“How, then, will the story of human history end?” asks Tim Keller in his classic, The Reason for God. He then answers the question by describing what takes place in the fourth chapter of restoration:
We do not see the illusion of the world melt away nor do we see spiritual souls escaping the physical world into heaven. Rather, we see heaven descending into our world to unite with it and purify it of all its brokenness and imperfection.
A current misconception within evangelical Christianity is that at the end of the third chapter, Redemption, the earth will be destroyed. The implication is that the only thing that matters in the Redemption chapter in which we currently live is salvation—once we have been saved, nothing else about this earthly world really matters.
Not a Bus Ticket to Heaven
Salvation, however, is not just a one-way bus ticket to heaven, or the earth a bus stop where it doesn’t really matter what we do while we wait for the bus. The scriptures teach a different reality. Heaven is a temporary place—heaven is actually the bus stop. When those of us who are in Christ die, our spirits separate from our physical bodies. While our physical bodies return to dust, our spirits go to heaven (Ecc. 12:7). It is in heaven that, after our earthly death, we, God’s people, await the return of the king who will consummate the kingdom he inaugurated at his first coming. In Revelation 6:10, we see those who are in heaven watching the events on the earth, lamenting, “How long, Sovereign Lord?” We even see the whole creation groaning in anticipation of the renewal of all things (Rom. 8:19, 22).
Restoration begins with the second coming of Christ. When Christ returns, there will be a general resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked (Dan. 12:2). At that time, the spirits of the saints who have returned from heaven with Christ will be united with their resurrection bodies (1 Cor. 15:12-57). Following this resurrection, there will be the final judgment where Christ will stand as judge over all those who lived on the face of the earth. Believers will be judged righteous not because of their acts but because they are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. At the end of the final judgment, the wicked will be punished and the righteous will go on to live in a new heaven and a new earth forever with Christ.
Not Brand New; Renewed
Interestingly, there are two Greek words for “new” used in the New Testament. One is neos, meaning totally new, and the other is kainos, meaning renewed. In almost every passage where the New Testament authors use the word “new,” the Greek word is kainos (renewed). We work toward a redeemed heaven and earth that has some continuity with what we have now.
Not only is there continuity between the present land and the new heavens and new earth, but the Bible implies that the best things we create will be there. Twice in Revelation 21 it says that the “glory” of the nations will be manifest in our final state (Rev. 21:24, 26). This seems to mean the best of the products (or creativity) that different ethnic groups produce on earth will also be made in the new heavens and new earth.
We see in this vision of the fourth chapter of restoration, a restoring of perfect shalom—not just the absence of conflict, but rich human flourishing in all dimensions. The way the world was meant to be.
Editor’s Note: The new booklet, Reweaving Shalom: Your Work and the Restoration of All Things, from which this article is adapted, is available now from our bookstore!