Thy Kingdom Come (Health)

You can have everything (money, power, beauty, fame, etc.) but if you don’t have health, you don’t have much.  Certainly, there are those with chronic health conditions who learn to overcome and make big contributions to society and enjoy their existence; but the loss of health has probably more to do with the loss of both productivity and happiness than anything else.  Wouldn’t it be great if there were no such thing as bad health–no infectious, malicious microbes, no breakdowns in our DNA, and no wearing out of our organs?

Jesus demonstrated His dominance over illnesses several times.  He cured the blind, the deaf, lepers and the paralyzed.  Every vector of illness, He proved He could fix immediately.  He used no surgery, no medicines, just the power of His words.  The biblical explanation for illness is the existence of the curse.  What exactly is the curse?  The Bible doesn’t describe exactly how the curse works.  The result of the curse is that a creation that worked flawlessly now seems unbalanced (even though it is still complex and amazing)  The healing miracles of Jesus are physical demonstrations of a promise regarding Heaven and the New Earth.

No longer will there be any curse.  Revelation 22:3

This may seem like a superstitious, impossible dream; but if the creative genius that made all living things in the first place decides to put His original system or even a new system back in place, a system that is not “out of balance”, why should this be hard for Him?  Jesus demonstrated the ease with which He could do it.

The curse must run its course.  God does not promise anywhere that people with “enough faith” can avoid the effects of the curse today.  Freedom from the curse is a future thing.  Nor does God command that we not find ways to bring healing through medical means.  Direct, miraculous intervention by God to undo the impact of the curse requires more than prayer.  It requires a God approved purpose.  Often God can use the negative results of the curse, even illness, to accomplish a good purpose.  He did so with Paul in 2 Corinthians 12.

Wholeness of health, even to the point of the elimination of physical death is a part of God’s plans for the New Earth.  It is definitely something for which to look forward–especially when you are sick.

In Revelation 22, mention is made of the “Tree of Life”.  The leaves of the tree are for the “healing of the nations”.  What sort of healing could be required in a place without the curse?  The Garden of Eden had the Tree of Life as well.  Adam and Eve where permitted initially to eat from this tree.  There was no curse until they disobeyed God.  Something about the tree promoted the eternal sustenance of their bodies even then.  While that may remain true in the New Earth, there is no concern about its absence.  The phrase “yielding its fruit every month” is something similar to “always in stock”.

Many aspects of Heaven and the New Earth are hard to even imagine.  Permanent, flawless health is something we can grasp and hold on to.

 

Thy Kingdom Come (Abundance)

In the Lord’s Prayer we pray “Thy Kingdom Come”.  This petition has several facets;  some that are about present life and some about eternal life.  In this series I will focus on aspects of eternal life (both in Heaven and the New Earth) that will be significantly different from the world as we know it today.  These differences will be also be things foreshadowed in the miracles of Jesus.

Scarcity is part of the world as we know it.  Food, water, energy, raw materials have been at the core reason for which people have gone to war.  When we feel that our existence or even our standard of living is endangered, humans get clannish and fight others for limited resources.

Harnessing fossil fuels and applying scientific methods to farming in particular as eased some of our scarcity.  This temporary abundance may be somewhat of an illusion, however.  Ground water and energy resources will dwindle and a crisis of scarcity could still become a reality for many of us who have only known abundance.  What happens then is beyond the scope of this essay but it is something to consider.

As the crowds followed Jesus to hear Him preach, a scarcity of food became a problem.  Jesus demonstrated His power by turning a few loaves of bread and fish into a meal for thousands of people–a miraculous breach of the laws of physics.  It is important to note that He made no promise to end scarcity during the course of this life.  In Revelation 7, however,  God’s promise about eternal life states:

Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.

Scarcity is a part of the old (current) order of things and is passing away.  Currently, according to World Hunger.org, 815 million, approximately 10.6% of the world’s population goes to bed hungry.  This is a major improvement since the so called “Green Revolution”, but as I said before, energy and water resources threaten the future of food production at the level we currently maintain. Still, 10% is significant especially if you are part of the 10%.

The U.S. should be significantly better, but it seems that we are not.  Disparity of wealth, especially with families who have children leaves us with similar numbers if not worse.  Currently, enough food exists.  It is more of a problem of distribution and minimizing waste.  Jesus told his disciples to pick up the scraps and let nothing be wasted.  This speaks to the type of stewardship we are expected to maintain in this world.

Scarcity exists because of sin and the curse.  Heaven and the New Earth will no longer have these problems.  Food security is a problem here. Will we even need to eat in Heaven and the New Earth?  It would appear likely.  Isaiah 25:6 says:

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine–the best of meats and the finest of wines.

This description points to a future “New Jerusalem”–a place of the very best without scarcity.

If you live in abundance today, this difference may not stand out for you.  For many it is something hard to imagine, something to eagerly anticipate.

Do Our Pets Have Eternal Life?

Meet Ricky.  Ricky is my sweet, gentle Havanese.  He turns 13 this week.  That is pretty old in dog years.  When Ricky isn’t in the house, the house seems strangely empty.  We are so accustomed to his being there.  While Ricky is still in good health, it is becoming more a part of our thoughts that he won’t be there forever.  He is getting old, and like the rest of us, his time will eventually come to an end on this Earth.

Does Ricky just disappear at that point?  If you are a materialist, your answer is “of course”.  Dogs like people are just organisms that are here for a short while and then gone.  If you believe in reincarnation you would disagree.  In fact, you and your dog might eventually switch places, so be nice to your dog.

Does the Bible say anything about animals?  I have heard many people, including pastors, say that animals do not have souls because they are not created in the image of God.  I know the Bible pretty well.  I don’t know from where that idea comes.

Without a doubt, the focus of the Bible is on the eternal existence of humans.  We are created in the image of God.  We do have an eternal existence, either with God or forsaken by Him.  It all depends on our connection to Jesus.  But read these words from Colossians 1:19f and tell me what they say about Jesus’ work in relation to the rest of creation:

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him(Jesus), and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the cross…This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to ever creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

I read that the death of Jesus was not just for the benefit of human beings but rather it reconciles all things.  You could translate this “all (people)” if it were not for the “things on earth and things in heaven” part.

While the death of Jesus reconciles God with the corruption of his creation, that doesn’t quite add up to all being a part of Heaven or the New Earth.  At least, that is certain for people.  Living things, other than people, are clearly a part of the New Earth (see Isaiah 65).  The unanswered question is whether or not our particular pets are a part of that new creation.  While animals are usually not as intelligent as people, we cannot say anything about the existence or non-existence of their spirit from the Bible (see my previous blog on Spirit, Soul and Consciousness).  That said, it is a distinct possibility that our pets may be a part of our eternity, especially the New Earth.

I hope so anyway.

The River of Life

One feature of the New Earth, that hasn’t been mentioned yet is the River of Life.  Once again, I don’t think this is a metaphor, but rather a physical feature running through the New Jerusalem.  That said, this river is not your usual water running downhill.

If you are familiar with the River of Life it is because it is found in Revelation 22.  Just like with magazines, a lot of us like to start at the back; so many people have read Revelation 22–the last chapter of the Bible.  You may be less familiar with Ezekiel 47.  Here is description of what is clearly the same thing.  So what is so strange about this river?

Let’s start with the source.  The river emanates from under the altar of the temple in Ezekiel and from under the “throne of God” in Revelation 22.  The temple was seen as a mini-version of what really existed in Heaven.  This is a reason to equate the future New Jerusalem with the current throne room of God in Heaven.

Water, as it spreads out and flows away, should get shallower.  This water gets deeper until it forms a river.  Along the river are trees which are identified as the Tree of Life in Revelation 22.  A presumably singular Tree of Life is mentioned in Genesis in the Garden of Eden.

This river isn’t the only thing to ever flow from beneath the throne of God.  In Daniel 7:10 a river of fire flows.  So what is this river?  The Holy Spirit manifests himself as many things:  a dove, fiery tongues and Jesus speaks of the Spirit as Living Water.  I think it is fair to understand the river as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, and all life initiates with Him.  In Heaven and the New Earth, we may experience the Father and the Son as persons like ourselves in many ways.  The Spirit may be experienced in other ways including this river.

The Tree of Life is seen lining the river.  It, too, is an outgrowth, tool or manifestation of the Holy Spirit.  Revelation 22 says, “The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”  What healing will we need in the New Earth?

The honest answer is, “I don’t know”.   In Genesis, Adam and Eve were not forbidden access to the Tree of Life until after they had been exposed to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The reason was so that they would not “live forever”.  Here the reason is so that we will live forever.  Our physical bodies, though recreated, still may need the steady input of the Tree of Life; and not to worry, the Tree of Life is always in season.

I expect that our resurrected bodies will have some type of genetic information within them and some type of chemical metabolism.  Sustaining this metabolism indefinitely is whatever is in the Tree of Life.  It is the Spirit’s way of keeping us whole and alive.

No Eclipse in This City

This week was the long anticipated solar eclipse in the United States.  My city was very near the region of totality.  We experienced a 99% eclipse, which oddly barely dimmed the light.  As we continue to look at the New Earth, specifically the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 (this is the sixth entry), we find a wrinkle to the “new order of things” that relates to the celestial bodies.

I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.  The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.

In the new Jerusalem you don’t need to go to a temple because you encounter God, the Father and Jesus, everywhere.  The presence of God is an interesting study in the Bible.  God is everywhere and somewhere at the same time.  He occupies a throne in Heaven and He also dwells in His people and fills all things.  You get the sense that His presence is different in each place, but very real.  Still, God’s presence isn’t something you can always sense in every place.  Not so in the New Jerusalem.  How we will encounter God in this city, I cannot say.  But I do believe it will be exhilarating, joyful and always desirable.

God’s presence in the New Jerusalem is so palpable that the city literally glows with God’s glory.  The physical radiation that accompanies God, His shekinah, makes the directional lighting of the sun, moon or any lamp irrelevant.  There is no darkness of any sort in the New Jerusalem.

On no day will its gates ever be shut, or there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.  Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

As mentioned before, the walls of the city are not for a protective purpose.  Once the city has arrived on the New Earth, there is no need to shut the gates; not just because there isn’t any night, but because there isn’t any danger.  Evil is excluded.  The evil that affects us all is gone.  The human inhabitants and visitors to the city have left their sinful nature behind.  They are what we are meant to be–loving, truthful, good.

That part is more exciting than a new planet.  We will be literally new people.  You won’t have enemies or people you can’t trust.  You won’t be in competition but rather you will be in love, with everyone. We won’t need armies, police or really even laws. We will be with God, each other and a restored nature.

Is anything the same?  Will there be anything carried over from the current Earth to the New Earth?  “The glory and honor of the nations” is mentioned.  This could be simply a reference to the fact that there will be redeemed people from every nation, but it could also speak to pure elements of human culture–the very best of what we are today.

It is hard to imagine, but it isn’t hard to know that this is where you want to be.  Who will make it?  Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.  Jesus, the Lamb, has always known who will be His.  Their names are recorded in a book.  His people will know that He died for them and they will be bonded to Him through baptism.  Some will be His almost all their life.  Others will be late arrivers, coming to faith in old age.  Praise God if you belong to Jesus.  If not, it’s better late than never, as the saying goes.

How Large Is the New Earth?

The next paragraph about the New Earth gives a size and visual description of the New Jerusalem.  Both a very detailed.  This detail is the main reason I don’t think this is a metaphor for God’s people.  As mentioned before, some regard the description of the New Jerusalem to be a metaphorical description of God’s people because it says that the New Jerusalem is the “bride” of the Lamb (Jesus).  Both God’s people and Jerusalem are described as God’s bride in the Bible. Because of the complexity of the description given here it is hard for me to see this as a metaphor.  Rather, I think this is John describing what he sees.

The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide.  He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia (1,400 miles or 2,200 kilometers) in length, and as wide and high as it is long. He measured the wall and it was 144 cubits (200 feet or 65 meters) thick by man’s measurement.

This is one whopping big city–a giant cube or possible a square based pyramid.  The distance from Chicago to Miami is slightly shorter than this.  Consequently, the New Earth must be a massive planet, if it is a planet.  A lump 1,400 miles high would cause a spinning sphere to wobble like a flat tire.  Mount Everest is only 5.49 miles high. Why such a crazy thick wall?  The number 144 is 12 squared and God is very mathematical.  Is it symbolic of our protection?  Maybe.  It may also be a function of what it takes to move such a large object, possibly from another dimension.

Why measure it?  I think this is to make the point that this is a real, tangible thing.  It is not a fantasy, concept or metaphor.

The wall was made of jasper and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass.  The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone.  The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst.  The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of a single pearl.  The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass.

This part of the passage is of interest if you are really into gems.  It says that the foundation is decorated in layers of beautiful and recognizable gem stones. At least, this is what it looks like.  This is also where we gate the idea of “pearly gates” and “streets of gold”.  In popular culture these are attributes of Heaven.  This reference is to the New Jerusalem, unless, as noted earlier, they are one and the same.  Clearly gold is not clear.  John is using the best words he has to describe what he sees.

Beauty will definitely be a big part of the New Earth.  While much will be different as this is a “new order of things”, there seems to also be the familiar.  Beautiful aspects of God’s first creation brought into the next.

God’s people will be a part of that beauty.  The same, but also strikingly different.

 

The New Earth in Revelation (part 3)

We left off at Revelation 21:5 in my last entry.  Verses 6-9 are important but not about the New Earth, so I will pick it up at verse 9:

One the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.  And he carried me away in the Spirit to mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

An angel takes the writer, John, not only to a different place but also to a different time.  The time that the New Earth is being set up post-judgment day.  Being taken “in the Spirit” doesn’t necessarily mean “out of body” but in this case it must.  John sees the “new” Jerusalem coming down like a landing space ship.  It is called “the wife of the Lamb” because in Isaiah 62:4, God speaks of Jerusalem being called “Beulah”, which means married.  The Church is also referred to with such a metaphor, but in this case, I think it is referring to the new Jerusalem.  So what makes it Jerusalem?  It is the city where the visible presence of God resides.  It will probably bear no resemblance or use any material from the Old City of Jerusalem, but the old Jerusalem prefigured this city of the future.

A question I have is whether this New Jerusalem is actually something that exists in Heaven already.  Is this the throne room of God that we see in all of the visions of Heaven?  We can’t know this, but it seems a real possibility to me.  In that case the following description, which we often attribute to Heaven, actually is a description of both Heaven and the New Jerusalem.

It shone with the glory of God and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal,.  It had a great high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates.  On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.  There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west.  The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

If you Google “new Jerusalem” and go to “images” you will see how various artists have wrestled with this description.  Did it look like a walled city of the past?  If so, why?  I think this describes something more like a city within a crystalline cube.  It is four sided, at least at the base.  The dimensioning is given in the next section.  The names on the gates remind me of gates at a football stadium, especially Lambeau field which happens to have a gate named after the Oneida Indian tribe.  Walls would not be needed to keep out enemies as in the past, but would walls be needed because of the mobility of this city?  Something similar to the “Death Star” in Star Wars, only beautiful.

Jaspar is a stone that is not typically clear.  John grasps for gems he knows.  I think it looks more like a diamond.  Its beauty is something that probably defies words, and it will be a big part of our eternal existence.