We do not subscribe to the myth of progress – the idea, popular in earlier evolutionary thinking, that the world will get better and better. Nor do we believe, with Plato, that we are souls in transit, passing through this illusory world on our way to to something beyond space, time and matter.
The shape of things to come is determined, in biblical thinking, by the threefold story of creation, rebellion, and redemption. We can tell the story of Jesus as the moment all creation has been waiting for:-
Equally, the story can be told in terms of Christ’s victory of sin and death as brought about by human rebellion.
Both aspects of redemption are put together in Col 1:15-20.
The cosmic dimensions of the Christian hope are explored in the New Testament in a number of powerful images.
1. Seedtime and harvest. Paul uses the image of ‘firstfruits’ in 1 Cor 15. Jesus is the first fruits, the first to rise of many.
2. The victorious battle. The picture – also drawn in 1 Cor 15 – is of the King establishing his kingdom by subduing all enemies. Death itself will give up it power, as the physical resurrection of Jesus demonstrates and guarantees.
3. Citizens of heaven – colonizing the earth. When Paul in Phil 3:2 describes believers as ‘citizens of heaven’ he doesn’t mean that when we’re done with this life we’ll be off to heaven:
Our physicality will not be made redundant, but will rather be transformed to be like Christ’s glorious body.
4. God will be all in all. 1 Cor 15:28 anticipates a future when evil, and death itself, will be no more, and God will be ‘everything in everything.’ ‘God intends to fill all creation with his own presence and love.’ This is anticipated in passages such as Isa 11, which anticipate the time when ‘the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.’ God intends to flood the universe with himself. Our incomplete experience of beauty seems to point forward to a cosmos
5. New birth. In Rom 8 Paul teaches that creation is at present in slavery, v21. But God’s design was to rule creation through his image-bearing creatures. The creation now eagerly and painfully awaits the day when God’s children are revealed, when their resurrection will herald its own renewal.
6. The marriage of heaven and earth. This image is set out in Rev 21-22. The new Jerusalem comes down out of heaven like a bride adorned for her husband.
Here is the final answer to all those philosophies and theologies that see the final goal as the separation of earth from heaven, physical from spiritual. This is what Paul was talking about in Eph 1:10, that God’s purpose was to unite all things in Christ, both things in heaven and things on earth.
Heaven and earth are not mutually incompatible. They are radically different, and yet made for each other, just as the male/female imagery of Revelation suggests. And there are hints in that passage (e.g. in the healing river of life that flows from the city out to the nations) of
Based on Wright, Surprised by hope, 104-119.