THE CONSUMMATION: A Biblical Scenario
NOTE: This essay is the concluding chapter of my book, The High King of Heaven: Discovering the Master Keys to the Great End Time Debate (Redemption Press, 2014). For a close study of many of the biblical texts cited here, please see the book itself, along with the relevant essays posted on my website and blog.
We have come to the end of our journey. Having traversed many a biblical foothill, having scaled many an eschatological mountain, we have reached the summit. Now it is time to take in the view.
From the beginning our goal has been to behold—with clarity and conviction—the Blessed Hope of the Church.
To this end we embarked on our journey by looking closely at the Kingdom of God. First, we discerned its true nature: that it is, in essence, a direct spiritual reign of God, through Christ, by the Spirit; and it is also the realm that that reign creates. Next, we discerned its structure: that the Kingdom enters history in two simple stages: the Kingdom of the Son (already here), followed by the Kingdom of the Father (not yet here), with the two stages being separated by a single Parousia of Christ at the end of the present evil age. To our surprise and joy, we found that this careful NT investigation of the Kingdom actually enabled us to discern the true biblical outline of all Salvation History.
Building upon this, we next went in search of the proper NT principles for interpreting OT Kingdom prophecy (OTKP). This enabled us to discover and articulate what we called The New Covenant Hermeneutic, the NT method for understanding the OT in general, and OTKP in particular. We then applied that hermeneutic with good success to some of the most important and challenging OTKP’s, showing that in the end they all stubbornly resist the premillennial approach, but wonderfully open up and fall into place when viewed beneath the light of the simple, two-staged idea of the Kingdom taught in the Didactic NT.1
Thus encouraged, we ventured into that most “Old Testament” of New Testament books, the Revelation. We began by carefully examining its purpose, structure, and literary genre. This opened us up to the possibility that Revelation 20 might be the last of six “mystical” depictions of the course, character, and consummation of the spiritual reign of the High King Heaven, the exalted Lord Jesus Christ. And when we actually studied Revelation 20, we saw that this interpretation was by far the best.
Drawing near to our goal, we turned once again to the NT, this time to see if its teaching on the Consummation confirmed our suspicions about the true (amillennial) shape of Salvation History. We looked carefully at the Christ-exalting design of the Consummation. We discerned its Christ-centered structure. And we closely examined the top 16 eschatological texts of the DNT. Through all of this, we finally reached our destination. We beheld—with clarity and certainty—the Christ-centered unity of the Consummation. We saw that Christ will indeed come again once at the end of the present evil age, to raise the dead, judge the world in righteousness, destroy the present earth and its works by fire, and create new heavens and the new earth, the eternal home of the redeemed.
In sum, over many highways and byways, over many paths and peaks, we have sought and found the one true Blessed Hope of the Church.
And now, from high atop Mt. Pisgah, let us survey the Promised Land one final time.
A Consummation Structured for Hope
Above all things, God has structured the Consummation with a view to enhancing the glory of his Son (John 5:23). But in so doing, he has also structured it with a view to illuminating, encouraging, motivating, equipping, and empowering the Church Militant. In short, he has designed it so that his pilgrim people may have hope.
On this crucial theme we recall the words of the apostle Paul:
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. –Titus 2:11-14
Frankly acknowledging the challenges of Christian discipleship in an age dominated by the powers of evil, the apostle strongly exhorts God’s people to live in a manner worthy of their calling. However, in order to encourage them to rise to those challenges, he also gives them a great hope. Very aptly, he calls it the Blessed Hope. There is just one of them: the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. However, there are many reasons why it is blessed. It is blessed because God has made it so simple, so easy to envision, and so easy to proclaim. It is blessed because when the Savior appears, he will do so many wonderful things, things that God has revealed in Scripture so that his saints can “look for” them with eager anticipation. And it is blessed because the contemplation of each of these things is meant to fill them with courage, confidence, and joy as they journey on to the borders of Canaan, where, at long last, they will enter the Promised Land (Acts 3:19, 1 Peter 1:3-9, Rev. 12:13:17).
Therefore, as we bring our own journey to a close, let us take a few moments to remember what we have learned about our Blessed Hope. And as we do, let us consider how God has designed each of its elements to awaken in our hearts a special kind of hope; and how the sum of those hopes makes our one Blessed Hope blessed indeed!
The Signs of His Coming
In our study we learned that the Lord Jesus and his apostles unveiled a body of signs by which Christians may know that the Parousia is drawing near. Strictly speaking, we cannot call them elements of the Consummation, for they only herald the end rather than bring it to pass. Nevertheless, because these signs are so closely associated with the Consummation—and so helpful for God’s pilgrim people—we do well to remember them afresh.
On this score, Christ himself led the way, speaking of most of the signs in his Olivet Discourse (Mt. 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). After his ascension into heaven and the subsequent outpouring of the Holy Spirit, he would enable his apostles to complete God’s revelation on this theme, adding a few more signs so as to give us a still more nuanced picture of the events leading up to the end (Rom. 11, 2 Thess. 2, Rev. 6-20).
The Beginning of Birth Pains
The NT distinguishes between two kinds of eschatological signs. First, there are signs that fall into the category of “the beginning of birth pains” (Mt. 24:8). As with all the signs, these reflect the intensified clash of the Kingdom of God with the kingdom of Satan, now that Christ has entered the world and launched his redemptive assault on Satan’s domain of darkness (Rev. 12). Accordingly, these signs appear all throughout the remainder of “the Great Tribulation”; which is to say, throughout the entire course of the Era of Gospel Proclamation (Rev. 7:1-8).
The birth pains are two-fold.
On the one hand, they include what are manifestly (providential) judgments of God: wars, famines, earthquakes, pestilences, etc. (Mt. 24:7, Rev. 6). Happily, alongside these judgments God graciously grants the preaching of the Gospel, by which sinners may understand what those judgments mean, and so flee from the Greater Judgment they portend by turning in faith to Christ (Mt. 3:7, 1 Thess. 1:10).
On the other hand, the birth pains also include what are manifestly acts of Satan: the emergence of false Christs and false prophets, the apostasy of false believers, and the persecution of true spiritual Church (Mt. 24:4-14, Rev. 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, 16, 20).
Importantly, the Lord warns us that “Such things must happen, but the end is still to come” (Mt. 24:6). In other words, these are indeed signs that the end is fast approaching (Rev. 12:12), but also signs that the end is not yet here. Accordingly, the wise disciple will not allow himself to be distracted by the beginning of birth pains. Instead, he will simply remember what they mean, and therefore stay focused on the work before him, which is, above all, to preach the Gospel—and in so doing to make wise use of “the signs of the time” (Mt. 16:3).
Signs of the Imminence of the Parousia
There is, however, a second kind of eschatological sign. Since they are destined to occur very close to the end of the age, signs falling into this category are properly called signs the imminence of the Parousia. Very importantly, they will not enable believers to determine “the day or the hour” of their Master’s return; only that it is quite near, even at the door (Mt. 24:32-36). Disciples are, then, to be on the lookout for (the confluence of) these special signs, and to take hope and courage when they see them on the horizon.
One such sign is the completion of world evangelization. As Jesus himself put it, “This Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come” (Mt. 24:14). Accordingly, disciples are to keep close tabs on the state of the global harvest, and to rejoice in hope when they finally see thriving churches planted among “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).
Another such sign—closely related to the first—is the conversion of the great mass of Jews. According to the apostle Paul, this will occur near the end of the age, when the full number of elect Gentiles has finally come to Christ. At that time, God will graciously turn again to his ancient covenant people and graft them into his New Covenant vine through (God-given) faith in their Messiah. When he does, it will be nothing less than “life from the dead,” this expression being an apparent reference to the general resurrection that Christ himself will effect at his Parousia (Rom. 11:20-26).
A third sign of the nearness of the end is deep and widespread spiritual darkness. Along these lines, the Lord himself said that in the final days lawlessness will increase, with the result that the love of many (professing believers) will grow cold (Mt. 24:12). He said that things will be as they were in the days of Noah, the days of Lot, and the days of Sodom and Gomorrah, when materialism, pride, violence, and gross sexual immorality prevailed; when only a few were saved from God’s wrath (Luke 17:26-30). As for the apostle Paul, he warns that just prior to the conversion of ethnic Israel at large, (many of) the Gentile branches will be broken off from the vine of God (Rom. 11:19-21). Similarly, he warns that just prior to the manifestation of the Antichrist, a “rebellion” will occur, by which he appears to mean a global rebellion against the Law and Gospel of God (2 Thess. 2:3). Yes, the Church will groan amidst all this darkness; but because of it her light will shine all the brighter, guiding frightened souls to her Lord and the true City of Refuge (Num. 35:9f, Isaiah 60:1-3, Mt. 5:14).
This brings us to our fourth sign, The Last Battle (Rev. 16:12-16, 19:17-21, 20:7-10). It will commence with the rise to power of a person (and not just an institution) whom Paul calls the Man of Lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:1f), and whom John calls the Antichrist (1 John 2:18). The Bible characterizes him as a satanically energized world leader with pretensions to deity, who, by means of persuasive words and miraculous powers, will succeed in consolidating the entire fallen world-system around himself and against the people of God (Rev. 13:3). The resulting persecution, global in scale and ferocious in intensity, will culminate in the apparent demise of the true spiritual Church: She will lie “ . . . dead in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also (her) Lord was crucified” (Rev. 11:7-10; Mt. 24:15, Rev. 16:12-16, 20:7-10). It was this final, end-time persecution—and not simply the destruction of Jerusalem—that Jesus had in view when he warned his disciples, saying, “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Mt. 24:21).
It should not be supposed, however, that the Church alone will endure the tribulation of those dark days. For God—responding to the final assault of evil against his Christ, his truth, and his people—will bring wave upon wave of judgment against the rebellious nations. As the end draws near, they will increase in number and intensity, with less and less time in between for (a dangerously deceptive) “business as usual” (Mt. 24:36-44, 1 Thess. 5:1-3).
Here then, is the fifth and final sign of the imminence of the end: stupendous disruptions in nature and society. They are both “death throes” and “birth pangs.” On the one hand, they signal the imminent destruction of Satan’s evil kingdom. As such, they are meant as trumpets, mercifully warning sinners of the Judgment soon to come, and giving them one final opportunity to repent. On the other hand, these disruptions signal the imminent birth of God’s Kingdom in its glorious fullness. As such, they are meant to give insight and courage to the saints (Dan. 12:10, Mt. 24:8).
Speaking of these extraordinary events, Jesus remarked as follows:
And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring, men’s hearts failing them from fear at the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken . . . And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake, those days will be shortened. –Luke 21:25-26; Mt. 24: 21-22
It is easy to see why Christ and his apostles make these signs of the end known to the disciples: How shall they endure such terrible tribulation unless they understand that it is all part of God’s plan, that it will be ever so brief, and that it will both herald and trigger the return of their King—the One who will swiftly rescue his people from their enemies and richly reward them with the unspeakable joys of the Kingdom of God (2 Thess. 1:3-10, Rev. 11:11-19, 20:9-10, 21-22)?
In sum, Christ gave us these five signs in order to kindle hope: hope of serving him honorably and effectively in the last of the last days, hope of his Parousia, and hope of the consummate rescue and restoration it would bring. As he himself said, “When you see these things begin to take place, straighten up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28)!
Here is the hub, the central element of the Consummation, the core eschatological event that brings all the others to pass in quick succession. Many NT texts describe it, but the most famous comes from Matthew’s gospel. Let us hear it again:
Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heaven to the other. –Mt. 24:29-31; 1 Thess. 4:13-18, 2 Thess. 1:3-10, Rev. 19:11-21
Here the Lord’s focus is clearly on the Parousia: his arrival in glory in the skies above the earth. Nevertheless, even in these few verses, we see that his Coming cannot be divorced from the other (judicial and redemptive) elements of the Consummation. Moreover, when we read this passage in its context (Mt. 24-25)—and supplement it with material from other texts parallel to it—an altogether mind-boggling picture emerges: The Parousia involves nothing less than the centering of the entire physical and spiritual universe around the glorified Son of God, with a view to its complete and final restructuring at his own hand.
Let us take a small moment to flesh out this very big idea.
Observe first from our text that in order to set the stage for Christ’s arrival, God literally extinguishes the sun, moon, and stars. This is high drama: Blackest night falls upon the entire cosmos, so that all eyes may be turned upon the radiant body of him who comes their way in clouds of glory (Gen. 1:1-3, Mt. 26:64, Acts 1:9-11, Rev. 1:7, 6:12ff, 14:14f, 21:23). Note that the spiritual heaven itself has been emptied—or rather descends with Christ into the skies above the earth—since he comes not only with all the holy angels, but also with “the spirits of just men made perfect,” both OT saints and New (Zech. 14:5, Mt. 25:31, 1 Thess. 3:13, 4:14, Heb. 12:23). As he draws near, there is a cry of command, the voice of the archangel, and the sound of a trumpet (1 Thess. 4:16). With these Christ’s final dealings with mankind begin: He raises the dead, transforms the living, and, through angelic agency, transports all into the skies above, where they come before the High King and Judge, seated upon the throne of his glory (Mt. 19:29, 25:31, Rev. 20:11). Meanwhile, the earth below “flees from his face,” which is to say that the world and its works are consumed by fire (Rev. 20:11; 2 Peter 3:10). At Christ’s command, the Lake of Fire suddenly appears, the Last Judgment is concluded, new heavens and a new earth are created, and the glorious Bride of Christ descends with her heavenly Husband to their eternal home. In all its fullness the Kingdom of God has come at last (Mt. 25:31f, Rev. 21:1f).
In a moment, we will examine the several elements of this great Consummation more closely. Here, however, I have summarized it briefly in order to highlight the true thrust of the Parousia, which is, in essence, to reduce the entire universe as we now know it to a vast sea of men and angels, suspended in vacant space before the Judgment Seat of Christ, where they await in awe and dread the final disposition of all things. And herein will lie a consummate object lesson for every sentient being: the One now enthroned at the center of the universe is the One who has always been enthroned at the center of the Father’s heart, and therefore at the center of his every purpose, plan, and work. In sum, through the Parousia, both men and angels will behold the Son of God for who he is and for what God has appointed him to be: the Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, Judge, and Re-creator of all.
For the saints who eagerly await that day, the hope of seeing the Son in such great glory is a blessed hope indeed.
The resurrection of the dead, promised by the OT prophets, taught by Christ, proclaimed by the apostles, and longed for by all the saints, takes place at the Parousia (Acts 26:7). Christ himself will accomplish it. As Jesus put it, “Do not marvel at this, for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear the voice of the Son of Man and come forth: those who have done what is good to a resurrection of life, and those who have done what is evil to a resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28-29, Phil. 3:20-21). As his words show, there is but one general resurrection, for which reason Christ and his apostles repeatedly speak of it as the resurrection (Mt. 22:30, Luke 14:14, Acts 17:18, 24:15, Phil. 3:11). The saints look forward to it as the consummation of their redemption (John 11:24, Rom. 8:23, Phil. 3:11). When it occurs, their perfect spirits will be joined with perfect bodies, in which they will live forever in perfect holiness. These bodies are like Christ’s body: glorious, powerful, incorruptible, and immortal (Luke 20:35-36, Phil. 3:20-21). They are perfectly suited to the unimaginable glories of the World to Come (1 Cor. 15:50). One of Israel’s leading sects, the Sadducees, flatly denied the bodily resurrection (Mark 12:18). The Athenians, at the sound of Paul’s preaching, scoffed at the very idea (Acts 17:32). Modern skeptics follow in their footsteps. But Jesus rebukes them all, saying, “You are mistaken, knowing neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Mt. 22:29). The resurrection will abundantly vindicate both.
Saints living at the time of Christ’s return will not be raised, but suddenly transformed and glorified. According to the apostle John, this amazing change occurs at the very moment they behold the Lord coming in the sky. “Beloved, now we are the children of God, and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be; but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2; 2 Cor. 3:18). Similarly, the apostle Paul declares: “Behold, I tell you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:50-52, 1 Thess. 4:13-18). At the resurrection of the dead and the transformation of the living saints, Christ gathers together and glorifies the new family of man, so that they may live together with him and the Father forever.
The Resurrection also includes a catching up and gathering together of risen (or transformed) mankind to meet the Lord in the sky. As we learn from the Olivet discourse, at his Parousia Christ will send forth his angels to gather his elect from the four corners of the earth (Mt. 24:31, 1 Thess. 4:13-18). But as we learn from the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, he will also send forth his angels to gather the wicked out of his Kingdom. To judge from related NT texts, it appears that they too will be brought before the Judgment Seat of Christ (where all must appear), and then cast into the furnace of fire (Mt. 13:41-42, 25:31ff, 2 Cor. 5:10, Rev. 19:19ff, 20:11-15). Dispensational interpreters argue that this catching up (which they call the Rapture) affects only Christ’s Church, occurs in secret, and is separated by seven years from his visible return in glory. But as we learned from our examination of all the relevant texts, this view seriously departs both from the Bible and from historic Christian teaching (Mt. 24:29-31, 25:31ff, 1 Thess. 4:13-18, 2 Thess. 1, Rev. 14:14-20).
The resurrection and its concomitants contribute abundantly to the saint’s blessed hope. These amazing events promise a healthy new body, a joyful reunion with departed Christian loved ones, and the privilege of being like the Lord, with the Lord, forever.
The Last Judgment
The resurrection leads quickly to the Last Judgment. Again, Christ himself will administer it. Jesus repeatedly bade his disciples to envision him in the Judgment Seat of God on the Last Day (Mt. 19:28, 25:31). He also said, “As the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has also given Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man” (John 5:26-27, 30; 2 Cor. 5:10). The Judgment signals the end of all probation for the sons of Adam: There is no further opportunity to receive salvation, no further opportunity to earn rewards. As on the day of his death, so on the Day of Judgment: A man’s eternal destiny is sealed once and for all (John 8:24, Heb. 8:27, Rev. 20:11-15).
The Last Judgment has two main elements.
First, Christ will effect a final separation of the saved from the lost. This element is vividly set forth in Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, where he likens himself to a shepherd who, at the end of the age, will separate the sheep from the goats (Mt. 25:31ff). All-pervasively, the NT teaches that the one criterion for inclusion in God’s Kingdom is personal faith in Christ (Mt. 11:28, 22:11-12, John 3:16f, 5:24, 6:29, Acts 16:31, 26:18, Rom. 3:28, 4:16, 5:1, Gal. 2:16, Eph. 2:8, Titus 3:4-5, etc.). When the books are opened, those who have trusted in him—and therefore lived for him—will find their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev. 20:12, 15). Those who have not, but who have trusted instead in their own righteousness to win heaven’s favor, will be everlastingly dismayed to see how far short they fell of the one and only standard for salvation: the glory of God, freely offered to mankind in the Christ of God (Mt. 5:48, 22:11-12, Luke 18:9-14, Rom. 3:23, Phil. 3:8-9, Heb. 12:15)
The second element of the Judgment is reward and retribution. Christ himself will bestow both. In the case of the saints, there is no retribution, since the Savior has already undergone their punishment in his own Person (1 Pet. 3:18). Indeed, this was his chief purpose in laying down his life as a ransom for many, namely, that he should deliver them from the wrath to come (Mark 10:45, 1 Thess. 1:10). Believers will, however, receive rewards—some thirty, some sixty, and some a hundred fold—for all they allowed Christ to accomplish through them in their lifetime (Mt. 6:19-21, 25:14-30, Mark 10:29-31, John 15:1-8). Soberingly, Paul warns that at the Judgment spiritually negligent saints will find many of their works burning up like wood, hay, and stubble. Though they themselves will be saved, they have little reward (1 Cor. 3:15).
As for the lost, they will suffer eternal retribution for their every evil deed. For their want of obedience to the gospel of Christ “ . . . they will be punished with everlasting destruction away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thess. 1:8-9). For their specific sins they will suffer varying degrees of torment in hell (Mt. 12:36, Luke 12:47, 2 Cor. 5:10). The Scripture represents hell, or the Lake of fire, as a true place (Rev. 19:20, 20:10, 14). Christ himself will create it on the Day of Judgment, especially for the devil and his evil angels, but also for rebellious human beings who have spurned God’s kingdom in favor of Satan’s (Mt. 22:1-14, 25:41, Rev. 20:10). Hell may be situated in another dimension or in space itself; close, perhaps, to the (new) earth (Rev. 14:10-11). Whether its fires are physical or spiritual is unclear. As in Hades, so there: Its inhabitants will experience loss, regret, torment, and the consciousness of God’s wrath abiding upon them (John 3:36, Rom. 2:28, Rev. 19:9-20). In this outer darkness, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mt. 8:12, 22:13, Rev. 14:11). Tellingly, Jesus usually referred to hell as Gehenna, a Hebrew word whose etymology identifies it as a kind of cosmic garbage dump, in which the refuse of the universe—both human and demonic—will burn forever just outside the City of God (Mt. 5:22, 29, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15, 33; Rev. 19:1-4, 22:15). Hell, therefore, will serve as an eternal reminder to God’s elect of his infinite holiness, perfect justice, and sovereign mercy and grace. Seeing it, their thought will ever be, “There, but for the grace of God, go I” (Eph. 1:6).
Solemn as it is, the Last Judgment is also an integral part of the saint’s blessed hope. Christ’s disciples look forward to the day when their King will send forth judgment unto victory, when the scales will be balanced at last, when the righteous will receive their just reward, and the wicked their just desserts (Mt. 10:20, Rev. 15:3-4). They also look forward to receiving their own rewards, and to hearing these precious words from the Master’s lips: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mt. 25:21).
Recognizing, however, the true source of their righteousness, they mostly look forward to casting down their crowns at the feet of him who loved them and gave himself for them; the One who called them, kept them, and sanctified them during their life on earth, so that he might present them faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy (Gal. 2:20, Eph. 5:27, Jude 1:24, Rev. 4:10).
In order supremely to honor his Son, the Father has also conferred upon him the privilege of transforming the cosmos. This is the climax of Christ’s specifically redemptive acts. God has made him to be the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End (Rev. 1:8, 11). This means that the Father has granted the Son not only to create the universe in the beginning, but also to re-create it in the end. Just as the returning Christ has authority to raise, transform, and glorify the broken bodies of his saints, so too he has authority and power to subdue all things to himself, thereby liberating them from their subjection to futility, and lifting them into the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Rom. 8:20, 1 Cor. 15:24-27, Phil. 3:20-21).
This transformation is two-fold. It begins with a cosmic conflagration, a universal meltdown in which, as Jesus predicted, heaven and earth shall pass away (Mt. 24:35). The most complete description of this awesome event is found in 2 Peter 3, where the apostle writes:
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat? But according to His promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth.–2 Peter 3:7, 10-13
Importantly, Peter is not looking for the complete annihilation of the natural world, only its purging and restoration. It is only the form of this present world that will pass away, not the world itself (1 Cor. 7:31). Just as the ancient Flood cleansed the earth of sinners and paved the way for a new world, so it will be in the Day of the Lord, only more so. In the conflagration, Christ will erase from the natural order every mark of sin, so that out of the very fires that consume the former things, new heavens and a new earth may emerge (Mt. 13:41-43, Luke 17:26f, 2 Pet. 3:3-6). Notably, Peter asserts that these fires are also ordained for the destruction of ungodly men (2 Pet. 3:7). It appears, then, that in some small portion of the new heavens the flames of judgment will burn forever (Jude 7). As we just saw, this is Gehenna, or the Lake of Fire: It is the final destination of Satan, his demons, and all the people on earth who followed their ways (Mt. 25:41, Rev. 19:19f, 20:10).
The second stage of the transformation is what Jesus called The Regeneration, what Peter called The Restoration of All Things, and what Paul called The Subjection of All Things (Mt. 19:28, Acts 3:21, Phil. 3:20-21). Negatively, these expressions point to cosmic deliverance: Once and for all, Christ will lift the curse that lies so heavily upon the natural order, releasing it from its bondage to futility and its slavery to corruption (Rom. 8:18-25, Rev. 22:3). Positively, they point to the creation of new heavens and a new earth; a new universe upon which Christ impresses both the forms and functions that will perfectly reflect the will of God for his creatures (Isaiah 65:17, 66:22, 2 Pet. 3:13).
What will this world—sometimes referred to as the Final State—be like? Sparingly, yet provocatively, the Bible gives us some tantalizing answers.
As for the saints’ resurrection bodies—which are essential equipment for life in the presence of God’s glory (1 Cor. 15:50)—they will be just like the body of the risen Christ. As the Scriptures repeatedly teach, he is “the first-fruits of those who sleep,” the divine prototype to which the new humanity will be conformed in body, soul, and spirit (1 Cor. 15:20, Rom. 8:29, Phil. 3:21, 1 John 3:2). Jesus gave us precious glimpses of the resurrection body on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mt. 17:1f), in his several resurrection appearances (Luke 24, John 21), and, to some extent, in his self-disclosure to John on the island of Patmos (Rev. 1:9ff). Paul goes on to affirm that the resurrection bodies of the saints will be incorruptible, immortal, powerful, Spirit-controlled, and radiant with the glory of God (1 Cor. 15:42f, Mt. 17:2, Rev. 1:9f). Being altogether perfected, both within and without, the saints will shine like the sun in its strength in the Kingdom of their Father (Dan. 12:3, Mt. 13:43, Rev. 1:16).
But what of the world the saints will inhabit, their future home: What will it be like? The short answer, affirmed by nearly all the prophets, is that it will be like Eden, like Paradise, like the world before the Fall—only filled with the presence and glory of God (Isaiah 11, 35, 40, 65, Ezek. 47, Joel 66, Rev. 21). There will, however, be some notable changes. For example, it is clear enough that there will be no sun, moon, or stars, for God and Christ themselves, throughout a single eternal day, will be the light in all, and the light of all (Zech. 14:6, Rev. 21:25, 22:5). Also, there will be no more sea—though a world inwardly refreshed by the life-giving waters of the Spirit will doubtless be graced with physical analogues thereof: springs, streams, and rivers (Rev. 21:1; Isaiah 35:5-7, 41:17-20, Rev. 22:1). Animals will apparently be present, sharing with the family of man a new home characterized by perfect peace and harmony (Isaiah 11:6-9, Rom. 8:19). In a world where there is no need for shelter, it is doubtful we are to look for a physical city, especially since the NT consistently identifies the Church herself as the bridal City of God and Christ (John 4:21-24, Gal. 4:26, Eph. 2:19-22, Heb. 12:22, Rev. 3:12, 21:2, 9-10, 12, 14). Our home will be the new earth itself, and we—like Adam and Eve in the beginning—the blessed inhabitants of this eschatological Garden of God (Isaiah 51:3, Ezekiel 36:35, Rev. 21:1-2).
While some interpreters have attempted to tease out of Scripture further details about the physical nature of the World to Come, the Bible itself seems largely content to nourish our hopes with certain blessed generalities. It tells us, on the one hand, what will not be there: the curse, sin, Satan, violence, war, sickness, pain, sorrow, and death (Isaiah 2:4, Rev. 20:10, 21:4). On the other, it tells us what will be there: God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the angelic hosts, multitudes of fellow-saints, light, life, purpose, service, righteousness, beauty, and joy (Rev. 21-22). Through the lens of such expansive promises we behold the World to Come in a glass darkly, and therefore with ever-growing curiosity about the glories yet to be revealed (1 Cor. 13:12, Rom. 8:18-25). Nonetheless, one thing is sure: This is indeed the world of our dreams, precisely because it is the world of God’s dreams. It is a world in which, by God’s consummating grace at the hand of Christ, dream and reality have become one at last.
The Delivering Up of the Kingdom
When the transformation is complete, there remains one final eschatological act for Christ to perform: He must deliver up the Kingdom to his Father. Of this mysterious and ultimate transaction the apostle Paul wrote as follows:
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the first fruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at his Coming. Then comes the end, when he delivers up the kingdom to God the Father, when he puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign till he has put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For, “He has put all things under his feet” (Psalm 8:6). But when He says “all things are put under him,” it is evident that He who put all things under him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to Him who put all things under him, that God may be all in all. –1 Cor. 15:22-28
In this text, Paul’s theme is the resurrection. However, in discussing it he is moved to survey the entire course of the Messiah’s heavenly reign. At the beginning of that reign, God the Father gave the Son all authority in heaven and earth, as well as a commission to subdue every enemy; to put all things under his feet (Psalm 2, 8, 110, Mt. 28:18, Eph. 1:15-22). Since then, he (Christ) has been doing so victoriously, gathering to himself a people for his own possession, changing their hearts and thereby making former enemies into eternal friends (Titus 2:11-14). One day up ahead, at his Parousia, Christ will complete the work, defeating and banishing every remaining foe—spiritual, physical, or Satanic—from his people and from the new and glorious world that he will create for them. The last of these enemies, says Paul, is death itself, which Christ will forever banish at the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:26, 50-58).
At this point, the Messiah’s work will be finished. The Kingdom that the Father commissioned him to redeem and create will now stand complete before him: a new, glorified humanity, and a new, glorified world in which that humanity shall live. Yet one thing more remains, one final act of worship, one final acknowledgment of the One through whom he (Christ) was able to accomplish it all: He must deliver up his Kingdom to God the Father. He must give it back to the One who gave it to him (John 17:6). In other words, he must relinquish this form of his cosmic sovereignty, freshly submitting himself, his people, and his world to the Father’s direct authority. He does this so that God the Father may be glorified as the supreme Sovereign of the universe; that God may be all in all.
And because the Son loves the Father, he will do so gladly (John 17:1).
This delivering up of the Kingdom is “the consummation of the Consummation.” Not only so, it is the crowning touch upon the Blessed Hope of the saints. Mysterious as the great transaction is, they anticipate it with relish, knowing that herein the redemptive achievements of the Son are forever sealed, the Father fully glorified, and his completed Kingdom introduced at last. Accordingly, even before it happens, they think they hear the Father saying to the Son precisely what the Son will say to them when their own labors are complete: “Well done, good and faithful Servant; enter into the joy of your Lord” (Mt. 25:31).
Our theme in this chapter has been the Blessed Hope. In love and wisdom, God our Father has given it to us, through Christ, in the Scriptures, so that we might have eternal comfort and good hope by grace (2 Thess. 2:16). My prayer, after so long and challenging a journey, is that we all may understand, use, and savor it well.
What is this hope? As we have seen, it is the one Consummation at the end of this present evil age, a Consummation wrought by Christ himself at his Parousia.
It is, however, a many-faceted hope. We look with hope, not only upon the one Consummation, but also upon every aspect of that Consummation.
Thus, we hope to glorify Christ and advance his redemptive plan through our steadfastness in the midst of The Greatest Tribulation and the Last Battle (2 Thess. 1).
We hope to behold his face at his appearing, and so to be changed into his likeness (Rom. 6:5, 1 John 3:2).
We hope to see our beloved Master universally vindicated: honored by all men and all angels as the High King of heaven and earth (Phil. 2:5-11).
We hope for perfect spiritual and physical wholeness, bestowed upon us at the Resurrection of the Dead (1 Cor. 15, Col. 3:4).
We hope for a joyful reunion with departed believing loved ones, as we meet the Lord, together, in the air (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
We hope to see the Holy and Righteous Judge turn a morally upside down world right side up (Mt. 25:41, Rom. 2:1-10).
We hope to hear the merciful and gracious Judge commend us for lives well lived and for works well done (Mt. 25:21).
We hope to see the realm of nature purified of every vestige of sin, and a beautiful new world springing up out of the ashes of the old (2 Peter 3:10-13).
And in that world, we hope to know, serve, and enjoy our triune God forever (Rev. 21:9f).
Such is the Blessed Hope.
Such is the eschatological Pearl of Great Price.
Such is the Hidden Treasure, formerly locked away in the store-room of Scripture, but now opened to our wondering eyes by the High King of Heaven, who so graciously places within our trembling hands the Master Keys to the Great End Time Debate.
- The Didactic NT (DNT) is the teaching portion of the NT, comprised of the Gospels and the Epistles.