He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
— Revelation 21:5
“How can it be better than new?”
This was the question of a young man at a recent IFWE presentation on the “Four-Chapter Gospel.”
The question came at the end of a discussion about the new heaven and new earth when I said, “The new heaven and new earth will certainly be better than the broken one that we live in now, but it will also be even better than God’s original creation in the beginning, before the Fall.”
Redemption Is Not the End of the Story
Here at IFWE, we talk a lot about the four-chapter gospel—Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration—because it reminds us of the fullness of God’s redemptive story. It is a story that the church has largely forgotten over the last 100 years or at least truncated into two chapters: Fall and Redemption.
As a result, we don’t know what we were created to do and where we are going to end up when God brings his story to a close. While we live and work in the third chapter of Redemption, we look forward and work toward the final and fourth chapter of Restoration, understanding that it keeps us from seeing our time on earth as just waiting around at the bus stop for heaven.
Theologians often call this chapter of Redemption the “already/not yet” period. Christ came to earth 2,000 years ago to establish the kingdom of God (Mark 1:15) and will someday return to complete the work he started, not only consummating the kingdom of God but also restoring all things (Rev. 21:5). Therefore, we live and work in an age where the kingdom is already established but not yet concluded.
It is clear that Jesus understood this. In Luke 4, Jesus is asked to read from the scroll in the synagogue. He takes the scroll and reads the following from Isaiah 61:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18-19)
Jesus then rolls up the scroll, sits down, and says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). The text says that all eyes were fixed on him. Why?
The people in the synagogue knew the Old Testament better than we do and realized Jesus had left off the last part of that passage. Following the last phrase, “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” the passage continues with “and the day of vengeance of our God.” Why did Jesus leave this out? He left it out because we are currently living in the chapter of Redemption, the Lord’s favor; this is the already. His judgment awaits his second coming, which is the not yet.
As I have written previously, heaven is not a Christian’s long-term home but where our spirits go to be with Christ between death and the final resurrection. This is why heaven is called the “intermediate state” by theologians. It is temporary. It is a spiritual and not a physical place, and it is not eternal.
When I speak on this subject, I find there is a lot of confusion between the terms “heaven” and the “new heaven and new earth.” They are very different. Any time you see “heaven and earth” or “new heaven and new earth” in scripture, it is talking about the physical creation. Unlike heaven, the new heaven and new earth is a physical place and is eternal. It is where believers’ spirits will be united with their new resurrection bodies (1 Cor. 15:35-57) and live forever with Christ in the final chapter of the four-chapter gospel.
The prophet Isaiah prophesies about this coming time:
See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. (Is. 65:17)
Restoration Work: A Labor of Love
One of my hobbies is restoring old cars. I don’t consider myself an expert, but I know people who are, and the interesting thing is that most of them specialize in restoring one make and often just several models of a particular car. Most of them don’t do it for the money. In fact, when restoring an old car, you usually put more time and money into it than you get out. Like me, these folks do it because they love cars.
These car enthusiasts will take a rusted out clunker, and when they are finished, it is better than when it rolled off the assembly line—better that new. The paint is better, the interior is better, it’s even mechanically superior to the original factory specs. Yes, it is the same car as it was when it was new—just better.
That is God’s goal for restoring this broken world. In place of what we see now will be a new heaven and a new earth, and it will be better than the original. Why is God going to do this? Because he loves his creation.
N. T. Wright develops this theme in his book Simply Christian, saying, “The point of Christianity is not… to go to heaven when you die. [Rather, it is] putting the whole creation to rights…”
He goes on to say in Surprised by Hope:
You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are—strange as it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world.
This is why all the work we do in the present matters. By working in the Lord’s favor, doing the redemptive work of the third chapter, we give people a glimpse of the way things are supposed to be. We are foreshadowing God’s ultimate work of restoration when he will truly make all things new—and better than we can imagine.