Heaven is Not My Home, I’m Just a-Passin’ Through

Moving away from controversial issues, let’s move to something a little more safe: eschatology. The end times. Doug Wilson’s Heaven Misplaced is all about eschatology, and is not a systematic defense of one view or a long-winded discussion about Bible prophecies. Instead, it’s a short, lyrical theology of God’s radical, large, and sometimes unbelievable promises regarding the efficacy and triumph of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s something we can (or should) all get behind. The Bible is very clear that it is not “all gonna burn, man.”

Up front, Wilson asks for a suspension of disbelief, an understood agreement between author and reader in works of fiction (especially fantasy). After all, “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). When Tolkien was asked if he thought Middle Earth was real, he replied “one hopes.” That’s the perspective Wilson is writing from – an historical, optimistic theology of the trajectory of the gospel in the world. “One hopes.”

Though Wilson is a postmillennialist, the book isn’t a full-blown defense of postmillennialism, but more a scriptural view of heaven, earth, the gospel, and eternity. He doesn’t mention any of the three major eschatological camps until the glossary in Appendix A. Below is a lengthy excerpt from the book, where Wilson talks about heaven and earth. He is worth quoting at length because he says it better than I can.

What he writes here makes sense especially when compared to Jesus’ words about preparing a place for us with the Father in John 14. The word for “rooms” He uses refers to more temporary lodging than permanent lodging: nicer than any resort we’ve ever imagined, as Wilson says elsewhere. This excerpt also makes sense in light of Jesus’ “rapture” passages, where it is actually the wicked who are carried away to judgment, like in Noah’s day. Christ’s people will be the ones “left behind” in the glorious new heavens and new earth. It also jives with Paul’s description of Christ’s return in 1 Thessalonians 4, with believers meeting Him in the air to escort the victorious King back to earth. It also makes sense in light of the myriad glorious Old Testament prophecies about a renewed earth that seem too good to be true. The excerpt is in a discussion of Philippians 3:20-21, and follows the verses (any emphasis is his):

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

“As N.T. Wright notes, Caesar Augustus established the Roman colony of Philippi after the battle of Philippi in 42 B.C. and the battle of Actium in 31 B.C. He did this by settling his veterans there, many of whom were Roman citizens. This is the backdrop for Paul’s comment to the church that was located at this same Philippi. The Roman citizens of Philippi were there as Roman colonists, intended to extend the range and force of Roman influence throughout the Mediterranean world. They were not there in order for them to leave Philippi in order to come back to Rome for retirement.

“In this passage, St. Paul is using this striking metaphor for a reason. He says that our citizenship is in heaven. We look toward heaven because that is where Jesus went, which means that heaven is the place he is going to come from when He returns to earth. The metaphor translated, this means that Jesus was going to come from ‘Rome’ to ‘Philippi.’ He was not going to take ‘Philippi’ to ‘Rome’…

“If we take this simple metaphor of Paul’s at face value, it clears up a great deal for us. Christians now are living in the colonies of heaven. Now colonies are not established as feeder towns for the mother country – just the opposite actually. The mother country feeds the colonies.

“How you take the line of the story matters a great deal. Many Christians believe the cosmos has an upper and lower story, with earth as the lower story and heaven as the upper story. You live the first chapters of your life here. Then you die, and you move upstairs to live with the nice people – because only nice people are allowed on the second story. There might be some kind of sequel after that, but it is all kind of hazy. Maybe we all go live in the attic. But the basic movement in this thinking is from a Philippi ‘below’ to a Rome ‘above.’

“But what Paul teaches us here is quite different. We are establishing the colonies of heaven here, now. When we die, we get the privilege of visiting the heavenly motherland, which is quite different than moving there permanently. After this brief visit, the Lord will bring us all back here for the final and great transformation of the colonists (and the colonies). In short, our time in heaven is the intermediate state. It is not the case that our time here is the intermediate state. There is an old folk song that says, ‘This world is not my home, I’m just passing through.’ This captures the mistake almost perfectly. But as the saints gather in heaven – which is the real intermediate state – the growing question is, ‘When do we get to go back home?’ And so this means that heaven  is the place that we are just ‘passing through.’

-Doug Wilson in Heaven Misplaced: Christ’s Kingdom on Earth (Canon Press, 2008), pages 23-24

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