A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Bringing Heaven to Earth: A Lectionary Reflection on Revelation 21:1-6

Revelation 21:1-6

The God of the Bible did not create a second-rate earth in a second-rate universe that he intends to free us from for eternity in a place called heaven. Genesis tells us that creation is good. Creation is not bad, but it does need to be redeemed.

The movement of salvation is not upward from earth to heaven; rather the New Testament envisions heaven descending to earth. John writes near the end of Revelation:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (12:1-2).

Clint Schnekloth writes,
Much of popular Christian music seems to indicate this place, this earth, is not our home, and we are just passing through, awaiting life in our eternal home with God. The Book of Revelation, however, radicalizes and reverses these here-ever-after lyrics with its own hymn, "See the home of God is among mortals" (Revelation 21:3).
God intends to bring heaven to earth. Do we not pray, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven?" God is not taking us to God's "home" in heaven; rather God is preparing to make his home on the world he is in the process of redeeming. Indeed, God has already made his presence known to us in Jesus Christ. Jesus is God's decisive presence with us. One day, God will grace us with the fullness of his presence when God himself will be with us (21:3).

And when God's full presence dwells with us redemption will be complete. That is our hope; and it is a hope founded upon the Old Testament prophets. William Loader observes,
This passage is a tapestry of Old Testament images of hope. Notice that the hope is for both a new heaven and a new earth. In many people' theology hope has been heaven only. Earth is left behind or irrelevant. No need to care about it. The writer stands in the tradition of Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22, which has its roots in a positive attitude towards God's creation rather than a dualism which sees spirituality as abandonment of what we are and where we belong. Paul could also speak of a renewal of creation in Romans 8:18-23.
This world matters to God-- so much so that God raised Jesus bodily from the dead. The world is not to be cast off as an inferior work that God never intended to last forever anyway. Neither are our mortal bodies prisons from which our spirits will one day be freed. Rather just as God is going to redeem the world, so God is going to redeem our bodies in resurrection. The empty tomb is the promise that Revelation 21:1-6 will be fulfilled.

God is not taking us away; God is coming to us.