This train is bound for new creation
This post is a response to comments made by Chris regarding the mission of the church. I’m afraid I haven’t got time to answer this properly and may not be able to continue the conversation in the next couple of weeks, but I’ll attempt a brief summary of my argument.
The language of Abraham’s calling, repeated throughout Genesis, strongly suggests that he is conceived as the progenitor of a renewed creation, of a people for God’s own possession, multiplying and prospering in the land that God has given them, obedient to his law, with YHWH himself dwelling in their midst. This is a settled ideal - it is an approximation or reiteration of what creation was originally intended to be.
The failure of Israel to fulfil this calling resulted, first, in the loss of the land and then in a continuing state of ‘exile’ under pagan rule.
Jesus’ ‘mission’ was to save this covenant people from their sins, from the consequences of their persistent rebellion against YHWH. He did so by gathering around himself as the Son of man a community of disciples willing to travel the same narrow path of suffering that he would walk, which would bring them into the new age of the people of God, shaped by the Spirit and not by law, under the lordship of Christ rather than corrupt and pagan oppressors, dispersed throughout the world rather than confined to a contested corner of the Middle East.
My argument would be, therefore, that once the people of God has passed through the ordeal, the birthpangs, that mark the end of second temple Judaism under pagan oppression and the emergence of the ‘church’, we return to the overarching narrative about the renewal of creation. This is especially clear, I think, at the end of Revelation.
Of course, we never become settled and prosperous - we are a symbolic community that through its struggle to be new humanity, to cast off the old man and put on the new, always points ahead to a final hope of new heavens and new earth. But this is not quite the same as the hope of vindication in the face of suffering that was held out to the early church in the parousia motif. There is, to use your terminology, an ‘otherworldly existence’ for the disciples who suffer in Christ, as he suffered during that transitional period - to be lifted up, raised, vindicated at the parousia and reign with him throughout the age which has come. But what we now wait for is not heaven but resurrection from the dead as part of the remaking of the heavens and the earth.
So yes, I would argue that fellowship with God is normally and properly within the context of ‘creation’ - not in heaven. The resurrection of Jesus and of the suffering community that endured with him the birthpangs of the new age is, if you like, exceptional in that respect - it is the ‘reward’ or ‘crown’ offered to those who remain faithful to YHWH up to the point of death for the sake of the future of the people of God.