“Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.16By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.
17“Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. 19Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets….”
The Apostle Peter, in Acts 3:12-21
For a long time now I’ve been dissatisfied with the traditional evangelical treatment of heaven and the afterlife. I couldn’t figure out what was so exciting about being a disembodied spirit roving through the clouds, and I didn’t know how to get people excited about it, when everything that I really like about my life right now is dependent on my corporeal existence. And I think a lot of Christians feel that way if they are honest. Heaven gets good press not because it’s so wonderful in and of itself, but because it beats the alternatives: hell or non-existence (and in my understanding of the scriptures, those are eventually the same thing.)
I thought that there had to be something more that we just weren’t seeing. Some of the pieces of the puzzle were starting to fall into place, but it was N.T. Wright, in his Resurrection of the Son of God and Surpised By Hope who really helped me see the big picture–something that I could genuinely be excited about. The ultimate hope isn’t heaven, it never was. It is bodily resurrection and everlasting life on a renewed and restored earth. Once I glommed on to that, passages like Romans 8:18-25, 2 Peter 3:13, and Revelation 21 start to make a whole lot more sense, and I kicked myself for not having seen it before. And then, once I had our future hope of resurrection, restoration and renewal clearly in mind, I started noticing that it was present in all kinds of scriptures. Like Acts 3. The apostolic message is clear. Jesus isn’t coming back to wisk us away or to end his misguided experiment with time and matter. He is coming back to restore all things. Everything broken will be fixed. Everything thing tarnished will be cleansed. Everything dead will be brought back to life. That, and nothing less than that, is what we are anticipating. The complete prophetic vision will be made reality, and the glory of the Lord will cover the earth.