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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.” (Rev. 21:5). Surely, if this language of the risen, glorified Lord Jesus presupposes anything, in the light of John’s vision in verses 1–4, he intimates the complete renovation of all creation as the preparatory act by which God will consummate His eternal purposes for His people and bring them to their final fruition. This imagery: the new creation, the new Jerusalem, God’s communion with His Bride adorned in wedding garments, His dwelling with men, the end of sorrow, pain, and death — points to future realities awaiting the people of God in the new heavens and new earth. In a word, His work will be to make all things new.
But how are we to understand these realities, and what are we to make of them as believers? Moreover, where do we as the people of God fit into the picture of this divine revelation? When it comes to the question of life after death, there are fewer issues, if any, that express the apparent hopelessness with which many people live. “Why am I here? What is going to happen to me when I die? If there is a God, how will I face Him beyond the grave?” These are all questions that traffic in what we can call “ultimate issues,” matters bearing eternal consequences.
Given the uncertainties of our own generation, Christians bear the responsibility of being biblically literate on these matters. The Bible does address these eschatological realities. What it tells us is restrained, beautiful, glorious, as well as threatening for those who are not united to Jesus Christ in salvation.
Let us consider, then, the reversal of the Fall in the new creation, and how the state of believers will be affected in at least the following three ways in the new heavens and the new earth.
In his resurrected body, the believer will experience, in the first place, the end of death into endless life. Unlike his disembodied existence, characteristic of the intermediate state, in the resurrection the believer will be reunited to his former body that will undergo a radical transformation from its perishable state to that which is imperishable (Job 19:26–27; 1 Cor. 15:53–54). According to the teaching of holy Scripture, it will be an instantaneous metamorphosis (1 Cor. 15:52). In what is often called the intermediate state (that period between death and the resurrection), the believer’s body will remain subject to corruption and decay, while his spirit will be in the presence of the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8, see the Westminster Confession of Faith [WCF] 32). Therefore, with reference to the intermediate state, there is no biblical support for a doctrine of Purgatory. Being in the presence of the Lord guarantees us that this period will be one of rest and happiness. Neither life in this state nor life in the heavenly rest is characterized as inactive (Rev. 5). Freed at this time from the last vestiges of sin, as well as from the restraints of a fallen world, the believer’s mental and spiritual faculties are increased, and made more active in knowledge (1 John 3:2). At death, the believer is removed from this present world, and will be severed from it till the day of resurrection. Though this state will be one of conscious bliss and happiness, it is nevertheless a state of imperfection, in that the spirit is deprived of bodily existence as per creation.
The Lord Jesus taught that there will be a resurrection both of the just and the unjust (John 5:25, 29), the one to life and the other to judgment. The believer’s renovated body will no longer be subject to decay and corruption, for the Lord Jesus will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body (Phil. 3:21). There are a number of strands of biblical teaching as to what the resurrection of the Lord Jesus secures for all those who are united to Him, not the least of which is the pledge of their own resurrection and the destruction of death itself (1 Cor. 15:20– 26; 2 Cor. 5:5). The body of death, under the curse of a fallen creation and consigned to the grave, will give way to endless life in the resurrection at the last day (1 Cor. 5:51–55). Augustine summarized this reversal of the Adamic curse in the following manner: “After all, by the sin of the one we die in time, while by the redemption of the other we rise, not for a temporal life, but for an endless life” (The Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, book 2.49).
Secondly, the believer’s resurrection will be marked by the end of sin into endless holiness. At death, in the intermediate state, the spirit of the believer is liberated from the body which remains under the power of sin and death (Heb. 12:23). But this state of the body will be reversed in the resurrection, when both body and soul will be reunited in a wholly spiritual and holy union (1 Cor. 15:42–44, 49). It has often been stated that the image of God in man pertains particularly to his having been created in an original state of knowledge, righteousness, and holiness (for example WCF 4:2). The New Testament affirms that the restoration of these qualities, marred by the Fall, are part of the goal of the new creation (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). That process, already begun in the new birth, will find its culmination in the new heavens and earth (1 Thess. 3:13; Rev. 21:1–5; 22:3), in the reversal of the curse. Not only will we be delivered from this body of sin and death, but from the very presence of sin itself, and confirmed in endless holiness (Rev. 21:27) as we behold the Lamb face to face (Rev. 22:4). These eyes that have lusted after forbidden objects, that have seduced us into sin, which ought to be forced to look upon the fires of that place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, shall then be renewed to witness the wonder of that reality to which M’Cheyne’s hymn gives voice:
When I stand before the throne,
Dressed in beauty not my own,
When I see Thee as Thou art,
Love Thee with unsinning heart,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know,
Not till then how much I owe.
Thirdly, in his resurrected body, the believer will experience the end of sorrow into endless joy. If presently not seeing the Lord and yet believing in Him gives us cause for joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory (1 Peter 1:8), who can begin to describe that which awaits us in the new heavens and earth?
In Bunyan’s classic work, The Pilgrims’ Progress, “Graceless” (soon to be “Christian”), while engaged in conversation with “Evangelist,” expresses his fear of death and judgment. “Evangelist” replies with these memorable words, “Why not willing to die, since this life is attended with so many evils?” Life in a fallen world is marked by a few days, which are full of trouble (Job 1:14). Our present joy, to be sure, is often mingled with bitter sorrow and disappointment, all of which I am convinced is God’s means of weaning us away from this world of sorrow to long for the joy of that which is to come. The New Testament sounds this note of our future joy, no longer intermittent with sorrow and grief (Rom. 8:18; 1 Peter 4:13).
As the dawning of that eternal day draws near, may the prayer of John Donne find expression in our own hearts: “Look, Lord, and find both Adams met in me; As the first Adam’s sweat surrounds my face, May the last Adam’s blood my soul embrace.” (“Hymn To God, My God In My Sickness”). We may rest assured, He is making all things new.