Happy New Earth

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Published:
December 30, 2022

The memory text from Revelation 21 for this week’s lesson includes one of the most hopeful and anti-conservative lines in scripture. 

“Behold, I make all things new.” 

Like most folks, I care deeply, perhaps ultimately, about conserving what I find meaningful. As with the best of the Bible (see the Sermon on the Mount), I find this both inspiring and troubling. Why are the meek and the last the first: the inheritors of the kingdom of heaven? What should I not conserve to embrace the newness that God offers? What will a better future require of us? 

On this last Sabbath of 2022, we arrive at the end of the Adult Bible Study Guide focused on “death, dying, and the future hope.” The last three months have had a very apologetic approach to biblical concepts, allowing only one theory of atonement, attacking the mystical aspects in all religions— including Christianity—and defending the Adventist belief in conditional immortality and a non-literal hell. Dear friends at the Biblical Research Institute, arise from your crouch. The last two beliefs should be celebrated for a variety of reasons, including that more Christian theologians agree with us than when we formulated them! Maybe if we followed in the steps of the recently departed Bert Beach and embraced ecumenical opportunities, we’d see that similarity, not just difference, enhances evangelism. 

This final week of the lesson focuses on heaven and the new earth. It continues the apologetic approach by focusing for a bit on defending the idea of a heavenly sanctuary. On Monday it states, “The heavenly sanctuary/temple has always been the place where the heavenly hosts worship God. But with the appearance of sin, that sanctuary also became the place from which salvation is offered to humanity.” It continues: 

“When the sin problem is over, the heavenly sanctuary will once again revert to its original function. In Revelation 21:22, John the revelator reports that he no longer saw a temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. But does that mean there is no longer a house of the Lord where His creatures can come and have special fellowship with Him? By no means!”—Richard M. Davidson, “The Sanctuary: ‘To Behold the Beauty of the Lord,’ ” in Artur Stele, ed., The Word: Searching, Living, Teaching, vol. 1 (Silver Spring, MD: Biblical Research Institute, 2015), p. 31.

I find this focus on the architecture of redemption confusing. Have we dug in so deep defending our theology regarding October 22, 1844, that we now worry about where we will worship God in heaven? Revelation was written in the historical context of the Jewish-Roman wars from 66–135 CE. The temple was destroyed in 70 CE. John the Revelator was not concerned about Adventist landmarks, particularly a theology of a judgment/sanctuary developed in the Victorian era. His apokalypsis was written to an audience concerned with their present political and spiritual reality. He offers a profound poetic image. God is the temple. There is no holy place. Only a holy person. And in heaven, where all things are new, we are at one with the divine. It’s a happy new spiritual reality. 

As Kendra Haloviak-Valentine has written and preached, John unveils a beautiful vision of a new heaven and earth via a mix of literary genres and 16 hymns. In this 30-minute talk for the One project in 2017, Haloviak-Valentine, who wrote her doctoral dissertation on Revelation, shares interpretive and spiritual insights.  

Bonus: 

The “Teacher Comments” part of the lesson breaks from biblical texts and Ellen White quotes to share a story from the December 1, 1931, edition of Signs of the Times. It’s an anecdote from “beloved author and preacher” Frederic William Farrar, “a personal friend of, and honorary chaplain to, Queen Victoria in the 1870s.”

“One day the chaplain . . . preached a sermon on the second coming of Christ. As he spoke of that glorious event, he noticed tears in the eyes of the queen. After the service, he approached her, and asked: ‘Why did Your Majesty weep as I spoke to-day?’

“ ‘Oh,’ said she, ‘because I do hope that He will come in my day!’

“ ‘Why does Your Majesty desire that He should come in your day?’ the chaplain asked.

“ ‘Oh, sir, that I may lay my crown at His feet!’ ”

I decided to look up Farrar and found him to be a fascinating figure with a distinguished career as an Anglican clergyman and Victorian thought leader. I recommend this free biographical paper titled “Dean Frederic Farrar (1831-1903): Educationist” from the British Journal of Educational Studies. He is famous for many things, including coining the phrase “abominable fancy,” which he called the prevailing idea of a publicly torturous eternal hell. He also wasn’t threatened by the theological implications of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. During Darwin’s funeral in Westminster Abbey, where Farrar spent much of his career, he was one of Darwin’s pallbearers. This Farrar quote seems like a good one to kick off a new Adult Bible Study Guide and a new year. Happy newness! 

"A man may be an heretic in the truth, and if he believe things only because his pastor says so, or the assembly so determines, without knowing other reason, though his belief be true, yet the very truth he holds becomes his heresy." 

 


Alexander Carpenter is executive editor of Spectrum

Title image: Landscape with Sunset by Frederic Edwin Church, 1866 (public domain)

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