Surprised by Hope: The Resurrection, Mission & Kingdom

Wright cites as a central verse 1 Cor 15:58 —

(1 Cor 15:58 ) Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

“Therefore” means because of what Paul just taught about our resurrection bodies, we should give ourselves to the Lord’s work. We are assured that it’s for a good purpose.

Wright concludes that our work will last into God’s future for us. It will not be destroyed. Therefore, Wright argues —

* We shouldn’t think of this life as something to be escaped. Rather, we live in a good, albeit fallen, world.

* Nor should we consider this world irredeemable. Only God can complete the redemption of the earth and those in it, but we are called to participate in that work — here and now.

* Our salvation is not for our personal, private benefit. God, rather, saved us for mission. Part of that mission is our being a foretaste of the new heaven that the entire world can see and be drawn to.

Which brings us to Wright’s understanding of the Kingdom —

* “Heaven” in “kingdom of heaven” is a euphemism for God. “Kingdom of God” is the intended sense, as many passages show. Moreover, “kingdom” has an active sense. “Reign of God” is a better translation. It’s not a place so much as a relationship. The Reign of God is simply those who were once in rebellion to their rightful King submitting to his rule.

* In the Old Testament, the prophets spoke of God rescuing (saving) Israel so that Israel would be a light for the Gentiles. He wasn’t so much saving them from Gentiles as for Gentiles.

(Isa 49:6) he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

And the point of saving the Gentiles was so that they, together with Israel, would be his rescuing stewards over creation.

* The Gospels thus become the template for Kingdom living. They are the story of God’s reign coming to earth as it is in heaven.

[The story of Jesus] isn’t just a story of some splendid and exciting social work with an unhappy conclusion. Nor is it just a story of an atoning death with an extended introduction. … It is the story of God’s kingdom being launched on earth as it is in heaven, generating a new state of affairs in which the power of evil has been decisively defeated, the new creation has been decisively defeated, the new creation has been decisively launched, and Jesus’ followers have been commissioned and equipped to put that victory and that inaugurated new world into practice.

To put it another way, if you want to help inaugurate God’s kingdom, you must follow in the way of the cross, and if you want to benefit from Jesus’s saving death, you must become part of his kingdom project. (204-205)

The obvious objection, as voiced by Steven Colbert, is that God’s going to fix it all anyway, so why bother? Wright responds,

Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of the creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow non-human creatures; and, of course, every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world — all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. … I have no idea what this will mean in practice. (208-09)

1 Corinthians 3 comes to mind —

(1 Cor 3:12-15) If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

If we build well — if we teach a faith that saves and passes on to generation after generation — we’ve built of fireproof material, and our work will be with us in heaven. That work may well be the resurrected bodies of our children, grandchildren, and converts — and their children and grandchildren. It may be the resurrected bodies of those brought to Jesus by a church we helped plant or a missionary we helped support.

Wrights speaks as though more will survive the End than God’s holy people, but I don’t see it.

(2 Pet 3:10-12) But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. 11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.

If I plant a garden, it’s hard to see the garden surviving the baring of the earth. Just so, if I paint the next Last Supper, I think it burns to a crisp. The only things that last are the saints.

But the point doesn’t greatly change. If I were to paint the next Last Supper to the honor of Jesus, and if this were to further his work, encourage the saints, and help convert the lost, my work will be rewarded. The souls I help find Jesus will be with me in heaven — indeed, they’ll be treasures in heaven.

Moreover, as noted in my earlier comment on treasures in heaven, by serving the Lord, I become the kind of person who will enjoy life with God in the new earth. I’ll be richly rewarded for my work, even if, despite my efforts, no one is converted. I’ll be changed. I’ll have fewer treasures in heaven than some, but I’ll still be in bliss.

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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