Tuesday, June 2, 2009

An Eschatology Of Heaven

A while back, I took on a series noting that Heaven must be a part of our Biblical worldview (6 parts, starting here). We cannot merely excise it as 'Platonic' although at times Christians have allowed there view to mutate into something along this lines. Obviously, it is an understatement to say that one cannot throw out the baby with the bathwater.

The Christian Worldview is condition by a view of history. Thus, Christian is driven by eschatology, an unfolding of a history of redemption that comes to climax in the first and second advent of Christ. These advents are apocalyptic and Christian theology is equally shaped by this apocalypticism of God's inbreaking. Christianity must have both a horizontal and a vertical eschatology.

Gerhardus Vos, of course, defends this vertical element and horizontal element in his work on Hebrews, The Teaching of the Epistle of Hebrews. (See my appropriation of it here and here). These aspect of vertical and horizontal eschatology are through the whole New Testament. We might more accurately this eschatology as redemptive historical (history unfolding; hence the 'horizontal') and apocalypiticsm, decisive inbreaking of God's activity from heaven (hence the 'vertical'.).

This dual eschatology (or if you prefer: eschaology & apocalytpicism) pervades and undergirds the worldview in Ephesians. This is particularly true in key passages like Ephesians 1:19-23 and Ephesians 6:10-13, which serve as veritiable bookends to some degree of the major themes in Ephesians. It comes across in terms like 'heavenilies' (Eph. 1:3). Or in Ephesians 1:1-7; 3:10 or 4: 7-10. There are clear descent/ascent motifs in the death, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus Christ. This inaugurates the 'age to come' which overlaps the 'present evil age'. Jesus Himself, reveals God and establishes God's kingdom, making Jew and Gentile one. The beleiver who used to walk in 'the course of this world' (denoting both 'earth' and 'the present evil age') has now had a shift in there experience as partaking of both the age to come and being seated with Christ in the heavenlies (2:6-7).

Or eschatology and view thereof cannot be collapse mearly to the 'earthly' realm of the historical. It must retain the inbreaking aspect. At stake is nothing less than the work of Christ and our relationship with him. There cannot be a new creation (of heavens and earth), where in the end the heavenly descends and God's throne and glory pervades all of creation, if we deny the Biblical view of heaven.

Andrew Lincoln writes the following, speaking of Paul's phrase in Ephesians 'in the heavenlies':
"It will become clear that ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις [in the heavenlies] is closely realted to ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς [in the heavens]. But whereas οὐρανος [heaven] can be used in various contexts and with varying shades of meaning, including the eschatological, ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις in this letter particularly places heaven in a Pauline eschatological perspective. All that has been said positvely in exegesis and negatively in criticism of other interpretations has shown that involved in the formula is the concept of heaven with its Old Testament double reference--cosmic and transcendent--but now charged with further meaning. Heaven is viewed as caught up in the history of redemption, and for Paul heaven is now caught up in this history in the light of its focus, Jesus Christ. Rather than turning to Gnostic, Platonic, or existentialist categories it has been seen that the use of the formula can be most adequately understood by referring to the Old Testmant and Jewish concept of heaven. Paul's view was derived ultimately from the opening statement of the Old Testament. 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth' (Gen. i.I). Created reality had two major parts. That part known as the heavens could be thought of in terms of atmospheric heaven (e.g. Ps. cxlvii. 8; Matt. vi. 26) or of the firmament (e.g. Gen. i. 7, 14). As the upper or higher part of created reality it also came to stand for the dwelling-place of God, pointing beyond its own createdness to divine transcendence (e.g. Ps. ii. 4; Matt. vi. 9; cf. also the substitution of heaven for the divine name in later Judaism which was carried over into New Testament usage in teh term 'the kingdom of heaven'). Not only so, but the upper limits of the firmament were regarded as concealing a presently invisible created spiritual order (e.g. II Kings vi. 17; Job. i. 6; Zech. iii. I, cf. also Acts ix. 3 f.; xii. 7 f.) It is highly probably that Paul generally adopted this relatively unsophisticated Old Testament structure... Heaven in this structure had priority as the upper and controlling part of the universe, yet as seen in its created aspect it was involved in God's plan for the ages, for in Jahweh's acts of judgment the heavens as well as the earth are shaken (cf. Isa. li. 6; Amos viii. 9; Hag. ii. 6; Heb. xii. 26) and the latter part of Isaiah can speak of the creation of a new heaven and new earth, indicating the need for cosmic renewal. In later Judaism the evil powers in heaven are judged (cf. I Enoch xvi. 1-4; xxi. 1-6; lxxxix. 59 g.) before the commencement of the coming new age with its new heaven (I Enoch xci. 16).

Since Paul also shared this two-age eschatological structure which incorporated both heaven and earth in each age and since Jesus Christ as Lord was central in his particular version of this structure, both heaven and earth took on new significance as they related to the Christ event in his thinking. In Ephesians thaen it would not be surprising if ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις were to have reference to heaven as a distinct part of the created universe but one which retains its concealing relation to the spiritual world and to God himself, and thus also its aspects of incomprehensibility. The reference is to this heaven as it takes its place in the cosmic drama of redemption, that is, in that act of the drama which Christ has inaugurated by his death, resurrection and ascension...

Paul concieves of the two ages as coexistent, and in this period of overlap the believer is regarded as involved in two spheres of existence simultaneously. Within this framework a vertical point of view can come to expression as well as a linear horizontal, for since the two ages comprehend both heaven and earth, as the beleiver becomes drawns into the history of redemption, he finds himself invovled in these two worlds--the heavenly and the earthly."

--A.T. Lincoln, "A Re-Examination of 'The Heavenlies' in Ephesians" New Test. Stud. 19, pp479-481.


So there you have it, the horizontal and the vertical. Both are pretty central for the unfolding of Ephesians and for the unfolding of are redemption within God's created realm.

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