Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.
–Hebrews 6:1-3 (ESV)
The Evangelical gospel asks, “Are you certain you are going to go to heaven when you die?” The Christian objective seems to be to secure a place in heaven, but the Bible says very little about heaven. Find out why most passages about heaven are actually not about heaven at all in this installment on the basic teachings of the Messiah from Hebrews 6.
Lancaster starts out his sermon by telling a joke about Heaven. I won’t retell it here. You can listen to it in the recording (link above) or read it at the beginning of Chapter 8: “Our Hope is not in Heaven,” pp 97-8 in his book Elementary Principles: Six Foundational Principles of Ancient Jewish Christianity. The thrust of today’s sermon is based on one phrase from Hebrews 6:2, “the resurrection from the dead.”
He’s talked before about what I call the truncated gospel message of Christianity which basically says, “Believe in Jesus so you can go to Heaven when you die.” That’s the whole point of being a Christian for many believers. The other part of it is to convince as many people as possible to believe in Jesus so they can go to Heaven when they die.
Except, you don’t go to Heaven when you die and you don’t stay in Heaven forever as a disembodied spirit after you die.
According to Lancaster, and I agree with him, there’s a lot of confusion about Heaven in Christianity, especially since the Bible doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about Heaven. If you are a traditional Evangelical Christian, that statement might seem confusing. After all, didn’t Jesus and the apostles talk about Heaven all the time?
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness…
And as you go, preach, saying, `The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
Also see Philippians 3:20, Colossians 1:5, and 2 Timothy 4:18 and many other verses in the apostolic scriptures that mention Heaven.
Except the Heaven mentioned in all or most of these verses isn’t the Heaven in the sky where God lives, it’s what’s called a circumlocution, a way of talking about God without saying “God.” In other words, when Jesus said “Kingdom of Heaven” as recorded in Matthew’s gospel, he was really saying “Kingdom of God,” and that Kingdom will finally be completely established here on earth when Jesus comes back as King and Lord.
The First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) television series A Promise of What is to Come contains a number of episodes that discuss what the Kingdom of Heaven is, where it is, how it works, why Peter has the keys of the Kingdom, and how treasure can be stored there. See episodes such as The Kingdom is Now, Seek First the Kingdom, Thy Kingdom Come, Keys to the Kingdom, Foretaste of the Kingdom, Treasure in Heaven, and Restoring the Kingdom for details. Each episode is about thirty minutes long and the content opens up and expands in great detail about the concepts Lancaster covers in his sermon. In fact, Lancaster seems to be summarizing all of that material in his thirty-four minute lecture today.
Just a couple of things. Philippians 3:20 talks about Christians having citizenship in Heaven. Does that mean when we die, we go live in Heaven as citizens, like how we have American citizenship (or whatever national citizenship you may have)? No. We are resurrected physically on earth and live here in bodies in the Messianic Kingdom. Our citizenship may be in Heaven, but we’ll be living here. After all, Paul was born a Roman citizen but he wasn’t born in Rome. He never even lived there, at least not until near the end of his life.
According to Lancaster, there is a paradise, a Gan Eden (Garden of Eden) where the spirits of the righteous go when the person dies, but that’s temporary. The spirit is reunited with the body at the resurrection.
Remember the empty tomb and Jesus?
While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you.” But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; and He took it and ate it before them.
This is the resurrection we can expect, because Jesus was the first fruits of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). We will also be resurrected in our original bodies (remember, Jesus still had the wounds, he didn’t get a new body) but we will not die again. This is what we can expect after we die and are resurrected, not going to Heaven like Casper the Friendly Ghost to float around on clouds for eternity.
What Did I Learn?
Since I’ve watched all of the FFOZ television episodes I mentioned above, I already had a pretty good idea what Lancaster was going to teach about. Lancaster based a number of things he taught on the writings of Christian theologian N.T. Wright, as well as his own teaching What About Heaven and Hell.
Lancaster also said that the reason Christians are so confused about Heaven and Hell is because Christianity separated itself from Judaism, and thus from the first century CE Jewish view of the meaning of the resurrection. He even went so far as to compare typical Christian understanding about what happens when we die to how the gnostics saw the dichotomy between the earthly corruptness and heavenly purity. Generally, Judaism doesn’t have “issues” with a flesh and blood physical existence (unless you get into Jewish mysticism, but that’s another story).
I see these comments as a continuation of the points Lancaster has made in other sermons in this series. He seems to be advocating a return to Judaism (specifically Messianic Judaism) for believers in Jesus, with an eye on first century C.E. Judaism. While the idea has merit, it’s important to remember that as the various Judaisms evolved over the last two-thousand years, they likely also do not contain perfect interpretations of the scriptures and probably possess a few misunderstandings of their own. We can all do the best we can to understand what God is saying to us in the Bible, but when Messiah returns, I suspect he’ll have to correct us in a few of the details of our doctrine and theology.
Is our hope in Heaven? It depends. If we put our hope, according to Lancaster, in being a “floaty ghost” in Heaven when we die, then no. If, on the other hand, we put our hope in God who is in Heaven (yes, Heaven is real), then yes…our hope is in Heaven, our hope is in God.
This too is one of the elementary teachings of the faith, as stated by the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews, one of those “milk” things.
I’ve become quite accustomed to the belief in a physical resurrection and an existence on earth as part of the literal Kingdom of God with King Messiah reigning on the throne of David in Jerusalem, so I didn’t experience any surprises or curve balls in today’s sermon. If, on the other hand, you are an Evangelical Christian who has been taught you’re going to become a “floaty soul” on a cloud playing a harp for all eternity when you die (actually the harps seem unescapable in Heaven based on Revelation 5:8, 14:2, and 15:2), then you might want to listen to Lancaster’s sermon or, better yet, spend a few hours viewing the selection of TV episodes I mentioned above (just click the links and view them online).
It could be an eye opener.