Sunday, March 08, 2015

S11. God will restore the world and we will enjoy him forever.

This is now the eleventh and final post in a unit on salvation in my ongoing series, theology in bullet points. The first section had to do with God and Creation, and I have also finished units on Christology and Atonement.
God will restore the world and we will enjoy him forever.

1. "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." Life that never ends is the destiny of those whose sins are atoned for by the blood of Christ.

It is the promise of Scripture for believers in Christ that "we will be with the Lord forever" (1 Thess. 4:17). In the resurrection, Jesus has already done the work to destroy death and, after the resurrection takes place and all the dead are appropriately judged, there will be no more death (1 Cor. 15:26). "This perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality" (15:53). So believers, in their resurrection bodies, will be immortal. [1]

2. We do not know a lot of the details of eternity. But we know that "God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away" (Rev. 21:3-4). There are some who picture this eternity as boring, given the way it has been presented to them, but we should dismiss such a thought not only as foolish but impossible.

What we know is that eternity will be far more fantastic than anything we have ever experienced in this life, and it will be neverendingly so. No doubt the first moment with God would make us feel exceedingly stupid for even having such a thought. We cannot even imagine the joy, pleasure, and awesomeness of eternity.

We can imagine that there will be greater activity in heaven than there is on earth, not the boredom of a nursing home. We can imagine that there will be things to learn in heaven--will we not have the whole, redeemed universe at our disposal to explore and more? Will there not be challenges in eternity, as God gave Adam a challenge in the Garden of Eden? There may not be sex (Mark 12:25), but no doubt there will be unimaginably better things. [2]

There will be complete equality in the kingdom. Women will not be given in marriage to men (Mark 12:25), which implies that there will be no subordination of wives to husband as was the norm of the cultures at the time of the Bible's writing. Since we are now in the age of the Spirit (e.g., Acts 2:17), it would be foolish for us to perpetuate that earthly pattern now, since it is not the trajectory of the kingdom. Similarly, we should do all we can to eliminate slavery on earth, since it is contrary to the kingdom ideal.

3. We should probably take the millennium of Revelation 20 as symbolic of Christ's incipient reign now in the Church. This position is called amillennialism. The reason is that 1) Revelation is highly symbolic and 2) the idea is found nowhere else in Scripture. No core doctrine should really be based on an idea that only appears in one biblical text. Amillennialism does not take a position on how things will be in the time before Christ's return.

However, it is not heretical to hold to the two other interpretations of the millennium because this issue is not a central doctrine, let alone a matter of dogma. The postmillennial perspective tends to see the millennium as something that is a little more literal, referring to the present era of history since Christ, when the good news has increased and spread throughout the world. Postmillennial views tend to see the world becoming more and more Christian over time.

The premillennial view takes the millennium of Revelation 20 literally of a thousand year period after Christ's return and the first resurrection. As such, it does not see the final resurrection and judgment until after Christ's reign, and it would thus see the possibility of rebellion against God even after the judgment pictured in most of Revelation. Premillennialism tends to see the world as getting worse and worse before Christ's return.

Again, since Scripture is not clear on these things and Revelation is highly symbolic, this is not an issue over which Christians should fight. We will know how it is destined to play out after it plays out.

4. Another question has to do with the central location of eternity. After all, Hebrews pictures a removal of the created realm (Heb. 12:26-27). 2 Peter 3:10 says that "the elements will be dissolved with fire." Similarly, Jesus tells his followers in John that "if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14:3). This verse sounds like Jesus is preparing a place for them in heaven.

Again, since there are multiple verses that can be interpreted in different ways, the location of eternity should not be considered a matter of dogma. What is central is that we will have eternal life with Christ forever. However, the general consensus of Christian history and the dominant voice in Scripture suggests that eternity will be based on a restored earth.

So 2 Peter 3:13 goes on to say that "we wait for new heavens and a new earth." In other words, the destruction of the current elements is only in transition to a restored and renewed earth. Paul says in Romans 8 that the creation is yearning for its liberation "from its bondage to decay" (Rom. 8:21). As our bodies will be transformed into resurrection bodies, so the creation will be transformed into a new creation.

The kingdom of God will thus most likely be on earth. Jesus pictures this sort of a kingdom when he speaks of people coming from east and west and north and south to feast in the kingdom (Luke 13:29). Since Revelation 21 has the support of the rest of the New Testament, we might take its New Jerusalem as more literal than some other figures in the book.

To what then does John 14 refer? Perhaps reading the New Testament theologically we might think of the place Jesus went to prepare in heaven as a place for temporary dwelling in heaven prior to the full arrival of the kingdom of God. [3] It is hard to know whether to take the details of Revelation 21 literally, but it is always possible that the dwelling Christ prepared is in the new Jerusalem that will come down to earth.

5. The kingdom of God was inaugurated when Christ rose from the dead. Jesus brought it near when he came to earth, when he began his earthly ministry (e.g., Mark 1:15). His death made it possible and his resurrection brought his heavenly enthronement, the true commencement of his reign. His reign at this time is both "now and not yet." It has commenced. It is here. But it is not fully here yet.

When Christ returns, God will bring final salvation. He will eliminate evil and evil humanity. He will "save," free the creation from its bondage to decay. He will restore humanity and the creation to its intended glory. Christ "will reign for ever and ever" (Rev. 11:15). [4] This is the fullness of the kingdom of God, forever on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10).

Next Sunday: Sp1. The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son."

[1] Again, the Bible does not teach that our immortal souls live forever but that our immortal bodies will live for ever. This is not our current body, but the body of our resurrection (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:44).

[2] There is no basis for the sentiment sometimes heard that we will not know our spouses in the kingdom of God. This passage merely says that there will be no marriage. Indeed, we have no way of knowing whether our resurrection bodies will even distinguish gender.

[3] By reading the Bible "theologically" I mean reading it beyond the original intentions of its authors but from a later Christian point of view that synthesizes the original words of Scripture in the light of the later clarifications the Spirit made in the Church.

[4] There is some tension between this statement in Revelation 11:15 and what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:28. The consensus of Christian history, however, sees all three--God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--reigning forever.

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