Advancing the Conversation of Jesus
For as long as I can remember, I have been told, believed and taught that God wants to get us out of here and take us up to heaven. Several of my friends look forward to this great exit from earth to heaven. In many ways, it’s an escape clause for Christians. This kind of thinking feeds directly into the very popular series about the fears of being left behind on this planet.
Unfortunately, it also is counter to Jesus’ words and teachings on his mission to set up the Kingdom of God right here, right now, on earth as it is in heaven. Several years ago, using Jesus’ teachings as my filter to evaluate everything, it occurred to me that God’s ultimate intention is not to take us out of here. Jesus introduced the Kingdom. We are in it now and ultimately the Kingdom of God will fill the earth as God’s dwelling place. Let’s look at the passage in Revelation 21 that describes what we’ve believed was heaven.
And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel.
In this passage the city is measured by an angelic being. It is described as having a high wall 1500 miles in width, height, and length. It has streets of gold and amazing, jeweled foundation stones. Also, it had 12 pearly gates-each gate was a pearl.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.
As N. T. Wright says, “If you really believe that what happens at death is that you leave behind the world of space, time and matter, you are never going to be bothered with it again, you’re never going to have a physical body again and that ultimately God is going to throw this whole world on the rubbish heap somewhere, then what’s the fuss to work for justice in the present?”
But God has a better idea. God is going to merge heaven and earth together. He will actually bring heaven to earth. This is what’s called the new heavens and the new earth. This is the ultimate form of the Kingdom of God-heaven on earth!