A Celtic Christian Worldview (14)
…the same place they also call the heavenly paradise was designated in the meantime as a resting place for holy souls while they await the coming resurrection. It is of this our Lord had spoken when he replied to the thief who confessed his faith on the cross: Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise…
- The Book of the Order of Creatures VI.9
But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
- Luke 23.40-43
Many Christians misunderstand the concept of heaven in a couple of ways.
Some believe that heaven is our final state. In heaven all who believe will live among the clouds, in a city with streets of gold, hobnobbing with saints and angels, enjoying our salvation, content to sing and pray for all eternity. This view of heaven is partially correct, but in the main, grossly false. The final state of all who believe is not heaven, but the new heavens and new earth, where righteousness dwells.
Other Christians hold that heaven is the Christian’s great hope. Ask them what they hope for as a follower of Christ, and they will say something like, “I hope I’m going to heaven when I die.” But going to heaven is not the Christian’s hope, only one venue for realizing that hope, which is the hope of glory (Rom. 5.1, 2). Because heaven is where God is, it is full of glory, and those who go there enter that glory, and all the joy that comes with it. The Christian’s hope is God in His glory.
Celtic Christians – as represented here by the writer of the Liber – had a proper Biblical view of heaven. Heaven is a place of repose and rest for departed believers, a purely spiritual realm, existing in a dimension not far from any of us, and intended as a sort of half-way house to our final home in glory.
Let’s look a bit more closely at each of these ideas.
The writer of the Liber, following Jesus, refers to heaven as Paradise.Whatever Paradise consists of, most people agree that it’s a good thing, and you’d really like to be there if you could. The Greek word, παράδεισος, derives from an ancient Persian idea describing an enclosed pleasure garden. Heaven is a joyous place, replete with holy and spiritual pleasures rather than fleshly pleasures (Ps. 16.11), since none who repose there are yet in their flesh. Heaven is often described in material terms in Scripture (thrones, bowls, vials, creatures), but these should be read as metaphors to help us in thinking about the wonder and beauty of the place. Heaven is joyous because those who attain it see the glory of God more clearly and consistently than ever they could in this life. This leads them to the constant worship of God, as described in Revelation 4 and 5, of which they never tire and cannot get enough. Heaven is joyous because in heaven we see the glory of God without interruption, and by participating in that glory, we partake of the joy God knows in Himself.
Jesus pioneered the way into Paradise on the day of His death, as He indicates in Luke 23.40-43. His body was still in the tomb, but in His Spirit, Jesus was in the all-joyous Presence of His Father (Heb. 12.1, 2). When Jesus rose from the grave on the third day, His Spirit and body were united into one new glorified Person. And in this, He pioneers the way all believers will go at the time of the general resurrection.
But heaven is a half-way house, a time of waiting for the return of the Lord and the reuniting of our bodies and souls in new and eternal flesh-and-blood forms, in a world where heaven and earth are fused into one new creation, and righteousness abounds. Believers go to heaven when they die; they will be united with the Lord in the new heavens and new earth after Jesus returns.
So to speak of “going to heaven when I die” as the Christian’s great hope, or as the primary consequence of believing in Jesus, is not entirely accurate – true, but not accurate. The Christian’s hope is the glory of God. One day we will see that glory face to face, without need of any mediation, and so beautiful and endlessly delightful and satisfying will that glory be, that we will desire nothing but to enjoy it in worship for as long as the Lord is pleased.
When we are taken to our final home in the new heavens and new earth, we will live in the glory of God, fully and continuously manifested in every newly created thing, and in the presence of our Lord, shining like a light brighter than the sun. In the new heavens and new earth, we will worship the Lord in material and fleshly ways, by our work and relationships, and by our corporate praise and singing, thus ever increasing praise and honor and thanks and glory to Him through all the works of our hands and all the worship of our souls – continuously.
And glory is within our reach even now – a foretaste of Paradise and of the new creation. We access that glory by seeing Jesus in His Word (2 Cor. 3.12-18), then from that vision seeing His glory refracted throughout the creation (Ps. 19.1-4), and with that, living to the glory of the Lord (1 Cor. 10.31) and thus affording the world a glimpse of the glory to come in the glory by which we live here and now (Hab. 2.14).
Heaven indeed awaits believers, and all the glory of it. But heaven – Paradise – is a half-way house to the greater glory of the new heavens and new earth. So, as we await the Paradise and new creation, to which we aspire for the sake of knowing and delighting in the glory of God, we live now in the light of then, by our words and deeds bearing witness in glory to unseen things and mysteries, as we call the world to repent and believe the Gospel, for the glory of God and His Kingdom.
Questions for Reflection
1. What is the glory of God? What makes the glory of God so wonderful?
2. Even in heaven, and in the new heavens and new earth, believers will be doing good works. Such as?
Psalm 23.4-6 (The Gift of Love: Though I May Speak with Bravest Fire)
The Lord is ever by my side; His rod and staff with me abide.
A table rich for me He spreads; with oil my Lord anoints my head.
Goodness and mercy, full and free, shall ever after follow me;
and in the house of God, my Lord, shall I abide forevermore!
Thank You, Lord, for the promise of heaven and glory! Help me to glimpse that glory and to make it known today as I…
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T. M. Moore, Principal
Davies, p. 10