The paradox of the better land
The better land of Hebrews 11:16 is heavenly, and yet, the saints remain on the earth, which seems to be a paradox. How can people dwelling on the earth be in a better land, if it is located in heaven? Perhaps it is not located in heaven, but has a heavenly character.
Hebrews 11:13-16 NKJV
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return.
But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
The meaning of the concept may be understood, and the paradox resolved, when we consider a statement made by Jesus, during his conversation with Nicodemus.
And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.
Jesus is the one who came down from heaven. Apparently, even while he was speaking to Nicodemus, Jesus was in some way in heaven. Perhaps the meaning of this is that he was in continual contact with his Father, who is in heaven. Although he was talking to Nicodemus, Jesus was in heaven, in the sense that he was in the presence of God, in Spirit.
The meaning of the better land is further clarified, in the following scriptures. Isaiah wrote:
For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
God dwells in heaven, and also with those who are of a contrite and humble spirit. Those who acknowledge God as ruler of all, and are humble before him, are in harmony with their Creator. Isaiah said God will look to those of who are of a contrite heart, and who tremble at his word.
Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?
For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the Lord: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.
Dwelling in the better land is the place of God’s “rest.” It has to do with fellowship with God, and with being aware of his presence. Jesus was present with his heavenly Father, while he was speaking to Nicodemus, and throughout the duration of his ministry. And similarly, those who believe in Christ have been raised up, and are in the presence of God, and so they all sit together “in heavenly places.”
In the same epistle in which he said believers are raised up together, and sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, the apostle Paul advised Christians to put on the armour of God. In Ephesians 6:12 he speaks of wrestling, not against flesh and blood, but “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
He specified the nature of the armour that a Christian requires. First was “having your loins girt about with truth.” Then, he listed “the breastplate of righteousness,” feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
This also agrees with the idea that the saints are in the kingdom of God. Paul said that God has “translated” believers into the kingdom of his Son.
Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.
While Christians sit together, they are each at different levels of understanding. Like children in a family, there are different stages in maturity. And all have different kinds of trials, and gifts, and experience.
There is spiritual darkness, and “spiritual wickedness in high places,” because as Revelation 12:3, 4, 7, 8 shows, in the present age, the dragon’s influence extends to heaven. And the saints are raised up to sit together while we are imperfect; Paul said this has occurred “Even when we were dead in sins.” [Ephesians 2:5]