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Nations in the Eternal State: The New Creation Model

May 2, 2012 3 comments

From Vlach’s “Has the Church Replaced Israel?” (see my review here), chapter 15 brings out some further thoughts concerning the biblical understanding of the Eternal State and God’s purpose for nations.

Last year I blogged (this post) about the New Creation model of eternity, as contrasted with the Spiritual Vision model which has dominated the Christian church, after reading Vlach’s blog series (see the last one, part 7 here). The Christoplatonism that Randy Alcorn describes has come about from the Greek philosophical influences upon Christianity during the Augustinian era (4th and 5th centuries A.D.), along with other negative effects of allegory on the Christian church.  Yet a closer look at the Bible’s descriptions of the Eternal state, especially in Revelation 21-22, show a very different concept of eternity:  a world with nations and kings, people traveling in and out of gates, and engaging in activities similar to our present experience.

When I first studied premillennialism, I recognized the idea of nations during the 1000 year millennial kingdom.  Now I see more clearly, from what is said in God’s word, that the role of nations (as well as the concept of time) extends beyond that period, into the New Heavens and New Earth.  For one thing, the Abrahamic covenant promises dealing with the land do not stipulate a time limitation (i.e., 1000 years), but “forever.”  Reference Genesis 13:15, Genesis 17:8, and 48:4.

If the land promise is “forever,” that suggests that the people the promise (a group of people, a nation) is made to will also exist forever, which goes beyond phase 1 of the Millennial Kingdom.

Revelation 21 and 22, along with parallel statements in Isaiah 60, specifically mention the nations and their rulers.

  •  Revelation 21:24-26:   By its lightwill the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, andits gates will never be shut by day-andthere will be no night there.  They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.
  • Revelation 22:2:  The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

Isaiah 60 verses 5 and 11 speak of the nations coming and bringing their wealth, and the gates being open, and “their kings led in procession.”  Isaiah 60 may refer to the Millennial Kingdom, but not exclusively, and the parallel to Revelation 21 certainly suggests that the Eternal State, New Heavens and New Earth, is also in mind.

Many other texts throughout the Bible speak of nations:  the Psalms often speak of the nations giving praise (which has never been the case in this world).  God has used nations to deal out his vengeance upon erring Israel, and also punished nations by supernatural action.  Isaiah 19 describes “in that day” the existence of three nations that will be blessed: Israel, Egypt and Assyria.

Chapter 15 of Vlach’s book addresses in more detail the issues mentioned above – the New Creation model and what the scriptures have to say about the nations — and then takes the matter to its next logical step.  If nations exist in eternity, and people in the New Earth have identity with nations, then why not have Israel as a nation as well?  The biblical case for nations, both in the Millennial Kingdom as well as in the New Creation Eternal State, is abundantly clear, so why would God’s purposes for the nations exclude the nation Israel?

Time and Eternity: Time is No More, Or Never-Ending Time?

May 31, 2011 3 comments

Michael Vlach has recently done an interesting series on the topic of heaven and the eternal state, contrasting the predominant Christian “Spiritual Vision” model — and its accompanying Christoplatonism introduced by allegorizers including Augustine — with the earlier biblical “New Creation” model.  Vlach cites Randy Alcorn’s book “Heaven,” as well as Craig Blaising (the New Creation model), and also points out some interesting scripture concerning the eternal state.  See “Models of Eschatology Part 6: Answering Questions About the New Creation Model (2)”, which points out the contrasting ideas people have concerning the after-life, and why the New Creation model is important.

One intriguing idea is the notion of timeless eternity, versus everlasting, non-ending time, and here Vlach points to the New Creation model and the description of nations during the Eternal State (Rev. 21-Rev. 22).  Further, Revelation 22:2 talks about the tree of life, “with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month,” which also suggests a time-bounded existence.  Everlasting life involves time that never ends — but not the cessation of time, of existence outside of the dimension of time.

As Vlach noted, very little has been written by Bible scholars concerning the eternal state: a great deal has been said concerning the Kingdom of God, but not about Revelation chapter 21, the Eternal State.  Indeed, in my brief perusal of available commentaries online (including modules available for my Bible software The Word), I found very little said about Rev. 22:2 or the eternal state.  Yet from this I have learned that many have taught the idea of a timeless existence in eternity, as noted in John Gill’s commentary (see his notes concerning Rev. 10:6).  Often the commentators are silent concerning the mention of the trees yielding fruit each month; if mentioned, it is understood only symbolically.  One commentator took it more literally and thus concluded that Rev. 22:1-7 must be talking about the millennial kingdom rather than the eternal state.

Reasoning from this popular “time is no more” idea, John MacArthur even provided “scientific” support:

Now let me talk about that for a moment from the scientific side so that you can see the rationality of this. Peter tells us that the elements will be dissolved. Now remember, the Kingdom has ended and that is the end of time. We are now on the brink of eternity when there will be, according to chapter 21 verse 1, a new heaven and a new earth because the first heaven and the first earth passed away and there’s no longer any sea. And then we enter into the eternal state, time is no more. The thousand-year Millennial Kingdom is the end of time. And the elements will dissolve.

When God closes the book on time the universe as we know it has to come to an end. You say, “Why is that true?” Time and creation began together because scientifically you cannot have creation without time. You say, “What do you mean by that?” Let’s go back to Peter’s word “elements.” Peter uses a term in the Greek that means the basic units. The basic parts of matter. Elements refer to the basic components of creation, matter. And do you know what matter is? If you have a scientific background you know this, let me give it you simply…matter is particles in motion. Most of what you see is space. It’s hard to believe that, even harder if you try to go through it. It looks solid. But it is not. Matter is particles in controlled motion. You learned that way back in your science classes somewhere.

Listen carefully, science says motion requires time because if something moves from one place to the another there has to be time. It’s here and it’s there and the fact that it was here and there demands the passage of time, even it’s only a fraction. You cannot have matter unless you have time because you can’t have motion unless something can move from one place to another, and it can’t move from one place to another unless there’s a passage of time. No time, no motion…no motion, no matter…no matter, no elements…no elements, no creation.

Again, though, what does scripture say?  It describes nations, the tree of life and a river, and fruit coming forth each month — all of which involve motion and matter.  Additional evidence (though indirect) comes from the dispensational understanding of the restoration of everything to the Edenic covenant, to bring to completion God’s purposes: a restoration of Edenic conditions, yet a continuing state such as Adam would have had, if he had passed the test in the Edenic covenant.  Certainly the descriptions given in Revelation 21-22, as well as in Ezekiel 47-48, agree with the original description of the garden of Eden in Genesis.  Adam and Eve were not then in a timeless eternity but very much existing in time and space.

Along with Randy Alcorn, Craig Blaising, and Michael Vlach, S. Lewis Johnson is another who held to the idea of “endless time” as mentioned in reference to Revelation 10:6, where in passing he observed that “As a matter of fact, there is a question about whether we can actually say that there is no time in eternity; rather endless time might be a much better way to speak of eternity.”  Certainly that would also agree with his teaching concerning the Edenic covenant and God’s Divine Purpose.

Heaven: Spiritual Vision or New Creation

May 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Michael Vlach’s recent blogs have articulated something I had sensed but was unable to define and put into words.  At the local church (and probably common at many churches), heaven is mentioned infrequently and in a somewhat-detached way:  we want to live out our lives here and go to heaven when we die, yet with no joy of the anticipation of our blessed Hope that Christ will return and bring us to Him (ref. John 14:3 and 1 Thess. 4).  The topic of heaven comes up (as recently), only when a few members of the congregation are afflicted with cancer and facing physical difficulties ahead.  We hear platitudes about how we must endure, that God be glorified in the lives of those afflicted with cancer, and talk about ultimately going to a place of peace and rest.  Yet throughout I get the distinct impression that they really would prefer living here as long as possible, that they are not really longing for heaven–only that the idea has been thrust upon them due to physical distress.  No mention is made of the resurrection and our physical bodies, but only of “heaven” — by which they mean the biblical place of paradise (our intermediate state, before the Second Coming and the resurrection).

Listening to such a seemingly disinterested perception of heaven, I am reminded of Barry Horner’s observation concerning the heavenly city Jerusalem.  Contrary to what the standard Reformed amillennialist thinks about Hebrews 11:10, nothing in that text states or implies that the “real” land of promise is only a spiritual name for heaven, or that the city Abraham was looking forward to is confined to a non-physical location up in heaven.  Rather, Abraham desired the place where God was — and such is not to be confined to a non-material place.  The real point is to be in the presence of God: and that can be here on the renovated Earth during the kingdom, or on the new Earth (Revelation 21), just as easily as in present-day heaven.

At Vlach’s site, two recent postings about “Models of Eschatology” have defined the two ideas regarding heaven:  the “Spiritual Vision” model  and the “New Creation” model.  The “Spiritual Vision” model describes the inherent philosophy and thinking behind such disinterested attitudes so commonly observed among church-goers:

The spiritual vision model was inherently linked to allegorical and spiritual methods of interpretation that were opposed to literal interpretation based on historical-grammatical contexts. Blaising also notes that the spiritual vision model “was intimately connected with practices of ‘spiritual interpretation’ that were openly acknowledged to be contrary to the literal meaning of the words being interpreted.”  “The long term practice of reading Scripture in this way so conditioned the Christian mind that by the late Middle Ages, the spiritual vision model had become an accepted fact of the Christian worldview.”

By contrast, the “New Creation” model describes the biblical view of heaven — that which Barry Horner has referred to as “spiritual materiality.”  This model “emphasizes the physical, social, political, and geographical aspects of eternal life. It emphasizes a coming new earth, the renewal of life on this new earth, bodily resurrection, and social and political interactions among the redeemed.”

This approach follows the language of passages like Isaiah 25, 65, 66; Revelation 21; and Romans 8 which speak of a regenerated earth. A new creation model emphasizes the future relevance of matters such as renewal of the world and universe, nations, kings, economics, agriculture, and social-political issues. In sum, a new creation model operates on the belief that life in the future kingdom of God is largely similar to God’s purposes for the creation before the fall of Adam, which certainly involved more than just a spiritual element. Thus, the final Heaven is not an ethereal spiritual presence in the sky. As Russell D. Moore points out, “The point of the gospel is not that we would go to heaven when we die. Instead, it is that heaven will come down, transforming and renewing the earth and the entire universe.”

Little wonder that so many church-goers are more focused on this life and enjoying it, when their notions of the after-life are associated with a very non-physical “spiritual presence in the sky.”  Certainly we cannot understand very much about heaven, thinking from our limited mortal understanding, but the “new creation” model — the view expressed in so many great scripture passages about the future kingdom and eternal state — gives us a few glimpses into wonders far greater than anything we can imagine, especially imaginations limited to non-physical Platonic ideas.