Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense is a marvelous book by N. T. Wright. He introduces the idea that the Bible can be read as God’s work to unite heaven and earth.
In Eden, the two were very close together indeed — so close that God himself walked among men and that death itself was banished from the Garden.
But sin entered the world and not only separated God from man, it separated heaven from earth.
Much later, we read of God walking the earth and speaking to Abraham. There was something going on — something about God’s purposes and Abraham’s faith — that briefly brought God and man closer, but not close enough.
When Israel was in the wilderness, God appeared on the top of Mt. Sinai as a thundering, consuming fire. He spoke to Moses face to face — and for a few days, a bit of heaven touched earth.
God made a covenant with Israel, and celebrated it by briefly uniting heaven and earth –
(Exo 24:9-11 ESV) 9 Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. 11 And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.
Soon thereafter, God had Israel build a tabernacle for him, in which he would dwell –
(Exo 25:8 ESV) 8 And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.
(Exo 29:43-46 ESV) 43 There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. 44 I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. 45 I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. 46 And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.
In a beautiful piece of narration, Moses concludes the book of Exodus with these words –
(Exo 40:33-38 ESV) 33 And he erected the court around the tabernacle and the altar, and set up the screen of the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work. 34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 35 And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 36 Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. 37 But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. 38 For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.
The book ends, not with the Promised Land, but with God dwelling among the people and guiding them. And, after all, isn’t that really enough?
God, you see, joined heaven and earth in the Holy of Holies. His throne was above the ark of the covenant, a place called the mercy seat. God simultaneously sat enthroned in heaven and on the mercy seat. But there’s no reason to insist that these were two different places.
You see, heaven is not far away. Rather, as C. S. Lewis pictures it in the Chronicles of Narnia, heaven is a step away, but it’s a step we normally cannot see to take. Occasionally, however, God removes the separation.
When Solomon built the Temple, God’s presence moved from the tabernacle to Jerusalem. Later, the prophets spoke of a new heavens and new earth –
(Isa 65:17-25 ESV) 17 “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. 19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. … 24 Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. 25 The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the LORD.
You can’t miss the reference to Genesis 1:1. Isaiah promises a day when God will re-create the heavens and the earth, and one feature of this new creation will be the closeness of God to his people.
(Isa 66:18-23 ESV) 18 “For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, 19 and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations. 20 And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the LORD, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the LORD, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the LORD. 21 And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the LORD. 22 “For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the LORD, so shall your offspring and your name remain. 23 From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the LORD.
Another feature of this new creation is that all nations will be brought in to worship at the New Jerusalem.
When Jesus walked the earth, heaven and earth were again drawn very close together.
At his baptism, the wall between heaven and earth was torn open so God could announce to the world who Jesus is.
At the Transfiguration, heaven and earth were so close that the glory of heaven shown through the fabric of the Creation. The glory of God could scarcely be held back by the darkness of this world.
(Mat 17:2-3 NAS) 2 And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.
Then, at the cross, it happened again, but in a very different way. God saw that heaven and earth were too far apart. The price to move heaven to earth was the life of God himself — God the Son.
And when heaven touched earth, some amazing things occurred. The Son, who’d been flesh and blood and who’d died, was resurrected. Others had been brought back to life before him. Just a few. But none were resurrected. The few who’d preceded the Son arose from the earth as flesh and blood, only to die again. But the Son arose with a new, heavenly body. Well, this only makes sense. Heaven and earth were touching.
In fact, when heaven touched the earth, it also touched some other tombs, and other men and women long dead walked the earth in their heavenly bodies, too. And this only makes sense, heaven and earth were touching.
And the veil that hid the sight of God’s dwelling in the temple was torn, opening God’s dwelling for all to see. But this only makes sense. God’s real dwelling was already present on earth. He didn’t need two. You see, heaven and earth were touching.
And the sun was darkened. There was no eclipse. There were no clouds. Yet this only makes sense. There’s no need for the sun in heaven. Heaven and earth were touching.
And he ascended, to be transported from earth to heaven, not through outer space but by taking that step toward God.
The church assembled is another place where heaven and earth are joined. Jesus is present both there and in heaven. The Spirit is brought to a heightened glory because so many Spirit-filled people are joined in communion and worship.
Finally, at the end of time, heaven and earth will be fully joined –
(Rev 21:1-5 NAS) And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, 4 and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” 5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”
Heaven will come down to be one with the earth. God’s people won’t be transported to heaven, far, far away from God’s creation. Rather, God’s creation will be perfected, restored, and renewed by joining heaven and earth.
(Rev 21:22-24 NAS) 22 And I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple. 23 And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 And the nations shall walk by its light, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it.
And the joining of heaven and earth — the restoration of Eden, except better — will allow God and Jesus to be the temple. That is, rather than going to the Temple to find God, we will go to God himself.
And then, at last, God’s will will be done on earth as it is in heaven.