End Times 3: The New Creation

Sun, 22/12/2013 - 10:30 -- James Oakley

What will happen at the end of time?

It’s a big question. The short answer is that there will be no end of time. But the Bible does tell us that the far future for Christians is very, very good.

The past two Sundays, we’ve said that Jesus is in heaven; when Christians die they go to join him; one day, Jesus will come back. But what happens to us when he does so? Do we come back too? If so, how? And what future will we have?

We’re going to think this morning about what happens when Jesus returns. We’ll be thinking about what happens to us, to the earth, to suffering and to God.

We will be raised with glorious new bodies

First, what happens to us? We will be raised with glorious new bodies. We will be raised with glorious new bodies.

The Bible is consistent about this, although different passages approach it from different perspectives.

So, in the Old Testament, Isaiah 26 verse 19 tells of a day when “your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy.” Daniel chapter 12 foretells that many who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake. Jesus, in John chapter 5 said that an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out. And Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 4, says that when the Lord himself will descend from heaven then the dead in Christ will rise.

We will be raised. With bodies that can eat and drink. Jesus looked forward to a glass of wine with his friends. Luke chapter 22 verse 18, where Jesus said: I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.

But what will our bodies be like? Well, we had part of 1 Corinthians 15 read. Earlier in that chapter, from verse 35, Paul says this:

Someone will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?" You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. Then verse 42: So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour; 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. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

We will have bodies. But just like an oak tree is not the acorn you plant, so the bodies we get will not be the ones planted in the ground when we die. Somehow they will be more glorious, more powerful, more honourable.

The best place to look is Jesus. He as Paul’s example earlier in that chapter. Jesus was the first person to be given his resurrection body. So if we want to know what ours will be like, look at him.

In some ways, his resurrection body was like his first one. People recognised him. He still bore the scars of his crucifixion. When he spoke, Mary recognised his voice.

Yet in other ways, his body was different. Changed. He could pass through locked doors. Sometimes, people didn’t recognise him immediately. And most important of all, he would never die again.

That’s what happens to us: We will be raised – with new, glorious bodies.

The earth will be renewed.

Then there’s the earth: The earth will be renewed. The earth will be renewed.

Romans 8 is the important chapter here. In verse 19, Paul says that creation cannot wait for the day when we are all raised. Here’s what he says: For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 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.

There’s a lot there, but just notice this: Ever since we first sinned, the created order has been in pain. It’s groaning. So it’s longing for the day when the children of God are revealed, because it will be set free from its prison. There will be a renewed world that works and is glorious. When Jesus comes back, there will be no more earthquakes or landslides; no drought to make the ground hard and people hungry and the ground hard and dry; no excess rain to cause flooding. Everything will be as it was meant to be. A new home for us to enjoy as renewed people.

Or we could look at 2 Peter chapter 3 and Revelation 21, which both speak of a new heavens and a new earth. In other words, a new everything. Saying it’s new doesn’t mean it will be replaced – brand new – but renewed – restored to how it was meant to be. Made new.

A while back, someone asked me about the sun. If our future is on earth, won’t the sun become a red giant and burn out? But the God who renews the earth can renew the sun as well. All the energy the sun has comes from God. And God never runs out of energy.

Some modern gadgets have a button to restore them to their factory state. You want to give your old mobile phone to someone else. Or you’ve messed up that Sky+ box, and you want to start all over again. That’s what God will do to the universe. Except it’s even better than that. God won’t just put it back to how it was in the beginning. He’ll put it to what it was always meant to be – which is even more glorious than it was to start with. And there’s no scope for it ever to go wrong again.

The earth will be renewed.

Suffering will be removed

Next, suffering. Very simply, suffering will be removed. Suffering will be removed.

We had part of Revelation chapter 21 read out. It’s just glorious, isn’t it? 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.

Or as Isaiah 35 says, sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

We can list the things that will be gone, all beginning with S. Not original to me, but there will be no more sea, symbolising chaos and evil. No more suffering. No more Satan. No more serpent. No more sadness. No more sin. No more sickness. No more sighing. No more sorrow.

Won’t it be great to live in a world where those things are no more? We will be transformed. Our bodies will be renewed. We’ll never sin again. We’ll never fall sick again. We’ll never die again. And to match our new wellbeing, the world will be transformed as well. Truly nothing will ever happen to spoil life.

Suffering will be removed.

God will be resident on earth

And then fourth, let’s think about God. This is the best bit of all: God will be resident on earth. God will be resident on earth.

This is most extraordinary. Look again at Revelation chapter 21 and verse 3: I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man He will dwell with them, they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.’

God. Living on earth.

This is not an eccentric afterthought from the book of Revelation. It’s where the whole thing has been heading. First a tent in the wilderness called a tabernacle, then the temple Solomon built. The birth of Jesus was the eternal Son of God living among us as a human being. And now the Spirit has come, 1 Corinthians 6 says Christians are temples of God’s Holy Spirit.

But the climax of all this is God coming to live among us in a permanent way when Jesus returns. Then God will live on the earth.

If you were here last time, you’ll remember we said God lives in heaven. In one sense, he’s everywhere. But heaven is the place where his presence is expressed most intensely and gloriously. It will be the same when he moves to the earth. He’ll still be everywhere. But now the place where his presence is most gloriously visible will be on earth, where his people are.

In short, heaven itself will come to earth.

The city of Jerusalem symbolised God’s presence. But now Jesus is in heaven, the physical city of Jerusalem is not important; Hebrews says that Christians look to a new Jerusalem – which is heaven. And then comes Revelation 21 verse 2: The new Jerusalem comes down out of heaven. Heaven has come to earth.

And then Revelation 21 verses 22 to 23 also speak of heaven coming to earth. I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.

Heaven will come down. The barrier between heaven and earth will be gone. Where we live, and where God lives, will be one and the same place.

There’s one more S that will be gone. No more school. We’ll know God fully, even as fully as he knows us.

The Bible consistently portrays this as the climax, the culmination, the most wonderful of all that will be when Jesus comes back. There is nothing so joyful and so glorious as having God himself come and live among us in all his splendour and power and glory.

God will be resident on earth.

What to live for

There’s our future as Christians. And what a glorious future it is. It’s not pie in the sky. It’s an earthy, physical, real, tangible, joyful future. With food and drink. With company and laughter. With places to go, people to see, and things to do. With God himself at the centre.

I can’t wait.

But we have to wait. So what will you live for in the meanwhile?

Last week I mentioned bucket lists. The recent fad of drawing up a list of things you want to fit in before you die. Bungee jump. Go scuba diving. That kind of thing. Whether or not they’ve drawn up an explicit list, many people live for such things. Their leisure time, and then their retirement, is spent chalking up as many memorable experiences as possible. Seize the day. Live life to the full while you can.

The fact is, there’s absolutely no need. You’ve got all the time in the world. If you haven’t yet seen the Great Wall of China, or trekked in the Himalayas, you’ve got all eternity to do these things. They’ll either still be there, or they’ll have been transformed and renewed into something better so that you won’t feel fobbed off at all.

What’s more, we’ll be better placed to enjoy these things. I love hill-walking, but one day my body will get too frail to climb some of the peaks I enjoy. But that’s only for a few decades. My renewed body will have joints to take me anywhere. Don’t spend your life in a mad rush.

Instead, spend your life getting to know the God who will be the centrepiece of the renewed world. After all, it’s only by knowing his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, that you get to be there at all. Then spend your time helping others to know him too. Tell them who Jesus is and what he did for them. Tell them of the wonderful future he purchased for them with his own blood.

And put your efforts into doing good things. Nothing good in this world will be destroyed on that day. So the good we do will last. Many of our jobs are not a waste of time– they are part of managing the world that God has not given up on.

No – don’t live for your bucket list. Not with the future we’ve got to look forward to.

Amazing Grace

I love John Newton’s famous hymn, Amazing Grace. But I’ve struggled with the last verse. I don’t want to play down how good things will be.

The verse most people know is this one: When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun. It’s positive. Shining like the sun. Singing God’s praise forever. But when we’ve been where? There. But we won’t be there. The future is here.

Actually, that verse was nicked from an old African American hymn. Newton’s original last verse goes like this: The earth shall soon dissolve like snow, the sun forbear to shine. But God, who called me here below, will be forever mine. That’s all a bit negative. The earth dissolves. The sun gives out. But it’s OK, I’ve got God. Would the last person please turn out the lights. It doesn’t exactly leave us longing for the future.

It turns out a friend of mine wrote a verse a few years back. Here’s how his one goes: When Jesus Christ returns at last, all pain and death will cease, and face to face with him we’ll know eternal joy and peace. That’s much more like it. If anyone wants to write a different verse to better that, let me have it. What a future it will be!

The Last Battle

I want to leave you with a couple of quotations from CS Lewis’s last Narnia books, The Last Battle.

“Peter,” said Lucy, “where is this, do you suppose?”

“I don’t know,” said the High King. “It reminds me of somewhere but I can’t give it a name. Could it be somewhere we once stayed for a holiday when we were very, very small?”

“It would have to have been a jolly good holiday,” said Eustace. “I bet there isn’t a country like this anywhere in our world. Look at the colours! You couldn’t get a blue like the blue on those mountains in our world.”

“Those hills,” said Lucy, “the nice woody ones and the blue ones behind – aren’t they very like the Southern border of Narnia?”

“Like!” cried Edmund after a moment’s silence. “Why, they’re exactly like. Look, there’s Mount Pire with his forked head, and there’s the pass into Archenland and everything!”

“And yet they’re not like,” said Lucy. “They’re different. They have more colours in them, and they look further away than I remembered and they’re more … more … oh, I don’t know …”

“More like the real thing,” said Lord Digory softly.

The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more. I can’t describe it any better than that: if ever you get there you will know what I mean.

And then there’s the beautiful last paragraph of the book:

And as he spoke he no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

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