Biblical Narrative

Biblical Narrative – Chapter 4: RESTORATION

If you asked a random person on the street what eternity looks like for Christians according to the Bible, what kinds of images would you hear about?

Angel wings? Floating in the clouds? Playing harps forever and ever?

If you ask enough people, you’ll probably hear these answers over and over. Lots of Christians believe they will spend eternity as nothing more than a soul, floating around in some sort of ethereal, immaterial existence. That might sound kind of nice, but there’s one big problem: none of that is taught in the Bible.

The good news is that what we actually find in the pages of Scripture is a whole lot better than souls floating around. Listen to the words of Revelation 21:1-5:

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. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 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. 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.”

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.”

It would take quite a bit of misunderstanding to read this passage as suggesting Christians will be beamed up to an immaterial heaven. Instead, what we see is a new earth, and a city. In this picture, we don’t go up; heaven comes down. Once, the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem was the spot where God’s presence dwelt, and now, the Holy Spirit dwells within those who have been redeemed in Christ. But on That Great Day, when God establishes his Kingdom in its fulness, he will bring heaven, along with his very Self, to the New Earth, and his presence will saturate absolutely every part of the world. This is good news!

Of course, in order for God to dwell with the people and truly reign, sin must be banished from the whole creation. So God will judge sin and death, along with everything and everyone that reflect the Fall. It is sobering to consider what this means for those we know and love who do not know Christ. We can, and should, grieve for those who remain in darkness, who have not been welcomed into the Light. Even so, we can, and should, also celebrate what this judgment means: all that reflects sin, all that bears the images of false gods, will be cast away. Everything that reminds us of the wounds we have suffered and the wounds we have inflicted on others will be gone, once and for all.

But God doesn’t stop there. He also brings restoration.

Here’s a brief Greek word study. (If that sounds super boring to you, stick with me—I promise it’ll be worth it!) There are two Greek words for “new” used in the New Testament. Neos means “new in time”; to put it how we would say it today, neos means “brand new.” If you buy a new car, the latest model with the odometer reading a number really close to zero, you are driving a shiny neos car off the lot. But that’s not the “new” that is used in Revelation 21. In this passage, John uses the word kainos, which means “new in quality.” In other words, it refers to something that has been made new. Let’s say instead of a brand new car, you have an old, beat-up car, and you take it to someone who really knows automobiles. This person fixes the parts of the car that need a little TLC. Other parts that are broken beyond repair, they throw out and replace with new parts. They work out the dents and bumps in the body, give it a pretty new coat of paint, and detail the inside until it its luster from days past returns. They might even throw in a sweet new sound system. And after all that loving, painstaking work, even though this is, in one sense, the same car you dropped off weeks earlier, you have yourself a new car. We call this restoration. This is what kainos means.

And this is something like what Revelation 21 is talking about. The new heavens and new earth, and the new Jerusalem that descends to be God’s dwelling place, are the old creation, restored by God to the way it is supposed to be. And this idea isn’t just in one chapter of one book. God’s plan, as evidenced throughout the entire Bible, is not to destroy his creation and start over, but to lovingly, painstakingly restore his creation back to the way he originally intended it. As Revelation 21:5 says, God is “making all things new,” not making all new things!

So what? Aside from an interesting theology lesson, what does any of this means for us?

It means that everything matters. Not just what we do in church. Not just when we actively share our faith with others. Everything. Every part of our life. Our studies. Our work. Our relationships. Our hobbies. The way we care for the earth. The way we engage our surrounding cultures. The way we fight against injustice. Everything matters because God created it all, and he made it good. Everything matters because when it was all broken by sin, God didn’t give up on it, but came in the flesh to redeem what had been lost. Everything matters because, as much brokenness, dysfunction, and decay as we still see when we look around at the world we inhabit, there will come a day when God will restore his creation, including all those who are redeemed in Christ, back to his design—back to shalom. This isn’t just a belief system, and it’s not just exciting propaganda. We serve the God who is making all things new, and this changes everything.

—Sam Levy is a CCO campus minister in partnership with Gateway Church at Slippery Rock University and Grove City College. He loves his family, baseball, cheese, and walking with college students as they pursue the God who is making all things new. Follow him on Twitter at @sdlevy13.

For a deeper look at restoration eschatology, see R. York Moore’s talk at Jubilee 2014.

This is the fourth and final post in our Biblical Narrative series in the weeks leading up to Jubilee 2018 You can also read Chapter 1: CREATION, Chapter 2: FALL, and Chapter 3: REDEMPTION.

Biblical Narrative

Biblical Narrative – Chapter 3: REDEMPTION

If you died tonight, do you know where you would go?

Maybe you’ve been asked this question by someone you know, or even by a complete stranger. Maybe you have asked this question to someone else. For a lot of Christians, this question sums up the central point of the Christian faith. Unfortunately, it’s missing something from the message we hear in the Bible. It’s actually missing quite a lot. Certainly, Christianity isn’t about less than our eternal destination. But it is about more than that.

We’ve reflected on the goodness, the shalom, of God’s original creation, and how everything was once exactly the way it was supposed to be. We then saw the way sin shattered that shalom. Every part of creation, every part of human life, became distorted. Adam was promised that if they ate the forbidden fruit, they would die. He and Eve may not have keeled over immediately after they sinned, but by stepping outside the boundaries God had instituted, they introduced death into the world, and everything suffered. God explained the curse that would now come upon them and the whole creation as a result of their sin. Much was lost.

But notice what they didn’t lose.

There are two important things that remain after the curse. First, God never says humans will not bear his image anymore. That image is warped and twisted by the nature of sin, but it’s still there. Second, God does not revoke the call he put on humans to rule over his creation, to cultivate it and make something of it. He could have destroyed this masterpiece that his creations broke and started over with a blank canvas, but he doesn’t. He lets the story continue, because the story isn’t over at the Fall. It’s just getting started.

God is sovereign. His plan at the beginning was for his image bearers to rule over his creation and bring glory to him, and he refuses to let anything get in the way of his plan’s fulfillment. But we, due to our sin nature, distort his image and exercise rule for our own sake. We worship idols and we practice injustice. We live for the kingdom of this world, in all of its brokenness, instead of God’s Kingdom. What’s more, the hold that sin has over us makes us want these things and nothing else. And we couldn’t change any of it, even if we wanted to.

We find ourselves fitting the apostle Paul’s description of sinful humans: “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). This is who we are in our sin, from the moment we are conceived. This is the identity we are born into. There’s nothing we could do to work our way back to God, to make everything right again.

But again, the story doesn’t stop there. Paul continues:

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:4-10)

There’s nothing we could do—so God got to work himself. He didn’t just reach down from his throne in heaven and toss a rope for us to climb up. He came to us himself, becoming one of us. This is who Jesus is: God-become-human, writing himself into our story after we wrote him out. As Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14).

He lived a sinless life, showing us the way to bear the image of God. He came into the broken creation and loved it and cared for it. He gave his life as a ransom, dying the death we deserved in our sin. And then he burst back into life, destroying death once and for all! He points the way to the fullness of life as God intended at creation, and invites us into this life.

Jesus rose from death to life. He reconciled what had been broken. He redeemed what was once lost. And he transforms our hearts, that we might see who he is, believe in his power, die to our sin, and become new people—resurrected people—who can once again fulfill our call to be God’s image bearers. This is Christianity. This is the Good News. Believe it, repent, and step into the life for which we have been created!

—Sam Levy is a CCO campus minister in partnership with Gateway Church at Slippery Rock University and Grove City College. He loves his family, baseball, cheese, and walking with college students as they pursue the God who is making all things new. Follow him on Twitter at @sdlevy13.

For more, see Léonce Crump’s Redemption talk at Jubilee 2017.

This is the third post in our Biblical Narrative series. The series will continue in the weeks leading up to Jubilee 2018. Stay tuned next week for Chapter 4: RESTORATION! You can also read Chapter 1: CREATION and Chapter 2: FALL.