In his New Testament Theology, Donald Guthrie argues for “the absence of any materialistic conceptions of heaven” (879). Even though he acknowledges that 2 Peter 3:13 speaks of “a new heavens and earth,” Guthrie says, “This appears to be a material interpretation of the heavenly state, but it is probable that it was no more intended to be taken literally than Revelation 21:1” (884f., cf. 887). Guthrie is not clear about the motivation for interpreting the resurrection of the body in a material sense while at the same time denying that the eternal abode of these resurrected, embodied people is non-material.
In his arguments for a non-material heaven, Guthrie seems to equate eternal life and heaven. But the passages he cites nowhere connect the two (881). Similarly, he states that in heaven humans will not be married (877), but the texts cited simply say that in the resurrection humans, similar to the angels in heaven, will not marry. The texts do not say humans will be resurrected to heaven.
More favorable to Guthrie are Colossians 1:5 which says the Christian hope is “laid up . . . in heaven,” 1 Peter 1:4 which says the Christian inheritance is “in heaven” (cf. Luke 12:33), and Hebrews 11:16 which says Abraham and those like him seek a heavenly country. Nevertheless, these texts do not say heaven is the eternal destination of believers.
The Christian hope and inheritance is currently in heaven, but this does not mean that it will stay there. Revelation pictures the New Jerusalem descending from heaven. Likewise, the country sought by Abraham is heavenly, but it is not necessarily in heaven. Hebrews indicates that Abraham did not receive what was promised (Heb. 11:13). Thus we should expect that someday Abraham will receive what God promised. Genesis 17:8 promised Abraham the land of his sojourning as an eternal possession.
This raises the question of the re-creation of the earth. How can Abraham receive the land of his sojourning if God recreates the earth? Perhaps the best analogy is the resurrection body. Resurrection bodies are clearly different than the bodies Christians now have, and there is no indication that God is going to recreate these bodies using the same molecules. Nevertheless there is a clear continuity between the dead person and the resurrected person.
John 14:1-6 also may seem to support the conception that God’s people will spend eternity in heaven. Jesus said that he was going away to his Father’s house to prepare rooms for his disciples. It is clear that the Father is in heaven (cf. Matt. 5:45). Jesus will then come again and take his disciples to be with him. This seems to indicate that Christ will return to bring his disciples to heaven. This passage must be harmonized, however, with other passages that teach believers will live on earth during the eternal state. It may well be that what Jesus refers to in John 14 is coming for his people at the rapture. According the the pre-tribulation model, saints will dwell with Christ in heaven during the tribulation. At the end of the tribulation they will return to earth with him for the Millennium and the eternal state.
Guthrie, Donald. New Testament Theology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1981.