The resurrection guarantees the renewal of all things

The promise of a new heavens and a new Earth

September 19, 2019

There is a recurring pattern in the Bible of exile and return. At different points in history, God’s people forsook their covenantal obligations and were sent into exile, whether to Egypt or Babylon. These exiles were not permanent. Through redemptive figures such as Moses, Joshua, and even Cyrus, God restored his people to the land he promised. This restoration involved not just a physical return but also the forgiveness of the sins that led to the exile. These returns resulted in specific structures where sins were forgiven: the tabernacle and the first temple after the exile to Egypt, and the second temple after the exile to Babylon. 

The ultimate fulfillment of relationship that is prefigured in these Old Testament temples is the ministry of Israel’s Messiah, Jesus Christ. In his death and resurrection, relationships are restored, and God brings his people home from exile. The motif of exile and return finds expression in several stories in the Bible, such as Jonah, the prodigal son, and Peter’s denial and restoration. God is portrayed as just and merciful, the One who delights to bring his people home. 

The renewed city

The pattern of exile and return finds its culmination in the closing chapters of the last book of the Bible. Adam and Eve were exiled from their home, the garden of Eden, and when we come to the end of the Bible we see many Edenic references. But the restoration of the garden is not an exact replica of Eden. Those who live away from home for many years discover, when they return, that home has become a different place. Nothing stays the same over time. A garden is a place of growth and development, and when we come to this final view of Eden, we are in the middle of a city, the New Jerusalem. 

Cities by definition are places of human achievements. They bristle with the activity of commerce, industry, and the arts. We were made creative beings, in the image of our Creator, and there is no surprise that this has led to many developments, especially in cities. But cities are not places of perfect beauty. The effects of sin are all too evident in crime, pollution, and homelessness. Within this city, the New Jerusalem, we find a garden within a city and the redemption of a sinful world. Human achievement is renewed by God’s presence within it, as the kings of the earth bring their treasures into it (Rev. 21:24). 

Within this story of exile and return, we meet two Adams: the first Adam and the last Adam. The first Adam was given dominion over the first creation, yet through the entrance of sin and resultant exile, much of the good of creation was undone. The last Adam defeated the power of sin through the cross and resurrection. When Satan, the force behind the destructive effects of sin, is finally cast into the lake of fire and sulfur (Rev. 20:7–10), the total restoration will be ready. The new Jerusalem will descend to earth (Rev. 21:2). This is our homecoming. 

All of this builds from the fact that God is committed to his creation. The garden of Eden is the prototype of the renewal of all that God has made. Within the garden, Adam was granted dominion, but dominion does not end with Adam. . . . There have been several Adamic figures throughout history. Noah continued dominion over the renewed creation after the flood. We have noticed that Israel fulfilled the role of corporate Adam. Israel’s role was to be a blessing to the nations. Within Israel, the tabernacle, the temple, and the Promised Land each had overtones of Eden. 

The resurrection changes everything 

This all points to the one who is the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45), who by his resurrection has initiated the renewal of all things. His resurrection is the firstfruits of the renewal of Israel, the renewal of Adamic dominion and the new heavens and the new earth. 

Jesus’s resurrection changes everything. It forgives the past and assures the future. The resurrection is our guarantee that the wrath of God has been appeased by the sacrifice of Jesus. How do we know that Jesus was a sinless sacrifice? How do we know that in the final moments of Jesus’s life, while in excruciating agony, Jesus did not curse God before his death? The answer is clear. God put his seal of approval on the sacrifice of Jesus by raising him from death. The penalty for sin, death, has been paid in full. The resurrection is our bill of release. We cannot change our past, but we can be forgiven. We know this because of the resurrection of Jesus. 

The resurrection also assures our future. Death casts a long shadow over life. Its shadow is everywhere: unfinished books, unfinished symphonies, parents suffering terminal illness before their children become independent adults. If this life is all there is, there are no guarantees, and there is a tinge of futility in all our pursuits. I have never understood the custom of allowing prisoners on death row to choose their favorite meal before their execution. Do you really think they will enjoy it knowing what is about to happen after dessert? Death casts a long gloom over all we do if we believe that at the end is only annihilation. What is the point? 

The labors we do in the Lord are not defeated by death but have eternal significance (1 Cor. 15:58).

The same despondency is also seen among many Christians who believe in the annihilation of this current world. But the resurrection shows not only that God’s people will be raised, but that God will usher in a new heaven and a new earth. The labors we do in the Lord are not defeated by death but have eternal significance (1 Cor. 15:58). The resurrection brings forgiveness for the past, meaning for the present, and hope for the future. 

The renewal of everything in between

John’s vision of this ultimate renewal of creation is encapsulated here: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had passed away” (Rev. 21:1). The expression used is a clear reminder of all that God had created: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). The expression “heavens and earth” is what grammarians call a “merism.” A merism takes two extremes and includes everything in between. If you have hot and cold running water, it implies that you also have every shade of warm. If you know the long and the short of it, you know the lot. Therefore, to paraphrase Genesis 1:1 and Revelation 21:1 would be to say, God made everything, and he is going to renew everything: the heavens, the earth, and everything in between. 

We need to ask ourselves, In what sense will the new heaven and new earth be new? What does it mean that “the first heaven and earth had passed away” (Rev. 21:1)? There are two words for new in Greek. One is the word kainos, which means qualitatively new in kind; the other is neos, which means something has superseded something else. To illustrate, there are two women each married to a man with an addiction to gambling. The first woman encourages her husband to go to “Gamblers Anonymous,” and through this he overcomes his addiction. The second woman divorces her husband and remarries. Both women say, “I am married to a new man,” but they mean different things by “new.” 

In Greek, the first woman would use the word kainos for the same husband who has been renewed; the second woman would use neos for the husband who superceded the first one. When the Greek New Testament uses the word new to describe the merism of the heavens and the earth, it uses the word kainos. It is the same heaven and earth, but it is renewed. This world is not discarded. 

So what will be renewed? Sin has marred God’s beautiful creation and caused a rift between heaven and earth. The Lord God no longer walks with his people in the garden (Gen. 3:8); he now lives in a high and holy place called heaven, separated from the sin of earth. No longer do we think of the heavens and the earth as united, with everything in harmony. It is divided. The earth is the place where God’s will is not done as it is done in heaven. It is a place of oppression, injustice, addiction, resentment, greed, and self-promotion. 

We long for a day when God “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. 21:4). We long for the renewal of the earth. We long for the rift between heaven and earth to be healed. This rejoining of heaven and earth found prospective fulfillment in the tabernacle, the temple, the incarnation, and the gift of the Spirit, but we await the day of Jesus’s return that will consummate all of this. 

Content taken from "Not Home Yet" by Ian K. Smith, ©2019. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.

Ian K. Smith

Ian K. Smith is the principal of Christ College, Sydney, where he also teaches Greek and New Testament. He has also served in parish ministry and as a missionary in the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. He speaks regularly at churches, conferences, and other venues. He is the author of Not Home … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24