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REFLECTIONS - New Heaven & Earth!

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  • Robert Baty
    REFLECTIONS by Al Maxey Issue #310 ------- August 6, 2007 ************************** With high woods the hills were crown d, With tufts the valleys and each
    Message 1 of 2 , Aug 5, 2007
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      REFLECTIONS
      by Al Maxey

      Issue #310 ------- August 6, 2007

      **************************

      With high woods the hills were crown'd,
      With tufts the valleys and each fountain side,

      With borders long Rivers. That Earth now
      Seem'd like to Heav'n, a seat where Gods
      might dwell. --- from "Paradise Lost"
      John Milton {1608-1674}

      **************************

      Paradise Regained
      New Heavens & New Earth

      One of my faithful readers from England wrote me in early May and asked if I would please consider doing an in-depth study of the concept of the new heavens and new earth. More specifically: what exactly is meant by this phrase which appears only a few times in the inspired biblical record? Does this phrase suggest a concept contrary to the traditional teaching regarding the future existence of the redeemed? If so, what? For those who may be unaware of the more traditional position on this topic, it essentially declares the physical universe will be utterly obliterated by fire, and that the "immortal souls" of all the redeemed will be joined to "spirit bodies" in some vast, ethereal "spirit realm" known as "Heaven." Many even envision this "eternal city" as having gates of pearl, a street of gold, and the like. Such a view comes primarily from a literal interpretation of the Revelation to John. We have all seen the cartoons of souls floating on clouds strumming harps; a view fostered somewhat by this traditional teaching on the "afterlife."

      It might come as quite a surprise to many within the Family of God that such a view is not taught in Scripture. It might further surprise many within our own faith-heritage to learn that a good number of the noted leaders in the Stone-Campbell Movement totally rejected this traditional interpretation, as do an ever growing number within our movement today. I abandoned this teaching decades ago, as I simply could not reconcile it with an honest examination of the Word of God. The traditional teaching on the nature of man, the fate of the wicked, and the destiny of the redeemed, is, in a word, false. I have dealt with all of this extensively, and those articles may be studied by going to my Topical Index and reading the articles listed under the heading "Final Punishment." I'd also highly recommend a careful and prayerful study of The Maxey-Thrasher Debate. Once we come to perceive the true nature of man, as depicted within the Scriptures, and once we come to better appreciate the nature of our God and His eternal purpose for both the wicked as well as the redeemed, we will quickly discover that not only is the traditional teaching on this entire body of belief totally false, but it actually borders on blasphemy.

      An integral part of this entire area of soteriological and eschatological theology is the significant question as to our God's original intent with respect to the destiny of mankind (more specifically: the redeemed of all time) and whether or not Satan was/is capable of eternally thwarting that divine design. If, in fact, Satan succeeds in preventing our God from realizing His original desire for man, then Satan achieves a significant victory over our Creator. I wonder if any of us are really prepared to promote such a pernicious position? I'm not. Yet, the traditional teaching on the ultimate destiny of the redeemed seems to do just that. For this reason alone, in my view, it should be utterly rejected.

      "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" [Gen. 1:1]. "And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good" [Gen. 1:31]. As the old country preacher declared, "God don't make no junk." God had created a perfect world, and within it He placed man. His intent was to have sons and daughters; to walk and talk with them in this unblemished paradise; to enjoy an endless, intimate relationship with His loving family It was never God's intent -- never His original design -- that death, decay, corruption and disease overwhelm His children and the world He had created for them. The intent was an everlasting relationship with mankind, one epitomized by a reciprocated love. This living being fashioned by God was designed to live within this paradise forever. Not as some spirit being, but as a physical being, one perfect in every way; deathless. This was what God desired; it was what He wanted; it was what He created. It was the way things were supposed to be ... forever.

      The Fall changed everything. Sin is a corrupting influence, and it corrupts completely. Not only was man himself subjected to this creeping corruption, but so also was the paradise in which man lived. When sin entered the picture, everything began to die. As we examine the world about us, we see a diseased planet. Most scientists agree that it is dying. True, it will take eons to finally accomplish, but, should God allow the earth to exist that long, it will at some point become virtually uninhabitable. Men and animals also die. The descent to the grave is inevitable for us all Was all of this God's original intent? Did our Creator desire the death of His creation? Of course not. But, sin brought about a detour; man departed from the blessed destiny designed by his God. Did such a detour defeat God's will for His creation? Never. It merely delayed it. The desire of our Creator will be realized. Nothing will defeat it. The history of mankind, when viewed as a whole, is a story of redemption; of a return to that perfect paradise -- paradise lost and paradise regained -- where the redeemed are given the gift of immortality and dwell in the restored heavens and earth forevermore, enjoying sweet fellowship with their Father. This restoration of His original intent does not come without cost, however -- the price that had to be paid was the death of His beloved Son.

      What many fail to perceive is that with the redemption of fallen man also comes the redemption of the fallen creation. Both shall experience a restoration to God's original intent. In Christ Jesus all shall be made new. In other words, the Father's original intent will at last be fully realized. "The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the One who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God" [Rom. 8:19-21]. In figurative language the apostle Paul is informing us that even the planet itself eagerly awaits this great and glorious day when the redeemed of all ages are restored to the paradise of God. Why? Because it means the planet itself will be restored to its state of perfection which it enjoyed prior to the fall of man. Just as the redeemed will cast off this state of corruption and decay, and put on incorruptibility, so also shall the physical heavens and earth. "For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality" [1 Cor. 15:53]. God will not be thwarted. What He set out to achieve in the beginning ... will be achieved in the end. God never loses!! As John Milton {1608-1674} so eloquently phrased it in two of his works: Paradise Lost ... Paradise Regained. God wins!!

      The Platonic dualism that has infested the thinking of many within Christendom has led to a diminishing of the true biblical hope of a "restoration of God's creational intent," and has instead promoted "a supra-mundane disembodied heaven" where spirit-beings dwell apart from the physical creation in some spirit-realm. For an excellent development of these thoughts (and from which the above quotes are taken), I would encourage a reading of the very scholarly work "A New Heaven and a New Earth: The Case for a Holistic Reading of the Biblical Story of Redemption." This work is by Professor J. Richard Middleton of Roberts Wesleyan College and appeared last year (2006) in the Journal for Christian Theological Research [vol. 11, p. 73-97]. Some may find it a rather difficult read, as it was intended primarily for scholars and theologians, but Middleton has done an excellent job of presenting the biblical evidence (in what he calls a "creation- fall-redemption paradigm") for "the restoration of God's creational intent for humanity and the world," as opposed to the "traditional, hybrid idea" (largely fostered by Plato) that the redeemed will experience eternal fellowship with their God in "a non-physical realm." Although I tend to differ with some points of his interpretive analysis of certain biblical passages, I believe, overall, he has done an excellent service to Christendom in his scholarly study.

      Other biblical scholars agree; many from within our own Stone-Campbell faith-heritage. For example, John Mark Hicks and Bobby Valentine, in a book titled "Kingdom Come" [they sent me a complimentary autographed copy after it came out], have done a marvelous analysis of the teaching of David Lipscomb and James Harding on this very subject (as well as a much fuller treatment of their view of the nature of God's eternal kingdom). In this book it is demonstrated, through numerous quotes from these men, that they firmly believed that "God purposed to restore creation to its original blessedness, to restore shalom upon the earth" [p. 33]. "We groan with creation itself for the revelation of a home in the new heaven and new earth" [p. 35]. "The Father would Himself come to dwell with His people in a new heaven and new earth, a new creation. There not only humanity, but the cosmos itself would be liberated from the bondage of sin and death. This is the goal of God's redemptive project. Lipscomb and Harding, along with Alexander Campbell, Tolbert Fanning and Robert Milligan among others, believed that God would reign with His people on a renewed earth forever When Jesus returns 'again to earth,' according to Lipscomb, He will accomplish the 'restoration of all things to their original relation to God' in a new heaven and new earth" [p. 180]. In other words, they believed, as do I, that God's original intent will be fully realized on that great and final day!

      Contrasting the true teaching of Scripture with the traditional fallacies, the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia observed, "The biblical hope is separated from surrounding religious expectations by the conviction that man's emancipation could not occur apart from the redemption of the created order" [vol. 2, p. 656]. In other words, just as Paul stated in Romans 8, both the redeemed and the physical earth upon which we live will be ultimately liberated from the effects of sin and death; both will be transformed at the coming of Christ; both will be made new, with the former dwelling forever upon the latter. God's redemptive plan, then, is in reality a restoration of His original intent -- full fellowship with His children in a perfect paradise. In the Revelation, "John's picture of the final age to come focuses not on a platonic ideal heaven or distant paradise, but on the reality of a new earth and heaven. God originally created the earth and heaven to be man's permanent home. But sin and death entered the world and transformed the earth into a place of rebellion and alienation; it became enemy-occupied territory. But God has been working in salvation history to effect a total reversal of this evil consequence and to liberate earth and heaven from bondage to sin and corruption" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 12, p. 592]. Jesus referred to this time as "the regeneration" [Matt. 19:28 ... which the NIV renders: "at the renewal of all things"]. This is a Greek word signifying that which is made new; renovated, restored. Scripture does not depict the utter annihilation of the present physical universe, but rather the restoration of it to its original state of perfection. It is for this renewal that Paul says the physical creation "groans" in anticipation [Romans 8]. Peter speaks of this very reality, saying that the ascended Savior "must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as He promised long ago through His holy prophets" [Acts 3:21]. The NASB reads: "the period of restoration of all things." The fire God will pour out upon the earth will be a purifying fire (like that used in the smelting process); it will not utterly destroy the earth itself, but rather remove the dross (all impurity), thus restoring the creation to its former state of perfection This fire is "designed not to annihilate but to cleanse and purify" [The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 3, p. 65]. It is upon this new heavens and earth ("new" in quality, as the Greek word kaine depicts) that the redeemed will then dwell.

      Our brother-in-Christ, and a noted leader in the Stone-Campbell Movement, Moses Lard, wrote, "Under the curse on account of Adam's sin the earth certainly fell; for God cursed it directly and in so many words. The earth, then, I conclude, is among the things to be 'delivered.' From every disability under which it now lies in consequence of sin it will be freed. Not only so, but it will be 'translated' into a state of more than pristine newness and glory. It will undergo a change analogous to that which the bodies of the redeemed are to undergo" [Commentary on Paul's Letter to the Romans, p. 269-270]. "The creation itself is to be delivered from the bondage of corruption; from every effect of sin it is to emerge" [ibid, p 272]. Adam Clarke declared that although the present earth will be subjected to God's fire, "it will not be destroyed, but be renewed and refined, purged from all moral and natural imperfections, and made the endless abode of the blessed. Indeed, it is more reasonable and philosophical to conclude that the earth shall be refined and restored, than finally destroyed" [Clarke's Commentary, vol. 6, p. 893].

      Dr. Kenneth Wuest, in his classic "Word Studies from the Greek New Testament," made this insightful observation: "The non-rational creation, subject to the curse put upon it because of man's sin, is expectantly waiting for the glorification of the saints, that it also may be delivered from the curse under which it now exists. The creation shared in man's hope as in his doom. When the curse is completely removed from man, as it will be when the sons of God are revealed, it will pass from the creation also; and for this, the creation sighs" [vol. 1, Romans in the Greek NT, p. 138]. David Lipscomb, in his commentary on the book of Romans, wrote, "As a result of Adam's sin, the whole creation was cursed and fell away from its original design and became subject to the reign of death. Through the sin of man, not of its own fault or action, mortality and death were brought upon the creation."

      Nevertheless, "the hope is entertained that when the deliverance comes to the children of God, when they are delivered from the bondage of corruption and from the prison house of the grave, then the whole creation will share this deliverance and be freed from the corruption and mortality to which it has been subjected by the sin of man. It shared the corruption and mortality of man's sin, and it will also share his deliverance from it" [p. 153].


      "As the body of the believer was made subject to death on account of sin, but is to be raised in glory; so that outward world in which the believer's body resides was cursed (Gen. 3:17-19), but is to be repristinated as a suitable dwelling place for it. There being this connection and correlation between the believer's body and the visible world, it is not unnatural that a yearning for this rehabilitation should be metaphorically ascribed to the latter. As the believer longs for the 'redemption of the body,' so that creation in whose environment he is to dwell longs for deliverance from the 'bondage of corruption.'"

      Thus, "material nature is metaphorically in sympathy with redeemed man, and shall be restored with him" [Dr. William G. T. Shedd, A Critical and Doctrinal Commentary on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, p. 251-252]

      "Yes, God's purposes shall be fully accomplished. If we wait, and wait in hope, so does the creation wait, groan, yearn for the revealing of the sons of God" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 18, Romans, p. 239]. Peter, in Acts 3:21, spoke of this time of the restoration/renewal of all things, which God had "promised long ago through His holy prophets." "The idea of a renewed universe is present in substance in many passages" [The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 3, p. 65]. "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind" [Isaiah 65:17]. "'The new heavens and the new earth which I make will endure before Me,' declares the Lord" [Isaiah 66:22]. Although these passages have a more immediate fulfillment in the coming Messianic dispensation in which spiritual Israel (the universal One Body) will be blessed, such reference to a new order clearly has a further reference to the time of renewal that will occur at the second coming of Christ. This phrase "new heavens and new earth" is actually "a technical term in the eschatological language of the Bible to define and describe the final, perfected state of the created universe" [ibid]. Both Peter and John make use of this phrase in their writings, and the reference is clearly to the anticipated reality following the Parousia.

      2 Peter 3:13 -- "But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells." This will be "paradise regained." It will be returned to it original state of purity. No impurity at all will exist within the new heavens and earth. It has been refined out by the purifying fire of God. Only righteousness fills this new universe. The fire has done its work, and all that stands in opposition to our God is forever obliterated from existence. "But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men" [2 Peter 3:7]. The Lord poured out this fire from above on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, "reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly thereafter" [2 Peter 2:6]. What happened to them will happen at the end of the age. The fire will descend upon the earth, all that is wicked and impure (and this means people, as Peter says) will be consumed/annihilated in the fire (this, in my view, is the same as the "lake of fire" depicted in Revelation). The fire is simply that which utterly destroys all dross consigned unto it. When its purging work is accomplished, all that is left is the new heavens and new earth, and the Lord will then lead His redeemed ones to this restored, pristine creation, there to dwell with Him forevermore. "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth" [Rev. 21:1]. When the old has "passed away," the new is all that is left. The rest is ashes.


      Malachi 4:1-3 speaks dramatically of this coming day: "'For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,' says the Lord of hosts, 'so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But as for you who fear My name the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. And you will tread down the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,' says the Lord of hosts."

      Many have wondered about the order of events of that great day. What specifically will happen, and when? I believe one of the best portrayals is found in 1 Thess. 4:13-18. Here we have depicted the actual coming of our Lord to take His people to their eternal dwelling place, which we know to be the new heavens and earth. I have done a rather extensive analysis of this passage in Reflections #41 -- A Meeting in the Air -- and I would urge the reader to please take a few moments to examine that study. It will truly serve as the completion of this present reflection upon the joys of the new heavens and new earth. Oh how the redeemed and the physical universe long for this time of restoration to perfection! "Come, Lord Jesus!" [Rev. 22:20].

      ***************************

      (excerpts)

      From a Reader in California:

      Brother Al,

      I was just wondering: what if all of your thousands of readers worldwide were to inundate the mailboxes of the legalistic publications -- especially those like Firm Foundation, whose editor distorts published material from others -- with countless emails and letters denouncing their attitudes and actions?!

      How long do you think it would take for these editors and publishers to finally "catch on"?

      All I know is -- there are too many "Busters" in this world resorting to cheap shots and cheap journalism, showing no spiritual maturity at all.

      And to make matters worse, they are even lying to their readers!

      We must confront both them and their distorted message, and we must pray hard that God will open their hearts and minds.

      It is time that all of us, on a grass-roots level, stand up for what we know is true, and stand up against those who are false.

      Brother Al, whatever you do, don't stop writing! You are a voice of reason; cool, clean water in a barren desert in which the church has wandered for far too long.

      ********************

      Reflections:

      http://www.zianet.com/maxey/Reflect2.htm

      -----------
      -----------




      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • w_w_c_l
      ... [...] ... I like Al a lot, but I disagree with virtually everything he says in this particular article. God said Very good , not Perfect . God knew
      Message 2 of 2 , Aug 5, 2007
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        --- In Maury_and_Baty@yahoogroups.com,
        "Robert Baty" <rlbaty@...> wrote:
        >
        >
        >
        > REFLECTIONS
        > by Al Maxey
        >
        > Issue #310 ------- August 6, 2007
        >
        > **************************
        >
        > With high woods the hills were crown'd,
        > With tufts the valleys and each fountain side,
        >
        > With borders long Rivers. That Earth now
        > Seem'd like to Heav'n, a seat where Gods
        > might dwell. --- from "Paradise Lost"
        > John Milton {1608-1674}
        >
        > **************************
        >
        > Paradise Regained
        > New Heavens & New Earth
        >
        > One of my faithful readers from England wrote me in
        > early May and asked if I would please consider doing
        > an in-depth study of the concept of the new heavens
        > and new earth.
        [...]
        >
        > An integral part of this entire area of soteriological
        > and eschatological theology is the significant question
        > as to our God's original intent with respect to the
        > destiny of mankind...
        >
        > "And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was
        > very good" [Gen. 1:31]. As the old country preacher
        > declared, "God don't make no junk." God had created a
        > perfect world, and within it He placed man...


        I like Al a lot, but I disagree with virtually everything
        he says in this particular article.

        God said "Very good", not "Perfect". God knew before he
        ever said "Let there be light" where it would all lead.
        The Lamb was slain from before the foundation of the
        world.

        The idea that the laws of thermodynamics did not begin
        to operate until Eve bit the apple just isn't supportable;
        I already went through all this with Daniel Denham a while
        back.

        Yes, in a sense the Creation was "perfect" -- perfect for
        its purpose. But it was never built to last forever.
        This isn't Heaven. If it had been "perfect" there wouldn't
        have been any talking snakes roaming around in it, looking
        for impressionable young girls to deceive.

        Here's a clue; something I just happened to run across
        today:

        CP Symmetry (in Particle Physics):
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CP_symmetry

        So while the entire Creation does groan, waiting to
        be delivered, it can't be delivered until Man himself
        is redeemed -- otherwise the talking snake would be
        able to get into the New Creation and we'd have to do
        the whole thing over again.

        But don't stop writing, Al! I love what you're doing;
        we just have a different perspective about how utterly
        inadequate our human concepts of Time and Space and
        Energy are in conceiving a Timeless, All-Powerful God
        who cannot be contained even within the entire Universe.

        This isn't Heaven, but Heaven is right here with us.

        We are in Eternity now.


        Rick Hartzog
        Worldwide Church of Latitudinarianism
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