My Journey in Prophecy
I recently asked my followers on Facebook for Bible questions or topics to address on my blog. One of the commenters asked me to articulate my views on the New Heavens and New Earth.
Before I continue, though, I want to assure you of one thing, and if this is the only thing you get out of the article, then that’s fine by me: I do not condemn you in any way if you disagree with my conclusions. Though I will be a little direct, not pull any punches, and want to set out my opinions as clearly as possible without looking too much at counter arguments, I want you to be assured that you can disagree with me at every point and we can still work together in the kingdom. I have too much baggage for you to change my mind in a well-articulated comment, and you have too much baggage to be convinced by a lengthy article.
One more note before you go on: it may be helpful to read this article in pieces. Since I am writing more than usual and am putting out a lot of information, dwell on each paragraph, look up the passages, and think about each sentence critically before moving on to the next.
Now, before tackling the question, I need to talk about my journey in prophecy. If you are familiar with it already, you might skip ahead to the next section.
The past seven years of my life have been quite the rollercoaster of excitement, depression, zeal, mistakes, loneliness, and belonging. From changing my eschatological paradigm to completely rethinking how I approach the Bible to wrestling with challenging questions about everything from soteriology to women’s roles in the church, I have had quite the journey, and, of course, we are just. getting. started.
In my studies in prophecy, one theme came up time and time again, one that I had been aware of for some time but had never seen the, what to me is, a logical conclusion: Jesus, his apostles, and the other New Testament authors fully expected Jesus’s “second coming” to occur within their lifetimes.
In virtually every book of the New Testament from Matthew to Revelation, except for a few minor epistles, some statement is made which suggests that the disciples had this assumption.
For example, in Matthew 10:23, Jesus comforted his disciples by saying, “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes” (Matthew 10:23). Similarly, in Revelation, John said about five times in the final chapter that the seven churches of Asia could expect Jesus to arrive at any moment. He recorded the words of an angel: “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near” (Revelation 22:10; cf. Daniel 12).
As someone who has always tried to take the Bible seriously, I could not see how these passages, which are more numerous to cite, were compatible with my ideas about a destruction of planet earth, a universal rapture, and a judgement scene before God sitting on a throne in the sky.
So, in the spring of 2015, I started to challenge myself by rereading the Bible, taking note of these statements of imminence, and allowing these statements to control the nature of the various prophetic events.
For example, let’s look at 1 Peter 4:7. Peter said “the end of all things is near.” Now, if by “end of all things” Peter meant the end of time, the destruction of the planet, and the elements on the periodic table melting with fervent heat, then we have a problem: either these events weren’t really at hand because the end of time has obviously not occurred, or by “end of all things” Peter had something else in mind.
Another example might be James 5:8-9: “You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors!” If we think about the coming of the Lord in traditional terms, with a transformed planet, resurrection of all who are in the cemeteries, and a massive judgement scene in the air, then we have another problem: obviously none of this has happened, so either James was mistaken, or the coming of the Lord isn’t what we think.
These questions, and similar questions about other passages, led me to the conclusion that my assumptions about the nature of the coming of the Lord must be wrong. Peter and James, not to mention the other authors of the Bible, were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and if they said that the coming of the Lord was at hand, judgement was at the door, and the end of all things was at hand, then I must cast aside my assumptions about the nature of these events and trust their words concerning the timing.
So, in the fall of 2015, I reached the conclusion that the coming of the Lord, resurrection, judgement, and end of all things must have occurred within the generation of the first century saints. After all, I reasoned, Jesus said that “all things written” would be fulfilled when Jerusalem was surrounded by armies (Luke 21:20-22; this “all things” passage has the same problem 1 Peter 4:7 does, for both sides).
A Lingering question
To this day, one of the major questions I’m asked, and naturally ask myself, “Is this really it? People still die, suffering still exists, and humans continually do terrible things to each other.”
Like any good Bible student, I had my proof texts and stock answers ready to go, but even these answers were never totally satisfying to me, and, if we are being honest, I still am not satisfied with my answers, but that may be the point.
Preterism, which is what my position is called, is really good at dealing with the time statements like I’ve introduced, but explaining how to interpret the resurrection passages, rapture passages, and judgement passages is fairly more difficult. While we talk about hebraic thought, and “what the Jews believed,” there is still a lot of baggage we carry because of our culture, so these subjects take a lot of time to break down, discuss, and debate, and even then many walk away unconvinced, even if they can see the force of the time statements.
But to me, where preterism falls short is its answers to the question, “Is this really it?” These answers may be unsatisfactory because of our culture as well, but to me they are unsatisfactory for a different reason: if the church is supposed to be the New Heavens and New Earth, then why have we failed in so many areas in bringing these realities to our neighbors?
This article is my feeble attempt to answer this question, not in a final sense, but to simply start the discussion in the hopes that people who are more wise, insightful, and, dare I say, prophetic can use my thoughts as a springboard to develop a plan of action, vision statements, and who can create resources to put our theology to a practical test with the hope of producing long-lasting positive results.
The New Creation: Fulfilled or Future?
Before I can go on with the question, I first have to talk about the new creation: what it is and when it was to come. There are three major passages which are commonly used to talk about this idea: Isaiah 64-66, 2 Peter 3, and Revelation 20-22. There are others, such as Isaiah 24-28 and Hosea 1, but these are less cited by people I generally talk to.
It would be good if we could take a look at these and other passages from the Hebrew Scriptures, show where they are cited in the New Testament, and discuss their original, historical context, but perhaps you can do this yourself. Instead, I briefly want to look at Revelation 20-22 and compare it to other teachings in the New Testament.
The new Creation: What is It?
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation (ktisis, noun, singular): everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!2 Corinthians 5:17
In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures (ktisma, noun, plural).James 1:18
Both Paul and James call the church the new creation, and the language in Revelation closely mirrors what Paul said in 2 Corinthians. The passage in James introduces an interesting idea as well: the twelve tribes of Israel were the “first fruits” of this new creation, which hints at what I am getting at in the title of the essay, but more on that later.
In Revelation 21, John writes, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:1–2).
First, this language of a “new Jerusalem” could be a reference to a similar thought that Paul had in mind in Galatians 4:21-31 which speaks of “the Jerusalem above, who is our mother.” Hebrews 12:18-29 and Hebrews 13:11-14 also talk about this new Jerusalem, and, as with before, I wish we could go into more depth on these passages, but I’ll leave all the fun to you.
So, where do these ideas originate? Did John, Paul, and Priscilla come up with this idea themselves? Well, this is where the Hebrew Scriptures come into play. In passages like Isaiah 24-28, Zechariah 12-14, and Isaiah 64-66, the prophets speak of Jerusalem in two senses: a city under judgement and a city to be saved. In fact, the speed at which the prophecies switch from judgement to salvation is quite staggering at times.
I believe one of the potential sources of this “new Jerusalem” and “new creation” imagery, which is used side by side in Hebrews 12 and Revelation 21, is Isaiah 65:
For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.Isaiah 65:17–19
You’ll see a lot of parallels between this passage and Revelation 21 in passages I haven’t quoted: new heavens and a new earth, the former things have passed away, and no more tears. Other parallels can be found in the surrounding verses as well. But what stands out to me is that seems to be a passage about the creation or restoration of a people.
In the broader context of this passage, you will also find passages about the destruction of Jerusalem, the temporary nature of the temple, and the inclusion of the Gentiles. Many of these passages are referred to in the New Testament in places like Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7 and Paul’s letters, such as in Romans 9-11.
Going back to Revelation 21, the new Jerusalem is said to be “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” which echos Jesus’s words in John 14:1-4 and the ancient tradition of viewing Israel’s covenant with God as a marriage covenant. One may make the suggestion that if ancient Israel was pictured as the “old Jerusalem,” which was also called the holy city as the new Jerusalem is in Revelation 21, then the “new Jerusalem” would be whoever God’s bride is now.
The reference to the bride of God/ the lamb is also commented on in Revelation 19 as well as a host of other New Testament passages which depict grand wedding feasts such as Matthew 8, Matthew 22, and Luke 14. In Revelation 19, John wrote,
Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready; to her it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.”Revelation 19:7–9
The question I simply ask here is “who is the bride of Christ?” I think the answer is obvious when we read Pauline literature and the proposal of Jesus in John 14 mentioned above: the bride of Christ is the church.
Revelation 20-22 to me, then, is about a transition between an old heavens and earth, which may be classified as the “old Jerusalem,” and the new heavens and earth, which is the new Jerusalem or the bride of Christ. The destruction and recreation language, then, is about the transition of covenants, not the transformation of the physical cosmos.
This, of course, brings more questions than it does answers, such as “why do we still cry?” but perhaps we can deal with those specifics at a later time. At this rate, you may be thinking I could fill a book with what we’ll talk about “at a later time,” which may also be kind of the point.
the New Creation: When Would it Arrive?
We know that the new creation existed in some form already from passages we looked at earlier. The same could be said for resurrection (Colossians 3:1-3), the kingdom (Colossians 1:14), and even judgement (John 12:48). Scholars refer to this as the “already,” but when would the “not yet” of these events come?
Without citing these passages here, I ask that you read Revelation 1:1, Revelation 1:3, and the entirety of Revelation 22. Pay special attention to the imminent language of these passages and notice how they apply to all things written in the book, not just the things which are convenient to our existing presuppositions about the nature of these events. But specifically, let’s look at Revelation 20.
Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done.Revelation 20:11–13
Okay, a few things to start off: (1) this judgement takes place after the millennium, regardless of how you define it, (2) this judgment takes place after the earth and heaven flee from the presence of God, and (3) this judgement is according to their works and according to what they had done.
Some have the idea that much of the book of Revelation refers to the fall of the temple, and they would agree with many of the arguments related here, but when it comes to chapters 20-22, they see it as mainly applying to the a time future to us, which, of course, does not fit into the category of “at hand.” The justification for this does come from a few scriptures: 2 Peter 3:8 and the opening verses of Revelation 20 which talk about a millennium. There are other passages which talk about “a long time” and a “delay” (both found in Matthew 25), but those will have to wait, as I’m sure you can guess, for another time, which is convenient for me.
But I think this idea is dispelled by one small passage: “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work” (Revelation 22:10).
Do you see why this is significant? Allow me to lay it out, but give me some space if my argument does not meet the strict requirement of a proper syllogism.
The judgement of everyone according to their works would take place after the millennium and the passing away of the old heaven and earth.
The judgement of everyone according to their works would take place soon after Revelation was written.
Therefore, the end of the millennium and the passing away of the old heaven and earth would take place soon after Revelation was written.
Another way of stating this might be that since Jesus said he was coming soon to “repay according everyone’s work” and that this judgement would happen after the millennium and the passing away of the old heaven and earth, then the passing away of the old creation would be soon too.
While I haven’t exhausted every potential argument here, like the passage in Matthew 16:27-28 for instance, I think this is sufficient for now.
Now What? AD70 as a Microcosm
Alright! I feel like we’ve made some progress. Now that I’ve set the stage for the discussion, let’s slow down and look at a few quotes from a new book by Brian McLaren called Do I Stay Christian? Though these quotes are strikingly similar to thoughts and ideas I’ve had over the past few years, I found them insightful and even better worded than what I’ve been able to come up with in the past.
What happens when a meta-movement runs its course? What happens when the tide begins to turn, when the assumptions that shaped the meta-movement no longer hold, often having been changed by the meta-movement itself? That’s when you enter a transition period, a time between the dominance of one way of life and the birth of another. For people whose lives and values were shaped by the old meta-movement, such a disruption feels like the end of the age, even the end of the world.Brian McLaren: Do I Stay Christian (St. Martin’s Essentials, New York, NY, 2022) p.186. Emphasis mine.
This quote, to me, is a beautiful way of explaining the de-creation language found in the writings of Isaiah, Peter, and John. The fall of the temple in Jerusalem was the culmination of a transition which had begun, in one sense, with John the Baptist and Jesus, but had really started when the prophets began to answer the following question: “In light of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, what does it mean to be under the Old Covenant?”
How could one be forgiven of their sins if the temple does not stand? How can one worship God if God has, like Elvis, left the building? What does it mean to be a priest? What does it mean to be a Jew? How do we approach God?
The Psalms boldly declared that God does not need sacrifices (Psalm 50). Hosea challenged the people: I desire mercy, not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6). And Isaiah, perhaps the most courageous, wrote, “Thus says the LORD: Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is my resting place? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things are mine, says the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look, to the humble and contrite in spirit, who trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:1–2). Stephen was killed for citing this passage.
In continuing and embodying this tradition as prophets of a new meta-movement, Jesus and his followers began painting a picture of a new world. By preaching non-violence, which was envisioned by Isiah in Isaiah 2, and other major themes dealing with poverty, healing, and justice, they were persecuted by the watchdogs of the old meta-movement. Brian writes,
In the Christian Scriptures, I hear Mary envisioning a time when the rich are sent away to feel the hunger of the poor they have exploited and avoided, a time when the poor are filled with the good things previously enjoyed only by the rich. I hear Jesus speaking parables of a new kingdom, of death and resurrection, of God loving the world and wanting to save it, not condemn it. I hear him speaking of coming “wars and rumors of wars” that mark the death of the status quo, but he sees them as birth pangs (Matthew 24:8), not a last gasp…
And so I imagine: in the middle of the old meta-narrative of empires, domination, extraction, and exploitation, what if a long succession of prophets, including Mary, John the Baptizer, Jesus, Paul, and others, were giving us a vision for a new movement being born?Brian McLaren: Do I Stay Christian (St. Martin’s Essentials, New York, NY, 2022) p.186-187. Emphasis mine.
This transition period sparked by the Jesus movement set the stage for a new world, a new humanity. It challenged long-standing traditions of sacrifice, male-dominated priesthood, clean/ unclean dualism, war, conquering, exploitation of the poor, peace through violence, and many other functions of the old meta-movement which were exposed as being contrary the ways of God’s love through the ministry, mission, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Challenges to the Old Creation
In his book, Brian quotes Sr. Ilia Delio who says,
Jesus is the love of God incarnate, the wholemaker who shows the way of evolution towards unity in love. In Jesus, God breaks through and points us in a new direction; not one of chance or blindness but one of ever-deepening wholeness in love. In Jesus, God comes to us from the future to be our future.Brian McLaren: Do I Stay Christian (St. Martin’s Essentials, New York, NY, 2022) p.188.
A new direction. A new future. This is what Jesus has given us in the new covenant.
What does the past, what Paul and John call the former things, mean? What did that look like? When we read the Hebrew Scriptures, we read about polygamy, slavery, genocide, infanticide, and a strong relationship between church and state. When we look at the ministry and teaching of Jesus and his followers, they use a two-edged sword to fight against all of these imaginations, as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 10.
Instead of seeing the children of his opponents as a future potential threat, Jesus weeps for them and welcomes them into the kingdom (Luke 23:28; Matthew 18:1-6). Instead of fighting back with the sword and his angels, Jesus chooses to die while forgiving them instead of taking the lives of his enemies (Matthew 26:51-56). Instead of maintaining standards of religious purity, Jesus eats with sinners, drinks water with a Samaritan woman, and touches lepers as well as the deceased (Luke 15:2; John 4; Matthew 8:2-3; Luke 7:14).
In what I see as one of the most important prophetic passages in the New Testament, Luke records,
As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”Luke 19:41–44
As Brian observes concerning a similar passage, “I suggest that Jesus wasn’t speaking as a fortune-teller here; rather, he was speaking as a wise man who understood how systems work” (p. 190). In other words, the fall of Jerusalem was the natural conclusion to following the old way of life. That old meta-movement is simply unsustainable.
Another example of this is the attitude of the religious leaders in John, an attitude which is shockingly similar to my Christian brothers and sisters when they speak of a “Christian nation.”
So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.”John 11:47–48
As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out saying, “If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.”John 19:12
So they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”John 19:15
“Our holy place and our nation.” “We have no king but Caesar.” This attitude, which is portrayed apocalyptically in Revelation in the beast-harlot relationship marks one of the most dangerous things about the old meta-narrative: what happens when the empire and the people of God hold hands.
While Jesus encouraged the disciples to pay taxes, and Peter and Paul taught to pray for the leaders of the nations, the kingdom of God worked from the inside out to overthrow the empire nonviolently by revealing the corruption, injustice, and violence of the old meta-movement.
So, with all of this as our background, what went wrong?
The Failure of the Church
Continuing a quotation from earlier, Brian writes,
And what if the Christian religion, instead of living into that progressive vision of a better future, pretty thoroughly accommodated itself to the old meta-movement? What if the Christian religion married the powers that be and slept more or less comfortably in their arms for nearly two thousand years?
What if part of the restlessness many Christians feel about their faith is disappointment with this accommodation to the powers of the old humanity?Brian McLaren: Do I Stay Christian (St. Martin’s Essentials, New York, NY, 2022) p.187.
When Christianity became the religion of the empire under Constantine, when Christians chose to kill their neighbors instead of love their neighbors in the heresy trials, crusades, and conquest of the Americas, and when Christians supported systems of slavery and segregation with the Bible, we moved further and further away from the vision of Jesus. These forms of “apostasy” are far more dangerous than ones dealing with speculations about the nature of the Trinity and debates concerning transubstantiation.
And today many Christians still hold hands with the empire. Brian voiced something earlier in the book that hit home with me: “Or imagine a pastor who does not speak out on behalf of Black, Indigenous, or other people of color for fear of alienating major donors who consider any talk of racism and injustice to be ‘left-wing'” (p.39). Imagine how frustrating it is to speak out on behalf of the poor or marginalized as Jesus often did, but being dismissed as “a liberal” by those whose political affiliation overrides one of the most common teachings of Jesus. And imagine how frustrating it is to not be able to find a political home for similar reasons on the the other side.
One of the reasons that the “is this it?” question hits home for me is that the question is even a question at all because of the failure of the church to live up to its potential.
While I believe we are saved by faith, I feel like even this doctrine has contributed to the problem by over-downplaying works to the point of justifying no effort or change on the part of the believer.
While I believe in the afterlife, I can’t help but think that our over-emphasis of it has kept us from living up to our potential in this life.
And while I believe that God makes all things new and restores all things, I can’t help but think that a cataclysmic end in which a Eden-like world comes all at once, and its coming any day now of course, takes away our motivation to care for the earth, improve our life here, speak out against injustices, and try to bring heaven to earth now because it’s all going to be fixed instantly one day anyway, and probably very soon.
This is why I’m a preterist, but that’s also why I don’t stop there.
By “perfect” preterism, I do not mean that I have all the answers. It doesn’t mean that I am free of any questions. It doesn’t mean all of the holes in my paradigm have been patched. What it does mean is moving from a “one hit wonder” view of eschatology to viewing eschatology (the study of the end) as the new protology (the study of the beginning). The word “perfect” refers to a tense in Greek. Mounce says, “the perfect indicates a completed action whose effects are felt in the speaker’s present. The action will have occurred in the past since it is completed” (Mounce, see below).
In the exegetical insight on the perfect tense, Mounce writes,
But the tense of the verb, the “perfect” tense, brings out even more of what Jesus was saying. The perfect describes an action that was fully completed and has consequences at the time of speaking. Jesus could have used the aorist, ἐτελέσθη, and simply said, “The work is done.” But there is more, there is hope for you and for me. Because Jesus fully completed his task, the ongoing effects are that you and I are offered the free gift of salvation so that we can be with him forever. Praise the Lord. Τετέλεσται.Mounce, William D. Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar. Ed. Verlyn D. Verbrugge and Christopher A. Beetham. Fourth Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019. Print. p.275
So, how does this relate to the New Creation?
Going back to the title of this essay, the fall of the temple in AD70 was a microcosm for the end of the old meta-narrative. Instead of “Draw near to God as much as your race, gender, and ceremonial purity allows,” James said, “Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you” (James 4:8).
Instead of “Make yearly sacrifices so that your sins will be forgiven,” the disciples talked about Jesus’s death as a death that he died “to sin” (Romans 6:10). In other words, Jesus was born into the old humanity, exposed it for what it was, died to it, and was resurrected as the first fruit of a new humanity which is framed as a redemption of the old (Romans 8:1-4).
Instead of “Kill your enemies,” Jesus told his followers to “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44-45). Paul even said to “not return evil for evil” and “to not seek our own revenge” (Romans 12:17-21). Paul instead advocated for us doing away with our enemies by turning them into our friends through feeding them, clothing them, and showing love to all.
The fall of the temple serves as a microcosm for the end of the old humanity because all of the usual methods and definitions of things like peace, victory, lord, and what it means to be human were turned on their head (Acts 17:6). The vision of the prophets was finally realized in Jesus, and the words of Jesus were vindicated when the system which he said was unsustainable came crashing down at the fall of the temple in AD70. No wonder the de-creation language was used!
Healing for the Nations
So, where do we go from here?
Well, any system which attempts to live in the old meta-movement must be challenged, including those claiming to be based on a “Christian worldview” or “biblical worldview.” Jesus said that people and systems are known by their fruits, and our fruits are no good. For example, in the book I’ve been citing, Brian talks about how dispensationalism is harmful to Israel, despite its claims to the contrary (Do I Stay Christian? pp.14-20). This is why articulating an eschatology that empowers the gospel, challenges the form of Christianity that has holds hands with the old meta-narrative, and more accurately reflects the nature of God and the Divine love of all.
In Revelation, while the language is cataclysmic, which is typical of apocalyptic literature, I don’t believe it is speaking of a once-for-all, instantaneous transformation of the world. Instead, it is more like a seed which starts small but grows into a mighty tree, perhaps like a mustard seed.
Notice the following passages:
The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.Revelation 21:24–27
Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.Revelation 22:1–2
Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.Revelation 22:14–15
In all of these passages, it indicates an ongoing healing. It is as if this city is a sanctuary in the world, not a global phenomenon, something hinted at in Isaiah 65-66 and Zechariah 14 as well which speak of pilgrimages to this city. While the same section of Revelation talks about those who are “cast into outer darkness,” the gates are still open even though they are outside the gate. This doesn’t fit well into our traditional themes of enteral damnation following a judgement at the end of time. In my old paradigm, this passage was about the afterlife, and once you’re dead, your fate has been sealed, but these chapters present further opportunity for healing, tears being wiped away, and an open invitation into the kingdom:
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.Revelation 22:17
Echoing Jesus’s words in John 4 and John 7, which are based out of Zechariah 14 and similar passages, there is an open invitation to all who would come, and they can drink “without cost!”
What a beautiful picture of hope for the world!
From this perspective, I see eschatology in a “perfect” sense. The passages, in reality, were fulfilled in Jesus, but as Jesus prayed “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” these objective realities are being realized on an individual basis as we become more and more aware of the potential of the gospel. As Paul said, we have “all spiritual blessings in heavenly places,” but as we all know, these heavenly blessings may be true objectively, but subjectively there are sometimes where they are hard to see in our lives.
What Does This Mean?
This means that the church must stop sitting on its hands waiting for the end of time where all of our boo boos will be healed. It means that we must stop waiting for God to come in at the last second as a deus ex machina to make all of our problems go away. It means that we must realize that God does not want us to hide our talents as we wait on that day to come; instead, God wants us to be co-creators in this new age of humanity as we strive to bring a little bit of heaven to earth.
On the one hand, we have a lot of work to do in showing our fellow humans the potential of this new way as we help lead them on an exodus out of the Egypt of the old humanity, but on the other hand, I see people waking up everyday to the potential of the good news, even if they don’t use the same language I do.
From my perspective, I can work with anyone who’s faith expresses itself in love. The theology will works itself out later as we work together towards a wonderful future through the good news that God is love, that Jesus is lord, and that peace and grace and mercy are available to all, even the cats outside the gate (I mean dogs. Sorry, Laura).