Unveiling Revelation: ‘The Road to New Creation’

Unveiling Revelation: ‘The Road to New Creation’ August 23, 2013

We’ve been spending time here most Fridays looking at the execrable theology of the Left Behind series. Those books are based on a supposed “Bible prophecy” scheme that takes the tribalism and prejudices of one kind of Christians, encodes them in the tropes of legends and popular culture, and then imposes them back on the Bible, claiming all the while that this is based on a “literal reading of the book of Revelation.”

So I’m thinking it might be good to also take some time on Fridays to remind ourselves of what Revelation — and other apocalyptic literature in the Bible — is really all about.

This week’s reminder comes from N.T. Wright, former Anglican bishop of Durham, prolific popular author, formidable theologian, and capable guitar player. This is taken from a sermon Wright preached in 2006, “The Road to New Creation.”

These paragraphs get at the core of Wright’s main theme in all of his writing — and at the core of what the book of Revelation has to say.

Religion in the western world has been less and less about the renewal of creation and more and more about escaping from this wicked world and going to a better place, called “heaven” – going there ultimately when we die, but going there by anticipation in the present through prayer and meditation. This essentially other-worldly hope and spirituality has fought its corner robustly against the materialism which has insisted that the only things that exist are things you can touch and see and money you can put in your pocket.

But if you turn Christian faith into simply the hope for pie in the sky when you die, and an escapist spirituality in the present, you turn your back on the theme which makes sense of the whole Bible, which bursts upon us in everything that Jesus the Messiah did and said, which is highlighted particularly by his resurrection from the dead. A religion that forgets about new creation may feel some sympathy for the battered and bedraggled figure in the ditch, but its message to him will always be that though we can help him a bit, ultimately it doesn’t matter because the main thing is to escape this wicked world altogether. And that represents a tragic diminishing and distortion of what Christian faith is all about.

The God in whom we believe is the creator of the world, and he will one day put this world to rights. That solid belief is the bedrock of all Christian faith. God is not going to abolish the universe of space, time and matter; he is going to renew it, to restore it, to fill it with new joy and purpose and delight, to take from it all that has corrupted it. “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom, and rejoice with joy and singing; the desert shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.” The last book of the Bible ends, not with the company of the saved being taken up into heaven, but with the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth, resulting in God’s new creation, new heavens and new earth, in which everything that has been true, lovely, and of good report will be vindicated, enhanced, set free from all pain and sorrow. God himself, it says, will wipe away all tears from all eyes. One of the great difficulties in preaching the gospel in our days is that everyone assumes that the name of the game is, ultimately, to “go to heaven when you die,” as though that were the last act in the drama. The hymn we’re about to sing ends like that, because that’s how most people have thought. But that’s wrong! Heaven is important, but it’s not the end of the world; God will make new heavens and new earth, and give us new bodies to live and work and take delight in his new creation. And the “good news” of the Christian gospel is that this new world, this new creation, has already begun: it began when Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead on Easter morning, having faced and beaten the double enemy, sin and death, that has corrupted and defaced God’s lovely creation.

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  • Ah, well…

    You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your
    God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me

    The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.

  • The difference is, you can’t snap your fingers and instantly get your cat clean. According to some of the things allegedly done by God, he/she/it/they have pretty much got that power (considering that the Great Flood pretty much breaks all the known rules regarding rainfall, etc, but what are the laws of physics to a being who made the universe and the laws in the first place?)

  • Madhabmatics

    I agree, Life was an excellent show.

  • Amaryllis

    things like floods, volcanic eruptions, etc. are necessary for the earth to continue to support life.

    Or, at least, part of the physical system which, as a system, supports life. Start messing around with the laws of physics, and where are we all then?

    A more-or-less Christian meditation during a rainy night:

    Winter, that coils in the thickets now,
    Will glide from the fields; the swinging rain
    Be knotted with flowers; on every bough
    A bird will meditate again.

    Lord, in the night if I should die,
    Who entertained your thrilling worm,
    Corruption wastes more than the eye
    Can pick from this imperfect form.

    I lie awake, hearing the drip
    Upon my sill; thinking, the sun
    Has not been promised; we who strip
    Summer to seed shall be undone.

    Now, while the antler of the eaves
    Liquifies, drop by drop, I brood
    On a Christian thing: unless the leaves
    Perish, the tree is not renewed.

    If all our perishable stuff
    Be nourished to its rot, we clean
    Our trunk of death, and in our tough
    And final growth are evergreen.

    – Stanley Kunitz, “Deciduous Branch”

    .. which is maybe not much comfort during the flood. During the flood, all you can do is bow your head and listen to the Backwater Blues.

  • …and what I’m saying is, I don’t think God has that power either. Being able to do lots of things isn’t the same as being able to do lots of things instantly and with no effort.

    (The whole Great Flood thing is, in my opinion, a myth – as I’m sure you’re aware.)

  • VMink

    I was raised Episcopal but my grade school was Lutheran. But I get the feeling that the church the grade school was associated with was in the process of being steeplejacked, so I’m not quite sure where I got that belief from.

  • Wright did not make up the ‘wipe away all tears’ thing. It’s in the exact same chapter (Revelation 7.17) as both the 144,000 (7.4) and the ‘great multitude’ (7.9). In fact, the ‘wipe away all tears’ is mentioned a second time in (Revelation 21.4), right after the lake of fire.

  • David_Evans

    There is a difference. Wright says “wipe away all tears from all eyes”, which is strictly incompatible with there being anyone left in the lake of fire. Revelation says “wipe away all tears from their eyes”, which is not.

  • The criticism you’re making relies on the same over-literalism and lack of context that everyone is objecting to in the first place. If Wright changed ‘their’ to ‘all’ (on accident or on purpose), at least give him the benefit of the doubt, because he has written and spoken about ‘the fate of everyone else’ on occasion. It’s not a topic he ‘ignores’.

  • David_Evans

    I don’t wish to attack Wright’s whole body of work. All that struck me and led me to write my ill-informed post was this: you would never know from Wright ‘s sermon that there is great suffering in Revelation, and that an unknown number of people are last heard of in the lake of fire. If that’s a happy ending it’s not an unalloyed one.

  • ohiolibrarian

    Wow. Just like the Founding Fathers (if you are an ‘originalist’).

  • Nick Gotts

    Quite, the Great Flood is a myth – but so is God.

  • Nick Gotts

    Maybe their eyes are poked out before they’re cast into the lake of fire?

  • One does not necessarily follow from the other.