A Good Question

I have been joyfully engaged with a number of European Christians this week at Gemunden about an hour northwest of Frankfurt. 

Beginning with creation, we have talked about the missio Dei as we are created as co-rulers, co-creators and partners with God in the emergence of creation. But we autonomously chose our own agenda and tumbled into brokenness, death, despair and frustration.  God chose Israel as a nation priviledged with blesings in order to bless but instead became autonomous itself. Instead of blessing the nations they became like the nations.

Jesus, the incarnate Word, became human in order to begin anew–a second Adam, a true Jew, a true human. He embraced the missio Dei and was faithful unto death. His resurrection is the introduction of new humanity–he is the firstborn from the dead, the new human–the first of the new creation.

Exalted to the right hand of the Father, he poured out the Holy Spirit as a downpayment of the new creation, the glorious inheritance of the saints of God. Our inheritance is a new heaven and new earth in a new Jerusalem–the renewed earth full of justice, righteousness and peace where heaven is on earth as God reigns forever with the saints in the new creation.

This scenario is set over against the oft-repeated idea that our goal is “get saved and go to heaven.”  Irene, a well-studied and devout believer, posed this significant and insightful question:

If heaven is where we want to go, why does God create a new heaven? What’s wrong with the “old” heaven?

To which I responded:

If heaven is where we are to go, why does God create a new earth? Why does he need an earth at all?

Bill, another brother at the conference, reported a conversation with a new believer that questioned why one would want to go to heaven when our mission–from creation till now and in the new heaven and new earth–is on the earth.

Eschatologically, we do not go to heaven, but heaven comes down to earth. God will come to dwell with his people upon the earth.  The New Jersualem will descend out of heaven onto the earth–there and then, fully and face-to-face, God will be our God and we will be his people.

We do not “fly away” but we are planted in the earth to grow, mature and blossom throughout eternity.



32 Responses to “A Good Question”

  1. Profile photo of Drew Chapados  Drew Chapados Says:

    John Mark,

    I have enjoyed this topic for a few years now–N.T. Wright was the first one that turned me to look at the idea of ‘going to heaven when we die’ as a longheld view but not one from Scripture–particularly Philippians 3!
    Thanks for the post–
    one question I posed to him once (not as a disagreement but of curiousity) in the new earth–will there be enough room for the resurrected?

    • Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      I have lots of curiosity about the new heavens and new earth. My imagination can project lots of things but it would be speculation. I can imagine, for example, that the new earth is larger and the nature of life on the earth is significantly different to accomodate large crowds. But ultimately I don’t know.

  2.   Joseph Marlin Says:

    That’s the happy side. If the saved are on a renewed Earth, where are the condemned?

    • Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      Revelation 20:11-15 speaks of the lake of fire for the wicked while Revelation 21:1-6 speaks of the new heaven and new earth for the righteous. I suppose your question is to what does the “lake of fire” refer. Perhaps we will take up that question in the not too distant future.

  3.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    “Eschatologically, we do not go to heaven, but heaven comes down to earth. God will come to dwell with his people upon the earth. The New Jersualem will descend out of heaven onto the earth–there and then, fully and face-to-face, God will be our God and we will be his people.

    “We do not “fly away” but we are planted in the earth to grow, mature and blossom throughout eternity.”

    I have tried to show this to others through Bible study and theological conversation. The biggest
    objection I always hear is something to the effect of ‘why would we want to stay on earth?’ I believe that objection is rooted in a sub-conscience assumption that the new earth will be more of the old earth even though intellectually (based on biblical study) this is known not to be so. It seems like the barrier existing between a healthy eschatololical understanding that embraces that eschatological vision is to offer people the vision of the new earth in as concrete terms as possible (knowing that all future is abstract in many ways since the future is yet to be experientially known). How to do that…well, I am still trying to figure that out.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

    • Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      The question “why would we want to stay on earth” reflects some presuppositions or contextualizations that were lacking in the new believer’s question “why would we want to leave the earth since this is where our mission is.” It is a different frame altogether. Our human identity is to pursue the mission of God upon the earth and it is a mission that endures.

      Perhaps we want to go to heaven because that is where God is, as we conceive it. Yet, heaven will come to earth…God will come to earth, and thus that is where I want to me. :-)

      I agree with your point about concrete visualizations. Perhpas Acorn’s book on heaven goes a bit overboard on it, but the value is that it gives us a handle on what we might be talking about. I like to use the concrete descriptions of the Hebrew prophets (e.g., Isaiah 65) as metaphors that give us a way of thinking about that future. And remind ourselves that what the Hebrew prophets spoke of has not yet happened as per Acts 3:20-22.

  4. Profile photo of Keith Brenton  Keith Brenton Says:

    Funny how we can suspend our disbelief at the Star Trek II movie premise that man could build a “Genesis” torpedo to re-form a more wonderful planet, but can’t wrap our minds around the idea that the Creator of heaven and earth could or would do so.

    Rex, I think John did the best he could to describe what he saw in the Revelation – and most of us still scratch our heads when we read it. Good luck trying to describe what might be!

  5.   Jr Says:

    Three brief points:

    1)We definitely need to readdress the eschatology issue in all of Christianity. Our thoughts are ruled by cultural images of wings and harps (no wonder nobody wants to go!) But, the truth is we’re not going to be floaters playing harps on clouds; but we have a resurrection of the body to look forward to; and these are glorified bodies! All 5 of our senses (and more!) will be perfected. Oh to smell perfectly brewed coffee from a heavenly blend! :)

    2)We also need to stop fantasizing that we are the ones who bring the eschatological reality to fruition. Over-realized eschatology hurts the focus of true mission in my opinion.

    3)Our finite minds cannot know what it will be like. We are given glimpses; but perhaps it is a reality beyond any we can even dream. All we know is matter, time, space. What if God has something completely different in store? Whatever it is, its going to be awesome; Christ will be our light, and we will have endless joy with our Creator. Oh what a day!

    And, interesting question about “enough room for the resurrected”. 1)The new earth doesn’t necessarily have to be this one (size, shape, etc.) and 2)Let’s not assume there will be so many people there…

    Grace to you all –
    Jr

    • Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      New creation eschatology is good Reformed theology and is strongly supported in that tradition, as it is in the Eastern church (as early as the second century in Irenaeus). I like that heavenly blend myself.

      No doubt our finitude limits our visualization and even conceptualization. The revelation of the prophets and John’s revelation is accomodative to our finitude. What God prepares for us will be way beyond our imagination though the accomodative language still shapes how we conceive that hope.

      Jr, I presume you are referring to N. T. Wright in you point #2 (but perhaps not). I don’t know of any evangelical or conservative writers who thihk that we will bring about the eschatological reality. God may use our works as instruments for the inbreaking of the reality, but certainly the final reality is God’s work from beginning to end. I am not aware of any significant writer who dreams that “we are the ones who bring the eschatological reality to fruition.” However, there are an increasing number who recognize that our works are instruments of God’s inbreaking in the world as we fulfill the cultural mandate and participate in the mission of God within creation and redemption.

      Blessings, my friend

      John Mark

  6.   rich constant Says:

    john mark
    remember i ask you that question on the circumcision of Christ, and said never mind?

    any way in the next couple of days i found a scripture that worked for me and concerns this topic also i think?

    1st.cor. 15.50-54 not to be removed from the contex,of v’s 35-49.
    how would that work within what you are saying?
    are you home?
    sounds like you had fun.
    blessings

    • Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      I would suggest, as others have, that the resurrection body is not “flesh and blood” in the sense that it derives its life source from earthy reality (e.g., eating and drinking, life is in the blood, etc.). Rather, it is a “Spiritual” (read: Holy Spirit) body in the sense that the Holy Spirit is the energizer and animator of the resurrection body. It is materiality animated by the Spirit of God for eternal life.

  7.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    Keith,

    I happen to believe that the earliest readers of Revelation had no trouble understanding it and its immplications. I think part of our problem is that we live with a much larger history of Christian thought that knowingly or unknowingly shapes us which includes some problematic understandings of the Kingdom of God as well as the unforunate inclusion of platonic philosophy back into Christian thought. Nevertheless, I do think there is headway being made on the popular level when it comes to restoring a right understanding of eschatology.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  8.   Clark Coleman Says:

    I believe that a sound Biblical eschatology holds that the saved live as spirit beings in Heaven until the Judgment Day, and are then given new bodies to inhabit the new Earth.

    So, I agree that we need to discuss the popular image of “living in heaven for all eternity” that does not agree with scripture. But I also think we need to be careful not to disparage a simple belief that believers “go to heaven” when they die. I believe they do, but not for eternity.

    • Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      I agree with your point about the intermediate state. I have a series of blogs on that question (see my Serial index for “Where are the dead?”).

      But I think the phrase “go to heaven” is generally thought to mean that we will spend eternity in heaven in the state in which we die. That is “heaven” (separate from any earth) is the eternal abode. That is what I intended to comment upon but I can see how my language is ambiguous.

      I might add that it has never been the Christian hope or goal “to go to heaven.” Rather, it has always been resurrection life under a new heaven and on a new earth. So, actually, my statement stands–the goal is resurrection and new earth; it is not to “go to heaven.”

      Thanks for helping to clarify.

      •   Clark Coleman Says:

        I lived for years after my conversion with the idea of spending eternity in heaven, before I studied it in detail for the first time, after decades (!) of being a Christian. So, I agree that this is a common misconception that needs to be addressed. But we should recognize that “going to heaven” is a partial truth and not a total misconception, and not speak condescendingly of those who have not studied beyond that. Many of us avoided studying Revelation because of the sensational popularization of various doctrines, and therein lies a problem in our understanding of several issues including this one. Thanks for your teaching on this.

  9. Profile photo of Philip Cunningham III  Philip Cunningham III Says:

    How do you unite this view with 1st Thess. 4:13-18?

    • Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      I assume you mean the statement that we will “meet” the Lord in the air and “so shall we ever be with the Lord.”

      The term “meet” here is a word used to describe how people would go outside of the city wall to meet an arriving dignitary. They would then escort the person into the city. This is how the verb is used in Act 28:15, for example. So, I presume that we will rise to meet the Lord in the air as the earth is renewed (presumably) and then escort the Lord to the earth as he hands over the kingdom to the Father.

      “So shall we ever be with the Lord” does not refer to where we will be with him, but that we will be with him.

      That is my understanding as it now stands. Thanks for the question.

  10. Profile photo of danielpcherry  Daniel Cherry Says:

    I’m also thinking about this view’s harmony with John 14:1-4. Jesus himself spoke of preparing a place that was separate from this place and his language seems to suggest a simultaneous existence of the two abodes. One seems temporary (here) and the other seems eternal (his father’s house). How does this mesh?

    I like your points about being involved with god’s program creatively and getting back to our intended (Adamic) state, but I still believe “going to heaven to be with the Lord” is a pretty decent concept from our Lord. Aren’t the Old (current)Heaven and Old (current) Earth scheduled for demolition? So, what’s next will be completely new anyway. Will it be called “earth”? Or will it be a place with physical properties – in which “earth” is the best description given a first century thought world?

    Also, since Revelation gives us some strong figurative pictures steeped in Eastern, Hebrew and Greek mythology can concrete images of realities beyond our purview be more than tenuous?

    Currently, Earth is where people dwell and Heaven is where God dwells. So when these are all made new we have a single place where both people and God dwell together – this becomes symbolically “Jerusalemic” (Rev. 21) – or “Edenic” (Rev. 22). I don’t want to be a minimilist, unless it’s warrented. So is there more about our eternal purpose in these two chapters other than presence?

    • Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      Daniel,

      Thanks for joining the dialogue. Several points come to my mind.

      Going to be with the Lord does sound good, and it is true to some extent in terms of present with the Lord in death (as per 2 Corinthians 5). But it is not God’s goal as a final eternal state.

      That the earth is schedule for demolition (in the sense of annihilation, that is, nothingness) is exactly the point in dispute. I suggest it is not, but that God intends to redeem it (as Romans 8 states) and renew it after a destruction (purifying by fire) analogous to destroying the first world by the Noahic flood (2 Peter 3).

      I would agree that presence is most important–and I certainly would not be divisive about place. Nevertheless, it seems to me that mission is part of this Edenic or Jeruslaemic situation, that is, to serve God. We will serve God in his temple (his creation) day and night.

      John 14:1-4 is a wonderful text, full of comfort and joy. I understand the “rooms” (abodes,John 14:2) which Jesus prepares for us as the same as the one mentioned in John 14:23. The Father makes his “abode” or home with us. It is about the mutual indwelling of the Father and Son in us. He comes again in the presence of the Holy Spirit to be with them in their mission. The coming again of Jesus in this text is his coming in the presence of the Holy Spirit (John 14:28).

      There is more to be said, but these are the broad lines of response to your excellent points.

  11. Profile photo of danielpcherry  Daniel Cherry Says:

    Thank you for responding with some really interesting thoughts.

    Four questions come to mind.

    1. In John 14, if these are synonomous abodes, Why is one for the apostles and the other for the Lord? It seems like the former was for the apostles and latter was the apostles. Here, I am wondering if both concepts of eternal life are simply analogies to help us understand something outside our purview – and thus mutually inclusive.

    2. When Adam and Eve chose autonomy, what Missio Dei did they reject? What was their purpose – to name the animals? Is that our eternal purpose? Or, was the sin and curse part of the ultimate Misseo Dei to bring a true relationship based on free will to humankind? Are we to go back to naming the animal?

    3. Is there a difference between our temporary and eternal mission? It seems like the temporary mission is to bring wandering sheep back to the Shepherd. The second is to praise God in full relationship in His presence. Then, what does the current rock upon which we stand have to do with it? If the trees will simply be mowed down and something else grown up in their place – will that be the final stage, or just another in the eteral scope of redemptive or creative history? Or was this just a 6,000+ year distraction from God’s real intent for Earth?

    4. In Systematic A in 2000 you touched on cosmic redemption, but didn’t delve into its implications. At the conclusion of the class you said “The point of Heaven is not where or when, but Who.” Since then I occasionally wrestle with these two thoughts. So whether we see an “I’ll fly away” version of eternity or an “I’ll be Planted and Grow Here” version, does that change the way we see our current (or eternal) mission? Does this suggest there may be a new mission awaiting us still in a locked brief case – or an eighth scroll?

    • Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      Daniel,

      I would suggest it is a mutual abode that is the mutual indwelling of the Triune communion for which Jesus prayed in John 17.

      The Missio Dei is invested in creation. What some call the “cultural mandate” where humanity partners with God in “ruling” over the creation. Our purpose is to reign upon the earth with God and enjoy God, each other and the creation.

      We praise God through becoming what he created us to be. Our mission is to be the glory of God and partner with him in the creation, that is, to enter God’s own rest where we serve God as imagers within the creation. Whatever the “current rock” or “trees” have to do with it, God rejoices over his creation, intends to renew it and redeem it, and raise us up to reign with him upon it. I don’t know how to respond to “current rock” but we are promised a new heaven and new earth where the curse and all the brokenness has passed away. It is redemption, not annihilation. We (both body and soul, both “material” and “spiritual”) are redeemd to live upon an earth liberated from the bondage of decay.

      I still believe the main point is who, not where and when. But I think it does affect our current mission when we think about where. Without a sense of cosmic redemption, we might limit the missio Dei to “spiritual” issues or reduce the gospel to merely the forgivenesss of sins. Many, indeed, miss the significance of the resurrection, which is the hope of the gospel, because they have no sense of cosmic redemption.

      I think the same mission with which we were created is the mission that will continue on the new heaven and new earth: to reign with God, to partner with him in cultivating the earth (its ongoing emergence), and to rest with God. The mission does not change; it is the same from the beginning to the end.

      Thanks for the conversation. We all recognize that these small posts are not exhaustive but point readers in the direction in which might run with the data. Much more needs to be said, as Wright began in his “Surprised by Hope.”

  12.   rich constant Says:

    Daniel
    when you are older you i think will like the idea of rest.
    the joyful restful peace of god.
    the awe of the restoration i think will be the best a father can give his children.
    just think a new popsicle every day,the amazement of riding a two wheeler.
    being loved,

    gotya john mark
    on that night and day.
    the saints get the light
    the other place gets the dark…
    :-)
    anyway it is late and i need rest.
    blessings

  13. Profile photo of Adam Metz  Adam Metz Says:

    “Some glad morning when this life is o’er
    I’ll stick around” . . . yeah, not quite the same ring – I never liked that song anyway :-)

    Seriously, though, as the church’s understanding of eschatology continues to evolve and grow it sure calls into question much of our escapist hymnody (particular those great Depression-ear hymns so popular in Churches of Christ). Thanks for sharing – it’s exciting to see these discussions take place!

  14.   rich constant Says:

    i just read this from the link to tom wright on this page
    thanks john mark

    Ben Witherington Interview: The Good Bishop Weighs In — Tom Wright on ‘Surprised by Hope’

  15.   rich constant Says:

    god used a lot of stuff that we know, just as in common knowledge
    quantum mach.
    theoretical physics
    molecular physiology

    mankind just learned this although 500 years ago how could Calvin have known in explaining his theory’s it is not magic anymore.i am sure the Gothic images have their use in nightmares but are mostly a bother.
    they were based on what anyone would say is limited world view and should be looked upon as that

    and i am sure the onion will continue to be peeled.
    depending….

  16. Profile photo of danielpcherry  Daniel Cherry Says:

    I certainly like the idea of rest. :)
    John Mark, thank you for spending so much time on this subject. What you are saying makes a lot of sense. In ministry, I have come to appreciate the utter practicality of the Bible more and more. There is more than a spiritual dimension to God’s standards. Humility, integrity, selflessness, hopefulness, faithfulness, etc. – hold value for every aspect of life! Practiced, they make the world a better place. Solomon wrote that wisdom was the first of God’s creations (Prov. 8:22) Perhaps we can construct a concept of eschatological reality beginning with the “standard” of wisdom and morality.

    Just thinking here…If sin (evil) is falling short (or rejecting) of God’s standard, and there will be no sin in the eschaton, then the basis of that existance will be God’s moral standards – culminating in the single concept of agape. But these standards are not ends in and of themselves, but find meaning via application. So in the eschaton there must be objects of love upon which we will apply these moral standards. Hence, a “new earth” populated with created beings/objects where the perfect expression of agape can be realized and practiced as we glorify God by lavishing the same agape upon his creation (people and things) that he has shown here from the beginning – thus sharing purpose and communion with God. What, specifically or where this existance entails is irrelevent. But with the “stuff” he has given us here, we get to practice caring for God’s creation (beings + objects) in an imperfect way to be fully realized in the new existence.

    Is this where this is going? Or is this approach too “modern”?

    It seems like the cultural mandate position “expects” everyone to live by God’s standards even with unbelief. Practically, i don’t know many people who are willing to live under such standards (though the standards are better for everyone) without first developing a faith in the One who created them and all things. But if the community of faith can practice these standards in a fallen world (and even bring people to God in the process) then how much more so in a place where evil is banned altogether – in the eschaton? Maybe a fallen world is a part of the Missio Dei – to train and refine via fire God’s community of faith.

    Blessings

    • Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      I would suggest that the missio Dei is pre-fall and embedded in the nature of God’s creative act whereby he appoints us co-regents with him in the creation. In a broken world, the missio Dei still remains but now also includes a redemptive element that renews, restores and heals what is broken. We, through vocation and ministry, participate in both the original creational mission and its present redemptive elements.

      Thanks for the conversation, Daniel. More to come in subsequent posts. :-)

  17.   rich constant Says:

    john mark
    i tend to look now on the missio dei as experiential.
    god experiencing his creation”s free will(all of creation.although i believe it is post fall.
    i believe the creation always had a choice.
    and the father of course had contingencies in place(christ before the foundation…).
    again i would fall back on the godly characteristic that Jesus express as innocent as a dove and as ? serpent.
    which i see manifested in the story of the fathers patience, one to trounce on the serpent’s head for the inequity (unfaithfulness to the father’s will)in him,
    and 2 to vindicate his good, and good work and declare it for all creation.and to also give opportunity for his co_conspirators to make the disease of evil moot through righteous living faithfulness.
    I GOT REAL WORKED UP SUNDAY IN CLASS,
    about calvin and the chosen.
    AHHH.
    really twisted me up my brother
    it’s ok with everyone they know me now.
    i just need to learn not to try to win the game in 5 min.
    I although am not playing to loose. :-)

    blessings
    john mark
    and all

  18. Profile photo of danielpcherry  Daniel Cherry Says:

    Great, thank you.
    I’m looking forward to more on the subject.
    God bless!
    Daniel

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