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Revelation 21:1-22:7

We were on vacation and had been traveling for almost three weeks. Everyone—I, my wife, and my three young daughters—was tired. We were ready for the feel of our own beds, the sights and sounds of our hometown, the familiar routines of regular life. Our vacation had been great fun, but like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” we were ready to chant, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.”

What and where is home? Many Christians in America seem to think that when Jesus comes again our home planet will be destroyed. After true believers are raptured off the planet, they believe, the earth will be burned up to nothing. This world is not my home, I’m just passing through, they sing and think. But is this view of the future found in Scripture? This escapist eschatology may be popular, but is it true?

In these last chapters of the Bible, John describes God’s good future. In the only language available to him, the language of simile and metaphor, John attempts to convey his mind-boggling vision of God’s good future.

The holy city, the new Jerusalem, descends to us. We don’t go up to heaven; heaven comes down to us. And heaven and earth are one. These two now separated realms are united. And creation is renewed, not destroyed. Throughout these verses we read much about what is new, but new here means renewed (kainos) not absolutely new (neos). This text speaks of renewal, repair, and restoration. God is making all things new, not all new things. There is a world of difference (pun intended) between these two claims.

Furthermore, there are rivers and trees. As in the first two chapters of Genesis, here in the last two chapters of Revelation we find a river and trees. These trees provide twelve kinds of fruit, sustenance all year long. So no one goes hungry. And the leaves of the tree of life are for the healing of the nations. No more trees used to make battering rams to lay siege to medieval cities. No more trees felled to make masts for colonial slave ships. No more trees pulped to print propaganda to fuel the fires of ethnic cleansing. These trees are for healing. These trees are for life.

God pitches his tent with us mortals and wipes every tear from our eyes. No more mourning, no more crying, no more sorrow. This is a vision of shalom. God is at home among humans on a heavenly earth.

In short, a careful look reveals that an escapist eschatology is not biblical. God’s good future as presented to us in the last chapters of Revelation is a vision of the redemption of the earth, not the destruction of the world. And since eschatology shapes our ethics—what we believe about the future shapes how we act in the present—we must strive to take care of our home planet.

We are earthkeepers. In this season of Lent may we do what we are called to do: bear witness to God’s good future of shalom—the flourishing of all things.

Prayer: Good and loving God, giver of life and restorer of all things, as we rest in the promise of the resurrection and bear witness to the renewal of the earth, give us the courage and the wisdom to be faithful earthkeepers of this our home planet, for the good of all creatures and for your glory. Amen.

Steven Bouma-Prediger

Steven Bouma-Prediger teaches religion at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. You can read more about these topics in his book Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, co-authored with Brian Walsh, and For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care.  For a more in-depth look at ecological virtues, his brand new book is Earthkeeping and Character: Exploring a Christian Ecological Virtue Ethic.

9 Comments

  • Daniel J Meeter says:

    God is making all things new, not all new things.

  • John Kleinheksel says:

    Loved this emphasis, Steve.
    Flourishing. Fruit-bearing. For the healing of the nations (not their destruction).
    And we get to be co-creators with the One who is making all things new. YES. Preach it!

  • Helen P says:

    A favorite passage from one of my favorite books of the Bible.
    Yes and Amen.

  • Daniel Carlson says:

    Thank you, Steve, for this wise words of reflection and exegesis, within and for the world–including the lovely and illuminating prayer.

  • Henry Lise says:

    Thanks for the emphasis! The earth is our home. Christianity doesn’t make sense when we focus on a heaven that doesn’t have anything to do with our planet.

  • RLG says:

    Well, Steven, whether Christians look forward to a new or renewed earth in the sweet bye and bye makes little difference to most in our present age. Your article seems to divert our attention from what God is not doing in the present to a time in the distant future that we, in actuality, know little about. There is no objective evidence for the predicted futures of the Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus or whatever religion you want to choose. It would seem that our present hope should be placed in what science and medicine can do to eradicate this present endemic that has plagued our world. Then we will have reason for praise. If our empty synagogues, mosques, and churches are symbols of anything it demonstrates the emptiness of religion. Thanks, Steven, for attempting to lift our spirits.

  • Bob Crow says:

    Thanks Steven. I appreciate your piece. And I heartily agree. Our current situation is all the more reason to plead, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.” We declare with joy and trust: our world belongs to God. It is his. The most famous verse, John 3.16 shouts this: for God so loved the “cosmos” – the entirety of what He made, not just the “ethnos.” Jesus death did more than provide salvation for humans, it made a way of salvation for the whole cosmos (which in Greek means “beauty”). God loves this place. It isn’t junk. He wouldn’t send His child to suffer and die for trash, something that will be destroyed/annihilated. It would be a lie to the meek (Matt. 5.5), that to inherit the land would be a blessing.

    And so we long for the Rev. 11.15 to become reality.

    This is reason to hope.

    Thanks.

  • Rowland Van Es says:

    Thanks for boiling your green theology down into one nice short essay. I will use this in the future to introduce students to your longer chapters where you flesh out these ideas in more detail. As someone once said (and I say about my students’ sermons), “sometimes less is more.” Amen.

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