A prominent theologian says the New Testament does not say what most people believe it says about Heaven, which is that it’s merely a place one goes after death. In truth, he says, it’s about creation being restored through God’s ever-advancing Kingdom.
In an editorial for TIME magazine, former Anglican bishop and acclaimed author N.T. Wright stressed that, contrary to contemporary believers, early Christians did not conceive of Heaven as merely a place they go when they die.
Those who did believe in the idea of “going to Heaven when you die” when the New Testament was written were “Middle Platonists” those like Plutarch, a pagan priest in Delphi.
“To understand what the first followers of Jesus believed about what happens after death, we need to read the New Testament in its own world — the world of Jewish hope, of Roman imperialism and of Greek thought,” he said.
“The followers of the Jesus-movement that grew up in that complex environment saw ‘Heaven’ and ‘Earth’ — God’s space and ours, if you like — as the twin halves of God’s good creation.”
Instead of saving people from Earth, early Christians believed God was bringing Heaven and Earth together, making creation new, restoring the world from all its pathologies.
“They believed that God would then raise His people from the dead, to share in — and, indeed, to share His stewardship over — this rescued and renewed creation. And they believed all this because of Jesus,” Wright stressed.
Christ’s resurrection was the starting point of this great work of renewal, He went on to say, and this was understood by the earliest believers.
“Jesus embodied in Himself the perfect fusion of ‘Heaven’ and ‘Earth.’ In Jesus, therefore, the ancient Jewish hope had come true at last. The point was not for us to ‘go to Heaven,’ but for the life of Heaven to arrive on Earth,” Wright said, noting that Jesus taught His followers to pray for God’s Kingdom to come on Earth as it is in Heaven.
“From as early as the third century, some Christian teachers tried to blend this with types of the Platonic belief, generating the idea of ‘leaving Earth and going to Heaven,’ which became mainstream by the Middle Ages. But Jesus’ first followers never went that route.”
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Brandon Showalter