So far, we’ve seen that the resurrection of Jesus is good news because it means that this world has a new sort of king and because there is a rival kingdom at work that operates differently from the nations (see here). We’ve also seen that the resurrection of Jesus is good news because it means that there is a coming day of justice when oppressors will be held to account, righteous sufferers will be vindicated, and wrongs will be made right (see here). When we put these truths together we come to another reason that the resurrection of Jesus is good news: new creation.
From the beginning, it has always been God’s plan for this world to be ruled over by human beings—his image-bearers (Gen. 1:26-28; Ps. 8). The biblical storyline begins with material creation and ends with material creation. In fact, when one traces the storyline of Scripture it’s remarkable just how “worldly” the story really is. The great writing prophets in the Old Testament and the writers of the New Testament tell us that this world was subjected to decay due to the inception and spread of idolatry and human rebellion but that one day it will be liberated from its bondage to decay. Of course the first-fruits and key to such cosmic redemption is—you guessed it—the bodily resurrection of Jesus the King. To see why this is and how the story gets to this point we have to return to Abraham.
The LORD’s objective for his image-bearers to reign over this earth got off track rather early, just a few pages into the story, so much so that by Genesis 11 the whole world, it seems, has gathered together in rebellion against him. After God thwarts their rebellion and scatters them, his own answer to human rebellion and terrestrial deterioration is his promise to Abraham. The LORD promised Abraham that from him would come a great nation and that through that nation all the families of the earth would be blessed. In short, God’s plan for his image-bearers to reign over the earth would come true for all peoples through the one people of Abraham. Now on Tuesday, we quickly traced this winding story about Israel—Abraham’s descendants—from the exodus from Egypt to the new exodus from exile. We saw how Jesus became a servant to the people of Israel so that they could be restored and regathered around Jesus himself and be the light of salvation to the nations that God always intended that they be. In King Jesus, the multiethnic, global-people promised to Abraham has become a reality. This people is the new sort of kingdom that I talked about Tuesday. Now, as it relates to new creation, the prophets in the Old Testament as well as Paul and John in the New Testament identify the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham through the Messiah as the time in which new creation comes.
Isaiah, for instance, looks forward to the days when the disorder and chaos still left in this world will be calmed and new creation will be the result. He describes it as a day when the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the ancient serpent shall be the plaything of children, and nothing will hurt or destroy in all God’s place (Is. 11:6-9). At other spots, he describes the new creation as a day when the ancient serpent is slayed, thorns and briers are things of the past, and death itself is swallowed up forever. He describes it as a day of feasting for all peoples, with rich food and (to the discomfort of many a Baptist) well-aged wine (i.e. the good stuff) (Is. 25:6-7, 27:1, 4). Perhaps the fullest passage in Isaiah about the coming new creation—the goal for which all human history is moving—is Isaiah 65:17-25. The New Testament writers pick this up as well, so we will look at it in full. Isaiah writes:
“‘For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the LORD, and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,’” says the LORD.”
Isaiah looked forward to the redemption coming through the LORD’s Messiah and Servant as a salvation that would include all peoples and even all of creation.
Again, the New Testament looks to Jesus and his resurrection as the first-fruits of this global transformation. Paul writes that King Jesus “is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:18b-20). In Romans, Paul looks forward to the day of justice that we looked at yesterday as the point at which the new creation will come in all its fullness. We see the first-fruits of new creation now in the resurrection of Jesus, and believers have a taste of new creation now in themselves through the gift of the Holy Spirit (more on that tomorrow). However, after the coming day of justice to which Jesus’ resurrection points, this world will be renewed in order to welcome the vindicated people of Jesus. Paul writes that in that day the “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay” and it will “obtain the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21). Earlier, I stated that God’s plan has always been for this world to be ruled over by his image bearers. Paul looked forward to the day when that would be a reality through the redemption found in King Jesus.
Finally, the last place in which the Bible looks forward to new creation is in its final chapters—Revelation 21-22. By virtue of the death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s plan for his people and for his creation will be a reality. By this point, John has already had a vision of the risen King and recorded that by his blood, King Jesus ransomed a people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, who will serve as a kingdom of priests and reign forever on the earth (Rev. 5:9-10). Here then, in the final chapters, he describes the coming new creation when that redemption will be made complete. Echoing the words of Isaiah, he writes, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea [a symbol of chaos and disorder] was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away’” (Rev. 21:1-4). Later, John records that the tree of life that once stood in the Garden will produce leaves that will heal the nations and that by the light of King Jesus “the nations will walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory” to him (Rev. 21:24; 22:4). With John then, the Bible ends similarly as it began in Eden. However, it’s not Eden revisited; it’s Eden glorified. Whereas the story begins with one human couple in one place, the story ends with a multitude of nations worshipping the King and properly reflecting his glory to all the rest of creation. Whereas the glory of the King covers a small portion of the earth in the beginning, in the end the King’s glory covers the earth as the waters cover the sea. Death is dead, and blessing and rest has fallen upon the nations. Again, this new creation is what history is moving toward. And, standing in the middle of history, a few thousand years ago, and on the first Easter morning, was a rural man from Nazareth who was dead but is now alive. His resurrection—his defeat of death and the devil—is the sure sign that God’s plans are right on track and that new creation is coming!