Prominent British theologian N. T. Wright, a retired Anglican bishop, claims in his recently released book, The New Testament in Its World, that most of us have gotten our ideas of heaven wrong. He explains some of his views from his book in a December 16 article in Time magazine. Why are we way off the mark? Well, according to Wright, we’re so wrong because we haven’t taken into account that the New Testament has to be understood in light of the influences from the world of Jewish hope, Roman imperialism, and Greek thought that were pervasive in the first century.
Wright’s main objection is the concept that we believers are supposed to go up to heaven when we die. Instead of going up to heaven, the theologian thinks the first century believers believed “the creator God would finally bring heaven and earth together in a great act of new creation, completing the original creative purpose by healing the entire cosmos of its ancient ills. They believed that God would then raise his people from the dead, to share in — and, indeed, to share his stewardship over — this rescued and renewed creation.”
Wright then proceeds to explain, ‘They believed that with the resurrection of Jesus this new creation had already been launched. Jesus embodied in himself the perfect fusion of “heaven” and “earth.”’ That’s why, in Wright’s view, Jesus said in the Lord’s prayer, “Thy kingdom come … in earth … as … in heaven” and why John 1 says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” He goes on to say, ‘…the first Christians believed not that they would “go to heaven when they died,” but that, in Jesus, God had come to live with them.’ Wright also claims Jesus’ mention of his father’s house having many mansions (a translation he thinks should read “many waiting rooms”), that Christ’s mention of Paradise on the cross, and Paul’s statement about facing death to be with the Messiah, are all referring to a temporary resting place that’s not heaven.
Basically, if one reads the entirety of Wright’s article, it becomes apparent that he is espousing Dominion Theology. It’s a false doctrine I’ve tackled in the past where I discussed the other false doctrines that are spinoffs of it, such as the idea that the church and state should be one and the same, that there’s no such thing as saints being “caught up” to meet the Lord, that everyone on Earth must become a Christian for Christ to return to renew the world, and the denial that our treasures should be in heaven (Matthew 6:20; Colossians 3:1-2).
Once again, Wright is the perfect example of what happens when the focus becomes being a Bible scholar while neglecting that one should have a relationship with the Godhead through Christ his Son to rightly divide the word of truth. As a Bible scholar, Wright has gotten caught up in eisegesis (imposing private interpretations onto scripture) instead of exegesis (getting out of scripture what it says and means by comparing scripture with scripture by God’s wisdom). We don’t need the understanding of Jewish hope, Roman imperialism, or Greek thought to know what the New Testament means, as Wright assumes. Those ideas are what caused most of the Jews to miss who Jesus really was and is. Jesus stated that the Spirit of truth will guide us into all of his truth (John 16:13).
The theologian is so tangled up in his false doctrine about saints not going to heaven that he totally ignores Revelation 5, 6, 7, and other chapters of that book which clearly state God’s saints of every kindred, tongue, and people are there around his throne in heaven as the Lord unleashes his great tribulation judgments. He completely overlooks Revelation 11 where the Lord’s two witnesses murdered by the beast are told to come up to heaven after the Lord resurrects them. Jews in the New Testament also knew of Elijah as one of their main prophets and were taught how he was taken up to heaven in God’s chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11). If Wright is tripped up by the errors he promotes in his Time article, you can best believe he holds to other errors as well. I pray he repents of them soon.
Source: N. T. Wright, The New Testament Doesn’t Say What Most People Think It Does About Heaven, Yahoo News/Time, December 16, 2019.