This post is one in a series of posts on a Bible study I am doing titled Heaven by Randy Alcorn and Dave McCleskey. The focus of this study is to get a Biblical view of what heaven is really like.
A thought that I have struggled with during this study was how Heaven could be a physical place, and more than just a spiritual realm. A physical place I can imagine and relate to, but a spiritual realm I cannot. So as much as I would have liked to think of Heaven as a physical place, I didn’t have any reason to believe it was one or the other. But after today’s study, I am starting to believe that it is totally possible for the present Heaven to be a physical place. I’m not ready to say that when we die we go to the present Heaven and live there physically (perhaps we’re still spirits at that point…we’ll see what we learn further in the study), but that doesn’t eliminate the possibility that Heaven is physical. Some people argue that it can’t be physical because God is spirit (“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” – John 4:24), but again, just because God is spirit doesn’t take away from the possibility that Heaven is physical.
Why are people resistant to the idea that Heaven could be physical?
Alcorn suggests that we, as Christians, have been influenced by those before us who took on a set of views called christoplatonism. This is basically just a big word that combines the two people who molded the view – Christ, and the Greek philosopher Plato. Alcorn says that “Plato…believed that material things, including the human body and the earth, are evil, while immaterial things such as the soul and Heaven are good.” So while Christ has influenced us by giving us a way to access Heaven and by showing us that Heaven is good, Plato has influenced us by convincing us that anything physical is bad, therefore we believe that if want to access Heaven, it must not be physical. Unfortunately, this isn’t Biblical, and worse, it causes us to reject the idea of a bodily resurrection when Christ returns, or to reject the idea that the New Earth will be a physical place with physical characteristics.
Evidence that the Present Heaven Could Be Physical
Earth complements Heaven. Hebrews 8:5, when speaking of the High Priest, says “They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.’ ” (emphasis added). This suggests that earth is a copy/shadow of what is in Heaven – that the characteristics of earth are derived from a Heavenly source. And Romans 1:20 says “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” This says that God’s qualities are made evident through His creation – earth and everything in it. If earth’s characteristics are derived from both Heaven’s characteristics and God’s characteristics, we should think of earth as complementary to Heaven instead of opposite to Heaven. And if earth is physical, then it is completely possible that Heaven is also physical.
Present Heaven Described as Paradise. At the end of Luke 23, as Jesus is dying, one of the thieves hanging on the cross next to him says “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (v. 42), to which Jesus replies “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (v. 43). This word translated into paradise is the Greek word paradeisos, which Strong’s concordance says is based off a Persian word which means “a grand enclosure or preserve, hunting ground, park, shady and well watered…” Another similar sounding place is mentioned in Genesis 2 – the garden of Eden. Verses 8-9 say “Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” We know that after Adam and Eve were kicked out of Eden, it was not destroyed. Genesis 3:23-24 says “So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” And Revelation 2:7 tells us “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” So we know that the tree of life still exists – it was a physical object that existed in the Garden of Eden at the beginning of time, it still exists today, and it will someday be located on the New Earth, in the New Jerusalem (see Revelation 22:2). If the tree of life was in Eden back then, we can assume it still is – therefore the Garden of Eden is likely still around (probably in the present Heaven), and could be the paradise that Jesus spoke of in Luke 23. What is most relevant about all this is that the Garden of Eden was a physical place when Adam and Even lived there, and it probably still is. Therefore, if it currently resides in the present Heaven (and will someday reside in the New Heaven/Earth), they are most likely physical places as well.
I will admit that a lot of this evidence is circumstantial, at best. And some of it is purely speculative, based partially on Scripture and partially on our imaginations. But as we have mentioned before, it is completely acceptable to use our imaginations to envision the things that God has partially revealed to us. These things belong to us, and it is a great faith-builder to do so.
Click HERE to see the next post in this series.