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What would Jesus do to the planet?

I followed a trail from Kurt’s user biography here on Open Source Theology to his blog to some reflections by John MacArthur on the ultimate futility of environmentalist activism:

The environmental movement is consumed with trying to preserve the planet forever. But we know that isn’t in God’s plan.

The earth we inhabit is not a permanent planet. It is, frankly, a disposable planet - it is going to have a very short life. It’s been around six thousand years or so - that’s all - and it may last a few thousand more. And then the Lord is going to destroy it.

I’ve told environmentalists that if they think humanity is wrecking the planet, wait until they see what Jesus does to it. Peter says God is going to literally turn it in on itself in an atomic implosion so that the whole universe goes out of existence (2 Peter 3:7-13).

Although MacArthur thinks that ‘we have a responsibility to care for the environment’, that we ‘ought to care for every resource God has provided us with’, this would appear to be a classic statement of theologically motivated contempt for the created world. So is there any basis for his ‘wait until they see what Jesus does to it’ attitude? He cites only 2 Peter 3:7-13, which is certainly one of the more garish and disturbing passages of New Testament apocalyptic:

But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

In Isaiah the recreation of heaven and earth is a metaphor for the restoration of Israel following judgment (Is. 65:17). The destruction of the enemies of Israel, either internal or external, by fire is also part of this judgment-restoration scenario. What precedes the remaking of the heavens and the earth in Isaiah is a judgment on the enemies of Israel, when the heavens will be torn open and the mountains will melt like wax (Is. 63:19-64:1 LXX), when ‘the Lord will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire’ (Is. 66:15; cf. Mal. 4:1). This is not a burn-the-whole-planet judgment: it is a historical judgment on the enemies of the people of God as part of restoration.

The allusion to Habakkuk 2:3 in verse 9 evokes a situation in which righteous Israel must wait for God to judge the ungodly.

Verse 10 sounds like a reference to Jesus’ apocalyptic discourse (cf. Matt. 24:43), and there is certainly a strong case to be made for the view that Jesus is speaking here of the Jewish War and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple (see COSM 16-70). The passing away of heaven and earth is for Jesus a metaphor for the transformation that accompanies the taking place of ‘all things’ - the events associated with this historical transition (Matt. 5:18; 24:34-35).

Peter speaks of a ‘day of judgment’ on the ungodly that will be like the judgment of the flood or the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah, when the righteous will be rescued just as Noah and Lot were rescued (2 Peter 2:4-10; cf. 3:7). Jesus also foresaw a ‘day of judgment’ (hēmera kriseōs) which will be like the Flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, but this will be a judgment on Israel, on its towns and villages (Matt. 10:15; 11:22-24; cf. 24:36-39; Lk. 17:26-30).

We also should not overlook the fact that Peter is quite certain that this event will happen fairly soon; it will have an impact on his readers (cf. 1:19; 3;12, 14).

This has been a hasty analysis. It is possible, moreover, that Peter is using this extravagant apocalyptic language and imagery in a much more literal and final sense than is the case with the prophets and Jesus. Still, it seems to me reasonable to suppose that he means to describe, primarily for the benefit of Jewish believers harrassed and scorned by their compatriots, the approaching judgment on Jerusalem and a concomitant judgment on the enemies of the people of God. This is not to say that the New Testament does not contemplate a final judgment and a final renewal of heaven and earth (see Rev. 20:11-21:8), but this lies at the outer rim of its vision and does not detract from the essential responsibility of the people of God to live well now - righteously and creatively - in the midst of the nations and to be an embodiment of the hope of creation made new through its own transformed existence.

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Re: What would Jesus do to the planet?

Here is something from my forthcoming book (The Antichrist and the Second Coming). I believe it supports what Andrew is saying:

2 PETER 3

Turning to the book of 2 Peter, the day of the Lord as described there seems to indicate that the earth would be burned up at that time. If this is true then the ultimate day of the Lord could not possibly be referring to the first-century destruction of Israel, as the world was obviously not burned up at AD 70.

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? 2 Peter 3:10-12

Since the earth was not burned up in AD 70, how could that be the ultimate day of the Lord? Non-preterists point to these verses as obvious proof of the (serious) error of preterism. When one considers the relevant OT background, however, Peter was not talking about the earth being burned up on the day of the Lord, but the land (of Israel) being burned up at that time. The word translated “earth” (Gr. ) in 2 Peter 3:10 can also be translated as “land.” Seeing as how the OT prophets said it was the land of Israel that would be burned up on the day of the Lord (see below), “land” is a better translation than “earth” in 2 Peter 3:10-12. It was the land of Israel, not the earth, that would be burned up on the day of the Lord.

"Therefore, as the fire devours the stubble, and the flame consumes the chaff, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom will ascend like dust; because they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. Therefore the anger of the Lord is aroused against His people; He has stretched out His hand against them and stricken them, and the hills trembled. Their carcasses were as refuse in the midst of the streets. For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still." Is. 5:24-25

Note: Isaiah 5 speaks of God’s judgment of His vineyard (i.e. Judah and Israel) vv. 1-7. It forms the background for the parable of the judgment of the wicked vinedressers in Matt. 21:33-45, an obvious reference to the AD 70 destruction of God’s unfaithful old covenant people.

"Blow the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord is coming, for it is at hand. A day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, like the morning clouds spread over the mountains. A people come, great and strong, the like of whom has never been; nor will there ever be any such after them, even for many successive generations. A fire devours before them and behind them a flame burns; the land is like the Garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; surely nothing shall escape them.but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of His jealousy, for He will make speedy riddance of all those who dwell in the land." Zeph. 1:12-15, 18 NKJV

"’For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace, and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall…behold I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the father to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.’" Malachi 4:1-2, 5-6 NASB; cf. Luke 1:13-17; Matt. 11:7-14

THE ELEMENTS WILL MELT Peter said that when the Land was burned up on the day of the Lord that the “elements” would melt (2 Peter 3:10, 12). Again, how did this happen at AD 70? While the Greek word used here for “elements” (stoicheion) is used in Greek literature outside of the New Testament in referring to the physical elements of nature, it is never used that way in the New Testament. Other than 2 Peter 3, stoicheion is found in three other sections in the NT (Gal. 4:3, 9; Col. 2:8, 20; Heb. 5:12; 6:1). In none of these sections does it speak of the physical elements of the earth. In the first two of these passages it refers to the elements of the old covenant order (which is what it is referring to in 2 Peter 3); in the third passage it refers to the elemental things or principles of Christ (Heb. 6:1). Again, in none of these other NT uses does stoicheion speak of the physical elements of the earth. David Chilton wrote the following on the NT use of this word:

Throughout the New Testament, the word “elements” (stoicheia) is always used in connection with the Old Covenant order. Paul used the term in his stinging rebuke to the Galatian Christians who were tempted to forsake the freedom of the New Covenant for an Old Covenant-style legalism. Describing Old Covenant rituals and ceremonies he says “we were in bondage under the elements (stoicheia) of this world…. How is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements (stoicheia), to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years…” (Gal. 4:3, 9-10). He warns the Colossians: “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the basic principles (stoicheia) of the world, and not according to Christ… Therefore, if you died with Christ to the basic principles (stoicheia) of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations - ‘Do not touch, don not taste, do not handle’” (Col. 2:8, 20-21).

IT WAS THE LAND THAT WAS BURNED UP ON THE DAY OF THE LORD, NOT THE EARTH With the OT’s description of the day of the Lord as involving the burning of the Land and the NT’s use of stoicheion in mind, Peter was not talking about the physical elements of the earth being burned up on the day of the Lord. Peter was referring to the elemental things of the Land, the foundational things of the old covenant order, being burnt up on the day of the Lord. It was the land of Israel and its works (the works of the Law, cf. Galatians 3:10) that would be burned up on the day of the Lord (2 Peter 3:10). This was brought about by the Romans scorched earth campaign against the Jewish nation. This campaign culminated in the burning and destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple on the ultimate day of the Lord (cf. Matthew 22:1-10; Revelation 17-19). Remember, Peter said "the end of all things is at hand…" (1 Peter 4:7). If he was talking about the end of the world then he was very much in error. If he was talking about the burning up of the elements of the old covenant order at the end of the old covenant age, then he was absolutely correct.

Re: What would Jesus do to the planet?

Thanks, Duncan. That’s well put - at least, I think it is; not everyone will agree.

That’s an interesting observation about the stoicheia. You may be right, but there are some difficulties with the argument.

In Galatians and Colossians what we have are ta stoicheia tou kosmou, the ‘elements of the world’, which seems odd if Paul is thinking so specifically of elements of the Old Covenant. Is the term meant to embrace more than Jewish traditions?

Paul’s usage does not exclude the idea that these elementary principles were associated in his mind with heavenly bodies, supernatural or otherwise.

Stoicheia is used in a couple of texts in the LXX to denote the physical elements (4 Macc. 12:13; Wis. 7:17; 19:18).

It is difficult to think that Peter’s readers would not have heard the word stoicheia as being in some manner a reference to the physical order when it is so closely linked to a description of the heavens passing away and the earth or the land being consumed by fire. It may be that we should think of stoicheia as having this ‘cosmic’ sense but being nevertheless part of a larger apocalyptic motif that denotes the passing away of the old order of things, the Old Covenant.

I also agree that in many instances in the New Testament should be translated ‘land’ rather than ‘earth’ and that this has significant implications for how we read the apocalyptic texts. My hesitation here is whether Peter’s imagery is meant to include judgment on the enemies of Israel as well as judgment on Israel itself - that is, judgment on the Greek-Roman world. You made reference to Peter’s statement in 1 Peter 4:7 that the ‘end of all things is at hand’, but notice that in the same context he appears also to speak of judgment on the Gentiles (1 Pet. 4:3-5).

Re: What would Jesus do to the planet?

A good point, I wish more people would think about this and ask this question.

Re: What would Jesus do to the planet?

http://mschellman.blogspot.com

There doesn’t even seem to be any internal consistency in MacArthur’s position. First he says we have a responsibility to care for the environment, and gives us several examples, demonstrating that God advocated this sort of thing. Then he makes a distinction between caring for the environment and environmentalism - saying its wrong to try and make the earth last forever.

Even if one believes there is an expiration date on the earth - there would be no telling how long humanity would have to live here with the consequences of its actions. I don’t know how John takes care of his things, but whenever I have something nice, I try and make it last forever - understanding full well that this may not be in my power.

And his comment to environmentalists “- just wait till you see what Jesus does with it”. Seem rather brutish, and unaware of the delight God has for creation and that he claims to have himself.

Re: What would Jesus do to the planet?

The book of Revelation makes use of language similar to that found in 2 Peter: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Revelation 21:1). Lest we conclude that this vision sees all things “go[ing] out of existence,” Revelation 21:5 adds, “And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’” New Testament scholar Eugene Boring comments, “This world, God’s good creation, is not replaced but redeemed. God does not make ‘all new things’ but all things new.”

In contrast, MacArthur’s vision sees God’s creation destroyed and then replaced. And Jesus is the destroyer. According to MacArthur, Jesus does not save God’s creation; rather, Jesus destroys God’s creation. Here the consequences of a reductionistic understanding of salvation become apparent. MacArthur seems not to see that he has set the second person of the Trinity against the first person of the Trinity, with Jesus annihilating God’s creative work. This oversight is likely due to a truncated understanding of salvation that limits God’s saving work to the deliverance of disembodied souls to heaven. In Gnostic fashion, the material world—rather than sin—becomes the evil from which we are saved.

With its promise of “all things new,” Scripture invites us to hope for more. It invites us not only to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation, but also to participate in God’s mission to the world. Like the animal-naming Adam in the garden (Genesis 2:18-20), we are invited to be in the world as co-creators until the king of God’s new creation comes again.

Re: What would Jesus do to the planet?

Josh, I agree. It is an important observation that Jesus does not destroy the old creation in Revelation 20:11-21:5. But it seems, nevertheless, that the old heavens and earth, which have simply ‘fled’ from the presence of God (20:11), are replaced by new heavens and a new earth. I wonder, therefore, if it appropriate to say that this good creation is ‘not replaced by redeemed’ - though I may be reading too much into your comments here.

I am not convinced by the argument that the church is primarily here to redeem the world (this is the problem I have with Brian McLaren’s Everything Must Change). It seems to me to be much closer to the biblical story to say that the church or the people of God is called in the first place to constitute an alternative creation, a ‘new creation’, in the midst of the nations, which witnesses by its very existence to the truth of the creator and everything that flows from that. That witness includes the concrete demonstration of divine love through acts of service and transformation, which are redemptive in the biblical sense (not in a broader sense) if they result in people leaving the old system and entering the new creation. But I see that as a precarious mission which is effective ultimately only because it also points forward prophetically to a cosmic eschaton, an absolute transformation, when death and evil will be finally destroyed. The resurrection anticipates just such a transformation - a radically new order of things (cf. 1 Cor. 15:35-57). If the world is to be progressively redeemed, the resurrection becomes redundant.

What Jesus does destroy in the New Testament is the religious-political system that violently opposes the people of God, seen mostly sharply in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-2:12. This is the system of pagan Roman imperialism, which exalts the apotheosized Caesar above YHWH and his Christ. In my view it is the culmination of this narrative that is captured in the vision of the Son of man who comes to rescue his people from oppression, destroy their enemies, receive a kingdom from God.

Re: What would Jesus do to the planet?

Thanks, Andrew, for your substantial reply to my comment. My main point was to point out the sad irony of MacArthur’s eschatology—namely, that Jesus the Savior becomes a destroyer. I used Eugene Boring’s comments to help make this point. His comments resonate with me, especially the line, "God does not make ‘all new things’ but all things new." His preceding line—"This world, God’s good creation, is not replaced but redeemed"—is somewhat fuzzy (perhaps it was the lure of alliteration that made him decide to put it this way). Read in context, however, I think what he is attempting to convey is that the new (whatever it ends up being) will be in continuity with the old. If so, then his comment may guard against notions that "God’s good creation" should be dismissed as something that will simply be destroyed and replaced.

I agree that "the church is [not] primarily here to redeem the world." (I have McLaren’s Everything Must Change, but have not yet read it.) I would say that the church (which is certainly God’s "new creation," though I am hesitant to limit this creation to the church) bears witness to the world’s redeemer—namely, Jesus. God in Christ has redeemed (through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus), is redeeming (by the power of the Holy Spirit), and will redeem (at the eschaton) God’s creation; the church, as the body of Christ, witnesses in word and deed to this reality. This witness is a preview (or, to use more traditional language, a foretaste) of the coming kingdom. I do believe that Revelation (not to mention human history) makes clear the need for a "cosmic eschaton, an absolute transformation, when death and evil will be finally destroyed." If I am reading you well, then by "progressively redeemed" you mean gradual transformation. I certainly doubt that God’s kingdom will be built gradually by human efforts. I am hopeful, however, that the Spirit will use the church in transformative ways in the world toward clearer glimpses of what is to come. 

Re: What would Jesus do to the planet?

Andrew, I’m afraid that I can’t honestly see how your view fares any better here to Macarthurs. Unless I’m seriously misreading you, aren’t you simply saying the same thing, but less explicitly?

This is the problem that I have with Wright acting as if his view is a great boon to the environmental movement. He still has God ultimately replacing/renewing Creation, as we know it. If we’re honest, doesn’t that strike at the heart of environmentalism?

I find it far more motivating to hold that this planet is it, so if we don’t look after it we’re screwed. Rev. 21, I’d believe, should be treated much as you’d treat every other passage using the same language - especially if we note the strong covenantal overtones.

Re: What would Jesus do to the planet?

I fully appreciate the problem, but I still don’t see how we can get away from the thought that eventually this creation will be replaced. This seems to be what Revelation 20-21 is saying. The fleeing away of heavens and earth and the appearance of new heavens and earth could be a metaphor for the transformation of this world, perhaps even through human or Christian agency. But it seems to me that the emphatic destruction of evil and death in this narrative takes us beyond our current ontology. We also have to take into account the resurrection of Jesus, which I think has to be understood not only in terms of a martyr theology (the vindication of one who suffers, who goes to be with God in heaven) but also as the beginning of a radically new order of creation, in which most importantly death has been defeated through the power of God. This seems to be the theological issue here: who will have the last say in creation, the Creator or death?

For that reason I’m not sure it’s correct to throw ourselves unreservedly behind the environmentalist cause. This remains a fallen world, subject to sin and death, and the calling of the church is primarily to witness to the reality of a God who is bigger than these things. That can certainly be done by pursuing an activist agenda, working alongside environmentalists, etc. But it is encumbent upon us at the same time to say that this will never be the world God intended it to be, that he will ultimately make all things new.

It helps then to recognize that this is, as I suggested earlier, on the outer edge of the biblical vision (it’s seen also in 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 8). Closer to the centre a lot of other things are going on. By reading texts such as 2 Peter 3 in a historical sense I believe we recover the very worldly orientation of the biblical narrative and the calling of the people of God to be new creation now for the sake of the world. But we are still called apart, to be distinct, holy, redeemed in Christ; and I think that apartness must mean that we stand for something beyond this world - not heaven but creation made new.

Part of Paul’s argument in Romans 8 is that this creation itself desires to be transformed. He doesn’t merely mean that a polluted world desires to be cleaned up; he means that creation desires no longer to be subject to decay and death.

Re: What would Jesus do to the planet?

The language of replacement continues to make me “itchy” (as a pastor-friend of mine likes to say), but I can see how Revelation 20-21 could be read to say as much. I’m not sure that it’s necessary to use words like “replaced” in relation to creation, even if it is possible that some kind of replacement is in view at the end of Revelation; it’s not clear to me what is gained by this language. Evil and and decay and death will be destroyed. But why does this destruction require the replacement of creation?

I think the idea of continuity between creation and new creation may be helpful here. The resurrection of Jesus has been mentioned. His resurrected body is new and different (it apparently can pass through walls, for example [John 20:26]), but is also in continuity with his pre-resurrection body (he has the marks of crucifixion in his hands [John 20:27]).

Andrew, when you use the phrase “the outer edge of the biblical vision,” are you trying to communicate a stretching and straining of the imagination on the part of the biblical writers, and therefore a fuzziness or lack of clarity on their parts?

Re: What would Jesus do to the planet?

Evil and decay and death will be destroyed. But why does this destruction require the replacement of creation?

Presumably the point there is that evil, decay and death are seen to be so integral to the nature of a fallen world - indeed they define the fallenness of the world - that it is impossible to think of this creation being progressively restored or repaired. Of course, for the ancient world there were no anxieties about humanity causing irreparable harm to the planet, so some care must be taken in translating from the biblical context to our own.

Yes, there is a continuity between Jesus’ pre- and post-resurrection bodies. I would have thought, though, that the issue there is continuity of identity rather than continuity of ontology. Otherwise, we must reckon with i) the fact that the risen Jesus knew he couldn’t hang around indefinitely, and ii) Paul’s quite clear insistence that the soulish body that belongs to this life and the spiritual body of resurrection life are utterly different - not least because one is perishable and the other imperishable (1 Cor. 15:35-49). Continuity does not appear to be part of the logic of resurrection.

I think we also need to consider to what extent this concern that the Christian message should be wholly consistent with the ideology of modern environmentalism is driven by a somewhat romanticized moral imperative rather than by a sense of the trajectory of the biblical narrative.

The phrase ‘the outer edge of the biblical vision’ was meant to help us keep in mind the fact that the bulk of what we traditionally classify as ‘eschatology’ in the New Testament applies to the much more immediate, more pressing, historical circumstances of the early church. I would say that Jesus, Paul and John spoke / wrote primarily about future events or conditions that could realistically be expected to impact these communities of disciples. But in the process deeper questions were asked about the nature of human existence and the sovereignty of God that required cosmic rather than historical answers. Here we are undoubtedly in less clearly defined territory - just as the hope of victory over paganism is less clearly defined in the New Testament than the expectation of judgment on Jerusalem. But I don’t think we can allow this to obscure the quite radical and ultimate hope that the last enemy, death, would be defeated on a cosmic and not merely personal level.

Re: What would Jesus do to the planet?

Evil, decay, and death “define the fallenness of the world,” but do they also define the world that is fallen? In other words, does the fallenness of creation define it completely? Or is there some goodness left in God’s good creation? It seems to me that if we focus solely on creation’s fallenness, we will leave self-preservation and little else as motivation for responsible environmental stewardship. I am in agreemnet with you that creation’s ultimate transformation will not be the result of a gradual process of repairing; however, it may be possible to repair some damaged parts of the creation (simply to improve our temporal lives) as we wait for a new heaven and a new earth. Moreover, this work would be missional in that it would preview what is to come—namely, God’s kingdom in its fullness.

I agree with your comment “I think we also need to consider to what extent this concern that the Christian message should be wholly consistent with the ideology of modern environmentalism is driven by a somewhat romanticized moral imperative rather than by a sense of the trajectory of the biblical narrative.” The Christian rationale for participation in environmental causes is not as simple as “save the earth”; its motivation will be witness rather than self-preservation, and its goals will not be utopian. However, I think that such participation can be an example of missional witness that is attractive to non-Christians.

I’m chewing on your comments about the resurrection body. While it’s true that Jesus did not hang around indefinitely, I’m not certain he could not have done so. As for the continuity or discontinuity of the resurrection body with the earthly body—perhaps it would be most accurate to say there is some of both. Might not the very use of the word “body” for both (1 Cor. 15:44) indicate continuity—not identical, but not necessarily “utterly different” either?

As you say, “Here we are undoubtedly in less clearly defined territory” (I like your phrase “the outer edge of the biblical vision”). And I have no desire “to obscure the quite radical and ultimate hope that the last enemy, death, would be defeated on a cosmic and not merely personal level” (this critique of an individualistic and therefore reductionistic understanding of salvation has long been part of the missional conversation). Does participation in environmental work not witness to this hope that salvation will ultimately encompass more than persons?

Re: What would Jesus do to the planet?

Thanks for your response, Andrew.

So, unless I’m misreading you, do you think it’s fair to say that your position is the same as Macarthur’s save for emphases and timing?

This seems to be what Revelation 20-21 is saying.’

I don’t think that’s at all what Rev. 20-21 is saying. Given the covenantal content of the book and the heavy covenant overtones in these chapters, I can’t really see why you treat Rev. 21 any differently to Isaiah 65-66. Of course, I understand that you see a theological argument for something like a new earth in Romans 8 and 1 Cor. 15, but I don’t think that’s what Rev. 21 is referring to.

Personally, I’m not sure that Romans 8 is referring to our physical planet. (See Peter Leithart’s observations here.) In fact, as I read the OT, I see a number of storylines implying that the planet will last ‘forever’. That, as far as I can see, is the only real motivation for environmentalism. It’s about loving the generations coming after us.

Re: What would Jesus do to the planet?

No, I think it’s more than a matter of ‘emphases and timing’. There is a very different attitude involved if we suppose that the 2 Peter passage describes what Jesus would do to the planet. It occurs to me, though, that one aspect of this issue that we have overlooked is that we might find in the apocalyptic account of judgment on the enemies of Christ and the early church (2 Pet. 3:7-13) the analogical basis for a warning of judgment on the enemies of the Creator - on a society that pollutes and exploits the environment. Perhaps the church needs to take that part of its prophetic responsibility much more seriously.

I don’t myself see that the thought of an ultimate renewal of heaven and earth so undermines the motivation for environmentalist action. It should inspire creation-care just as the hope of vindication and ‘going to heaven’ that the early church had inspired radical acts of compassion towards the sick and the poor. This is worth thinking about: the early believers had a strong conviction that true life awaited them after death, but this did not stop them caring sacrificially both for their own people and for pagans.

I would also argue that there is a prophetic dynamic to this belief in the final renewal of creation that should give us more than enough reason to act positively and redemptively now. Just as on the personal level, we collaborate with God in the transformation of a world that has been disastrously implicated in human sin as a sign that God will ultimately make all things new.

What makes Revelation 21 fundamentally different to Isaiah 65-66 is that this is now a world no longer subject to the last enemy death. All sin and death has been emphatically destroyed in the lake of fire. In Isaiah’s ‘new creation’ sin and death are still present:

No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed. (Isaiah 65:20)

This, it seems to me, is backed up by Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 15 and the whole New Testament theology of resurrection. I agree that the biblical expectation is that the planet will last ‘for the ages’ - that there is no thought of an imminent end to it. I presume this is the point of John’s symbolic 1000 years, which, as I have suggested, helps to push the thought of a final renewal to the outer edge of the New Testament’s vision, precisely so that we have enough space to take this world, this historical storyline, seriously. But it seems to me that the need remains to assert the final victory of the creator over that which despoils his creation: sin and death. That hope is articulated, quite naturally in view of the covenantal themes of restoration out of which it arises, in terms of a final renewal of heaven and earth.

I would agree with much of Peter Leithart’s analysis. I suggested in Re: Mission, however, that in Paul’s argument the vindication of the sons of God at the parousia (ie. the vindication of the suffering church against Rome) does not necessarily coincide temporally with the liberation of creation from its bondage to decay. It seems to me that in Paul’s conceit here creation looks forward to the liberation of the sons of God because that will foreshadow or anticipate its own eventual liberation from decay and decay. Creation is eager to see the impending historical ‘event’ of the parousia, because that will confirm and exemplify its own transformation.

Re: What would Jesus do to the planet?

Andrew writes, "[W]e collaborate with God in the transformation of a world that has been disastrously implicated in human sin as a sign that God will ultimately make all things new."

This is what I had in view when I wrote, "[T]his work [creation care] would be missional in that it would preview what is to come."

This work then has value regardless of whether or not it repairs creation in any lasting sense.

Re: What would Jesus do to the planet?

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