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Anticipating the New Heavens and New Earth Pt. 5

Friday, November 13, 2020

Having made a case for what I believe is the Biblical picture of eternity and the essence of the Christian hope, we now turn to ponder what this will be like (to be sure a fuller treatment could most certainly be undertaken, and perhaps I'll return in the future to deal with some other issues relating to this including some common objections). 

A word of caution is in order. As one writer put, we are merely given signposts of eternity. Markers which point us in the right direction but don’t actually drive us all the way there. They invite us to anticipate with eager longing, giving us a taste of what is to come. But it is merely a taste. Perhaps it is analogous to the vantage point God granted Moses before his death (Deuteronomy 34:1-4). God shows us at a distance what He is preparing for us, and while we may bask in the glory of the whole, the splendor of the particulars remains a bit fuzzy. That necessary disclaimer behind us, let us press on to ponder.

What will eternity be in the New Heavens and New Earth be like? Hopefully, by now, we’ve been disabused of the notion that we will be floating on clouds as spirits (what would that even look like?) in some eternal worship service. Not to say worship is bad or that we won’t be doing it for eternity; it's just to say maybe that won’t always look how we typically picture it. We’ll come back to this. Along with that, hopefully, we’ve come to appreciate that the notion of leaving the physical world behind to dwell with God in some non-physical realm is actually quite literally worlds apart from the Biblical picture.

The first thing that we want to affirm about eternity is that we will have bodies. Newly transformed resurrection bodies (Rom. 8:11, 23-24; 1 Cor. 15:35-57; 2 Cor. 5:2-4; Phil 3:20-21; Col. 3:4; 1 Jn. 3.2). The pattern we see in Jesus’ own resurrection is that the new body will be both similar and dissimilar to the ones we had before (Lk. 24:31, 36-40; Jn. 20:19-20, 26-27; the transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-13; Mk. 9:2-8; Lk. 9:28-36) also points in this direction). Furthermore, Paul’s seed metaphor also suggests that our new bodies will be both similar and dissimilar to the old (1 Cor. 15:42-49). Now, how much similarity or dissimilarity our bodies will have is unspecified, and we are reminded that these are only signposts. But, at the very least, we have assurances that we will have glorious bodies that are unplagued by disease, death, and decay. Untouched by age, aches, or ailments. Unharmed by coughs, cancer, and COVID. This is not because we’ve somehow escaped the physical or mortal, but because God has transformed our bodies for immortality. A new physicality, if you will. “Further clothed” as Paul put it, with a body fit for eternity (2 Cor. 5:4). Can you imagine living in such a body? I admit, as I sit here with back hurting, head aching, and throat scratching, it is hard to envision. But oh how I long for it! And I’m certain you do too!

Secondly, we affirm and anticipate that just as we will have newly transformed bodies, so too will the world as we know it be transformed (Rom. 8:18-25; 2 Pet. 3:10-13; Rev. 21:1-2). The curse, chaos, and corruption will give way to light, life, and lavish abundance. Suddenly, texts like Isa. 11:6-9 or 65:25 don’t seem as obscure or as in need of harmonization through “spiritualization.” We can appreciate and anticipate a new world without violence, predation, or scarcity. The lion and the lamb really will lie down together. Natural disasters will be a distant memory. We will inherit a world that doesn’t ruin, rundown, or run out. No thorns, nor thistles, tornados, or tsunamis. The beauty, glory, and majesty of God’s good creation will be restored.

These are glimpses, albeit imperfect and incomplete ones, of what eternity will be like. But the question remains, what will we be doing in our newly transformed bodies in this newly transformed creation?

As we’ve already mentioned and have probably come to expect, eternity will be a time and place for worship. But this won’t be, as it is often conceived of now, just something we do or an event we attend. It will become part of the very fabric of our being. We will be people whose identity is rooted in the worship of God. In large part, the book of Revelation divides people into two categories, those who worship God and those who worship anything else (Rev. 20:4). In the New Heavens and New Earth, we will be given a renewed identity as priests who serve in the presence of God (Rev. 7:15, 22:3). We will join in the chorus of the elders and the four living creatures with the rest of the 144,000 singing the new song of victory (Rev. 14:3). Struck by the majesty, brilliance, and glory of God, we will not be able to help but sing His praises (Rev. 21:22, Rev. 22:3). But not only will we honor God with our lips, as priests, people whose identity is wrapped up in the worship of God, everything that we do will be to the honor and glory of God (Rev. 21:24-26). This prepares us to think of our role as divine image-bearers.

If you remember way back to the spring of this year when we began to talk about what it means to be made into the image of God, we noted that this is a concept that probably cannot be boiled down to any one bite-size idea. At the very least, to be made in the image of God means that we resemble Him in some way, we represent Him as His imagers here on earth, and we rule with Him by exercising stewardship and dominion over creation, or if you just need some more alliteration, we share an affinity, an agency, and an authority with God. Really these are not three separate things, but three ways of getting at the same thing. This God-given purpose, vocation, and identity are not abandoned upon death, nor is it deemed unnecessary in eternity. If anything, it will be heightened in the New Creation. Notice how often the hope is held of God’s people reigning with Him in eternity (Dan. 7:18, 27, 1 Cor. 6:2-3; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 2:26-27; 3:21, 20:4; 22:5). This must be more than just flowery descriptions of the future and empty words. I don’t know exactly what it will look like for us to reign with God in eternity, but perhaps we can take a cue from what it means for us to reign now and what it meant for Adam and Eve to reign in the beginning. For the first man and woman, reigning meant using their God-given abilities to tend to, care for, and preside over the livestock and the vegetation in their care in such a way that reflected God’s glory to the world and gave glory back to God. Even today, though the spaces, the skills, and the situations have changed, it ultimately looks much the same. Whether it be raising kids, selling insurance, making carpet, managing franchises, seeing patients, going to school, our running a business, we are all called to exercise our abilities, and take advantage of our opportunities in such a way that demonstrate the glory of God to the world and brings glory to His name. Again I don’t know exactly how this translates to the New Heavens and New Earth, but we can be sure we won’t just sitting around on cloud somewhere or even a mansion over the hilltop. Can you imagine engaging in projects that never fail? Finding only fulfillment in your given task? Work without waste?

Finally, (this is the final word we will say about the New Heaven and New Earth at this juncture but certainly not the final word on the matter) eternity is often pictured both in the Jewish and Christian hope as a banquet or feast in the presence of God (Isa. 25:6; 55:1-2; Mt. 8:11; 26:29; Lk. 14:15; Rev. 19:9). I struggle to contemplate what it will be like to sit at the Lord’s table. Of course, we get a taste of this every Sunday, but surely we await something far better (Mt. 26:29). Again this is merely an approximation, one that stretches our imagination beyond its capacities. Indeed, John can only describe the presence as a permeating light from which nothing is hidden (Rev. 21:22-24). But oh what it will be like to bask in the radiance of the glory of God, to rejoice in the hope that has become reality, to commune with Father, Son, and Spirit in perfect fellowship, perfect harmony. To be in the presence of our ever-loving, always wise, supremely powerful, wholly beautiful, and absolutely majestic Father, our beloved Elder Brother and Savior, and the Blessed Spirit who has seen us through to the end. Don’t you want to go to that land? Or perhaps we should rather ask, “Can you wait until God victoriously transforms and recreates this reality as we know it?” Not quite as succinct, but that is Christian hope. “Come Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).

Anticipating the New Heavens and New Earth Pt. 4

Thursday, November 12, 2020

The portion of our readership reading this who has experienced the pains, the joys, the fears, and the hopes of childbirth will understand this point more deeply and intimately than the rest of us. For myself, I can, at best, venture to guess based on what I’ve seen. Otherwise, I am totally reliant on what Jordan tells me. Yet for all the fears and anxiety that accompany the thought of childbirth, which I can never fully understand, fears and anxieties that might make some(all?) women wish to delay it or avoid it at some level, there’s one thing I can know beyond a shadow of a doubt; Once the labor pains hit, the child cannot come quickly enough. Probably never in the history of the world has a woman said, “Can we make sure this takes longer? I think I’d like to push for another few hours.” Probably… Okay, so maybe there was one exception and if you haven’t heard the story of how I missed our oldest child’s birth and you need a laugh, let’s get a cup of coffee sometime. But you get my point. The mix of agony and anticipation as pain awaits promise, and love endures hurt for the sake of hope. This is precisely the metaphor that Paul uses to talk about the groaning and longing of Creation for new birth (Rom. 8:19-23). Creation itself holds on to great promise for the future while patiently enduring great pain at present. It is looking forward to all things being made right. All things being made right… Can it really be all? Scripture seems to suggest so.

Consider, for instance, Ephesians 1:3-10. This is a rich text that brims with hope and expectation, thankfulness and praise, grace, and glory, as Paul reflects on how God in His wisdom is bringing about His purpose in us and for us. But you’ll notice in verse 10 that this purpose seems to go far beyond just you and me. It includes uniting all things, “things in heaven and things on earth” (v. 10). The pairing of heaven (or the heaven(s) - in the original Greek and Hebrew Heavens is always plural) and earth is often used to talk about the entirety of the created order (Gen. 1:1, 28; 2:1, 4; Psa. 69:34; 89:11; 121:1; Isa. 37:16; Matt. 24:35; Acts 4:24; 2 Pet. 3:7; Rev. 5:13). This would include not only the beings that indwell God’s creation, both physical and spiritual, but creation itself.

Probably the most important, at the very least, one of the most powerful texts in the letter to the Colossians reinforces this point. Read Colossians 1:15-20. Jesus is described as the one who is the founder and sustainer of creation and the one through whom the new creation will become a reality. Notice how many times the word “all” is used and what it is used in reference to. V. 16 “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities- all things were created through him and for him.” All things in heaven or on earth, including even the highest and greatest things. What does this include? Or perhaps better to ask, what does this not include? God, through Jesus, created everything, and they’re not done. Notice after a few more “alls” and “everythings” in vv. 17-19, Paul says that through Jesus, God is reconciling “all things to himself, whether on earth or in heaven” (v. 20). Now ordinarily, we might be prone to breeze by this and assume that by “all,” Paul actually, only means the select few humans relatively speaking who choose to follow God who we call the church. But that can’t be quite right, can it? The pairing of “the heavens and the earth, the use of the word “all” both by itself and as it is used throughout this text, and the cosmic, physical, ecological hope of creation in Romans 8 militate against such a narrowed reading of “all.”

All of this talk about “all” reinforces the “something more” perspective of the Christian hope that we have been exploring over the past several days. Our hope for eternity is not that we might merely escape from our bodies and this world and retreat to some distant space to dwell with God but that God will come down and dwell with us in the new heavens and new earth in which He will renew, restore, and remake all things (Rev. 21-22). Thus, we are prepared at last to ponder what this might look like. This is what we will speak to in tomorrow's article. 

Anticipating the New Heavens and New Earth Pt. 3

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

God wins. That is the Christian hope put as succinctly as possible. While on the surface, this is a straightforward statement, it has profound and wide-ranging implications. You see, to say God wins is to say that sin and Satan loses, and quite demonstrably at that. This is no stalemate, draw, or gridlock where both parties retreat home. No one is flipping over the monopoly board and calling it a victory. It is a total trouncing. At every turn, God emerges triumphant. This means that in every sphere in which the battle is being waged, God wins. That includes the theological, anthropological, ethical, sociological/relational, physical/mortal, and ecological arenas. While we readily admit God’s victory in the first 4 arenas, it’s the latter two that we often fail to consider. Yet these are distinctly part of the Christian hope, not as something extra and unnecessary tacked on at the end, but part of the very center. Let’s explore this claim further.

One surefire way to see what God is up to and where the story is ultimately going is to look at what He did in the life and the ministry of Jesus. Again I think it is easier for us to see God’s victory in the theological, ethical, anthropological, and sociological/relational (though this last one may be murky for some). It is the physical and ecological victories that we need help seeing. First, consider how closely the theological issue of sin is tied to the physical issue of sickness/bodily ailments. When Jesus heals a man of his paralysis in Mark 2, he directly correlates His ability and authority to heal with His ability and authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:1-12). One is evidence of the other because, in reality, they are part of the same battle, both consequences from the fall and the domain of the devil and thus both messes that need mending. Secondly, notice how often curing diseases were tied to defeating the devil in the ministry of Jesus (this list is not exhaustive but see Lk. 8:2; 26-39; 9:1-2; 37-43; 10:17-19; 13:32 esp. Lk. 13:10-17 and Acts 10:38). According to 1 Jn. 3:18, the reason Jesus came was to destroy the works of the devil. As we’ve seen, this clearly includes diseases, but it also includes that which diseases and disabilities are a symptom and precursor of... Death. Death, physical, bodily death is a direct result of the fall and a consequence of the devil’s deceit. And thus, to some degree, death is the devil’s domain, an arena in which God must attain victory. Thanks be to God the Father that He accomplished this through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Heb. 2:14).

Much of the locus of the Christian hope lies in the hope for resurrection. Resurrection, by definition, is physical and bodily. A newly transformed body that is both continuous and discontinuous with the old, but a body none the less (1 Cor. 15:35-57; there is too much in this passage to flesh out fully here, especially because it is often ready through escapist, Platonic lenses. However, suffice it to say that if Christ was the first to rise from the dead, then we may look to His resurrection to inform our own). Indeed, it is Jesus’ bodily resurrection that gives life to the Christian hope that we too will rise from the dead (1 Cor. 15:20-23; Rom. 6:5-9). Risking redundancy for the sake of clarity, I repeat, the Christian hope is no less than bodily resurrection (Rom. 8:11; Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Co. 15:50-57). This is not just souls continuing to exist for eternity, spirits floating along in some ethereal, non-physical realm. The early Christians longed for something more, Paul hoped for something more, the souls before the throne in Revelation 6 pleaded for something more. Yet this has long been the popular view of eternity. We leave our bodies behind and escape from this world. If this material world and everything in it is all shot to hell (to use the popular expression quite literally), what does that say about our God? Was He unprepared, incapable, or unconcerned to purpose otherwise? In this scenario, death is not defeated, just skirted by. God ties, not triumphs. But death must be, (and praise be to God that it will be), swallowed up (1 Cor. 15:26, 54-57; Rev. 20:14). God will be truly victorious in the end. God will have a monopoly overall. There will be no divine game-board flip.

But if we will have newly transformed bodies, where will we live? Jesus, in His newly resurrected body, ascended to Heaven, so when our bodies are raised and transformed we will go back to Heaven with Him, right? Actually, no, not quite. Rather than us ascending to heaven with Jesus, the Bible pictures Jesus coming back to earth to raising us from the dead and dwelling with us here on earth (1 Cor. 15:23-27, 51-54; Phil. 3:20-21; cf. 1 Thess. 4:16-17 which at first glance appears to say the opposite. This texts warrants further discussion in a future article). To be sure, the earth that Jesus comes to will be newly transformed just as our bodies will be, but it will be earth none the less. There is creation, and then there is new creation. This hope for the new creation is actually tied up with our hope for newly transformed bodies. Notice, especially Rom. 8:18-24. We suffer now; we await the glory to come later. Hardly shocking. This is pretty standard stuff from Paul. But perhaps we have read over what he says next without understanding its gravity. Creation is awaiting our glory as well because creation itself longs for redemption and freedom from corruption. Paul rounds out this section by emphasizing again, as we have been wont to do, that the Christian hope is for resurrected bodies (Rom. 8:23-24). But let us not miss this point, the redemption that creation longs for and the glory that awaits it is analogous to our own redemption and glory (Rom. 8:21-22). Thus, it just won’t do to suggest that the physical world will pass away while our bodies will be renewed, restored, and transformed! Paul seems to suggest that what happens to one will happen to the other. Indeed, this is what the Biblical writers refer to when they speak about the New Heavens and the New Earth (Isa. 65:17-25, 66:22-23; 2 Pet. 3:1-13 - this text warrants further discussion at another time; Rev. 21-22). Just as God is victorious in the physical/mortal realm, so too will He be victorious in the ecological realm.

The story that began in a garden in Genesis 1 ends in a garden in Revelation 21-22. In fact, the whole of the Biblical story has been tracing God’s journey to bring us back to that state of blissful relationship with Him, harmony with one another, abundance of life and love, fulfilling our God given roles to the praise honor and glory of God. Go back and explore the garden of Genesis 1-2, ponder the fallout from the fall of Genesis 3 and import those into your reading of Revelation 21-22. How many similarities do you notice? Do you see the blissful harmony? The lavish abundance? The life-giving tree and waters? Notice the presence of the unescapable light without the sun, moon, or stars just like Gen. 1:3? And yet, do you get the sense that what your reading in Revelation 21-22 is of a different magnitude? It is paradise but to a much greater degree! Notice also what’s not there. The sea (the place of chaos and death - Rev. 20:13) is gone (Rev. 21:1). All those pesky results of the fall like death, sadness, sickness, and pain are all gone (Rev. 21:4); evil is non-existent in this reality (Rev. 21:8, 27; 22:3), social and relational tensions will have been erased (Rev. 22:2). A return to the garden has been God’s plan from the beginning. This is His way of righting all the was wrong and fixing all that had been broken. Our hope for eternity is not so much that we will go off to God’s space and be we with Him for eternity but that He will break into our space, transform our brokenness, and dwell with us in the new reality He is creating (notice that John’s vision is of the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven not the other way around and God dwelling with us where we are Rev. 21:2-3). It is about God’s space and man’s space combing to become one. You see, as we suggested at the outset of this series, the where and the what of eternity where not just something extra tacked on at the end. The “but wait, there’s more” is what it is all about! This will be the answer to the prayer Jesus taught His first followers to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). Let us pray for this, plead for this, and prepare for this. This is the Christian hope. Cosmic redemption. Total victory. Never-ending glory.

Our sermon next month will explore the implications of living in light of this hope in the present. Tomorrow’s article (the final one for now), will reinforce this idea of cosmic renewal as well as try to help us envision the best we can what this will be like.

Anticipating the New Heavens and New Earth Pt. 2

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

We are continuing to look at the distinctly Christian hope for eternity. We possess a hope that is rooted fully in the love, power, and wisdom of God to fix, not just workaround, all that has gone wrong with His good creation, a creation that sin and Satan have corrupted. We began by approaching this subject from a couple of different angles. First, if our ultimate hope is “merely” to be with God in heaven, in some disembodied state, attending an eternal worship service, why do the Biblical authors speak of something beyond this? Furthermore, why do those who are pictured in God’s presence before the throne still long for something more? If being with God in heaven is what it is all about, shouldn’t that be enough for them? (See yesterday’s article for a review of this discussion). We suggested that to work through this properly, we must go back to the beginning. If we begin with the prevalent but mistaken narrative that this earth and the things in it are inherently and irredeemably corrupted, we will long to escape from this world. This view is several millennia old going back at least to Plato, and has been prevalent in the western world ever since. Many of us, myself included, have held likely held on to some form of this whether we realize it or not. But the opening pages of the Bible remind us that when God created the world, it was good. Indeed, it was "very good" (Gen. 1:31). Corruption doesn’t enter the picture until Genesis chapter 3. Getting this order straight in our minds about what happened at the beginning of the story will have great implications on we expect the story to end.

Go back and read Genesis 1-2. God’s creation was beautiful, harmonious, and abundant. God delighted in all that He had made, especially humankind, the pinnacle of His creation. Humanity was made to reflect God, being made in or as His image, and as image-bearers, humanity was called to participate in God’s work of ruling over the created world all to the honor and glory of God. Endowed with this divine vocation and equipped with divinely given assistance, man and woman were to work in perfect harmony to grow both the garden through cultivation and humanity’s presence in it through procreation. Allow your mind to be captivated by the rich bounty of the garden. Imagine the teeming trees, the fruitful fields, the pleasant plains, and the gentle waters. Imagine work that brings only fulfillment and never disappointment. Projects that never go awry. Imagine, not so much the nakedness of the first man and woman, but what it represents.  Freedom, vulnerability, unashamedness, harmony. Be taken in by the description of the garden. And then if you can, and this is really where our imaginations begin to be pressed beyond their limits, imagine what it would be like for God to come down and walk with you, talk with you, teach you about life, work, relationships, the world, Himself! This is the picture of what creation was in the beginning. Don’t you long to go back there? Before selfishness and stagnation, suffering, and separation? Before the theological, relational, anthropological, ethical mortal, and ecological brokenness of Genesis 3? For the realist, some might say cynic,  the world we live in seems too far gone. There is nothing we can do to get back there. And I’d say they’re right to a large extent. Indeed, it seems like that door has been closed, never for us to open again (Gen. 3:24). But what about God? Could He bring us back there? Would He bring us back there?

As Christians, we are quick to affirm that God broke into this world in the person of Jesus to fix the theological brokenness and bridge the gap between Him and us. Indeed, our identity as the people of God is based on the fact that He has dealt with the sin that separated us from Him (Eph. 1:3-10; 2:1-6). Praise be to God for this! But God is not content just to deal with our past sins; He continues the work of sanctification to reverse the ethical brokenness of His people (1 Thess. 5:23-24). In doing so, God has also begun the work of remedying our anthropological brokenness or the brokenness of man by reshaping us into His image once again. We are endowed once more with a divine vocation of doing good works for His glory (Eph. 2:10, 4:24; Col. 3:10). But we must press further still because God has also set about to repair the relational brokenness that humanity experiences (Eph. 2:14-18; Col. 3:11). All of this is what we might describe as the new humanity, a new race of humanity recreated in the image of Christ (Col. 3:11; Gal. 3:28). This reality has begun to come to fruition in the life of the church and will be brought to completion on the last day. Now it is at this point that the perspective of the Christian hope ends for many. Or at the very least, anything beyond these is viewed as extraneous and therefore not an essential part of our hope (remember the “but wait there’s more” illustration from the infomercial which began this series of articles?). And yet, the early Christians were not content to speak only of God’s theological and anthropological victories or even His relational and ethical ones. Rather, they longed for and spoke at length about His physical/mortal and ecological victories. The full realization of their hope came in the “something more.” This is why Revelation 6 can picture souls who have gone to be in the presence of God in the heavenly throne room who are still unsatisfied and unfulfilled. The Christian hope is nothing short of God’s total and complete victory of sin and Satan. If God is genuine in His promise of victory and powerful enough to attain it (dare we question or doubt this?), then we should expect that everything that has been broken will be fixed, everything that is wrong will be made right. This includes, yes, our relationship with God, yes our proclivity to sin, yes our status and role as divine image-bearers, yes our relationships and ability to relate to others, and yes, even our bodies and the world itself. We are waiting for, longing for, hoping for cosmic redemption, that is, a redemption that is holistic and restorative. The story does not end with our spirits floating away to an eternal heavenly abode, escaping the horrors of this world and the brokenness of our bodies. No, the story ends with a new reality, a new creation, with newly transformed bodies, a reality which the Biblical writers refer to as the New Heavens and New Earth. (Isa. 11; 65-66; Ezek. 40-48; 1 Cor. 15; Rom. 8:18-23; 2 Pet. 3:10-13; Rev. 21-22). As we will see, this is nothing less than a return to the garden scene we marveled at earlier. Indeed, nothing less, but perhaps much, much more. This will be the subject of our next article.

To be continued...

Anticipating the New Heavens and New Earth Pt. 1

Monday, November 09, 2020

“But wait, there’s more!” That seems to be the tag line of every infomercial ever, trying especially hard to sell us on their “fantastic product” that can “only” be ordered “right now” (at 3 in the morning) for the “low, low price of $19.95” in 5 monthly installments. But the “wait, there’s more!” often seems extraneous and unnecessary. You see, I don’t need, or really want for that matter, a dishrag that can walk the dog and help the kids with their homework. I just want a dishrag. I think this is a helpful analogy to the way most Christians tend to think about eternity. At least it is a pretty apt analogy for how I used to think about eternity. For most of us, when we think about eternity, we envision being with God, and that is really all that matters for us. Anything beyond that, including the where, the how, and even the what of eternity, is like the “but wait there’s more” line from the informercials to us. Extraneous and unnecessary and, therefore, not worth our attention or contemplation. But what if the Christian hope fully realized goes beyond just (and I don’t say “just” carelessly or callously) being with God for eternity? What if the Bible wants us to long for the "something more”?

One prevalent view of eternity is dwelling with God in heaven, in some disembodied state, attending an eternal worship service. Perhaps we envision spirits floating on the clouds, playing “spiritual” harps (whatever that means). This is all well and good, and I love singing praises to God as much as anyone, but it is not quite the picture painted in the Bible of our final hope. Actually, it is quite literally worlds apart from what the Bible envisions.

Believe it or not, the Bible never expresses the Christian hope for eternity as “going to heaven when we die.” Sure some passages talk about being with God/Jesus where they are after death, but these are not quite as frequent as we might imagine. More importantly, while this is something indeed to long for, these passages leave something more to be desired. The four passages that address this explicitly are Jesus conversation with the thief on the cross about being with Him in paradise (Lk. 23:42-43), Paul as he faces the possibility of death in prison who longs to “depart to be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23), Paul who looks forward to a day when he no longer groans from the troubles of this world and longs to be at home with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8), and finally, the souls pictured before the altar of God in Revelation 6:9. These passages look forward to being with God/Jesus after death, yet there is something left incomplete and unfulfilled.

Notice in Philippians that while Paul’s immediate hope is to be with Christ, presumably as a spirit in some disembodied state (1:23), his ultimate hope is for Christ to come down from heaven and transform his lowly body to be like His glorious one (3:20-21). And even though Paul clearly recognizes that it would be better to be away from his “tent”/unclothed = out of the body and home with the Lord in light of the present brokenness of the body/world (2 Cor. 5:8), his ultimate longing is to be further clothed/given an eternal dwelling = newly transformed, God-given body (2 Cor. 5:1-5). And finally, we get a vision of disembodied souls pictured in heaven in Revelation 6. This comes on the heels of the great throne room scenes in Revelation 4-5, where the 24 elders and 4 living creatures (representing all creation) praise God and fall down before Him in worship. And yet the souls in Rev. 6 are not pictured joining in the chorus of praise, nor are there cries of joy for being the presence of God, but rather cries of despair, and vindication, and longing. Immediately, the red flags stand erect in our minds. If being with God in heaven, worshipping Him for eternity is all that really matters, what gives? Why is Paul not content to leave it at that? Why speak of something more? Why do the souls in Revelation still seem broken, less than complete, unsatisfied, and unfulfilled? To answer this question, we must go back to the beginning and get the story straight from the start.

Whether we realize or not, the place we often start from is from a perspective that is deeply rooted in our culture and has been since the days of Plato. It is a perspective that intrinsically sees this world is bad, our bodies are bad, physicality is bad, the material is bad, and so we long for a reality that has no affinity with this world, nothing to do with the body, non-physical and immaterial. “Spiritual” if you will (though Biblical defined this term intends much more than just the absence of physicality). Everything is shot to hell quite literally in this view, and so it is believed that we are to long for an escape from a material world that is inherently bad.

But if we begin at the beginning, we remember that when God created this world, it was good, and indeed very good (Gen. 1:31). So our starting point is not of brokenness but of beauty. Of course, sin came into the picture and made a mess of everything, but we must get this order straight. This world and everything in it is not inherently bad but is now corrupted by sin. The escapist view of eternity, floating away from this world, leaving it and our corrupted bodies behind and entering into some blissful disembodied, immaterial state is a line bought from the culture, not the Bible. In fact, it sends an implicit message that should be anathema to us as Christians. That message is this. God loses. Satan, sin, and suffering win. Death gets the final word. At the very least, it is gridlock where both parties decide to stop fighting an retreat. It is the divine version of “taking my toys and going home.” Or, as we spoke about yesterday, it’d be like sitting down for a rousing game of monopoly, getting frustrated, flipping the board, and then having the audacity to declare victory. You see, if God is going to truly win as Gen. 3:15 suggests, He can’t just concede to the brokenness of this world, pack up His toys and go home. The escapist view of eternity is unChristian and unBiblical. Let’s think about this further.

To be continued...

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