We now come to the final chapter in Christopher Wright’s The God I Don’t Understand called The New Beginning. We saw in an earlier post that Wright subscribes to N. T. Wrights characterization of “life after life after death.” Heaven is a “transit lounge” on the way to the new creation. So what can we say about the new creation?
Wright is emphatic that we are not leaving the created order for some spiritual order. The “… new reality is not a fundamentally different reality. (195) It is still “heaven and earth,” not “heaven instead of earth.” Drawing on Revelation 21-22, Wright lists the following things that will not occur in the new creation:
- There will be no more sea (21:1). The sea represented chaotic, restless evil in Old Testament symbolism, the place from which the rampaging beasts in Daniel’s visions had come to trample the nations. All such unruly rebellious hostility will have gone.
- There will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain (21:4). All suffering and separation will be ended for there will be nothing any longer to cause them.
- There will be no more sin, for there will be no more sinners (21:7-8); the new creation involves exclusion as well as inclusion – exclusion of the unrepentantly and persistently wicked.
- There will be no more darkness and night (21:25; 22:5), in the sense of all that they represented. The light of God’s presence will dispel the darkest evils.
- There will be no more impurity, shame, or deceit (21:27) – things that are among the original marks of our falleness.
- There will be no more international strife (22:2), for all the nations will find healing through the tree of life and the river of life.
- There will be no more curse (22:3). With the reproach of Eden lifted at last, earth will be freed from its subjection and its redeemed inhabitants freed from bondage to its curse. (196)
But Wright asks, “what will there be?”
The Garden City
As I’ve noted repeatedly at this blog, the Bible begins in a garden and ends in a city. This is significant. But as Wright notes, the New Jerusalem incorporates the garden into the city.
- The garden included gold and precious stones (Gen. 2:12). The city likewise shines with precious stones and is paved with gold (Rev. 21:11, 19-21)
- The garden was watered by four rivers. The city likewise contains the river of the water of life flowing from God’s throne right down the main street. (Rev. 22:1-2, a picture that John owes to Ezek. 47:1-12)
- Most important, the garden had the tree of life at the centre, but human beings had been barred from access to the source of eternal life in their condition of sin and rebellion (Gen. 3:22-24). The tree of life spans the river of life in the city of God (Rev. 22:2), and those once barred from it will have eternal access to it (22:14) – a vivid picture of the wonderful promise that there will be no death at all in the new creation. (196-197)
Cities have a mixed reputation in the Bible. While the garden was planted by God, cities are the apex of human achievement, incorporating human undertakings like commerce, government, religion, art and community. Yet the first city mentioned in the Bible is Cain’s city of Enoch, built as an expression of defiance to God. Wright says that cities and sin were “… so interpenetrating as to be almost synonymous.” Still, God chooses an existing Cannanite city, establishes his temple there, and transforms it into “the city of God,” Jerusalem. God incorporates that which is uniquely human into his new creation.
The Glory of Civilizations
Wright decries platonic conceptualizations where the material world (evil) is destroyed and the spiritual world (good) is preserved. He also rejects the idea of “… a great fiery obliteration that will leave nothing of the present world in existence.” (199) This notion comes primarily from 2 Peter 3:10 where, in the King James Version, it says the earth “will be burnt up.” Earlier manuscripts discovered since that time show that something more along the lines of “will be laid bare” or “exposed” is a more accurate translation. Leading up to this verse, Peter refers to the flood in which the world was not destroyed but all that was evil was washed away. In 1 Peter 1:7, the idea of judgment as a refining fire is given. So the idea is one of radical purification, not obliteration.
Then Wright quotes Revelation 21:24-27:
So what is “the glory and honor of the nations?” Wright says:
To this list I would also add things like governance and modes of commerce that may or may not translate directly into the new creation but I expect they will be redeemed brought into the new creation.
The Healing of the Nations
The leaves of the tree of life will bring healing to the nations. Peace and justice will reign.
The Harmony of Creation
Something about nature will fundamentally change. The predator and prey relationship will end and there will be a renewed animal kingdom. (I confess that I’m not as confident as Wright about the nature of this renewed animal kingdom. I’m still exploring that one.)
That will do it for this post. In the closing post, we will look at redeemed humanity and the presence of God.
What do you think of Christopher Wright’s claims here so far?