Where I am you will also be
Who could fail to be thrilled beyond measure at the merest thought of the ultimate destiny of believers - to enter the New Jerusalem where God Himself will dwell and to "see His face" (Rev. 22:4). This prospect has strengthened untold numbers of persecuted believers through the centuries and puts a spring in the step of God-lovers every day. But the popular notion that we will enter this ultimate abode in the first flash of resurrection life (or, as many believe, the instant we die and our supposed immortal souls "go to heaven") ignores a mass of biblical evidence. It ignores, for instance, verses such as 1 Thessalonians 4:17:
Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
Forever with the Lord, not "forever with the Father". Or how about John 14:3:
And if [when] I go and prepare a place for you I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also (John 14:3).
Jesus is coming back to earth (where the clouds are found) and will embrace resurrected believers here. The "straight-to-heaven" notion also ignores the entire thrust of the Old Testament hope offered to Abraham and his spiritual seed:
Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession. (Gen. 17:8).
Disciples of Jesus constitute Abraham's spiritual seed (descendants) and "heirs of the promise" (Gal. 3:29). Abraham's seed are to inherit the land of Canaan! To treat the promised land as cryptic code for the ultimate new Jerusalem has little biblical warrant. To do so makes nonsense of the entire story of God's call to the father of the faithful to leave one country (Chaldea) and go to another (Canaan) which he would eventually receive as an inheritance (Acts 7:5). Jesus confirmed the promise that His followers - Abraham's spiritual seed - would "inherit the land" (Matt. 5:5).
Now let's add another thrilling ingredient into this mix of hope. Immediately before the words quoted from John 14:3 above Jesus said this:
In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you (John 14:2).
In reassuring His followers that "all will be well", Jesus tells
them that they will have a "mansion" (abode) or "place" in His Father's house. The only other place where Jesus uses the term "My Father's house" (John 2:16) shows plainly that He was referring to the temple in Jerusalem. The temple will be the focal point of the land promised to Abraham's seed. Jesus' words confirm some staggering Old Testament promises to the effect that the righteous would abide in God's tabernacle on the "holy hill" of Jerusalem (Psalm 15:1). Isaiah promised unambiguously that,
… he who puts his trust in Me shall possess the land, and shall inherit My holy mountain (57:13).
Echoing Jesus' words that He would prepare a "place" in the temple for His disciples, Isaiah also said,
Even to them I will give in My house and within My walls a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off (56:5).
Lest one imagines that Isaiah here envisioned the new heavens of which he spoke later (65:17) note carefully what he says two verses later:
Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar (vs. 7).
God will "bring" those who love Him to the temple - exactly what Jesus promised His disciples - a place where sacrifices are offered. That's not heaven. Why spiritualize these words away? Jesus didn't! Those who love Jesus thrill at the prospect of "being with Christ" (Phil 1:23). When Jesus returns at the Parousia He won't float around the earth in some ethereal state. At His return, His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4). Shortly thereafter the temple will be built in accord with the details given in the latter chapters of Ezekiel. When completed, Jesus will enter in triumphal procession (Ez. 43:1-5) and from that moment the temple will be,
… the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever (43:7).
Unbelievable! Joy of joys! What more could one ask for than to walk the paving stones of the temple in Jesus' entourage with Abraham and his seed and to eat with Him at His banquet table? Small wonder we are to comfort one another with this thought (1 Thess. 4:18). Sure; may we look forward to the New Jerusalem in the new heavens. But that will have to wait a bit.