The Expansion of Heaven

The modern evangelical view of the cosmos is a fairly simplistic one: all of the earth is going to burn away while Christians go to a spiritual place called Heaven.1 However, this view does not match the wider picture of the Bible. To see the full portrait, all we need to do is look at the Bible’s bookends. After all, Revelation ends where Genesis started.

The Point of Existence According to Genesis

Comparing the creation story to other forms of ancient literature, John Walton concludes that “the seven days of creation are primarily concerned with God ordering the cosmos to serve as sacred space where he can be in relationship with his creatures.”2 Like other ancient creation stories, the world started as a chaotic primeval sea,3 which the gods brought into order4 before resting in their holy temple to take control.5 In Yahweh’s case, he rested in and ruled from his temple in the Garden of Eden.6

While Yahweh rules over everything, the creation story shows us that humans were designed to carry out his will in matters related to the earth. Indeed, this is why humans were designed in his image, so that they might image Yahweh to and throughout the earth.7 They stand at top of the hierarchy within the material plane, “a little while lower”8 (Heb. 2:7) than the elohim imagers9 of the spiritual plane. And as humans replicated themselves, their descendants would eventually leave the sacred space of Eden to subdue and cultivate the untamed parts of the earth into Eden.10

In this light, God’s desire is to fill the earth with Heaven. For an ancient person, gardens, temples, and mountains (Ezek. 28:13-14) were places where Heaven and Earth met, and Eden was all of these things. In ancient cosmology, mountains ascended high enough into the heavens that they could serve as material spaces where elohim could reside,11 so God’s human imagers traversed from heaven to earth to cultivate the earth into heaven.

Creating Culture

As humanity multiplied, culture became a natural byproduct of their expansion. This can be seen in urban development, living arrangements, musical instruments, and technology (Gen. 4:17–22). Cultural innovations such as these do not carry overtones of morality, but because culture has only ever existed during the reign of death, it does have the ability to go sour. This is seen in due time when humanity becomes so corrupt that God regrets putting them on the earth (Gen. 6:6).12

After restarting the world with Noah’s family, it seems that some of the cultural norms of the old world bled through into the new one.13 Humanity was soon found disobedient to their mission to fill the earth and instead chose to stay in one place and build “a city and a tower with its top in the heavens” (Gen. 11:4). This expression was stock language in ancient Mesopotamia for “a temple with a ziggurat.”14 This man-made mountain was a stairway of sorts that was meant to give the elohim access to come down to earth, which clearly upset Yahweh based on his decision to divide people into nations by languages, turning them over to the rule of lesser gods (Deut. 32:8). These image-bearing gods proved themselves to be just as capable of corruption as humanity. God would later call them out on the great injustices they committed against their nations as reason for them to die like men (Ps. 82).

Redeeming Culture

Many accuse culture of being evil, but the early church embraced the cultures of the nations in a very different way. For example, the Spirit intentionally sent Peter to Cornelius, who had very different cultural practices than Peter.15 Likewise, an angel and the Holy Spirit led Philip to evangelize a eunuch, a story that Sean Burke concludes may have been constructed to show how God reaches into the messy ambiguity of people’s lives.16 In light of stories like these, the leadership of the early church decided to set aside the hundreds of laws that made up their own culture (including the Decalogue) and instead offer four simple cultural guidelines to their new Gentile friends (Acts 15:20).17

The Apostle Paul worked within this framework. Having engaged many different nations by adapting to their culture (Acts 17:16–34), Paul proved himself able to “become all things to all people” (1 Cor 9:22). Paul’s mission was not to make more Jews and he used strong language against the circumcision party (Phil. 3:2) who tried to force Gentiles to do just that. From Paul’s perspective, trying to appease God like this was all skybalon (Phil 3:8), or “crap.”18 As Tim Mackie comments, “He’s ticked off, because in his mind if they get this wrong … [Jesus] won’t be acknowledged as the true king of all nations. He’ll simply remain the king of one particular subgroup of humanity, but not the whole family.”19 As Christopher Zoccali points out, Paul reaches people “in a fashion in which their prior ethnic identities—though subordinated, relativized, and transformed—nevertheless remain salient and enduring in light of the … offering of allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and consequent entrance into the people of God.”20

Heaven on a Moving Truck

It is this allegiance21 upon which the gospel stands. Jesus’ favorite theme to preach on was the Kingdom of Heaven—a kingdom with its own values and expectations, where Jesus reigns as king and Christians are his citizens and ambassadors. This is a kingdom on a moving truck that is making its way down to earth via the allegiant actions of Christians, and the expansion tactics of evangelization. As the nations leave their corrupt gods and corrupt humanity behind and let the Spirit metamorphose them (2 Cor. 3:18), they cultivate Eden in their nations, so that their work may be left standing when God comes to shake the old earth (Heb. 12:27–29) to make way for the Heaven and Earth combo we’ve always been waiting for. 

Right now, in the already-but-not-yet, people and cultures are being chiseled, for when a person claims allegiance to Jesus and makes him their king, the Holy Spirit comes alongside them to help them bring their life and culture into alignment with Heaven. What’s left to be done of this chiseling lies ahead of us when we momentarily ascend into the skies to meet Jesus and join him on his way22 down to resurrect our bodies, destroy sin and death, and repair the groaning earth that has too long been subjected to the mismanagement of corrupt humanity. At that time, sin and death will be destroyed along with “the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41), the gods will meet their demise, and humans will exit out of this phase where they are “a little while lower than the angels” and become all that they were meant to be. The Bible ends where it started: on earth, in Eden. The difference in Revelation is that the whole earth has now become Eden. Culture, kings (Rev. 21:24), nations, and languages remain in the resurrection, but there they have all been chiseled into perfection, untainted by sin


1 This view has been built off a number of verses that seem to imply just that (Matt. 24; 2 Pet. 3:7-12; Rev. 20:11).

2 John H. Walton, Old Testament Theology for Christians, (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic), 27.

3 Robin A. Parry, The Biblical Cosmos: A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Weird and Wonderful World of the Bible (Eugene, OR:Cascade Books, 2014), 28-30, Kindle Edition.

4 Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, 1st ed. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham, 2015), 154, Logos Bible Software.

5 John H. Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015), 49, Kindle Edition. 

6 This point is further evidenced when the Tabernacle is later constructed with Garden of Eden language so that it’s in proper shape for God to reside and rule from. Richard S. Hess, “Bezalel and Oholiab: Spirit and Creativity,” Presence, Power and Promise (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), Kindle Locations 1655-1658.

7 Heiser, The Unseen Realm, 42-43.

8 Richard J. Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2014), 159, Kindle Edition.

9 Heiser, The Unseen Realm, 43.

10 Ibid. 49-51.

11 Parry, The Biblical Cosmos, 49.

12 Add into this cultural mess the rebellion of certain heavenly beings that slept with human beings and gave rise to the giants of the Bible. In the popular Jewish lore of 1 Enoch, these angelic beings added other questionable or forbidden engagements into the culture—things like medicine, spells, astrology, warfare, prostitution, and more (1 Enoch 8:1-3).

13 Soon after the flood, the origin story of Canaan is told. Some scholars have suggested that Noah’s son, Ham, slept with his mother. For this theory, one would have to consider Noah’s nakedness (Gen. 9:22) to be a euphemism for the nakedness of his wife (Lev. 18:7). For more information, see Michael Heiser’s research on Episode 159 of The Naked Bible Podcast: Noah’s Nakedness, the Sin of Ham, and the Curse of Canaan,

14 John H. Walton, Ch 5, “Comparitive Exploration: Tower of Babel,” ¶ 4, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), Hoopla Location.

15 While Cornelius worshipped God and shared a great concern for almsgiving (Acts 10:1–2), which “became prized as an unsurpassed meritorious deed” (Walter Pilgrim, Good News to the Poor: Wealth and Poverty in Luke-Acts (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1981), 33), among Peter’s people, they otherwise shared great differences from one another, especially in regard to food. 

16 Was this Ethiopian Jewish, a Jewish convert, or a Gentile? Despite the answer, the Jews would have held up restrictions on him because of his castration. We might also wonder if his body or sexuality was affected by this castration since being castrated before puberty can alter the masculine shape of the body. Even without knowing this answer, we can imagine that ancient people would have viewed his sexuality and gender in a different way than most. Even his wealth and status is a bit ambiguous. Since he worked for the queen in a traveling capacity, he was likely rich and had authority and power in his household. Yet at the same time, he may have still been a slave in that household. Whatever the case, Philip was intentionally, supernaturally led into the ambiguity of this eunuch’s life to lead him to Christ, possibly shattering the norms of who was and wasn’t accepted among the New Testament church. Sean D. Burke, Queering the Ethiopian Eunuch (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013).

17 Some of which Paul broke (1 Cor. 10:23–30), causing one to wonder if the rules were put in place so that the majority of the Jews felt comfortable commingling with the Gentiles without breaking their own cultural customs.

18 Ceslas Spicq and James D. Ernest, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 3:265. Quoting the translation of E. Osty, “Pour une traduction plus fidèle du N. T.,” in Ecole de langues orientales anciennes: Mémorial du Cinquantenaire, Paris, 1964, p. 82: “c’est de la crotte.” Paul’s language is amplified here to drive his point home with shock value. (Michael S. Heiser, The Bible Unfiltered: Approaching Scripture on Its Own Terms (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017) 196). Paul also gets mad about this subject in Galatians 1:6–10 as well.

19 Tim Mackie and John Collins, “One Family Once More,” produced by Dan Gummel, The Bible Project, January 25, 2021, podcast, 13:40,

20 Christopher Zoccali, Reading Philippians after Supersessionism: Jews, Gentiles, and Covenant Identity (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017) Kindle Edition, Location 243.

21 For more on this topic, see Matthew W. Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017).

22 N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, (HarperCollins e-books), 132-133. Kindle Edition. 

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