Spong loves to speak in a denigrating fashion about the ancients and their three-tiered universe. Fortunately we have a real Anglican scholar and intellectual to look to as Spong continues to promote his personal pseudo-intellectualism. From The Kibitzer via TitusOneNine:
N.T. Wright on the Ascension and Second Coming of Jesus.
In chapter seven of Surprised by Hope, “Jesus, Heaven, and New Creation,” N.T. Wright emphasizes that the ascension of Jesus, which he describes as a (until recently) relatively ignored doctrine, must be understood before we can properly understand the second coming.
The ascension thus speaks of the Jesus who remains truly human and hence in an important sense absent from us while in another equally important sense present to us in a new way. At this point the Holy Spirit and the sacraments become enormously important since they are precisely the means by which Jesus is present.
Additionally, early Christians were not, as is commonly assumed, bound to a three-tier vision of the universe, i.e., heaven, hell, and earth.
[W]hen the Bible speaks of heaven and earth it is not talking about two localities related to each other within the same space-time continuum or about a nonphysical world contrasted with a physical one but about two different kinds of what we call space, two different kinds of what we call matter, and also quite possibly (though this does not necessarily follow from the other two) two different kinds of what we call time.
So heaven and earth, understood in this way, are two dimensions of the same reality. They “interlock and intersect in a whole variety of ways even while they retain, for the moment at least, their separate identities and roles.” Combine this with the doctrine of the ascension and we do not have a Jesus who floats up into a heaven “up there” but disappears into a reality we cannot yet see. Because heaven and earth are not yet joined Jesus is physically absent from us. At the same time he is present with us through the Holy Spirit and the sacraments, linkages where the two realities meet in the present age.
Now that this is established he moves on to the question of the second coming in chapter eight, “When He Appears.” First, he says, Jesus never himself talked about his second coming. Here he appears to be advocating a form of partial preterism, though I’m not familiar enough with preterism to say this with certainty. The second coming was a doctrine worked out among the earliest Christians (before the time of Paul) as a conclusion drawn from the doctrines of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Wright defines parousia, the word used by Paul to describe the second coming, not as “coming,” but as “presence.” The word was in common use as meaning either the “mysterious presence of a god” or the visit of a person of high rank – like the emperor – to a subject state; it is obvious why Paul would have used the word to describe the second coming.
This “presence” then does not mean that Jesus is going to literally descend from the heaven “up there” at his coming. Since heaven and earth are both two dimensions of the same reality what the second coming means is that those two dimensions will be joined – think of the New Jerusalem of Rev. 21 - and Jesus will be truly present with us. And this appearance will make all things new.
There will come a time, which might indeed come at any time, when, in the great renewal of the world that Easter itself foreshadowed, Jesus himself will be personally present and will be the agent and model of the transformation that will happen both to the whole world and also to believers.