Many Christians, including myself not long ago, have a distorted view of heaven. Doubtless, the popularity of the the Left Behind books and movies are partly to blame. This is unfortunate since hope is what should characterize the believer's life. But what are we hoping for? Is it some pie in the sky when we die? Hymns like "I'll Fly Away" point in that direction. What is "God's celestial shore" anyway? That hymn is more Platonic than Hebrew. No, the new earth will be physical. We will work, not simply sing and strum the harp on clouds for all eternity. God created the earth, and is in the process of redeeming it. Unlike some religions, it has been physical from the start. Man was made from the earth. Abram was told to cut his flesh. God revealed himself to Moses in a burning bush, not while Moses was reaching some high point in transcendental meditation. Jesus took on a human body. He commanded his followers to eat bread and drink wine. And after he was killed, he rose with a physical body and even ate fish afterwards! He also promised all those who believe in him that they will have resurrection bodies upon his return.
"Heaven" is going to be much better than life here on earth, for it is better to be with the Lord than to remain here, but heaven is the penultimate hope of the believer. The new earth where we will have resurrection bodies, reigning with King Jesus is the ultimate hope. N.T. Wright has a new book out on heaven, the resurrection, and the mission of the church. While we may not agree with Wright on everything (some very important!), we should not throw out the baby with the bathwater. His work on these issues has been a helpful corrective to get rid of the Platonism that is sloshing around in some evangelical systems.
Buy the book here.
Read an interview about the book here.
Watch the interview here.
Read his article "Farewell to Rapture" here.