Will the new creation to come resemble this creation as we know it? Will we recognize mountain ranges and the location of cities? Will we recognize metro skylines? Will we depend, in the new creation, on similar technologies like jets and cars and houses that resemble what we think houses should look like? Or will everything in the new creation be radically dissimilar? This is always a great question, on the discontinuity and continuity of what we can expect in the new creation. Today it comes to us from a podcast listener named Zack: “Pastor John, hello, and thank you for this podcast. As I continue to read Scripture, particularly about the events to come, I tend to get confused. I don’t really understand what’s meant by the new heavens and new earth. My confusion boils down to this: Will the new creation look a lot different than this world looks right now? Or will it be very similar? When the sin and sorrow is gone, what can we expect to see?”
As I read the New Testament — indeed, the whole Bible — it seems to me that we are encouraged, on the one hand, to believe that in the age to come beyond death, beyond this fallen world, there will be enough overlap with our present experience of creation and of God that we should hope for a sweet sense of sinless familiarity. That’s one emphasis I see.
But on the other hand, we are confronted in the Bible with inevitable dimensions of the future that are unknown — really unknown: the unknowns of what those joys will be like beyond our present capacity to experience and to imagine.
In other words, the Bible requires us not only to live by faith right now, rather than by sight, but also requires us to die by faith rather than by sight. Great faith (at least I feel this) will be needed in that hour of death, so that the unknown dimensions of life beyond this life will not feel terrifying. I mean, just think of it: God clearly does not want his children to be terrified at the prospect of entering into the fullness of their inheritance; that’s a no-brainer. And yet, how natural it is to tremble at such a vast, never-ending, infinite unknown. So, we will need great faith when we put our foot in the river for the final crossing.
“There will be radically new dimensions of love and joy.”
Now, the Bible is not silent about these things. There are so many wonderful passages where God is helping us rejoice in hope and be confident in the hour of moving from this known world to that largely unknown world. So, let me point to a few passages that get at this both-and: the expectation of familiarity and the expectation of the unknown.
Our ‘Mortal Bodies’
So first, God wants us to know that we will be raised bodily from the dead. Romans 8:11, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” That’s real continuity. That’s not like God saying, “I’m going to make up a new body”; that’s real.
Now, what will life be like in these new resurrection bodies, which are our mortal bodies? Jesus gave a pointer in Matthew 22:30: “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” There will be radically new dimensions of love and joy that make the sweetest, deepest married love seem like child’s play. For those of us who’ve been married happily for fifty years, that’s pretty hard to imagine. “Noël, where did you go?” Well, she won’t disappear. No, it’s impossible for us to imagine. That’s why I talk about the unknown: like no marriage, like angels.
Our ‘Spiritual Bodies’
Now, when Paul was pressed about what kind of body we would have when we are raised, he said in 1 Corinthians 15:42–44,
So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
So, we have imperishable bodies, glorious bodies, powerful bodies, spiritual bodies. Who knows what a spiritual body is? The closest glimpse we get is the resurrection body of Jesus. He ate fish to prove to his disciples that he’s not a ghost or a spirit (Luke 24:36–43). And yet he came and went, it seems, in ways that defy the ordinary categories of space and time.
This is what I mean by the combination of familiar — like eating fish — and unknown. Where did he go? How did he get here? That’s something of the paradox of our spiritual bodies, our resurrection bodies.
Saved to Sin No More
One of the greatest hopes we have beyond the physical body is to sin no more, to displease the Lord never again. Oh, what a glorious freedom of conscience that will be! And to make it even better, John tells us that the basis of this new sinlessness that’s coming will be the sight of Jesus himself. Remember that from 1 John 3:2? “We know that when he appears we shall be like him [there goes all the sin], because we shall see him as he is.”
It’s a double blessing of “there he is; face to face with Jesus” and — whammo! — there goes all the sin at the sight of Jesus. What a glorious prospect!
And when we turn our attention to the kind of world that Zack is asking about — even more specifically, the world in which we sinless, imperishable, glorious, powerful, spiritual, embodied people will live — Paul answers that we’re going to live in a world perfectly suited to our new freedom from sin and from perishable, dishonorable, weak bodies. Here’s the way he put it in Romans 8:20–21:
The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and [this is the amazing part] obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
“The basis of the new sinlessness that’s coming will be the sight of Jesus himself.”
In other words, we don’t get adapted to the new heavens and the new earth so much as they get adapted to us. The creation obtains “the freedom of the glory of the children of God,” from which I think we should infer a very precious familiarity, because he talks about setting the old creation free for us.
Now, sometimes this new world is described as so radically new that we wonder if there could be anything recognizable in it at all. For example, 2 Peter 3:10, 12–13 says,
The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed [some manuscripts read burned up instead of exposed]. . . . The heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
If that were the only passage in the Bible on the future of this world, we might think, “Well, I guess the heavens are just going to go away; they’re going to pass away, and there won’t be any continuity at all with the world that we live in and this world.”
The Lamb Is Its Lamp
But here’s another picture from Revelation 21:2–4:
I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down [that is, to earth] out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride [the church] adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
We’re happy to have such former things pass away like crying and pain. But what about sun and moon? I mean, thousands of poems of joy have been written about the sun and the moon. They’re beautiful. I love sunsets and sunrises. The thought of not having sunsets and sunrises strikes me as boring. And yet Revelation 22:5 says, “Night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”
I think this is a good example to end with. I must ask myself as a lover of the moon and a lover of sunrises and sunsets, Will I be disappointed in heaven, in the new earth, at the absence of sun and moon as we know them? And my answer is no. And there are two reasons why John Piper, lover of sunrises, lover of sunsets, says, “No, I won’t be disappointed.”
“God will be our light, and we’re not going to be disappointed with that new kind of light.”
The first answer is that the point of Revelation 22:5 was not that something was taken away, but that something infinitely better was given to me that makes the other, literally, by comparison, as nothing. They might be there, but they’re not going to be what they once were, because the Lord God will be our light, and we’re not going to be disappointed with that new kind of light.
And the other reason I’m not going to be disappointed is this: God promised in Psalm 84:11,
The Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
Now, if that’s true now on the earth — “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” — and it most certainly is true, then how much more will that be true on the new earth? Nothing will be withheld from those who walk uprightly, and all we’ll do there is walk uprightly.
So, from that I infer this closing principle: whatever we love rightly in this world will either be perfected and preserved, or will be taken from us only in the sense that something will be given that is so much better as to make the thing we hoped never to lose as nothing by comparison.