REFLECTIONS
by Al Maxey

Issue #311 ------- August 10, 2007
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When we have arrived at the question,
the answer is already near.

Ralph Waldo Emerson {1803-1882}

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Questions from Abroad
Challenging Queries from Readers
Regarding Reflections #310

President Ronald Reagan was well-known for his "Reaganisms" -- witty sayings that reflected the great humor, as well as the wisdom, of this noted leader of the free world. One of them was, "Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement." Anyone who has ever dared to present his or her views in a public setting, and to do so before a significantly broad and diverse audience, has inevitably faced a number of difficult questions regarding that which was proclaimed. Some will be hostile in nature; some will be respectful. Most all will be challenging ... which is good, for it stimulates thought and reflection. No person who flees to the deep recesses of a cave, cowering in a dark corner in the face of intense interrogation of his or her positions, practices or pronouncements, is fit to proclaim a single thought before the public. And such a person most certainly has no right to expect to ever be taken seriously. Sadly, though, Christendom is infested with a swarm of such pathetic little creatures who divide their time between pontificating from their pulpits, editorializing through their papers, and hiding under their desks. Yes, the above "Reaganism" is very often accurate. "Here's my statement - now, I'll refuse to take your questions!"

I personally resolved a good many years ago that I would never engage in such cowardice. If I presumed to be man enough to boldly declare my convictions in a public forum, then I must also be man enough to face those who would challenge my convictions. Frankly, I have very little use for religious "cave dwellers," and thus I absolutely refuse to devolve to such a loathsome creature. People may not always like my answer, and they may not agree with it, but if their queries are sincere, and posed with a genuine desire to further their understanding of my teachings, then I will do my best to always be ready to make a defense to those who ask me for an accounting of my beliefs [1 Peter 3:15].

In the last issue of my weekly Reflections I presented my own personal convictions with regard to the eternal destiny of the redeemed. For those new subscribers, or those who may have missed the previous study for some reason, I would encourage a careful examination of Paradise Regained [Issue #310]. Many of you wrote and expressed appreciation for the views presented, even stating that you had long ago come to the same conclusions from your own study of God's Word. A few wrote to condemn me as an apostate (an assessment some feel "led of God" to share with me on a regular basis). And then others of you wrote requesting further clarification of my position, posing several challenging questions to which you hoped for a response from me. I will strive to do my very best to provide just such a reasoned response, and only pray that you will accept it in the same spirit of love with which it is given.

Question One

Several readers were quick to point out that the apostle Peter spoke of the present heavens and earth being "burned up." This, it was felt, must surely exclude any possibility of a restoration or renewal of the current creation. A reader in Oklahoma, for example, stated, "If this earth is to be refined for a dwelling place of the redeemed, does this not contradict what Peter said just a few verses before his statement in 2 Peter 3:13? His comments in verse 10 lead one to believe 'the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up' (RSV)." The traditional thinking, of course, is that the present physical universe will indeed be utterly obliterated from existence by the "final fire" sent from God. The eternal estate of the redeemed, therefore, will be entirely non-material in nature. We will all be spirit-beings in spirit-bodies in a spirit-realm. This, of course, finds it roots within the dualistic philosophical speculations of Plato, views which, tragically, found their way into the teachings of Christendom at an early date, the influence of which is still very much with us today. This is not the view expressed throughout the inspired Scriptures, however, and it was especially not the view of the people of Israel.

In 2 Peter 3:10 the coming day of the Lord is described as one in which "the earth and its works will be burned up" [NASB]. The KJV, ASV, and RSV also have the phrase "will/shall be burned up." Those disciples who take this statement to signify a literal, total destruction by fire often suggest that it is from the ashes of this destruction that the new heavens and earth will arise, much like the fabled phoenix, which every 500 years arises from the ashes of its own conflagration. Therefore, in some ways it is almost viewed as a recreation, yet utilizing the core atomic elements of the former. The word for "new" in 2 Peter 3:13 is the word that denotes "new in quality; fresh; renewed." It does not denote that which is of a completely different essence. Thus, the heavens and earth are "new" in the sense of purified and refined. This would certainly tend to favor the view that the fire did not obliterate, but merely purified (as is done in the smelting of ore); a purging of the dross. With all that is impure refined out, only righteousness will dwell within the new (in quality) heavens and earth [2 Peter 3:13].

But, this still does not adequately address, in the minds of some, the objection raised by the phrase "burned up." A review of the many English translations on the market, however, will quickly reveal that this wording is very much in the minority. Most modern translations, with only a few exceptions, have opted for a much different wording. There is a reason for this. Put simply: it is a textual problem. In other words, the ancient Greek manuscripts differ greatly on what word is used here. Dr. Bruce M. Metzger, in his classic work A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, wrote, "At the close of verse 10 the extant witnesses present a wide variety of readings, none of which seems to be original" [p. 705]. Notice how several other major translations render this phrase:

  1. will be discovered -- The New World Translation
  2. will be made manifest -- The New American Bible, St. Joseph edition
  3. will be disclosed -- Holman Christian Standard Bible
  4. will be exposed -- English Standard Version
  5. will be seen for what they are -- Contemporary English Version
  6. will be laid bare -- New International Version and New English Bible

Although many more references could very easily be cited, I think this adequately represents the dilemma facing the biblical student. The greater textual evidence seems to favor a reading other than "burned up." The idea appears to be that the fire discloses, discovers, exposes what lies beneath, which, of course, is exactly the work of a refining fire: it burns off the dross, exposing the purity of that which has been covered or corrupted. Professor J. Richard Middleton, in his notable work which I referenced in my previous Reflections article, observed, "Here the saving activity of God is described first as laying bare (or uncovering), with the earth designated as the object of this activity (vs. 10). The image is of the smelting of metal, where the dross is burned off so that the pure metal may be revealed (or 'laid bare'). Then, at the end of verse 13 God's saving activity is described as a renewal, and this is applied to both heaven and earth (that is, the entire created universe), which will be characterized by righteousness. That the 'new' heavens and 'new' earth refer to renewal rather than replacement (starting from scratch) is indicated both from the context, which has the earth being laid bare or uncovered, and from the text's choice of kainos, rather than neos, for 'new'" [Journal for Christian Theological Research, vol. 11, p. 88]. In a gracious gesture to those who produced the rendering of the KJV ("burned up"), Middleton stated, "The translators of the KJV had only inferior Greek manuscripts available to them, and thus may be excused" [ibid]. He was less gracious with those very few modern translators who perpetuated this unfortunate rendering, accusing them of consciously choosing inferior manuscripts, "aided and abetted by a dualistic worldview which devalued earthly life and assumed a supra-mundane destiny for the redeemed" [ibid, p. 89].

Question Two

A reader in the nation of Latvia wrote, "The use of the Greek word ge in 2 Peter 3:3-13 points to the destruction of the entire planet earth, not just the kosmos (the inhabited part of the earth) as occurred during the flood -- 2 Peter 3:6." There is certainly no doubt, from a careful exegesis of this passage, that a day of judgment is coming in which the entire universe will be purged by fire. Not just the present world order and its inhabitants (the kosmos), but also the planet itself (the ge). This is consistent with the position that such a purging of the dross (all that is unrighteous) is necessary for a new creation to emerge in which dwells only righteousness. Yes, at one time God sent a flood of water upon the earth, and yet "the globe was not destroyed, only its inhabitants and its ordered form" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 12, p. 285]. "Peter argues that just as in the past God purged the then-existing kosmos by His word and by waters, so also in the future He will purge the kosmos by His word and by fire" [ibid]. Although this purging process will have a definite and dramatic impact upon the various elements of the physical creation, as Peter suggests, it will nevertheless result in the emergence of a purified, refined, renewed, fresh ("new" in quality) heavens and earth. This same thing occurred during the flood. "The world was so transformed by the deluge that the world previous to that catastrophe 'perished' ... and a new world issued from the crisis" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 8, p. 459].

It is completely inconsistent with the testimony of the Scriptures, however, to suggest from the language utilized by Peter that the earth itself will forever be removed from existence. In point of fact, the earth/land (ge) has long been the focus of promise to the people of God, under both covenants. Jesus Christ Himself promised, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (ge) [Matt. 5:5]. What will they inherit if He "burns it up"? For what does this physical creation eagerly long [Rom. 8:19]? It is to experience the joy of the redemption from corruption that the saved of all ages will experience on that great day! A misguided expectation if God simply intends to reduce it to nothing, rather than renew it to its former perfection. Peter says the heavens and earth (ge) will be "new" [2 Peter 3:13]. So also does John [Rev. 21:1]. As previously noted, this is the Greek word kaine (the feminine form of kainos) which means "refreshed, renovated, renewed." It denotes a "making new" of that which had become corrupted, not the formation of an entirely different creation. Thus, the very adjective used by Peter specifies a renewal of the present physical earth. Thus, the annihilation of the present heavens and earth is contrary to the promise of God to the redeemed (and to the earth itself).

Question Three

A person in the beautiful state of Oklahoma wrote, "If the earth is to be refined for an eternal dwelling for the redeemed, could this new earth become corrupted just as the original one did?" This same question, in essence, has been asked with respect to the redeemed -- What is to prevent the saved from sinning all over again once they "get to heaven"? Will God's children no longer have free will? Although Scripture does not give us answers to every question that comes to our wondering minds, it nevertheless assures us that the new heavens and earth is a place where "righteousness dwells" [2 Peter 3:13]. All that is opposed to God and His will is gone. Satan will no longer be there to tempt us. Not only our bodies, but our hearts and minds, will have been purified of all dross. It is my belief, and certainly my hope, that any such thought of rebellion against our Father will simply never occur to us. And since it was sin that was the corrupting agent in both our own lives and that of the world about us, and since sin is forever removed from the universe, its resultant state of corruption is also forever removed. In the new heavens and earth "there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away" [Rev. 21:4]. These woes are all gone because all unrighteousness is gone, and with it the death and decay that followed on the heels of unrighteousness. When God removes the cause, He at the same time removes the effect. The cause of corruption is gone ... forever! So, my answer is: No ... the new heavens and earth will not become corrupted as did the original.

Question Four

One reader seemed to be troubled by the following concern -- "In Matthew 22:30 Jesus said, 'In the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven.' Are God's people to live as single people in a physical Eden forever; frequently burning, or worse, without our genitals?" Some might respond that if men and women no longer have their genitals, then would they have those "burning desires" to make use of them? Scripture does not say, however, that they will be without genitals. It merely states they will not be pairing off into married couples as they did on earth. Will we be "burning in lust" for one another in the new heavens and earth? Apparently we will not, since all unrighteousness will have been forever purged from the universe. What exactly will be the nature of our relationships with one another? I don't have a clue! But, whatever our God has planned, it will be pure and holy and wonderful. I have a feeling that none of us will have any complaints! Will there be animals there? There were in the pre-fall paradise of God. Will there be babies there? Will there be births? Well, before the fall, God commanded, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth" [Gen. 1:28]. If our God genuinely intends to restore all things to His original purpose and intent, will this perhaps be our new reality? Well, we can speculate, we can anticipate, but we simply don't know for sure. Again, we have fallen so far from His original intent for mankind that I'm not sure we can even conceive of what it must have been like. All we can say is: won't it be grand in that wonderful land!!

Question Five

Hebrews 11:16 was brought up by several readers. The old covenant saints "desired a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them." Doesn't the term "heavenly" suggest something other than a physical dwelling place?, they ask. And isn't this "city" the new Jerusalem, which is in heaven? "For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come" [Heb. 13:14]. "And I saw the new heaven and the new earth ... And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband" [Rev. 21:1-2]. "And one of the seven angels ... said, 'Come here, I shall show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.' And he ... showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God" [vs. 9-10]. What exactly is this great "city which is to come," of which the Hebrew writer spoke? It is the new Jerusalem; the bride of the Lamb -- it is the redeemed of all time! It is not a place, it is a people. Prior to the great conflagration from God, the refining fire that falls upon the present creation, consuming the dross, the redeemed are caught up unto a meeting with the Lord [1 Thess. 4:16-17 --- see: Reflections #41].

When the purging and purification are complete, and when the new heavens and the new earth are made ready for habitation, the redeemed (the bride; the holy city; the new Jerusalem] "come down out of heaven from God" and take their place within this perfect paradise; this restored, renewed creation, which our gracious God had always intended to be the home of His people. It is this homeland, this country (one that reflects the eternal qualities of heaven, rather than the defilements of our present, fallen, corrupted world system), this holy city that the faithful ones of old had so fervently sought out, but died before experiencing, that will finally be realized. Franz Delitzsch [1813-1890], a noted German theologian and Hebraist who, in partnership with C. F. Keil, produced one of the classic commentary sets on the Old Testament writings, made this insightful statement: "The promise given to the patriarchs was a divine assurance of a future rest. That rest was connected with the future possession of an earthly home; but their desire for that home was at the same time a true longing and a seeking after Him who had given the promise of it, whose presence and blessing alone made it for them an object of desire, and whose presence and blessing makes the place of its manifestation to be indeed a 'heaven'" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 21 -- Hebrews, p. 301].

Some, not understanding the highly figurative nature of Jewish apocalyptic literature (of which Revelation is a superb example), have, by a literal interpretation of the descriptive terms associated with the new Jerusalem which comes down out of heaven adorned as a bride, declared that what John saw is inconsistent with the teaching of a renewal of the present heavens and earth. A reader in Missouri, for example, wrote, "You suggest the restoration of our present solar system, since God's design is perfect. Are you being too quick to disbelieve John's revelation?" Not at all. I am simply interpreting figurative language figuratively, rather than literally. He wrote, "The new Jerusalem in which we all will dwell is cubic rather than round as our present earth must be as it circles the sun." Clearly, this person has no clue as to the reason the new Jerusalem is portrayed as a perfect cube [Rev. 21:16]. Each of the symbols associated with the holy city represent a spiritual truth concerning the bride of Christ Jesus, and the fact that God will have made His permanent dwelling with us in the new heavens and earth. Read 1 Kings 6:19-20 -- the inner sanctuary of the temple was a perfect cube, overlaid with pure gold. We, the redeemed, are the sanctuary of the living God!! Paul told the church, "Do you not know that you are a sanctuary of God?" [1 Cor. 3:16]. In the Revelation we see this portrayed in all its eternal perfection. Under the old order, only the high priest could enter within the veil to have that intimacy of fellowship with God. However, at the death of Jesus the veil was torn asunder to clear the way into this cube. He Himself, as our great High Priest, entered into the very presence of God to pave the way for our own entrance therein. In the new heavens and earth, the holy of holies, the sanctuary, the dwelling of God, will be US. We shall come down out of heaven as a bride adorned for her husband, and the redeemed of all time will forever have intimate fellowship with the Lord within the cube.

Conclusion

I was asked by a subscriber, "Do you theorize that what will be restored is the earth as it was 6,000 years ago? Or, as it is now? Or, as it will be at the time of it's dissolution?" Well, I certainly don't "theorize" the new heavens and new earth will be as they are now. That would merely be a continuation of the status quo, not a restoration. The same with the condition of the present physical creation at the time God sends forth fire from heaven to burn off the dross. I am also not a Young Earth Creationist, thus I reject the notion that our universe is only 6,000 years old. What I "theorize" from my study of God's Holy Word is that He will renew the present heavens and earth to their original pristine condition. That which our awesome God set out to achieve at the creation of all things, He will ultimately achieve at the consummation of all things, and Satan will not thwart that purpose. As it was in the very beginning, so it will be again at the very end. The children of God will walk and talk with their Father in intimate fellowship in a perfect paradise: the new heavens and earth. Dear Father, delay no longer; send forth the Bridegroom ... Come, Lord Jesus!!

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Readers' Reflections

From a Pastor in California:

Brother Al, Excellent treatment of the subject. I couldn't agree more. Are you aware of the book titled Heaven by Randy Alcorn? If not, do yourself a favor and get it. Alcorn is an adjunct professor at Multnomah Bible College and Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He is also a preacher, author and speaker. It is a wonderful and thorough study. I'm not certain about all of his extrapolations, but can't argue with his final conclusions. I preached a very well-researched sermon series titled "Heaven," drawn heavily from his book, earlier this year.

From a Minister in Florida:

Dear Brother Al, Your thoughts on the "new heavens and earth" are remarkably close to the conclusions drawn by Randy Alcorn in his book Heaven, published in 2004 by Tyndale Press. The two of you must have used the same basic resource to get to the same place -- God's revealed Word. If you have not read this book yet, you must. I predict it will become a classic. We all need to have a much clearer view of what God has prepared for us so that we can do our part to let His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

From an Elder in Texas:

Bro. Al, I enjoyed your essay. I have briefly studied the various eschatological views and came away with much the same understanding you describe in your essay. I was not aware, however, that this view was held by so many students of the Word.

From an Evangelist in India:

Beloved Brother, I am so extremely sorry to see your message about Brother Cavasos. Your article teaches many lessons to us about how to be good sons-in-law and daughters-in-law. I must say, God has given you a great heart. God bless you and your ministry. Also, thank you for your article on the new heavens and new earth. I have learned some new facts through this!

From a New Reader in Australia:

Brother Maxey, I'm an Aussie teenager and I go to an awesome Pentecostal church here. Anyway, I just wanted to say that I was actually doing a research paper for a school assignment when I came across your article Christians Bearing Arms [Reflections #232]. I loved it. You were biased, but not like "Bible bashing" opinionated, which kept the article really interesting. I mean, come on -- I'm a teenager, and I read the full 13 pages ... and even printed it out. Well done, mate! Your writing is such a blessing! I feel like it is God feeding me meat instead of milk. Please, may I subscribe to your Reflections?! Thanks, and God bless you.

From a Reader in Arkansas:

Mr. Maxey, It is people like you that give the Church a bad name. Delete me from your email list immediately, as I am not interested in receiving garbage.

From a Reader in Colorado:

Dear Brother Al, I have been reading your Reflections for close to three years now, and this is only the second time that I have written you. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your writings! Thank you, thank you!! Al, have you done an article on Matthew 25:31-46? This is a hard passage for me to understand in light of being saved by grace. I'm convinced that my entrance into heaven will not be based on my good works, but this passage seems to indicate otherwise. I know that you can sort this out for me!

From a Reader in Alabama:

Brother Al, I hope all is well with you and your family. Please accept my sincerest condolences regarding the loss of your dear father-in-law. Your eulogy was very beautiful and was obviously very heartfelt. I am writing to you about some of your views on heaven and hell. Reading the texts you have offered in previous articles to support your beliefs, I am almost convinced you are right. But, a couple of things keep bothering me. If Moses and Elijah are dead, and their "souls" do not exist in some intermediate, hadean holding place, then how is it possible that these two were seen at the transfiguration of Jesus? And to where did Elijah go if he didn't get taken off to heaven in the chariot of fire? Thank you so much for all you do, and may God bless both you and Shelly.

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