Even when I was a child I thought in terms of going to heaven when I died. I always thought of heaven as being better than earth. After all it was the place where Jesus lived and he loved children like me.In my maturity, however, I find myself being told that I am in error. No less a scholar than N.T.Wright would have me believe that I am not going to heaven at all but that I am going to inherit a new heaven and earth even though these are described as the abode of righteousness, that is, heaven (cf. 2 Pet. 3:13)!
Nowadays (that is, in the second decade of the 21st century) various writers are telling us that the notion of going to a spiritual heaven to dwell with the God who is spirit is an erroneous Gnostic idea. True Christianity, we are told, does not regard the body as evil as some of the Gnostics did but is held to be of prime importance. So along with the idea that Jesus was transformed and given a body of glory at his resurrection from the grave (sic), I shall as a believer be as he is and where he is (John 17:24). What will happen is this: The present material world though subject to burning and purification will be renewed and I, as a believer, shall be among its inhabitants. Somehow or other this does not ring true. So it is worth enquiring what apart from Gnosticism lies behind what for many is a new teaching.
Historically, this world has been seen as the victim of the curse imposed on the whole creation (not simply this world but the entire universe) as a result of Adam’s sin. It has been argued that the reason why this age proves so difficult to deal with, not to mention to exercise dominion over, is that along with us ourselves it is cursed and stands in need of redemption. This scenario is problematic on a number of counts.
First, creation, unlike its Creator, has a beginning and therefore an end (Gen. 1:1; 8:22; Mt. 24:35). To go no further this suggests that it was never perfect, and therefore complete and independent in itself, as tradition would have us believe. Again, Scripture clearly indicates that what is ‘made by hand’ (cheiropoietos), that is, created, is pejorative and stands in strong contrast with what is ‘not made by hand’ (acheiropoietos, Heb. 9:11,24, etc.). Third, Genesis 6-9 appears to teach that the so-called cosmic curse terminates when the covenant with Noah is established (cf. Isa. 54:9f.). Then even the Lord Jesus himself teaches that there are two ages, the present one and that which is to come (Luke 20:34-36, cf. Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17; Gal. 1:4; Eph. 1:22, etc.). These are apparently different by nature and so divinely intended. While sin in the event is certainly a factor in making the present age more difficult than it would otherwise be, the difference or contrast is not primarily on account of sin. Sin only makes a bad situation worse (cf. Gal. 1:4).
While there is a great deal more evidence at our disposal, enough has been said to support my thesis which on the assumption of its truth renders the almost exclusive (Augustinian) stress on sin dubious in the extreme. For if creation was originally perfect and only spoilt by sin (1* The idea that an originally perfect Adam could sin and ruin a perfect creation is a profound, indeed an inexplicable mystery in itself.), first, the biblical distinction between earth and heaven is virtually eroded and rendered meaningless, and, second, the same could presumably happen with regard to a perfect heaven. The mere thought is blasphemous. The truth is that man who was created dust but in the image of God was intended from the start to aspire to heaven, as Genesis 2:16f. surely implies. The reason why he failed in his bid was that he sinned (broke the commandment) and came short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). In other words, he failed to meet the precondition of eternal life, or new birth, which is righteousness (cf. Lev. 18:5). If he had been created righteous, he would have arrived before he set off on what Scripture presents as his pilgrimage or evolution from conception to coronation, from babyhood to adulthood, from immaturity to maturity, from a body of dust to a spiritual body, from Eden to eternity, from earth to heaven. Eternal life would have been effortlessly guaranteed. (2* On this subject see my The Order of Salvation) As it happens biblical teleology involves man’s perfection (his being made perfect) or glorification which is achieved by God himself in Christ.
Sin is certainly a massive problem in Scripture but it is overcome by Christ’s atonement. The main problem, however, is creation itself as was implied above. In the nature of the case we cannot attain to glory in the flesh on what is an intrinsically ephemeral earth whose main characteristic is death. Somehow or other we have to arrive at our intended destination even if like Jesus we do not sin. Paul makes it all plain in 1 Corinthians 15:35-58. Whether we die or not makes no difference. To escape an inherently corruptible creation we all of necessity have to be changed. The tragedy is that the churches under the spell of Augustine of Hippo have all miserably misunderstood the biblical message. This message is that not only are we sinners but also that we are flesh living on a perishable earth. (3* See further my Not Only But Also) Since this is so, God in his love for the world (people) sent his Son Jesus into the world (earth) to bring to light both immortality and incorruption (Gk. 2 Tim. 1:10; 1 Cor. 15:53).
This glorious message of grace has been largely hidden from us by concentration on sin. Over the centuries theologians blinded by the distorting effects of sin have failed to realize that all created things which manifest the glory of God (Rom. 1:20) are destined for destruction (Heb. 12:27) irrespective of sin. For God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:26-29).
See further my: