If we believe, even subconsciously, that the material world is inherently unspiritual, we will ignore or spiritualize the resurrection. Some speak of spiritual resurrection, but as the sunrise requires a sun, resurrection requires a physical body. That’s what resurrection means. The risen Jesus reassured his disciples, “Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have” (Luke 24:39 CSB). Yet some evangelicals imagine an afterlife in which we become ghosts — the very thing Jesus reassured his followers he wasn’t.
Of all the misconceptions we have about heaven, which is the most destructive? That’s a difficult and important question to tackle.
Once, while preaching about the new earth, I cited passages about feasting together in our resurrection bodies. Afterward, a veteran Bible student asked if I really believed we would eat and drink in the afterlife. I told him yes, since Jesus said so. Visibly shaken, he replied, “Engaging in physical activities in heaven sounds terribly unspiritual.” Standing there with a body God promised to raise, he was repulsed by the thought of living forever as a physical being in a material world.
And he’s not alone. Many Bible-believing Christians would die before denying the doctrine of the resurrection — and yet they don’t fully believe it.
I’ve dialogued with lifelong evangelicals who don’t understand what resurrection means. They really believe they will spend eternity as disembodied spirits. God’s revelation concerning the resurrection and the new earth — our forever home — eludes them. A Christian university professor wrote, “I was floored and dismayed to discover the vast majority of my students don’t believe in the bodily resurrection.” Some evangelicals even believe we become angels when we die.
If I could eliminate one belief about heaven, it would be the heresy that the physical world is an enemy of God’s redemptive plan rather than a central part of it.
Dangers of Christoplatonism
I coined the term “Christoplatonism” to capture how Plato’s notion of a good spirit realm and an evil material world hijacked the church’s understanding of heaven. From a Christoplatonic perspective, our souls occupy our bodies like a hermit crab inhabits a seashell.
“We will never be all God intended until body and spirit are reunited.”
Plato’s statement Soma sema, “a body, a tomb,” reflected his belief that the spirit’s ideal state is freedom from the body. The first-century Jewish philosopher Philo tried to integrate Plato’s view with Judaism. In the second and third centuries, some church fathers — including Clement and Origen — followed Philo and reinterpreted Scripture.
But the Bible contradicts Christoplatonism from beginning (Genesis 1, God created the heavens and earth) to end (Revelation 21, God will remake the heavens and earth). The gospel itself centers on the resurrected Jesus who, as part of his redemptive work, will resurrect his people and the world he made for them.
Genesis 2:7 says, “The Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” Adam became alive when God joined his body and spirit together. Your body doesn’t merely house you; in concert with your spirit, it is you.
Jesus redeems our whole person. When believers die, our spirits go to the present heaven while our bodies go to the grave, awaiting resurrection. We will never be all God intended until body and spirit are reunited in heaven. And just as our new bodies won’t be non-bodies, but real bodies, so the new earth will be a real earth, not a non-earth.