Saturday, 23 July 2011

A New Heaven and a New Earth

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth..."

[See Ezekiel 40-48, which provides a background for this passage, though it is pretty long]

Many commentators have simply assumed that the "new heaven and the new earth" referred to in John's apocalypse is a description of the state of the world after the second coming of Christ. I'm not convinced that this is the only meaning of the passage. The language of a "new heaven and earth" is clearly borrowed from Isaiah 65-66, which is referring to a new social order - one in which all nations will worship the God of Israel, but where death will still exist. So it can't simply be a depiction of the eternal state. Rather, it seems to me that the passage is also about the church age prior to the consummation.

"The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it".
(Rev 21:24-26)

If the new Jerusalem represents the church, then what does it mean to say that the kings of the earth bring their glory into her after the second coming? After Jesus's return, there will only be the church!

"On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations."
(Rev 22:2)

Will there be any need for healing in the eternal state? I would certainly hope not! Then why is fruit provided for the healing of the nations? Even if this is understood to mean some kind of spiritual healing, you still have the same problem.

"Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city...
...The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost."
(Rev 22:14,17)

Will there be any need for outsiders to wash their robes through the waters of baptism or for the Spirit filled city-bride to woo outsiders in, offering them the water of life without cost, after Christ has returned?

Now I shall outline some possible objections to this approach and try to resolve them.

Firstly, the language in some parts of the passage seems too perfect. 21:4 suggests that there will be no death, pain or suffering and 22:3 suggests that there will be no more curse.

I would suggest, in response, that all of these are present spiritual realities. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus has abolished the curse of death and is the resurrection and the life. This is not to rule out a total destruction of death at the second coming, as has already been depicted in 20:14.

Secondly, there will be no sea (21:1) or sun (21:23 & 22:5). How can this be?

The 'sea' represents the hostility of the gentile world under the Old Covenant. With the inauguration of a New Covenant, the world has now been made into fit territory for the people of God. Indeed, "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea." (Habakkuk 2:14)

The lack of a sun is a figurative depiction of the way in which Christians trust in what they cannot see, rather than in what they can. The glory-light of the church is the Holy Spirit, who provided the world with light for the first three days of creation.

So, with a new creation already inaugurated and with the nations as the church's inheritance, things can only get better!

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