Paradise Restored

 
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It doesn’t take much to persuade most people that something’s wrong with the world we live in. From the terrorist attacks in Europe and Nigeria at the start of this year, the Syrian crisis and Ebola outbreaks to the rise in violence and lawlessness in the cities we live in, there’s nothing perfect about this world.

However, Christians don’t attribute this to some sort of flaw inherent in humanity’s material existence. Instead, we attribute it to the damage done to God’s perfect creation by our rebellion. The universe is marred and our existence is brutal because we have made it that way by an act of treason against our Creator.

The Bible’s account of human history begins with God’s creation of a perfect man and woman, but it moves quickly to their being escorted out of the Garden of Eden, doomed to live under a curse (Genesis 3:14–24). That’s the point when our lives became difficult, when our existence was a matter of living by the sweat of our brow until we return to the dust of the ground.

But what’s remarkable is the persistent love of the Creator. He intends to restore creation to what it was in the beginning and He insists on giving back everything we gave away. The story of our painful life on this earth ends with that curse being lifted and the Garden of Eden restored: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. . . . ‘[God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ ” “No longer will there be any curse” (Revelation 21:1, 4; 22:3).

There’s nothing ethereal about that. God’s Holy City will descend to this planet, which has been completely restored after the wicked have been put out of their misery. God is even now rebuilding a realhome for us, another Eden, populated by real people engaged in real lives—except that the things that plague us most in this life will no longer be present.

The natural world restored

The Bible promises that when this happens, the natural world will be restored to its former glory. The pestilences and droughts that threaten our food supply and the crimes that cheat us out of our money and sometimes our lives will all be gone.

Not only that, but “the eyes of the blind [will] be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert” (Isaiah 35:5, 6).

God promises that those who inhabit the next world “will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands” (Isaiah 65:21, 22).

God goes on to promise that the redeemed “ ‘will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them. . . . The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,’ says the Lord” (verses 23–25).

There’s a reason why these passages from Isaiah stir deep emotions: they speak to our deepest needs. There’s a memory of Eden in every human heart—which is the reason we find our present existence so problematic. We instinctively remember that there’s something better.

So read those verses from Isaiah again. In fact, read them several times. Get a highlighter or a red pen and mark them. Notice the way everything that plagues us in this life will be utterly taken away.

The cruelty of diseases and disabilities will be a thing of the past. The ravages of ageing will be reversed. Even now we can face the onset of age with confidence, knowing that this is but the temporary effect of living in our present damaged world. When the new world comes, death and disease will never happen again. Our faltering eyes will become sharp and our degenerating joints and disks will be fully restored. 
Scarcity—the cause of so many wars and acts of cruelty—will be over. Water will flow in the desert. The wilderness will blossom. There will be no need for sponsors to feed starving children and no need to worry about how we will survive when we retire.
After a lifetime of virtual slavery labouring for someone else, we will enjoy the works of our hands. Of course, everything we do will be done to the glory of the Creator and He will own everything. But we know He understands the satisfaction we feel in creativity and accomplishment, because we were made in His image. We will be permitted to enjoy the things that bring us the deepest satisfaction and bring the highest honour to His name.
Even the wildlife will enjoy the new epoch of peaceful existence. Our sin took a toll on the whole planet, changing the entire order of existence for all of God’s creatures. There even came a point when the fear of human beings had to be instilled into the members of the animal kingdom (Genesis 9:2). All this will be reversed when God restores His creation. We will never have to wonder whether a dog is about to attack us or whether it is safe for our children to play in the woods. Pain, suffering and death will be over with!

It’s hard to imagine a world like that, isn’t it? It’s so unlike the world we now live in.

Remembering something better

The good news is that the next life will be as real as the present one! The Bible doesn’t say anything about people floating around on clouds with harps. It doesn’t speak of ghostly apparitions or mysterious realms in which there’ll be no physical existence. We will live, work and build, and we’ll enjoy life to the fullest. It’s all explained in very real terms for a very real, physical future.

And in the centre of the story, between paradise lost and paradise regained, is the real death of another real human Being, the God-man Jesus Christ. In assuming human form, He became as real as you and me. And when He returns, He will come as a real, flesh-and-blood human Being. He rose from the dead with a physical body—one that could be touched; one that could eat fish and honey (Luke 24:38–43). This “same Jesus” is the One who will return to close up earth’s rebellious phase and usher in His own eternal kingdom (Acts 1:11).

Jesus is as physically real as you are. He understands what it means to live in this world, to suffer pain and rejection and loneliness. He was hungry and sleep deprived. He faced the injustice of a human court stacked with self-interested pretenders who ranked their own agendas higher than honesty and fairness. He was ruthlessly mocked, run out of town and misunderstood. 

And today He’s the perfect Mediator, the perfect Representative to stand in heaven at the head of the human race. 

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:15, 16).

The Bible tells a real story for real people. While it deals in grand themes that challenge our ability to comprehend, it isn’t speaking of concepts that exist only in an esoteric world. The Bible deals with real, flesh-and-blood people who face real life-and-death issues. It’s a good guide for people who have to face the real world now and it’s an incredible source of hope for people who, when they face death, long for the coming real world.

I don’t know about you, but I could use that kind of miracle! 

What the Bible says about eternal life

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36).

The apostle declares that whoever believes in or trusts the Son (God’s Son, Jesus Christ) has eternal life. He doesn’t say that they might have or could have eternal life. Nor does he claim that they will have eternal life sometime in the future. Rather, he says that they have eternal life now. Also, he implies by contrast that they are free of God’s wrath.

Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day’ “ (John 6:53, 54).

Believers receive spiritual nourishment through Christ and have eternal life now, and Jesus will raise them in the resurrection when He comes again. Eternal life is a quality of life that we can experience at the present moment, but it also includes a future resurrection when the dead will be raised from their sleep in the grave.

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

In His prayer to the Father the night before His death, Jesus defined what eternal life really is. It’s knowing God and His Son Jesus Christ. God, after all, is the very source of life, and when we are in connection with Him we have life—eternal life. This is the quality of life that comes from knowing God and the promise of resurrection, as well as living forever with God in the future.

 

This article is adapted, with permission, from Draining the Styx by Shawn Boonstra, Pacific Press®, 2014.