Heaven on Earth (12 Jan 2020)

In the 16 December 2019 issue of Time magazine, theologian N.T. Wright wrote an article entitled “The New Testament Doesn’t Say What Most People Think it Does About Heaven”[1]. As the title indicates, N.T. Wright wrote that many people believe incorrectly that Jesus and His first followers taught about leaving the earth and going to heaven when we die, and people need to believe in Jesus so as to be rescued from earth to go to heaven.

In actual fact, the people who first spread that idea were not early Christians, but people who subscribed to Platonic philosophy from the third century who made this idea mainstream by the Middle Ages.

Followers of Jesus in the first century actually didn’t see things this way. They saw “heaven” and “earth” as two parts of God’s creation, and both were good. Rather than ultimately abandoning earth to go to heaven in the last days, God the creator would eventually bring heaven and earth together in the new creation, bringing healing and restoration to the world we live in now, and His people would be raised from the dead to take care of the restored creation. All these can happen because of the resurrection of Jesus, who is in Himself the complete and perfect fusion of both “heaven” and “earth”, and whose death and resurrection launched the start of the new creation. In Jesus, His followers can hope for the coming of heaven onto earth, and are empowered by the Holy Spirit to start living out that life right now. That’s why Jesus taught His followers to pray: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. Jesus’ followers are to set an example for others to show how life in the new creation could and would look like, right here right now on this earth.

This is important because if we believe that the earth is going to be destroyed completely one day while we enjoy life in heaven, then what is the point of making the earth a better place now?

It is not just about creation care and using reusable straws instead of plastic ones. If believers are the “advance-party” in the new creation that is going to be right here in this world, then the Christian mission includes living out how that life will look like. It means that yes, we care about the planet and the environment, but more importantly, we care for the weak and vulnerable like Jesus did, we fulfil our role as His followers and ambassadors for Christ in bringing justice, healing, beauty and celebrate the new creation. At the same time, we acknowledge and cry for the continuing pain of sin and suffering that still exists (for now) in this world.

As we begin a new year, let us reflect about this and pray for God to enable us to live out our faith in all areas of our lives so that others can take a sneak-peak on what it looks like when heaven and earth are brought together when Jesus comes again.

 

Sister Cherlyn Oh

[1] N.T. Wright, “The New Testament Doesn’t Say What Most People Think It Does About Heaven,” Time. December 16, 2019, https://time.com/5743505/new-testament-heaven/. (accessed December 19, 2019).