Monday, September 9, 2013

Monday Musings: How God's Future Impacts our Present

How does our knowledge of the future affect or impact our lives in the present? One key way is hope. Our certain knowledge of the future fills us with hope in the midst of incredible difficult circumstances in the present: death, disease, natural disasters, and the pain inflicted by the sinful actions of others. This is the way the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 lived as people of the distance who “all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (Heb 11:13).

Revelation 21-22 provides us a visionary picture of the future. The symbolic details of the vision leave much to the imagination concerning what moment-by-moment life will be like but the general outline is quite clear. Here are some of the major contours of this vision.

New Creation: New Heaven and Earth (Rev 21:1; cf. Isa 65:17; 66:22) In fulfillment of the promises made through the prophet Isaiah John receives a vision of the New Creation: God recreation or creation of a new heaven and earth. The judgment visions in Revelation reveal a de-creation of the present order in anticipation of a new creation; the implicit logic being that the one who originally created has the power to de-create and re-create. The absence of the sea in God’s new creation should not discourage avid boaters since the sea is here symbolically representing chaos and disorder. This was a very common symbol in the ancient world.

Existence in God’s new creation is concrete and tangible; we will not exist as disembodied spirits floating around somewhere in space but rather in resurrected bodies in a new, concrete, tangible world.

God’s Direct Presence (Rev 21:3, 7; 22:3; cf. Jer 31:33; Ezek 43:7; 48:35; Hos 2:19-20; Zeph 3:15-17) This is perhaps the most powerful element of John’s vision of the future and comes as the fulfillment of many Old Testament promises and prophecies. Throughout Revelation there is a strong spatial dualism between earth and heaven. Earth is the dwelling place and abode of man while heaven is God’s dwelling place. God’s decrees and judgments from heaven affect the earth and the prayers of the saints on earth ascend to heaven but they are nevertheless two distinct areas. The descent of the New Jerusalem has been understood in various ways but Rev 21:3 clearly interprets it as representing God’s residence with humanity on earth. With the descent of New Jerusalem the barrier between earth and heaven is breached or removed and God directly lives among his people.

No Death (Rev 21:4; cf. Isa 25:8; 26:19); No Mourning or Crying (Rev 21:4; cf. Isa 25:8; 65:19; Jer 31:13); No Disease (Rev 21:4; 22:2; Isa 65:20; Ezek 47:12; Mal 4:2) The direct presence of God with humanity leads directly to these other realities: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes . . . .”

John’s vision of the future sharply contrasts with our present. We weep, and mourn, and hurt, and cry over senseless evil, cancer, heart attacks, violence, and death. We long for Christ to return to set everything right once and for all in his creation. We do not, however, wait in despair. We wait in confident hope and expectation that God will one day make good on his promises to his people!

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