Hope in a New Year

2012 has officially arrived. Hard to believe 2011 came and went as fast as it did. Yet, the Lord has given us a new year. What a blessing! May I use this year to His glory.

I recently finished reading Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright. There have been few theologians who have contributed as much to my own biblical-theological development. The same can be said to about his latest work. Reading this book confirmed what I had been discovering about biblical eschatology for a while now through various sources and authors. What exactly was confirmed? The church today has a flawed view of what God is doing in and through his people, which creates a culture of escapism from this world and a longing for a completely new world. However, the Bible paints a significantly different picture. God is not  in the process of eradicating this world and starting over, rather he is in the process of radically recreating this world, returning paradise lost into paradise restored. If you wonder where the Bible might teach this, I would encourage a reading of the whole of Scripture, especially noting how the grand narrative begins in the Garden and ends in a renewed Garden (Genesis 1-3; Rev. 21, 22). For more specific teachings, consider Isa. 11, 65, 66 and Rev. 20, and 21. Consider how Jesus prayed, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10; emphasis added). Consider how few (if any!) passages teach a “pie in the sky, by and by, when I die,” but rather emphasize that just as Jesus left, he will return to this earth (Acts 1; Zech. 14).

This makes sense, though, right? I mean, God is not going to destroy his people (i.e., believers). Rather, we are new creations (2 Cor. 5:17). Furthermore, our future hope is not a spiritual, soulful existence in some non-physical existence (what would that look like anyway?).  Paul is very clear that our hope is the Resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15), what N.T. Wright calls “life after life after death.” We know that when he appears, we will be like him (1 John 3). What exactly does “like him” mean? Well, he is not some non-physical spirit floating around. His body is NOT in the grave. He was raised from the dead. He physically ascended into heaven. When he returns (physically, bodily; 1 Thess. 4; Acts 1), we will be transformed into his likeness. What a great hope! This world is not being trashed, but transformed!

So what? This is the pivotal question. God is recreating this world through his Spirit filled believers. Through acts of mercy, justice, love, kindness and (most importantly!) evangelism, the kingdom is expanding. So, what does that mean for us? We are invited to be a part of this recreation mission. As we live out true religion (James 1:27), we are enacting Jesus’ prayer that God’s kingdom would come. We won’t escape this forsaken planet. Rather, we are witnessing the power of God when we see lives, governments, economies, legal/education systems transformed for the betterment of people. This truth means that what we do here matters! It matters immensely! Paul said that because of the resurrection, what we do here is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). Therefore, be encouraged! What I do in my home, job, ministry, etc., is not in vain. It has a significant purpose. Those areas of life become avenues for the Spirit to work in and through this lowly vessel to bring part of God’s kingdom here. Wow! If there was ever something to give your life to, the advancement of God’s kingdom whose ruler is Jesus Christ, this is it! A life in pursuit of “God’s kingdom and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33) would certainly not be in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).

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