N. 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 accomplish our salvation.
The land becomes the entire earth
Over time, the OT Prophets interpreted God’s promise to Abraham to bless the nations as expanding the inheritance to include the entire planet. After all, if all the nations would be blessed through Abraham, and if this inheritance included land, that inheritance would have to be the entire earth.
Thus, by the time of Jesus, Jesus could say, “The meek shall inherit the earth,” and be entirely consistent with the Second Temple understanding of Torah and inheritance. His audience knew exactly what he was talking about.
When Paul speaks of the church’s “inheritance” or being an “heir,” he is speaking of real estate — the planet earth —
(Rom. 4:13 ESV) 13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.
Obviously, Paul doesn’t think the world is going to burn to a crisp. He thinks the world is something the saved will inherit as a blessing from God. Therefore, Paul speaks of our inheritance as though it’s the same as our reward in the afterlife —
(Tit. 3:5-7 ESV) 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
(Eph. 1:13-14 ESV) 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
This is very confusing to most Christians because we think of the afterlife as taking place in heaven, a spiritual realm that has nothing to do with the planet earth. “It’s all going to burn,” is a common saying. So what does the earth, the world, and real estate inheritance have to do with heaven?
The New Heavens and New Earth
In Surprised by Hope (very readable — and mandatory reading), Wright teaches (and I’m persuaded) that the afterlife will be a renewed, transformed planet earth called the New Heavens and New Earth (NHNE) in Isaiah 65 – 66 and in Revelation 21-22. “New” is a Greek word (kainos) having the sense of renewed or refreshed.
(Rev. 21:1-5 ESV) Then I saw a new [kainos = renewed, restored] heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new [kainos].” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
This teaching surprises many Bible class students because it’s so contrary to what we were taught growing up — and so contrary to the pop culture view of Christianity. But after reading Wright on the topic, I’ve discovered that countless major commentaries from many different traditions say the same thing, but it was just so foreign an idea that I’d overlooked the teaching.
The idea is most directly and simply addressed by Paul in Romans —
(Rom. 8:19-23 ESV) 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
Paul says that the Creation itself is to be freed from the corruption of the curse of Genesis 3 so that the Creation can “obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” That doesn’t sound like the Creation is going to burn and be thrown away. In fact, God declared the Creation “very good,” and so the plan is to redeem it from the corruption of sin, not to toss into the fire.
The passage usually cited for “It’s all going to burn” is 2 Peter 3:10-13, and I address the interpretation of this passage at The Revelation: What About 2 Peter 3:10-13? In fact, this is yet another NHNE passage, when we read it in light of the OT prophecies that Peter refers to.
(2 Pet. 3:13 ESV) 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
The Temple was the centerpiece of Second Temple Judaism. Herod the Great rebuilt the very modest Temple built by Nehemiah, making it one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was a huge facility atop Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem, and it attracted pilgrims from across the Empire.
To the Jewish mind, God himself dwelt in the Temple in the Holy of Holies, on the Mercy Seat immediately above the Ark of the Covenant. Because “heaven” to a Jew is where God lives, they saw heaven and earth merged in the Holy of Holies, as God dwelt there as well as in heaven — that is, the two realms intersected at the Temple, behind the curtain, above the Ark of the Covenant at the Mercy Seat.
Jews prayed toward the Temple, because that was where God was especially present, although they understood God to be omnipresent. Synagogues were built so that those praying in the synagogue would be facing toward the Temple.