Heaven comes DOWN to Earth y’all

Our western view of heaven as a pie-in-the-sky spiritual place light-years away from anything we experience as humans now has it’s root in Platonic and Gnostic separation of spirit and body. But as amazing and glow-in-the-dark as heaven is presented in Biblical prophecy, if you pay attention it’s a lot more down-to-earth than that.

The picture of the heavenly city in the last two chapters of Revelation has often been interpreted through the lens of later western piety, imagining that this is simply the ‘heaven’ to which Christians will go after their deaths. But that view is not simply somewhat deficient; it is failing to read the text. IN Revelation 21 (and elsewhere; this vision dominate the whole book, not just the ending) the heavenly city comes down FROM heaven TO earth. That is what the narrative is all about. As Christopher Rowland has insisted, the end of Revelation offers an ultimate rejection of a detached, other-worldly spirituality in favour of an integrated vision of new creation in which ‘heaven’ and ‘earth’, the twin halves of created reality, are at last united. Always intended for one another, they are by this means to be remade, and to become the place where the living god will dwell among his people for ever.

-N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, p.470

Here, again, Wright speaks of how when you investigate the thought of the ancient Jews and Greek Christians, you don’t find anything resembling our current idea of “go to heaven when you die”.

But to approach the present passage [Luke 20:27-40] with that set of ideas in one’s head is like looking at a picture of Jerome while thinking of Daniel in the lions den. We cannot stress too strongly that this whole complex of ideas, developed so massively and many-sidedly over the years, was simply not in the heads or hearts of either Jesus or the Sadducees, or indeed the Pharisees, or indeed ordinary Jew or pagans in the first century. One might as well assume that when Herod wanted music playing in his court he had to choose between Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Within the Jewish tradition, at least, ‘heaven’ was not, and did not become until some while after the first century, a regular designation for the place where the righteous went either immediately after death or at some stage thereafter.