Revelation

Heaven is not a perfect place

Heaven is not a perfect place

Note: It’s not very common to post writings from others on my own blog, but I have done it a few times in the past as a way of revealing my joy in exposing the profound observations of others. Tom is a dear friend, parishioner, and a capable student of the Bible. He took a single thought from a sermon of mine and developed it to something much better than I could have written.

Guest post by Tom Robertson

“…as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” –The Apostle Paul

“Heaven is the blueprint; earth the raw material.” Uri Brito

Uri Brito is the pastor (my pastor) at Providence Church in Pensacola. The quotation above comes from a sermon he preached a few Sundays ago. The Apostle Paul is familiar to you all. His words were written nearly 2000 years ago from an Ephesian prison. I believe Uri’s illustration may be a little unsettling to the average Christian, especially when compared with Paul’s description of Heaven as “gain” and “far better.” Now, no one believes Pastor Brito is talking about mere drawings and measurements. However, he is at a minimum suggesting that Heaven is a kind of starting point and not the finished product. After all, a blueprint is the plan, not the dwelling place. If this is true, then it follows that Heaven is imperfect. And this sounds a bit alarming.

A Place Where No Storm Clouds Rise?

Most of us – at least most of us in “the South” – grew up singing songs that promised we’d leave this world and fly to a place of eternal and undiminished joy. Our understanding was that Earth is toilsome, a place where we must spend “just a few more weary days.” We all thought Heaven to be a place where “no storm clouds rise”, where “joy shall never end”, “no tears ever come again.” Heaven was not a mere temporary lodging. Yet, scripture teaches that Christians will live in a new heavens and a new earth forever and ever. In fact, all things will be made new (Rev 21:5). We ourselves will be made new; our resurrected and glorified bodies will be fit to enjoy a renewed cosmos (Phil 3:21).

So, we will not live forever in Heaven. In fact, Heaven and Earth were never intended to exist forever as separate places. The plan was always for a unity (See Gen 1 and 2, Acts 4:21, Phil 3:20-21, Col 1:20, Rev 21 and 22). At the moment, however, we are in the midst of a cosmos which has undergone what C.S. Lewis described as The Great Divorce. When Adam sinned creation “fell”; Heaven and earth were “torn asunder” with all the resulting pain and consequences of a divorce.

The Coming Unity

It was Ephesians 1:9-10 – “making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth” – which occasioned Pastor Brito’s comment “Heaven is the blueprint; earth is the raw materials.” God’s plan, said my Pastor – said the Apostle Paul, no less – is to unite all things in Christ, both in heaven and on earth. It has always been the plan, which is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Neither Heaven nor Earth is meant to be alone.

Heaven is Imperfect

Does this mean that heaven is not a pleasant place? Certainly not! Paul’s confession, that to “die is” not only “gain”, but “far better” (Phil 1:21-23), settles that. To be sure, the comfortable accommodations of heaven are preferable to a sin-ravaged world. Yet, Heaven separated from Earth is imperfect – imperfect, but not defective. Neither was Adam defective. Yet, He was not perfect until joined to Eve. Just as it was not good for Adam to be alone, it is not good for Heaven or Earth to be alone. The ink pen resting on the desk is not defective, but when taken in hand, put to paper and employed by a master poet it becomes perfect. Similarly, Heaven will become perfect when it is intertwined with a gloriously liberated Earth.

So, until then, we are to do what we can to “heavenify” earth, so says my Pastor – “Heaven is the blueprint; earth the raw materials.” And if we happen to leave this Earth before Christ speaks into existence a new cosmos, we’ve been told by a reliable source that our temporary accommodations will be quite comfortable. For to depart and be with Christ is “far better” says Paul – far better, but not perfect.

Revelation Study #3 The Destination of Revelation (Days of Vengeance by David Chilton)

Revelation Study #2: Authorship and Dating of Revelation

Revelation Study #1 Presuppositions (The Days of Vengeance by David Chilton)

I started this many years ago and have been encouraged to continue it. Here is the first:

Peter Leithart’s Special Seven-Part Series on Revelation

Peter Leithart’s Special Seven-Part Series on Revelation

Revealing Revelation Conference held at Christ Covenant Church of Chicago, with Dr. Peter J. Leithart addressing the book of Revelation in 7 talks. Dr. Leithart says, “Revelation is often read as if, when we turn the page from Jude, we’re no longer reading about early Christian communities in a Greco-Roman world, but about the end of the first millennium AD, or the Black Death, or the turmoils of the Reformation era, or the Cold War, or the War on Terror and Jewish-Muslin tensions in today’s Middle East. So it’s again important to state the obvious: Revelation is a book of the New Testament.”

E-mail wordmp3sales@gmail.com once you download this series and receive special discounts on other great lectures.

Revelation Study #6, Interpretive Maximalism

Revelation Study #6, Interpretive Maximalism

If you are interested in an introduction to Revelation, here is my sixth introduction to the book focusing on the hermeneutical method called “Interpretive Maximalism.”

“The minimalist is often quite literal and focuses exclusively on the grammatical-historical interpretation. Though this method is necessary, our interpretation should not be limited to it. I am currently working on a project on the book of Ruth, and at first glance it seems like a simple narrative, but the more one digs into the meaning of the names of each character, the places mentioned, the theology of the land and of gleaning, the nature of Boaz and his relationship to Ruth, one is compelled to realize that Ruth is really a miniature picture of the entire gospel message from Genesis to Revelation.”

(Scroll down on the main page for all six lessons)

Avoid the Language of “Already, and Not Yet”

Since I have been deeply involved in the eschatology debate for over ten years, had some of my works published in other eschatology websites, interviewed postmillennial authors, and have been in the healthy business of proselytizing premils to the postmil position for just as long, I have noticed a few trends. My own transition from pre to postmil was not neat. I wondered in the other premillennial categories and in the “Amillennial parking lot” for a short while.

I confess a deep appreciation for my amillennial brothers. Men like Vos, Horton, and Beale continue to offer fresh insights into the biblical text and to expand the biblical theological vocabulary in some desirable directions. Beale’s work on a theology of worship is a gift to the church.

But while appreciating their labors I also see a trend in the use of language that can be harmful to the postmillennial cause. I refer specifically to the use of the language “already, and not yet.” “This theological concept of “already” and “not yet” was proposed by Princeton theologian Gerhardus Vos early in the 20th century, who believed that we live in the present age, the ‘now’, and await the ‘age to come.” The premillennialist George Eldon Ladd had used similar language when arguing that we taste a little now of the age to come, but not the fullness of it.

Vos and Ladd share similar viewpoints, though they would have differed on their interpretation of I Corinthians 15:24-26. That essentially is the only difference between a historic premil and an amillennialist; a few chronological issues, but a firm agreement on the continuation of the decline of civilization. Some amil scholars still argue among themselves on the identity of a future anti-christ. Other amil thinkers embrace the “optimistic” label to balance out the “amil” label, though this is a more recent phenomenon.

Already, and not yet

This language can be helpful at times, and it has turned into a unified slogan among many in the Reformed camp to combat pre-tribulational theology. Let us assume for the moment that the pre-trib. position is unsustainable and not even worth debating. If this is the case, how is the language of “already, and not yet” been helpful to elaborating the victorious promise of the gospel declared by postmil advocates in the Reformed camp? I venture to say it has not been helpful at all in the postmil eschatological proposal. When the amil advocate uses the language–and the language was coined by amillennial advocates–he means that though we taste a bit of the world to come now, we ought not to expect any type of cosmic manifestation in power and might of the gospel until the Second Coming.

This embodies a largely pessimistic vision of the work of the gospel in the end of history. Again, this is not a debate on the post-resurrection world. There is no debate on that issue. We all affirm the Gospel victory then. The question is: “What will the world look like before Jesus returns at the end of history?” Kenneth Gentry offers a helpful definition of postmillennialism:

“Postmillennialism is the view that Christ will return to the earth after the Spirit-blessed Gospel has had overwhelming success in bringing the world to the adoption of Christianity.”

Assuming this definition, we are affirming that not only will we receive a taste of the world to come in this era of human history, but we will also see with our eyes and touch with our hands the very progress of the Spirit-blessed Gospel in the world.

If not “already, and not yet,” then what?

So what am I suggesting? I am suggesting we no longer use that language, except in very specific cases. This language may be helpful in communicating ideas with someone re-thinking the dispensational position, but even then I recommend caution, since they may be prone to research this language and be led to amillennial writers.

We are not suggesting a utopian society. We believe sin will always be with us until Jesus returns, but we are also affirming that human sin will lose the war against the gospel when it comes to the conversion of the nations. I agree with my mentor, James Jordan, that as the gospel brings people and nations to submit to King Jesus and as the Gospel becomes more prevalent in the national discourse we will also see a greater battle against our own sin since people will become more aware of their struggles. This, however, does not negate the imperative that the nations will come to Zion and worship (Is. 2, 11), but it emphasizes that confession and repentance will always be part of the Christian experience in this world.

Instead of the “already, and not yet” language we may choose to refer to our hope as the “already, already, but not yet,” emphasizing that we will not just taste of the world to come, but also experience the world to come in this world. Obviously this is a long-term strategy. Postmillennialists are not naive to suggest that this Spirit-blessed Gospel will cause world-wide transformation over night, rather this is a long-possibly millennial- project. A double “already” emphasizes the reality of this Gospel vision in history. Further, it emphasizes that we are not simply tasting of the world to come individually, but corporately as a people.

This world is indeed our home, and we long for a renewed world. We do not despise this creation, we long for its restoration.

What other language can we use?

If the “already, already, but not yet” seems like a theological technicality, then I suggest a few other phrases. We are living in the age of “glory to greater glory,” “fulfillment to greater fulfillment,” present, but not fully present,” “joy to greater joy,” blessing to greater blessing.” These are all categories that define the glory of the transformative gospel before the Second Coming.

You may even provide a better and more accurate picture of this truth in words if time allows, but in the meanwhile be cautious with the “already, and not yet” language. History matters to God. And describing that history in certain words can communicate something we do not wish to communicate.

The Ethics of Creation

When God made the world he made it in divine priority. He made all things with an agenda, and to use the oft-repeated line, “he saved the best for last.” He made man on day six, and at the end he breathed with the breath of perfection (Gen. 1:31): “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”

Could God have created man on day one or day three? No. This was a divine priority. Man was created last purposefully. He made him on day six and then affirmed (Gen. 1:26-28) that he was to be over all things. Man receives a place of honor in creation because he is made in the image of God.

Under the Old Covenant he crawled in his infancy. He was unable to do much, and so God gave him tutors, angels to keep watch over him. But as he grew in maturity, man learned to walk. He walked with a limp (Gen. 32) to remind him of his humble beginnings, but he became more theologically civilized and warrior-like, capable of confronting bigger challenges. But God never left man alone. He was never made to be alone. In the New Covenant, God takes man from crawlers to inheritors (Rom. 4:13). As a promise, the ascended Lord gives man his Spirit. He provides mature and able man a comforter and a divine guidance counselor, namely, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity.

All of this was already symbolized in the creation account, but needed to wait until the New Creation to be put into place. Man was always meant to have a place of prominence in God’s world. This prominence is a not a blank check, it is conditioned on the faithfulness of redeemed man to serve and fear Yahweh with grace and truth (Rom. 12:11).

But when this divine creational pattern is broken, the world is also broken. When the order of creation is switched, the world suffers ethical consequences. When trees and living things are placed at greater prominence than man, then we have a disordered creation. This is largely the fruit of the environmentalist movement.

When day six is not prioritized, the sacredness of life is also not treasured. Abortion is the result of a disordered creation narrative. When God said “Let us make man in our image,” he was prioritizing the life of man over the life of other created things. Yahweh stamped on mankind his image; and that image needs to be treasured above all else. The taking of human life is a phase of disorientation in the created order. It is a direct violation of the way things were meant to be.

The ethical consequences also apply to marriage. When day six is taken out of its place, the joining of man and woman—which is a joining officiated by God himself—is misplaced, and the doors of polygamy and sexual deviance are open (Rom. 1). And when mankind and current social norms disrespect the created order, God gives them over to their mis-prioritized minds. This is God’s way of saying that that which he made he made orderly and purposefully, and that order cannot be tampered with.

Ultimately, man can choose to honor God’s creational pattern, or build a week of their own. But if they do so, they will never come to the seventh day of rest.

It’s Worth Defending

Evangelicals overall do a fine job at defending the trivial but struggle to defend the hard things. Machen observed long ago in his monumental Christianity and Liberalism that “it appears that the things that are sometimes thought to be hardest to defend are also the things that are most worth defending (8).”

Machen was deeply concerned about where the lines were being drawn. He was sure that if we abandoned this battle, we would be swallowed up by heresy and forsake the tremendous work of our godly forefathers. He saw liberalism as another religion altogether; a totally different class of religious expression than Christianity (7). He saw the resurrection, virgin birth, and the divinity of Jesus being threatened on a consistent basis. But, he argued, these are the battles worth fighting; they are the hard battles of the faith. Once we lose the creedal ground, we will sink into oblivion. For Machen, this was not an option.

The Symbolism of Revelation: Study # 5