What is the Gospel? Many would say that the Gospel is: If you believe in Jesus you will go to heaven when you die. There is much I could ask about that simple definition (e.g. What does believe mean?). But I would also want to ask about the emphasis on heaven.
You will find countless books, sermons, blogs, tracts and so on claiming that we must choose where we will spend eternity, heaven or hell. I will leave aside hell for this post (although you might be interested in this post on hell).
What about heaven? Does the Bible really teach that we can spend eternity in heaven? I would say that it does not. There is very little emphasis on going to heaven when you die (Listen to this podcast on what happens when we die).
The teaching of the Bible is not that we will be disembodied spirits for all eternity. The teaching of Jesus, Paul and the early church is clearly that of the resurrection of the dead. We are to have bodies, in some way connected with our earthly body but significantly upgraded. The example we are given is that of the resurrection body Jesus received.
The question is then, where will we live in these resurrection bodies? Is it heaven? I don’t think so.
Take a look at this passage from Revelation:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” (Revelation 21:1–3 ESV)
This passage teaches that God comes from heaven to earth to be with his people. Both God and resurrected followers will live on earth and not in heaven.
In case you dismiss Revelation as too symbolic, I will share this passage from Romans.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hopethat the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:18–23 ESV)
Paul teaches that we have something in common with the rest of creation. We are all looking forward to our transformation at the resurrection. Paul is pointing to the same truth in Revelation, the concept of the new earth. Resurrected people will live on a resurrected earth.
I understand that this is all difficult to take. Eternity in heaven has been taught for so long. But we must go where biblical evidence leads and not what feels comfortable.