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HOPE FOR HUMAN HOPELESSNESS
THE CONSUMMATION OF THE ADVENT HOPE
Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University
Our generation has witnessed the most spectacular and sensational human exploits. We have seen men walking on the moon, spacecraft relaying breathtaking close-up pictures of our distant planets, atomic bombs unleashing incredible power and destruction, jets breaking the sound barrier, and astronauts floating in space, to name but a few recent accomplishments. Nevertheless, the most stupendous audio-visual "extravaganza" is yet to be witnessed, namely, the glorious and majestic Return of Jesus Christ to this earth.
Christs glorious Return represents the consummation of the Christian Hope. While in pagan religions salvation was often conceived as a human ascension toward God, in Biblical faith, as noted in chapter 1, salvation is realized through a divine descent toward mankind. In other words, the Christian hope rests not on an inherent human capacity to go up to God but on Gods revelation of His willingness to come down to our planet to restore our world to its original perfection.
In the preceding chapters we saw the fundamental importance the Scripture attributes to the Second Advent. It is regarded as the final coming of the Lord to consummate the redemptive work He began at His incarnation. We noted also that the unprecedented fulfillment in our time of the Advent signs is reassuring us not only of the certainty but also of the imminence of our Lords Return.
Objective of Chapter. This chapter examines the Biblical portrayal of Christs Return and focuses specifically on the manner, the purpose, and the outcome of His Coming. Each of these three aspects of the Second Advent will be examined successively in the order given.
PART ONE: THE MANNER OF CHRISTS COMING
When we think realistically about our Lords Return, we naturally wonder how it will take place. The answer the New Testament provides contains several elements which we shall briefly consider.
1. Personal Coming
Personal as Christs Ascension. First of all the New Testament teaches that Christs Return will be decidedly a personal Coming. The disciples who were gazing at their ascending Lord were reassured by two "men" who in fact were angels sent by God, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11).
This passage makes it abundantly clear that the resurrected Lord who ascended to heaven in person will in like manner return to this earth. His future Coming to this earth will be as personal as His departure. This clear teaching is rejected by many liberal theologians who do not believe in the physical resurrection of Christ. By denying that Jesus arose bodily out of the grave, they cannot believe either that Christ personally ascended to heaven, nor that He will personally return to this earth.
No Invisible, Spiritual Return. Liberal scholars interpret spiritually both the ascension and the Second Advent. In their view the ascension was merely a visionary representation of Christs higher level of existence. Similarly the references to Christs Return are interpreted as a greater manifestation of His spiritual power in this world. Thus Christ is not returning personally to this earth, but will exert an ever-increasing spiritual influence upon mankind.
The spiritualization of the Second Advent does injustice to the many explicit descriptions of His personal Return as found in the New Testament. Paul, for example, says in Philippians 3:20, 21: "we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body." Again in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, the Apostle says": "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangels call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God" (cf. Col 3:4; 1 Cor 15:22; Titus 2:13).1
The cited passages and many others clearly negate the spiritual interpretation of Christs Return. It is "the Lord himself" who "will descend from heaven," not His power. Moreover, the terrible happenings of our time hardly bespeak an increasing manifestation of Christs spiritual influence in this world. We must not allow these vagaries to undermine our confidence in the personal and real Coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
2. Visible Coming
Implied in the Terms "Coming, Appearing." Intimately connected to the personal and physical aspect of Christs Coming is its visible character. The latter is inherent in the two words chiefly used to describe it, namely, parousiaComing, and epiphaneiaappearing. These terms describe not an inward, invisible spiritual experience but a real meeting with a visible person.
Hebrews explains that as Christ "has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself . . . so Christ, . . . will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him" (Heb 9:26, 28). The comparison suggests that the second appearing will be as visible as the first.
Compared to "Lightning." Jesus Himself left no doubt whatsoever as to the visibility of His Return. He warned His disciples against the deception of a secret Second Advent by comparing it to the visibility of the lightning which "comes from the east and shines as far as the west" (Matt 24:26-27). Christ added: "Then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matt 24:30).2
The same truth is emphatically expressed in majestic language in Revelation 1:7: "Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him."3 The simple grandeur of these words attests to a personal Coming of Christ which will be universally visible to every human being.
No Secret Coming. The notion of an invisible Coming of Christ, perceived only through the eye of faith, as taught by Jehovahs Witnesses, as well as the idea of a secret Coming of Christ to rapture away the living souls from the earth, as held by many dispensationalists, is foreign to Biblical thought. The New Testament leaves us in no doubt whatever as to the visibility of Christs Return. John points to this fact as the assurance of our ultimate transformation: "We know that when he appears we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2).4
3. Sudden Coming
Unexpected Like the Flood. Christs Return will be not only personal and visible, but also sudden, unexpected, taking people by surprise. To illustrate the suddenness of His Coming, Christ compared it to the unexpected destruction by the Flood: "For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, . . . so will be the coming of the Son of man" (Matt 24:38-39).
Unexpected Like a Thief. Another metaphor used by Christ to illustrate the sudden and unanticipated manner of His Return is the unexpected breaking in of a thief: "If the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into" (Matt 24:43). This metaphor became well known in apostolic times, for Paul writes to the Thessalonians: "You yourself know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night" (1 Thess 5:2). Because of the sudden and unexpected manner of Christs Return, both Christ and Paul urge constant readiness: "Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (Matt 24:44). "So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober" (1 Thess 5:6).
Ellen White aptly comments that Christ "distinctly states the suddenness of His coming. He does not measure time, lest we shall neglect a momentary preparation, and in our indolence look ahead to the time when we think He will come, and defer the preparation. Watch ye therefore: for ye know not. Yet this foretold uncertainty, and suddenness at last, fails to rouse us from stupidity to earnest wakefulness, and to quicken our watchfulness for our expected Master."5
Not Contradicted by Advent Signs. The suddenness of Christs Return is not contradicted by the fulfillment of the Advent signs, because, as we have seen in chapter 7, their function is not to indicate the exact time of the Second Advent, but rather to encourage constant preparation. Because of their generic nature, the Advent signs have found a degree of fulfillment in every age, thus nourishing the Advent hope of many believers throughout history. The unprecedented fulfillment of the Advent signs in our time is challenging us to be actively engaged, not in seeking for profit, pleasure, power, and worldly honor, but in doing our Lords business. "Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing" (Matt 24:46).
4. Glorious and Triumphant Coming
Contrast to Humble First Advent. In various ways the Bible portrays Christs Coming as transcendently glorious and triumphant. At His First Advent Christ fulfilled the prophecy regarding the Servant of the Lord who "will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street" (Is 42:2; cf. Matt 12:19). Indeed, during His ministry Jesus repeatedly instructed His followers not to make Him known (Mark 8:30; 9:9).
In dramatic contrast to His First Coming when Christ entered our world as a helpless baby in an obscure village, He will return as the Conqueror, with the power and glory of God. Every creature will be compelled to confess: Thou art Lord and Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
Heavenly Glory. Jesus Himself describes His Second Coming as a visible and universal manifestation of His power and glory. "For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done" (Matt 16:27). Paul echoes in part Christs word in his description of the Second Advent: "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangels call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God" (1 Thess 4:16; cf. Col 3:4; Titus 2:13).
John the Revelator portrays in a most dramatic way the glory of Christs Return, by comparing it to the Coming of a Rider on a white horse, dazzling with glory, followed by the armies of heaven "arrayed in fine linen, white and pure," and with the name "King of kings and Lord of lords" inscribed "on his robe and on his thigh" (Rev 19:11-16).
Dimensions of Christs Glory. The glory attending Christs Return will be evident in different ways. First, in the supernatural splendor of Christs appearance. At Christs first Coming there was little evidence of His supernatural glory. At His Second Advent it will be different. Christs supernatural glory will be fully revealed. John the Revelator was shown in vision glimpses of the glorified Christ (Rev 1:12-18; 19:11-16).
Christs glory will be manifested also in the glorification of the Church. In referring to the final resurrection Daniel writes: "And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever" (Dan 12:3). These words find echo in Christs statement at the conclusion of the parable of the wheat and the tares: "Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Matt 13:43).
Lastly, the glory of Christs Coming will be manifested in His final mighty acts. These will include the resurrections of the saved and the unsaved, the final judgment, the destruction of the wicked, and the restoration of this present world.
5. Coming on the Clouds
References to Clouds. Perhaps the most effective imagery used in the Bible to portray the glory and majesty of Christs Coming, is that of His "coming on the clouds." Jesus Himself used this imagery when He spoke of His Return. To His disciples who asked Him about the manner of His Coming, Christ replied: "Then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matt 24:30). During His interrogation by the high priest, Christ declared: "I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven" (Matt 26:64).
The same language is used in the book of Revelation: "Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him" (Rev 1:7). The origin of this description can be traced back to Old Testament prophets, especially to Daniel, who writes: "I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came on like a son of man, . . . and to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom" (Dan 7:13-14; cf. Joel 2:2; Zeph 1:14-18).
Real or Symbolic Clouds? Why is Christs Return associated with clouds? Are they real or symbolic of heavenly glory? Some dismiss the reference to the clouds as simple metaphorical imagery. Such a view ignores that God has manifested Himself through literal clouds in the past. He spoke through "a think cloud" on Mount Sinai (Ex 19:11, 16) and He manifested His glory in the form of a real cloud which rested upon the mountain (Ex 24:15-16). God also led the Israelites through their wilderness journey by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Ex 13:21, 22; Ps 78:14; 105:39).
The cloud covered the tabernacle whenever God manifested His presence there (Ex 40:34; Num 9:15-23). The past manifestations of Gods glorious presence through means of real clouds give us reason to believe that Christs Return will be accompanied by splendid clouds.
The rich meaning of "the clouds" in Biblical history suggests, however, that the reference to Christs "coming on the clouds" has a deeper message to convey. Three concepts deserve mentioning.
Power and Glory. The Coming of Christ on the clouds suggests first of all that it will be a unique visible manifestation of divine power and glory. Since the clouds are the chariots of Gods glory (Ps 104:3) and are used by God to diffuse His glorious presence (Ex 24:14-15), they fittingly express the majesty and splendor that will accompany Christs Return.
The fact that luminous clouds will be seen "from one end of heaven to the other" (Matt 24:31) suggests that Christs Return marks a decisive event in redemptive history, namely, the consummation of redemption and the establishment of Gods Kingdom. In the radiance of the Advent clouds the glory of the ages will be manifested for all to see.6
Reward and Retribution. The Coming of Christ on the clouds suggests also that through Christs Coming God will fulfill His promise to reward the faithful and punish the unfaithful. The covenant that God established with Noah after the Flood by setting a rainbow "in the cloud" (Gen 9:13), and the guidance that God promised through the cloud to His people journeying through the wilderness, will be ultimately fulfilled when the Advent clouds appear and believers will reach the end of their pilgrimage as their Savior welcomes them into the Promised Land of enduring rest.
The Advent clouds, however, spell not only hope for the believers but also doom for the unbelievers. The prophets describe the retribution of the great day of the Lord as "a day of clouds and thick darkness" (Zeph 1:15; Joel 2:2). For those who have scorned Gods will, the Advent clouds are ominous of punishment and death. Form the first exodus to the last, the clouds in the Bible contain both a promise of protection for the faithful and a warning of punishment for the unfaithful.
Joyful Reunion. The Coming of the Lord on the clouds points also to the happy reunion with Christ and with believers of all ages. Paul explains that both the resurrected and the transformed saints will be caught up together "in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord" (1 Thess 4:16-17).
In this passage the clouds are seen as the abiding place for the rendezvous with the Lord and with the believers of all the ages. Just as the Israelites experienced divine presence and power by living "under the cloud" and by being baptized "in the cloud" (1 Cor 10:1-5), so the redeemed will experience Christs presence and power at the grand rendezvous in the clouds of Christs glorious Return. Here the Advent clouds become the place of transfiguration for all believers, the place where the eternal fellowship of the believers begins.
Conclusion. In light of the foregoing considerations we conclude that Christ will return in a personal, visible, sudden, glorious, and triumphant manner. These characterizations of the manner of Christs Coming must be regarded as feeble attempts to describe the most breathtaking event human beings will ever see.
PART TWO: THE PURPOSE OF CHRISTS COMING
Completion of Redemption. Why is it necessary for Christ to return? The basic answer is, to complete the redemptive work begun at His incarnation. Gods conquest of the powers of evil is accomplished through two great events or visitations: the Incarnation and the Second Advent. Oscar Cullmann illustrates this two-step victory by the analogy of the Allies victory over Nazi Germany.7 The two steps in that victory are known as D-Day and V-Day. D-Day is 6the successful landing of Allied armies on the beachheads of Normandy which turned the tide of the war. Though there was still much bitter fighting before the final capitulation of the German army, the decisive blow had been inflicted and the tide of the war had turned. V-Day represented the formal surrender of the German army with the accompanying victory celebrations.
Two-Step Victory. Christ through His victorious life, death, and resurrection inflicted a decisive blow to the realm of Satan (D-Day). As Paul puts it, "He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them" (Col 2:15). Since Pentecost the Gospel of Gods Kingdom has been preached around the world and ever-increasing numbers of persons have been delivered from Satans domain and have become members of Christs Kingdom.
Though Satan has suffered a decisive defeat, he is by no means destroyed. His evil powers are still very much with us. Hate, violence, crime, persecution, and wars are still a painful daily reality. Thus it is necessary for Christ to return to "put all his enemies under his feet [V-Day]. The last enemy to be destroyed is death" (1 Cor 15:25-26).
Universal Lordship. The enemies of Gods Kingdom are spiritual enemies who influence human minds and actions. The final victory against these demonic powers can only be won by a direct divine intervention. The purpose of Christs Return is for Him to reveal His hidden power by destroying all forms of evil and evildoers and establishing His everlasting Kingdom of peace and righteousness.
At present Christ reigns over a spiritual Kingdom. His Lordship is confessed and accepted only by believers. At the Second Advent Christs Lordship will become visible and accepted universally. When we pray today, "Thy kingdom come," we are actually praying for the establishment of Christs universal Kingdom on this earth at His Second Advent. At that time "at the name of Jesus every knee [will] bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue [will] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2:10-11).
To appreciate how Christ will establish His eternal Kingdom at His Return, brief consideration will now be given to the following four events that will take place in connection with the Second Advent:
(1) The Gathering of the Redeemed
(2) The Resurrections of Believers and of Unbelievers
(3) The Final Judgment
(4) The Restoration of this World
1. The Gathering of the Redeemed
Universal Gathering. On repeated occasions during His ministry, Christ announced that the primary purpose of His Return would be to gather all His redeemed children unto Himself (Matt 24:31; 25:32-34), so that, Jesus said, "where I am you may be also" (John 14:3). The fact that Christ cares so much for our company to desire to return should make our hearts leap with joy at the thought of being with Him. Christs Return is so intimately connected with the gathering of the redeemed that Paul can speak in one breath of "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him" (2 Thess 2:1, NIV).
No Believer Left Out. It is hard to imagine what a grand gathering that will be when the redeemed of all the ages will be assembled together around the Savior. As Christ sent forth His followers to witness "to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8), so He will send forth His angels to "gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven" (Mark 13:27). No believer will be left out. At the visit of a Head of State only a few persons can be part of the welcoming party. At the Coming of Christ every believer who ever lived, whether young or old, educated or uneducated, rich or poor, black or white, will participate in the grand Advent celebration.
2. The Resurrections of Believers and of Unbelievers
The Resurrection of the Believers. The universal gathering of all the believers will be made possible at Christs Return as the result of two major events: The resurrection of the sleeping saints and the transformation of the living saints. The latter is generally known as "translation." Such a usage is not quite correct, since both the sleeping and the living saints will be translated, that is, transferred from this earth to heaven. Nevertheless we shall use the term "translation" according to the accepted theological usage, namely, as designating the transformation of the living saints.
The resurrection and translation of all the believers are clearly placed in the Scripture at the time of Christs Return, sometimes called "the last day" (John 6:39-40, 44, 54). Paul, for example, explains that "as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ" (1 Cor 15:22-23; cf. Phil 3:20-21; 1 Thess 4:16).
Paul clearly explains that both the resurrection of all the sleeping saints and the translation of all living believers will take place at the same time in conjunction with Christs Coming: "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangels call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord" (1 Thess 4:16-17).
One Resurrection of Believers. Some dispensationalists interpret the phrase "the dead in Christ will rise first:" as meaning that first there will be a resurrection of New Testament believers who will be raptured away secretly before the final seven-year Tribulation and then after the Tribulation there will be a resurrection of the Old Testament believers, of the tribulation saints and of the unbelievers.8 This interpretation clearly misinterprets the Pauline passage. Even a cursory reading of this passage reveals that Paul is not contrasting the resurrection of Old Testament believers with that of New Testament believers, but rather the resurrection of the dead in Christ with the rapture of living believers. "First" simply means here that the sleeping saints are raised first, that is, before the living saints are caught up to be with the Lord.
The same sequence is suggested by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:52: "For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed." Pauls concern in both passages is to reassure his readers that believers who are alive at the time of Christs Return will have no advantage over those believers who are asleep. The reason is that transformed, living believers "shall be caught up together with them [resurrected saints] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air" (1 Thess 4:17). In other words, all believers will be present at the grand Advent gathering, both the resurrected saints of all ages and the transformed living saints.
The Resurrection of Unbelievers. What about the unbelievers? Will they also be resurrected, and if so, when? Paul in his epistles makes no reference to the resurrection of the unbelievers, though he is quoted in Acts 24:15 as saying that "there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust." The reason for Pauls silence is simply that the resurrection of unbelievers was not an issue which he needed to address in his correspondence. However, the Bible is not silent on this point. The most explicit Old Testament reference to the resurrection of both believers and unbelievers is found in Daniel 12:2: "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt."
In the New Testament the resurrection of both believers and unbelievers is presupposed in some of the Kingdom parables which speak of a final general separation of the evildoers from the righteous (Matt 13:41-43, 49-50; 25:31-46). The most explicit statement is found in the Gospel of John where Jesus says: "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come outthose who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned" (John 5:28-29, NIV).
All three cited texts (Acts 24:15; Dan 12:2; John 4:28-29) seem to suggest that the resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous will take place contemporaneously. However, Revelation 20 clearly indicates that there will be two separate resurrections. The resurrection of the believers occurs first, at the victorious Second Coming of Christ, and issues in life: "Blessed and holy is he who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and they shall reign with him a thousand years" (Rev 20:6). The second resurrection, that of the unbelievers, takes place at the end of the millennium and results in condemnation and the second death: "If any ones name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." "This is the second death" (Rev 20:14-15).9
Fact More Important than Phases. To a critical modern reader there is an open contradiction between those passages which speak of one general resurrection of believers and unbelievers and Revelations reference to two resurrections, separated by one thousand years. This apparent contradiction did not disturb Bible writers because for them the reality of the resurrection was more important than its modality. This is why most of the references to the resurrection mention its fact rather than its phases.
We have found that the same principle applies to the final judgment where most of the Biblical references emphasize its reality and finality rather than its phases. Yet we have seen that there are Biblical passages which implicitly suggest a Pre-Advent and a Post-Advent phase of the final judgment.
In light of this fact the Seventh-day Adventist Church, contrary to several other churches, accepts as real the distinction found in Revelation 20 between the resurrection of believers and that of unbelievers. We recognize, however, that Scripture is silent regarding the nature of the resurrection of the wicked and their mode of existence before their final destruction. Thus, it is of no virtue to speculate regarding that which the Scripture has not revealed.
Two Distinct Resurrections. The belief in two distinct resurrections, as held by Seventh-day Adventists, is a rather unique brand of premillennialism. We believe that the resurrection of all the righteous dead and the translation of all the righteous living will take place contemporaneously at the beginning of the millennium when Christ returns personally, visibly, and gloriously. The wicked living at that time will be destroyed while those wicked who are dead will remain in their graves until the second resurrection at the end of the millennium.
During the millennium the redeemed will be in heaven while Satan will be isolated on this earth that will remain depopulated. At the close of the millennium the wicked dead will be resurrected. This event will enable Satan to make one final attempt to gain control of this world as the redeemed descent to this earth. God, however, will execute His judgment upon the wicked by destroying them forever (second deathRev 20:13-15). Afterwards God will re-create this earth and the redeemed will dwell in it securely forever.
When compared with other views, the Seventh-day Adventist interpretation is less confusing and more consistent with Scripture. There are not three or four resurrections, as held by some dispensationalists, but only two: one for the righteous and one for the unrighteous. This means that all the redeemed are resurrected and rewarded at the same time and similarly all the wicked are resurrected and punished at the same time.10 There is no confusion as to who lives on earth and who in heaven during the millennium. There is no division between a millennial Jewish kingdom on this earth and a Christian kingdom in heaven, but one Kingdom of God consisting of believers of all ages.
The Resurrection of the Body
Objections to the Resurrection of the Body. What kind of body will believers receive at the resurrection or translation? Will it be a material or a spiritual body? Will it be similar to or radically different from the present one? How will our personal identity be preserved? Will my father be 73 years old and my mother 71? Before attempting to answer these question about the nature of the resurrection body, it is well briefly to mention the two main objections which have been raised against the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. These stem on one hand from philosophical idealism and on the other hand from "scientific" materialism.
Philosophical Idealism. Greek philosophical idealism viewed material existence as evil and thus to be done away with. Salvation was seen as the liberation of the soul from the prison-house of the body. This philosophical dualism has greatly influenced Christian thought to the extent that many Christians today reject the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, because it would continue material existence which is viewed as evil. Thus they believe that at the resurrection the redeemed will receive not physical but spiritual nonmaterial bodies.
The basic fallacy of this view is that it is based on the false assumption that matter is evil and must be destroyed. This view is clearly discredited by the Scriptural passages which teach that matter, including the human body, is Gods good creation (Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). The Psalmist declares: "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mothers womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made" (Ps 139:13-14, NIV).
"Scientific" Materialism. "Scientific" materialism views matter as the only ultimate reality. Since we live in a material body, which is viewed as the product of chance rather than of choice, when we die it is the end. Those Christians who are influenced by this view reject any notion of the resurrection of the body. They believe that the only immortality is the influence we have exerted on others and the hereditary characteristics we have transmitted to our posterity.
Such a view negates not only the teaching of the Bible but also the basic longing of most human beings. In our age of subatomic science it is not incredible to believe that the same God who brought our world into existence still continues to control its infinitesimal particles. To believe in the resurrection of the body means to believe that God is still in control of all things, including our total being.
The Fact of the Resurrection. Christian belief in the resurrection of the body did not arise from philosophical speculations or wishful thinking like the notion of the immortality of the soul. It arose from the conviction that such an event had actually already happened with the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Since the Son of Man is the representative of all men, what happened to Him is the clue to what is going to happen to every believer. Because Christ rose bodily from the grave we have reason to believe that we too shall rise in a similar fashion.
Jesus is rightly called "the first-born from the dead" (Col 1:18) because, as George Eldon Ladd aptly expresses it, "he stand at the head of a new order of existenceresurrection life."11 The fact of Christs resurrection has made the believers resurrection a certainty, because Christ has proved His victory over death. The eschatological character of Jesus resurrection is evident in Pauls statement that His resurrection was "the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Cor 15:20).
The expression "first fruits" has little meaning for todays urban dwellers. In Bible times, however, it had a rich meaning because it referred to the first produce of the harvest which was offered in sacrifice to God to express gratitude for grating a new harvest. Thus the first fruits which were brought to the Temple were seen not as mere hope of a new harvest but as its actual beginning. Christs resurrection then is "the first fruits" in the sense that it has made the resurrection of believers not a mere possibility but a certainty.
In 1 Corinthians 15, the chapter which offers the fullest treatment of the resurrection of the body found anywhere in the Bible, Paul emphatically explains how much our resurrection depends upon that of Christ: "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, . . . If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished" (1 Cor 15:14, 17-18). This is an astonishing statement. To deny Christs resurrection means to destroy our faith in God and in His promise to raise us at Christs Return. The reason for this is simple. It is through His resurrection that Christ proved to have vanquished death for all his followers.
The Nature of the Resurrection Body. What kind of body will Christ give at His Return to the sleeping and living saints? We are rather fortunate to have Pauls discussion of this very question which had been raised by the Corinthians: "But some one will ask, How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come? You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which 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" (1 Cor 15:35-38).
By means of analogy of the seed, Paul explains the continuity and discontinuity that exist between our present physical body and the future resurrection/translation body. The continuity is established by the connection between the seed and the new plant that sprouts out of it. The discontinuity is to be seen in the difference between the seed that is sown and the new plant that comes from it. What Paul is saying here is that as God gives a body to each kind of seed that is sown, so God will give a body to each person who is buried. The fact that deceased bodies are buried like the seed in the ground may have suggested to Paul the analogy of the seed.
Paul develops further the analogy of sowing and reaping to give the nearest thing to a description of the resurrection body to be found in the Bible: "So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is 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 physical body, it is raised a spiritual body" (1 Cor 15:42-44).
Characteristics of the Resurrection Body
Four Contrasts. In 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 Paul explains the difference between our present body and the resurrection body by means of four contrasts. These contrasts are equally applicable to the bodies of the living saints who will be transformed and translated at Christs Return without seeing death. First, our present bodies are perishable (phthora)subject to sickness and deathbut our resurrection bodies will be imperishable (aphtharsia)no longer liable to sickness and death. Second, our present bodies experience the dishonor of being lowered into a grave, but our resurrection bodies will experience the glory of an inner and outward transformation.
Third, our present bodies are weak, as they become easily tired and exhausted, but our resurrection bodies will be full of power, with boundless energy to accomplish all our goals. Fourth, our present bodies are physical (some psychikon), but our resurrection bodies will be spiritual (soma pneumatikon). This last contrast has led many to believe that our resurrection/translation bodies will be "spiritual" in the sense that they will be devoid of the present physical substance. In other words, "spiritual" is understood as the opposite of physical. Thus the resurrection/translation bodies allegedly consist of a nonphysical, nonmaterial substance, whatever that may be.
A "Spiritual" Resurrected Body. Did Paul believe and does the Bible teach that at the Second Advent living and dead believers will receive nonmaterial and nonphysical bodies totally devoid of physical substance? It must be admitted that Pauls language in this passage, if it is not examined in the larger context of his writings, can lead a reader to a nonmaterial view of the resurrection body. Such a view, however, is discredited first of all by the comparison which Paul himself makes between Christs resurrection and that of the believer (Col 1:18; 1 Cor 15:20).
If Christ is the "first fruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Cor 15:20), then resurrected believers will have bodies similar to that of Christ. The comparison cannot be pressed too far in view of the fact that at His resurrection Christ resumed also those divine qualities which He had temporarily laid aside during His Incarnation (Phil 2:7). Yet the fact remains that Christs resurrection body was certainly physical since He was touched (John 20:17, 27) and He ate food (Luke 24:38-43).
More telling is Pauls use of the same two words (natural-psychikos/spiritual-pneumatikos) in the same epistle: "The unspiritual [natural-psychikos] man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual [pneumatikos] man judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one" (1 Cor 2:14-15).12
It is obvious that the spiritual man in this passage does not mean a nonphysical person. Rather it is someone who is guided by the Holy Spirit, in contradistinction from someone who is guided by natural impulses. Similarly, the present natural body described in 1 Corinthians 15:44 is one which is subject ot the law of sin and death, while the future resurrection body is one which will be directed by the Holy Spirit. Thus the resurrection body is called "spiritual" because it is ruled not by carnal impulses but by the Holy Spirit.
Spirit Led. This insight helps us to understand also Pauls statement a few verses later: "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable" (1 Cor 15:50). It is evident that here also Paul is not trying to say that the resurrection body will be nonphysical, because, writing to the Romans, he says: "But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God really dwells in you" (Rom 8:9).
By the phrase "not in the flesh" Paul obviously did not mean that Christians who were led by the Spirit had already discarded their physical bodies. Rather, he means that they were guided by spiritual and not worldly values (Rom 8:4-8). If Paul could speak of Christians as not being "in the flesh" already in the present life, his reference to the absence of "flesh and blood" in the Kingdom of God cannot mean the absence of physical bodies. It simply means the absence of the natural, carnal limitations and sinful inclinations of the present life, because the redeemed will be fully led by the Spirit.
Physical Body is not Evil. If God at the Second Advent were to change our present physical bodies into bodies consisting of nonphysical and nonmaterial substance, then, as Anthony A. Hoekema perceptively points out, "the devil would have won a great victory since God would then have been compelled to change human beings with physical bodies such as he had created into creatures of a different sort, without physical bodies (like the angels). Then it would indeed seem that matter had become intrinsically evil so that it had to be banished. And then, in a sense, the Greek philosophers would have been proved right. But matter is not evil; it is part of Gods good creation."13
In the creation story seven times God expresses His satisfaction over the perfection of His material creation by saying "it was good" (Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31), and then on the seventh day He rested to celebrate the completion of His perfect creation (Gen 2:1-3). To celebrate the good news of His perfect creation, complete redemption, and final restoration of this world, God gave the Sabbath to the human family (Ex 20:11; Deut 5:15; Luke 4:16-21; 13:10-13; Heb 4:9). As a Seventh-day Sabbathkeeper who celebrates on and through the Sabbath these marvelous glad tidings, it is impossible for me to conceive that God will ultimately change radically the structure and composition of the human body.
Change Implies Imperfection. If the resurrection/translation body was to be radically different from the original creation body, then God would be admitting that His original design of the human body was not really perfect after all. He would be admitting that His original model of male and female physical beings did not, contrary to what the Scripture says, adequately reflect "his [Gods] own image" (Gen 1:27). To remedy the problem then God would be compelled to create a new type of human beings, presumable "unisex." This reasoning is absurd, to say the least, for anyone who believes in the omniscience and immutability of God. Changing models and structures is normal for human beings who learn by mistakes, but it would be abnormal and inconsistent for a God who knows the end from the beginning.
Like Angels. Some will retort, Did not Jesus say that "in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven" (Matt 22:30)? Does not this passage indicate that at the resurrection all sex distinctions will be abolished and our bodies will no longer by physical? This conclusion cannot be legitimately drawn from Jesus statement. Here Jesus refers to the angels, not in order to teach the nonphysical nature of the resurrection body or the absence of sex differences in the new world, but simply to explain that the institution of marriage will no longer exist, since there will be no need to bring new children into the world.
The reason why the six brothers of the hypothetical situation created by the Sadducees married in succession their brothers widow was to "raise up children for [their] brother" (Matt 22:24). It seems legitimate to assume that in His reply Jesus refers to the angels to explain that in the new world marriage for the purpose of procreation will no longer exist. It is obvious that if no new children are brought into this world, there will be no possibility of marrying or of giving daughters in marriage.
The termination of the human reproductive capacity could be seen as a change in Gods original design of the physiological human structure. This is not necessarily true because the Scripture suggests that God had already contemplated such a change in His original plan, when He said, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth" (Gen 1:28).14 By this statement presumably God meant that the process of reproduction and multiplication of human beings would have continued until the earth was filled with an adequate number of people for this earth to support.
Termination of Procreation. In a perfect world, without the presence of death, the optimum balance between people and land would have been reached much sooner than after the entrance of sin and death. It is feasible to assume that the resurrected and translated saints constitute the fulfillment of Gods original plan for the "filling of the earth," since they will represent the optimum number of inhabitants this renewed earth can adequately support. In that case God will carry out His original plan to terminate the human reproductive cycle, so as to prevent the disruption of the ecological balance of this planet that would be caused by a population explosion.
This conclusion is supported also by the references to names "written before the foundation of the world in the book of life (Rev 13:8; cf. 17:8, 21:27; Dan 12:1; Phil 4:3). Such names suggest an original divine plan for an optimum number of righteous to inhabit this earth. It also suggests that once this optimum number has been reached, God in His providence would terminate the human reproductive cycle. The termination of the procreative function of marriage does not necessitate the termination of marriage as an intimate relationship between two persons of the opposite sex.
Permanence of Intimate Relationships. Nowhere does the Scripture suggest that the angels are "unisex" beings who are unable to enter into some type of intimate relationship comparable to the one to be found in human marriage. It is noteworthy that God has revealed Himself as a triune Being, consisting of three Persons who are so intimately united that we worship Them as one God. If God Himself lives in a most intimate eternal fellowship among the first, second, and third Persons of the Godhead, there is no reason to believe that God will ultimately abolish the intimate marital relationship He Himself established at creation.
Genesis 1:27 suggests that the image of God is found no in the male gender per se, but in the fact that "male and female he created them." If Gods image was reflected at creation in the combined characteristics of the maleness and femaleness of the first human couple, we have reason to believe that such a combination will be preserved by God at His ultimate re-creation. Creation is presented in the Scripture as a prototype of the final re-creation. The goal of Gods redemption is not the destruction of His first creation but its restoration to its original perfection. This is why the Scripture speaks of the resurrection of the body rather than of the creation of new beings.
The Meaning of the Resurrection of the Body
No Rehabilitation of Present Body. What does "the resurrection of the body" mean? Biblical writers knew as well as we do that it could no possibly mean the rehabilitation of our present physical bodies. First, because many bodies are sick or deformed, and second, because at death they decompose and return to dust: "When thou takest away their breath, they die and return to their dust" (Ps 104:29; cf. Eccl 3:20; Gen 3:19).
In spite of this Biblical witness many Christians have believed through the centuries in the resurrection of the very same particles composing the dead body. This belief is expressed in the earliest forms of the Apostles Creed which states: "I believe in . . . the resurrection of the flesh," rather than "of the body."15
Tertullian (c. 160-c. 225), who is regarded at the Father of Latin Christianity, argues at great length in his treatise On the Resurrection of the Flesh that God will resurrect the very "flesh which has been consigned to the ground." He appeals to Jesus words, "the very hairs of our head are all numbered," to prove that they will all be restored at the resurrection. "If they were to be lost," Tertullian reasons, "where would be the use of having taken such a numeral care of them?"16
Body Means Person. This fundamental misunderstanding of the meaning of the resurrection could have been avoided by recognizing the simple truth that for Biblical writers the term "body" is simply a synonym for "person." For example, when Paul writes, "we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Rom 8:23), he simply means the redemption of our total being. This meaning is evident later in the same epistle where Paul appeals "to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Rom 12:1). Here the presenting of our "bodies" to God is explicitly defined as the rendering of our "spiritual worship" through our total being.
Preservation of Individuality. When Paul speaks of the resurrection of the body, he is clearly thinking of the whole person. As Michael Perry rightly points out, "In Pauls usage, body is not something external to a man himself, something he has. It is what he is. Indeed, soma (the Greek word for body) is the nearest equivalent to our word personality."17 In view of this fact, to believe in the resurrection/translation of the body means to believe that my human self, the human being that "I" am, will be restored to life again. It means that I will not be someone different from who I am now. I will be exclusively myself. In short, it means that God has committed Himself to preserving my individuality, personality, and character.
Future Personality Formed Now. The practical implications of the belief in the resurrection/translation of the body, as defined above, are not difficult to see. The fact that Christ at His Coming will resurrect all of us who have died, be restoring to each one of us our distinct personality and character as well as body, teaches us, as aptly states by Ellen G. White, that "the characters formed in this life will determine the future destiny."18 This means, as the same author emphasizes, that "now is the time for all to cultivate the powers that God has given [us], that [we] may form characters for usefulness here and for a higher life hereafter."19
Respect for our Bodies. To believe in the resurrection/translation of the body means also to treat our human body with respect because what we do to it and with it will determine the shape of the resurrection body. The model of the seed and the fruit used by Paul suggests that there is a degree of continuity between our present body and the resurrection body. This continuity condemns the exaggerated asceticism of those who despise their bodies as something earthly to be discarded once they reach the heavenly Canaan. It also condemns the libertinism of those who believe that they can indulge their bodies to the limit, since what happens to their bodies does not affect their souls.
Recognition of Our Love Ones. To believe in the resurrection/translation of the body means also to believe that we will be able to recognize our loved ones. We shall recognize our resurrected and translated loved ones, not necessarily because they will look exactly the same as when we last saw them. I was known to my grandmother as the little boy who visited her at her farmhouse. I am known to my wife as the bald man who she married 25 years ago with plenty of wavy hair. I will be known to my grandchildren, if the Lord has not returned, as that old man who is often reminiscing about his former days.
At the time of the resurrection/translation we will recognize our loved ones not because they will look as young or as old as when we last saw them, but because their unique individuality and personality is providentially preserved and resurrected by God. When we meet elementary or high school classmates after twenty or thirty years, most often we are greatly surprised by how much their external appearance has changed over the years. Yet as we talk together we soon realize that their unique personalities have not really changed. They are still the Mary, or the John, or the Bob we knew many years before.
The same principle applies to the recognition of our resurrected loved ones. We shall recognize them in spite of noticeable changes in their physical appearance, because God will resurrect their unique individuality and personality. Summing up, we can say that the belief in the resurrection of the body challenges us to take seriously our total being with its mental, physical, and spiritual components, because we are "a temple of the Holy Spirit . . . which [we] have from God" (1 Cor 6:19) and which God will miraculously resurrect at Christs Return.
3. The Final Judgment
Concomitant with Second Advent. The resurrection of believers and unbelievers discussed above is closely related to the final judgment, since it is the former which makes the latter possible. We have seen in chapter 13 that the final judgment is clearly presented in the Scripture as being concomitant with the Second Advent. In a sense a major purpose of Christs Return is to execute the final judgment, which will dispose of evil in a decisively final and permanent way. Jesus Himself stated this truth when He said: "When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats" (Matt 25:31-32). The outcome of this separation will be that the wicked "will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Matt 25:46).
Paul reiterates the same basic truth when speaking of the final judgment: "For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury" (Rom 2:6-8). Statements such as these indicate that a fundamental function of Christs Return is to execute a final and universal judgment that will determine the eternal destiny of every human being and usher in a new world.
Evaluative and Executive Phases. We have shown in chapter 14 that the executive phase of the final judgment is preceded and followed by an evaluative phase. The two phases are not explicitly differentiated in the Scripture because, as noted, to Bible writers the fact of the final judgment was more important than its phases. Yet we have found several Biblical passages which clearly suggest that the final judgment encompasses both an evaluative and an executive phase. The latter is carried out by Christ, first at His Return when He will reward living and resurrected believers with the gift of eternal life while destroying the living sinners (2 Thess 1:7-9); and second, at the end of the millennium when Christ will punish the resurrected unbelievers of all the ages with eternal death ("second death"Rev 20:6, 14; 21:8).
The former, the evaluative phase, takes place before and after the Second Advent, and thus we have designated it as Pre-Advent and Post-Advent judgments. Both of these involve a judicial process that precedes Christs executive act of granting rewards or punishments. Both are designed to enable moral intelligences to evaluate and accept the justice of Gods judgment in saving some and condemning others. Both decide the eternal destiny of intelligent moral beings.
Two Outcomes. The difference between the Pre-Advent and Post-Advent evaluative phases of the final judgment is primarily in their outcomes. We have seen in chapter 14 that the Pre-Advent evaluative judgment is held in the presence of unfallen heavenly beings and reveals Gods justice in Christs Coming to reward the resurrected and living believers with the gift of eternal life. On the other hand, the Post-Advent evaluative judgment is conducted before saved human beings and reveals Gods justice in Christs coming down to this earth at the end of the millennium to punish the resurrected wicked with eternal death.
The ultimate outcome of the final judgment executed by Christ, first at His Second Advent and then at the end of the millennium, is eternal life for the righteous and permanent annihilation for the unrighteous. This Seventh-day Adventist understanding of the final judgment preserves the unity and finality which the Scripture attributes to this event. It enhances our appreciation of Gods justice and strengthens our expectation of the Second Advent.
Basis for Confidence. The Biblical view of the final judgment as the decisive and final triumph of Gods love and justice, executed by Christ at and after His Coming to vindicate and save believers and to condemn and destroy unbelievers, offers us reassurance, confidence, and inspiration. It reassures us that the present conflict between good and evil will not last forever, but will be terminated at Christs Coming in a final and decisive way. It gives us confidence not to fear the day when "God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus" (Rom 2:16), because Christ is able not only to "keep [us] from falling" in this present life, but also "to present [us] without blemish before the presence of his glory" (Jude 24) on the Day of His judgment. It inspires and challenges us "to live sober, upright and godly lives" (Titus 2:12) because when Christ comes to execute the final judgment, He will invite into His kingdom "not every one who says to me Lord, Lord, . . . but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matt 7:21).
PART THREE: THE OUTCOME OF CHRISTS COMING
1. Restoration of this World
The ultimate outcome of Christs Return is the restoration of this world to its original perfection. The resurrection and the translation of believers, the final judgment, and the resurrection and destruction of the unbelievers, are all preparatory events leading to the final act of redemptive history: the creation of a "new heaven and a new earth" (Rev 21:1; 2 Pet 3:13).
The purpose of creation and of redemption will be ultimately accomplished when the effects of sin will be eradicated from the entire creation and a new, perfect order will be established by God. It is only when Paradise Lost will become Paradise Restored that the purpose of Christs First and Second Comings into this world will be fully realized.
New Earth Fulfills Old Testament Promises. God promised mankind at creation that this earth would be our human habitation and inheritance (Gen 1:28). As a result of sin, our first parents were banished from the Garden of Eden and sent out into the earth now under a curse (Gen 3:17). The promise of final victory which God made immediately after the Fall (Gen 3:15) contains the implicit assurance of a restored paradise in a new earth.
The same assurance is implicitly present in Gods promise to Abraham: "And I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God" (Gen 17:8). Note that God promised the land of Canaan not only to Abrahams descendants but also to Abraham himself. Obviously this promise was never fulfilled to Abraham himself, because the only land he ever possessed in Canaan was a burial cave which he purchased from the Hittites (Gen 23).
Expansion of Old Testament Promises. The book of Hebrews informs us that Abraham looked forward to a greater fulfillment of Gods promised inheritance of the land of Canaan, namely, "he looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Heb 11:10). The "city" to which Abraham looked forward is the New Jerusalem which will be on the new earth. Thus Gods promise to Abraham will be ultimately fulfilled, not when the Jews repossess all the land of Palestine, as taught by dispensationalists, but when God will establish a new world as the inheritance of all the spiritual children of Abraham.
Paul states in Romans that God promised to Abraham and his descendants "that they should inherit the world" (Rom 4:13), not just the land of Canaan. The same expansion of the concept of the land can be seen in Christs beatitude: "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt 5:5), which is a paraphrase of Psalm 37:11: "But the meek shall possess the land." The promise of entrance into the rest and peace of the land of Canaan was not an end in itself, but a type of the rest and peace of the new earth which awaits the people of God (Heb 4:9). Thus the new earth represents the ultimate fulfillment of Gods promises to His people.
Annihilation or Renewal of Present Earth? What does the expression "a new heaven and a new earth" mean? Does it mean that the present universe will be completely annihilated, so that God will create a brand new world totally different from the present cosmos? Or does it mean that God will purify and renew the present world?
A good number of theologians favor the concept of the compete annihilation of the present earth and the creation of a brand new one. Appeal is made to passages such as 2 Peter 3:12 which says: "The heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire!"
There is no doubt that the earth will be radically transformed by cataclysmic events when Christ executes His final judgment upon sinners and the effect of sin. Yet the Scripture does not support the concept of total extinction, annihilation, but rather of renewal and restoration of this earth. Four main reasons can be given.
2. Reasons for the Renewal of the Earth
New in Quality not in Origin. First, the term used in 2 Peter 3:13 and in Revelation 21:1 to designate the newness of this worlds ("new heaven and new earth") in Greek is kainos and not neos. The difference between the two terms is significant. Neos, as J. Behm explains, is what "is new in time or origin," while "kainos is what is new in nature, different from the usual, impressive, better than the old, superior in value or attraction."20 Thus the expression "a new heaven and a new earth" means the creation of a new cosmos which is not totally different from the present one, but rather better than the present one, because it will be gloriously renewed.
A good example of the meaning of kainos is found in 2 Corinthians 5:17 where Paul writes: "If any one is in Christ, he is a new [kaine] creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new [kaina] has come." As the individual believer becomes "a new creature or creation" (both readings are possible) by being renewed and transformed by divine grace, so this whole world will become "a new heaven and a new earth" by being purified and restored by divine power. In both instances the "new" stands in continuity with the old.
Freedom from Decay. A second reason favoring the renewal rather than the annihilation of this world is Pauls statement that "the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom 8:21). The fact that Paul describes the ultimate restoration of this world as liberation "from its bondage to decay," suggests a renewal of the present creation and not some totally different creation, bearing no relation to this world.
The Resurrection of the Body. A third reason is the continuity suggested by the resurrection bodies of believers. The fact that the Scripture speaks of the resurrection of the body, and not of the creation of new human souls or spirits, suggests a clear continuity between our present mode of existence and that of the new earth. If this is true for the human creation, we have reason to believe that it is equally true for the subhuman creation.
Satans Defeat. A fourth reason for preferring renewal over annihilation is that annihilation would represent a victory for Satan and not for God. This would mean, as Anthony A. Hoekema rightly explains, that "Satan would have succeeded in so devastatingly corrupting the present cosmos and the present earth that God could do nothing with it but to blot it totally out of existence. But Satan did not win such a victory. On the contrary, Satan has been decisively defeated. God will reveal the full dimensions of that defeat when he shall renew this very earth on which Satan deceived mankind and finally banish from it all the results of Satans evil machinations."21
The practical implication of the renewal of the present earth is that we cannot write it off as a total loss and rejoice in its deterioration. On the contrary, we must work for the betterment of the world now in view of Gods plan to renew it at the end. Our mission is to develop and promote a distinctively Christian lifestyle which has value not only for this present world, but also for the world to come.
3. Biblical View of the New Earth
Misconceptions of the New World. "A fear of making the future inheritance seem too material," writes Ellen White, "has led many to spiritualize away the very truths which lead us to look upon it as our home."22 Such a fear has led many sincere believers to view the world to come as a spiritual retreat somewhere up in space where the souls of the redeemed will sing and pray everlastingly. This misconception is reflected even in the lines of popular hymns such as the one that says: "In mansions of glory and endless delight, Ill ever adore Thee in heaven so bright."
The thought of spending eternity in a spiritual world somewhere off in space, wearing white robes, plucking harps, singing, meditating, and contemplating, can hardly appeal to twentieth-century Christians in love with the sights and sounds of the great metropolis. We noticed in chapter 12 that this misconception of the new world is one of the major factors which has contributed to dampen the expectation of Christs Return, since many see this event as the end of their real life upon this earth.
Biblical Realism. The vision of an ethereal, spiritual paradise somewhere up in space has been inspired by Greek philosophy rather than by Biblical teachings. Both the Old and the New Testaments speak of a "new heaven and a new earth" (Is 65:17; Rev 21:1) as being not a different world somewhere off in space, but as being the present heaven and earth renewed and transformed to their original perfection.
We have shown in another study how the vision of the peace, harmony, material prosperity, and delight of the primordial SabbathAdams First Day after his creationfunctions in the Old Testament times as paradigm of the Last Days, a common designation for the world to come.23 The peace and harmony that existed between Adam and the animals will be restored in the new earth when "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them" (Is 11:6).
Similarly the prosperity and abundance which prevailed at creation will be restored in the new earth where "the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it" (Amos 9:13; cf. Is 4:2; 30:23-25; Joel 3:18; Zeph 3:13). These descriptions convey the picture of a real and abundant "earthly" life in the new world.
Urban Life. The New Testament is equally emphatic on the continuity between life in the present world and that in the world to come. Perhaps the most powerful image used to convey the sense of continuity and realism of the new world is the image of the city. Hebrews, for example, says that Abraham "looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Heb 11:10). The experience of Abraham is a type of the experience of all the believers, because, as the same author explains, "here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come" (Heb 13:14).
The New Testament closes with a most impressive description of the Holy City, Jerusalem, into which are welcome "only those who are written in the Lambs book of life" (Rev 21:27). It is doubtful that all the details of the city are to be taken literally. For example why should the Holy City have a very high wall which would prevent its citizens from viewing the marvelous panorama beyond the city walls? Obviously the vision of such a high wall conveyed to John and to his contemporaries the assurance of complete security. In those days the taller the wall the more peacefully the inhabitants could sleep at night.
Similarly the references to the names of the twelve tribes inscribed on the twelve gates (Rev 21:12) and to the names of the twelve apostles written on the twelve foundations (v. 14) suggest that the citizens of the Holy City consist of believers from both the Old and New Testament communities. Whatever the meaning of all the details, the vision of the Holy City conveys the image, not of mystical, monastic life in a heavenly retreat, but of urban life of intense activity on this renewed earth.
Active, Exciting Life. The Biblical vision of the Holy City suggests that life in the new earth will not be one of isolation and loneliness, but of communion, excitement, and action. The new earth will be a complex, cosmopolitan place where all kinds of people of different races, cultures, and languages will live and work together in peace. Life will not be static and boring, but dynamic and creative.
"In the New Jerusalem," Shirley C. Guthrie writes, "there will be community without uniformity, individuality without irresponsibility. The problem of individual rights vs. community welfare will be solved in such a way that community serves individual, and individual serves the community, in a commonwealth of free responsible beings united in love."24
The image of redeemed living together in the City of God in interrelatedness and interdependence represents the fulfillment of the divine intent for creation and redemption. At creation God willed that human beings would find their fulfillment not by living alone, but in working together to subdue and have dominion over the earth. Through redemption Christ reconciles us to God and to fellow beings so that we can live in peace even with those whom we once viewed as enemies.
Urban Life Sanctioned by God. The fact that we Christians look forward to a new heaven and a new earth in which there will be the City of God should teach us to view the structure of urban life as sanctioned by God. For many it is difficult to accept this view because our present cities are hardly a reflection of the City of God. On the contrary, they are the places where hate, hostility, and indifference toward God and fellow beings prevail.
The present state of urban life should not cause us to reject in principle urbanization as a sinful social structure. The fact that urban life will continue in the new earth tells us that it will be possible for people to live together in a complex urban system of interrelatedness and interdependence, without giving rise to the social, economic, ecological, political, and racial problems we are experiencing today. Moreover, this vision of living together in the future city of God should challenge us as Christians not to abandon the cities en masse by fleeing to the country, but to work in and for the cities by offering our Christian influence and help in solving the many complex problems.
4. A Preview of Life in the New Earth
Glimpses of Reality. The chief Biblical passages which speak of life in the new earth (Is 65:17-25; 66:22-23; Rev 21:1 to 22:5) offer us only a few glimpses of what life will really be like there. Thus any attempt to characterize the life, the conditions, and the pursuits of the world to come must be seen as very limited and imperfect efforts to describe a reality which "no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived" (2 Cor 2:9).
It is the lack of detailed information about the new earth that has made it more difficult for writers to portray paradise than hell. Miltons Paradise Regained is but a pale reflection of the power and realism of Paradise Lost. The same is true of Dantes Paradiso which lacks the realism and vividness of his Inferno (Hell). In view of the limited divine revelation about life in the new earth, we can only allude to some of its significant aspects suggested by the Scripture.
The Presence of God. A most unique and rewarding aspect of life in the new earth will be an unprecedented experience of the present of God among His people. "Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them" (Rev 21:3). These familiar words are the central promise of Gods covenant of grace (cf. Gen 17:7; Jer 31:33; Heb 8:10) which will be fully realized in the new earth.
In His parables Jesus often spoke of human destiny in terms of being in Gods presence. He compared the destiny of His followers to a wedding feast where He Himself will be the bridegroom (Matt 25:1-13) or the host (Matt 22:1-10); also to a household to which the Master, Christ Himself, returns to reward His faithful servants, saying, "enter into the joy of your master" (Matt 25:21; cf. Luke 12:35-38).
Gods presence in the new earth is so real that "the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb" (Rev 21:23). This passage indicates that in the new earth, the heaven, the place where God dwells, and the earth, the human habitation, will no longer be separated but will be merged.
Believers will enjoy in the new earth the blessed fellowship that Adam and Even experienced each Sabbath when God came to visit them. The Fall interrupted this blessed fellowship but the Sabbath remained to remind believers of its future restoration (Heb 4:9). Our weekly celebration of the Sabbath nourishes our hope of the future fellowship with God in the new earth. That will be, as Augustine puts it, "the greatest of Sabbaths" when "we shall rest and we shall see; we shall see and we shall love; we shall love and we shall praise; this is what will be at the end without end."25
Fellowship with All Believers. The fellowship we will enjoy with the Trinity will bring us into communion with believers of all the ages and from all over the world. Today we can only fellowship with those who live in our time and in our immediate surroundings. In the new earth our fellowship will extend to those who lived in every age and country: patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, missionaries, pioneers, our family ancestors and descendants, pastors, and laity.
The symbol of this grand fellowship is the great wedding banquet of the Lamb: "Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb" (Rev 19:9). This fellowship will include "a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues" (Rev 7:9). It is impossible to imagine the inspiration and information we will gain from becoming personally acquainted with the greatest minds and souls who ever lived.
Absence of Evil. A most notable difference between our present life and that of the new earth will be the absence of all the things which now limit or harm our lives. The Devil, who is the ultimate source of all forms of evil, will be destroyed in the lake of fire (Rev 20:10). Consequently, there will be no more manifestation of evil within us or around us. It is hard to imagine what it will be like to live in the new world where there will be no more hate, jealousy, fear, hostility, discrimination, deception, oppression, killing, cut-throat competition, political rivalries, arms races, economic recessions, racial tensions, starvation, disparity between the rich and the poor, or sickness and death.
"He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away" (Rev 21:4). These bold strokes suggest far more than they actually indicate. They suggest that there will be no more incurable diseases, no more tragic accidents, no more crippled children, no more funeral services, no more permanent separations. They also suggest that we will be able to accomplish our God-inspired goals. In our present life sickness or death often terminates the ambitious projects we are pursuing. In the new earth everyone will have unlimited time and resources to achieve the highest goals.
Absence of Fear. The absence of evil will be evident especially in the absence of fear, insecurity, and anxiety. Our present life is constantly exposed to dangers, uncertainties, and fears. We fear the loss of our job, the break-in by a robber in our home, the breaking down of our car, the unfaithfulness of our marital partner, the failure of our children at school or at work, the deterioration of our health, the rejection by our peers. In a word, we fear all the uncertainties of life. Such fears fill our lives with anxiety, thus contradicting Gods purpose for our lives and diminishing our human potential.
The Scripture uses various images to reassure us that in the new earth there will be no fear or insecurity. It speaks of a city with permanent foundations built by God Himself (Heb 11:10), and of "a kingdom that cannot be shaken" (Heb 12:28). Perhaps the most suggestive picture of security for a first-century Christian was that of a city with "a great high wall" (Rev 21:12). Once its massive gates were closed, its citizens could live inside in relative security. To emphasize the complete security in the new earth, the Holy City was shown to John as having walls which are as high as their length (Rev 21:16).
Another significant image designed to convey the sense of perfect security in the new earth is that of the disappearance of the sea ("the sea was no more"Rev 21:1). The sea was seen as a threat to the security of the universe (cf. Rev 13:1; 17:15) especially by the Hebrews, who, not having a maritime force, were constantly exposed to the danger of sudden attacks from the sea. Thus the absence of the sea from the new earth means that absence of threats to its security and harmony. The same sense of security would be best conveyed to twentieth-century Christians by other types of images such as: no alarm system, no security locks, no homeowner insurance, no security check points, no strategic defense system. Irrespective of the imagery used, the assurance is that in the new earth we will be set free from the crippling effects of fear and anxiety.
Absence of Pollution. One of the most pleasant aspects of life in the new earth will be its clean environment. "Nothing unclean shall enter it, nor any one who practices abomination or falsehood" (Rev 21:27). Freedom from the moral pollution of sin will be reflected in the freedom from the physical pollution of the environment. Life will no longer be threatened by the irresponsible pollution and depletion of the natural resources, because the citizens of the new earth will be faithful stewards of Gods new creation. There will not be "smoking sections" in the new earth, because no one will ever wish to smoke his or her health away. What a relief it will be to be able to breathe always fresh, clean air outdoors and indoors; to be able to drink from any fountain clear, sparkling water; to be able to eat wholesome fresh food uncontaminated by pesticides or preservatives!
We are not told how God will purify this earth from its air, water, and soil pollution. Peter alludes to a purification by fire when he writes: "The heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire!" (2 Pet 3:12). Fire was known in the ancient world as the main purifying agent. It is feasible, however, that God will use other means besides fire to reach into the depths of the earth to clean up the toxic wastes dumped underground. Whatever method God may use to radically eliminate the pollution present in the air, water, and soil, the assurance is that the new earth will be both morally and physically clean.
Reassuring is also the fact that the citizens of the new earth will be responsible stewards of Gods new creation who will not spoil it again. They will presumably produce little waste and know how to dispose of it in a way that nature will be able to assimilate it and process it. A perfect ecological equilibrium will be preserved which will guarantee the well-being of the human and subhuman creation.
Activity and Creativity. Life in the new earth will not be spent in idleness or passive mediation, but in productive activity and creativity. Those who think that the redeemed will live in the new world as glorified guests, fed, housed, and entertained by God, are totally misled. The new earth is not a kind of Disneyland magic world where God provides endless free rides to everyone. There will be no "free loaders" in the world to come. Isaiah writes: "They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat" (Is 65:21-22).
The Biblical picture of tomorrows world is one where real people engage in productive activity and creativity. There will be no lack of time or of resources to complete our projects. In the field of knowledge today we can only scratch the surface of any discipline we choose to specialize in. The more we learn, the more we realize there is yet much to be learned. In the new earth there will be no limit to our growth in knowledge and grace. "Every faculty will be developed, every capacity increased. The acquirement of knowledge will not weary the mind or exhaust the energies. There the grandest enterprises may be carried forward, the loftiest aspirations reached, the highest ambitions realized; and still there will arise new heights to surmount, new wonders to admire, new truths to comprehend, fresh objects to call forth the powers of mind and soul and body."26
Continuity with Present Culture. Life in the new earth will involve some continuity with what we may loosely term our present culture. This is suggested by the fact noted earlier that the Bible speaks of the transformation of this world rather than of its annihilation. Continuity is also indicated by the resurrection of the body, which implies a preservation and continuation of our personalities from death into resurrection.
Another significant indication of continuity is found in Revelation 21:24, 26 which says: "The kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it [the city], . . . they shall bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations." This passage suggests first of all that the inhabitants of the new earth will include persons who have attained great prominence and power in this world: kings, presidents, scientists, and the like. Second, the unique contribution which each nation has made to the betterment of the present life will enrich the life of the new earth. This gives us reason to believe that the technological breakthroughs of our time in the fields of computers, communication, and travel will not be lost but greatly enhanced, refined, and perfected.
Stephen Travis perceptively notes that "God who affirms the goodness of the world he has made, will not simply write it off with all its wealth of art and beauty and human inventiveness. In Gods economy nothing is wasted. All the creative work of men and women which reflects the abundant creativity of God will be carried over into the transformed world."27 God values our creative accomplishments, often produced at great personal sacrifice. It is comforting to think that their value will extend beyond this present life to the new earth. The preservation in the new earth of the unique accomplishments of mankind suggests also that life there will not be dull and colorless but exciting and fulfilling.
Regular Worship. Central to the life in the new earth will be the regular worship of God. Isaiah describes the regularity and stability of worship in the new earth in terms familiar to his time: "From new moon to new moon, and from sabbath to sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, says the Lord" (Is 66:23). The context indicates that this regular gathering for worship refers first of all to the hoped-for political restoration of Jerusalem and of its religious services (v. 20), and second, to the End-time restoration of this earth, of which the former was a type. The prophets often see the ultimate divine accomplishments through the transparency of imminent historical events.
Isaiah mentions the "new moon" together with the Sabbath, because the former played a vital role in determining the beginning of the new year, of each month, and also the date for celebrating key annual festivals such as Passover, Pentecost, and the Day of Atonement. Since the date of the new moon was determined by actual observation, its appearance was crucial to the stability of the civil and religious calendar. This is why Isaiah (66:23) and Ezekiel (46:3) speak of regular assemblying on the new moon and on the Sabbath in the restored Jerusalem. To them this signified worship regularity and stability.
There is no reason to believe that the redeemed will assemble for worship on the day of the new moon, because its primary function was to aid the Israelites in calculating their annual feasts and in preparing for them. Since the function of the liturgical calendar of the Temple terminated with the First Coming of Christ, there is no reason why the annual feasts should be restored in the new earth. John saw "no temple in the city" (Rev 21:22), because its symbolic services and festivals found their fulfillment in the atoning sacrifice of Christ (Heb 8:5; 9:9, 11-12).
Isaiah mentions the new moon as a time of regular worship gathering in the new earth because he describes the latter in the context of the historical regathering of the Jews "from all the nations" (Is 66:20). It is therefore necessary to distinguish between those elements which applied to national Israel, such as the new moon, and those elements which will continue in the new earth, such as the Sabbath. Moreover, it is important to note that Isaiahs concern is to emphasize the stability and regularity of both the social and religious life ("the new earth . . . your descendants and your name" "shall remain"Is 66:22). This assurance applies both to the past promised restoration of Jerusalem and to the future life in the new earth.
Richer Worship. In the new earth both personal and public worship will be not only regular but also richer in expression and meaning. The hymns in the book of Revelation give us a glimpse of what such worship might be like. It is said that the 144,000 will sing "a new song" which no one could learn except those "who had been redeemed from the earth" (Rev 14:3). Presumably this song is new and unique because it is a song of experience which expresses personal gratitude to God for His marvelous redemption. Those who have conquered the final deception are seen by John as standing on or beside what appeared to be like a "sea of glass mingled with fire" and singing "the song of the Lamb" which says: "Great and wonderful are thy deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are they ways, O King of the Ages! . . . All nations shall come and worship thee, for they judgments have been revealed" (Rev 15:2-4).
The hymns of the book of Revelation suggest that the keynote of worship in the new earth will be the praise of the worthiness of God for His perfect creation (4:11), marvelous redemption (5:9, 12) and final vindication and restoration of His people (15:3-4; 19:1-3). Since the essence of worship is the acknowledgment of the worthiness of God through praise and adoration, worship in the new earth will be richer because the redeemed will have a fuller appreciation of the worthiness of God.
In this present life we worship God though we do not always understand why He allows the wicked to prosper and the innocent to suffer. In the new earth this mystery will be solved, as the redeemed are given the opportunity to understand the fairness of Gods judgments. "All nations shall come and worship thee, for they judgments have been revealed" (Rev 15:4). This revelation of divine justice and mercy will inspire the redeemed to praise God, saying: "Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just" (Rev 19:1-2).
Worship will be richer in the new earth not only because of the fuller appreciation of Gods mercy and justice, but also because of the opportunity to worship God visibly. "The throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in [the city], and his servants shall worship him; they shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads" (Rev 22:3-4). This text suggests that the worship of God in the new earth will enrich believers with a fuller knowledge and enjoyment of God. In a sense this is the ultimate function of the worship of God, namely, to experience His present, peace, and power in our lives. This experience will be so real in the new earth that the place will truly be heaven.
In this chapter we have examined the Biblical teaching regarding the manner, the purpose, and the ultimate outcome of Christs Return to this earth. We have seen that the manner of Christs Return will be personal, visible, sudden, glorious, and triumphant.
The basic purpose of Christs Return is to complete His redemptive work by executing the final judgment which will result in the gathering of believers into His Kingdom and the eternal destruction of unbelievers. We have shown that believers will be resurrected by God as real physical persons with their unique individuality, personality, and character developed in this life.
The ultimate outcome of Christs Return will be the restoration of this world to its original perfection. We have seen that the new world will not be a totally different world somewhere off in space inhabited by spiritual souls, but our present earth, restored to its original perfection and inhabited by real physical persons. We have found that the Scriptures portray the new earth as a complex, cosmopolitan place where people of different races, cultures, and languages will live active and exciting lives.
Some of the most rewarding aspects of living in the new earth will be to worship God visibly, to experience more fully His presence and power in our lives, to fellowship with believers of all the ages, to achieve our loftiest aspirations, to live in a clean and happy world, without the fear of pollution, violence, accident, sickness, and death. This will be the consummation of the Advent Hope: the time when, as eloquently expressed by Ellen White, "Sin and sinners are no more. The entire universe is clean. One pulse of harmony and gladness beats through the vast creation. From Him who created all, flow life and light and gladness, throughout the realms of illimitable space. From the minutest atom to the greatest world, all things, animate and inanimate, in their unshadowed beauty and perfect joy, declare the God is love."28
NOTES ON CHAPTER XV
1. Emphasis supplied.
2. Emphasis supplied.
3. Emphasis supplied.
4. Emphasis supplied.
5. Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, California, 1948), vol. 2, pp. 191-192.
6. Ellen White says that even at the ascension "a cloud of glory his Him from their [disciples] sight" (The Desire of Ages [Mountain View, California, 1940], p. 831.
7. Oscar Cullmann, Salvation in History, trans. S. G. Sowers (New York, 1967), p. 84.
8. See, for example, J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Grand Rapids, 1980), pp. 402-411.
9. Seventh-day Adventists believe that at the Second Advent there will be also a "special resurrection" of certain wicked persons who have fiercely opposed the work of God. This belief rests primarily on Revelation 1:7 which says that even those "who pierced him [Christ]" will witness His glorious Coming (cf. Dan 12:2).
10. The only exception is the "special wicked" mentioned in n. 9 who will be resurrected at Christs Coming, but only to die again. At the end of the millennium they will be resurrected again to face their punishment of eternal death.
11. George Eldon Ladd, The Last Things (Grand Rapids, 1979), p. 79.
12. Emphasis supplied.
13. Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids, 1979), p. 250.
14. Emphasis supplied.
15. A comparative table listing the various versions of the Apostles Creed is found in Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, 1959), vol. 2, p. 538.
16. Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, chapter 35, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, 1973), vol. 3, p. 571.
17. Michael Perry, The Resurrection of Man (Oxford, 1975), p. 119.
18. Ellen G. White, Child Guidance (Nashville, 1954), p. 229.
19. Ibid., pp. 164-165.
20. J. Behm, "Kainos," Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids, 1974), vol. 3, p. 447.
21. Anthony A. Hoekema (n. 13), p. 281.
22. Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan (Mountain View, California, 1950), p. 675.
23. Samuele Bacchiocchi, The Sabbath in the New Testament (Berrien Springs, Michigan, 1985), pp. 55-65.
24. Shirley C. Guthrie, Christian Doctrine (Atlanta, 1968), p. 398.
25. Augustine, City of God 22; 30.
26. Ellen G. White (n. 22), p. 677.
27. Steve Travis, I Believe in the Second Coming of Jesus (Grand Rapids, 1982), p. 181.
28. Ellen G. White (n. 22), p. 678.