On March 28, 2012

Heaven/Earth F.A.Q.’s

  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. 

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  • http://disorientedtheology.wordpress.com Paul A.

    Having a new baby really cramps your ability to make it church every week. But I finally caught up with the podcasts at work today, and I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a sermon series as much as this one. Thank you!

    So maybe this is too close to the questions you’re not interested in answering – and too much part of my premillennial dispensationalist upbringing (my dad’s favorite Bible is actually a Darby translation, by the way; you are the second person in my entire life to mention his name) – but I couldn’t help wonder that if Christ is returning at some point, what will that return be like? 

    Growing up, the big debate in my circles about the actual moment of Christ’s return was whether our clothes would still be on our bodies, fall in a heap or be folded neatly after we were raptured. Then we’d have one-world government, cashless society, plagues, disasters, the whole bit. So if all of that ISN’T going to happen, what IS? What happens between now and the moment when Jesus is on his throne and the new heaven and new earth are together? You keep referencing heaven colliding into earth; my question is: What does the collision look like? What does it look like for me and my family; what does it look like for Arab Muslims in the Middle East; what does it look like for Hindus and Buddhists in South Asia; what does it look like for the atheist down the street?

    That’s the same question asked about 50 different ways, but hopefully one of them is clear enough to communicate what I mean. I’d love to hear any answers you care to give on that. Thanks! 

    Paul

  • http://profiles.google.com/derranreese Derran Reese

    Hey man,

    I’m enjoying your Heaven and Earth series from afar. Good
    stuff. So glad you are preaching this at Highland. I’m excited to see where all
    this leads with the vision.

    A quick question in response to one of your answers above.
    You wrote that people will be with Jesus after they die and then be resurrected
    in the body later. This is Wright’s “life after life after death.” I’ve
    wondered about this idea since reading Surprised by Hope. (And I realize
    questioning N. T. Wright is the 8th deadly sin, so I will regret
    this.) How is it that we want to reject the Platonic notion of a body and soul
    and emphasize how humans are fundamentally embodied creatures, yet we still
    believe that we will be with Jesus (or in heaven or something similar) in that
    interim period? It seems that if we can be with Jesus (or even be something at
    all) while not in a body, then Plato is somewhat correct. To believe that there
    is an interim period (the second “life” in phrase “life after life after
    death”) is to actually negate the position that we are embodied creatures and affirm
    that we are a soul within a body.

    So, isn’t it more coherent to believe that a human has to be
    embodied to “be” at all? Thus, couldn’t we say that once a person dies, that
    person is dead until the day of resurrection? Yet, from the perspective of the
    person who dies, it would seem that they were immediately in the presence of
    God because they are not conscious during the interim period. So, maybe from
    God’s perspective (or a bird’s eye view of history) a person would be dead for
    a long time. But, as far as we are concerned, we would go immediately from this
    body to a resurrected body. I realize there are pastoral reasons to believe
    that a person is immediately with Jesus upon death, but that makes it to where
    we have to believe in a disembodied existence during that period. There doesn’t
    seem to be a need for that interim period. In fact, it weakens our argument
    that Plato was wrong and takes away from the emphasis on incarnation,
    resurrection and new creation. Any thoughts?

    (Commenting on your blog is my theological stimulation these
    days, so excuse the randomness of my question. Oh, and please mess with Ben
    today in my honor.)

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Hey Derran, that is a great question. And to be honest it’s not something I’d thought of in depth before. You are putting your finger on the greatest mystery in all of this for me. But here’s what I think: I think the difference between Plato’s idea of the immortality of the soul and the Christian “Heaven” is that Plato thought that the soul was the ultimate reality. It had always existed, and the physical was bad. I think there are too many places in Scripture where it is assumed or explicitly stated that the dead are with Jesus now i.e. Luke 22, Philippians 1, John 14, to say that we are not really somehow still alive and with him. 

    But the problem is that we put such an extreme emphasis on the spiritual part of our existence, when that goes against the grain of most of Scripture. Creation/our bodies/the physical contra Plato is good! And for our bodies to be separated from our spirits is just a temporary arrangement, not the immortal one that Plato and so much of contemporary Christianity assumes. 

    Your question reminds me again of Paul’s reminder, “we see through a glass darkly” Thanks for making me think. Blessings on your ministry in Thailand brother!

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Paul, thanks man! I’m glad to hear you are enjoying this! Me too! I’ve loved getting to unpack this, and it’s helpful to be able to be following Mike Cope and Lynn Anderson, who’ve been talking about this in one form or another for 40 years at Highland. If I didn’t have that luxury, I’m sure I’d just sound like a heretic to most people. 

    One of the things about this series, is that people already have pre-thought out categories for much of what we are saying. So a lot of when you first start talking about this they just put in the Pre-millenial category. A lot of Church of Christ founders were pre-millenial, and so it makes sense to think like that. But I am not pre-millenial, and to be honest have no idea about the how of it all. I’m just focusing on that what. And I believe that can simply be summarized with the early Christian belief that what God did for Jesus He will do for every part of Creation. 

    Anyway, hope that helps, I wish I had more answers on that, but I don’t.

    Peace,
    Jonathan