REFLECTIONS
by Al Maxey

Issue #310 ------- August 6, 2007
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With high woods the hills were crown'd,
With tufts the valleys and each fountain side,
With borders long Rivers. That Earth now
Seem'd like to Heav'n, a seat where Gods
might dwell.
--- from "Paradise Lost"
John Milton {1608-1674}

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Restoring Paradise
New Heavens & New Earth

One of my faithful readers from England wrote me in early May and asked if I would please consider doing an in-depth study of the concept of the new heavens and new earth. More specifically: what exactly is meant by this phrase which appears only a few times in the inspired biblical record? Does this phrase suggest a concept contrary to the traditional teaching regarding the future existence of the redeemed? If so, what? For those who may be unaware of the more traditional position on this topic, it essentially declares the physical universe will be utterly obliterated by fire, and that the "immortal souls" of all the redeemed will be joined to "spirit bodies" in some vast, ethereal "spirit realm" known as "Heaven." Many even envision this "eternal city" as having gates of pearl, a street of gold, and the like. Such a view comes primarily from a literal interpretation of the Revelation to John. We have all seen the cartoons of souls floating on clouds strumming harps; a view fostered somewhat by this traditional teaching on the "afterlife."

It might come as quite a surprise to many within the Family of God that such a view is not taught in Scripture. It might further surprise many within our own faith-heritage to learn that a good number of the noted leaders in the Stone-Campbell Movement totally rejected this traditional interpretation, as do an ever growing number within our movement today. I abandoned this teaching decades ago, as I simply could not reconcile it with an honest examination of the Word of God. The traditional teaching on the nature of man, the fate of the wicked, and the destiny of the redeemed, is, in a word, false. I have dealt with all of this extensively, and those articles may be studied by going to my Topical Index and reading the articles listed under the heading "Final Punishment." I'd also highly recommend a careful and prayerful study of The Maxey-Thrasher Debate. Once we come to perceive the true nature of man, as depicted within the Scriptures, and once we come to better appreciate the nature of our God and His eternal purpose for both the wicked as well as the redeemed, we will quickly discover that not only is the traditional teaching on this entire body of belief totally false, but it actually borders on blasphemy.

An integral part of this entire area of soteriological and eschatological theology is the significant question as to our God's original intent with respect to the destiny of mankind (more specifically: the redeemed of all time) and whether or not Satan was/is capable of eternally thwarting that divine design. If, in fact, Satan succeeds in preventing our God from realizing His original desire for man, then Satan achieves a significant victory over our Creator. I wonder if any of us are really prepared to promote such a pernicious position? I'm not. Yet, the traditional teaching on the ultimate destiny of the redeemed seems to do just that. For this reason alone, in my view, it should be utterly rejected.

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" [Gen. 1:1]. "And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good" [Gen. 1:31]. As the old country preacher declared, "God don't make no junk." God had created a perfect world, and within it He placed man. His intent was to have sons and daughters; to walk and talk with them in this unblemished paradise; to enjoy an endless, intimate relationship with His loving family. It was never God's intent -- never His original design -- that death, decay, corruption and disease overwhelm His children and the world He had created for them. The intent was an everlasting relationship with mankind, one epitomized by a reciprocated love. This living being fashioned by God was designed to live within this paradise forever. Not as some spirit being, but as a physical being, one perfect in every way; deathless. This was what God desired; it was what He wanted; it was what He created. It was the way things were supposed to be ... forever.

The Fall changed everything. Sin is a corrupting influence, and it corrupts completely. Not only was man himself subjected to this creeping corruption, but so also was the paradise in which man lived. When sin entered the picture, everything began to die. As we examine the world about us, we see a diseased planet. Most scientists agree that it is dying. True, it will take eons to finally accomplish, but, should God allow the earth to exist that long, it will at some point become virtually uninhabitable. Men and animals also die. The descent to the grave is inevitable for us all. Was all of this God's original intent? Did our Creator desire the death of His creation? Of course not. But, sin brought about a detour; man departed from the blessed destiny designed by his God. Did such a detour defeat God's will for His creation? Never. It merely delayed it. The desire of our Creator will be realized. Nothing will defeat it. The history of mankind, when viewed as a whole, is a story of redemption; of a return to that perfect paradise -- paradise lost and paradise regained -- where the redeemed are given the gift of immortality and dwell in the restored heavens and earth forevermore, enjoying sweet fellowship with their Father. This restoration of His original intent does not come without cost, however -- the price that had to be paid was the death of His beloved Son.

What many fail to perceive is that with the redemption of fallen man also comes the redemption of the fallen creation. Both shall experience a restoration to God's original intent. In Christ Jesus all shall be made new. In other words, the Father's original intent will at last be fully realized. "The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the One who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God" [Rom. 8:19-21]. In figurative language the apostle Paul is informing us that even the planet itself eagerly awaits this great and glorious day when the redeemed of all ages are restored to the paradise of God. Why? Because it means the planet itself will be restored to its state of perfection which it enjoyed prior to the fall of man. Just as the redeemed will cast off this state of corruption and decay, and put on incorruptibility, so also shall the physical heavens and earth. "For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality" [1 Cor. 15:53]. God will not be thwarted. What He set out to achieve in the beginning ... will be achieved in the end. God never loses!! As John Milton {1608-1674} so eloquently phrased it in two of his works: Paradise Lost ... Paradise Regained. God wins!!

The Platonic dualism that has infested the thinking of many within Christendom has led to a diminishing of the true biblical hope of a "restoration of God's creational intent," and has instead promoted "a supra-mundane disembodied heaven" where spirit-beings dwell apart from the physical creation in some spirit-realm. For an excellent development of these thoughts (and from which the above quotes are taken), I would encourage a reading of the very scholarly work "A New Heaven and a New Earth: The Case for a Holistic Reading of the Biblical Story of Redemption." This work is by Professor J. Richard Middleton of Roberts Wesleyan College and appeared last year (2006) in the Journal for Christian Theological Research [vol. 11, p. 73-97]. Some may find it a rather difficult read, as it was intended primarily for scholars and theologians, but Middleton has done an excellent job of presenting the biblical evidence (in what he calls a "creation- fall-redemption paradigm") for "the restoration of God's creational intent for humanity and the world," as opposed to the "traditional, hybrid idea" (largely fostered by Plato) that the redeemed will experience eternal fellowship with their God in "a non-physical realm." Although I tend to differ with some points of his interpretive analysis of certain biblical passages, I believe, overall, he has done an excellent service to Christendom in his scholarly study.

Other biblical scholars agree; many from within our own Stone-Campbell faith-heritage. For example, John Mark Hicks and Bobby Valentine, in a book titled "Kingdom Come" [they sent me a complimentary autographed copy after it came out], have done a marvelous analysis of the teaching of David Lipscomb and James Harding on this very subject (as well as a much fuller treatment of their view of the nature of God's eternal kingdom). In this book it is demonstrated, through numerous quotes from these men, that they firmly believed that "God purposed to restore creation to its original blessedness, to restore shalom upon the earth" [p. 33]. "We groan with creation itself for the revelation of a home in the new heaven and new earth" [p. 35]. "The Father would Himself come to dwell with His people in a new heaven and new earth, a new creation. There not only humanity, but the cosmos itself would be liberated from the bondage of sin and death. This is the goal of God's redemptive project. Lipscomb and Harding, along with Alexander Campbell, Tolbert Fanning and Robert Milligan among others, believed that God would reign with His people on a renewed earth forever. When Jesus returns 'again to earth,' according to Lipscomb, He will accomplish the 'restoration of all things to their original relation to God' in a new heaven and new earth" [p. 180]. In other words, they believed, as do I, that God's original intent will be fully realized on that great and final day!

Contrasting the true teaching of Scripture with the traditional fallacies, the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia observed, "The biblical hope is separated from surrounding religious expectations by the conviction that man's emancipation could not occur apart from the redemption of the created order" [vol. 2, p. 656]. In other words, just as Paul stated in Romans 8, both the redeemed and the physical earth upon which we live will be ultimately liberated from the effects of sin and death; both will be transformed at the coming of Christ; both will be made new, with the former dwelling forever upon the latter. God's redemptive plan, then, is in reality a restoration of His original intent -- full fellowship with His children in a perfect paradise. In the Revelation, "John's picture of the final age to come focuses not on a platonic ideal heaven or distant paradise, but on the reality of a new earth and heaven. God originally created the earth and heaven to be man's permanent home. But sin and death entered the world and transformed the earth into a place of rebellion and alienation; it became enemy-occupied territory. But God has been working in salvation history to effect a total reversal of this evil consequence and to liberate earth and heaven from bondage to sin and corruption" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 12, p. 592]. Jesus referred to this time as "the regeneration" [Matt. 19:28 ... which the NIV renders: "at the renewal of all things"]. This is a Greek word signifying that which is made new; renovated, restored. Scripture does not depict the utter annihilation of the present physical universe, but rather the restoration of it to its original state of perfection. It is for this renewal that Paul says the physical creation "groans" in anticipation [Romans 8]. Peter speaks of this very reality, saying that the ascended Savior "must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as He promised long ago through His holy prophets" [Acts 3:21]. The NASB reads: "the period of restoration of all things." The fire God will pour out upon the earth will be a purifying fire (like that used in the smelting process); it will not utterly destroy the earth itself, but rather remove the dross (all impurity), thus restoring the creation to its former state of perfection. This fire is "designed not to annihilate but to cleanse and purify" [The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 3, p. 65]. It is upon this new heavens and earth ("new" in quality, as the Greek word kaine depicts) that the redeemed will then dwell.

Our brother-in-Christ, and a noted leader in the Stone-Campbell Movement, Moses Lard, wrote, "Under the curse on account of Adam's sin the earth certainly fell; for God cursed it directly and in so many words. The earth, then, I conclude, is among the things to be 'delivered.' From every disability under which it now lies in consequence of sin it will be freed. Not only so, but it will be 'translated' into a state of more than pristine newness and glory. It will undergo a change analogous to that which the bodies of the redeemed are to undergo" [Commentary on Paul's Letter to the Romans, p. 269-270]. "The creation itself is to be delivered from the bondage of corruption; from every effect of sin it is to emerge" [ibid, p. 272]. Adam Clarke declared that although the present earth will be subjected to God's fire, "it will not be destroyed, but be renewed and refined, purged from all moral and natural imperfections, and made the endless abode of the blessed. Indeed, it is more reasonable and philosophical to conclude that the earth shall be refined and restored, than finally destroyed" [Clarke's Commentary, vol. 6, p. 893].

Dr. Kenneth Wuest, in his classic "Word Studies from the Greek New Testament," made this insightful observation: "The non-rational creation, subject to the curse put upon it because of man's sin, is expectantly waiting for the glorification of the saints, that it also may be delivered from the curse under which it now exists. The creation shared in man's hope as in his doom. When the curse is completely removed from man, as it will be when the sons of God are revealed, it will pass from the creation also; and for this, the creation sighs" [vol. 1, Romans in the Greek NT, p. 138]. David Lipscomb, in his commentary on the book of Romans, wrote, "As a result of Adam's sin, the whole creation was cursed and fell away from its original design and became subject to the reign of death. Through the sin of man, not of its own fault or action, mortality and death were brought upon the creation." Nevertheless, "the hope is entertained that when the deliverance comes to the children of God, when they are delivered from the bondage of corruption and from the prison house of the grave, then the whole creation will share this deliverance and be freed from the corruption and mortality to which it has been subjected by the sin of man. It shared the corruption and mortality of man's sin, and it will also share his deliverance from it" [p. 153].

"Yes, God's purposes shall be fully accomplished. If we wait, and wait in hope, so does the creation wait, groan, yearn for the revealing of the sons of God" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 18, Romans, p. 239]. Peter, in Acts 3:21, spoke of this time of the restoration/renewal of all things, which God had "promised long ago through His holy prophets." "The idea of a renewed universe is present in substance in many passages" [The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 3, p. 65]. "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind" [Isaiah 65:17]. "'The new heavens and the new earth which I make will endure before Me,' declares the Lord" [Isaiah 66:22]. Although these passages have a more immediate fulfillment in the coming Messianic dispensation in which spiritual Israel (the universal One Body) will be blessed, such reference to a new order clearly has a further reference to the time of renewal that will occur at the second coming of Christ. This phrase "new heavens and new earth" is actually "a technical term in the eschatological language of the Bible to define and describe the final, perfected state of the created universe" [ibid]. Both Peter and John make use of this phrase in their writings, and the reference is clearly to the anticipated reality following the Parousia.

2 Peter 3:13 -- "But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells." This will be "paradise regained." It will be returned to it original state of purity. No impurity at all will exist within the new heavens and earth. It has been refined out by the purifying fire of God. Only righteousness fills this new universe. The fire has done its work, and all that stands in opposition to our God is forever obliterated from existence. "But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men" [2 Peter 3:7]. The Lord poured out this fire from above on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, "reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly thereafter" [2 Peter 2:6]. What happened to them will happen at the end of the age. The fire will descend upon the earth, all that is wicked and impure (and this means people, as Peter says) will be consumed/annihilated in the fire (this, in my view, is the same as the "lake of fire" depicted in Revelation). The fire is simply that which utterly destroys all dross consigned unto it. When its purging work is accomplished, all that is left is the new heavens and new earth, and the Lord will then lead His redeemed ones to this restored, pristine creation, there to dwell with Him forevermore. "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth" [Rev. 21:1]. When the old has "passed away," the new is all that is left. The rest is ashes.

Many have wondered about the order of events of that great day. What specifically will happen, and when? I believe one of the best portrayals is found in 1 Thess. 4:13-18. Here we have depicted the actual coming of our Lord to take His people to their eternal dwelling place, which we know to be the new heavens and earth. I have done a rather extensive analysis of this passage in Reflections #41 -- A Meeting in the Air -- and I would urge the reader to please take a few moments to examine that study. It will truly serve as the completion of this present reflection upon the joys of the new heavens and new earth. Oh how the redeemed and the physical universe long for this time of restoration to perfection! "Come, Lord Jesus!" [Rev. 22:20].

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Bro. Al, I have been one of your subscribers from the "get go" (from your very first article). I can't even remember now how I got started, but I have certainly enjoyed your Reflections. You are so intelligent, and you have such a fresh approach to the Bible. I would like to request all four of your Reflections on CD, and am enclosing a check to cover the cost of same. Thank you in advance. Also, I hope and pray that you continue your work for many more years! I share them with our minister here.

From a Minister/Author in California:

My dear brother-in-Christ, First, let me extend to you and your family my sincere, heartfelt condolences at the passing of your wife's father and your father-in-law. Our loss, of course, is heaven's gain. Second, I wish to express my deepest appreciation for your weekly Reflections. Each week, as I read (and read again) these articles, I have a deep inner feeling of sadness when I hear of others struggling with what I myself experienced the greater part of the past 50 years while shackled to the legalistic herd. I pray for these troubled souls, and I ask God to guide them as they break the bonds of legalism and declare their freedom in Christ. Brother Al, your weekly Reflections have truly been a rich blessing to me. They have given me added strength and a more powerful determination to stand on the front line of this battle and declare the richness of the gospel to the weak, the weary and the discouraged Christians, along with those who are aimlessly walking that broad way to eternal damnation. May God continue to bless you in your efforts to attack the devil on his own ground.

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, Your tribute to Don Cavasos, your wife's father, was very moving. It is obvious that he was a loving and caring Christian friend, father and father-in-law. That type of person is hard to lose, even when you know that he is with the Lord. Thanks for sharing his life with your readers. Bro. Al, your weekly messages have been so uplifting and encouraging to my wife and me, as well as to most of our spiritual family here in ------------, Texas. You are the topic of conversation at least several times weekly. God is clearly using you to bring a very positive change within our "brotherhood" of churches ... a positive change being felt around the world. May your boldness in the Truth continue to glorify His name!

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, I read your article on Bro. Cavasos with tears in my eyes. I have read lots of obits, but never one such as this. I came away with the feeling that I had known him all of my life. All I can say is Thank You for this wonderful piece. You are so very fortunate to have been a part of his life while he was with us and to continue to be a part of his family now that he is gone. Al, you are such a blessing to all of the members of our Savior's family ... and to think: I, a sinner, can call you my brother!! Once more, I say thank you from the bottom of my heart for your work. Soldier On!

From a Reader in Georgia:

Dear Bro. Al, Our thoughts and prayers are with you during this very difficult time. We were so saddened to hear about Shelly's dad. As I read your tribute to this amazing man, it brought tears to my eyes as I remembered my own parents, and how much we miss them even after six years. We were blessed to be able to care for them before their deaths, and we made sure they were very happy in their last days. My dad would sit out on our deck in the cool night breeze and softly sing hymns. My mom's greatest joy was hot cornbread from the oven with real butter, even when it was 90+ degrees outside. These are just a few of the memories that we hold within our hearts, as I know you both hold dear the memories of Shelly's dad's remarkable life. Al and Shelly, you are both such amazing people! We are so honored and blessed that God has crossed our paths, and we will be lifting your whole family up in prayer to our heavenly Father. May He grant you comfort, courage and strength in the coming days. By the way, we hope to travel out there again soon and visit with you once again. Our time with you in the "high mountain desert" of the southwest brings back happy memories!

From a Reader in Florida:

Dearest Shelly, I just finished reading in Reflections the tribute to both of your precious parents. Al, your description of these remarkable, tender-hearted, loving children of God brought tears to my eyes. How wonderful that both of you, other family members, and friends have so many precious memories to treasure and such great examples to follow. My heart goes out to you in your great loss, and yet I rejoice with you in the knowledge of the grand reunion ahead.

From a Minister in California:

Brother Al, What a beautiful tribute to a wonderful man!! There are times when God gifts us with a family such as Shelly's. My in-laws were/are just such a loving family; faithful to God. I celebrate with you his quiet, peaceful departure from this earthly life. What a joy and what a peace knowing our loved ones are safe in the protection of Jesus!

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, I always enjoy your writings! I'm particularly pleased when I read one of your Reflections honoring a great man or woman of faith. It is too bad that your mother-in-law is not alive to read what you wrote about your father-in-law, but from what I can see in your family, your feelings were well-known to them while they were alive. I am sure that Shelly will cherish what you said about her mother and father, and, if she is anything like my wife, she already has a printed copy of your two Reflections tributes printed out and saved in a place where she keeps her most cherished memorabilia. Al, you are truly honoring God when you honor those around you who have served Him so well in their lives. Thanks for a great memory, and when I am back in Albuquerque, New Mexico next year, I will look at some of the houses I have seen there since I was a kid ... and will wonder if Don Cavasos designed them!

From a Reader in California:

Brother Al, I was just wondering: what if all of your thousands of readers worldwide were to inundate the mailboxes of the legalistic publications -- especially those like Firm Foundation, whose editor distorts published material from others -- with countless emails and letters denouncing their attitudes and actions?! How long do you think it would take for these editors and publishers to finally "catch on"? All I know is -- there are too many "Busters" in this world resorting to cheap shots and cheap journalism, showing no spiritual maturity at all. And to make matters worse, they are even lying to their readers! We must confront both them and their distorted message, and we must pray hard that God will open their hearts and minds. It is time that all of us, on a grass-roots level, stand up for what we know is true, and stand up against those who are false. Brother Al, whatever you do, don't stop writing! You are a voice of reason; cool, clean water in a barren desert in which the church has wandered for far too long. By the way, I am going to send you a check for your Reflections on CD, and also for an autographed copy of your book Down, But Not Out. Are you planning on writing any more books? I would love to have your Reflections, especially the ones on the "silence" issue and legalism, in book form.

From a Reader in Mississippi:

Brother Al, I ordered and read your book Down, But Not Out ... Great Job!! I started working my way through centuries of "interpretations" on this topic a few years ago after reading Early Christians Speak by Dr. Everett Ferguson and several wonderful books on MDR by David Instone-Brewer. However, I continue to study on this matter as I truly want to know God's will. I must tell you, I found your book so easy to read and to understand that I thought to myself that something must be wrong (i.e., false) with what you had written. So I spent the next several days reading over the debates that have been waged over your book. In the end, your findings seemed to me to be sound. I hope more and more people will read your book, and either prove it wrong or submit to the evidence put forth. At this time in my study, I must submit.

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Brother Maxey, I recently exchanged a couple of emails with you concerning MDR. I have also read your book Down, But Not Out and gained a vast amount of knowledge regarding this topic. Brother Maxey, I know a great number of people (including myself) who truly appreciate your vast knowledge and teaching on this subject. It has made me understand why so many of the traditional teachings are incorrect. Thank you, and please continue with your excellent teachings!

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Brother Al, I want to say how much I appreciate you being so bold in declaring the mercy and love of God to all who have gone through divorce and/or remarriage. I agree with my whole heart that God sees things the way you have presented them in your writings. Thank you for being one of the few who are truly sharing good news and hope with people who simply want to serve our Lord.

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