Bishop N.T. Wright is the Bishop of Durham in the Church of England. He is considered one of the world’s foremost theologians. Last night he was interviewed by Martin Bashir on ABC’s Nightline program about his new book “Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church,” in which he gave his perspective on death and what heaven is like. Borrowing a Niblyism, Latter-day Saints will “hear the ringing of familiar bells” in what Bishop Wright has to say.
Many Christians believe that when we die that we will go to heaven in the spirit, leave behind this world of ours, and there will sing praises to God for eternity. Bishop Wright says that this view of death and heaven is wrong, and that Christians have been confused about this for centuries. The terrible question, “What will happen to me after I die?” still baffles people and leaves them scouring for the truth.
Bishop Wright explains that we are not ultimately destined for heaven, but that God will “remake our physical bodies and return us to a newly restored planet.” Heaven is a “temporary holding pattern.” In the end, “heaven and earth will join together.” He says that “God will rebuild and restore the universe to its form of physical perfection.” We are not going to “leave behind the world of space, time, and matter.”
The Nightline program seemed to suggest that Bishop Wright rejects the concept of rapture, and the burning of the earth in the last days. Fortunately, the restored gospel has revealed all of these doctrines and principles anew in this dispensation of the fulness of times.
Latter-day Saints believe that this earth will ultimately become heaven:
We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory. ((Article of Faith 10))
We believe that the earth is undergoing a type of life cycle similar to man’s. It was born (creation) in a paradisiacal state, fell spiritually and physically from God’s presence because of man’s transgression, was baptized by the great flood, will grow old and die (the heavens and earth will literally “pass away”), it will physically and spiritually return to the presence of God, and the earth will be resurrected to perfection and receive a celestial glory. The earth will become heaven or the dwelling place for those who receive a celestial glory who lived upon it. All these principles were restored by the prophet Joseph Smith, and are taught today in the temple, the House of the Lord.
We also believe in a physical resurrection, that all men and women who have lived upon this earth will receive a perfected physical body again. However, we still believe in a form of rapture and a burning of the earth. We don’t reject these. When Christ comes, the righteous will be caught up to meet the Lord in the heavens and will come with Him in the clouds of glory. At that time the earth will be burned, literally consumed and purified, for those who will live upon it during the millenium.
Elder McConkie one wrote,
Of all the resurrections that ever have been or ever will be upon this earth, the most glorious-the one that transcends all others in power, grandeur, and might-will be the resurrection that attends the return of the Lord Jesus. He will come with ten thousands of his saints, all of them resurrected persons from ages past. He will call forth from their graves and from the watery deep ten thousands of his other saints, all of them righteous persons who have lived since his mortal ministry. Those among his saints on earth who are faithful will be caught up to meet him in the clouds of glory, and they will then return to earth with him to live out their appointed days on the new earth with its new heavens. ((Millenial Messiah: The Second Coming and the Resurrection, 627))
Doctrine and Covenants teaches us,
Q. What is the sea of glass spoken of by John, 4th chapter, and 6th verse of the Revelation?
A. It is the earth, in its sanctified, immortal, and eternal state. ((D&C 77:1-2))
The angels do not reside on a planet like this earth;
But they reside in the presence of God, on a globe like a sea of glass and fire, where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord.
The place where God resides is a great Urim and Thummim.
This earth, in its sanctified and immortal state, will be made like unto crystal and will be a Urim and Thummim to the inhabitants who dwell thereon, whereby all things pertaining to an inferior kingdom, or all kingdoms of a lower order, will be manifest to those who dwell on it; and this earth will be Christ’s. ((D&C 130:6-9))