100 Answers in 100 Days

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Sharing answers to the various questions of faith I have faced, and which others have been challenged with also.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

#54: What will the New Heaven and New Earth be like?

We know that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.” (Genesis 1:1) And God created the first man, Adam, and his wife Eve. Genesis describes the place in which Adam and Eve lived; a paradise called the Garden of Eden. But when mankind sinned, God cursed all of creation. As a result, this “fallen world” in which we live is not the world that God originally created. It is a corrupted version of it in which there is sin, and as a result of sin, death and decay. God's whole purpose for sending Jesus Christ, His Son, was to save us from this fallen world and to renew us. We wait for the return of Christ and the consummation of His kingdom, when all of creation will be restored to its former glory. Romans 8 tells us this clearly...

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. (Romans 8:20-24)

When we die, our soul is separated from our physical bodies, and our souls, if we are saved, go to be with the Lord in heaven. However, it was never God's intention for the soul to ever be separate from the body. Even with our body in the ground and our soul in heaven, we are not yet in our final state. It is a surprise for some to learn that our eternity with God will not be as immaterial spirits, but as physical people walking on a physical Earth as we do now. We wait for the redemption of our bodies - the resurrection of the dead. It is a physical resurrection of our bodies. And God will renew all of creation. It will be a return to the way God had first created the world in the beginning, before the fall.

So in order to understand what the New Heaven and New Earth might be like, we can begin by looking at the Bible's description of the Garden of Eden before the fall, described in Genesis 1-3. Let's just take note of a few key points... We see that it can be described in terms we can identify with – it had all kinds of birds and animals and fish, and all kinds of plants. And Adam and Eve were told to eat whatever plants they wanted to, (except from the “Tree of Knowledge”). Man was told to “work and keep” the garden, and also to “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Lastly, we see that there was placed in the garden the “Tree of Life”. There was no death in this world, but when man fell, death and decay entered the world. And God prevented mankind from eating from the Tree of Life lest they should live forever in that fallen state.

In Revelation 21-22 we read about the New Heaven and New Earth. These chapters reaffirm the things we have already learnt about this intended order of creation. There shall be no more death (Revelation 21:4). There will be a “tree of life” like in Eden (Revelation 22:2), but now redeemed, mankind will be able to eat from it. And we will once again have dominion (Revelation 22:5). Regarding our bodies, John says “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2). So it seems right to understand that Jesus' body after His resurrection is the kind of body that we are to expect. And we remember that His body had some interesting properties, such as being able to move through walls. However, it was a physical body that Thomas could touch when he felt the nail prints. Jesus also ate with His disciples after His resurrection; so this aligns itself to the idea that we will be able to eat on the New Earth. And we read that the tree of life “bears fruit twelve months of the year” – that is, time still ticks over; and where there's time, there's physical bodies.

There is certainly a great deal we don't know or understand about the New Heaven and New Earth and the nature of our resurrected bodies, but we can nevertheless understand that it will be a life of activity and fellowship with one another and with God. A world as it was supposed to be. And we can look forward to a time when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4). This is what we long for. Can such a world exist? We shall discuss this tomorrow. Until then...

But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:16)

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