From All Things New
Many people have the vague but ominous idea that God destroys the current reality and creates a new “Heavenly” one. But that is not what scripture actually says.
For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. (Romans 8:19-23)
Paul teaches us that creation – meaning the Earth and the animal kingdom – longs for the day of its redemption, when “it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay,” (v. 21). Clearly that does not imply destruction; far from it. Paul anticipated a joyful day when creation shares in the eternity of the children of God:
The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. (Romans 8:19-21)
The glorious times ahead, when all things are made new.
Now, yes – there are some ominous passages about the end of this age. Peter gives us one of the definitive texts:
Long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the Earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and Earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the Earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. (2 Peter 3:5-7, 10)
Fiery words, to be sure, filled with images on par with the best of Hollywood’s “end of the world” movies. But let’s examine this carefully. First off, Peter points to the Flood of Noah’s day as the image for the end of the age: “By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed,” (v. 6). Therefore, we can be confident he does not mean annihilated, vaporized like the Death Star, for the very obvious reason that the Earth was not destroyed by the Flood – it is still right here where it’s always been. You’ve been living on it all your life. The Flood cleansed the Earth, renewed it. Noah and his family stepped out of the ark onto a restored Earth, to begin again.
Peter then turns from water to fire as the element by which the Earth we love is scoured. Fire is also used for cleansing throughout the scriptures; you recall that Paul said our life’s work will be tested in the fire, like gold. The good remains; only the dross is burned away, (1 Corinthians 3:13-15).
Remember now – it was Peter who asked Jesus the question back in Matthew 19 that our Lord responded to by announcing the “renewal of all things.” Peter was right there; he heard his Master say it. And so he concludes his passage on the end of the age with these words:
But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new Heaven and a new Earth, where righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:13)
For too long Christians have misunderstood their destiny. We have thought we would leave the Earth we love and go up to an ethereal “Heaven” somewhere. Not so. Dallas Willard was one of the most brilliant and influential Christian leaders and thinkers of the twentieth century. He spent a great deal of effort helping his readers understand the gospel of Jesus, which centers around this very truth:
The life we now have as the persons we now are will continue, and continue in the universe in which we now exist. Our experience will be much clearer, richer, and deeper, of course, rooted in the broader and more fundamental reality of God’s kingdom and will accordingly have far greater scope and power.
The “you” that you are and the world we inhabit will continue. Scholar and theologian N. T. Wright has written a great deal on this matter; he assures us that the early Christians “believed that God was going to do for the whole cosmos what he had done for Jesus at Easter.” Peter picked up the theme of the palingenesia in Acts, declaring the Renewal the Jews had long anticipated, only now made clear and possible through Jesus Christ. In one of his famous sermons he declared exactly what his Lord taught him:
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you – even Jesus. Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. (Acts 3:19-21)
Jesus is in Heaven until the Promised Day when God will “restore everything,” or “until the time for the final restoration of all things.” The Greek word used here for “restore” is another stunning word: apokatastasis, which in both Biblical and secular usage meant to put something back in its original condition. The verb form is used in Mark 3:1-6 when Jesus heals a man’s withered hand (demonstrating restoration). Peter is both reaffirming and elaborating upon a long-held Jewish conviction that the Messiah will return things “to their original state, the universal renewal of the world which reestablishes the original integrity of creation.” Thus, Wright argues that “it is not we who go to Heaven, it is Heaven that comes to Earth, the final answer to the Lord’s prayer, that God’s kingdom will come and his will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.”
Breathtaking. How is it I have missed this all my life? And I know I’m not alone.
Nirvana, “total nonexistence,” as the Buddhist hopes, or “everlasting tranquility of death,” as Hindus expect, is as unimpressive as the false Christian belief in the total destruction of creation. Annihilation is not nearly as impressive as redemption.
When we begin to unpack the teaching of Jesus and his disciples in light of the Jewish expectation – dramatically illustrated by miracles performed by Jesus like giving the blind their sight and raising the dead – the light of the Great Renewal begins to break through the darkness in which we have long dwelt. God does not merely scrap creation and our intended roles along with it. He restores everything.
I know, I know – it’s a lot to take in. This is a total reframing for most of us, even though it has been right there in the scriptures for centuries. Take a moment; though it has been right there in the scriptures for centuries. Take a moment; take a deep breath. Get a glass of water if you need to, or something stronger. You’ve just been told your future is “the restoration of all things,” real things, the restoration of everything you love.
No wonder it begins with a glorious feast of celebration! “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (Revelation 19:9). This wedding reception is also foreshadowed in the Jewish expectation of the coming kingdom:
On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the Earth.
Perhaps this was what I saw in my dream.
There is a wonderful, tangible depiction of this feast in the book and film The Fellowship of the Ring. Bilbo Baggins is celebrating his 111th birthday with an extravagant celebration he throws at his own generous expense. It takes place on a late-summer evening; the countryside is in full bloom. Lantern are hanging in the trees. Fireworks are going off over an outdoor party – picnic tables, a dance floor, pavilion, live music, laughter, celebration. An entire community is having the time of their lives. When our eldest son, Sam, was getting married and planning the reception, he said, “I want Bilbo’s party.” Don’t you? The joy, ease, companionship, the lightheartedness of it; there is no clock ticking, no curfew, nobody’s going to call the police – it just gets to go on and on.
Jesus is personally looking forward to this celebration immensely: “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the Kingdom of God,” (Marks 14:25). Jesus assumes a day is coming when very real things like drinking wine together will take place in the Kingdom of God. When all things are made new.
We have many chapters before us to unpack what the renewal of all things will mean for us, and some unpacking it needs. What about Heaven? What is included in “all things”? Does everyone participate? Are we getting close to its arrival? Our imaginations are impoverished and need a good bit of resuscitation. But for now, let us pause and allow this to begin to seep into our being: God promises the renewal of all things. He promises to make all things new.