Wednesday, March 05, 2014

A New Heaven and New Earth

(Part of a series on death and the hereafter)

Most cultures have a belief in the afterlife, but our contemporary culture has more than ever lost any real vision for heaven. John Lennon urged people to imagine there is no heaven. The Christian music group MercyMe even says, “I can only imagine,” underscoring the deep need for the teaching of a living, powerful, Biblical, and passionate doctrine of heaven.We have lost sight of the wonder and glory of heaven, and we cannot imagine life much better than we have it here. 

We in the West have a joyless view of heaven. Perhaps we have lost the sense of the transcendence of God and therefore heaven. Perhaps we are so self-absorbed and wealthy in the West that we honestly cannot imagine
a world any better than this one in which we imagine ourselves the center. Perhaps Satan is behind our lack of appreciation for heaven, or perhaps we think heaven is so different from earth that we cannot know very much about it anyway. Isaiah 57 teaches us that those who die young are not to be pitied! They have been spared evil and sorrow in this live. Heaven, by the way, is not a consolation prize for long life. 

C.S. Lewis said that while reason is the organ of truth, imagination is the faculty that helps us grasp meaning. Certainly understanding heaven stretches the limits of our minds, and the Apostle John in writing The Revelation found that describing heaven taxed the human language. “God created the  heavens and the earth” speaks of transcendence (heaven, what is beyond us) and immanence (earth, what is near us.) The Preacher of Ecclesiastes wrote that God has set eternity in our hearts, but we cannot fathom what God has done (Eccles. 3:11). By neglecting the doctrine of heaven, we lose the sense that life here on earth is incomplete by itself. There is something, or rather Someone beyond us.

The word heaven is used four different ways in Scripture: (1) as part of the universe (Gen. 1:1), (2) as a synonym for God (Luke 15:21), (3) as the habitation of God (2 Chron 7:14; Psalm 2:4; Eccles 5:2), and (4) as our final and eternal home (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; Rom 8:19-23; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev 21:1). The present, intermediate heaven is where we go when we die in Jesus. The eternal Heaven is the new creation after the final consummation of all things (Rev. 21:3). That eternal Heaven is the subject of the discussion in Revelation 21-22.

Will the New Heaven and New Earth be totally new or renewed? There is a difference of opinion whether the New Heaven and New Earth will be a totally new creation from scratch or whether the Lord will purify and restore this fallen creation. The tone of 2 Peter 3:10-12 seems to point to total destruction of this creation and the replacement with a completely new one. Others see 2 Peter 3 as totally destroying only all that is stained and evil in this world to prepare for the restoration and renewal of this creation. Reasons? 
(1) A New Kind: The word used for new in 2 Peter 3:13 and Rev. 21:1 is kainos (a new kind) instead of neos (new in time). If the creation was new in time it would not previously have existed. 
(2) Redemption from Corruption: Romans 8:19-23 promises nature the freedom of corruption. The language seems to fit eternity rather than the millennium. 
(3) Goodness of God’s Creation: God’s Creation was “good” when it was made. God made us as creatures with bodies which were very good. Since those will be bodily resurrected, it makes sense that God will vindicate the goodness of his creation by restoring it. 
(4) Destruction = Satanic Victory? If Creation is at the end destroyed, doesn’t that give Satan a victory that he destroyed something God created?

Peter preached that Christ will come to “restore all things” (Acts 3:21). The prophetess Anna in the Temple saw the baby Jesus as the One who would redeem the city of Jerusalem (Luke 2:36-38). Jesus pointed to the “renewal of all things,” (Matt. 19:27-28), and he says in Rev. 21:5, “Behold, I make all things new.” The earth we know will come to an end, but not to a final end. Revelation 21:1 says that old earth will pass away, but when people pass away, they still exist. As we will be raised to new persons, so the earth will be raised to a New Earth. Still, some believe that 2 Peter 3:10-12 teaches that this old world must go and a new one must be created out of nothing. However it happens, we do know that heaven will not be on a cloud with a harp, thank goodness, it will be in a creation something like this one, but freed from all the corruption of sin – a kind of New Eden.

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