Tag Archives: surprised by hope

N.T. Wright & Rob Bell on Resurrection

The resurrection of Jesus wasn’t just to secure an eternal future for us beyond this life. It isn’t merely to give immortality to those who believe in Christ and his salvific work. Far from it. The resurrection signifies something much more, as it did for the early Christians.

See my article Heaven to Earth: The Christian Hope in the Resurrection

It’s in the resurrected body of Jesus that we see heaven and earth joined together. You will recall that Jesus’s resurrected body was numerically identical with his earthly body, but it had gone through a metaphysical, “spiritual” transformation (e.g. Lk 24:30-32; Jn 10:27; 21:10-151 Cor 15:12-58).

Jesus’ resurrection expresses God’s good intentions for all of creation. It affirms the earthly material world that is currently broken, and promises a renewal of all things. It means that God will not kick this world into the cosmic trashcan. Instead, he is guiding all of creation to “new” heavens and earth (Rev 21). And this has huge implications for Christian living.

In his book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (Feb. 2008), Wright says this about the resurrection:

“The point of the resurrection … is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die … What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it. What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future.”

In the following video, Rob Bell stimulates the mind and imagination as he describes the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus.

I hope this resurrection video adds to your Easter celebration.

What do you think of both Wright and Bell’s view of the resurrection? In what other ways do you see the resurrection of Jesus having implications for radical discipleship? Please share your own thoughts.

D.D. Flowers, 2013.


Heaven is Not Our Home

There has recently been a great deal of hype stirred up by those claiming to have had out-of-body experiences of heaven. Bookstore shelves are filling up with them, and all of the media outlets are reporting on them.

I don’t want to speculate on the claims made by the kid who met Jesus or the agnostic neurosurgeon who has confessed to having experienced another dimension of reality. Maybe they did experience these things for real, or maybe neurons were simply misfiring in their brain. I’ll let you decide.

It’s not that I’m entirely skeptical of these subjective claims. I believe in heaven as a present reality. I also believe that the apostle John experienced something of this heaven, as he records in Revelation 4-5. So, I do believe in that realm the Scripture calls heaven—God’s space.

What concerns me is that many Christians have made more of these contemporary claims than they ought. We’ve allowed folk religion to shape enough of our theology as it is. And this infatuation with heaven says we have a ways to go in understanding the Gospel and the biblical future God has planned for heaven and earth.

Is heaven is for real? Well, of course it is. It doesn’t appear that the NT church had any doubts about it. They clearly believed in the present reality of heaven, but they were far more interested in something greater.

What fascinated the early church—driving the entire Gospel mission—was the biblical hope that God would bring heaven to earth. The Messiah was to be the one to make this happen, at least to initiate it and complete it. The Kingdom of God is all about this marriage of heaven and earth.

It’s God’s idea of new creation.

“Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” Isaiah 65:17

The creation of a “new heavens and a new earth” is a transformation of the former things. It is a world transfigured like unto the physical body of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 17:1-9). Think about it.

The resurrected body of Christ was of its own kind. There is continuity with the old body and there is discontinuity as well (Lk. 24: 13-35, 36-49; Jn. 20:1-18, 24-31; 21:1-14). The resurrected body of Christ is heaven intersecting with earth. Therefore, the resurrected Jesus is proof of what God plans to do with the spiritual and physical dimensions of reality.

In Rev. 21-22 we do not see believers flying off to a disembodied spiritual existence on the other side of the cosmos. No, we see heaven coming to earth. We see heaven, God’s realm, breaking through and fully consummating with the physical realm we call earth.

We must rid ourselves of this mantra that speaks of going to heaven when we die, as if we will have come to the end of our journey.

Heaven is indeed where the Lord is presently, but it is not our final home (Ps. 14:2; 20:6; 33:13; Ecc. 5:2; Is. 66:1; Dan. 2:44; 7:27; Rev. 11:15).

If anything, heaven is only a temporal dwelling for those awaiting the resurrection of the dead. Jesus said there are “many dwelling places” in his Father’s house (Jn 14:2). The Greek word for “dwelling places” used here, monai, has regularly been used to refer to a temporary stop on an extended journey. Don’t merge this verse with Rev 21.

Even when Christ was on the cross, he told the thief on his left that “today” he would be with him in “paradise” (Lk. 23:43). This too doesn’t speak of a final destination, but of a temporal garden of rest.

All of the saints, past and present, still await the return of the King and the establishment of heaven on earth (Heb. 11:13-16; Rev. 6:10-11).

God’s desire has always been to complete his good work in the created world upon which every human being has ever lived.

For the Jew, there was a firm belief that God would restore creation and fulfill his covenant with his people. The Lord of heaven and earth would finally merge the two into one unified reality.

This resurrected world is called the “New Jerusalem” and the “Holy City” (Rev. 21:2). This newly remade world is our final destination. It is the Kingdom of God fully realized. In Revelation 21:5, Christ says:

“Behold, I am making all things new!”

And it is Christ that has the authority to say such things, for he was the first to be resurrected and be clothed with the imperishable.

Our hope is in a future resurrected existence in the “new heavens and earth.” The finished work of Christ is not fully realized until God makes his home on this earth. This should be our great obsession.

It is on this earth that Jesus prayed, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). Heaven is indeed coming to earth. Jesus has called for its renewal and resurrection!

“Heaven, in the Bible, is not a future destiny but the other, hidden, dimension of our ordinary life—God’s dimension, if you like. God made heaven and earth; at the last he will remake both and join them together forever.” N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, 19

Give some serious thought to N.T. Wright’s description of this future reality.

Does your language about the future reflect this biblical hope? How do you think the pop-culture confusion on this theological issue impacts the way in which we live out the Kingdom on the earth?

D.D. Flowers, 2012.


N.T. Wright on Heaven & Rapture Theology

N.T. Wright is one of the leading voices within New Testament scholarship today. Wright taught New Testament studies for twenty years at Cambridge, McGill, and Oxford Universities.

He was the Bishop of Durham in the Church of England from 2003-2010. He presently holds the Chair in New Testament and Early Christianity at St. Andrews, Scotland.

Wright, a prolific author, has written over forty books, including both scholarly and popular works. His major academic series Christian Origins and the Question of God is making no small contribution to NT studies.

As I’ve said many times before, I sincerely believe he is one of the most important of Christian scholars alive today, particularly in the area of early Judaism, historical Jesus studies, and the theology of the apostle Paul.

Wright’s work offers fresh insights and a stimulating challenge to evangelical Christianity. In his book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (Feb. 2008), Wright challenges the notion of “going to heaven when you die” and spending an eternity in some bodiless future. For if this was the case, Wright says, “then what’s the fuss about putting things right in the present world?”

What about the resurrection of the dead? What about renewed creation? What about the gospel of the kingdom come to earth?

For newcomers to the blog, I have reviewed Surprised by Hope in a series of five books that I believe are helping to shape a new vision for 21st century evangelicalism. I think you need to read all of them. Make it a group study!

In the following ABC News interview, Wright talks about how evangelicals, especially those in America, have distorted the Christian hope by obsessing over heaven, while neglecting the NT teaching of new heaven and earth—a future reality in real space and time (Rev 21).

In this video, Wright also critiques rapture theology and provokes us to rethink the implications of embracing such an escapist view of the church and a subsequent cataclysmic destruction of the earth.

Do you agree or disagree with Wright? Have many believers neglected the real Christian hope? Do you see a conflict with rapture theology and the NT vision of the Kingdom coming to earth? Do you believe that a person’s view of future things shapes their behavior and actions in the present?

D.D. Flowers, 2012.


Then the End Will Come

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.  Matthew 24:14 (NIV)

As far as I can tell, this is as close as Jesus comes to pinpointing the time of his return. The entire chapter of Matt 24 is Jesus responding to the question, “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age” (v.3)? Jesus will list a number of different signs, but makes it clear that it’s ultimately the Father’s business as to when the Son of Man will return (v.36).

I think there is a great deal of confusion among evangelicals as to what the church should expect to happen before and leading up to Christ’s return. Much of this bewilderment concerning eschatology is due to sloppy hermeneutics and the propagation of bad theology.

While I’m not proposing that there isn’t any mystery surrounding the last things, I am saying that rapture theology has grossly distorted Jesus’ gospel message, and NT expectations of a hopeful future for the earth.

Let me break it down.

The “gospel of the kingdom” is not simply a message that Jesus will forgive your sins so that you don’t have to go to hell when you die. This is only part of the good news message, and even this bit is often distorted in the process of marketing the gospel to a consumer culture through fear mongering.

The gospel is frequently reduced down to personal salvation, with no understanding of what it means to be a disciple and a citizen of the Kingdom of God. I highly recommend Scot McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel.

The good news of the Kingdom goes beyond the message of Christ’s death on the cross for atonement of our sins (justification). It’s about new life in the here and now (sanctification), and it’s about the future resurrection of the dead along with the restoration of God’s good earth (glorification).

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…” Rev 21:1

We are not bound for an eternity in heaven. Can we please stop saying this? Pop-culture Christianity is obsessed with heaven in neo-Gnostic fashion. What is going on? The apostolic hope was not life after death in heaven, but what N.T. Wright calls, “life after life-after-death.”

The NT is clear that we (believers) will be resurrected on the last day to inherit a renewed creation. This is never called heaven. It’s called the new heaven and earth, the New Jerusalem come to earth (Rev 21).

This is the Christian hope: resurrection of the dead and renewal of the earth.

The good news is about the Kingdom, the reign and rule of God on the earth. Jesus calls it the “gospel of the kingdom” because he envisions that his Father will bring heaven and earth together in a new reality of his perfect reign. And why wouldn’t he? Jesus prayed “your kingdom come… on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10).

This has always been the biblical expectation of the future (Isa 65:17). Israel expected God’s reign on the earth through Messiah (Dan 7:13-14). And the apostles believed that future had broke through into the present with Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus has inaugurated the Kingdom and will soon bring about its consummation in his parousia (coming).

Then he will sit on David’s throne forever (Isa 9:6-7).

We can see this coming together of heaven and earth in the resurrected body of Jesus. He was the firstborn of this new creation. His resurrection is the marriage of God’s space (heaven) and our space (earth). His glorified body resembles something of our present world, but it’s also something very different, i.e. the resurrected Jesus walked through walls!

The disciples couldn’t even find adequate words to describe the great mystery that had been revealed in Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

Rethinking the “Gospel of the Kingdom”

So, what is the gospel? It’s not about an escape from the world for a spiritual existence in white clouds with naked babies playing harps. It’s about God having his way in this world through his church, born out of his Son.

We will not be secretly whisked away to another planet on the other side of the cosmos. Some folks have flattened out the biblical metaphors and abused this apocalyptic vision. God will not literally destroy the earth; he will purify it with his holy fire and winnowing fork.

All those who reject the Kingdom now will not receive resurrection in their bodies for God’s resurrected world that is coming. They will be left outside the city that God will build (Rev 21:27).

Pay careful attention to this truth. It’s those who are righteous that are “left behind” (Matt 24:38-41). The wicked will not inherit the earth. They will be swept away in a flood of judgment.

The “gospel of the kingdom” is about all things being conformed to Christ (Rom 8:29). He is the second Adam, the true Israelite, the new human, and the image of God on the earth. The Lord desires that the image of his Son be reflected in all the earth. This means not only proclaiming a message about Christ, but living out the Kingdom and calling others to do the same.

This gospel of the Kingdom always looks like Jesus—loving, serving, suffering, dying, and rising for his neighbor and his enemies.

Therefore, the preaching of the good news is also action. It’s the manifestation of God’s good will upon the earth. When this is lived out through humans, it looks like Jesus among us.

This “gospel of the kingdom” will be known throughout the whole world before the end of the age—not the end of the space-time continuum. The NT speaks of the end of the present evil age that is marked by sin and death. It’s that age that will come to an end when the “gospel of the kingdom” is realized. The new “eternal” age is the world set to rights at last.

What then does this mean for the church?

It means that the Lord actually expects a great level of the Kingdom to be manifested on the earth through Christian living. He wants to work through free human agents that have surrendered to his will. He will not force himself upon this world. That’s not the way of Christ.

The God we see in Jesus invites us to his table. He calls us to do his work. He wants us to participate in God’s saving act of creation. He waits for a church that cries out for the Kingdom on behalf of the world. The nature of this future is open (to some extent) and full of possibilities!

Christ’s return is mysteriously bound up with our participation in the gospel of the Kingdom. Since the good news of the Kingdom is that God will restore the earth for his resurrected people, we know that our labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Cor 15:58).

We are not tilling a garden today only for it to be paved over with concrete tomorrow. We are not working a field that will be burned up in a cosmic wildfire. What we do for Christ and his Kingdom is one more brick in the building he is erecting on this earth. It matters. It counts.

You matter. You count.

Dear brothers and sisters, let’s speed the coming of Christ (2 Pet 3:12) by proclaiming and acting out God’s beauty and justice on the earth through creative expressions of resurrected living.

Let us imagine what it would look like if God were running the show, and work out our salvation in hopeful expectation of a new world.

Until the whole earth cries out: “thy Kingdom come!”

D.D. Flowers, 2012.


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