Section 9: The End Times
Week 4: The New Heaven and the New Earth
Day 1: The Physical Nature of the New Creation
As we’ve noted before, many believers think of eternal life in spiritual/non-material terms. Eternal life is thought of as an ecstatic vision of God. We get to look upon God forever and we’re entranced by the sight of him. This is often referred to as the beatific vision, “an unbroken, unchanging contemplation of the infinite reality of God.”[i]
The pictures we have of eternal life with God, however, are much more concrete/physical in nature.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’…Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 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. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 21:3-5, 22:1-3).
The reference to the tree of life harkens back to the Genesis account of creation, only here the curse that came upon the earth because of Adam and Eve’s sin has been removed. As a result, the earth is now a place of abundant blessing. The picture is not one of God scrapping the present material universe in favor of a purely spiritual one, but of God restoring the material universe and removing the effects of sin.
This fits with the picture Paul gives us:
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:19-23).
This doesn’t mean we won’t get to see God. We will. But the experience won’t be a mystical sort of vision. Instead, it will be more like that of Adam of Eve in the beginning. Knowing God doesn’t consist of merely looking upon him and contemplating his goodness and beauty, but rather living life with him and experiencing his goodness and beauty.
Read Rev. 21-22.
Are you discouraged or excited by the fact that the new creation will be a physical/material one? Why do you think you feel that way?
[i] Craig A. Blaising, “Premillennialism” in Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond, ed. Stanley N. Gundry and Darrell L. Bock, Grand Rapids: Zondervan (1999), 162.