Death and Destiny…
Please note this is an abridged version of a 30 minute talk!
We have a deep instinct that this world can be, and should be better. At every level of our existence is the sense that we could (maybe even should) be able to improve, upgrade and renovate our experience of life. At our deepest level, we may be a stretching out for the New Creation…
When the Living God spoke creation into being, it was formless and empty, dark, and chaotic. Gen.1-2 is in fact the story of God’s bringing light to the darkness, order to the chaos, and fullness to the emptiness. This redemption is to be the foundational pattern of this creation. All of history is prefigured in this overture.
The chaos and darkness creeps back into creation after humanity joins with the ancient dragon and rebels against their Creator. But the Lord of Life and Light cannot legitimise what His creation has become. Humanity is exiled from Eden, and all creation is cursed. But as they turn their back on Life, the promise rings in their ears. A human will crush the head of the serpent. In this immense prophecy lies hidden the hope of restoration, and cosmic renovation. We inevitably minimise the extent of the cross, focussing so much on our own personal future, that we forget it forges the future of all creation (Col.1:19-20). The realisation of all He achieved in His own death and resurrection will only be implemented at Christ’s return, when all things are brought together under His glorious reign as our eternal Prince of Peace. The triumph of Christ will be the final driving out of the darkness and chaos, the sin and suffering; the revoking of the curse.
The hope of the Church is bound up with the inauguration of this full and manifest reign of Christ (Is.11:1-9). It is focussed on the renewal of all things, every level and aspect and dimension of creation, seen and unseen. It is the re-uniting of heaven and earth. Creation will no longer be ravaged by sin and violated by death, groaning under the curse and in bondage to decay.
The Bible envisages a deeply renewed ecology, that in turn becomes the arena for the full restoration of the relationship between humanity and their Creator. ‘God’s dwelling place is now among the people’ (Rev.21:3).
This renewal will involve devastating trauma and intense discontinuity for the very structures of creation (II Pet.3:7; Heb.1:10-12), but like our own resurrected bodies, there is also profound continuity. There will still be animals such as wolves and lambs, but their physiology and the relationship between them will be radically re-envisaged in a world without the curse (Is.65:25 etc.). Deserts become incredibly fertile; people live in security and undisturbed peace (Is.32:15-18). In our world of drought and displacement such a life is barely conceivable.
Indeed, we have grown so accustomed to surviving in this cursed world that we have lost any sense of its abnormality. But it is hard to overestimate the impact of the curse, and how unrecognisable our world is compared to the creation God originally declared to be good. We can barely imagine how satisfying and fulfilling work will be in the New Creation; or how deep our relationships with others will be when words are no longer weapons, but only build others up. We can hardly conceive what a truly just human society would look like, and yet we will be a part of administering precisely such a society (I Cor.6:1-3; Lk.19:19 etc.). What service might we be capable of in our powerful new resurrection bodies? The simple promise that ‘His servants will serve Him’ (Rev.22:3) is enough to bring tears to the eyes of Christians who have spent their whole lives stranded in the brutal ambiguity of a discipleship in this age. So often our service has been fickle, and desperately compromised, as complacent as it is contaminated. But in the New Creation, we will serve Him, wholeheartedly and consistently.
Can we dare to believe that we will not lose what we are, but will discover it more deeply? Only in the New Creation can we realise our full potential at every level of our being – from the most individual to the most corporate and cultural (Rev.21:23-26). Only in the New Creation can we finally see the face of our God, and know the fullness of His glorious presence. And such will be the weight of that glory that we will need our resurrection bodies to simply sustain existence.
No matter what we have been through now, no matter how bad, it will not be worth comparing to the wonder and joy of our New Creation life (II Cor.4:17-18; Rom.8:18). We may think we are too deeply wounded, too broken, too sinful, but as the sun rises on resurrection morning He will be there to make sense of it all, to wipe away every tear, and to heal every wound. The future will triumph over history. Then life can truly begin.
How compelling do you find the idea of the New Creation? Is it worth living for? ...or do you worry that it is a kind of escapism?
Read Col.1:19-20 again. Why do ‘things in heaven’ need to be reconciled to God? Why does there need to be a ‘new heaven’ as part of the new creation (Rev.21:1)?
What would you say to a child who asks whether their pet will go to heaven?
People sometimes say that they won’t be able to enjoy ‘heaven’ if they know there is a hell. How would you respond to a statement like that?
Reflecting on session 6
Read Isaiah 65:17-25. Does this resonate with your own thinking about what life in the New Creation will be like?
Do you think v.17 means that we won’t remember this age or the life we lived in it?
Why do you think a passage about the ‘new heavens and the new earth’ can speak about people dying?
What do make of the fact that there are people of different ages (including children) in this vision of the New Creation? And do you think Isaiah means when he writes of people bearing children, or having descendants (v.23), when Jesus says there is no marriage in the New Creation (Matt.22:30)?
Some of the same imagery is picked up in Revelation 21:1-5. In what ways does John’s vision differ from Isaiah’s?
Staying with the Book of Revelation… another classic (though cryptic) passage on the New Creation is found in Rev.22:1-5.
What do you think the connection is between the river in 22:1, and Jesus’ use of similar language in John 4:14? Likewise, 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?
What do you think ‘healing of the nations’ means?
Do you think the New Creation is a ‘going back’ to life as it was before the fall?
Further Reading (John 11:1-44):
Why do you think Martha objects to Jesus’ command to ‘Take away the stone’? Do you think Jesus is rebuking her in v.40? Do you think that is fair?
In what ways is vv.43-44 similar to what will happen in the resurrection at the end of the age, and in what ways is it different?
You might find it helpful to read Jn.5:28-30
How would Jesus’ prayer in v.41-42 benefit those who heard Him?
What do you think the Chief Priests hope to achieve by killing Lazarus (John 12:9-11)? How rational is their behaviour?
Homework: keep studying the Bible to build a clear vision of the New Creation!