Today we are pleased to share the first post in our new weekly series, Beyond the Book. For the next four weeks J. Richard Middleton will be discussing interesting things he learned about eschatology while working on A New Heaven and a New Earth.
Also, as part of this series we are giving away three copies of A New Heaven and a New Earth. The winners will be announced at the end of the month, and you can enter here.
“Although heaven is never the final destination of the righteous in the Bible, it nevertheless plays an important role in biblical eschatology” – J. Richard Middleton
I wrote A New Heaven and a New Earth because I wanted to communicate the Bible’s consistent vision of this-worldly redemption, with its expectation of a renewed creation and not an immaterial “heaven” hereafter.
Yet I was aware that many New Testament passages seemed, at first blush, to suggest a heavenly final destination for the righteous. I had previously addressed some of these “problem texts” in a 2006 article. But I knew there were many that I hadn’t yet touched on.
During my research for the book, as I was teaching a course on eschatology, I began to discern an important pattern of expectation in many New Testament texts, some of which mention “heaven” as part of the Christian hope.
Although these passages might be taken to contradict the Bible’s clear teaching on the renewal of creation, I discerned a pattern undergirding all these texts, consisting in preparation in heaven (where the Christian hope is presently secure) followed by a future unveiling or revelation of that hope in the eschaton (on earth).
This pattern is illustrated in 1 Peter 1:4-5. There we are told that those who trust in Christ have received new birth “into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
But where will this future revelation take place?
Revelation 21:1-2 makes this abundantly clear: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”
Having been first prepared in heaven, the holy city does not remain there, but is revealed in all its glory on earth, where God will dwell with his redeemed people forever (Rev 21:3).
Since the Greek word for “unveiling” or “revelation” is apokalysis, I termed this “The Apocalyptic Pattern” and devoted a significant section of chapter 10 (“The Role of Heaven in Biblical Eschatology”) to explaining it.
The pattern is summarized in this chart, which I included as part of chapter 10.
J. Richard Middleton (PhD, Free University of Amsterdam) is professor of biblical worldview and exegesis at Northeastern Seminary and adjunct professor of theology at Roberts Wesleyan College, both in Rochester, New York. He authored The Liberating Image and coauthored the bestsellers Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be and The Transforming Vision.