Friday, January 27, 2006

Heaven and the Kingdom of God: part 3

For those of you who believe that the earth and the physical world is irrelevant, I want to tell you that salvation is much bigger than you think. For those of you who believe that heaven is a far away place waiting for you when you die, I want to tell you that Salvation is much closer than you think. For those who believe that Jesus message was just a great set of timeless suggestions for living life now, I want to tell you that salvation is eternal. If you think you know what salvation is like, you’re wrong, it’s much bigger. God is bigger than you can possibly imagine so why would be inclined to think that we can grasp His salvation. Salvation is “eternal life.”[1]

Jesus came into a defeated culture a proclaimed that their hope had come, the Kingdom of God was at hand; present and effective in their present reality. He taught and healed and fed. He proclaimed hope and did not fail to live it out. Jesus even said that He “came not abolish the law but to fulfill it.”[2] This was first century Jewish language for putting “flesh and blood on the words,”[3] living out the Torah. He showed all who would observe what the Kingdom was all about; love, justice, acceptance.

The problem was that He did this in ways that were disagreeable to the popular thought. Because of His acts of peace he was unaccepted by the zealots. Because of His acceptance and forgiveness for sinners the Pharisees hated him. What ultimately got Jesus killed was the cultures’ religiosity and their love for their traditions. Jesus took many of their symbols and reoriented them around himself, this was unheard of. So He was killed. Crucified as the “King of the Jews,” the rightful heir to the throne of David and therefore the Kingdom of God.

Now it was no new thing for a self-proclaimed messiah to be killed. Many came before Jesus who tried to substantiate themselves as King of the Jews. But no one followed a dead messiah. Jesus death was all to familiar to His contemporaries. What was to be a climactic event ended in what seemed to be loss, defeat. Jesus’ followers were scattered and it seemed to be the end of their hope. What they did not know was that the climactic event was yet to occur. Jesus was vindicated and resurrected. This resurrection acted as the climactic event they were expecting.

Many times we see this as Jesus defeating death merely in order to clean the slate, to solve or sin problem, but in the first century understanding it brought on something more. Jesus’ resurrection as the climactic event ushered in a new sort of existence. They saw that Easter morning as the beginning of a new and glorious reality. The gospel writer tells it like this:
“On the first day of the week… the stone had been taken away from the tomb… the
first day of the week… Jesus came and stood among them.”[4]

The Author, here, is being very intentional. Now step back for a moment to Genesis 1, the creation story. The first day of the week was the first day of creation. “John wants his readers to understand the Easter day is the first day of God’s new creation. Easter morning was the birthday of God’s new world.”[5] This resurrection was more than just a ticket to heaven someday but a foundation for the rebuilding of new creation. N.T. Wright puts it like this:

“Then on Easter Morning it is the first day of the week. Creation is complete;
new creation can now begin. The Spirit who brooded over the waters of creation
at the beginning broods now over God’s word, ready to bring it bursting into
springtime life. Mary goes to the tomb when it’s still dark and in the morning
light meets Jesus in the Garden. She thinks He’s the gardener, as in one
important sense He indeed is. This is the new creation. This is the new
Genesis.”[6]

Jesus has laid the foundation for new creation. So as followers of Christ we continue in implementing this great new reality all over the world; God has dome what He has promised. We are in a new Genesis, a new Eden, with Christ as the gardener. In Jewish tradition, any action that fulfilled the law was said to be "planting the very trees of eden." With Christ as the gardener, we are re-planting the trees of the new Eden.

We are bringing the world back to its healed state. We are not throwing this world out the door and starting over. “You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that is soon going over a cliff.”[7] We are entering with God in a work of salvation, a work with great continuity with the Olam Habba, the life in the world to come. On this we will turn our attention in the following part of the series.



end notes
[1] John 3:16[2] Matthew 5:17[3] Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 2005) 48.[4] John 20[5] N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press 1999) 175.[6] Wright, 176.[7] Wright, 180.

4 comments:

Mike Exum said...

Excellent series. I am excited to return here every day for more. Very good work.

Let me add a tidbit that comes ringing in my mind as I read your post: In John's Gospel, when Mary comes to the tomb, she finds a strange man she thinks is the "gardener". Following Wright's suggestion, I think John is metaphorically recalling the garden of Genesis 1. (Actually, there are myriads of little hints like that which come blossoming out of the text at us when we know what we are really looking at. The dry flat biblical interpretations never showed me this kind of hopeful picture.

You blog is wonderful. Thanks for posting... You gave me spiritual food for my day.

Blessings...

WES ELLIS said...

Yes,
Thanks for adding on. Wright mentioned it the quote I used. I probably should have expanded on it. Thanks.

Ashley said...

WOW!! This has been an amazing multi-part post!! You are really helping me to see and understand things I have been wrestling with for some time. Thank you so much for that! The NT Wright quote you had in this post was incredible, I have NEVER looked at it, or for that matter even thought about it in that light before.

Thank you for sharing with us and helping all of us grow. I know you have been an encouragement and an inspiration to me! Your the best!

WES ELLIS said...

Thanks Ash!