The Second Advent - A New Heavens and EarthJune 8, 2016 Advent Essays
One of the stunning realities of the Christmas season is that Jesus’s coming was not the end of the story but its beginning. In fact, even Jesus’s death, resurrection and return to heaven are not the final chapter in the story. Each of our lives is a part of the ongoing story of what God is doing to restore His world. How, though, will it all end? Amazingly, God has told us. In the final book of the Bible, God provides us with a vision of what awaits us when Christ’s second coming, his Second Advent, effectively closes the book on human history. It is a dazzling vision. It is also a vision that speaks to some of our deepest questions and longings: what is the meaning of it all? what should my life be about and will it all matter? You may be surprised by the clarity with which this final vision addresses those questions.
Read Revelation 21:1-7; 22-27
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." 5 And He who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also He said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." 6 And He said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be His God and he will be my son.22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the LORD God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day - and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.
A few observations will be helpful as we wrestle with the evocative imagery with which this final chapter in human history is presented. All of Revelation is meant to “pull back the veil” on reality as we experience it and it gives us a glimpse into the spiritual realities that surround us every day. So what does this strange and stunning vision suggest about our world and the world to come?
It is heaven that comes to earth (not vice versa)
Despite the old spiritual that claims “I’ll fly away oh glory”, the truth is that the movement of the final chapter in human history is not the flying of individual souls away to a place called heaven. Rather, it’s heaven that comes down to earth in a beautiful, and transformational uniting of these two realms of God. Notice, earth is not completely burnt to the ground. God does not hit the reset button and start over from scratch. Rather, there is both discontinuity between the world we see now and the new heavens and new earth (it is “new”, after all), and radical continuity (it is still, in some sense, “earth”). As such, there will be a measure of familiarity between what we experience then and what we experience now.
The new heavens and the new earth is a garden-city
From the beginning, God had woven meaningful progress into the fabric of His original creation and commissioned humanity to cultivate the raw materials with which he’d been provided. The final chapter in human history is not simply a return to Eden. A garden has become a garden-city. This suggests that the entirety of human history actually matters and will be, in some sense, memorialized in the age to come. Notice also that Jesus says that He is “making all things new” (v.5), which is an active verb. The arrival of the new heavens and the new earth does not bring an end to meaningful work. God’s ideal city is not characterized by sedentary sluggards enjoying an eternal weekend of rest. Rather, there is a sense of movement and continued progress (the gates are never shut; v. 25). God continues His work in the new heavens and the new earth and so will we. However, this will be work of the most engaging, fruitful and enjoyable sort. There is no crying, no pain, no tears, no domineering bosses, no unrealistic deadlines and no all-nighters (in fact, there is no night!) in that city. Rather, work will become what it was always meant to be and what we’ve only tasted and glimpsed it can be fleetingly in this world: a source of deep worship to the One we were created for.
Jesus is the focal point of the city and of our worship
The vision of Revelation 21, unveils the finished product toward which creation has been progressing. Notice that it is Jesus who is the focal point of the city and the focal point of the worship of the nations. This, we learn elsewhere, was God’s intention all along (He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for your sake; 1 Peter 1:20). The death and resurrection of Jesus was not God’s Plan B for the world. God (and Jesus for that matter) knew, before the world was even in existence that humanity’s creation would necessitate Christ’s stunning sacrifice and bitter separation from the Father. And yet He still went through with it! Why? Because of His great love for us. A love that we can only understand fully on this side of the cross. 1 John 4:9 says, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him.” There’s that word again: manifest. The perfect love present between the Father and the Son was revealed in all of its resplendent, self-giving glory on the Cross. In other words, the knowledge we have of God because of what Christ suffered on the cross is superior to the knowledge of God that Adam and Eve had in the Garden. That’s the end-goal of redemptive history! And that’s why the focal point of our worship in the new heavens and the new earth is Jesus – the lamb slain, who bears the marks of His suffering (an eternal reminder of the self-giving love of God which was made manifest to us and into which we are now welcomed).
In short, Jesus’ first advent is the means to his second advent. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, a new world is coming. A world where all things will be restored. A world where that which was done in Christ’s name will be remembered forever. A world where everything we’ve done in this life that is truly good and beautiful, no matter how small or large, will matter. A world where Jesus will receive the worship of the nations. A baby in a manger will become the focal point of the cosmos. May we remember Jesus’ second coming and the hope it brings, even as we sing and celebrate his first.
- What is most surprising to you about the vision of history’s final chapter in Revelation 21?
- In what way is Jesus’ first advent the means to his second advent?
- In what practical ways would your actions and attitude be different if you took this vision of the world to come seriously?