Saturday, February 18, 2006

A picture of the coming kingdom

Then it shall come about when the LORD your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied, then watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD... - Deut. 6:10-12
When I read these verses, I think about all the work that went into cultivating the land by the Canaanites. Apparently, when Israel possessed the Promised Land, they were not possessing a vast wilderness, but beautiful cities with well-developed infrastructures and technology. However, before Joshua arrived, all these cities and cisterns and vineyards and orchards existed for godless, worldly reasons. But once Israel possessed them, they would exist for the satisfaction of the people of God as a display of the glory of God's covenant faithfulness to Abraham.

And this is a shadow, a picture of the coming kingdom of God. We will one day live in a new heaven and a new earth (Is. 65:17, Rev. 21:1), but that doesn't mean that we will be living on a different earth. The Bible does not teach a re-creation of the world, but a redemption of this world (Rom. 8:20-21). Yes, on the Day of Judgment there will be fire (2 Peter 3:10) and the evil of this world will be judged. But as Israel did not devastate the land of Canaan, but removed all of its godless influences, so this fire will not be a fire of annihilation, but a fire of cleasing. And what will remain will be "great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant" to be possessed by the True Israel. All the amazing technology, scientific research, artistic achievements and thousands of other cultural developments will be redeemed from their present evil purposes and exist for everlasting satisfaction of the people of God, for the glory of God.

I wish I had this perspective as I was working as a consultant! If only I realized that my work was not in vain, but would one day be redeemed for the new world. For the people of God working as accountants, programmers, consultants, doctors, teachers, engineers, laborers, and every other profession, as much as your work enables the advancement of God's cultural mandate (Gen. 1:28) to subdue and rule the earth for His glory, this work, however small and insignificant it might seem now, will one day be redeemed. Though today, it might seem that all our labor only serves to line the pockets of godless men and promote the goals of corrupt corporations, the day is coming when all the evil of this world will be judged and what will remain will be all the good that your labor (and the labor of the enemies of God!) produced.

Anthony Hoekema puts it well:
This all means a lot for us now. If there is continuity as well as discontinuity between this earth and the new earth, we must work hard to develop our gifts and talents, and to come as close as we can to producing, in the strength of the Spirit, a Christian culture today. Through our kingdom service, the building materials for the new earth are now being gathered. Bibles are being translated, peoples are being evangelized, believers are being renewed, and cultures are being transformed. Only eternity will reveal the full significance of what has been done for Christ here on earth.

A scintillating future awaits us—not a future of disembodied existence, but everlasting life in glorified bodies on the new earth. Compared with the immeasurable span of eternity, this present life is but a passing moment, a fleeting sigh.
Therefore, take heart and know that your work on this earth is not in vain, but rather matters greatly. And as we work, we wait in hope for the return of Joshua, who will once again lead Israel to redeem their Land. Come, Lord Jesus!

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