Back to the Future

Over the past several weeks, the Gospel Project lessons in our community group settings have been overtly future-oriented. No, we are not studying the exact timing of the return, nor the details of the millennium. Actually, we’re taking a look at the doctrine of the Church. So, why the future-emphasis?

            Recently, the pastoral staff had the opportunity to attend the Gospel Coalition national conference in Orlando (click the link to access all conference media). The theme of the conference was “Coming Home: New Heaven & New Earth.” Over the three-day conference, we were all so encouraged by this renewed emphasis on our final home and this doctrine’s power to drive us to holiness even now. Often, Christians (even pastors) can get so caught in the weeds of things like millennial views and beliefs about the rapture that we can lose focus on the wonder of God’s final act in redemption. For this reason, there are three things about this glorious and final home that we’d like to draw your attention to. Note that these will largely be taken from the themes of Revelation 21 & 22, which describe the final and consummate state to be enjoyed by the redeemed of God in Christ.

1.    All things will be made new.

There are many biblical texts which speak to the newness of this final state, and not all of them are in the New Testament. For example, Isaiah describes one aspect of the New Heavens and the New Earth like this:

            The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent's food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the LORD. (Isaiah 65:25 ESV)

Isaiah describes a place of harmony, in which all of God’s created order fulfills its God-glorifying potential.

Paul describes the arrival of the consummate state as bringing freedom to a creation once subjected to bondage (Romans 8:21). Peter speaks of the earth being refined by fire and exposed (found) by God (2 Peter 3:10).

And in Revelation 21, we read of the Lord himself saying:

            “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”(Revelation 21:5 ESV)

The Greek word καινός is often used to describe something that has qualitatively been made new (renewed) or transformed, as Paul uses it in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Here, Paul doesn’t mean that our physical bodies have been destroyed and re-made, but he certainly does mean that our state of redemption is so qualitatively different from the state of death in sin that we can rightly be described as new creatures.

Likewise, Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 15 that the perishable body must put on the imperishable, indicating some measure of continuity between our current bodies and our resurrection bodies in the New Heavens and New Earth. And this leads us to consider the pinnacle of God’s new creation at the consummation— redeemed humanity. Indeed, the rest of creation is awaiting our final state of glorification (Romans 8:19).

Christian, your moral state in the New Heavens and New Earth will be one of inability to sin. We will be like our Savior because we will see him as he is (1 John 3:2). He will transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body (Philippians 3). We will perfectly be able to enjoy his glory for all eternity. Sin’s curse will be reversed, and worship will be our eternal delight (Rev. 22:3-4). In light of this future newness, let us strive to live now as we one day will be.

2.         God will Dwell with Man.

The theme of God’s dwelling place is unmistakable throughout Scripture. God walked with Adam and Eve in Eden (Genesis 3:8), but because of their fall into sin, they were cast out from His presence (Genesis 3:23).

Throughout the Old Testament narrative of Israel’s history, God’s presence dwelt in special ways in the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-38), and later in the temple (2 Chronicles 5:14). However, even in these manifestations of God’s presence, it was always made clear that, ”man shall not see [God] and live.” (Exodus 33:20).

Ezekiel tells of his vision of God’s glory leaving the temple during the exilic period because of idolatrous worship (Ezekiel 10), and we are left at the end of Ezekiel’s prophecy with a vision of a renewed temple which is not fully realized, even in the rebuilding of Herod’s temple beginning around 18 B.C.

Enter Jesus, “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14). The Greek verb here for “dwelt” has the same root as the word for “tabernacle,” leading some to translate the text: “and the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” No matter the translation, John’s intent is clear. God is taking up residence with men. This of course brings to light the tension of the “already/not yet” which marks much of the New Testament, and specifically the theme of God’s dwelling place. For Jesus would dwell among men only for a short time, and then he would ascend, making way for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who is the seal and guarantee of our inheritance until we gain possession of it (Ephesians 1:13-14).

What is that inheritance? John calls it a “heritage” in Revelation 21:7 (same root used by Paul in Ephesians 1), and it is none other than the presence of God.

The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. (Revelation 21:7 ESV)

God became flesh and walked among men in order to purchase their redemption through his life, death, and resurrection. This redemption is already secured because of Christ’s tabernacling in his first coming, and in the New Heavens and the New Earth, it will be fully and finally consummated, for “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:22).

But Church, let us take note of how vital this theme is for our lives now!

            Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16 ESV)

     Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
(1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

      In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:22 ESV)

There are both individual and corporate implications for being called “a temple for God,” but here again, we see how this doctrine which is at least partially future compels us to live lives of holiness even now, as we anticipate that final Day.

3.         Christ will Reign in Glory

For those who have confessed “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9), there can be no greater hope than the Day when his reign will be supremely recognized. In the heavenly city pictured in Revelation 21 and 22, the good kings of the earth will bring their subordinate glory and lay it at the feet of the all-glorious Lamb who was slain (Rev 21:24). The gates of the city will not need to be closed because the Great King will exercise perfect rule, and no one would think to thwart him (v. 25). Nothing unclean will enter the city, and to those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life, unending worship of this Great King will be granted as their eternal joy (Rev. 22:4-5).

Wondrously, the last vision we have in the Scriptures is one of the future and final reign of our Great King. All enemies are defeated, sin no longer has any grip on us, and the scales will be removed from our eyes so that we will be able to see, savor, and bask in the unfading light of the glory of God in the face of King Jesus.

How ought this drive our submission to and worship of the King even now? The implication is obvious! We are even now invited to the table at which we will feast for all eternity! We have been given new desires and new tastes for his glory. Why should we turn back to drink from finite streams, when we have access to the stream of Life? By what should our worship be marked now? How about the song sung by myriads of angels,

             “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,

            to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might

            and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12 ESV)

Coming Home

So family, let us behave as sojourners here, for “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.(Philippians 3:20-21 ESV). On that Day, we shall finally come to that place where all things are made new, where God dwells with Man, and where the King reigns supreme. We will be home.