Anticipating the New Heavens and New Earth pt. 4
The portion of our readership reading this who has experienced the pains, the joys, the fears, and the hopes of childbirth will understand this point more deeply and intimately than the rest of us. For myself, I can, at best, venture to guess based on what I’ve seen. Otherwise, I am totally reliant on what Jordan tells me. Yet for all the fears and anxiety that accompany the thought of childbirth, which I can never fully understand, fears and anxieties that might make some(all?) women wish to delay it or avoid it at some level, there’s one thing I can know beyond a shadow of a doubt; Once the labor pains hit, the child cannot come quickly enough. Probably never in the history of the world has a woman said, “Can we make sure this takes longer? I think I’d like to push for another few hours.” Probably… Okay, so maybe there was one exception and if you haven’t heard the story of how I missed our oldest child’s birth and you need a laugh, let’s get a cup of coffee sometime. But you get my point. The mix of agony and anticipation as pain awaits promise, and love endures hurt for the sake of hope. This is precisely the metaphor that Paul uses to talk about the groaning and longing of Creation for new birth (Rom. 8:19-23). Creation itself holds on to great promise for the future while patiently enduring great pain at present. It is looking forward to all things being made right. All things being made right… Can it really be all? Scripture seems to suggest so.
Consider, for instance, Ephesians 1:3-10. This is a rich text that brims with hope and expectation, thankfulness and praise, grace, and glory, as Paul reflects on how God in His wisdom is bringing about His purpose in us and for us. But you’ll notice in verse 10 that this purpose seems to go far beyond just you and me. It includes uniting allthings, “things in heaven and things on earth” (v. 10). The pairing of heaven (or the heaven(s) - in the original Greek and Hebrew Heavens is always plural) and earth is often used to talk about the entirety of the created order (Gen. 1:1, 28; 2:1, 4; Psa. 69:34; 89:11; 121:1; Isa. 37:16; Matt. 24:35; Acts 4:24; 2 Pet. 3:7; Rev. 5:13). This would include not only the beings that indwell God’s creation, both physical and spiritual, but creation itself.
Probably the most important, at the very least, one of the most powerful texts in the letter to the Colossians reinforces this point. Read Colossians 1:15-20. Jesus is described as the one who is the founder and sustainer of creation and the one through whom the new creation will become a reality. Notice how many times the word “all” is used and what it is used in reference to. V. 16 “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities- all things were created through him and for him.” All things in heaven or on earth, including even the highest and greatest things. What does this include? Or perhaps better to ask, what does this not include? God, through Jesus, created everything, and they’re not done. Notice after a few more “alls” and “everythings” in vv. 17-19, Paul says that through Jesus, God is reconciling “all things to himself, whether on earth or in heaven” (v. 20). Now ordinarily, we might be prone to breeze by this and assume that by “all,” Paul actually, only means the select few humans relatively speaking who choose to follow God who we call the church. But that can’t be quite right, can it? The pairing of “the heavens and the earth, the use of the word “all” both by itself and as it is used throughout this text, and the cosmic, physical, ecological hope of creation in Romans 8 militate against such a narrowed reading of “all.”
All of this talk about “all” reinforces the “something more” perspective of the Christian hope that we have been exploring over the past several days. Our hope for eternity is not that we might merely escape from our bodies and this world and retreat to some distant space to dwell with God but that God will come down and dwell with us in the new heavens and new earth in which He will renew, restore, and remake all things (Rev. 21-22). Thus, we are prepared at last to ponder what this might look like. This is what we will speak to in tomorrow's article.