N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Part 3 (Heaven)

dayrevolutionbeganN. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplishes our salvation.

Heaven

The Bible uses “heaven” to refer to the sky as well as to where God lives — but these weren’t considered the same thing.

The point of the Temple—this is where I want to develop considerably further what was said in the earlier volumes—is that it was where heaven and earth met. It was the place where Israel’s God, YHWH, had long ago promised to put his name, to make his glory present. The Temple, and before it the wilderness tabernacle, were thus heirs, within the biblical narrative, to moments like Jacob’s vision, the discovery that a particular spot on earth could intersect with, and be the gateway into, heaven itself. In the later period, even synagogues could sometimes be thought of as meeting places between heaven and earth; how much more the actual Temple.

The Temple was not simply a convenient place to meet for worship. It was not even just the ‘single sanctuary’, the one and only place where sacrifice was to be offered in worship to the one God. It was the place above all where the twin halves of the good creation intersected.

When you went up to the Temple, it was not as though you were ‘in heaven’. You were actually there. That was the point. Israel’s God did not have to leave heaven in order to come down and dwell in the wilderness tabernacle or the Jerusalem Temple. However surprising it may be for modern westerners to hear it, within the worldview formed by the ancient scriptures heaven and earth were always made to work together, to interlock and overlap.

There might in principle be many places and ways in which this could happen, but the Jewish people had believed, throughout the millennium prior to Jesus, that the Jerusalem Temple was the place and the means par excellence for this strange and powerful mystery.

N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 4:96–97.

Basically, heaven and earth, in biblical cosmology, are not two different locations within the same continuum of space or matter. They are two different dimensions of God’s good creation. And the point about heaven is twofold. First, heaven relates to earth tangentially, so that the one who is in heaven can be present simultaneously anywhere and everywhere on earth: the ascension therefore means that Jesus is available, accessible, without people having to travel to a particular spot on the earth to find him. Second, heaven is as it were the control room for earth; it is the CEO’s office, the place from which instructions are given. ‘All authority is given to me,’ said Jesus at the end of Matthew’s gospel, ‘in heaven and on earth.’

Tom Wright, Surprised by Hope, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2007), 122.

In short, the Jews were not wooden literalists, imagining heaven as far away above the sky, although they were familiar with and used that image at times. Rather, as we see in the Transfiguration, heaven is next to earth but in a different “dimension” (to borrow from science fiction). As C. S. Lewis describes the relationship in the Chronicles of Narnia, for those with faith and open minds, heaven is just a trip through a wardrobe or a mural away — right here but invisible and imperceptible most of the time.

(Lk. 9:30-31 ESV)  30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah,  31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

“Glory” almost always refers to the Shekinah — the brightly shining glory that surrounds God. For Moses and Elijah to appear in glory is for them to appear as they are in heaven. That is, they have not so much left heaven as God has opened a passage between heaven and earth, so that the apostles see Jesus, Moses, and Elijah as they appear in heaven — because heaven and earth are briefly intersecting.

Luke tells concerning them what he has just shown concerning Jesus—namely, that they are present “in glory,” sharing in the status of those who belong to the heavenly court.

Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 381.

They retained their heavenly appearance because God had opened a window between heaven and earth, not only allowing Moses and Elijah to stand with Jesus on earth, but for all three to appear as they are in heaven.

 

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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6 Responses to N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Part 3 (Heaven)

  1. No insightful comments, but, not having read all of Wright’s works, I wanted to let you know that I’m finding this extremely helpful.

  2. Dwight says:

    I can see a parallel in the act that Jesus says the kingdom is not of this earth and yet also says, “The kingdom is here.” Both were true. Jesus, the King was on earth as a representative of the Kingdom, but now He is in heaven as a representative of the same Kingdom. The kingdom tied earth to heaven, just as the church did also. Now each saint is a representative of heaven, because he is in the church which is located on earth in the people and located in heaven by the head of the church…Jesus.

  3. Gary says:

    Jay, does Wright address the passages that speak of Satan being the ruler of this world? When Satan offers Jesus the kingdoms of this world if Jesus bows down and worships him Jesus does not dispute that earthly kingdoms belong to Satan.

  4. Gary says:

    I have understood the Kingdom of God to have invaded as it were this world but an invasion that awaits total victory at Christ’s return.

  5. Dwight says:

    Gary, I would probably agree with your points. Satan is called the “Prince and power of the air”. In reality Satan invaded God’s kingdom in the beginning, though, so God would be setting things straight.

  6. Larry Cheek says:

    I would carry that thought a little further. Christ has already won the victory, Satan has been defeated. Expressed in 1John 5.4
    (Mat 12:20 ESV) a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory;
    (1Co 15:54 ESV) When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
    (1Co 15:55 ESV) “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
    (1Co 15:57 ESV) But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
    (1Jn 5:4 ESV) For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
    God’s Word never expresses that all humans in the world will accept him as their Savior, Leader, Ruler, King and if we would ever come with that idea we would have to also come to the realization that there is no human in this world who will be condemned. In other words no earthly kingdoms will be within the Kingdom of God/Christ. His KIngdom is Supreme, above all others. Even in the physical world no nation is a subdivision of another nation. When any nation in the scriptures captured another the one who was captured lost its identity and became a part of the conquering nation There is no difference in the Kingdom of Christ, in his own words he stated that his Kingdom is not of this world. It will never be, it is a Spiritual Kingdom, you ant see it or place it into a location, other than within the lives of it’s adherents.
    Luk 17:20-23 ESV Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, (21) nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (22) And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. (23) And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them.
    Joh 18:36 ESV Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”
    There are actually two kingdoms which are not of this world, Christ’s and Satan’s. All humans are in one or the other, there is no middle ground. Christ’s Words.
    Luk 11:17-18 ESV But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. (18) And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. (19) And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. (20) But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

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