What We Believe: Concomitants of the Second Advent New Heaven and New Earth (III)

LIFE IN THE NEW CREATION

If there is substantial continuity between the present and new creation, then it follows that the life to come in the new creation will be as rich and full of activity in the service of the Lord as was intended at the beginning. Just as humankind was originally placed in God's creationtemple to fulfill a particular office and calling, so the new humanity, in union with Christ, the second Adam, will live in unceasing joy in the presence and service of God.

Though there is some danger of speculation in speaking too much of the life to come in the renewed creation, there are some indications provided us in the Scriptures of what that life will entail. These indications are often negative, denying to the life to come those features of life which are the result of sin and the curse of God. Nonetheless, the Scriptures do provide us something of a portrait of the splendor and beauty of life in the renewed creation.

THE BLESSINGS

The blessings of the life to come for the redeemed people of God will be a consummation of those blessings enjoyed already now in fellowship with Christ. These blessings represent the fruition of the work of redemption already experienced through the indwelling Spirit of Christ. However, in the life to come, these blessings will flower forth in the most beautiful manner. What believers now know and experience only in part, will then be theirs in fulness. Those who today can praise God that their “cup overflows” (Ps. 23) will, in the life to come, drink unendingly from the inexhaustible riches of their inheritance in Christ.

Among these blessings are such things as: perfection in holiness (Rev. 3:4,5; 7:14; 19:8; 21:27); the complete experience of the joy and benefit of adoption (Rom. 8:23); the fulness of salvation from sin (Rom. 13: 11; 1 Thess. 5:9; Heb 1:14; 5:9); unbroken and unbreakable fellowship with God and His Christ, together with all the saints (John 17:24; 2 Cor. 5:8; phil. 1:23; Rev. 21:3; 22:
3); conformity to Christ (Rom. 8:29; 1 John 3:2; Rev. 22:4); eternal life (Matt. 19:16,29); and the glory of full redemption (Luke 24:36; Rom. 2:10; Rom. 8:18,21; 2 Thess. 1:10).1 Believers who presently bless God for “every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph. 1:3), will enter into the perfection of these blessings in the life to come. Every vestige and remainder of sin will be utterly expunged. Every obstacle to fellowship with the Triune God will be removed. No impediment or weight of sin will stand in the way of whole-hearted communion and love for God.

Consistent with the completion of the sanctifying work of the Spirit and the enjoyment of the fulness of every spiritual blessing, believers will also enjoy the blessings of freedom from every effect of the curse. Life within the renewed creation will be freed from culpable ignorance and error (John 6:45). from the fear and reality of death (Heb. 2:15; 1 Cor. 15:26; Rev. 2:11; 20:6,14). from every form of futility and frustration, from sickness and affliction, from hunger and thirst, cold and heat (Matt. 5:4; Luke 6:21; Rev. 7:16,17; 21:4). and from all weakness, dishonor and corruption (1 Cor. 15:42). Believers will stand in the glory of resurrection bodies in the presence of God and all His people, unbowed by the burden of sin's devastation. The God who forgives all the sins of His people, who heals all their diseases (Ps. 103:3), will renew the youth and strength of His people. Believers will know what it is “to take up wings like eagles” and experience the exhilaration of never growing weary in well doing.

Even though the language is negative, telling us more about what will not characterize the life to come, the vision of John in Revelation 21:1–4 stirs the hearts of God's people in their anxious longing:

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And 1 heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, and he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain: the first things have passed away.2

Surely no one can adequately describe all that this stirring vision promises God's people. No child of God, however, who has felt deeply the pain and brokenness of sin and the curse—in sinful indifference to God and others, broken relationships, the terror of crippling disease, the boredom and barrenness of life without God, the injustice among people and nations, and so much more can read these words without being stirred. For they fan into flame an eagerness and longing, like that of a little child who waits expectantly, even impatiently, for the fulfillment of a parent’s promise.

One of the blessings of the life to come that may not go unnoticed in the Scriptures is the blessing of communion or fellowship. Though we will have occasion in what follows to focus upon the epitome of this communion—namely, communion with the living God, dwelling in His presence and looking upon His face—here I would only focus upon the communion that will obtain, among the people of God. Unlike hell that is a place of utter isolation, separation from God and others3, life in the new creation will be marked by friendship and love, perfect fellowship with God and those who belong to Him. Though some might be tempted to regard the cessation of marriage to be loss, the beauty of the marriage relationship, of self-denying love between a man and a woman, will be surpassed by the beauty of the marriage between Christ, the bridegroom, and the church, His bride. Whatever loss of brothers, sisters and loved ones that loyalty to Christ may bring in this life, will be overmatched by an increase of spiritual brothers and sisters, not only in this life, but also and most especially in the life to come (Mark 10:29,30; Matt. 12:50; Heb. 12:22–24). No words can adaquately express what it will be like, when all of God’s people will dwell together in the most perfect friendship. No petty jealousies, no envying for supremacy over others, no bitterness over the good that comes to others—these marks of sinful hostility will be vanquished and be replaced with perfect joy in one another. When the Psalmist exults, “How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity” (Ps. 133:1), he leads the people of God in singing of what someday will be their experience. The second table experience. The second table of the law will be fulfilled, when all of God’s people dwell together in the most intimate and rich communion. The sinful brokenness and division that so often mar the beauty of Christ’s bride, the church, in this present age, will give way to the glory for which Christ prayed, when He asked the Father for the oneness of His people, even as He and the Father were one (John 17:21 ).

One question that sometimes surfaces regarding the blessings of the life to come is whether they will include the creaturely pleasures of life in the body as we presently experience them. Though the Scriptures plainly teach that in the kingdom of heaven they will neither marry nor be given in marriage, they nonetheless use imagery that suggests that many of the ordinary pleasures of life in the body will characterize life in the new creation. Some of the most common imagery describing the life to come speaks of the saints eating and drinking, enjoying table fellowship with God and others. In the prophetic descriptions of the Old Testament, life in the new heavens and earth is depicted as a rich banquet, lavishly furnished with the best of foods. Isaiah, for example, pictures the day of redemption as one in which “the Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; a banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, and refined, aged wine” (25:6). This picture is drawn in the context of language that clearly refers to the final state when “the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces, and He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth” (v. 8). Jesus, on the occasion of the institution of the Lord’s supper, spoke of the time when He would drink anew with His disciples from the fruit of the vine in the kingdom (Matt. 26:29). Revelation 19:9 speaks of the coming “marriage feast of the Lamb.” We also are told in the gospels that Christ, after His resurrection, not only appeared to His disciples but enjoyed eating and drinking with them (Luke 24:43; John 21:9–14). Do these descriptions support the conclusion that life in the new creation, then, will include also the creaturely pleasures of eating and drinking and the like?

Though many might be inclined to deny this outright, it might be that this denial is borne out of an overly spiritualized view of the final state. If, as we have argued, life in the new creation will be in substantial continuity with life in the present creation, then there is no reason that this might not be the case.4 Just as our eating and drinking today is to be done to God’s glory (1 Cor.10:31), so it may well be in the new heavens and earth that the blessings of food and drink, sanctified through the Word of God and prayer (I Tim. 4:5), will be the occasion for worshiping and serving the living God. Perhaps it is wise not to be too dogmatic on this question, one way or the other. Nevertheless, life in the new creation will undoubtedly be like a rich banquet, at which the saints of God will sit down together and enjoy the richest of foods. The joy and happiness that we have known in this life, on the occasion of the wedding of a man and woman, is but a foretaste of the joy and happiness that will be ours when Christ receives His bride on their wedding day. The wine Christ served at the wedding of Kana is surely a foretaste of that best of wines that He will furnish on that day.

FOOTNOTES

1. I am indebted here to the discussion of Bavinck, The Last Things, 161. Bavinck cites many more passages from Scripture for these manifold blessings.

2. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, 280, observes that, in this passage and 2 Peter 3: 13, the Greek term used for "new" is kainos rather than neos, a term meaning new in nature or in quality. This is consistent with the idea that the new creation is "not the emergence of a cosmos totally other than the present one, but the creation of a universe which, though it has been gloriously renewed, stands in continuity with the present one."

3. Cf C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York: Macmillan, 1946), 8–9. Lewis, in his imaginative portrayal of hell, describes a place whose streets are empty and whose residents live at an impossible distance from each other-otherwise they would only quarrel!

4. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, 252, appeals to I Corinthians 6:13 (“Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food; but God will do away with both of them”) to support the claim that "the digestive functions of the body will no longer be necessary in the life to come. Hoekema may be correct in his conclusion, but 1doubt that this text, in its context, can bear the weight he places upon it.

Dr. Venema teaches Doctrinal Studies at Mid~America Seminary in Dyer, IN.

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