|Green Lake, Wisconsin|
I've been living and breathing this text for a week now, going to commentaries, reading the thing in Greek with special attention to certain words and their meaning, in context. This afternoon I am revisiting N.T. Wright's wonderful book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. I'll post and comment on some Wright-thoughts here, especially as they are relevant to "the restoration of everything."
- Our real Christian hope is not "going to heaven" after we die, if this means going to some place or something that is essentially away from this world. The Christian hope is for "new heaven and new earth. This hope has already come to life in Jesus of Nazareth. (5)
- "It comes as something of a shock when people are told what is in fact the case: that there is very little in the Bible about "going to heaven when you die"..." (18) Wright says "the language of 'heaven' in the Bible doesn't work that way." (18) How so?
- "'God's kingdom' in the preaching of Jesus refers not to postmortem destiny, not to our escape from this world into another one, but to God's sovereign rule coming 'on earth as it is in heaven'. The roots of the misunderstanding go very deep, not least into the residual Platonism that has infected whole swaths of Christian thinking..." (18)
- Now note what Wright next says. This is the kind of thing that sounds somewhat shocking given the mostly-unstudied otherworldly ideas I grew up with re. Christianity and the afterlife. "The wonderful description in Revelation 4 and 5 of the twenty-four elders casting their crowns before the throne of God and the lamb, beside the sea of glass, is not, despite one of Charles Wesley's great hymns, a picture of the last day, with all the redeemed in heaven at last. It is a picture of present reality, the heavenly dimension of our present life. Heaven, in the Bible, is not a future destiny but the other, hidden, dimension of our ordinary life - God's dimension, if you like. God made heaven and earth; at the last he will remake both and join them together forever. And when we come to the picture of the actual end in Revelation 21-22, we find not ransomed souls making their way to a disembodied heaven but rather the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven, to earth, uniting the two in a lasting embrace." (18-19; emphasis mine)
- Wow! Is Wright some kind of heretic? No. Rather, Wright takes scripture so seriously that he's willing to leave the blatant Platonism that infects so many of our hymns and understandings of the afterlife, and which actually takes away our now-hope. Commenting on this book Dallas Willard writes: "Responsible Christians must carefully study this book. It uniquely meets the challenge facing the Church recovering the original, radical understanding of the resurrection, salvation, and the Good News of life now in the Kingdom of God." (Wright, Ib., back cover) Platonic Christianity only believes in a kind of changeless life after death. Wright affirms not only life after death but life before death. What we think about the afterlife is crucial to this, since Platonic misunderstandings of our real hope in Christ leave us hopeless in the present.
- Marx's criticism of religion as the "opiate of the masses" is relevant only to a Platonic hope. Marx's criticism fails when our true hope in Christ is revealed. (26)
- The one line of The Lord's Prayer, "Thy kingdom come, on earth as in heaven," "remains one of the most powerful and revolutionary sentences we can every say. As I see it, the prayer was powerfully answered at the first Easter and will be answered fully when heaven and earth are joined in the new Jerusalem." (29) This does seem to be the hope given us in the New Testament. A time is coming… when God will restore all things…
The NT says this is a variety of ways.
• Eph. 1:8-10 - "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment— to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ."
• Col. 1:19-20 - "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross."
• Rev. 21:1 - "Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea."
• 2 Peter 3:11-13 - "Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells."
• Rom. 8:18-21 - I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God."
- Now hear this beautiful statement. "Easter was when Hope in person surprised the whole world by coming forward from the future into the present." (29)The resurrection of Jesus is, for Wright, "the defining event of the new creation, the world that is being born with Jesus." (73) What God has done in Jesus "is what he intends to do for the whole world." (91)
- So, in Jesus, heaven has invaded earth. Recently this idea has been resurrected by Bill Johnson in his book When Heaven Invades Earth. I thought of Bill's book when I read this, in Wright: "When Paul says. 'We are citizens of heaven,' he doesn't at all mean that when we're done with this life we'll be going off to live in heaven. What he means is that the savior, the Lord, Jesus the King - all of those were of course his imperial titles - will come from heaven to earth, to change the present situation and state of his people. The key word here is transform: "He will transform our present humble bodies to be like his glorious body." Jesus will not declare that present physicality is redundant and can be scrapped. Nor will he simply improve it, perhaps by speeding up its evolutionary cycle. In a great act of power - the same power that accomplished Jesus's own resurrection, as Paul says in Ephesians 1:19-20 - he will change the present body into the one that corresponds in kind to his own as part of his work of bringing all things into subjection to himself. Philippians 3, though it is primarily speaking of human resurrection, indicates that this will place within the context of God's victorious transformation of the whole cosmos." (100-101)
- Look more closely at Philippians 3. Verses 20-21 read: "Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body." Wright says these words are not about us going to heaven, but about heaven coming to us. "Indeed, it is the church itself, the heavenly Jerusalem, that comes down to earth. This is the ultimate rejection of all types of Gnosticism, of every worldview that sees the final goal as the separation of the world from God, of the physical from the spiritual, or earth from heaven. It is the final answer to the Lord's Prayer, that God's kingdom will come and his will be done on earth as in heaven. It is what Paul is talking about in Ephesians 1:10, that God's design, and promise, was to sum up all things in Christ, things both in heaven and on earth." (104)
- The living God will come and dwell with and among his people. Wright says that "C.S. Lewis did a great job in the Narnia stories and elsewhere of imagining how two worlds could relate and interlock." (115)
- So let's circle back to Acts 3:21. Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. This doesn't say that ""Jesus has gone to heaven, so let's be sure we can follow him." [This says], rather, "Jesus is in heaven, ruling the whole world, and he will one day return to make that rule complete." (117)