wolfandlambIn the last blog post, I made the assertion that our salvation is ultimately for the sake of restoring us to a new world where we can properly glorify God in our family and work. While such a notion may leave some skeptical, consider how scripture portrays human life on the other side of eternity. While it is true that biblical passages that give us a glimpse into what the world to come will be like are few, when the scriptures do allow us to peak behind the veil, it reveals an eternity with glory beyond our comprehension. It is an eternity without pain or mourning or crying. Not only this, but it is also an eternity filled with family and work. Let us consider two brief passages, one in Isaiah and the other in Revelation.

First, Isaiah 11:1-9. As a messianic prophecy, this passage includes a prediction of the coming of Jesus in vv. 1-2 (“there shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse…”) and His work as Messiah in vv. 3-5 (“but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth…”). However, vv. 6-9 give us a peak into the results of the Messiah’s work and the world to come. It reads,

“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

Truly a familiar but glorious look into our future. However, did you notice the reference to a small child leading a lion and calf, and the reference to a nursing child playing over a cobra’s hole? Could it be that, according to Isaiah, the ultimate goal of the Messiah is for a child to be able to lead a lion/calf and to play near a snake hole? I think the answer is: yes. Here we see a clear reference back to the creation mandate in Genesis 1. A child (signaling the restoration of family) is able to lead a lion/calf and play near a snake hole without fear (signaling their domestication, i.e., human work). In this vision of the new creation, our purpose has been so restored and indeed has been so pervasive that even the most feared animals in the ancient Near East are depicted as docile and being harnessed by the most vulnerable of humanity. The victory of the coming King is pictures as humanity in the throes of purpose, with family lovingly caring for creation and domesticating even the most fearsome beasts. It would seem that the Old Testament pictures the ultimate goal of Messiah as the restoration and flourishing of human purpose in the world to come.

Additionally, the book of Revelation paints such a picture. Rev 21:1-22:5 has John see a new heaven and a new earth, as well as the New Jerusalem. This New Jerusalem is depicted as an “arboreal city-temple”[1] and utilizes imagery harkening back to the garden-sanctuary of Eden. This temple-garden-city, however, is much more than a return to the paradise of Eden. Rather, the New Jerusalem reflects what Eden was always supposed be, now completed in Christ and his people.[2] As such, it’s best to understand that the city-temple of the New Jerusalem isn’t merely one city in the larger new creation. Rather, in John’s vision, the New Jerusalem is best understood as being equated with the new heavens and earth.[3]

With this in mind, I want to focus on the implications of Revelation utilizing the imagery of a city to depict the new creation and life therein.[4] Namely, the imagery of a city implies that life in the new creation necessarily includes family and work. A city needs people, it needs family to populate it. Likewise, it needs workers to care for the city, to work it, keep it, and glorify it with culture. I would propose that the use of a garden-city to depict the new creation assumes, like our passage in Isaiah, the restoration of family and work. Thus, it appears that the New Testament, like the Old, foresees human flourishing and purpose as definitive of the world to come.

With regards to eschatology, I would like to make one final point with respect to the doctrine of resurrection. Faith in Christ’s bodily resurrection and the hope of our own at the end of history logically points toward the restoration of human purpose within the creation mandate.[5] What is the purpose of a physically resurrected body if not to feel the warm embrace of family? If not to use your hands for work? As one scholar so aptly put it, “God’s intent was for a holistic flourishing of embodied people in the entirety of their earthly cultural existence. Since resurrection is God’s restoration of human life to what it was meant to be, it naturally requires the fulfillment of the original human dignity and status, which have been compromised by sin.”[6]

Next, in the final post of this series, part 9, I will conclude with some practical thoughts on the implications of this understanding of human purpose for Christian life.

-David


[1] G K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2011), 23.

[2] G.K. Beale, “The Final Vision of the Apocalypse.” in Heaven on Earth, ed. T. Desmond Alexander and Simon Gathercole (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2004), 204

[3] Beale, Temple, 24.

[4] This imagery is likely not totally literal but is used figuratively to represent the radical transformation of the cosmos. Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation a Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2013), 1040. However, this doesn’t detract from my point.

[5] J Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2014), 154.

[6] Middleton, New Heaven, 154.