Thursday, September 28, 2006

Heaven: not the end of the world VIII

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


PresterJosh said...

Very insightful. Especially using the Resurrection of Christ as a model for the restoration of the universe.

I've been enjoying this series a great deal.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Byron, very helpful.

The difficulty in speaking about these things, 'not this or that, but this and that... sort of, and not quite', also throws up some interesting questions about language in the new creation.

Meredith said...

thanks byron - a great series I've enjoyed dipping into. sorry i don't know the city. my guess would be rome?

Dave Barrie said...

Thanks again Byron, no doubt I will be referring people to these posts for years to come.

Do you have any thoughts on why the full glory of Jesus’ resurrected body was not revealed to his followers during his post-resurrection, pre-ascension appearances? Do you think he still had a further transformation to undergo as he ascended to Heaven or was his full glory just being hidden from them during this period of time?

byron smith said...

Dave: Or was his appearance to John in Rev 1 'extra' glorious since it was in a vision? Was John's imagination filled with images from Daniel and so this is the way the risen Jesus occupied his imagination? (I realise this raises a whole host of questions about dream/vision psychology. I'd prefer to avoid them, though my assumption is that even images in divinely inspired dreams will bear a relation to the 'natural' imagination of the dreamer, just as the Scriptures themselves are not disconnected from the minds of the human authors). Just a thought. I guess Paul is another case of 'blinding'. Hmmm, having suggested that, on balance I'd probably reject it and say that the ascension is sometimes almost conflated with the resurrection (e.g. Phil 2.5-11), but at other times, (esp Luke-Acts), the res seems to be more retrospective/restoration and ascension to be more prospective/promise. Viewed this way, the ascension is the enthronement of the risen Jesus, or his entry into the Holy of Holies to commence his high priestly intercession, and so is indeed a further transformation of at least his status.

Hmmm, summary of all - I don't really know but it's an interesting question. Anyone else got any thoughts?

byron smith said...

Meredith: five points! Thanks for showing everyone how easy guessing is.

byron smith said...

Drew: I wonder whether language won't still be an ambiguous and creative tool for imprecise communication even in the eschaton. Read a very stimulating book on this (though it was more about Edenic language) by James K. A. Smith (I guess if you're called "James Smith", you need two middle names!) called The Fall of Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic. I'm giving a paper at a conference on Saturday on more or less this topic. I'll prob post more on it after the weekend.

byron smith said...

presterjosh: thanks!

(Though I'd want to say 'transformation' as well as 'restoration'. It will genuinely be new as well as renewed).

(Oh, and I think the link between resurrection and cosmic renewal is there in Paul - but that's a discussion for a future post).

Anonymous said...

I think the distinction between resurrection and ascension is not a question of "type of body," but of what is disclosed.

O'Donovan writes:
"Christ's triumph is complete, and in that event mankind has been brought into the presence of God's glory. Nothing remains to be added to what has been done; we wait only for a fuller sight of it. yet while this is true so far as it goes, it ignores one aspect of the Ascension that should not be missed: it is a bridge between the time of Christ's life and the time of the world's future. This is the significance of the invisibility which surrounds the Ascension. The disciples could embrace the flesh and bones of their risen Lord, but they could not observe his entry into the glory of the Father. St Luke, who alone braves the task of description, goes so far as to take us to the top of the Mount of Olives and report Jesus' parting words. But we see nothing, less even than Peter, James and John saw on the mount of transfiguration. 'A cloud hid him from their sight' (Acts 1:9); and two messengers from God told them that they were to expect... the Parousia! As an event with only one foot in human time and space the Ascension is strictly indescribable, and this accounts for the general reticence of the New Testament to describe it. To grasp the Ascension whole would mean that we should behold the glory of the Son in the Father's presence; but this in turn supposes the resumption of our time-frame into the last time of God's manifest judgment. the unfolding of the resurrection into its two moments warns us against a complacent settlement with the present. the Christ-event, though accomplished, is still an event for the future, and our faith in it must still be marked by a hope, and not a hope for our own private futures only but for the future of the world subject to God's reign." (DOTN 143-4).

Rather longer than I expected, sorry. realised it said quite a lot of what you were saying Byron and thought I should keep going.


byron smith said...

Thanks Erro, that quote is very familiar and I remember resonating with it when I first read it. I think my attempted response was the muffled echo of that quote.

Anonymous said...

an ambiguous and creative tool

Yes, I think so too...

James K.A. Smith is reasonably good Derrida scholar too. Would love to see your paper, although I can't make the conference (I presume it's the religion & philosophy one?). I shall be tramping about south-east of goulburn.

byron smith said...

Yep - philo, religion and culture. Have a good time in the Goulburn hinterland. I'm sure there's a good reason...

Anonymous said...

I am intrigued by such a thought. I am now thinking of the Mount of Transfiguration and how Mosses was recognized by disciples. But that will raise concerns about why Jesus was not recognized after his resurrection.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the transfiguration/resurrection/ascension distinctions that we perceive have to do with the reality of Jesus' perfection. If time and space really do matter (and the resurrectiona llows nothing less) then each incident is one in a journey on the way to the absolute perfection of the Son by the Father in the Spirit. The final stage being when the Messiah is acknolwedged as being the One through whom the power of God in His Spirit will be exercised in creation.

byron smith said...

Chase - I've wondered that myself. Perhaps he had horns (in the middle ages, because of a mistranslation of the Hebrew of Ex 34.29-30, Moses' shining face was taken to mean that he had horns).

Cyberpastor - The final stage being when the Messiah is acknolwedged as being the One through whom the power of God in His Spirit will be exercised in creation. Do you mean when Christ hands the kingdom over to the Father? If not, where does this fit in?

Steven Carr said...

Why would the author of 1 Peter, in 1 Peter 1L24-26, use 'flesh' as the best metaphor for something which was perishable and temporary? Didn't he know that flesh would be made permanent, when he wrote 'All flesh is grasss'?

Why would the writer of Hebrews 1 writes ' "In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
11They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
12You will roll them up like a robe;
like a garment they will be changed.'

To change a garment means to discard a garment, and put on a new garment , doesn't it? You don't 'change' garments by patching up the old ones.

Clearly Hebrews thought the world would be discarded and recreated, in constrast to God, who is never discarded.

Paul also used a clothing analogy for the resurrection of Jesus.

Now when I get new clothes, the old ones are discarded and thrown away.

I don't get new clothes by patching up the old ones.

Steven Carr said...

John 12 is interesting

24Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Presumably you get more than one resurrected body for every corpse planted into the ground.

Has anybody ever used a seed/plant analogy to describe the resurrection of Jesus , without taking it from Paul?

Paul is adamant that you do not plant the body that will be.

Yet the body which came out of the ground still had wounds.

byron smith said...

1 Cor 15.36: "what you sow does not come to life unless it dies."

Steven: The seed genuinely dies. This is not a mere resuscitation of a dusty corpse. But what is sow is what comes to life (albeit transformed). The combination of continuity and discontinuity is important, indeed vital, to the picture Paul is drawing. He is not embarrassed to speak of the seed coming to life, though he concedes that it has to die first, to be transformed into something apparently totally different from a seed.

See also this great Lewis quote (see end of post). And I have responded to more comments over here and started a new post here.