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.