“Though the witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know…when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.” -C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Last week we had two funerals at my church. One for a man in his eighties, with several children and grandchildren. He passed away surrounded by family, having lived a full life, more than prepared to meet his Maker. The other was for a younger woman, in her forties. No spouse, no children, wrenched from this life much too early by cancer. She left behind a father grieving over his lost daughter, something no parent should ever have to experience.
There was a lot of talk at the older man’s funeral of “being ready,” how death is a part of life and that he truly had lived his life. But I noticed both funerals, though sprinkled with laughter, were sad. Even though death is a common part of life, even though we all know we will one day die, we cannot escape the fact that death is not right. It may be part of this life, but it shouldn’t be. It’s not natural. It’s not how we are designed.
And so we are constantly reminded that there is something wrong. And that, of course, leads us back to Genesis, to the story of creation, the story of a sacred beginning, humanity in innocence in a beautiful garden. The first humans were given everything they could possibly need: life, purpose, fellowship with humanity and with God. But all was lost in the very first act of sin.
God warned them that disobedience would bring death (Genesis 2:17). And so it did. Sin brought a curse that not only affected the man and woman who sinned, but the entire earth. It brought the death of innocence, the death of their close fellowship with God, the death of their own relationship with each other, and it brought the death of the man and the woman in my church last week. We each feel the curse of sin in the world. The Apostle Paul said that “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22).
When we talk about eschatology, or last things, end times, we usually focus on the things that we disagree on. And, those are things that should be discussed and debated and wrestled with. It is in our disagreeing that we can spur one another on to further study and a greater knowledge of and intimacy with God. But, we also need to take time to acknowledge what we agree on.
All Christians agree that Jesus is coming again. We may disagree on how or when, but we are all convinced that he will return. He promised he would return “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done” (Matthew 16:27). Angels assure the disciples of his return “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
We live still in the broken, cursed, sin-filled earth, but we have the promise of redemption. In the same passage where Paul talks about the earth groaning, he also assures us that it is not in vain. Earth does have something to hope for.
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
If the curse of sin was far-reaching, then the redemption of resurrection reaches further still. In the words of Randy Alcorn, “The power of Christ’s resurrection is enough not only to remake us, but also to remake every inch of the universe—mountains, rivers, plants, animals, stars, nebulae, quasars, and galaxies. Christ’s redemptive work extends resurrection to the far reaches of the universe.
John paints a picture of this redemption in Revelation 21:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He 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.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
The final redemption of the earth is what gives us hope to continue on in this broken life. It is the hope that gives meaning to the work we do for Christ in the here and now. It is the hope that accompanies every cup of cold water we give in His name. It is the hope that brings relief when we offer a blanket to a homeless man or groceries to a single mom trying to make ends meet. It is the hope we give in our fight for social justice. And it is the hope we give in the words of comfort to the grieving friends and family at a funeral.
Whether you believe Christ’s return will be accompanied by a secret rapture and tribulation or ushered in by the salvation of the nations; whether you believe you are living in the millennium of the church age where Christ is presently reigning in Heaven, or you’re waiting for a millennium to come, we can all rejoice in the hope of the Second Coming of Christ and the redemption of creation.