Updated: May 17, 2022
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Most of the ideas here are not my own, but simply a synthesis of what I have and am learning from the likes of N.T. Wright, Tim Mackie, Michael Bird, John Eldredge, the team at CFNI and C.S. Lewis to name but a few.
We have this tension in our home... which is to see towels being hung on towel rails! Yet, each day, they seem to migrate to the floor - no matter what we try :)
In life, there are similar tensions; desires, yearnings to see things set right. We see injustice in the world, and want to see justice done. We see moral conflict in ourselves, a struggle between wanting to do what is right, and actually doing it. We see it in our relationships - we find they are hard work. There is a genuine desire for peace and happiness, but often so much self focus prevails the expense of generosity, humility and kindness.
It's weird that we have this desire for better, the knowledge of what needs to be done, yet no matter how hard we try it proves difficult, impossible rather, to do.
One of the ways we can learn from the Kingdom theme in the Bible is answer to this tension.
There are basically views we can hold in life, when considering some of the tensions we wrestle with.
#1 THIS IS IT
Also known as this is YOU DO YOU. Or from time gone by: YOLO. Get used to this life, get what you can, because you already have all that there is. There is no solution to evil and there is no future beyond where we now are. The foundations of both atheism (there is no divine) and pantheism (the divine is in all). f there is a Divine, it is in everything: nature, animals, people, creation. Heaven and earth are two sides of one coin.
The towels will never make it to the towel rails.
#2 THIS IS NOT IT
Also known as SURVIVAL MODE. There is a better future, but it's somehow disconnected. We dream of it. One day we will get there. Until then, hold on, grin and bear it. God is out there somewhere in heaven, but he is removed. So while I believe in a higher power, I don't pray, nor go to church, nor read my Bible because this power doesn't seem interested in my.
I'm trying my best here, so that I will be on the right side, when I die. Deism. Gnosticism.
The towels will make it to the towel rails... in the next life.
#3 THIS IS, BUT ISN'T FULLY, IT, YET
Also known as A WORK IN PROGRESS. There is a sense of something of putting things right. Of us being put right. Heaven and earth overlap and interlock in a complex and confusing way. Judaism, Christianity and Islam would all hold something of this view.
The towels may not be on the rail every day, yet, but we celebrate the days that they are and keep working toward the end goal!
Which is it for you? Let's talk about Christianity. It would seem that many believe a very simplistic view of Christianity - one where the goal is to avoid hell and get to heaven. When you die, there is a checkpoint to assess your life and decisions, based on which you will either go to heaven (portrayed as clouds and harps) or hell, a fiery place with a devil with horns.
The problem with this view is it is incomplete and focusses on the wrong things. It's like trying to see the picture on a 1000 piece puzzle with only 3 pieces in hand. By the way, this "understanding" is way more of a #2 THIS IS NOT IT view. A lot of people have a problem with God in this because of the question "How can a loving God send people to hell?" We will get to that in the weeks to come. What I am certain of is that people who reject Jesus because of this view, are rejecting a different Jesus to the one I know.
Let's put down some working definitions - Themba read Psalm 96 at the start of the service, and it's all about the reign (kingdom of God).
10 Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.”
11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; 12 let the field exult, and everything in it!
HEAVEN = GOD'S SPACE (DIMENSION)
Christians often talk about living with God "in heaven" forever. The final resting place. the place where God’s people will be with him, in eternal bliss after they die’. Speaking this way offers a way to talk about where God always is, so "going to heaven" really means ‘going to be with God in the place where he has been all along’. Hence, ‘heaven’ is not just a future reality, but a present one.
Our idea may be unclear, and include clouds, and harps. As John Eldredge puts it in the The Journey of Desire:
Nearly every Christian I have spoken with has some idea that eternity is an unending church service. After all, the Bible says that the saints “worship God in heaven,” and without giving it much more thought we have settled on an image of the never-ending sing-along in the sky, one great hymn after another, forever and ever, amen. And our heart sinks. Forever and ever? That’s it? That’s the good news? And then we sigh and feel guilty that we are not more “spiritual.
The authors in the Bible speak about heaven as ‘the sky’, i.e. location within the world of space, time and matter but also as the place where God is and always has been. Heaven is
God’s space as opposed to God’s location within our space–time universe.
Heaven does appear to be a place, as Jesus ascended to heaven and said he will go to prepare a place for us, but it is more of a spiritual dimension that we cannot fully sense, right now, rather than somewhere above the atmosphere (as Yuri Gagarin famously pointed out - he found no evidence of God up there in space).
Question: IS GOING TO HEAVEN THE GOAL? ‘Going to heaven when you die’ is not portrayed in the New Testament as the main goal. The main goal is the resurrection, to be bodily raised into the transformed, glorious likeness of Jesus Christ. In a sense, "going to heaven is step of something much bigger.
Another question: IS HEAVEN THE OPPOSITE OF HELL? While hell is a present and future reality (we will get to that too), it is not a major focus in the Bible. The counter part of heaven is earth, not hell.
EARTH = OUR SPACE (DIMENSION)
In the Bible, the earth is actual earth beneath our feet, but also to our space, our dimension of reality, as opposed to God’s.
Psalm 115.16 ‘The heavens are the LORD’s heavens, but the earth he has given to human beings’
The question then is how do heaven and earth, God’s dimension our dimesion, relate to one another? One more definition to help us
The English word it primarily refers to a place, for example the Kingdom of Lesotho. In the Bible the Gk , basileús, Hb, malkuth both to an activity, an action that includes a place.
To paraphrase: kingdom means, who is in charge, who's will is being done?
Last week I said that The kingdom of heaven is not a place you go to but something that happens to you, and it's all based on this idea - it's the reign / in charge-ness / will of the King coming in to you life.
Here is perhaps a better way to look at this all - the grand narrative of the Bible.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. God's dimension (the brightly coloured circle thing) and our dimension (earth), and they overlapped and interacted with perfect unity.
Humans were created full of POTENTIAL, with this amazing task of embodying God's rule and reign. Interestingly there there is a line of thinking that being created in IMAGE OF GOD refers to ruling - dominion - in the same way God does. This is the story of Genesis 1 and 2. God's space, humans space. Together. One. Unity. Glorious.
Then comes the fracture of Genesis 3, the freewill choice of humans to create an alternative kingdom culminating Babylon, and reflected in Egypt with Pharoah, the failed kings of the promised land, the Babylonian and Assyrian empires, even the great Roman Empire. We still see this today (remember those desires to see things set right).
It's not that God left, but rather that our access to heaven's dimension was no longer what it used to be.
The story of the Old Testament tells the story of clashing kingdoms, of God constantly pushing in to the human kingdom and save from ourselves, and humans constantly wanting to push God out. God chose Abram, and Israel to be a contrast people, but in the pages of the story we see their persistence in choosing their own way.
There are moments where the heaven and earth meet, God speaking to Abraham. Jacob‘d dream. Moses and the burning bush, the parting of the Sea, Sinai, the Tabernacle. Joshua and the commander of the Lord’s armies. The Temple on Mount Zion.
And in between there are prophesies: Daniel, with Israel in captivity in Babylon and Jerusalem ruined, shared hope that the whole world will somehow be brought to order under the kingship of the Ancient of Days. David was promised that his lineage would produce of a King and kingdom that will last forever. Isaiah spoke of new creation. The message was that reign of the Messiah (King), would bring peace, justice and setting the whole creation right.
Just no one expected the Messiah would be Divine.
Enter Jesus. Trying to makes sense Jesus without all of Israel's history is like trying to figure out a game of golf with zero context or coaching, and we can easily put him in a moral teacher box.
Matthew, Mark and Luke give us the one liner version of His message: "Repent for the Kingdom of God / Heaven is here, or it has arrived." All his other teachings and behaviours only make sense in light of some bigger thing. That bigger thing is that the Kingdom of Heaven is here and there is a new way to live.
Jesus went around teaching and announcing the kingdom. He form a group of 12 disciples - symbolic of a renewed Israel. He invited people them to live under his reign to be the contrast kingdom. he CONFRONTS EVIL, he gravitated toward the outcasts, sick and broken, and he said that Israel will truly be - the contrast kingdom it was called to be.
Then, as an act of sacrificial love, he gave his life on behalf of those who have rebelled against his reign. And, as a statement of his love and commitment to his creation and to humans made in God's image, he defeated death and the in the resurrection. THE VICTORY and VINDICATION of Jesus as king.
As he rose from the grave, God’s entire new creation emerged from the tomb, introducing a world full of NEW POTENTIAL and possibility. The new creation where the kingdom has truly arrived in the death and resurrection of the Messiah.
As the image of God He becomes the human that we're made to be and then through him, we became come the humans that we are made to be.
Jesus came to bring heaven to earth and join them together for ever, to bring God’s future into the present, once and for all.
We live in this reality. The kingdom has come, BUT it is NOT fully recognized or implemented yet so we are all called to partner with God, to discover, through following Jesus, this new world is teapot a place of things beings set right, turned upside down, and to carry this message, to be part of seeing on earth as it is in heaven.
The great narrative of the Bible end, not with believers being taken up into heaven, away from the evil earth and the
but rather with heaven fully coming to earth, the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth, so that the God’s space and our space is overlap and interlock again.
Christianity is not about, Jesus setting a good moral example, though he does. It’s not about getting a ticket to heaven and making sure you end up on the right side when you die, though there is a choice in which in kingdom we want reign.
It is about something that happened. To and through Jesus. That the creator God, , has accomplished all that was prophesied and promised – in Jesus.
As a result of the world is different place, . It’s were heaven and earth have been joined for ever. God’s future in our present. And it all becomes real is through the powerful work of God’s Spirit. It’s option 3.
We are set FREE: freedom to experience God’s redemption for ourselves.
“The resurrection of Jesus doesn’t leave us passive, helpless spectators. We find ourselves lifted up, set on our feet, given new breath in our lungs and commissioned to go make new creation happen in this world.” N.T. Wright
The first response to this news simply to believe. Not the factual kind of belief, but an “it just, makes sense“ kind of belief that resonates with something inside of you that begins to come alive.
Sometimes waking up to this truth is an alarm clock type of shock. Sometimes its gradual of things long thought about. Either way, being awake is different to being asleep, and God is calling us to be awake in a world that is asleep and needs to be awakened to the Gospel too.
All of this hinges on Jesus’ finished work on the cross, and our response to this, accepting his forgivenes and mercy, and giving our allegiance to him as the true King, forever and ever. Amen.
We continue next week!
Colossians 1:12-14 . He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.