While we humans have been individually battling out the war of good and evil, God has been working quietly behind the scenes. He intended from the very beginning that we would eventually occupy heaven, but He shared His plans with no one. In the beginning of creation, no one imagined that humanity would ascend to heaven. Human beings were descending below the earth with every death that occurred. Painstakingly, through many human generations, God was putting into place the plan that would make heaven our eternal home. (If you want to know more about how all this worked then, and works now, see the online book The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven.)
The Longer Time Frame
Think about it from God’s point of view. You have a problem with the spirits you’ve created and you want to solve it. To do so, you create the physical universe and assign roles to those spirits – good and evil – in the governance of it. You put humans, who are spirits clothed with the elements of the earth itself, in charge of the earth. Through these underlings you work for a minimum of 4,000 years to get to a point where those humans – actually just one of them: Jesus of Nazareth – effects a change that significantly alters the heavenly realm where the problem originally existed. Gives a whole new meaning to the word patience, eh?
Our life spans, no matter how long, become minuscule when compared to such a time frame. That God has waged so long a war against evil indicates how important winning that war really is. Although we look at the battle primarily as an individual one, He takes the broader perspective. He is often linking our lives and weaving our maneuvers in ways we perceive only vaguely and fleetingly, if at all. Actions that we take, actions that may even seem insignificant to us, can be part of a larger strategy He is implementing.
Who would’ve thought that a lowly carpenter’s son would be the leading figure in the battle for heaven? Who would’ve thought that the accomplishments and failures of His nation would provide the precedents and the principles for His victory? And who would’ve thought that the ancient texts of that nation could let us visualize the battle’s outcome that has contained the war of good and evil to earth? God uses our little acts to accomplish His big ones.
Victory in the Larger Context
Viewed in the larger context, the problem of death was not cessation of existence, but separation from God. The Bible describes how death meant banishment to Sheol, a place far below the earth and far away from heaven. Death was thus a stronghold of the forces opposed to God. Forces of evil could taunt the Creator and say, “They are ours.” God’s plan, however, would culminate in a great spiritual battle in the heavens. As a result, Sheol would be eliminated and the heavens would be opened up to resurrected humans. (Again, The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven thoroughly explains all this.)
The good and evil spirits, who populated the heavenly realm before this creation, come in and out of focus as the Bible is read from Genesis to Revelation. The Second Coming of Christ, which marked the elimination of Sheol and opening of heaven for resurrected humans, was a major clash of those forces. This battle for heaven, called Armageddon, resulted in a definitive victory for the forces of goodness. As part of the conquest, resurrected humanity was placed with the Lord above while the spiritual forces of evil were thrown down. Thus peace was won in heaven while the war of good and evil was, from that point forward, contained to earth. (For a thorough explanation of how the Second Coming of Jesus Christ occurred long ago in the late 1st Century A.D. see the online book Whatever Became of Jesus Christ?)
As long as we remain on this earth, you and I will have to deal with these evil spiritual forces. They are continually attempting to invade the thinking of people on earth – and that includes people who believe that everyone is going to heaven. At death, however, we are raised far above their reach. There is nothing but peace above, for the heavens have now been washed of evil. This cleansing was a fulfillment of the creation’s purpose. It’s a victory whose sweetness will eternally be savored.
Since the beginning of creation, death had been evil’s trump card against God. Death took humans farther away from Him into enemy territory. No matter what miracles God did for people on earth, Satan and company would end up with God’s warriors in captivity. Jesus’ triumph at the Second Coming in the late 1st Century A.D. was the bringing home of all P.O.W.’s. It was the greatest of escapes. Not only did all the dead and wounded come home, they came home whole and healed. They were clothed in new spiritual bodies, free from deformity and disease. And they were no longer threatened by death…because they had been birthed from it.
When Jesus brought to light that the resurrection led to heaven, He wasn’t just pulling the rug out from under human minds. He was upending spiritual minds as well. Evil forces would not have inspired the crucifixion of Jesus had they known what it would lead to. The apostles seemed quite taken with the fact that the good news was as much news to heaven as it was to earth. And rightly so. For thousands of years, the human experience seemed book-ended by birth on the one side and death on the other. With a resurrection to heaven, God had thrown away one bookend. A whole new future was opened up for humanity, and earthly tongues weren’t the only ones hanging out in dumbstruck awe.
The unseen realm is still one that is vague to us, but we can perceive enough to jump up and down with excitement when we picture what God has done for us. We were His heroes, sent to deliver the universe from evil. We ourselves were captured and made its slaves in the process. But God had not been out-foxed. He had a plan. And when that plan was revealed, heaven went wild – half of it with glee and the other half with stark terror. For a generation, the one covered in the New Testament, heaven gave off sparks that showed up all over earth. The sparks culminated in an explosion (The Second Coming) that still echoes to this day. Our fallen comrades have been restored to the Commander-in-Chief and we will one day join them.
Victory in the Smaller Context
We who do battle on this side of the Second Coming are now fighting a war whose conclusion is inevitable. The war of good and evil goes on, but the final outcome has already been determined by the winning of that decisive battle. Just as D-Day determined the outcome of World War II even though much blood spilled afterward, so the conquest of death determined evil’s defeat even though it may gasp loudly for a long time to come.
Though the war is going our way, there is still a lot riding on the battles you face. Heaven may yet be many days off and there are despairing people around you who don’t even know it’s coming. Who will touch them if you don’t? God put you where He did when He did for a reason. It’s not just a matter of doing good, it’s a matter of doing good in the face of evil. It’s a matter of letting that strangely wonderful love come to you and through you to others. It’s not a way we’re accustomed to living, but it’s the kick God gets out of life and He thought we’d like to share it.
When Jesus was hanging on the cross, He looked like a helpless victim. He looked like He was doing nothing to solve His problem. And it’s true that He was doing nothing to solve His personal and immediate problem. But He was doing everything necessary to solve our common and ultimate problem. He was bringing about a solution to the problem of death. He was overcoming evil with goodness. In overcoming evil with goodness, He was not only fulfilling His own purpose, He was fulfilling the purpose of creation itself. He was letting the strangely wonderful love of God inside Him overcome all the evil around Him.
Jesus survived and overcame what is the most deplorable of situations in the war between good and evil: when we humans turn on each other. We are all soldiers in the same army and answer to the same general. To die by “friendly fire” is the most needless of tragedies. To keep from accidentally firing on our comrades, and to survive when they fire on us, requires us to spend more time reflecting on the consequences of our behavior.