(…Continued from Part III)
A Plea for Redemption, not Annihilation
Besides the exegetical concerns discussed in this essay, several other theological and historical matters should be brought to our attention.
I would like to especially appeal to my fellow premillennialists (whether dispensational or not), asking them to reconsider their belief in a re-created heavens and earth. Premillennialists of all people should stand against the “disposable world” perspective precisely because of their premillennialism. They ought to believe that Christ’s reign on this present world for a thousand years will remove the curse, spread the glory of God throughout the planet, and “Re-Edenify” the world. It seems strange that premillennialists, then, would teach that this same renewed world will be sent to God’s trash heap by annihilation and completely replaced by “Earth 2.0.” Those who view the release of Satan from the Abyss and his subsequent rebellion do not see God’s judgment on the Dragon and his armies in Revelation 20:7–10 as another period of tribulation like the seven-year conflagration that had ushered in the millennium. Rather, the rebellion of Satan and the final resurrection should be viewed as a “comma” within the eternal reign of Christ at the end of its first thousand years . . . not as an exclamation mark that ends Christ’s reign and the world. Why would God spend one thousand years removing the curse, perfecting creation, and re-populating the earth, only to destroy all matter and start over? This does not fit God’s ultimate plan of redemption.
And redemption is the key word. God’s plan is not one of surrendering to the destructive work of Satan and fallen humanity. Rather, His plan is to reverse the degeneration of creation through resurrection and regeneration. As our human bodies have been redeemed and will be resurrected and glorified, so the physical world will be redeemed, restored, and glorified at the return and reign of Christ (Romans 8:18–25). God’s redemptive purpose would be thwarted if He were to simply annihilate this creation and re-create it ex nihilo. It would mean that Satan succeeded at destroying God’s creation after all, and that God was either unable or unwilling to redeem creation through Christ. At stake is the ultimate cosmic defense of the goodness and greatness of God! At stake is the only Christian theodicy—that through Christ’s redemptive work this wicked, fallen universe will be reclaimed, restored, and glorified in a way that leaves no doubt that God is, in fact, all-powerful and all-good in spite of the millennia of distortions and degenerations experienced because of the Fall.
This view is also consistent with a proper incarnational Christology and all that this profound truth implies. The permanent character of the incarnation of Christ should itself be viewed as a promise that true deity is now inextricably connected to the fate of the physical creation. Christ is fully God—uncreated Creator. He is also fully human—created creature. The fate of both divinity and humanity, eternity and temporality, heaven and earth, are wrapped up in the destiny of this One divine-human Person. Colossians 1:19–20 says, “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.” All things in heaven and earth are summed up in Christ by virtue of the incarnational union of the divine and human natures. Therefore, the purpose of any judgment on this physical world is purification, restoration, and renewal, not destruction, disposal, or annihilation. Christ’s is a cosmic ministry of reconciliation, not divorce. His is a mission of summing up, not subtracting from.
Finally, it must be recognized that the view that God will create a new universe out of nothing after disposing of this universe by annihilation is not the view of the earliest Christians close to the apostles, but the view of the Gnostics who saw no need for a future physical universe. Irenaeus of Lyons (c. A.D. 180), who grew up in the church of Polycarp of Smyrna, a disciple of the apostle John, explicitly rejected the idea that this physical universe was to be annihilated. He wrote:
For since there are real men, so must there also be a real establishment, that they vanish not away among non-existent things, but progress among those which have an actual existence. For neither is the substance nor the essence of the creation annihilated (for faithful and true is He who has established it), but “the fashion of the world passes away;” [1 Cor 7:41] that is, those things among which transgression has occurred, since man has grown old in them. And therefore this [present] fashion has been formed temporary, God foreknowing all things; and I have also shown, as far as was possible, the cause of the creation of this world of temporal things. But when this present fashion of things passes away, and man has been renewed, and flourishes in an incorruptible state, so as to preclude the possibility of becoming old, then there shall be the new heaven and the new earth, in which the new man shall remain continually, always holding fresh converse with God. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.36.1)
Even Irenaeus’s amillennial counterpart, Origen of Alexandria, writing by about A.D. 220, explicitly rejected the idea of a complete annihilation of the universe. After quoting 1 Corinthians 7:31 and Psalm 102:26, he wrote:
For if the heavens are to be changed, assuredly that which is changed does not perish, and if the fashion of the world passes away, it is by no means an annihilation or destruction of their material substance that is shown to take place, but a kind of change of quality and transformation of appearance. Isaiah also, in declaring prophetically that there will be a new heaven and a new earth, undoubtedly suggests a similar view. For this renewal of heaven and earth, and this transmutation of the form of the present world, and this changing of the heavens will undoubtedly be prepared for those who are walking along that way which we have pointed out above, and are tending to that goal of happiness to which, it is said, even enemies themselves are to be subjected, and in which God is said to be “all and in all.” And if any one imagine that at the end material, i.e., bodily, nature will be entirely destroyed, he cannot in any respect meet my view, how beings so numerous and powerful are able to live and to exist without bodies, since it is an attribute of the divine nature alone—i.e., of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—to exist without any material substance, and without partaking in any degree of a bodily adjunct. (Origen,
First Principles 1.6.4)
Yes, this present heaven and earth will undergo an intense judgment characterized by fire. The very foundations of the world will be shaken. The principalities and powers of spiritual and political wickedness will be forever destroyed. But the world itself will undergo a restoration, transformation, and glorification. It will not be absolute annihilation, but an extreme make-over befitting a God whose goal is to reign—not resign—as King of all creation.