New heavens and new earth
First mentioned in Isaiah 65 and 66, the phrase "new heaven(s) and new earth" also crops up in 2 Peter 3 (see coming post) and Revelation 21 (see previous post), and seems to suggest that the old heavens and earth are made obsolete and replaced with a new model. This approach, while affirming the importance (at least notionally) of a new earth as well as heaven (i.e. a new universe, since "heaven and earth" is a biblical idiom for "everything"), fails to read these promises christologically. It is only in Jesus that we know anything at all about the future (see here for this important metholodological principle, based on the idea of Jesus' resurrection as the first fruits of what is come).
God the recycler
The one piece of this new heavens and earth that has been (briefly) revealed demonstrates something remarkable about the new model: the old car hasn't been thrown on a scrapheap, it's been recycled. Jesus' resurrection body is the one access we have to the future, and the tomb was empty. That is, God didn't simply throw out Jesus' old body (the beta version?) and give him an upgrade. It was the same body.
But it was not simply the same. Jesus' body was not returned back to how it was. It was radically new; if we listen to the stories of the Easter appearances in the Gospels, he wasn't always recognised. We can call it renewed, but such a tune up and revamp that it makes as much sense to just say 'new'. The resurrected Jesus was totally stunning when revealed in his glory (perhaps there is also a foretaste of this in his transfiguration?). He is still Jesus (witnessed by the scars), but death no longer has dominion over him.
So too with us, and with creation. New bodies, new world: not through the annihilation or replacement of the old, but through resurrection, through liberation from bondage to decay. Paul uses the image of a seed germinating (taken originally from Jesus), capturing both the continuity and discontinuity of the event: the seed becomes the plant - it is the same seed yet no longer merely a seed.
I wonder whether this approach mightn't throw some light on Jesus' words about heaven and earth passing away.* The present order of things - ruled by death and in bondage to decay - will indeed pass away, but only through its being made new by the one who makes all things new.
*Alternatively, the saying could be a hyperbolic expression of how trustworthy his words are: less a promise/warning ("they will pass away") than a hypothetical ("even if they did, my message still holds").
Series: I; II; IIa; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV; XVI. Five points for the city in the picture. I also discussed the novelty and continuity of the (re)new(ed) creation here.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
New heavens and new earth