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how to tell the biblical story in a way that makes a difference

How do we get our names into the book of life?

My Kindle book Hell and Heaven in Narrative Perspective is selling like hot mince pies on Amazon, which is quite a bit less than hot cakes but much more festive. Can you think of a better way to make a loved one very happy at Christmas for just $3.29 (or the equivalent in pounds and euros)? One person who has read it and found it “fascinating” is Andrew H, though he was surprised by the lack of hope in the ending and had this question to ask:

I wonder if I may ask though… how does one get their name into the book of life. I felt the ebook ended quite abruptly with little hope as you simply stated that people and non-martyred believers will be resurrected, and depending on their name being written in book of life they will be annihilated.

I’d be interested in your thoughts, as this seems quite depressing and arbitrary if not downright scary.

It’s a very good question. It’s partly just that it’s a book about the supposed doctrine of “hell” with heaven added rather as an afterthought. My understanding is that hope lies in the renewal of creation, which is something beyond the heaven and hell dichotomy.

But there is also an issue of perspective here, which is more a matter of hermeneutics than of belief. Our modern perspective puts the final destiny of the individual in the foreground—we operate mostly under a theology that is powerfully oriented towards the ultimate heavenly existence of all believers. But this is not the New Testament’s perspective. New Testament theology, in my view, is oriented fundamentally towards the historical transformation of the people of God and the vindication of the suffering churches. The resurrection of the martyrs to reign with Jesus in heaven is a critical part of that story, but it is a limited and subordinate part.

The problem that we face, therefore, is that the ultimate questions that are so important to us were of much less importance to the early church. This is true even once we have shifted our focus from going to heaven when we die to the renewal of all creation. What happens at this final eschatological horizon remains unexplored and undeveloped in the New Testament. I wouldn’t call that “arbitrary”, but I can understand why it might seem “depressing” or “scary”. Perhaps a final, more positive chapter would have been a good idea.

So part of the answer is that we would do well to refocus our theology on the concrete life of the people God in the here and now, as part of the continuing narrative of history. As a community—or as communities—we anticipate new creation, under Christ as King, empowered by the Spirit of God, sustained by grace.

That missional calling, I would suggest, is then the primary ground for the hope that we will participate in the new heavens and new earth, though how we correlate that with a final judgment according to what people have done (Rev. 20:13) I’m not sure. Perhaps the point to stress is that there is a concrete continuity between the new creation that we are now practically—not merely theoretically—as God’s people and the final new creation. In any case, I’m not sure we can simply reduce it all to a matter of faith.

It is interesting that this final judgment is framed negatively: those whose names are not written in the book of life are thrown into the lake of fire. The emphasis is on the exclusion of what is incompatible with new creation rather than on the inclusion of what is compatible.

Comments

G’day Andrew…

 

Hope I haven’t totally misread you.

 

But what happens IF you approach the “new creation” not in terms of some future renewed time-space universe, but rather in terms of ‘the NT people of God’ and thus view ‘new creation’ as meaning “new Israel” and so understand Paul as saying… ‘if any man be in Christ he is new Israel’. Thus new creation is all about covenant renewal, the very thing Jesus wrought.

I don’t regard this as an either/or matter. I think that the people-of-God-as-new-creation motif begins with Abraham, whose descendants are to be a new humanity or new creation in microcosm in the land which was promised to them, and runs all the way through the story of God’s people. But once resurrection becomes a possibility, belief in a “literal” new heavens and new earth becomes practically unavoidable. A genuinely resurrected body requires a genuinely new created environment, even if it must wait in heaven throughout the coming ages until that new ontology is brought into existence.

 

Thanks Andrew… as I understand it, apart from Jesus’ “bodily” resurrection there were at least 9 other genuine “resurrections” and one of those of multiple persons mentioned in the bible, and yet none of these, Jesus’ included, required a “literal” remake of the time-space universe. This is one reason why I’m thinking Israel’s promised resurrection was more about Israel’s ‘covenant restoration’ – couched in resurrection-speak.

 

IOW, resurrection was about “standing again” as the people of God… Jesus being the first[fruits] to rise up out from among the dead, as per Acts 26:23. We know Jesus was not the first to “literally” rise from the dead – hence what Paul is talking about is Jesus being “the first” to rise up out of OC Israel as the first “new covenant” man, i.e., Jesus was the firstfruits of Israel’s covenant restoration–“resurrection”.

 

Just my thoughts.

What do you make of the countless references to the continuing life of Jesus in heaven, his active engagement with the church, and his expected return or intervention in some sense to deliver his followers from their persecutors, judge the world, etc.? Not sure who these 9 other resurrected people are, though I acknowledge that Matthew 27:51-53 is problematic.

Davo,

Yes.  Stated very well.  This agrees with 1 Cor. 15 (and many other passages) too, which is a text about the “Resurrection” of Israel/body of Adam (“the dead”), which “some” (Gentiles) at Corinth were denying would be raised in the ”body” (what ”body” are they coming in?) of Christ at the Resurrection in AD 70.  The text has nothing to due with physical bodies.

I followed the link you provided in your other post to your website and found it very informative.  I disagreed in parts here and there, but overall, good information.  I really liked, and agreed 100% with, your article entitled “The Body”.

http://www.pantelism.com/other/body.html

Think I will poke around your site some more.

 

 

Thanks for your kind thoughts Rich.

 

Andrew… I understand “the continuing life of Jesus in heaven” as viewed from the NT and his subsequent engagement with his church via the Spirit as pertinent to their first century first fruits ministry in the outworking of Israel’s redemption. Their deliverance [salvation] from persecution was found in “his expected return or intervention” of Ad70. I understand Christ’s intervening ‘return’ to be in kind with Yahweh’s visitations as demonstrated in the OT… e.g., Isa 13:9-10; 19:1; 24:21-23. This was the OC world’s final “day of clouds” not unlike Joel 2:1-11.

 

As for the 9 other resurrections, I had these in mind: Elijah raises the widow of Zarephath’s son – 1Kgs 17:17-23; Elisha raises the Shunammite woman’s son – 2Kgs 4:17-37; Elisha’s bones cause a dead man to be raised to life – 2Kgs 13:21; Jesus raises the widows son – Lk 7:11-17; Jesus raises Jairus’ daughter – Lk 8:40-42, 49-55; Jesus raises Lazarus – Jn 11:38-44; many saints raised at the crucifixion/resurrection – Mt 27:52-53; Peter raises Tabitha – Act 9:36-42 & Paul raises Eutychus – Act 20:9-11.