Sunday, November 14, 2010

A New Heavens and a New Earth

I'm listening (for free!) to Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology on itunes. Topic: A New Heavens and a New Earth. I'm especially interested in Grudem's biblical understanding of the afterlife in contradistinction from the Platonist idea that Jesus is coming back to take us away from earth.
  • We will live eternally with God in a new heavens and a new earth.
  • Isaiah 65:17 says: “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind."
  • 2 Peter 3:13 - "In keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells."

  • Does this mean that God just "vaporizes" the present earth like, in Star Wars, the "death star" did to Alderon? And then creates a new one? Grudem says, "I don't think so. I think the word "new" is to be understood in the sense of "renewed" rather than a completely new creation. We might call it an "upgraded earth" where things that are broken and not working right because of sin and the Fall get fixed."
  • Rev. 21:1-3 - "Then I saw “a new ["renewed"] heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away [i.e., they no longer exist they way they existed formerly], 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."  In regard to "there was no longer any sea" Grudem thinks we should view it this way. In Israel during biblical times the Mediterranean Sea was a dangerous place to sail. There were storms, ships used to sink out there, and many people were killed on it. The "sea" in the sense of a place of danger, chaos, and death "was no more. There are other places in scripture that speak of water in the new heavens and new earth. Note that John sees an unbelievably beautiful and magnificent city coming down from out of heaven to join with the renewed earth.
  • So with these things in mind, Grudem asks, "What is 'heaven'?" "Heaven is the place where God most fully makes known his presence to bless or to bring blessing." Heaven is a place, not just a state of mind. But if heaven is a place, where is it? "Where do you point your telescope to look at it?" Grudem thinks it exists, but God has hidden it from us.
  • When scripture talks of a new heavens and new earth this means "the physical creation will be renewed and we will continue to live and act in it." See Romans 8:19-21 - "For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God." The creation's "bondage to decay" happened as described in the first chapters of Genesis. Not only did the death process kick in as a result of Adam and Eve's Fall, but so also was the "ground" cursed. The course of nature was disrupted. The earth wasn't like the Garden of Eden anymore. Grudem says: "There's something not exactly right with the earth and the way it works, because God changed the earth at the time of Adam and Eve's sin." But... Paul gives a promise that God is going to undo that when Jesus comes back. That's seen in Romans 8:19-21.
  • What about passages in the Bible that speak of things being burned up and destroyed? Like 2 Peter 3:10-13 - "The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells." The words "laid bare" can also be translated as "exposed." Some translations say "burned up," but literally the text does not say or mean that. This passage says there will be some unbelievable explosions in the heavens, "but I don't think it means that the whole earth is going to be destroyed. It's preferable to think that the earth will be changed and renewed." It's odd to think of God annihilating is creation. "It seems to give the devil the last word by scrapping what God created to be very good." Evil works will be burned up, but not the whole earth which will be, as we have seen, renewed.
  • Grudem then spends time discussing what life will be like in the new heavens and earth, stressing the physicaliy of the place and our God-given creativity, inventiveness, and stewardship over the earth as exhilarating heavenly activity. The new earth will be a tremendous, endless place of discovery and creation for its inhabitants. It will far exceed the already-wondrous beauty of earth in its present, fallen condition. If you think strawberries are good now, wait until you taste them in the new earth!
So, when Christ returns he's not coming to take us off this planet and to some other-worldly Platonic heaven, but he comes to restore this earth. (Acts 3:21) The restoration includes our physical bodies being resurrected.

Grudem strongly recommends Randy Alcorn's book Heaven.