When we take seriously the inclusiveness of God’s future family in Christ, we will be challenged to take seriously our own practices, programs, prejudices, and preferences. Though recognizing that we cannot make the new heaven and new earth out of our good intentions, we will strive to have our Christian communities look more like the diverse unity of God’s future. We will seek to make our workplaces more just and inclusive.
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we saw that Revelation 21:3 uses camping metaphors to depict God’s dwelling with us in the future… “Dwell with them” could be more literally translated as “set up camp with them.” Of course, we’re not supposed to think that God will actually pitch a tent when he dwells with us in the age to come. Rather, as he once was present with Israel in the Tabernacle (an actual tent), so God will be truly, gloriously, and fully present with us in the new Jerusalem.
When I was a boy, I loved going camping with my family. We’d jam our car full of all sorts of equipment and head for the mountains. Once we arrived, my dad would set up our tent, a spacious canvas structure with a floor to keep the critters out. Our tent was fairly good-sized for a tent, but it had to provide shelter for six people, my parents and three siblings in addition to me. As you can imagine, six people living in a tent for a couple of weeks was quite an adventure.
If God really cares about the world as much as Revelation 21 implies, then God also cares about how you live and lead each day. God cares about your work, your business deals, and your relationships with your colleagues and competitors. God cares about what your work produces and whether it contributes to the goodness of the world. God cares about what you do, how you do it, and for what purposes. Everything we have and everything we do matter to God.
We might have supposed that when God creates a new heaven and a new earth, human beings will dwell once again in God’s garden paradise. But, as it turns out, this is not the case. In Revelation 21:2, John sees “the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” In this vision of the future, human beings won’t live in a lush garden but in a shining city.
So, when John says that in his vision of the future “there was no longer any sea,” this does not necessarily mean there won’t actually be large bodies of salt water in the future, along which we might walk or in which we might surf. The point of “there was no longer any sea” lies elsewhere… When we read that “there was no longer any sea,” the point isn’t the absence of large bodies of salt water so much as the absence of the source of evil and the realm of death.
It is particularly striking to me that the vision of the new heavens and earth in Isaiah 65 includes a clear picture of good work with good results. God’s people will build houses and live in them. They will plant and eat the fruit of their labors. Even more pointedly, they “will long enjoy the work of their hands” (65:22). The full goodness of work, lost when human beings sinned, will be restored in God’s new creation… Divine blessing does not mean we no longer work, but rather that our work is fruitful and meaningful.
My boyhood vision of Heaven came not so much from Scripture as from popular Christian tradition and imagination. If I had read Revelation 21-22, for example, I would have learned things that both contradicted what I assumed and gave me hope that the life of the future would be much better than anything I had imagined. Yet, for some reason, I completely missed the heavenly vision in the end of Revelation until I encountered it later in life.
In the last couple of days, I have been reflecting with you on how the “frame” of Scripture helps us understand the Bible, and therefore our lives, more completely. In yesterday’s devotion, we noted how both the first creation in Genesis 1-2 and the new creation in Revelation 21-22 underscore the importance of the created world to God. And if God cares so much about creation, then certainly we should as well. Today, I want to consider the role of human beings in both creation stories.
If we frame the biblical story with these verses and what follows, we will understand just how much God cares for his creation, including but not only human beings… The more we take seriously the Bible’s own frame, the more we will understand that this world matters, not just to us, but to God. God is not just in the business of getting human beings to heaven when we die. Rather, God wants the world he created and its inhabitants to flourish as much as possible.