Creation and eschatology are intrinsically interconnected in the New Testament theology.
The term eschatology, derived from the Greek adjective translated as “last” or “final,” has many meanings. Essentially, it designates the doctrine about “last things.” Brian Daley observes that the core of eschatology is “faith in final solutions,” therefore the concept of hope is inherent to it.1 He points out that eschatology appeals to “the hope of believing people that the incompleteness of their present experience of God will be resolved, their present thirst for God fulfilled, their present need for release and salvation realized.”2 Thus, eschatology reflects fundamental Christian convictions about God, the world, and human existence. It deals with God’s final, decisive acts toward His creation in which His created order becomes renewed, His kingdom comes, and His will is done “‘on earth as it is in heaven’” (Matt. 6:10, NRSV).3
The concept of creation is of fundamental significance for New Testament eschatology. It acknowledges the view of Lee Hardy that an “eschatological theology cannot be carried out in isolation from a doctrine of creation.”4 Clearly, without the creation we would have no categories to think about the eschaton at all, since, as Miroslav Volf notes, “the eschaton is an eschaton of the creation, or it is no eschaton at all.”5
Movement toward the eschatological goal is one of the major themes in the biblical storyline, since essential to God’s promises is His “‘making all things new’” (Rev. 21:5). His major interventions in history follow a consistent pattern: (1) chaos, subdued by (2) creation, resulting in (3) God’s kingdom established, His order realized. Such a chaos-creation-kingdom pattern was repeated from time to time in salvation history, and it was characteristic of God’s mighty acts: the creation, the Flood, the Exodus, and the return from Babylonian exile. Since the Old Testament plotline provided the substructure for New Testament theology, and since God is consistent in dealing with His creation, the theme of creation is integral to New Testament eschatology.
The Eschatological Nature of the New Testament
Scholarly research during the past hundred years has amply demonstrated that eschatology cannot be relegated to a mere epilogue of theology. This is mainly because the message of the New Testament as a whole is deeply eschatological in character, since the framework of thought of the early Christians, for whom the basic standpoint for understanding the gospel was salvation history, was also eschatological. Their basic conviction, expressed in the earliest preaching, worship, and confessions of faith, was that endtime predictions of the Old Testament have begun the process of fulfillment in Jesus Christ. They believed that in Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection the history of salvation reached its climax, and the foundation stone was laid for establishing the kingdom of God. The figure and message of Jesus of Nazareth is “the starting point and focus of the New Testament proclamation, and without an adequate understanding of him we cannot arrive at an adequate interpretation of the New Testament kerygma,”6 the original, oral gospel preached by the apostles.
Jesus’ proclamation was an eschatological proclamation. Even though the Gospels include sayings that have no eschatological significance, the main mode of Jesus’ preaching was undeniably eschatological. His focal message was that His appearance announced the arrival of the kingdom of God (Mark 1:15): The old era is passing away because in His person and ministry a new era, the time of salvation, has dawned. His healings and exorcisms acted as the visible manifestation of the in‑breaking of the power of God’s kingdom into the earthly reality: “‘If it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you’” (Luke 11:20).
Jesus’ kingdom sayings reveal His conviction that the eschaton was already effective in His own person and ministry. His eschatological language, as observed by N. T. Wright, heralded the arrival of “the climax of Israel’s history,” the fulfillment of the Old Testament eschatological expectations, which became realized in defeating the rule of evil itself.7 While the Cross and the Resurrection were the key moments in achieving the decisive victory, the full “implementation” of the effects of the Christ‑event is still in the future. Therefore, essential to Jesus’ eschatological paradigm is a tension between “already” and “not yet,” which implies a dynamic process: God’s kingdom is inaugurated, yet not consummated. The old age and the new age overlap: The first is still present, while the second has been brought by the first advent of the Messiah. While the eschatological kingdom has invaded history in the person of Jesus bringing people freedom in the age of sin and death, the full consummation is in the future.
The authors of the New Testament wrote with the conviction that the ministry of Jesus was the climactic fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, and they embraced Jesus’ typological thinking according to which the “time of the antitypes had arrived” in Him.8 Consequently, their writings present Jesus as a messianic figure whose ministry has not only redemptive, but also eschatological, significance. Likewise, they present the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as a fulfillment of Old Testament eschatological promises, the sign of the eschatological age in which salvation is granted to all who call on the name of the Lord (Acts 2:1–21). Hans LaRondelle notes that “the whole New Testament is essentially characterized by the typological and eschatological application of the Old Testament, motivated and directed by the Holy Spirit.”9
It is a testimony about the fulfillment of God’s promises concerning the coming of God’s kingdom, the realization of Israel’s hope about God’s decisive intervention in history. Oscar Cullmann considers the transformative ministry of Jesus as the eschatologically interpreted “center of time,” which redefined essentially the meaning of history.10 A. L. Moore builds on this insight when he argues: “From the centre, Jesus Christ, the line of salvation history runs backwards through the covenant to creation and beyond, and forwards through the church and its mission to the Parousia and beyond.”11 Thus, biblical eschatology is grounded in Jesus, and it is focused on His person and acts in relation to God’s creation.
In light of the salvation‑historical standpoint of the early Christians, it is not surprising that the New Testament authors perceived the beginning of Christian history as the beginning of the endtimes. Synonyms for the phrase “latter days” appear about 30 times in the New Testament and rarely refer to the very end of history, but rather to the era beginning with the ministry of Jesus in the first century. As G. K. Beale convincingly argues, the phrases in the New Testament pertaining to endtimes have their roots in the language in the Old Testament, even though eschatological expectations are expressed in the Old Testament sometimes without using the vocabulary of “latter days,” “endtimes,” or similar phrases. He concludes: “The New Testament repeatedly uses precisely the same phrase ‘latter days’ as found in the Old Testament prophecies. And the meaning of the phrase is identical, except for one difference: in the New Testament the end‑days predicted by the Old Testament are seen as beginning their fulfilment with Christ’s first coming. All that the Old Testament foresaw would occur in the end‑times has begun already in the first century and continues on into our present day. . . . The establishment of His kingdom have [sic] been set in motion by Christ’s life, death, resurrection and formation of the Christian church.”12
Ample textual evidence demonstrates that the endtimes are not limited to a future point in history, but that they extend throughout the entire Christian era. The first occurrence of the expression “last days” in the New Testament is found in Acts 2:17, where Peter interprets the experience of speaking in tongues at Pentecost as the fulfillment of Joel’s endtime prophecy: “‘Indeed, these are not drunk. . . No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh”’” (2:15–17). In 1 Corinthians 10:11, at the end of a section in which Paul refers typologically to the events of Exodus (10:1–11), he instructs the Corinthian Christians about the manner of their life with an exhortation that upon them “the ends of the ages have come.” In Galatians 4:4, Paul spoke of the “fullness of time,” referring to the time of Jesus’ birth, while in Ephesians 1:10, the expression “fulness of times” (KJV) designates the time when He began His rule over the cosmos as a consequence of His resurrection. These last two almost identical expressions in Greek point to God who has control over the flow of time, appointing major events in history according to His divine plan.
The “fullness of time,” therefore, refers to the climax of all earthly times, the approaching of the eschatological time of Christ in which God’s purposes became realized and revealed. In 1 Timothy 4:1, the expression “later times” is related to the apostasy in the church, while in 2 Timothy 3:1, reference to the “last days” comes in the context of the problem of deception. In these two texts, the eschatological expressions refer not to the distant future, but rather to the time when these problems arose in the life of the early church. That this first-century context is in mind is confirmed by the fact that in the same Epistles, ample evidence is found concerning the presence of deceptive teaching and apostasy (1 Tim. 1:3–7, 19, 20; 4:7; 5:13–15; 6:20, 21; 2 Tim. 1:15; 2:16–19, 25, 26; 3:2–9). Hebrews 1:2 relates the ministry of Jesus to the beginning of the “last days” when God spoke to humanity and acted through His Son, while Hebrews 9:26 similarly states that “he has appeared once for all at the end of the age.”
Peter reflected the same salvation‑historical thinking when he referred to Christ’s death and resurrection as an event that took place “at the end of the ages” (1 Peter 1:20). He also warned the church that “in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts” (2 Peter 3:3). That the phrase “the last days” referred to his time, and not to the future, is evident from the fact that Peter spoke openly about the threat of scoffers spreading heresies in the church he was addressing (2 Peter 2:1–22; 3:16, 17). The text in Jude 18 similarly reflects the challenges of the church in the first century: “‘In the last time there will be scoffers, indulging their own ungodly lusts.’” Likewise, fighting the deception of false teaching in his churches, John qualified his time with an expression carrying a strong eschatological overtone: “Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). In addition to these eschatologically charged texts, which refer to the present as the time of the end, a number of texts deal with the coming “last day” as the eschaton and with the events related to it. Thus, it is stated that the eschatological end will be preceded by the last plagues (Revelation 15), and it will bring the annihilation of death as the “last enemy” (1 Cor. 15:26), the resurrection of the dead, last judgment, and salvation (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 11:24; 12:48; 1 Peter 1:5), and also the destruction of the present cosmos (2 Peter 3:10–12).
The endtimes predicted in the Old Testament began with the Christ‑event, which accounts for the eschatological nature of the New Testament. The concept of new creation had a significant role in developing the New Testament eschatological outlook. The prominence of the idea is explicit particularly in the Pauline writings and Revelation, but it is present also in other New Testament writings. Three basic aspects of New Testament creation theology are integral to the New Testament’s eschatological perspective: (1) Christ’s resurrection as the initiation of the new creation; (2) the creation of a new humanity, which advances God’s eschatological purposes in the world; and (3) the consummated new creation, the final realization of God’s endeavors to create all things new.
Christ’s Resurrection: The Initiation of the New Creation
The New Testament presents Christ’s resurrection, together with His death, as the key event of salvation history. This event initiates God’s new creation and defines the basis of Christian faith and hope. It is the climax of all the Gospel accounts. It features as a dominant thought in Pauline theology and it holds an eminent place also in other New Testament writings.
The significance of Christ’s resurrection is most clearly articulated by Paul: “If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14). During the two thousand years of the Christian era, much ink has been spilled over the question of Christ’s resurrection. It has often been demonstrated precisely that this belief was the focal point of early Christianity that has kept its faith alive until today.
The death of Jesus on the Cross is the appropriate starting point for understanding His resurrection. Christ’s death “carries connotations of the beginning destruction of the old world which paves the way for the new.”13 That the death of Jesus is not just an ordinary death becomes clear particularly during the last three hours of the crucifixion. The supernatural events at Golgotha (darkness, earthquake, resurrection of dead, dividing of the temple curtain) indicate that the moment had arrived for God’s major, unparalleled intervention in salvation history. What is particularly significant is the darkness lasting from noon to three o’clock (Mark 15:33). The Egyptian plague of darkness (Exodus 10), or the cosmic judgment language of Amos 8:9, have both frequently been suggested as Old Testament events illuminating what happens in the darkness at Golgotha.
In light of these passages, the phenomenon of the Crucifixion darkness has usually been interpreted as the mark of God’s displeasure and judgment. While acknowledging these connections, the suggestion of Dane Ortlund and G. K. Beale also merits attention. They argue that “from the broadest perspective, Mark 15:33 culminates a trajectory that is launched not in Amos or even in Exodus but in Gen 1.”14 Thus, the darkness descending at noon, together with the return of light, seems to echo the creation narrative in which the darkness of chaos is subdued by the dawning of primordial light (Gen. 1:3, 4). The background indicates that the darkness over Golgotha was a phenomenon of “de‑creation,” because crucifying the incarnated Son of God, an act of utmost evil, was the expression of chaos, the reflection of the fact that the relation of humanity with its Creator is fractured. The light returning symbolically in Jesus’ resurrection heralded the inauguration of the new creation, since light in the Genesis creation narrative appears not as an abstract brightness only, but also the personification of God’s creating power by which He orders chaos. The kingdom of God dawned when Jesus fundamentally defeated Satan and his kingdom. The effect of this act was that “the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8). God was doing something new through the events of the death and resurrection of Christ.
Jesus’ resurrection was more than a public acknowledgement that God had accepted His sacrifice as a ransom for sin. It was the key event signaling the dawning of the age that brought qualitative newness to God’s creation. As the first day of the new creation, the Resurrection was the indicator of the renewal of everything, like the spring flowers whose appearance on the earth reveals that “the time of singing has come” (Song of Solomon 2:12). In New Testament creation theology, Christ appears as “the firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15), through whom God becomes reconciled with “all things, whether on earth or in heaven” (vs. 20).
The Resurrection event was, therefore, no mere revivification of Jesus’ dead body, but the manifestation of divine power in an act comparable to the creation of the world. The world began with God’s act of creation out of chaos (Gen. 1:2). Similarly, God’s raising of Jesus from death was an act of ordering the announcement a new beginning after the chaos that came on the earth as the consequence of rejecting God’s rule (Genesis 3). Thus, resurrection and creation belong together, since in the new creation God’s original purposes come to completion, His creation is becoming restored and extended.
The significance of Christ’s resurrection for the theological perspective of the early church cannot be overemphasized. As N. T. Wright notes, the early followers of Jesus, in light of His rising from the dead reshaped “their worldview around the resurrection as the new central point.”15 This outlook is formulated clearly in Galatians 6:14 to 16, in which Paul stressed the reality of the new creation as the principle of utmost significance: “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.”
This passage highlights the transformative effect of Jesus’ death and resurrection, which define the future of the world, but also the nature of Christian discipleship. It emphasizes that as the result of the Christ‑event the world became a different place; therefore, the question concerning the distinction between Jews and non‑Jews ceased to be a relevant issue. In the background of Paul’s argument lies the Genesis creation account, since he appeals to the one Creator God, who by His creative activity exercises sovereignty over all against the disorder in the world.
Christ’s resurrection was an event of not only historical, but also eschatological significance. The eschatological aspect surfaces in at least three respects. First, the resurrection as the climax of salvation history was the foundational act for the re-creation of the world into its true form. As “the great turning point from death to life, for all men and for all creation,” it was an act initiating the era leading toward perfect and eternal creation (Rev 21:1–8).16
Second, the events of that Resurrection morning marked the difference between the old and new creations. Christ’s resurrection constitutes the “borderline”17 between the two realities, which will exist side by side until the Second Coming, when the old age will be terminated. The believers, therefore, live in an eschatological tension, since the end is already present in one sense, yet it will come in the future, because the old age is still here.
Third, a fundamental consequence of the Resurrection is the ultimate coming of the kingdom of God in the Second Coming. The expectation of that day, repeatedly presented in the New Testament in positive terms, is the major hope of Christians, and endows their life with new meaning (Titus 2:11–14). Herman Ridderbos notes the close relation between Jesus’ resurrection and His second coming, arguing that in one sense they form a unity: “His announcement of the parousia of the Son of Man is . . . provisionally fulfilled in his resurrection.”18 Thus, the resurrection of Christ provides the basis for an ultimate and lasting eschatological hope that comes from the assurance of Christ’s second coming, and from the fact that the new creation has already been initiated.
The new creation is closely tied also to the concept of salvation achieved by Christ. In the Old Testament, God is presented in strictly monotheistic terms, as a Lord whose supremacy in heaven and on earth is seen in the fact that He is the Creator (Ps. 96:4, 5). A basic conviction of Old Testament writers, and also first‑century Jews, was that God has not only created the world, but that He also works actively within it. N. T. Wright notes that the Old Testament picture of God presupposes not only “creational,” but also “providential” and “covenantal” monotheism.19
These modifiers point to the fact that Israel’s God is not intrinsically detached, but that He is involved within His creation. He is not indifferent toward evil in the world, but He has a plan according to which He acts decisively to eliminate it and restore His created order. The New Testament writings unanimously point to Jesus of Nazareth as the divine Restorer who overcame evil with His sacrifice on the cross, opening the door of salvation for humanity. By His resurrection, He himself became the center and goal of the new creation. In Him, the barriers between humanity and God are knocked down: “in him, things in heaven and things on earth” are made one (Eph. 1:10).
However, the effect of salvation is not merely undoing the work of evil and returning to the good old days, but it is striving toward a new and unprecedented reality defined by God’s creative activity. Hans Schwarz notes that the eschatological promises act as a “driving force” for the vision of salvation, because “salvation calls for a totally new creation.”20 In Jesus, therefore, in whom a completely new world came, “the hope of humanity was realized toward something final and absolute, namely, toward a new creation.”21
The new creation started with Christ’s resurrection, which was, together with His death, the foundational event in God’s work of healing the world. No wonder, then, that the early Christians considered these events the central point of history, which reshaped their perception of reality. God’s creative activity, however, extends beyond the Cross and the resurrection of Jesus. It involves the church, which is called to experience the work of the new creation and to participate in its realization.
Creation of a New Community: Living as the People of God
According to the witness of the New Testament, the interval between Jesus’ ascension and the Second Coming is an eschatological endtime period in which the work of Christ continues by extending on the earth the kingdom that was inaugurated in His earthly ministry. This is an era characterized by the presence and work of the Spirit on Earth. Significantly, Acts presents the outpouring of the Spirit as a sign of the end, “gift of the end time,”22 the eschatological fulfillment of the Old Testament promises of God (Acts 2:15–21; Joel 2:28–32).
The Spirit’s primary office is revealing and mediating the presence of Christ to people. As Neill Hamilton notes, “The Spirit is the Spirit of Christ because his office is to communicate the benefits of Christ’s work.”23 As the result of His work, people who are open to His influence experience radical transformation: They receive “resurrection life in the present,”24 in anticipation of the resurrection at the Second Coming. Like Christ’s resurrection, the “resurrection life” of believing Christians is the work of God’s new creation, since “new creation is in mind wherever the concept of resurrection occurs.”25 The link between Christ’s resurrection and the Christian experience of inner transformation is explicit: Our Lord’s resurrection serves as the foundation for the believers’ experience of new creation.
The identification of the inner transformation with the new creation is clearly made in a number of New Testament texts. Although the phrase translated as “new creation” occurs only twice in the New Testament (Gal. 6:15; 2 Cor. 5:17), the motif of newness in Christ pervades the atmosphere of the New Testament writings (the adjective translated as “new” occurs 49 times in 16 New Testament writings). As pointed out above, Galatians 6:15 highlights the major significance of the principle of new creation, which fundamentally defines the thinking and lifestyle of Christians. Somewhat differently, 2 Corinthians 5:17 directly states that the personal renewal of an individual in Christ is an act of new creation: “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” The terms translated as “old,” “behold,” and “new” appear together also in Isaiah 43:18, 19 (LXX), which lies in the background of the passage. Paul’s argument echoes the Isaianic promise of restoration in which the renewal is related to the motif of new creation.
The term translated as “regeneration” or “rebirth” occurs twice in the New Testament, and refers to the concept of new creation. It designates the future renewal of the world in Matthew 19:28, but here it is more significant that in Titus 3:5 it is related to the spiritual and moral renewal of an individual. The inner change is the result of the work of the Spirit who re-creates the individuals for new life in Jesus Christ. Similarly, “regenerate” or “bring to birth again” also occurs twice in the New Testament; and in both references, it designates the “new birth” experienced by believers. These references appear in the same context: First, it is stated that believers are given the experience of new birth by God, resulting from the resurrection of Jesus as an event that opened up vistas of hope (1 Peter 1:3); later, it is pointed out that this experience takes place “through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). The term translated as “renew” or “make new,” which also occurs twice in the New Testament, likewise refers to the renewal of the “inner man” (2 Cor. 4:16, NASB), the “new self” which is modelled on “the image of its creator” (Col. 3:10). For delineating God’s work of new creation in believers, attention also needs to be given to texts in which His activity is referred to using “to create” without an adjective, and it is applied clearly to renewal in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:10; 4:24).
The divine work of transformation lies also in the background of a number of texts that lack an explicit reference to “creation.” These include those that point to the qualitative newness in the Christian’s life. A good example of the latter is 2 Corinthians 4:6: “It is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” This text is a reference to the Genesis story of creation. Paul emphasized his point by drawing a parallel between the creation “in the beginning,” and the transformation brought by the light of the gospel into the hearts of those who receive Christ. Thus, in light of the Old Testament background, experiencing the inner renewal needs to be interpreted in terms of God’s creative activity.
The people experiencing God’s work of new creation make up a new, transformed community. Their life is characterized by a qualitative newness, since their former relationship to the world has ended: The old man belongs to the time “before Christ” and “without Christ.”26 The difference between old and new is emphasized by different analogies: The old yeast should be cleaned out, because a new batch is prepared (1 Cor. 5:7); the old self must be crucified that we may live in newness to God in a life after resurrection (Rom. 6:1–11). The visible testimony to the realization of God’s new creation work is baptism, in which believing Christians have “clothed” themselves “with Christ” (Gal. 3:27), and have become part of a “new” community that seeks to live in “newness of life” as people of God (Rom. 6:4).
The mission of the church is defined by its horizon of newness and the horizon of the endtimes in which it exists. As an eschatological community, the church is called to proclaim to all the nations the prospect of a “transition from suffering and fragmentariness to fulfilment and completeness” in Christ.27 This task is eschatological in nature, since the church serves in the eschatological era of endtimes, but even more because in its mission the eschatological hopes of the Old Testament are realized through the gathering of the scattered remnant of Israel.
By the proclamation of the gospel, God’s work of new creation is being extended, because the number of those accepting Christ’s lordship and experiencing transformation multiplies. Thus, the church becomes an agent in God’s new creative work, but the realization of its mission is made possible only through the generative power of the Spirit, who makes the kingdom of God present (Acts 1:8). At the same time, the church continues to be the recipient of God’s transforming creation, since He never ceases to work on the inner renewal of believers’ lives, and by so doing He enables them to remain faithful in their call and commission (2 Cor. 4:16–18).
In a similar way to the resurrection of Jesus, in God’s creative work of inner transformation of people a chaos-creation-kingdom pattern can be discerned. The believers’ life “without Christ” is referred to as a life of darkness that is being transformed by God’s interference, who “called” them “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). The life of darkness is described in Titus 3:3 in terms of moral and existential chaos. However, the description is followed by God’s saving intervention resulting in “rebirth and renewal” (vs. 5).
The experience of “rebirth” is followed by the realization of God’s kingship in the lives of transformed people, which is the essence of Jesus’ concept of the kingdom of God; in Pauline terminology, the new life is life “in the Spirit” (Rom. 8:9). Since the gift of the Spirit is essential to God’s new creational work in the eschatological messianic era, it is significant that the events at Pentecost are in Acts 2 presented in terms of an antithesis to the Babel story (Genesis 10). The chaos of languages at Babel is in antithetical parallelism with the order that came as the result of the Spirit’s work: understandable languages. The antecedent of the Babel story is a rebellion against God, while the results of Pentecost are renewed lives in Christ: three thousand people confessing faith in Christ and being baptized in one day (Acts 2:41). The reversal highlights the radical newness of the eschatological messianic era, in which God made provision for the turnaround from chaos to His kingship through His work of new creation.
New creation that has been inaugurated in Christ’s ministry and continues to take place in the eschatological messianic era through the ministry of the Spirit will extend forward until it reaches completion at the very end of history when the “old age” will be terminated.
The Consummated New Creation: Making All Things New
The goal of God’s new creational work is the restoration of life on earth. Human beings have been created from earth. They were made to live on the earth. They belong to the earth, and the earth was given to them as a territory that they are to “fill,” “subdue,” and “have dominion” over (Gen. 1:28). It was also on earth that Christ was born and crucified, on earth He experienced resurrection, and it is on earth that the people of God experience deliverance from evil and the final resurrection. Clearly, God does not give up the earth as a lost territory, but He works on its restoration, which will culminate in creating a “new earth” (Rev. 21:1). This will not come as a renewal through a process of gradual transformation; it will be the result of an act of creation following a cosmic destruction (20:11). This major creative act of God will be, however, preceded by the millennium, starting with Christ’s second coming. During this time, the saints, who came alive at the first resurrection or who were alive when Jesus returned to earth, will reign with Christ and participate in judgment (Revelation 20).
The qualitative distinction between the two worlds is indicated by the use of new, which designates newness in nature, qualitative superiority. The contrast between first (old) and second (new) expresses a qualitative antithesis in other texts of Revelation also, indicating contrast between incompleteness and completeness. However, in spite of the sharp discontinuity between the two creations, continuity will also be maintained to some degree, since “the new cosmos will be an identifiable counterpart to the old cosmos and a renewal of it, just as the body will be raised without losing its former identity.”28
God’s eschatological intervention will bring redemption also for the non‑human creation as a whole, which suffers the effect of sin and God’s judgment. The renewing of the moral order and the natural order are closely connected, since human evil has consequences not only regarding humans, but also the rest of God’s creation on the earth. While in the Old Testament a series of passages depict all the creatures offering praise to their Creator (Ps. 148); at the same time, in number of passages the mourning of the Earth is referred to because of the effect of human wrongdoing (Jer. 12:4; Hosea 4:1–3; Joel 1:10–12, 17–20). In New Testament this Old Testament image is taken up in Romans 8:18 to 23, in which reference to Genesis 3 is made. The connection indicates that “because of human sin, God set creation on course for un‑creation.”29 According to the words of Paul, the deliverance of the creation from corruption will happen at the second coming of Christ when the children of God will attain their full salvation in the glory of the resurrection (Rom. 8:21–23).
With the consummation of the new creation, God’s program of restoration reaches its culmination. The most detailed portrayal of the renovated universe occurs in the final vision of Revelation (21:1–22:5), in which the New Jerusalem appears as the reversal of sin, death, agony, futility, and discord. The vision is an appropriate conclusion not only to the Book of Revelation, but also to the story of the entire Bible. William Dumbrell demonstrates in his insightful biblical‑theological study that major theological ideas of the biblical storyline such as new Jerusalem, new temple, new covenant, new Israel, and new creation find their ultimate fulfillment in the panoramic concluding vision of the biblical canon.30 With the transformation of the universe, redemption is complete, and everything that does not serve God’s glory is terminated. Thus, a state of universal peace is established.
The cosmic new creation involves a fundamental reshaping of the structure of the universe. “New heaven” is also created, not only “new earth,” since the governmental center of the universe is relocated from heaven to the new earth (Rev. 21:1–5; 22:1–5). Throughout the Book of Revelation, God’s throne, along with the Lamb’s throne and the thrones of His allies, is located exclusively in the heavenly realm, whereas the thrones of God’s adversaries are limited to the earth. The new creation terminates this pattern, since evil is “‘no more’” and “‘the first things have passed away’” (21:4). The transfer of the center of space and time to the earth clearly indicates the disappearance of the distance between God and humanity, and the establishment of a new order in the universe. This development seals God’s victory and stands as a lasting reminder of the vindication of His reputation.
The structure of the New Jerusalem vision is linear. It is introduced by a thematic statement of the new creation (Rev. 21:1–8), which is followed by its description in terms of a temple‑city of New Jerusalem, a Holy of Holies in which God lives (21:9–27), and finally the city center is portrayed as the new Garden of Eden (22:1–5). The language of the vision is drawn first of all from the Old Testament prophetic literature, primarily from the eschatological passages of Isaiah and Ezekiel 40 to 48. In Revelation 22:1 to 5, Garden of Eden imagery is added, which ties the description of the renovated cosmos to the creation-fall narrative (Genesis 1–3).
Five parallels can be established between the creation-fall narrative and the new Garden of Eden vision. First, the river of the water of life (Rev. 22:1) recalls the river flowing out of Eden (Gen. 2:10). Second, the tree of life appears in both contexts (Rev. 22:2; Gen. 2:9). Third, the curse (Rev. 22:3) is banished from the New Jerusalem; while in the Fall narrative, it appears as a consequence of sin (Gen. 3:14, 17). Fourth, the promise of seeing God’s face (Rev. 22:4) reflects the undoing of the Fall’s consequence of banishment from the divine presence (Gen. 3:23). Fifth, the promise of the reign of saints (Rev. 22:5) reflects Adam’s original commission to rule over the created world (Gen. 1:28).
These five allusions do not have equal strength. Whereas the first two are supported by verbal parallels, the other three reflect only thematic correspondence. John does not identify the new creation with the Garden of Eden, but describes the New Jerusalem in the language of Paradise. Such an approach is not new, since in the Old Testament—particularly in the Jewish apocalyptic literature—Garden of Eden imagery and the motif of an eschatological temple/city are related to one another.
The purpose of adding the Garden of Eden imagery as a fresh symbolic element in the final scene of the vision, which functions as the conclusion to all of Revelation 21, lies in generating a sense of climax. The climactic tone not only of the New Jerusalem vision, but also of the entire book, is generated first of all by the emphasis on the centrality of the throne of God and the Lamb in the new creation (Rev. 22:1, 3). The throne imagery here points to the fact that the New Jerusalem functions as the governing center of the new creation. Not less significantly, it is also made clear that God’s kingship is a lifegiving reality (the throne is closely related to two life images: the “water of life” and the “tree of life”). Setting the divine throne in the context of the Garden of Eden emanates a rhetorical energy that makes it a fitting conclusion to the book. As Celia Deutsch points out, Paradise functions as “the symbol of primeval completeness, a completeness which follows the defeat of . . . chaos. Thus, it is only fitting that the perfection of a restored or new order be symbolized by the image of Paradise. End‑time has become primeval time, assuring communities under crisis of the ultimate victory of life and order.”31
In this cosmic renewal of the universe, a chaos-creation-kingdom pattern can be discerned, just as in the case of the two previously discussed cardinal aspects of God’s new creation: Christ’s resurrection and the transformation of human lives into “resurrection life” in the present age. The consummated new creation takes place because of the disorder in God’s created world, which culminates in the moral chaos of Babylon’s dominion and the anarchy following its collapse (Revelation 17, 18). God establishes a new order, because human sin brought His creation to the verge of collapse. The degradation caused by evil on the earth is clearly expressed in the judgment series of the seven trumpets (8:6–11:18), which pictures the course of human history in terms of progressive de‑creation.
Destruction is followed by renewal, and the result is the establishment of a new cosmos oriented toward God’s throne, which is located in the center of the temple‑city, a location where His people will worship him and “will see his face” (Rev. 22:4). The theocentricity of heaven, pictured in Revelation 4 and 5, comes into focus again in the New Jerusalem vision, but this time the location is the new earth, and God’s people are pictured as participating in His rule: “For the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (vs. 5). The reign of the saints will be freed, however, from all associations of human rule, since it materializes in service in perfect freedom and in seeking God’s glory. Thus, seeing God’s face and ruling by serving “will be the heart of humanity’s eternal joy in their eternal worship of God.”32
Protology and Eschatology
The biblical storyline begins with creation (Genesis 1–3) and ends with the descent of the New Jerusalem, which signals the consummation of the new creation (Revelation 21, 22). These two great events in history serve as related poles of the biblical metastory. The connecting link is not only the theme of creation, but also the motif of God’s presence. The story ends with a vision of God, who moves His governing center from heaven to the new earth, coming to dwell with redeemed humanity in the New Jerusalem. The beginning of the biblical narrative resembles this picture. Genesis opens by portraying the creation of the earth, which was designed to be a place where God meets with His people. For this reason, both Eden and New Jerusalem are pictured in terms of a temple: as a temple‑garden and a temple‑city.
Since the divine plan was disrupted due to the disobedience of the first couple, humanity lost the privilege of enjoying God’s presence directly. The complex story that follows in the biblical narrative centers on God’s redemptive mission, because of which the earth will be turned into a place where God and humanity can dwell together again. So, the biblical story is structured around the movement from creation to new creation, and the process of redemption is seen as a means leading to the restoration of the original creation. The original creation is, therefore, “the assumption in the Old Testament from which all theological movement proceeds,” and its restoration is the final goal toward which everything eventually moves.33 The strong link between the two ends of the canon suggests that these passages frame the entire biblical narrative. Therefore, they serve as two poles which have a critical interpretive significance for all biblical material. Consequently, everything in the biblical canon is to be seen as having its roots in Genesis 1 to 3, and also moving toward the final goal in Revelation 21 and 22.
The relation of Genesis 1 to 3 and Revelation 21 through 22 reflects the well-known Urzeit-Endzeit, or protology-eschatology shema. As David Aune notes, the essence of this pattern of thought is that “the conditions of eschatological salvation are usually conceptualized as a restoration of primal conditions rather than an entirely new or utopian mode of existence with no links to the past.”34 The conception that the end is recapitulating the perfect and paradigmatic beginning is foundational for the apocalyptic worldview.
The point of the parallel lies in emphasizing the restoration of the blessings of an earlier idyllic period. At the eschaton a new order is set up in a new environment, but it is the original creation fulfilled and restored to its Edenic origins. Still, John does not identify the new creation with the Garden of Eden, but rather, he describes the New Jerusalem in the language of Paradise. While in his vision the end resembles the beginning, a significant change is also evident: In Genesis, the earth is presented as a site in which some “building” (creative human activity) is expected to occur, while Revelation presents a city. The imagery of city by no means suggests that the endeavors of humanity “build” an idyllic future. This holy city comes from the heaven, from the divine sphere, “in the sense that all good comes from God.”35 In the ancient world the ideal city was a motif with a strong rhetorical force embodying the ideas of security and prosperity; it was pictured as a place with the divine in its midst. Thus, both creation and the eschaton flow freely from God, and His sovereignty is manifested in both events in which His creative activity is at work.
Creation and eschatology are intrinsically interconnected in New Testament theology. To address one without the other risks distortion of both topics. It is impossible to separate creation and eschatology, since both are part of the same process by which God orders the world, subduing chaos by turning it into an enjoyable place for His people. The endtimes were launched by Christ’s death and resurrection, the pivotal events of salvation history. These events were the laying of the foundation stone of the new creation, which was a necessity because evil was so ingrained in the present order that a new creation was the only means of dealing effectively with it. Thus, in the eschatological messianic era, God is involved in the world through His new creational work, directing the course of history toward the ultimate and comprehensive restoration at the very end.
God’s new creational activity is being realized through three cardinal works that follow a chronological order: (1) Christ’s resurrection as the initiation of the new creation; (2) the creation of a new humanity, which is the recipient of, but also the agent in, God’s new creational endeavors; and (3) the consummated new creation, which leads to the final restoration of the universe. In all three events a chaos-creation-kingdom pattern is evident, which reveals consistency in God’s work with His creation. Also, all three events are eschatological because they occurred-occur-will occur in the eschatological era of the endtimes and because they are events of eschatological significance as major milestones in advancing God’s work of “‘making all things new’” (Rev. 21:5). The fact that the biblical storyline begins and ends with creation accounts (Genesis 1, 2; Revelation 21, 22) gives an eminent role to creation as a major theme in biblical theology. While in the New Testament the theme of new creation dominates the creation theology of biblical authors, they developed it as rooted in the Old Testament in conviction that God has spoken “and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm” (Ps. 33:9).
Laszlo Gallusz, PhD, is a Senior Lecturer in New Testament Studies at Newbold College, Bracknell, Berkshire, England, U.K.
NOTES AND REFERENCES