I’m Convinced The Gospel Isn’t About Going to Heaven
Apr 13, 2019
I’ve begun to re-read the Bible.
My upbringing was so heavily influenced by a theology that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was a one-way evacuation ticket to heaven when we die, or a “get out of hell free” card if you will.
As I entered University I began to read and understand my Bible more, and as I read, I kept waiting for the part that tells me Jesus came to send me to heaven when I die.
However, when I looked closer I found something different.
When I read the Gospels, the first thing I got was the story of Jesus, the life and teachings of the greatest man to ever live. In that story, Jesus frequently contends that the “Kingdom of God/Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2, Matthew 4:17, & Mark 1:15).
The whole story of the gospels is about a Kingdom where Jesus is at the centre. This kingdom is the real argument of the gospels. Once we recognize this, it’s actually hard to unsee it.
A kingdom thesis permeates nearly every chapter of the gospels. Even the passages of miracles display Jesus’ kingly sovereignty over demons, Torah, disease, and more.
The goal is to show Jesus as God and king, Messiah and saviour. When we look at this claim in the grand story of the Bible, we can see how revolutionary it was.
Looking back, we see sin pervading through humans causing problems in our world and in our relationship with God. This is a pretty standard Christian doctrine.
In the beginning,
Adam and Eve sinned by going their own way instead of God’s, which can be summed up in one word, idolatry. Sin is when our own ways become idols that mediate our attempt to worship God. When we worship idols of our selfishness we cannot fulfill our true calling of fully bearing God’s image.
Sin has consequences, another standard Christian doctrine. Adam and Eve were exiled from the garden because of their sin. We often jump to the consequence of sin being death, but exile came long before death.
The message is: Go your own way, and you’ll end up in exile. Look at the books of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Ezra-Nehemiah. All of which wrestle with how sin in the kingdom of Judah has corrupted their society resulting in a Babylonian exile.
Israel’s history is one of exile.
Exile isn’t pretty. Time and time again the writers of the Hebrew scriptures long for things to be made right, and they long to be delivered from exile and oppression.
Jewish people saw glimpses of rescue when Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah brought Israelites back from Babylon to their home, but there was never a resolution. Even though they were home, exile remained. Exile was more than being displaced from home; it was being displaced from the true human purpose of bearing God’s image.
Exile is a deep human problem, not a geographical one, and it requires a deliverer, saviour, Messiah, who has been long prophesied about. The latter half of the book of Daniel (the half of the book we frequently forget about) uses visions to paint an important picture about what the Son of Man is coming to do.
This Bible Project video explains a lot of what I’m attempting to communicate:
Jesus is the Savior that exiled Israelites have been waiting for.
The Gospels tell us that Jesus shows up as that promised deliverer, the king who will finally put an end to exile, and thus an end to sin. He does this by setting up a new kingdom, a kingdom that is drastically different from the empires of Babylon and Rome.
Jesus’ kingdom is built on love, and the kingdom is the only way to freedom from exile and sin. The Maccabees thought they knew the way out of exile and so did the Zealots, but Jesus shows a new way that evades uprising and violence.
We need to see this consistently through the scriptures to truly understand what the gospel writers are trying to say.
Finally, on Good Friday Jesus suffers on the cross, charged with treason and mocked as “King of the Jews.” In his death and suffering, we see a juxtaposition between the Kingdom of God and the Empire of Rome. Jesus’ death shows us the clearest picture of who God is and what his kingdom looks like.
His death is not the end, again another essential Christian doctrine. In fact, His death is the beginning, the beginning of his Kingdom breaking into the world.
All you need to do is read the sign upon his cross that reads, “King of the Jews.”
The cross is a coronation.
The King is here, His kingdom is righteous, and He is restoring all things.
Restoration. The blind seeing, the lame walking, and the dead rising.
Jesus lives on, and so does His kingdom. His kingdom breaks through death, defeating it and the evil powers with it. The world is changing. The world is being restored — back to its purpose, back to Eden (Revelation 21).
So then why believe in Christ? This is a nice story and all, but what about my “eternal life?”
I actually think the gospel is bigger than the eternal life mentioned in John 3:16. The gospel is about the whole world being restored through Jesus, and we are a part of it.
Through faith in Christ, we join his kingdom and can once again become “fully functioning, fully image-bearing human beings within God’s world” (NT Wright). We become the “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2) within Christ’s kingdom that is making all things new.
This restoration of our world transcends death. Christians believe in the resurrection of the body, or at least they should (see Apostles Creed 390 CE). We often confuse this with “going to heaven” when we die.
Confusing resurrection with going to heaven is a major misunderstanding; it’s a difference between restoration and evacuation.
However, I don’t blame individuals for making this misunderstanding. This confusion is not the fault of individual Christians, it’s the problem with evangelicalism’s poor resurrection theology. We just need to teach Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John better.
What’s the point?
So yes, I do believe in eternal life despite the title, but it’s different than just “going to heaven” when I die.
When I view the gospel as God proclaiming Jesus as king over all things, and that my role is to be a part of that kingdom, I see the gospel as being very centred around our world here and now.
So, in my opinion, and the opinion of many major theologians, “eternal life,” actually starts now.
In the words of Switchfoot, “I’m ready now, I’m not waiting for the afterlife.”
Afterlife by Switchfoot (Vice Verses)
Many people believe that Christianity is just something to die for, but when we read the gospels we realize that this kingdom is actually everything to live for.
The gospel is about the world that is being restored, not Christians being evacuated.
I believe in life after death, and I have hope in the resurrection of the body, but I recognize that all of Christ’s restoration is being done here, on earth, through His kingdom.
As Christ said, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”