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I recently saw someone on Facebook post the trailer for the new Left Behind movie and wrote, “Pay attention, people! This is going to happen one day!”
What she means, of course, is that she believes that one day all of the true believing Christians will mysteriously disappear and leave this earth to burn at the hands of lowly sinners.
This is reflective of what a lot of people call “Evacuation Theology,” which basically talks about the earth as a place that we need to get away from as fast as possible. In this view, heaven is a good place, and the earth is a bad place.
Here’s the problem with that: Jesus never talks about the earth as a place we need to escape from. Instead, when Jesus prays in Matthew 6, he says (to God), “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Jesus does not pray, “Get us off of this crazy thing and take us to heaven as fast as possible.” Instead, he prays that earth would become more like heaven.
In the ancient world, most people possessed a three-tiered view of reality: There was earth (where humans live), there were “the heavens” (where the gods lived; this was generally thought to be up in the sky), and “below the earth” (where the dead existed). And in the Hebrew mind, each realm was ruled by a particular force. The heavens—or “heaven”—was governed by the will of God. All things in heaven are as God intended them to be. Earth, on the other hand, was governed by many “wills.”
One Hebrew poet says it this way-
“The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to mankind” (Psalm 115:16, emphasis mine).
So the realm that is governed by God has one kingdom; the realm that is governed by humans has billions of kingdoms.
If I want something that somebody else has and I decide to go to war in order to get that thing, I am pitting my kingdom against someone else’s. Two kingdoms are coming into conflict with one another.
Every single conflict in the history of humanity can be traced back to a tension between multiple kingdoms.
But when Jesus prays, he prays that God’s kingdom would come on earth as it already has in heaven.
Jesus is praying that earth would become more like heaven.
So we have all of these people who keep talking about all of the humans getting out of here and going up to heaven, which is somewhere else. But at the same time, we have Jesus praying to God that heaven would come down into this realm and that the world we inhabit would look more like God intended it to be.
What is Jesus praying for?
He is praying that each of us would help make this world look more like God intended it to be.
The psalmist says that God has given the earth to humanity. Perhaps Jesus is praying that humanity would give it back.
Perhaps this is what it means to be part of a redemptive movement: We are in the process of making this world more and more as it was always meant to be.