Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matt.19:28)
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Col.1:19-20)
No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. (Rev.22:3)
When we think about the cross there is a danger that we reduce the extent of its work to a few human shaped and sized bits of creation. We often see the good news of the Gospel as God saving people. He does, and that is indeed glorious good news. But it is by no means the entirety of the good news. The reality is that through the cross, God is at work to implement a much more epic vision of the future. His will and purpose is to unite all things in heaven and in earth under the glorious reign of His Son, Jesus Christ (Eph.1:10). Redemption is a truly cosmic reality. We’ll need to spend a whole term just on this later.
When the Scriptures paint a picture for us of the new heavens and the new earth, it incorporates not just the saints made perfect, resurrected and renewed in their likeness to the Son (Heb.12:23, I John 3:1-3), but envisages the renewal and rebirth of the entire creation. The Gospel doesn’t just reconcile us to God through Christ, but it liberates all of creation from its bondage to decay, and brings it into the freedom and glory of the children of God (Rom.8:21). All creation shares the Christian hope. The Bible anticipates the renewal of social, animal and plant life of earth… a totally redeemed ecology, that provides the sanctuary in which the marriage of Christ and His bride can be fully and finally realised.
Which is to say that this creation has a future. We need to think carefully about this, and I suggest we start by focussing on the only bit of the physical New Creation future that is already in existence: the resurrection body of Christ. This gives us a sense of both the continuity and discontinuity between the creation in this age, and in the one to come.
At one level there is a profound continuity between the body of Jesus before and after His resurrection. It is the same body that He took in the Incarnation, made from the dust of this creation. Christ doesn’t create a new and different body for His New Creation life. He returns to the tomb to claim His body from it. And yet it is profoundly different, transformed. There are times when Jesus is no longer recognisable even to those who had been closest to Him. It has properties and abilities that we can barely visualise, let alone understand. It would be as well to acknowledge that the glorified biology, chemistry and physics of the New Creation life are probably a little beyond our ability to grasp at the moment. But that isn’t to say we can’t know anything about creation’s future. In terms of our own resurrection future, meditating on I Cor.15:35-58 might be a good place to start.
The body of Christ is the first-fruits of the New Creation (I Cor.15:20-28). The same tension between continuity and discontinuity will characterise all of creation in its resurrection. It will go through the ravages of death; it will be purified, having all vestiges of the curse stripped from it, all scarring of sin, all shadow of death and decay. The structures of evil that are so deeply embedded will be utterly dismantled, and creation itself will endure a cosmic destruction. In the same way as our bodies are destroyed in death, creation is destroyed, laid bare (II Pet.3:10). Like a garment taken off to be washed, it is cleansed and changed (Heb.1:11-12). It is hard to overestimate the work of renewal that needs to be done, the cataclysmic dislocation between the ages. For us this world is normal. We are so accustomed to sin and death, sorrow and decay. We may not like the cruelty and brutality of this world, but neither have we known anything different. But the LORD God knows this isn’t ‘normal’. He knows that there is a different life, a life without death, or mourning, or crying or pain. He knows that everything needs to be made new. This whole order of things needs to be done away with (Rev.21:1). Like a phoenix that dies its fiery death only to be re-born from the ashes, so the creation, consumed by the illimitable glory of the returning Christ, rises renewed to be again the dwelling place of God with His people. What began in darkness, finishes in light.
Why do you think we spend so much time and energy thinking about our origins (e.g. discussions about age of the earth, evolution, historicity of the Genesis accounts), but so little time thinking about our destiny?
How should our vision of the renewal of the whole creation affect our relationship with that creation in this age?
How does our vision of the New Creation affect our attitude to problems, sacrifices and sufferings in this age?
How does it shape our attitude to discipleship generally?
Read Revelation 21:1 – 22:5
Why do you think there is no sea in the New Creation (21:1)?
In 21:8 & 27 we are confronted with the reality of exclusion, judgement and the second death as part of the inauguration of the New Creation. How would you respond to someone who was concerned they wouldn’t be able to enjoy life in the New Creation if they knew there was a ‘hell’?
Why is there no night (21:25 & 22:5)?
What is the connection between the tree of life in 22:2, and the tree of life in Gen.3:9. What are we being taught?
Can you spot any other features of the New Creation that resonate with Eden?
…and anything that is new or different? Why do these differences occur?
What about features that resonate with other passages in the Old Testament, or with the teaching of Jesus?
What about this vision of the New Creation excites you the most? Why?
But 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. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.
II Peter 3:10-13
For Further Reflection:
We live in the overlap of the ages. Already the new Creation has come (II Cor.5:17). Already we have begun to experience the presence of God dwelling in the Church. ‘In Him, you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit’ (Eph.2:22). Already we can begin to live the resurrection New Creation life. But only begin to. We are still tied into this old, fallen creation. Our body is still under the reign of death (Rom.7:24). But soon…
Soon the Light, the radiance of the Father’s glory (Heb.1:3), will shine once more into the darkness of this world. The Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in His wings (Mal.4:2). Like a Bridegroom, a Champion, fighting back the darkness once and for all on behalf of his people, Christ will step back into the theatre of God’s glory. ‘Wake up O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you’ (Eph.5:14). The darkness will be separated, banished, never to return.
Many will not want to rise to face the wrath of the Lamb. They will cry out for creation to cover them, but it will not harbour them (Rev.6:16). Longing to be liberated finally from all remnant of the curse, it will drive them from itself to face Him who sits on the throne. The righteous too will rise. We were taken from the dust of the earth, we returned to the dust (Gen.3:19), and we will be raised from the dust, to share in the glorious future of the creation of which we are so joyfully a part; and to receive by grace from the second Adam, what we reached out for in the first Adam, but could never attain. We will be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.