As I was reading Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview by Albert M. Wolters and Michael W. Goheen, a theological problem that I’ve had for the last year was resolved.
Essentially, in thinking about the New Heavens and New Earth (or as NT Wright calls it, life after-after death), I’ve been captivated by the thought that cultural expressions, talents, and skills devolved in this life will carry on to the next. That as creation is restored to the place it was intended before the Fall, the Cultural Mandate (Gen. 1:28) will not only continued to be fulfilled in the future age, but continuity will exist between what humans have done and created culturally before Christ’s Second Coming and with the new human culture developed in the new creation.
This idea has provided great encouragement in my chosen profession as one not called to be in full time ministry. Too often in the groups I’ve been apart the under-the-breath notion was that if a person was not going into ministry they were either “unspiritual” or disobedient, if not both.
But the reality that artists, teachers, musicians, engineers, authors, etc., will continue to be used in the new heavens and new earth enabled me to see the literal eternal significance of my profession literally. That I can see my work not just as a paycheck or a “ministry opportunity,” but as a way to glorify God now and forever with the talents, skills, and even work being kept and used for an eternity. It makes one’s vocation much more exciting and meaningful knowing the Lord has called you to begin cultivating the abilities that will be used for an eternity to glorify Him.
Nevertheless, this picture could never get passed 2 Peter 3:10: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” (KJV)
It seemed that anything man does on Earth is thrown to the fire to be consumed if it isn’t “spiritual.”
In fact, a few months ago I even told someone very dear to me that her picking out knobs for her dresser was all in vain because like all things it has just going to burn.
But, as I alluded to Albert Wolters has helped me to better understand this text in light of its context and the Biblical narrative.
In reference to 2 Peter 3:10, he states “all but one of the oldest and most reliable Greek manuscripts do not have the final words ‘will be burned up’ but instead have ‘will be found,’ which makes quite a difference.” (page 47) In response, the ESV translates it as “and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”
As a result, “the text therefore teaches that in spite of the passing way of the heavens and the dissolving of the elements ‘the earth and the works that are upon it’ will survive. And as for the passing way and the dissolving, this certainly does not refer to annihilation or complete destruction. A few verses earlier Peter had written that the world ‘was destroyed’ in former times (v. 6), referring to the catastrophic destruction wreaked by the fold, and he is drawing a parallel between that judgment and the one to come.” (page 47)
He concludes, “the day of the Lord will bring the fires of judgment and a cataclysmic convulsion of all creation, but what emerges from the crucible will be ‘a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness’ (v. 13), and it is presumably there that the earth and the works that are upon it will be found,’ now purified from the filth and pervious of sin.” (pages 47-48)
Revelation 21 fleshes the reality out even more explicitly:
22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
As it says in verses 24 and 26: By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it…. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.
Wolters contends this more than likely refers “to the cultural treasures of mankind which will be purified by passing through the fires of judgment, like gold in a crucible.” (page 47)
The implications for the reality that the “glory and the honor of the nations” will be brought into the new heavens and new earth are legion, and more deserving of my quick analysis here. But let me try. Please suggest any books on this topic for me to research and understand more comprehensively.
First, people need to be taught that their vocations and professions do have eternal consequences in and of themselves. Their work if done well, and not tainted excessively by sin, could possibly be brought into the new creation to glorify God. What a glorious thought!
The reality that one could possibly continue their work begun here on Earth to fulfill the Cultural Mandate now and forevermore should infusion meaning and joy in all one’s work. Even called “menial job” actually have eternal weight and meaning.
Imagine all Christians working for the glory of God. Thus, reflecting His image in their vocation, knowing that their work might one day be worthy of being brought into the new creation and that they will continue to use the new creation to glorify God by making culture in similar ways in continuity to their profession on Earth now.
As a math and science teacher, what I’m teaching my students is laying a foundation for understanding not just this world, but also the new heavens and new earth. The science might be different, but the notions of investigation and understanding will continue forevermore.
Second, it destroys the Gnostic error too often in Christianity diving all of creation into two realms of secular or sacred.
Consequently, “it implies that here is no ‘worldliness’ in the church, for example, and that no holiness is possible in politics, say, or journalism. … This approach has led many Christians to abandon the ‘secular’ realm to the trends and forces of secularism. Indeed, because of their two-realm theory, to a large degree, Christians have themselves to blame for the rapid seculariziaon of the West. If political, industrial, artistic, and journalistic life, to mention only these areas, are branded as essentially ‘worldly,’ ‘secular,’ ‘profane,’ and part of the ‘natural domain of creaturely life,’ then is it surprising that Christians have not more effectively stemmed the tide of humanism in our culture?” (page 65)
Or put more succinctly, “Christians tend to withdraw form all participation in societal renewal. Under the guise of keeping itself from the ‘world’, the body of Christ then in effect allows the powers of secularization and distortion to dominate the greater part of its life. This is no so much an avoidance of evil as a neglect of duty.” (page 94-94)
In direct response, Christians captured by this eschatology would most certainly be engaged more fervently for the restoration of earth in this present because all our efforts are continuous forevermore. We would fight for justice and restoration in all areas of life: family, political, educational, societal, global, etc, knowing that the Fall was cosmic in scope and Christ’s death and resurrection are just as broad.
Much more time, energy, and better prose is deserving of this truly awesome reality.