KEY TEXT: Isaiah 25:6-9 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, "Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation."
KEY THOT: We are conditioned by a western theology that has been colored by Greek worldview. So much so that when we think of salvation, we think like the Greeks, not the Hebrews. Even in the NT which is largely written in Greek, the worldview presented by the Jewish apostles is essentially Hebrew, not Greek. The most obvious example is our concept of salvation. In this Isaiah passage God's salvation is described as a this-worldly victory over sin and death: "And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken" (v.7-8). For Isaiah, salvation will take place on planet earth: "It will be said on that day, 'Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation" (v.9). God's salvation in the Hebrew worldview is a this-worldly reality.
In contrast, salvation in the Greek worldview (espoused by Plato) is an escape from this world into the ideal world of non-materiality viz., "heaven". The physical world is a prison from which we seek salvation from - salvation is release of the soul from the sinful body into immortality of disembodied existence. However, the Hebrew worldview conceives of salvation as resurrection to a re-embodied existence with an immortal body: "For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?'" (1 Corinthians 15:53-55).
Even in the final chapters of Revelation in the NT, salvation is presented in the context of a new material reality of the new heaven and new earth: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." This passage echoes the Isaiah passage in Isaiah 25:8.
But because our theology has been so infused by Greek worldview that we may find it hard to reconcile our view of salvation with the one presented in today's Isaiah passage and even the NT texts about our future hope. At funerals, we hear about loved ones who died and "went to heaven" as though that is the final destination. Salvation is not "Your kingdom I go" but "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven". Salvation is earth renewed, sin, sickness and death banished forever as we are clothed with the new resurrection body that is immortal. There will be "a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food and marrow, of aged wine well defined." The salvation described here is clearly a world of materiality rather than non-material ideals.
When we die, our souls are with Christ in Paradise, but this is only a temporary abode. The saints who are now with Christ will one day return to dwell on the new earth, "coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband." The Great Wedding Banquet will be held on a renewed earth with a renewed heaven and Paradise as the new Eden will finally be restored on earth. This is the Hebrew vision of salvation--a renewed earth with re-embodied people. As Bishop Lesslie Newbigin observed: "“For a biblical writer, continued existence as a disembodied soul is not something to be desired but feared with loathing.”
May we proclaim a salvation that offers hope, not of an afterlife of the disembodied existence, but of a future "day" when our soul and body are reunited in resurrection life.
Abba-Father, thank You for the hope of salvation, where not only humans but also all Your creation is redeemed and renewed. Amen.