Between The Ages

Between the Ages
In the story of God we live in this awkward time between the ages. Redemption is now and not yet. The kingdom is here and is coming. Jesus has truly forgiven us, cleansed us and set us free and he has truly conquered Satan, sin and death. And yet, while that victory has been won, and God’s kingdom has been inaugurated, it has not yet come to fullness. We still long for and await the full consummation of the victory of God in Jesus.

On the cross, Jesus defeated death forever. Death is dead. For those who are in Christ, death has lost its sting forever.[1] Death is now powerless. When Jesus paid the penalty for our sin, death lost its teeth. Instead of a 600 lb Siberian tiger, death has been made into a domesticated and declawed house cat. It can no longer harm. And so, death is no longer something to be feared.

And yet, we all still die. Death is defeated, but it is still our reality. Why is that?

Jesus’ victory over death was won at the cross, and yet we still await its full consummation. Death is dead now, but we look forward to the complete fulfillment in the new heavens and new earth 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.”[2] Death and sadness pass away. Now that’s a funeral I’d like to attend. Forget the tuna sandwiches, let’s throw a feast! Death is dead!

The same could be said about our sin. Because of the cross of Jesus Christ, the sin of everyone who is in Christ has been completely atoned for. The penalty is paid. The debt is forgiven. The stains are made clean.

And yet, we still sin, don’t we? We may be forgiven, but we aren’t free from sin. We still fail. We still rebel. We still sin. We are positionally holy, but in our experience we are still a work in progress. We are forgiven now, but we long for the day when sin will be eradicated forever, and our hearts will be so fully changed that our desire will always and only be for God. In the new heavens and new earth “nothing unclean will ever enter it” and “no longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.”[3] We are positionally holy right now, but on that day we will be experientially holy as well. We will become what we are.

And though Jesus disarmed and defeated evil on the cross, there continues to be evil, suffering and injustice in our world. Why is it that so often in our world the words of Green Day ring true, “nice guys finish last”? Cheaters often prosper. Liars get ahead in life.

But while it seems that injustice reigns, because of the victory of Jesus we know that there will be perfect justice in the end. God wins. Evil loses.

In one of Jesus’ parables, he explains how the world is like a field that has both wheat and weeds growing up together. Knowing that removing the weeds while the wheat is still growing could cause harm to the wheat, the farmer allows both the wheat and weeds to continue together until harvest time when the reapers will then gather the weeds and burn them, and then harvest the wheat. Jesus explains that the defeated kingdom of evil will continue alongside the kingdom of God until the time of judgment when evil will be defeated forever.[4] While often life seem unjust now, there will be a day of perfect justice when evil will be punished and righteousness will reign forever.

THE RESTORATION OF SHALOM

When Adam and Eve rebelled and trusted the lies of the serpent rather than the truth of God, they were expelled out of their garden paradise and shalom was lost. But by God’s grace, his story is a u-shaped story. It starts and ends with shalom. In the very good beginning, the first man and the first woman enjoy God’s good creation in paradise, free from sin, shame and death. The story of the Bible is the long and painful journey of a gracious and sovereign God bringing his people back to the garden via the cross.

At the end of the story, humanity returns to the garden, but this time, the garden is a beautiful garden city.[5] Heaven has come down to earth. Everything is made new and the curse of sin is gone forever. This is not some nebulous, disembodied existence in a cloudy place like a commercial for Philly cream cheese. When you think of heaven, don’t picture harps, wings and clouds. God will renew the earth and restore shalom. We’ll experience life on earth without sin, shame or death. We’ll experience life as it was meant to be with “universal flourishing, wholeness and delight.”[6]

This new age will be ushered in with a huge wedding feast, complete with rich food and good wine to celebrate the union of Jesus with his bride, the church.[7] We’re told that in that day lambs will be able to lie down with wolves, knowing they won’t be torn to shreds. Just to belabor the point to death we’re told the same thing about goats with leopards, calves with lions, cows with bears, and children with snakes.[8] With no need for war anymore, people will convert their weapons into farming equipment. Isaiah pictures how everyone will “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”[9] In that line of thinking, Richard Mouw pictures intercontinental ballistic missile silos being converted into training tanks for scuba divers.[10] There will still be work, as there was before sin, but it will be free of the frustration and futility that was introduced with the curse. Likewise, we’ll still rest, but it will be the deeply satisfying and invigorating rest that escapes us so often in our high-octane overly-caffeinated culture. It will be life as it was meant to be: free from sin, suffering and death. Life lived for God’s glory, enjoying him all of our days.

After the climax in J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings, Samwise Gamgee awakens and is shocked to see Gandalf, realizing that his friend wasn’t dead as he believed. With open mouth, filled with both bewilderment and great joy, Sam finally gasps, “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue?” Tim Keller adds, “The answer of Christianity to that question is – yes. Everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost.”[11] The hope of the gospel is that all that has been broken, lost and corrupted because of sin will become untrue.

 

This post is an excerpt from my book The Hero: How The Story of God Shapes Our Life Together. You can order it here.


[1] I Corinthians 15:55-57
[2] Revelation 21:4
[3] Revelation 21:27; 22:3
[4] Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
[5] Revelation 21:1-22:5
[6] Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), 10.
[7] Isaiah 25:6-9; Matthew 26:29; Revelation 19:6-9
[8] Isaiah 11:6-7
[9] Isaiah 2:4
[10] Richard J. Mouw, When the Kings Come Marching In: Isaiah and the New Jerusalem (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1983), 19-20. As quoted in Plantinga Jr., Not the Way Its Supposed to Be, 11.
[11] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Dutton, 2008), 33.

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