Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


(Back to) Heaven 29

posted by xscot mcknight

We had an interlude on a book and now we are back to finish up our series on heaven. Is “heaven” the permanent eternal place or, like some are arguing today, is it an alternative world, perhaps only temporary, but which is the source of what will be the final state here on earth? We are looking at this kind of question, and we turn now to 1 Thessalonians:

1:9 For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead?Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming. (See also 2 Thess 1:7.)
4:13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 15 For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel?s call and with the sound of God?s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.

Jesus, God’s Son, is in heaven “now” and will come from heaven to earth when history is wrapped up.
When Jesus comes from heaven, he will “rescue us from the wrath that is coming.” This anticipates what we find in 4:13-17.
First, death.
Second, the coming/return of Christ from heaven.
Third, the dead in Christ will be raised.
Fourth, the live in Christ will be “caught up” (raptured).
Fifth, the dead and the alive will be joined with Christ “in the air.”
Sixth, the dead and the alive in Christ will be with the Lord forever.
There’s not a word here about what happens after they meet one another in the air. It is possible that Paul thinks they will return to earth and all on earth will be transformed. It is also possible, if I read this text aright, they will be with the Lord in the heavens from which he came down.
The theory that heaven is the eternal place has a text here in its defense; those who don’t agree with that view have a text here that doesn’t quite fit and needs other texts to explain it.
My question: Are to we to splice together all these texts about heaven into a synthesis that no one in the Bible clearly synthesized? Or, do each of these “heaven” texts give us an impression of the eternal?



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Kyle

posted September 8, 2008 at 1:03 am


Thanks for getting back to this series Scot! The other series (Finding, Losing and Chrysalis) were both good, but I’ve really been thinking about this one.
On a side note, how early would you date 1 Thess. in Paul’s writings?
I don’t know if this is a passage that requires much synthesis. I’m thinking of some of George Ladd’s work where he highlights the wedding imagery in this passage. The image is that Jesus is the king coming to meet his bride. The trumpets sound to announce his coming and the people go outside of the town to meet him and triumphantly return together as a display of unity and power. In this regard, heaven simply means sky, or possibly the temporal dimension discussed elsewhere in this series, where believers meet Jesus to return together in processional imagery. Being with the Lord forever then is a separate statement and not tied directly to “heaven,” “in the air,” or any locale.



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Preacherman

posted September 8, 2008 at 1:35 am


Scot,
Wonderful thoughts and points.
I know that I am looking for the day of Christ return. Can’t wait.



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phil_style

posted September 8, 2008 at 4:43 am


I wonder how much of this text reflects Pauls cosmology – in that it seems to suggest that heaven (or at least the path to heven) is a spatial location in the sky. This is also reflected in the ascencion accounts where Jesus is recorded as “ascending” in a levitative kind of way up into the clouds. The strange thing here for me in both these verses is this: exactly where does the matter of Jesus’ body go? Does Jesus physical body exist in Heaven, as these accounts would suggest? – thus making heaven a “physical” place? Perhaps the general relativity theory has something to offer here, after all if mass and energy are related, perhaps heaven is a palce of infinite energy – and therefore no mass that allowing for an ascension where Jesus’ body become pure energy when it returns to heaven, and can again return to mass one day in the future. . . . . On that note, I can’t wait for CERN to fire up this week. Perhaps the Higgs Boson will solve this problem for physics and theology??



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MItch

posted September 8, 2008 at 5:32 am


There may be a distinction without a difference in the current discussion of heaven vs. transformed earth. Creation, no less than human flesh, needs the truth of 1 Cor 15:50-53 – the perishable must put on the imperishable and the mortal immortality. The earth, the solar system and the entire physical universe will “die” at some point in the future. In a few billion years, the sun will run out of nuclear fuel and its death as a red giant will destroy the earth as well.
Just as the doctrine of bodily resurrection is not simply concerned with the resuscitation of of my earthly corpse (if its molecules even still exist in a form that resembles my body when the Lord return), so the doctrine of a “new earth” doesn’t depend on the bits of dust on which we now walk. In one breath the author of the Apocalypse says that he sees a new heavens and a new earth; in the next he says that the old heavens and earth passed away. Somehow, God has to transform not only my own flesh and blood but the cosmic environment as well.
While I prefer to talk about “a new heavens and new earth” and “Christ’s appearing” rather than “going to heaven”, what I really want to affirm in that is this: God intends to complete and redeem his creation. Christian eschatology is not world negating, but creation affirming.
The future state may indeed be “heavenly” in comparison to this one, but I still have no interest in sitting on clouds or living an angel’s life. What I want – and what I think God has promised – in a life in which the good gifts of the created life I barely know are rescued, preserved and protected.



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Travis Greene

posted September 8, 2008 at 9:00 am


MItch,
Couldn’t have said it better.



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Scot McKnight

posted September 8, 2008 at 9:03 am


Mitch,
By the end of the week, when we look at 2 Peter, we’ll see this point.
I have asked before this sort of question: How much difference is there between the traditional sense of “heaven” and the new sense of “new heavens and new earth”? That is, once we cancel out the gnostic-like ethereal sense of heaven as puffy clouds etc, isn’t the older (good) study of heaven quite like the newer (good) study of “new heavens and new earth”?



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Jon

posted September 8, 2008 at 9:33 am


Maybe heaven is just so indescribably spectacular no human can do it justice, especially in written form. I tend to think that heaven as we commonly describe it is only spiritual, while we eagerly await our recreation and the redemption of all the earth upon Christ’s return. That earth will be completely different, and yet the same as the one in which we live now, just like our same bodies will be resurrected in a completely new, glorified state.



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William Cheriegate

posted September 8, 2008 at 10:37 am


Well, you’re a big fan of NTWright (and so am I), he wouldn’t agree with you that heaven (outside the realm of this Earth) is the eternal place and he has explained this verse pretty well on that context.
After all of these many years I still haven’t got one strong answer to this question: “What’s Paul being doing for two thousand years?” NTWright has come the closest in saying that when we see the Lord he’ll have us continue to work for the furthering of his kingdom, wherever that may be, whenever that may be.



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phil_style

posted September 8, 2008 at 11:12 am


The understanding of the human self surely has some significant things to offer in this disucssion. I’m more and more of the opinion that huamsn do not have an immaterial part to their being (rejection of dualism). Without our brains, we cannot be conscious. And becasue our memeories are hard-wired: Without the matter that makes them we remember nothing (there are some amazing cases of neurological injury that highlight this). So where to know for the humans without a “spirit”? What occurs at death to consciouss life, in the christian context?
I like what Nancy Murphy has added to this discourse in terms of her understading of the nature of person. If we do not have an immaterial spirit, only only hope is resurrection in a bodily form – for without brain, we are not. In the end, the only hope we have is in God, becasue only God could initiate such a resurrection.
What this means in terms of life-after-death, at least prior to the “new earth” is interesting. Perhaps, as some of the biblical writers suggest – we sleep, Unconsciouss until the resurrection of the saints. although this poses other problems, such as – who did Jesus meet with then at the transfiguration if not the immaterial spirit of Moses?



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Joe B

posted September 8, 2008 at 1:05 pm


From my earliest days of faith (I went nowhere near a church for 6 months) I noticed the absence of a cogent doctrine of heaven in the bible, and virtually no biblical statement that there even is a distant, otherworldly locus of eternal destination.
I continue to be amazed that heaven and hell are the central, defining constructs of biblical teaching among bible-believing communities.
Is this a distinction without a difference? I don’t think so, Scott.
This heaven/hell thing is so deeeply ingrained, it completely colors our conception of God and his character. With heaven/hell as the orienting feature of the gospel, we end up preaching a kind of wacky salvation message that says “God is so good that he doesn’t care about whether you’re good or bad, but he is very angry at you but deeply sad that he has to burn you for your sins. But he has a plan to fix his problem. So now if you are lucky enough to hear (and noble enough to believe) the right combination of things about Jesus, then Jesus will save you from his hapless, angry Old Testament father, absolutely and without condition. But you really will not know for sure until you get there whether you really truly believed or not, so you’d better be very very good if you don’t want to go to hell for masturbating.”
I do not intend to offend here, but these are the very things I hear from people in the course of pastoral work and evangelism. I deeply believe we need to recapture the gospel of the kingdom and move off of this medieval image of God. Is it any wonder we have saints paralyzed in confusion?
Heaven is higher than the earth, and the earth is lower than the heaven. In us, they touch. We may walk in the flesh, in the way of Adam, and return to the earth in death. Or, we may walk in the spirit, like the last Adam, and be raised up at the resurrection as a life-giving spirit (1 Cor 15:45). Who eats fish and has flesh and bones. (Lk 24:38-42).
Dallas Willard does a pretty neat job reflecting on heaven, as do Eugene Peterson and especially NT Wright (in “Surprised by Hope.”)



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Myrddin

posted September 8, 2008 at 2:04 pm


Phenomenal final question. I say let them stay in tension and provide us with a harmony of visions of the already and the not yet.



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Dana Ames

posted September 8, 2008 at 4:22 pm


“Once we cancel out the gnostic-like ethereal sense of heaven as puffy clouds etc, isn?t the older (good) study of heaven quite like the newer (good) study of ‘new heavens and new earth’?”
Scot, to answer this question, no. In my 52 years of church experience, Heaven has always been explained as a place far away, unrelated to (and unworthy of) anything that has to do with this earth. Even when affirming the resurrection of the (material, physical) body, there seems to be nothing for an embodied person to do in that Heaven except stand around worshiping. (Not that this is bad, but it is not consistent with the character of God, especially as Creator. Why would we have to have a body if its use is for this single thing alone?) And furthermore, this (material, physical) earth -and everything on/in it- is portrayed as so lost in its wickedness that it will be literally burned up, and God will create the “new earth” ex nihilo. There is no sense of Jesus’ redemptive work extending to the kosmos he created and called good.
That is what I have perceived as the “traditional older study” of heaven. It is night-and-day different from what Wright describes, and before him in my experience, Willard in “Divine Conspiracy”. I appreciated how Willard discussed the understanding of the word/idea “heaven/s” in ancient literature, and what Jesus’ contemporaries would have understood when he used the word.
So far in this series you’ve looked at every scripture passage that contains the word, but it’s all still in English. I’m surprised that you haven’t discussed anything about the meaning of the concept itself in Greek. I know one shouldn’t pin too much on definitions, and I know that meanings are affected by grammar and syntax and inflection. Yes, heaven is where God dwells, and it’s “up”, and it’s the place from where God acts- but there’s no sense in English of the interlocking inter-relatedness of heaven and earth, the unseen and seen aspects of the wholeness of reality (not Heaven as some split-off place/dimension outside our current reality), which seems to me (as W & W explain it) to be much more evident in Greek, and in Hebrew notions as well.
(I know, I’m harping on Willard yet again- I don’t know how to tell the story of how my understanding about this and so much else has been turned inside-out, without referencing his ideas. They were truly, deeply groundbreaking for me. This was the first one, and it’s the first one that comes up in DC.)
Dana



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Scot McKnight

posted September 8, 2008 at 4:31 pm


Dana,
I look up the Greek word “ouranos” for this, and don’t refer to the English text except in the posts. I’m not sure what you are suggesting about ouranos or about terms like shamayim, etc., but the point isn’t the Greek or Hebrew meanings. It’s associations in the text.
Once the new heavens and new earth replace the “burned up” present earth and heavens — a la 2 Peter 3 — we’ve got a different concept of new heavens and new earth.
Yes, I agree: bodily existence. But it’s still a new body, a glorified body, what Paul calls a spiritual body.



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Dana Ames

posted September 8, 2008 at 6:59 pm


Well, get down your copy of “Divine Conspiracy” and read ch 3, “What Jesus Knew: Our God-Bathed World”. The ch title itself points to a wholeness and integration of reality, rather than heaven as something split off and existing in another universe. (And rather than God being distant and only rarely involved with our reality.)
If Jesus’ hearers did not imagine a “split reality”, then that might have ramifications wrt the teaching on “heaven”. The idea of the wholeness of reality makes the text make more sense to me. Not trying to disassociate the meaning from the text at all- quite the opposite! I hope I’ve succeeded in conveying what I mean.
When you say the new heavens and new earth “replace” the burned-up present earth and heavens, do you mean that God creates the new ex nihilo? If so, this indicates to me the same understanding of the “old study”, of the earth being irredeemable. Maybe that’s not what you mean?
My understanding of 2Pet3 is that the fire of judgment will wash over everything, and everything will be uncovered (rather than burned up). And the fire that washes over everything will purify, and make new and put creation to rights- Like in old animated cartoons that let you “look over the artist’s shoulder,” and show how the artist puts a “wash” on the picture with the brush to bring out color and dimension. Everything is the same, and yet everything is changed…
…which we will be able to perceive and interact with, with our new and glorified body, animated by God’s spirit (thus “spiritual”), but a materially physical body nonetheless. Willard talks about this and more on pp391ff.
Don’t want to argue about the Greek- you have scads more interaction with and understanding of it than I do. Just trying to explain where I’m coming from. One of the things I was seeking at the time of my theological re-think was wholeness and integration of reality without having to make excuses for God (or for the text of scripture). Not that I must comprehend everything- but as Wright discusses in NTPG in the section about testing hypotheses, I had to find something that makes sense, because in my received theology in interaction with the (English) text of scripture there were just too many holes wrt God’s character, Jesus’ purposes, what the HS is actually for, what exactly is the good news, what God has in store for the future, and how all that whole big ball of wax affects my present life. I think I was developing an allergy to dualism… So my nose gets a little itchy when I think I sense anything getting “split off” into some sort of different reality… The memory of the desperation I felt at that time comes flooding back. So yes, this relates to stuff that is all about The Meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything :)… Please forgive me if I have misunderstood you.
Dana



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Zach

posted September 8, 2008 at 7:51 pm


Scot, I have three points I would like to make.
1. While this passage may support the contention that man’s eternal destination is in heaven, it does not support the claim that man’s eternal destination is disembodied life in heaven. Paul imagines a corporate bodily resurrection, so the passage really has no bearing on the intermediate state or afterlife. However, it is still odd to think that Paul would have thought of heaven as the eternal destination, considering his Pharsaic roots and statements about new creation.
2. There are two particular interpretations to take into account.
a) According to N.T. Wright, the Greek word parousia was used in the first century to describe the arrival of an emperor to a city. The citizens would flock to meet the emperor as he approached the city, but they would also follow him back into the city. So, according to Wright, Paul’s image is of the resurrected Christians meeting Jesus in the air like citizens meeting an emperor outside a city; there they will not stay, but welcome Jesus back to the earth where they will be together forever. This is the interpretation Kyle (#1) highlighted.
b) Andrew Perriman takes this passage to refer to the vindication of the Christian martyrs over imperial Rome within history, not the final resurrection at the end of the history. According to Perriman, the imperial connotations of pariousia suggest ?that when Paul speaks of the parousia of Christ in the not too distant future, he has in mind the displacement of wordly rulers, supremely of Caesar, from their position over the church. Christ will come to have the position of authority over the people of God that is currently still held by the oppressor? (?The ?rapture??). God would raise these martyrs to reign with Christ in heaven over the church until the final judgment and renewal of creation, when the rest of dead will be raised. Perriman takes into account harpazo‘s connotations of ?rescue.?
3. Perhaps we are not intended to take ?in the clouds? and ?in the air? so literally. These phrases are reminiscent of Daniel 7 in which one like a son of man is seen coming ?with the clouds of heaven? to be presented before the Ancient of Days (v. 13). John Goldingay makes a good case that the judgment scene of Daniel 7 is located on earth, so that ??among the clouds of the heavens? denotes the position of the figure about to be described as it moves toward that [earthly] court? (Word Biblical Commentary: Daniel 167). Andrew Perriman elaborates: ?In this case, the clouds more likely signify, on the one hand, the exalted status of the ?one like a son of man? and, on the other, the fact that he is being brought into the presence of the God who has come to judge the four kingdoms? (The Coming of the Son of Man 55); writing in a footnote, he points out, ?In 4 Ezra 13.1?3 the man (?something like the figure of a man?) flying ?with the clouds of heaven? does not descend from heaven but arises ?out of the heart of the sea?: the clouds of heaven do not themselves signify descent? (Ibid.). Thus, perhaps we are to understand Paul?s apocalyptic imagery of ?clouds? and ?air? in light of the exalted status and honor of the resurrected people of God: they rise not literally in the air like an escaping balloon, but to honor, glory, and reign. If this is the case, location is unimportant: both Wright?s interpretation (layed out in a) and Perriman?s interpretation (layed out in b) could fit.



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Scot McKnight

posted September 8, 2008 at 8:02 pm


Zach,
I just read my post again and I’m a bit surprised by the pushback I’m getting here. I’ve tried to play this one neutral, but I’m surely not arguing strongly for something. The text unfolds rather plainly as I outlined; other explanations seems credible and possible but not quite as easily as the one I propose. (And it is only one text; not all; I think my last question is more significant to me than the discussion shows.)
I do know the apocalyptic type hermeneutic at work in folks from Caird to Wright to Perriman, and I tend to agree with most of what they say, but this text isn’t easy to explain that way. Not in my view.
Others are — like Mark 13.
To me 2 Peter seals the deal. Thursday we get there.



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John Meadows

posted September 8, 2008 at 8:40 pm


“And so we will be with the Lord forever…” That is all that we need to know. If the Lord is on earth, I want to be on earth. If the Lord is in another dimension called heaven, I want to be there. If it’s a both/and, for different durations, no problem. Being with the Lord is enough.
I think where we’re headed after death and after history as we know it ends, is just the next chapter in God’s Big Story (His eternal Kingdom). We don’t know the details, but we do know that it will be more awesome than anything we can imagine.
I don’t think heaven will be some kind of eternal vacation resort, I believe that we will have real purpose and growth into more and more knowledge and understanding of his unsearhable riches. I don’t view heaven so much as a destination but as the next episode of His unfolding purposes and design. What a blast! What an incredible privilege to be caught up in this Divine Drama!



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Richard

posted September 8, 2008 at 9:16 pm


My understanding (nothing new I’m sure) about God and heaven is that they are inseparables. what I mean is that if in the beginning, Ha, there was God in His Heaven, then Heaven would be God also because Heaven was when God was.
Now God could not create out of nothing because if nothing was around in the beginning then nothing would be God also since nothing was around since God was. That is why the final cumulation is that God is all and in all.
All of creation would amount to a hill of beans if God did not turn Himself inside out in creation to express His artistry by making man in His own image to share in His wonderous Glory in Love as the Alpha and Omega which we, the born again, the saved, enter into the Most Holy of Holies, No, the Most Holy of Holies, who is Love, enters into us, because of the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world rent the curtain when He took us captive.
I don’t know a lot about Heaven but I do know that standing in God’s presence is pure health and that is Heaven to me, that is the Holy Spirits pull, that is the fulfillment of Jesus saying “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.” unto Heaven. I can’t imagine taking my eyes off of God to see anything else since there is nothing worth seeing more ( correct me if I’m wrong) than Him, His Mercy, His Grace that is Christ Jesus.
Heaven, I believe, is expressing health in personhood, by and because of the relationship to the very Love that constitutes and brings that relationship about in obedience through Faith. Heaven is knowing who we are and why we are.
Science tells us that we see just a small part of the light spectrum with our physical eyes but Oh the Holy Spirit who introduces us to Himself in the words, “Taste and see, the Lord is Good.”



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Zach

posted September 8, 2008 at 11:17 pm


First of all, Scot (#16), I didn?t mean to imply your post was not neutral. I just thought those points were worth bringing up on the subject matter and would contribute something to the discussion.
Mitch (#4), you said:

Just as the doctrine of bodily resurrection is not simply concerned with the resuscitation of of my earthly corpse (if its molecules even still exist in a form that resembles my body when the Lord return), so the doctrine of a ?new earth? doesn?t depend on the bits of dust on which we now walk. In one breath the author of the Apocalypse says that he sees a new heavens and a new earth; in the next he says that the old heavens and earth passed away. Somehow, God has to transform not only my own flesh and blood but the cosmic environment as well.

Yes, the doctrine of bodily resurrection ?is not simply concerned with the resuscitation of my earthly corpse,? but it is concerned with my corpse. Resurrection is the affirmation of the goodness of creation; it is the reversal of death, the bringing back of that which is lost, but the blessing with that which was never had. So, I would argue, in the same way our bodies are important, so also is the whole earth. If that is true, then God will do to creation what he is going to do to our bodies, which means not leaving it to evaporate into the abyss, but intervening to save it. There is not some soul in the earth that will survive its dissolution: the earth is the earth, and depends upon God?s healing grace.
The imagery of the ?new heaven? and ?new earth? at the end of John?s Apocalypse comes from Isaiah. In context, Isaiah?s ?new heavens? and ?new earth? deals not with the dissolution of the one and the creation of the other, but renewal following judgment, that is, covenant renewal. ?New heavens? and ?new earth? stand as metaphors for a renewed or new covenant in which ?the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind? (Isa 65:17). For example, even after the ?new heavens? and ?new earth,? Isaiah writes, ?the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed (v. 20)?: in other words, history goes on, death still exists.
However, elsewhere in Isaiah, within the same thematic expression, God brings healing to the created order. Thus: ?For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off? (Isa 55:12, 13). So Isaiah uses different imagery to talk about essentially the same thing: renewal. On the one hand, he can speak of God healing the earth; on the other, he can speak of God creating a new earth, in the sense that after God judges and heals the earth, it is so radically changed that it is both new and same (just like the resurrected body) ? I think this is what Dana (#14) was saying about 2 Peter.
The passing away of heaven and earth taken within this context, perhaps, makes sense of how Jesus, on the one hand, can say ?I have ? come to fulfill them [the Law and the Prophets]?, and on the other, ?until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished? (Mat 5:17, 18). Jesus accomplishes on the cross what Isaiah imagines with his imagery of new creation: covenant renewal. However, all this, combined with the hope of resurrection, points to an actual, concrete renewal of creation. This is what John imagines at the end of his apocalypse, in contrast to Isaiah: death is no more.
The point I?m trying to make ? and maybe I didn?t make it well enough ? is that the imagery of a ?new heaven? and ?new earth? cannot be taken as prima facie evidence for a future, utter dissolution of the earth.
Scot (#7), you asked:

How much difference is there between the traditional sense of ?heaven? and the new sense of ?new heavens and new earth?? That is, once we cancel out the gnostic-like ethereal sense of heaven as puffy clouds etc, isn?t the older (good) study of heaven quite like the newer (good) study of ?new heavens and new earth??

I?m not quite sure what you mean by ?the traditional sense of ?heaven.?? But regardless of the traditional sense of heaven, what worries me is that, like it or not, ?heaven? connotes disembodied afterlife to most of our culture. If we want to be true to the Bible, we need to make sure the language we use conveys the meaning we intended.
As for the relation between the ?new heavens and new earth? and ?heaven,? I would say there is a big difference. In Revelation, New Jerusalem comes down from heaven to earth. This is not some intermediate state; this is physicality at its perfection. In the language of Wright, this is heaven and earth joined together in marriage forever. This is God?s kingdom come on earth. This is embodiment at its perfection. I do not believe the language of ?heaven,? at least not in our culture, does justice to this narrative.
Jon (#7), I think what you are saying is that what we should mean by ?heaven? is intermediate state. The problem is, most Christians stress ?going to heaven? so much that they either forget about resurrection or have trouble making sense of how the two fit together. As N.T. Wright points out in Surprised By Hope, without any prior understanding of traditional Judaism or Christianity, what knowledge would the non-Christian come out of a funeral with if all the pastor preached about was ?going to heaven?? Wright points out a cultural tension or shift by showing that some early grave stones read ?I will rise again.? Perhaps tradition says more than we give it credit.
Phil (#9), I personally prefer a doctrine of ?soul sleep? to one of a conscious intermediate state. It appears Martin Luther and William Tyndale did as well. It just makes perfect sense to me that death is death and resurrection is the only hope for any life after death. As you said, ?If we do not have an immaterial spirit, [our] only hope is resurrection in a bodily form ? for without [a] brain, we are not.? However, some of the New Testament authors appeared to believe in conscious existence after death ? that is, an intermediate state in which the faithful dead are at peace and await the resurrection. This belief is certainly stronger in the Apostolic Fathers and the apologists. While the belief appears to be absent from the Hebrew Scriptures, it is not absent from the intertestamental period (e.g. Wisdom), and, I would assume, the Pharasaic Judaism of the first century. This belief seems like it was fairly strong in the church until the Middle Ages when belief in ?heaven? and ?hell? sort of drowned out or muddled the hope of resurrection.



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MItch

posted September 9, 2008 at 8:29 am


Zach – You said, “it is concerned with my corpse.” Well, sort of. It’s concerned with my life – which is lived in a body. Humans exist in this age – and will in the age to come as I understand it – as a unity of body, mind & spirit in a created universe, but that doesn’t limit me to thinking of resuscitated corpses. I don’t think, for example, that cremation is an obstacle to the resurrection. All bodies, in fact, decompose after death. Given enough time, it is literally true that we go from “dust to dust.” If we have an essence, it is our thoughts, feelings and memories which are a function of our brain. When the brain decomposes, it’s not as if it can be turned back on like a long dormant computer. There’s no longer any “there” there. If we are hanging around when the Lord appears, I assume that Paul’s phrase “we shall be changed” accurately describes the transformation of our physical bodies. But even if our physical bodies are long gone, God is surely still able to resurrect the essential me to life in what Paul calls a “spiritual body.” This is of some practical interest to me as I work with men and women who face violence that sometimes leaves little recognizable as human remains.
My point about the physical universe was similar. It wasn’t that the universe had a soul. I’m not sure where you got that from. It was that the earth itself will someday be incinerated by the dying sun. That’s not the Bible – that’s contemporary astrophysics. Neither the universe in general nor the earth in particular is eternal. My faith does NOT depend on God stepping in before the earth burns to a crisp and its molecules are scattered throughout the universe. God can surely still complete, redeem and restore his creation. In fact, I think that’s exactly what I said. “God intends to complete and redeem his creation. Christian eschatology is not world negating, but creation affirming.” But that redemption involves more than changing human social relationships, more than even giving us immortal flesh – it involves a fundamental change in the nature of the universe itself.
Just as there is both continuity and discontinuity between my personal existence in this age and the age to come, so there is both continuity and discontinuity between the physical universe we know and the universe that will be.



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