The Hope of the Ages-Part 7
|By: Dr. Michael Stallard; ©2000|
|Dr. Stallard wraps up his series on the Biblical message of hope by looking at God’s specific plan and deliverance for the created order.|
THE HOPE OF THE AGES—Part 7
This article is the seventh in a multi-part series outlining the Bible’s message of prophetic hope as it pertains to the future of this age, the Church, the nation of Israel, the Gentile nations of the world, and the created universe. Previous articles have addressed the wonderful prospect of hope for the separate institutions of the nation Israel, the Church, and the Gentile nations. This article will focus on God’s specific plan and deliverance for the created order itself.
It is clear that God’s original creation plan included a beautiful earth with men and women reflecting God on earth as His image in several ways. Among those was mankind’s exercise of dominion over the planet and its various creatures (Gen. 1:26-28). God directed this plan with more detail when Adam is given a place to live (Eden), a job to perform in tending the garden, a command to keep, and a companion to assist him (Gen. 2:15-25). It is also highly significant that God gave Adam responsibility to name the animals (Gen. 2:19).
However, God also gave Adam and Eve free will. It was possible for them to disobey God’s commands. The temptation of Eve by the serpent and the ultimate fall of Adam into rebellion against God lead to judgments from God that mar the very created order that God had given to them (Gen. 3:14-19). Especially significant for our discussion is the curse that comes upon the world because of Adam’s sin. The ground itself is cursed (3:17). This means a couple of things for humankind. First, new elements will exist in the created order, which are unpleasant. Specifically, thorns and thistles are mentioned. It is no surprise that three of the Gospels mention the crown of thorns that Jesus was forced to wear at His crucifixion. They represent His own identification with the curse brought about by Adam’s transgression. His death on the cross was meant to provide the basis for eliminating that curse. Men and women can have His work on the cross applied to their own lives by simple faith, that is, trusting what He did on the cross to take away their own sin and guilt brought on by the curse. The second relevant application of the ground being cursed is the fact that hard work will now be required on Adam’s part. The land will yield its plant food only with much difficulty.
Of course, the most terrible aspect of the curse brought into the created order by Adam’s sin is the fact of death itself. The New Testament affirms that death entered into the entire cosmos by Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:13). The entire creation “waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:19-21). Thus, the universe, not just planet earth, appears to have been made subject to the curse of death due to Adam’s rebellion. Furthermore, this passage pictures the created order as longing for its own deliverance from this devastating predicament.
Therefore, it is not surprising to find that God’s plan of the ages includes the hope and promise of the complete restoration of nature itself. This is expressed in several places in both Old and New Testaments. Representative of Old Testament teaching would be the prophets such as Amos, Isaiah, and Zechariah. All of these prophets speak of the ultimate and final restoration of the Messianic Davidic kingdom of Israel. However, they make clear that simultaneous with this restoration will be the renewal of the earth itself. The kingdom will be a time “when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes. New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills” (Amos 9:13 NIV; Cp. Joel 3:18; Is. 65). The desert and wilderness will blossom (Is. 35:1). The coming of the Messiah to deliver Jerusalem in the end times (Christ’s Second Coming) brings with it topological and natural changes to the earth itself and there will be “no more curse” (Zech. 14:4-11). There is no reason not to take such expressions in a straightforward way as teaching the reversal of the natural implications of the curse described in Genesis.
Furthermore, in the prophets such future renewal is not limited to just plant life. Isaiah pictures the kingdom as a time when various creatures, previously antagonistic to each other, now peacefully coexist. He cites several combinations: wolf and lamb, leopard and goat, calf and lion with the yearling, cow and bear, lion and ox, infant and cobra (11:6-8). Surprisingly, a “little child will lead them” (11:6). Isaiah describes this renewed creation in the kingdom as a complete restoration of the harmony in nature that was lost in the Fall of man. Recall Adam’s naming of the animals in Genesis two and Eve’s lack of fear in talking to a serpent in Genesis three. It is also significant that the eating of meat, which was instituted after the Flood (Gen. 9:2-3), appears to be no longer necessary. Additionally, the fear of man that is placed in the world at that time is done away with in God’s coming kingdom.
In the New Testament there are several lines of evidence that support the notion that God has a plan to renew the created order. This is shown through the healing ministry of Christ and the doctrine of the resurrection that highlights the removal of the curse. However, with respect to nature itself, Acts 3:21 speaks of the restoration of all things to be initiated at the Second Coming of Jesus. Romans 8:19 shows the created order longing for the revealing of the sons of God (at the Second Coming) for its own deliverance as shown above. Second Peter 3:10-13 speaks of the destruction of the created order by fire. It appears that this is a kind of fiery renovation with a new heaven and a new earth. This cataclysmic event occurs at the end of the millennium since Revelation 21 shows that the time of the new heaven and new earth follows the thousand years of chapter 20. Thus, God’s renewal of the created order, which is initiated at the Second Coming, is finalized when God moves His abode (the heavenly Jerusalem) to earth to dwell with men forever. It is at this time that the final enemy–death–is once and for all done away fulfilling the greatest promise that God has ever made (Rev. 21:4). The description of the heavenly city in Revelation 21-22 shows that God’s ultimate plan is to give to mankind more than Adam ever lost in the garden, including a brave new world beyond our wildest imaginations.