive your own similar letter.
Your brother tells you that there is more. From now on the parents have said that they will only communicate important news through him, and in fact he already has some such news for you. After he has gone to live with them, the parents will send and make bounteous material provision for you right where you are, so that you will never have to worry about anything again. You will have a nicer house, great food, whatever pets you want, perfect healthcare and total security. He tells you that the parents want you to be happy, just as they always intended. He says that you will never actually be able to visit your parents, but all of this material compensation should more than make up for it. He wants you to know that the parents have no favorites, they just deal with their children in different ways.
How would you feel?
What is the point of my illustration?
I believe that, if unsuppressed, there is a natural yearning in Christians to want to be in the presence of their heavenly Father.
Consider the following scriptures at the core of the Christian hope as far as the New Testament writers were concerned:
“Happy are the pure in heart, since they will see God.” (Matt 5:8)
“I will come again and will receive you home to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” (John 14:3)
“Father, I want those who have been given me to be with me where I am, in order that they may look upon my glory that you have given me” (John 17:24)
“But we are of good courage and would prefer to be absent from the body and to make our home with the Lord.” (2 Cor 5:8)
“… for I do desire the releasing and the being with Christ, which is, to be sure, far better.” (Php 5:8)
“… and thus we will always be with the Lord.” (1 Thes 4:17)
“… and they will see his face” (Rev 22:4)
Please do not misunderstand my intent. I am not encouraging people to grasp at something that does not belong to them. That is the way a staunch JW would no doubt interpret my illustration.
On the other hand I am encouraging you to think about the reality of the Christian message in God’s Word.
Our present doctrines are founded on the premise that the only thing for the majority of Christians to aspire to is “paradise regained”. It is the Jewish hope of the restoration of all things and the inheritance of the land (Ps 37:11, Young’s Literal Translation, and most others) i.e. that which is material. The model upon which this is based is simply that we reattain the status established in Genesis 1:31, and forever enjoy it. But the Bible nowhere says that this was Jehovah God’s final intent for all. No more so than fixing the parameters that man would be forever naked, be of one fixed language, eat only vegetation, never build a large community of dwellings, etc (although there is a contingent that firmly believes all these things too).
I do believe in a restoration of the earth, just as the Jews themselves believed. Jehovah’s Word will not go forth and return to him without results (Isa 55:11). But whether there is truly a secondary group of Christian citizens in this age, whose hope is to live in that realm only, and never truly “be with the Lord” in the fullest sense is another matter. Whether the parent in the illustration has chosen to be with one son and yet just provide for material and emotional needs of the other at a distance, is the issue under question. If you can find evidence of such an arrangement in the New Testament then so be it.
For the early Christians the greater desire was to be with their Eternal Father – a hope made possible through the person of His only-begotten Son. I cannot of course tell you what your desire ought to be. I can only go on what the scriptures tell me personally. For me the issue of “location” – the new heavens or new earth – is a secondary matter to that indescribable invitation to be in the presence of our true Father.