In a video message, a pastor claimed that that heaven and hell are real places, not metaphors. He said that Jesus described “hell” as having fire that is not quenched and worm that does not die. He also asked a question: If heaven is a metaphor, then where is Jesus’ present physical resurrected body today?
Literal or Metaphorical?
My understanding is that Jesus is a Master of using parables and metaphors to bring His messages across, especially in the Jewish context. So what makes us think that one parable is metaphorical and another parable literal?
For example, how can we claim that Jesus’ speech about plucking out our eye if it offends us is metaphorical, and at the same time claim that when Jesus’ speech about fire that is not quenched and worm that does not die is literal?
I can’t help but wonder what species of worm would be able to survive the literal fire and continue to crawl around for trillions and trillions of years and beyond. Perhaps National Geographic might want to do some research on that (that is, if they are willing to humour us).
So, my take on Jesus’ words is that He was using metaphors to describe the “condemnation of gehenna” experienced in the conscience of the unbelieving Jews during the destruction of the Jerusalem in AD70.
Basically, I wouldn’t want to interpret literally what is meant to be symbolic or metaphorical. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3 “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” Any literal interpretation of “hell” or “lake of fire” would only cause condemnation. Besides, I wouldn’t want to support any ministry that preaches hell or implies hell is a literal place in the afterlife because such teachings are going to mess up people’s minds, creating fear, guilt and condemnation when they think they or their loved ones are going to be tortured for eternity after they die, for any particular reason such as not believing in Jesus correctly or not having the chance to hear the gospel, and so on. If there is anything more sadistic than legalism, the hell doctrine is probably it.
Where is Jesus’ body today?
I think that surely Jesus today can’t be physically in a place up there looking down on earth because astronomy shows that the higher we go up into the atmosphere, the thinner will be the air, and the temperature gets extremely hot in the mesosphere, thermosphere and exosphere (though we would still feel very cold due to the very thin air), before ending up in outer space where there is no oxygen. Unless Jesus wore a protective spacesuit with oxygen mask like an astronaut, or His body is specially designed to withstand extreme changes in temperature, it is very unlikely He would have been in a physical body and ascended physically, if people were to view His “ascension” in a literal manner. And even then, He would probably be drifting about aimlessly in outer space, and could have visited the moon or the other planets like Mars or Jupiter if He had wanted to.
Someone in this website wondered the same thing:
“We know heaven is not in the sky anymore, but Jesus ascended whole bodied into the sky in front of loads of people, so where did he go? A human body could not survive the extremities of space i.e no air pressure so your body would explode, extreme temperatures like -150 and lower as well as much higher also, cosmic radiation etc etc. So if a body could not survive in Space and heaven is not above us then where is he gone?”
So no, Jesus’ resurrected body isn’t in a place called heaven – He is living in each of us. It is called “Christ in you, the hope of glory”. We are all already seated together with Christ in the heavenly places, right here right now.
The spiritual meaning of “resurrection”
Besides, some bible studies (see below weblinks) have shown the “resurrection” is a spiritual experience, not a physical encounter. 1 Corinthians 15 states Jesus has become a life-giving Spirit, which explains His ability to appear and disappear.
Dan Barker noted that when the apostle Paul wrote about Jesus’ death and “resurrection” in 1 Corinthians 15, he could have used the Greek word for “resurrection” but he used “awaken” instead. That tells us that the “resurrection” was a spiritual awakening from a deep sleep.
“Neither is there a “resurrection” in this passage. The word “raised” is egeiro, which means to “wake up” or “come to.” Paul did not use the word “resurrection” (anastasis, anistemi) here, though he certainly knew it. Egeiro is used throughout the New Testament to mean something simpler. “Now it is high time to awaken [egeiro] out of sleep” was not written to corpses. “Awake [egeiro] thou that sleepest, and arise [anistemi] from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light” was also written to breathing people, so Paul obviously means something non-physical here, even with his use of “resurrect,” contrasted with egeiro (before you get up, you have to wake up).
Whatever Paul may have believed happened to Jesus, he did not say that his revived body came out of a tomb. It is perfectly consistent with Christian theology to think that the spirit of Jesus, not his body, was awakened from the grave, as Christians today believe that the spirit of Grandpa has gone to heaven while his body rots in the ground.
All of the “appearances” in I Corinthians 15:3-8 must be viewed as psychological “spiritual experiences,” not physiological encounters with a revived corpse. In Paul, we have no empty tomb, no resurrection, and no bodily appearances.”
– Dan Barker
So there we have it – Jesus’ appearance to His disciples after He rose again (awakened) was referring to spiritual experiences, not physiological encounters with a “revived corpse”. This interpretation sits well with me from the preterist perspective too, since preterists view Jesus’ appearance from a spiritual perspective.
So, my take is that Jesus ascended into our collective human consciousness in the Spirit, where He was described in the book of Hebrews as entering the Most Holy Place to cleanse the conscience – so “heaven” is actually a place where our conscience or consciousness is. Therefore, those who were under the law before AD70 would have had their conscience cleansed when they believed in Jesus. This will help the Jews to not experience the “judgment” in their consciousness at the end of the old covenant age in AD70 when the religious system was finally destroyed, knowing that they are already right with God. As for us gentiles, we can simply learn from the object lesson described in Hebrews in a metaphysical perspective and take it by faith that we are already complete and righteous and blameless, since we were never under the law but we are under grace all along.
In conclusion, my answer to the question “If heaven is a metaphor, where is Jesus’ resurrected body today?” is this: Jesus is a life-giving Spirit, and He has manifested Himself in every man and woman, as symbolised by His awakening from the deep sleep 2,000 years ago. The kingdom of heaven is within every one of us – righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, who is our Comforter who abides with us forever.