Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)
In our churches today, we talk a lot about saving souls, and very little about what Jesus called “the Kingdom of God.”
This is startling because it is the exact opposite of what we see Jesus emphasizing in the New Testament. According to the concordance in my Bible, Jesus used the word “save” or “saved” less than 10 times. By contrast, he referred to his coming “Kingdom” more than 150 times.
In Matthew 24:14, Jesus said that it is the “gospel of the Kingdom” that “will be preached in the whole world,” not the gospel of individual salvation (emphasis mine). The gospel is not just good news for our souls, it is good news for the world. In the words of Tim Keller, “The ultimate purpose of Jesus is not only individual salvation and pardon for sins but also the renewal of this world, the end of disease, poverty, injustice, violence, suffering, and death.”
So, how did we get to the point in which our emphasis on saving souls is so out of whack with Jesus’s? I’d argue that there are two answers to that question, one theological and the other cultural.
First, the theological. As I’ve written about before, many in the western Church have an incomplete view of what the Bible says about heaven. Many Christians functionally (if not intellectually) believe that heaven starts and ends with the present heaven (where souls currently dwell with Christ until his return), ignoring the biblical promise made clear in today’s passage that one day, Jesus’s kingdom will come on earth as it is in the present heaven (see Matthew 6:10).
That’s the brief theological answer to why our emphasis on saving souls is so opposite Jesus’s. Here’s the cultural answer: We are living in the most individualistic culture of all time, where the story of life is the story of my life. We see this everywhere, from entertainment, to technology, to how we think about our careers.
All of this adds up to an overemphasis on individuals “going to heaven when we die,” (as important as that is!) at the sacrifice of gaining a more complete picture of God’s plans to redeem the entire world.
Why does this matter for our work? An underemphasis of God’s coming Kingdom can lead us to believe that our work is significant only if we share the gospel with co-workers or donate money to missionaries who do that work “full-time.”
As good as those things are, this is a terribly incomplete list of ways in which our work extends the rule of King Jesus in the world. It is to that much fuller list that we will turn to next week.