So at Highland right now, we are going through a series called Heaven/Earth, where we look at what the classical Christian doctrine of the resurrection really means for us, Creation and the age to come. I’ve loved getting to do this series, I’ve loved the questions (and there have been some good ones), and the discussion, and to that end, for all you Highlanders, and those of you who listen online, here are the FAQ of the Heaven/Earth. What ones did we miss? Any other questions you’d like to ask?
1. Is this about Pre-Millennialism?
Actually, this series has nothing to do with any kind of millennialism. Churches of Christ in particular have been very divisive in the past by talking about this particular issue. Will Jesus return and reign for 1000 years? Is he reigning for 1000 years right now? These questions are more about how God is going to return and we’re exploring what Heaven and Earth will look like when he returns.
2. Where are the people I love who have already died?
The Apostle Paul believed that for him to die would be better for him, because he would be with Jesus right now. The story Jesus tells about the rich man and Lazarus gives us a clue that people who die are in some way with God, or not with God, right after death. This, however, is not the final resting place. There are 2 stages to life after death. One is the immediate bodiless state, where we are in some way with God without a body. The other is after the bodily resurrection, when we are joined again with our bodies, and our bodies are joined with God.
3. What about the Rapture?
The word rapture is nowhere in the Bible. It’s a relatively new idea in Christian thought. The first time the word rapture entered our vocabulary was about 170 years ago, John Darby, a British evangelist, preached about the rapture through England and North America.
4.Will we meet with Jesus in the air? (1 Thess. 4:13-18)
Paul is notorious for mixing his metaphors. This is no exception. One of the metaphors that Paul is using is that of God meeting Moses on Mt. Sinai. In Exodus 19:16-25, Moses ascends to the mountain and meets God in the clouds accompanied by trumpets. Then Moses returns back down the mountain to be in the world with God.
The other metaphor Paul uses is that of Caesar. The New Testament writers commonly used the Greek word parousia to talk about the return of Jesus; and this is the word used in Roman culture when Caesar paid a city a visit. When the emperor visited a colony or province, the citizens of the country would go to meet him at some distance from the city. It would be disrespectful to have him actually arrive at the gates as though his subjects couldn’t be bothered to greet him properly. When they met him, they wouldn’t then stay out in the open country; they would escort him royally into the city itself.
Both of these metaphors point to meeting Jesus, then returning to the world that has been made new.
5. Will the earth burn? (2nd Peter 3)
That’s actually an old, poor translation. Most of the Bibles today will translate that verse as “the earth will be laid bare.” Peter is referring to what the Old Testament Prophets called “The Day of the Lord” when God would judge the world and everything in it. (For a more detailed and in depth look at what a New Testament author thought that Day would be like, read 1 Corinthians 3:10-15.)
The word we’ve translated as laid bare, is the same word that we get our English word ‘Eureka’ from. It means the surprising discovery of something that was there all along.
This whole section in 2nd Peter is actually framed by the memory of the Flood. When God sent the flood, he didn’t destroy the world, he purged it. He started over with a new civilization. It’s also immediately after this, that 2nd Peter says, “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.” That word new, is the Greek word kainos, meaning something new in quality, rather than new from scratch.
6. What about Jesus’ conversation with the Thief on the cross?
In this story, the thief asks Jesus to remember him on that day when he comes into his Kingdom. Jesus responds by telling Him that today he will be with Him in paradise. The classic Christian doctrine about the age to come seems to be in two parts. 1. Being joined with God and His people immediately after we die, though without a body. 2. The physical Resurrection of the world and the Restoration of all things happens when Heaven comes down to earth. This is the final and ultimate Christian hope
7. Does this even matter? Why are we talking about this so much?
This conversation matters deeply, because what we hope toward, we will live toward. For example, Highland Church, along with millions of other churches, has prayed the Lord’s Prayer for over a decade. We have asked for Heaven to come to earth, but what does that look like? If we are going to partner with God in making that happen, then how we conceive of it matters deeply.
For too long, Western Christianity has believed a version of Plato, an ancient Greek philosopher, who believed that people have an immortal soul that existed before they were born and that the human body was just a shell. He believed that the spiritual world was good and the physical was bad. This is not the story of Scripture, and it produces a twisted version of the Christian hope.
For example, if we believe Plato, that God is indifferent to his Creation, we might start to believe that we should be as well. We might start thinking that all that really matters are “spiritual things” like evangelism or church services, without caring about the world that God called “good” (Gen. 1:31). We believe evangelism matters deeply and the gathered church body is very important precisely because they are a part of the whole mission of God, the Restoration and Renewal of all things (Acts 3:21, Matthew 19:28, Revelation 21:1-5)
Martin Luther King Jr. famously wrote about this problem from a Birmingham jail. He pointed out that the White church leaders promised oppressed African-Americans pie in the sky when they die, but did nothing to care about setting the world right now.
Karl Marx once said, “Religion is the opium of the masses.” But Marx did not know the real Christian story. The Resurrection is not about fleeing from the problems of this world but about courageously entering into them. Because of the resurrection we can give everything, even our lives, for the sake of the good news with the confidence that our work will not be in vain. The resurrection shows Jesus’ followers that what God did for Jesus, he will do for all of Creation. That’s why Paul calls Jesus resurrection “the first-fruits.” Death, in any form, will not have the final word.
8. What about all the passages in the Bible that warn us from being worldly, or not loving the world?
There are many Scriptures that warn the people of God to not be like the rest of the world or not to love the world. Randy Alcorn, author of Heaven, suggests we read those passages with the understanding that they talk about “The world, as it currently is.” While there are many passages that warn us to avoid friendship with the world, Jesus is God’s ultimate point that the world matters. After all, John 3:16, the most famous verse in the Bible says, “God so loved the world (Cosmos) that He gave us his only Son.”
For a selected reading list on this, or to listen to the previous sermons you can go here.