Heaven Is Not Enough

Views about heaven abound. Some are helpful. Some are not. When it comes to the Bible, some passages about heaven come with surprises. One of those is the vision of the martyrs in Revelation 6:9-11. Now a martyr is by definition someone who has died and gone to heaven. They loved Jesus more than life, and so they were “slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given” (Rev 6:9). What’s surprising about this passage is the attitude of the martyrs. Most people think of heaven in terms of eternal joy and bliss. After all, if you’ve entered into the presence of God, what more could you want? Apparently, that isn’t how these martyrs view the situation. They have a complaint. And they’d like it resolved quickly. From their position under the heavenly altar they are said to cry out in a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” (Rev 6:10). They’ve died and gone to heaven, but heaven isn’t enough. They want more.

Dissatisfied with Heaven

So what are they waiting for? To answer that question we need to look more closely at their appeal. Their complaint revolves around the wrong done to them. They did nothing wrong, yet they’ve lost their lives. They were perfectly faithful, but they suffered deep injustice. They died for their faith. And from their perspective, entrance into heaven does nothing to make things right. They want to be vindicated. So they appeal to their “Sovereign” to do something about it, and they’ll be dissatisfied with heaven until he does.

Resurrection as Vindication

But we still haven’t answered the question. If heaven isn’t enough, what is? What does vindication look like for the faithful dead? The answer comes later in Revelation. After Babylon falls to God’s judgment (in Revelation Babylon is a symbol of the forces that oppose God and oppress his people), the martyrs are raised from the dead and participate in Christ’s reign. This is what they’ve been waiting for – the resurrection of the body. After all, if the body is killed, that wrong cannot be made right as long as the body is in the grave. To say they’ve died and gone to heaven is to say their bodies are still dead. The injustice of their deaths can only be rectified by bodily resurrection. Their bodies must rise from the grave for the wrong to be made right. And this is true not only for the martyrs. It is an affront to God any time a creature made in God’s image dies. That’s why the hope for resurrection permeates the New Testament. Heaven is great, but if we’re talking about a disembodied spiritual experience, it’s not the goal. Ultimate redemption only comes with bodily resurrection.

Check out this Seven Minute Seminary for more on what the Bible says about life after death.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of St. Mark Church in Mobile, Alabama, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and an adjunct member of the faculties of Asbury Theological Seminary and Wesley Biblical Seminary. Hear him on the So What? Podcast, connect on Facebook, or follow @mporeilly.

2 thoughts on “Heaven Is Not Enough

  1. Matt,

    I’ve never understood the book of Revelation and I still don’t. Your interpretation of Revelation 6:9-11, in which suggest that the martyrs in heaven are dissatisfied and are longing for revenge against those who killed them, is thought provoking, but is your interpretation correct and consistent with other things we know about heaven?

    As Jesus was dying on the cross, he told the thief dying next to him, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) A heaven filled with discontented martyrs does not sound like a paradise to me. It almost seems like the dead martyrs who are now in the presence of the risen Lord are doubting that God will do what he said he would do. That doesn’t make sense either.

    Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that somebody hid in a field, which someone else found and covered up. Full of joy, the finder sold everything and bought that field.” (Matthew 13:44). Jesus went on to say, “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he found one very precious pearl, he went and sold all that he owned and bought it.”(Matthew 13:45) And in Luke 6:22 he said, “Happy are you when people hate you, reject you, insult you, and condemn your name as evil because of the Son of Man. Rejoice when that happens! Leap for joy because you have a great reward in heaven.” The martyrs you mention don’t sound full of joy and they certainly don’t sound like they’ve found a treasure, a precious pearl, or just received a great reward. Why would that be? I have heard a Methodist minister say that John Wesley felt Christians achieved Christian perfection by the time of the death. If that is the case, the discontented martyrs described in Revelation 6:9-11 don’t seem to have achieved it. At Jesus’ transformation, Moses and Elijah were described as being “clothed with heavenly splendor.” (Luke 9:31) The discontented martyr mentioned in Revelation 6 don’t seem to be clothed with this splendor, do they? Why? Something doesn’t make sense.

    Lastly, you didn’t mention that Jesus’ resurrected body continued to carry the scars and wounds that he endured during and after his crucifixion. So will burn patients and people who have been mangled in car accidents continue to carry those scars with them for eternity? That’s not something any burn patient would look forward to, I can assure you of that. I’ve always thought my mangled, atrophic legs would be like they were before my car accident when my body is resurrected – that is what I’ve been hoping for. I’ll find out one day.

    I’ll see you on Sunday. Hanes


  2. Pingback: No Redemption without Resurrection | Orthodoxy for Everyone

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