Note: This is part 5 of 5 in a series looking at the overall story of God’s plan, or redemptive history, as told across the breadth of Scripture and ancient Near East history. I am preaching this series as the beginning of my time serving as pastor of Foundation Baptist Church in Rosebud, Texas. Follow these links to read week 1, week 2, week 3, and week 4.
Humans have a natural fear of death. We worry about ends and crises. Our politicians and talking heads preach how to avoid each new apocalypse we’ve created or imagined. Out there, in the darkness beyond our sight, lurks an end we desperately want to avoid.
And yet we love watching the end unfold. We pack movie theaters and crowd in front of the TV with surprising frequency to watch the latest vision of our mutual destruction. From suspenseful dramas like The Leftovers and 2012, to comedies like This Is the End and Shaun of the Dead, to Left Behind and its upcoming reboot, to a treasure trove of zombie apocalypses, we are willing to spend a lot of time and money imagining how it all goes down.
While I’m sure this says a lot about us, most of it not good, I’m more intrigued by the undergirding assumption of our eschatological media: the central defining feature of the end will be destruction. Buildings burning, the land itself giving way beneath us, mass death, and our world rendered as a fiery hell (figurative or even literal). When we say end, we don’t mean transition; we mean end. But what if I told you no Christian should believe that? And what if I told you that this incorrect belief isn’t just a theological point, but it affects how we live every single day?
If we look to Revelation, the last book of the Bible, we see a lot of the dark and scary images that feed our dreams of doom. If we read this cryptic vision in its entirety, however, we see things a myopic reading can miss (a danger of myopically reading any scriptural passage). At the very end of this end, we find something beautiful:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell 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.”
Christians often talk about spending eternity in heaven. We imagine clouds and angels and floating around in incorporeal bliss. We waste a lot of air and spill a lot of ink making sure know we don’t think the physical things of this world matter, because its all just trials and pain that will burn away when God whisks us away from the end times. And when we do, we are wrong.
Not only are we wrong, but we cheapen God’s plan and power. God has told us in advance that his story has a proper resolution. As the protagonist of human history, God set out from the very beginning to overcome the divide between humanity and God, restoring us to community with each other. He made a covenant with Abram in order to model this and set His plan in motion. He endured as we turned against him, even using the mistakes of Israel to bring about the fulfillment of His plan. He sent His son to show us that love and power as they were meant to be take the long road, rejecting our plan for fixing things in order for a climactic sacrifice on the cross that we may be free to follow His example. And after all that, He is not about to blow up Creation and give up. It takes a good god to blow everything up and pluck out those He loves. It takes a great God to bring the story full circle, working patiently to restore Creation itself and us with it.
At the end of everything, it will begin. New heaven and new earth. The death of death. Creation restored to its planned beauty. And God, as has been promised over and over in the Old and New Testaments, will be our God and we will be His people. Christians are to place our hope not in being a spirit surviving the end of the physical, but in the restoration of God’s Creation and the perfection of our fallen bodies. This hope is not merely a finely tuned theological point, but affects our daily lives here and now.
In God’s restoration of Creation, we see that Creation matters to God. We aren’t free to pollute or abuse Earth’s resources; all the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, and He loves it enough to pursue its restoration until the end of time. So should we.
In God’s resurrection of the dead, we see that God cares about more than just our spirits. He cares just as deeply for the physical world and its pain, and illness, and ruin. Following the example of Jesus and the apostles, physical healing and justice are worth pursuing and are not simply distractions to preaching spiritual redemption.
In God’s plan to fulfill the story, we see that we are not simply observers but characters in the story just as much as Abram, David, Mary, Paul, or anyone else mentioned in the Bible. Rather than hearing the story we get to participate and have a role to play.
In God’s power to finish what He started, we are not simply challenged to give the world back to Him but are empowered to do so. Why fear disease, death, and entropy gnawing at our work when we know God is coming to finish it all? The end of the story is coming, but it will only be the end of struggle and the beginning of glory. Until then, we have a part to play as we remind the world that another world is not just possible but promised. A day is coming when He will be our God, and we will be His people, just like He desired from the start.