Meditations on “God of Transformation: 26: The End Goal
Rev 21:1 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.
There are various schools of Interpretation when it comes to the end times and eternity and I simply want to side with the old preacher who said, “I’m a pan-millennialist, it will all pan out right in the end!” The fact that there are these various schools indicates that it is not so clear cut as some of us would like to think. Very largely the future is a mystery although God has given us some pointers about His will.
I finish this series picking up this verse of hope from the last book of the Bible. Apart from stating the obvious it declares that God acknowledges the fact that what exists needs replacing! This fallen, sinful world cannot be the end objective for the Lord. We might think that heaven itself is to be His ultimate goal and yet He says here that He will be remaking heaven as well as the earth which brings a double whammy to the debating table. Somehow He still has a better heaven on his heart and the end product of His long-term goals is not just heaven but a new heaven AND a new earth. A material earth in the same sense as now? Time alone will tell.
The picture is confused by something the apostle Paul added to the equation when he was speaking about the resurrection from the dead, how we will all appear in our post-death state in eternity: “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (1 Cor 15:42-44) We will have new bodies but they will be imperishable and they will be spiritual. The only thing I can say about that is that they will not be material. Will the new heaven and the new earth be in a new ‘spiritual’ dimension? Time alone will tell.
You may have heard powerful preachers laying down their precise interpretations so I will leave you with whatever the future holds. When you get there you can say, “See, I was right….” or not.
So why end on this unclear note? Well I come back to one of my original comments above: God acknowledges the fact that what exists needs replacing! Now perhaps the word ‘needs’ is too heavy, perhaps the sense should be that God knows that He can produce something better in the future than we know now. There is nothing heretical or surprising about this because everything we know about history is that it has been changing for the better. Put aside all our qualms about the moral state of society today and without doubt living in this world today (and yes, I meant put aside all our concerns about sin as well) is much more wonderful than living two hundred years ago. Yes, we probably all have our gripes or dislikes about something today but overall what the Lord has allowed (or maybe even enabled) us to do and to have is wonderful in comparison to say two hundred years ago. We are fed better, clothed better, cared for better and have better health care than ever known before. Change. It take place slowly but don’t tell me our loving God is against that list of things, but He works slowly and allows us to develop slowly so inventions and scientific break throughs happen slowly, and yes, so much of it is good.
But there is a whole big part of the world that doesn’t have the abundance that so many of us in the West have. While there is slavery (and it is worse today than in the days when slaves were being shipped across the Atlantic), while there is poverty, while there is starvation, while there is forced prostitution, child abuse, wife beating, denigration of women generally, and so much more, there are things that need changing.
The Revelation verses of chapter 21 continue: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live 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.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (v.3-5) This is God saying, “I know this Fallen World is not the best in the long-term, but it was necessary while I gave you free will, but it is not the end goal.” The end goal is without death or mourning or crying or pain. That is where God is going to end up, and you and me with Him. So, how does He want us to view all this?
Well I suggest it is not to sit back passively and helplessly and say, “Well, it’s a sinful fallen world and we cannot change that so there is no point doing anything. We’ll just wait until he comes and brings the change.” Hold on; He has come and He did bring a glimpse of the change. One of the things Jesus did almost more than anything else was heal people and remove their cause of pain and anguish and tears. It was only a start and he said to us, “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12).
On one hand I find this one of the most embarrassing verses in the New Testament, because mostly we, the Church, are NOT doing this. He didn’t just say, ‘some of the things I have been doing’ but the implication is ALL of the things Jesus had been doing. Jesus came to transform lives then and there, not just in eternity. Jesus IS concerned with the here and now, which is why he has inspired Christians down through the centuries to campaign against slavery, open poor houses, start hospitals, build orphanages, create unions and so many other charitable works that care for the poor, needy and oppressed in a whole variety of ways, all working out Jesus’ mandate when he said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk 4:18,19) The year of the Lord’s favour was clearly then and every year following when He can express His kingdom through His church.
Yes, we will have to wait for that final transformation but in the meantime, just as Jesus didn’t wait but revealed His Father’s will and got on with the business of transformation, so that lives and communities were transformed, so we too are called to be people of transformation, people who are being transformed and, as the body of Christ, similarly bring transformation to others, individuals and communities, as we allow Him to lead us into it.