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completion The Return of the King Shalom .On Earth As It Is in Heaven Session
completion
The Return of the
King
Shalom
.On Earth
As It Is in Heaven
Session 13
scripture study 1: the future of our world Introduction:  e Return of the King

scripture study 1: the future of our world

Introduction: e Return of the King to Judge and Redeem In this age, it appears God is slow to act in the cause of justice. His apparent slowness calls into question God’s power, his willingness to act, and even his existence. Evil, not God, appears to be sovereign. God’s apparent impotence is manifested whenever the wicked prosper and the righteous suer. Most tragic of all, the Righteous One su ered at the hands of the wicked. As the extension of Jesus’ su ering, his followers suer at the hand of God’s enemies. One day, however, we will witness a great reversal, as God acts to overturn this situation. is action will vindicate God as the one who in his good time does indeed bring to justice his enemies and those who persecute his people. 1 It is clear from Scriptures that Jesus will come back at the end of times to judge and redeem this world and its inhabitants. e Apostles give a most prominent place to this hope in their preaching (Acts 10:42,17:31) and writings (Romans 2:5-16, 14:10; 1 Cor 4:5; 2 Cor 5:10; 2 Tim 4:1; 2 ess 1:5; James 5:7). In fact, the description of Jesus’ return with power and great glory employs terms that echo imperial Roman rule. His return as Son of Man is a “parousia”, a term used to especially signify the approach of a king, an emperor or future emperor, a military commander, or other

o cials or envoy to a subject city. 2 So Jesus’ reappearing, the disciples

believed, will establish him once and for all as the true King in God’s new world.

In the meantime he is present with us, but hidden behind that invisible veil which keeps heaven and earth apart, and which we pierce in those moments, such as prayer, worship, the reading of Scripture, and our work with the poor, when the veil seems particularly thin. But one day the veil will be lifted; earth and heaven will be one; Jesus will be personally present to judge the living and the dead, and every knee shall bow at his name; creation will be renewed; the dead will be raised; and God’s new world will at last be in place, full of new prospects and possibilities. is is what the Christian vision of salvation is all about. 3 In what follows we will look at what this means concretely for the future of our world, the future of God’s people, and the future of those who have rejected God.

Scripture Study:

Study the following Scripture verses assigned to your group, reflect on the corresponding questions, and come prepared to share your answers with the entire class:

Group 1: Read Romans 8:19-22; Acts 3:21

What are God's intentions for this world’s future? How does he view creation?

What do Paul and Peter say will happen to Creation?

What do these passages rather imply: that the world will be destroyed at the end of times, or that the world will be transformed and restored?

Group 2: Read 1. Corinthians 15:24-28; Revelations 11:15-18

What do these passages tell us about the “end” of God’s story with the world? Does world history end in meaningless catastrophe? Or is our corporate history going somewhere?

What will happen to the kingdom of this world? What exactly will be destroyed – the world or those who destroy the earth?

Whereas Revelations 11:15 is normally translated “the kingdoms of this world”, the Greek actually reads, “the kingdom (singular) of this world”. What is the significance of declaring that it is the “kingdom of this world” (meaning the entire created order) that will come to know Christ? What does this say about the possibility for redemption?

What do these passages say about those proponents who advocate that the “world is inherently evil and will be completely destroyed”?

Group 3: Isaiah 65:17-25; Revelation 21:1-4

How do these passages describe the future of the world? What do they mean by a “new heaven and a new earth” – a brand-new heaven and earth or a renewed heaven and earth?

Where will God be? Where will we be? Where will the New Jerusalem be?

What characteristics will this renewed earth and its capital city, the New Jerusalem, have?

Conclusion

e Bible doesn’t give us a picture of the ultimate future as a world of

disembodied spirits or cherubs on clouds or a Platonic ‘Isle of the Blessed’ where the righteous get to talk philosophy all day, or sing songs to God for all eternity. It’s all much more solid, much more real than that. Revelation 21-22, for all its language full of symbol and imagery, clearly envisages that the reality to which these symbols and images point will be a renewed creation, an actual world which will resemble our world of space, time and matter in all sorts of ways, even as it will be far more glorious, full of new possibilities, new healing, new growth and new beauty. 4 In summary, then, the Bible invites us to imagine a renewed world as a beautiful, healing community; to envisage it as a world vibrant with life and energy; incorruptible, beyond the reach of death and decay; to hold it in our mind’s eye as a world reborn, set free from the slavery of corruption, sin and death; free to be truly what it was made to be. 5 While this new world is not yet, and while we don’t know when or how Christ will come to

make this hope come true, we do know that we’re called to be diligent in his mission and provide the building blocks for God’s new social order in the meantime.

blocks for God’s new social order in the meantime. I am constantly amazed that many contemporary

I am constantly amazed that many contemporary Christians find this

confusing. It was second nature to the early church and to many subsequent Christian generations. It was what they believed and taught. IF we have grown up believing and teaching something else, it’s time we rubbed our eyes and read our texts again. God’s plan is not to abandon this world, the world which he said was ‘very good’, and which he promised to Noah he would never again destroy. Rather, he intends to remake it. It is interesting, indeed, that the book of Revelation does not end with people going up to heaven but with the heavenly Jerusalem (the ‘City of Shalom’) coming down to earth. 6 And when that happens, God

will raise all his people to new bodily life to live in it. at is the promise

of the Christian gospel – and to that we’ll turn next. 7

scripture study 2: the future of god’s people

Introduction

e Old Testament writers never separated the hope for eventual salvation

beyond the grave from bodily existence. Hence, Job spoke for the entire tradition when he a rmed: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes – I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me.” ( Job 19:25-27). Hebrew anthropology thus could not envision human life in any other form, including existence in some sort of disembodied state. 8 Ancient Greek philosophy, however, was imbued with a vision of the immortality of the soul – a dualistic anthropology which suggests that our essence resides in the soul apart from the body. Death, for many Greek philosophers, completed the liberation of the soul, freeing it from the contaminating imperfections of the body so that it might penetrate the world of eternal ideas to which it belongs. is idea of the soul’s immortality has been highly influential throughout Christian history. Certain Christian thinkers assert that at death the individual soul enters into the fullness of eternity. Yet, this viewpoint is very problematic and unbiblical. It suggests that immortality is somehow intrinsic to the soul, rather than being God’s gift. Further, this teaching suggests that it is the body, not death, that must be overcome. In so doing it postulates that the seat of human sin resides in the body, so that our physical aspect is beyond redemption. 9 Unfortunately, many Christians have developed an understanding of life after death which reflects more the Greek than the biblical spirit. 10 So what does the Bible really say about what happens to God’s people when they die?

Scripture Study Study the following Scripture verses assigned to your group, reflect on the corresponding questions, and come prepared to share your answers with the entire class:

Group 1: Romans 8:17; 1. Corinthians 15:20-28, 35-55; 2. Corinthians 5:1-9; Philippians 1:23; 3:20-21

Does death open the way for us to live as disembodied spirits in eternity?

What do biblical authors say about life after death? How will it be?

What happens between our death and our resurrection?

Group 2: Matthew 19:27-30; Revelation 5:9-10; Revelations 7:13-17; Revelation 20:4-6, 22:3-5

What will we do once we have been resurrected? What will be our role in the new earth?

How does this view contradict or a rm what you have been taught about your future role?

Conclusion In the end, the Bible’s excursions into what the new heaven and the new earth and our resurrection life in it will be like will fail to satisfy our curiosity for detail. But that’s okay. Perhaps we don’t need to be able to fully picture it. Perhaps we’re not even able to fully picture it. 11 One thing we do know for sure, however: our story will not end with us “going to heaven”, as in many hymns and prayers, but with resurrection and new creation. Our eternal home will be on this renewed earth. On this renewed earth we shall live and never die. What’s more, we will be given the kingdom that was always meant for us to reign on God’s behalf. God won’t raise us from the dead, just to live with him forever. He will raise us from the dead to fulfill the calling we were created for in the first place; that is to be God’s viceroys over the earth – to explore and discover and create and govern. Only now, God will live in our midst and we shall reign together with him forever. We will take the position for which we were uniquely made and will rule as he does, with creativity and power and Shalom. 12 is is what God has been trying to say to us all along. Creation will be restored, and we will be restored. And we shall share it together. We don’t know when we can expect the return of the King (the Bible says he will come like a thief in the night, when we least expect him). Neither do we know how Christ will come to make this hope come true. But what we do know is that we’re called to be diligent in his mission and provide the building blocks for God’s new social order in the meantime. 13

scripture study 3: the future of those who have rejected god: hell Introduction Does the

scripture study 3: the future of those who have rejected god: hell

Introduction Does the kingdom of God include everybody as insiders, or does it leave some on the outside? Can God’s kingdom of Shalom that is available to all, be missed by some? In any discussion of the final judgment of God and the consummation of God’s Story, questions are inevitably raised concerning the eternal destiny of those who during their lifetime were either ignorant of Jesus Christ or who refused to acknowledge him as their Lord and Savior when confronted with the demands of the gospel. 14 So what does the Bible say about what happens to those who have rejected God when they die? And what about those who have never heard of Jesus when they die?

Scripture Study Study the following Scripture verses assigned to your group, reflect on the corresponding questions, and come prepared to share your answers with the entire class:

Group 1: Jeremiah 17:10; 32:19; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43; 16:27; 25:31-46 Group 2: Mark 16:15-16; John 3:18; 2 essalonians 1:3-10; Jude 5-6, 14-15 Group 3: Romans 2:5-6; Rev. 11:17-18; Revelation 20:11-15; Revelation

22:12

Will everyone participate in God’s kingdom of Shalom, or will some remain outside of it?

What will happen to those who continuously commit evil on earth?

How do you imagine hell?

Summary

ere is a sobering truth to God’s Story, Our Story, more sobering to any

other we have considered. To be honest, we must understand that not

everyone lives happily ever after, not in any story or tale we’ve ever heard.

is promise of the new beginning is only for the friends of God, those

who have surrendered to him and believe in him. ere are those consequently who will not be part of God’s renewed creation, since they have not accepted God’s gift of salvation and can’t believe the claims of God’s story with his world. e New Testament believers understood that for the enemies of God, the final judgment will result in exclusion from community with their Creator and his kingdom of Shalom. 15 e truth is that God does not want anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2. Peter 3:9). We have seen this truth play out throughout the entire eight episodes of God’s story with his world. e God who has pursued us down through the ages, who gave his own life to rescue us

from a destiny without Shalom, has made it clear: he does not want to lose us. He longs for us to be with him forever. 16 However, there comes a time, when people consistently reject the life that God is o ering them; when they consistently reject his o er of forgiveness and reconciliation through Jesus; when they consistently reject the very heart of all things – God’s vision of Shalom and how to make it reality; that God will grant to them what they have wanted – to be left to themselves. 17 Once again, it is not God who punishes or condemns; it is ourselves who reject him and betray him and ourselves, not vice versa. We are the ones who listen to the lies of the evil one; we choose to mistrust the heart of God; we choose to reject the only medicine available to save us from eternal condemnation. In doing so, we ourselves choose that we will spend eternity in a state of complete exclusion from anything that resembles the purpose we were created for: community with God in his kingdom Shalom and. In other words, we condemn ourselves to a state where we will su er eternally, with no relief, in full consciousness, and utter loneliness or where we will be ultimately annihilated and eternally blotted out of any kind of conscious existence – since our existence no longer has significance anyway.

A final question is often asked in this context: What happens with those who have never heard of God’s story with the world and have no idea about God’s invitation to participate with him in his kingdom of Shalom? I don’t think there’s a lot to say in this regard. One, who will ultimately be condemned to hell – I don’t know. I am glad to leave that up to God and acknowledge his sovereignty as a judge over all human life. Two, I believe in a merciful God who doesn’t want anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance and enter his kingdom of Shalom. Even those who haven’t heard of God and his story may be able to lead lives that show their intent to make this world a better place. I’m certain, as Paul is in his letter to the Romans, that God will take that into account. Finally, this very question is a challenge to all those of us, who believe in the veracity of God’s Story and have accepted his gift of salvation, to not just stay put with the blessing we have received, but to seek to bless others by sharing the good news of God’s kingdom of Shalom with people who may not have heard it yet.

article: shalom restored: the eternal community

Introduction Picture missing here Creation in the beginning started with nature and ended with human beings. Genesis 3 records how humankind brought sin into the world, bringing a curse on the land by eating the fruit of a tree. e vision in Revelation 22:2-3, however, starts with the liberation of the human being and ends with the redemption of nature. 18 It communicates the hope of a

tree that heals the nations, removing the curse brought upon creation in Genesis 3. e New Testament, then, picks up from the Old the theme that God intends, in the end, to put the whole creation to rights. Earth and heaven were made to overlap with one another, not fitfully, mysteriously, and partially as they do at the moment, but completely, gloriously, and utterly. “ e earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.” at is the promise which resonates throughout the Bible story, from Isaiah all the way through to Paul’s greatest visionary moments and the final chapters of the book of Revelation. 19 God’s purposes thus go beyond the human story. e divine goal is ultimately cosmic in scope. It envelops all creation. God’s program is nothing less than establishing Shalom – reconciled community in its fullest sense – in the universe. 20 is universe, it follows, won’t be discarded and destroyed like an old paper cup, whether in a big, deep freeze or singular, hot crunch. Rather, it will be saved from decay, saved from corruption, saved from evil, and transformed. e kingdom of this world will someday be liberated from all domination and will become what it has always wanted to be, always groaned to be, always dreamed of being. 21 e great drama, it follows, will end, not with “saved souls” being snatched up into heaven, away from the wicked earth and the mortal bodies which have dragged them down into sin, but with the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth, so that “the dwelling of God is with humans” (Rev. 21:3) 22

e Reality of the New Jerusalem

As we think of the New Jerusalem, we are invited to imagine a

community, a great multitude of people constituting a city, the city which is the Bride of the Lamb. It will be a city fully under God, a spiritual environment where all will be in relationship with God and thus in Shalom with each other. 23 Death, illness, grief, and pain will be gone.

is community will be a place of dazzling beauty, as the jewels and the

gold and the perfectly proportioned buildings all indicate. It will be a community from which every type of subhumanity, every sort of diminished and dehumanized behavior, has been excluded; 24 a place of economic plenty, equitable distribution, and security. “On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there” (Revelation 21:25). City gates in ancient times were shut for only one reason – protection from armies, thieves, or marauding gangs. For a city never to shut its gates would indicate only one thing to the ancient mind: there is nothing to fear because all crime is gone, justice for all prevails, and economic security is so accorded to all the people that none need fear robbery from anyone else. e city will have a political order which is centered in God with room for everyone, a city whose political life will be completely just and in which everyone will play a part in the city’s governance. 25

Part of the joy, then, will be that not only physical pain but also the mental pain of unresolved anger and bitterness will be done away with, as we are

enabled fully and finally to forgive as we have been forgiven. 26 It will be a place of healing, where the leaves of the tree of life, growing by the river which flows out of the city from the throne of God, are ‘for the healing of the nations’. 27

e existence of the New Jerusalem will not mean that there are no other

nations. ere will be other countries and they will be governed politically. But all the nations will operate by the light of God, and rulers will govern under the authority of God and according to Shalom- principles. Jerusalem will be the center of all international a airs, and all governments of the world will live in peace and under the authority of God. e best of human civilization will find its place, purged of evil, in this renewed creation: “ e nations will walk by its [God’s city’s] light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. e glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it (Rev. 21:24-26).” e glory of the nations, which will include redeemed traditions and insights from all cultures, will foster an expression of community that will unite Christians with many cultural narratives as they appreciate and enjoy the redeemed expressions of all human cultures. God seems to have such a high view of creation and human cultures that he wants to redeem them for eternal glory. 28 is, in short, is as God intends his city and new creation to be. 29

A Call to Bold Action

rough the prophets and apostles God lodged this dream in our hearts.

He planted in us a dream of a time and place where the poor and hungry are fed and clothed and cared for, where justice rolls down like the river over there, where righteousness flows like a never-failing stream, where the lamb and lion lie down together in peace, where swords and spears are so useless that they are recast as plowshares and pruning hooks, where the earth is covered with the glory of the Lord as the sea is covered by water. 30 When we dream of that kind of future, we move toward it, we are purified by it, we put aside whatever doesn’t align with it, and we help make it a reality. 31

In metaphorical terms you can think of the consummation as a love story, a romance. God creates the universe, and loves her. God calls her to him in the future, and at first, she refuses to come. But God beckons her by entering time and space and by coming to her to declare his love. God comes to walk beside her wherever she roams. She spurns God and rejects God. But God’s love can’t be defeated, and eventually, by patiently walking beside her, God wins her heart. And God continues to call her into the future, and she finally comes to God, and God comes to her. And when they meet, because all the wrong, all the evil, all the dishonesty and ugliness and distrust are judged and gone and forgotten forever, God can take everything to himself in an embrace of boundless, uninhibited,

limitless love. And that’s the new beginning. at’s the consummation:

that embrace. Who can imagine what it will give birth to? 32

Episode eight, in summary then, is the restoration of life as it was always meant to be. It is the return of the beauty, the intimacy, and the adventure we were created to enjoy and have longed for every day of our lives. And yet, better, for it is immortal. ose who belong to God can never loose it again. It cannot be taken away. We really will live happily ever after. e long years in exile will be swept away. All we long for, we shall have; all we long to be, we will be. All that has hurt us so deeply will be swept away. And then real life begins. Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before. 33

in which every chapter is better than the one before. 33 reflection questions and group dialogue

reflection questions and group dialogue

Take time to reflect on the following questions, and then discuss your answers

with other members of your group. larger group.

Be prepared to share your insights to the

What feelings has this article elicited in you? What can you learn from your emotional responses?

How does the material presented in this article and the study of the eight episodes of God’s transforming Story with his world a ect you in terms of your own personal faith and your spiritual journey?

Do you believe your life’s story can make a di erence in our world? How big of a di erence? How can you help one another believe more?

After having studied the eight episodes of God’s transforming Story with his world, what further questions do you have that you would like to pursue? Is there anything in this entire study that bothers you, concerns you, or especially impassions you?

application journal:

endnotes

1 Stanley J. Grenz, eology for the Community of God, 632

2 Warren Carter, Matthew and Empire, 86

3 N.T. Wright, Simply Christian, 219

4 N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, 115

5 N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, 118

6 Brian McLaren, e Secret Message of Jesus, 239

7 N.T. Wright, Simply Christian, 219

8 Stanley J. Grenz, eology for the Community of God, 578

9 Stanley J. Grenz, eology for the Community of God, 585

10 Stanley J. Grenz, eology for the Community of God, 596

11 Brian McLaren, e Secret Message of Jesus, 191 Perhaps details would preoccupy us, distract us from where our focus should be. Perhaps

all we need is the challenge, the invitation, the enticement to risk everything in faith for this vision of an eternal creative project of God… to see the only reward worth having as the reward of being part of the kingdom of God, both now in this life and after death too. (Brian McLaren, e Secret Message of Jesus, 191)

12 John Eldredge, Epic, 94

13 Our task in the meantime is to discover, through the Spirit and prayer, the appropriate ways of improvising the script between the foundation events and charter, on the one hand, and the complete coming of the Kingdom on the other. Once we grasp this framework, other things begin to fall into place. (N.T. Wright, e Last Word, 126)

14 Arthur F. Glasser, Announcing the Kingdom, 369

15 Stanley J. Grenz, eology for the Community of God, 634

16 John Eldredge, Epic, 90

17 John Eldredge, Epic, 91

18 Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation, 68

19 N.T. Wright, Simply Christian, 217

20 Based in part on Stanley Grenz, Created for Community, 275-276

21 Brian McLaren, e Secret Message of Jesus, 202

22 N.T. Wright, Simply Christian, 217

23 Robert Linthicum, City of God City of Satan, 288

24 N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, 115

25 Robert Linthicum, City of God City of Satan, 288

e river of the water of life and the tree of life bearing annually twelve crops of fruit are

symbols for abundance and plenty. e author is sharing his vision of a rich abundance showered upon each resident of the city. e economy will benefit everyone. (Ibid, 288)

26 N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, 145

27 N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, 115

28 Bruce Bradshaw, Change Across Cultures, 166

29 Robert Linthicum, City of God City of Satan, 288

30 Brian McLaren, e Story We Find Ourselves In, 173

31 Brian McLaren, e Story We Find Ourselves In, 173 God unleashes history in the beginning. God helps the baby to stand in the beginning. But because God is not subject to time like we are, God is also out ahead, calling history homeward across time. God doesn’t force it. Sometimes history responds or some parts of history respond, but others resist or rebel. But God keeps calling. So history is not just being pushed from the past, or even engineered in the present, but being pulled, invited,

called, into the future, which keeps coming to us as a gift. God is waiting to give himself to us across time, and so we are pulled toward him by hope and desire (Brian McLaren,

e Story We Find Ourselves In, 149)

32 Brian McLaren, e Story We Find Ourselves In, 154-155

33 John Eldredge, Epic, 87, 93, 98