Reading N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope I realize there is an aspect to my understanding of God that has been very neglected from the beginning of my Christian walk. As the book reveals, ask most Christians what they think of when they hear of Christ’s promise of resurrection and you will usually get an answer like “go to heaven”.
In fact Wright argues that one of the the great misconceptions that has skewed our Christian faith, as well as detouring the mission of the church, has been that modern Christianity has made “resurrection” a synonym for “going to Heaven”.
It goes back to the beginning. Heaven and Earth were NEVER intended to be separated. God LOVES the physical. He forms humans out of the earth and breathes life into them through his Spirit. The whole point of Christ coming, and the reason he became flesh himself, is to reunite Heaven and Earth. To seal the breech.
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.
1 John 3:8
What was the devil’s work? He tempted mankind into not trusting God which broke the relationship between God and man…Heaven and Earth.
Christ’s victory over death through his resurrection is the down payment on the restoration progress that is occurring “right here, right now”.
For me, one of the reasons some of my enthusiasm for “ministry work” in the last few years has been…mmm, how can we say it… not so energetic, has been because much of it seemed disconnected from anything rooted in reality. In fact somehow I managed to make heaven boring while trying to convince everyone, and sometimes even myself, how exciting and “life giving ” it was supposed to be.
Making heaven boring is really difficult to do but somehow we Christians managed to pull it off.
So things that I tended to be interested in like film, public service, literature, etc. (the “not boring” stuff) were at best seen by the Christian world as useful “earthy” tools so long as they could be used for “heavenly” purposes. They were for the most part, not valued as noble in themselves… but if we could use them to gather a crowd so we could “preach the gospel” then they became validated.
But I’m realizing everything Jesus was concerned with was “right here, right now”. In Genesis 1 our mandate was to enjoy God and reflect his image by co-creating in establishing a new world. When death came in the plan was corrupted.
But we were never created to die…that wasn’t part of the original intent! Wright argues in his book that if resurrection means nothing more than your spirit “going to heaven” after you die than death still wins in the end. The plan fails…
But, if you live in the hope (hence the name of the title Surprised by Hope) that one day you will rise again as Jesus promised, with the understanding of resurrection being that you will live again in a new body and ready to participate in a new world, then things get a WHOLE lot more exciting.
Wright mentions in the Surprised by Hope that up until the late eighteenth century the tombstones of many Christians were inscribed with the Latin, resurgam, which meant “I shall arise”. There was an understanding by Christians up until modern time that when we die we are “in Christ” and at rest…but that is NOT where we are ultimately destined to be nor is it God’s final intent.
Wright’s definition of Christian resurrection is “life AFTER ‘life after death’”
I may not live to see the ultimate manifestation of Christ’s reign but I am participating in bringing Heaven to Earth now. And guess what, I get to take back that last sentence because 1 Thessalonians says those of us who have “fallen asleep” (died) will in no way be late for the final party.
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.
For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.
1 Thessalonians 4: 13-15
Jesus is bringing those who are asleep “with him” to “here”
Those who are alive when Jesus comes for the big arrival will be joined by us who have “fallen asleep” to be with the Lord forever.
Heaven and Earth restored. Left Behind “rapture” scenarios have probably not helped and often just served to fuel an “escape” theology. With that theology the gospel is then wrongly viewed as a lifeboat to rescue people off a sinking ship…and the ship is destroyed in the end. But God is in the business of creating and restoring…not destroying. Everything that needed to be destroyed (i.e. the work of the devil) was accomplished at the Cross by Jesus Christ 2000 years ago. Now we get to be part of the restoration plan in preparation for Christ’s return as sovereign and King.
Right Here…Right Now!