From the Present World to the New Creation

The book of Revelation, beginning from two points in the present world (the history we live in), tells us what happens to some part of humanity on their way to the new and final creation we find at the end of the book. This segment of people is those whose names are written in the book of life (Revelation 20:12). The destiny of the rest is to be thrown into a lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).

There are many people who object for many different reasons to the idea of everyone having to face a pass/fail situation to remain in existence. Thus we should look at how Revelation gets us to this point. The books starts with a man named John, most likely the apostle, on the island of Patmos in the Mediterranean Sea around AD 95. It is a Sunday and he enters into a condition of spiritual perception described as being in the Spirit. This state allows him to see spiritual realities with the same clarity and intensity as he normally saw physical realities. Thus begins a series of visions that continue to the end of the book.

The first vision concerns the seven churches in Asia Minor to which the book is addressed. In it we find that even in Christian churches there are people who may pass and also who may fail. If this surprises us we should remember Jesus told his disciples in the parable of the weeds (Matthew 13) that there were going to be people in the Christian churches until he returned who were sons of the evil one and who would then be thrown into the fire.

The next series of visions, collectively described as the opening of seven seals, are an outline of human history. The test here is how people react to the events of history. Those who have faith in Christ are meant to persevere in their faith while others are seeing only disasters and the wrath of God or, in our time, both the absence of God and any meaning to what happens. The “seal” visions go counter to the optimism in Western culture that has been a staple of secular, and much nominally Christian, thinking since the Enlightenment.

The “trumpet” visions provide us pictures of psychological disasters. The events that occur create fear, anxiety and other types of psychological pain. The last three of the seven trumpets produce such pain they are called three woes. Surprisingly enough the third woe is the return of Christ which means it is time for everyone to find out who has passed and who will be destroyed. Certainly, the highest of possible anxieties will be in those who do not have a true assurance of their faith in Jesus Christ.

This second part of Revelation starts at Revelation 11:19 or Revelation 12:1 depending on how those verses are understood. In any case, it is here that the visions enter the realm of the spiritual. This means that what occurs affects the world in a different way than the events of the first half of the book.

The first vision in this section provides us a vision of a beautiful woman descending from heaven. The immediate symbolism is that of the creation of the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai. The larger meaning is that of God’s good purposes for humanity. We see this in the birth of a male child who is obviously Jesus Christ. The steps between his birth on earth and his enthronement in heaven are omitted. The good promised to those who are faithful to Christ is expanded on throughout the remainder of the book.

Next there comes the bad news for humanity. John sees a war in heaven in which the good angels defeat Satan and his minions and cast them down to earth. We are told in 2 Peter 5:8 that the devil seeks out individuals to destroy but he also has larger projects for human destruction as we are told in various symbols.

The initial symbol is described as a beast coming out of the sea. Again there appear to be two aspects to what is represented by the beast. The concrete aspect of it could be as a symbol of the Roman Empire. However, just as the woman has ramifications all through history so does this first beast. The larger symbolism is that of nations that wage war against the people of God. The impetus that Satan supplies to these nations we may call “nationalism.”

The second beast is pictured as coming out of the earth. It supports the power of the first beast and insures that the beast out of the sea is continued to be worshipped, even though at some point it had been severely injured. We might see this beast as “secularism” because in it we find a worship of the natural world and the promotion of technology as an ultimate good. This beast may also be symbolized by the false prophet who is introduced in chapter 16.

The role of the beasts and the false prophet is to deceive people about the reality of God’s good purpose for humanity. This is done by the creation of false ideologies that people can serve and in doing so be kept from serving God, which is where their true interest lies. They also allow Satan to achieve the destruction of human life that is his main goal. There are many “isms” that Satan has used and is using, far more than can be listed. A new one is pathological altruism which is defined as doing good to feel good regardless if anyone is helped by it. It seems also that almost anything that is joined to Christianity, such as social activism, church unity or older causes such as temperance are probably deceptions created by Satan.

The name Babylon is used four different times in Revelation as the description of a decadent entity. Far be it from me to be able to provide any certainties as to exactly what these entities are. One of the difficulties in interpreting Revelation is that we do not know where we are in all the things that are presented to us in a variety of ways.

There are far more things going on in Revelation than I have even mentioned. However, returning to my original purpose, it is time to take a look at how we get from our present world to the final creation and to do that we need first to see what this world is like.

Our present world is part of a universe that, as best we know, began with an immense amount of energy coming into existence. This energy was contained in a rapidly and constantly expanding four-dimensional entity called the space-time continuum. This energy is the source of all matter. We know, thanks to special relativity, how energy and matter are related. Matter and energy, and the forces that govern them, constitute the material universe.

Physics is always subject to revision but it seems now that gravity, which is produced by deformation of the space-time continuum, does not fit into the Standard Model of physical forces that includes the strong force, the weak force and electromagnetism. This appears to make it reasonable that gravity can be thought of as a part of the immaterial part of the universe constituted by space and time.

It was not too long ago that scientists did not know the universe was expanding, that time was variable and that gravity was a deformation of space. This did not prevent materialists from claiming that everything was matter and energy and nothing immaterial existed. They were obviously wrong about the universe but this did not prevent them from proclaiming the nonexistence of any spiritual realm. However, now it is reasonable to question any of their supposedly certain knowledge about the nonexistence of immaterial things.

Like the universe we humans have our material and immaterial components. Our immaterial part is often called our soul. Like space and time it is not governed by the laws of energy and matter. In its normal condition it, like the universe, is not eternal. However, unlike the universe, it has the possibility of becoming eternal through what is called a second birth. This new birth is a work of the Holy Spirit. In other words, here is a case of the spiritual realm entering the physical realm. And here we can see that immaterial things can influence our physical existence just as the space-time continuum shapes the material events of the universe.

The work of the Holy Spirit in those who will become eternal is the final creation coming into the present creation. It is what Jesus called the kingdom of God. However, this is only the beginning of the road to eternity. The next step which takes place in the present world is what could be called “solidification.” This is the process often called “sanctification” where people destined for eternity began to acquire the “being” required to live longer than nations, longer than the earth, longer than the universe. The step after this is physical death. There is no escaping it. Jesus had to go through it to lead others to everlasting life.

After physical death there is a state of spiritual existence. This seems to take several forms. It is sometimes thought of as a marginal existence in a place called “Hades” (the grave) or it can be, as in Revelation, participation in the eternal praise of God the Father and God the Son. The final stage of our existence is where people either receive a resurrection body in which they will live forever or they are sent to a second death where they cease to exist.

At this point we should ask ourselves why everybody does not urgently seek to become an inhabitant of the final creation. There are several reasons why this is so. Major causes are egotism, atheism, hedonism, intellectualism, and so forth, here are those isms again and they are all deceptions of Satan who seeks the destruction of individuals however he can.

There are reasons other than Satan’s deceits for people making the wrong choice. There are people who dislike the God of the Old Testament and/or the Jesus of the New Testament. We should pause here briefly and consider the mental state of people who think they are qualified to judge the being and purposes of God. Next, we can go on to those who love the things of the world too much. We are told in 1 John 2:16 that the cravings of sinful people, the ambitions for more, and the pride of accomplishments and possessions are not from God but from the world and as such cannot last. They and these things will have no place in the final creation.

Some traditional Christians think people make the wrong choice because of their rebellion against God. This may be flattery because what people seem to object to is the sacrifice of self that is required and the acknowledgment of fundamental defects in themselves. Some of those who go on to the second death are those who do not see any need to be any better than they are.

We do not know why Revelation shows so many people unable to acquire the eternal life that is to be found in Christ. Jesus, though, told his disciples in Matthew 7:13–14 that Christians needed to enter the final creation through a narrow gate and that there would be only a few who found the road to eternal life. He also said there was a wide gate that leads to annihilation. This is the road to the second death. The book of Revelation is a long and dramatic exposition of these words of Jesus. We may not comprehend many of the details but the message is clear. Our choice of the direction of our lives must be always, and in perseverance through all things, along the narrow road.

The final creation we should seek is a new heaven and a new earth. John saw a great and wondrous woman come down to the present world to symbolize God’s purposes for it. In a later vision, chapter 21, John sees a bride descending on the new earth. She is also spectacular. The woman symbolizes the permanent union of Christ with those who inhabit the holy city described as the New Jerusalem.

The symbolism surrounding the bride and the rest of the final creation is complex. It may be best understood as a negation of the present world. In it there will be no death, mourning, pain or any of all the other ailments of the present world. There will be no evil people. They are specifically excluded. The description of the new heaven and earth seems to preclude it being a remaking or repurposing of the present world. This is no return to Eden but an entirely new existence in a completely new reality. In it all is good and everything in it will last forever. It will allow the people there to be what God saw them to be when he envisioned their existence before the creation of the present world.

Our Problems with Jesus

I think that before I narrow my discussion down to the problems present-day American Christians have with Jesus I will do a broad survey of the subject. The Jews were told by the prophet Isaiah (8:14) that their God would be a stone that caused people to stumble and fall. The apostle Peter (1 Peter 2:6-8) applied this prophecy to Jesus. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians (1:23) wrote that the crucifixion of Christ was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” In Paul’s categories, all of humanity was contained in the two categories: Jews and Gentiles.

The situation now is much like it was in Paul’s time, only there are more categories of people with problems with Jesus and not just with his crucifixion. His claim to deity, that is to be of the same nature in his divinity as God the Father, is a difficulty for non-Christians. Atheists, Buddhists, and followers of the teachings of Confucius have no deity in the Christian sense and so have a problem with Jesus’s claim to be like God the Father in one part of his person and like us in the other part. Jews and Muslims are monotheists who have no acceptance of a triune God. New Agers, Hindus, Shintoists, animists, and pagans have room for many gods in their religious systems but no place for the Christian understanding.

It is not hard at all to see why people who believe other things than Christianity would have a problem with accepting Jesus. However, why do Christians have such problems with him that they have in many ways turned away from him in their understanding of Christianity? One problem is, as with the rest of humanity, his deity. God coming to earth, living as a human, and then returning to heaven does not fit the secular, materialist understanding of reality. Many contemporary Christians are willing to strip Jesus of his divinity, search for the historical Jesus, and proclaim him a great ethical teacher. This seems a solution to the deity difficulty but if what he said, as recorded in the gospels, is true then he was not a wise human being but nutty as a fruitcake (to use an old expression).

Beyond the problem of his deity there are major difficulties with his coming to earth and his exit from it. Let me begin with his birth from a virgin. This became a problem for Christians during the nineteenth century when materialists began to attack Christianity. However, we who live in the twenty-first century when microbiologists can create mice that glow in the dark may have less of a problem with it. There appear to be only three necessary steps for it to happen, all of them never likely to happen except for the work of the Holy Spirit in Mary’s body. The first step was the failure of meiosis to occur in one of Mary’s egg cells so that it contained two strands of DNA rather than the normal one strand. The second step was for one of the X chromosomes to be converted into a Y chromosome. The third step was the initiation of the normal development of an embryo.

There are theological reasons for Jesus’ virgin birth which lead us into two other problems. One problem, for some people, is the original sin that Jesus needed to be free of so he could be a blameless sacrifice. This first problem leads into all kinds of theological thickets which I will not get into but have caused a lot of people problems. The second problem is that at Jesus’ conception his divinity was bonded to his humanity in an absolutely unique way. It took the early church over 300 years of thinking, discussion, debate, and actual conflict to arrive at what is now the traditional understanding of his two natures.

Jesus’ resurrection three days after his crucifixion, and then his ascension into heaven forty days later, create problems for Christians. The people who live in a closed universe simply deny the resurrection and invent ways it did not occur. The unacknowledged problem for many other Christians is “What is Christ doing in history and human culture until he returns?” There is a wide range of opinions among Christians on this question and many Christians think Jesus has left culture and history in their hands. The result is divisions among Christians and so a lack of ability to do what we should if history and culture were actually given to us to control.

There would not be as much problem with knowing what Jesus is doing in history and culture if he would speak to us in the present. Prophets, though, are problematical. There are false prophets now just as there were in Old Testament times. So this problem with Jesus not sending word of his larger purposes is part of the larger problem of communication with him in general. We are told in the Bible and in churches to pray. Yet prayer as we know it consists mostly of tossing words and thoughts into heaven and hoping something happens. Sometimes we think we see results, but we are not told by Jesus that what happened was the result of our prayer and that is a problem for us.

If we are to hear from Jesus, we need to rediscover our spirituality (see previous post). When we become aware of the Holy Spirit within us and Jesus beside us, we are able to have the communication we were intended to have. Achieving this state of awareness is not easy for us because we are not yet aligned completely with God’s will. In the Lord’s Prayer we say “your will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” Our tendency is to think of the earth as someplace else and that this phrase does not have anything to do with our lives. Another one of our problems with Jesus is that it is not easy to keep him close to us. This is because we are still beta versions of what we were intended to be.

Our society tells us that almost everyone, given education and opportunity, can be OK. So we are encouraged to tell others they are OK and to think the same of ourselves. We can do this if we lower our standards enough. Our problem with Jesus in this regard is that his standard is perfection and if we are honest, neither ourselves or anybody else measures up. Some Christians think they are all right because God created them. It is true that God gives us our present existence, but we are not in our final configuration. After this life we will be changed into the persons God intended, from before the universe was created, for us to be.

We have a problem with Jesus because he did not give his disciples clear information concerning what was going to happen to get us to this eternal version of ourselves. I think that, just as the Jews did not get the Messiah they expected, we will not find eternity, whatever it is like, what we anticipate. The best we can do is have faith that Jesus will provide us the dwellings he promised to us who believe he is the unique Son of God.

People of a Higher Reality

In a previous post I wrote that Christians are a people of a higher reality. I think I need to explain what I meant.

We can start with our physical reality. This we share with everyone. The evolutionists tell us we are physically descended from primates. I prefer to think we are descended from our ancestors and ascended from primates. It seems to clarify our actual situation. In any case, we are told by atheists, materialists, humanists and secularists that our existence and lives can be entirely explained physically. Fortunately, Christians, and most of the rest of the human species, are not deceived by this claim.

Most people think there is a spirit, a soul or something else immaterial in us. We have, it is thought, a ghost in our electro/chemical/mechanical machines. Further, this ghost is thought to be associated with our minds. The federal government has begun a Brain Mapping Project to learn all that can be known about the function of our minds. I suspect that for some people it is also an attempt to exorcize the ghost and thus justify the materialist explanation.

Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again, not physically but spiritually, if he was to understand the things of God. It is this, let me call it, spiritual enhancement that allows Christians to be in more complete communication and relationship with God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. It is not that the Godhead does not speak to non-Christians but that their ability to hear and understand is very limited. This is why unbelievers find it hard to get much out of reading the Bible while people like John Calvin, Thomas Aquinas, Matthew Henry and many others get so much out of it they can write multivolume commentaries.

Malcolm Muggeridge wrote in The End of Christendom, “I am certain that in eternity when we understand, and no longer see through a glass darkly but face to face, we shall find that all our efforts to convey the reality of our existence are just so much children’s scribble in the light of what it really is.” Muggeridge perfectly expressed my problem in conveying to you the higher reality in which we Christians live. Nonetheless I think I must make a stab at it.

We are told in the book of Revelation of millions and millions of Christians surrounding the throne of God and singing praises to him. These are the people the Son has made for the Father and presented to him as a love gift. We who are still on earth are brought by Christ and the Holy Spirit into this saintly multitude and so become members of the family of God. A part of our higher reality is that we have relatives all over the world and throughout the past. These are our spiritual brothers and sisters to whom we are linked by our relationship to Christ.

Another higher reality for Christians is being able to know the truth of things. Truth, which contemporary philosophy denies even exists, allows us to embrace (symbolically) the lovely woman Wisdom. It is evident those who have help in acquiring wisdom have a better chance of understanding the world we live in. Although, I must admit, Christians have not done as well as we should have in this regard.

Since we have access to truth, we are free to know the untruths in human ideologies. Whatever the social or political pressures to conform to the “spirit of the age,” we are internally emancipated and thus cannot be enslaved by the culture around us. We are not citizens of the city of man but those people who live in the city of God. In this we too are people of a higher reality.

Charles Spurgeon wrote concerning the work of the Holy Spirit in his life, “I trust Him to curb my temper, to subdue my will, to enlighten my understanding, to check my passions, to comfort my despondency, to help my weaknesses, and to illuminate my darkness.” Each Christian has his or her own list of the help needed from the Holy Spirit and each of us receive help as we are made able to incorporate it into our individual lives.

If you want to send a humanist into orbit, tell him or her that Christians are better people than non-Christians. The truth is we cannot legitimately make that claim, but we can say with certainty that each of us is a better person than we would have been without the help of the Holy Spirit. That is, other than our personal relationship with the Trinity, perhaps the best aspect of our higher reality. We are better than we could possibly be if we only had our own efforts to aid us.

If there is a reformation of American Christianity, it will be, in part, because many Christians enter and live in this higher reality. This extra-life is one of God’s many gifts that we receive as a result of his grace and love.