Luther, when asked a similar question said: "I would plant a tree today."
Why would he want to do that?
Will what we do now make a difference after Jesus has returned?
If it does then planting a tree is important.
Our role as image bearers of God is not to populate heaven!
If it was all we would have to do is get someone to pray the sinners prayer and then kill them.
The Bible is clear Jesus is returning. How do we then behave? How do we then respond? Does it matter what we think about Jesus’ return? Eschatology, the study of the end times, is it important?
For many the idea is that we are waiting around on an earth which is a training ground for eternity, waiting for Jesus to come and whisk us away so that we can be with him in a mansion in heaven. The earth will be destroyed, time will end and we will be in heaven for ever.
That view has nothing to do with the Bible - it is a reading into the Bible of pagan Greek ideas. It is wrong on nearly every single point!
Eschatology does affect what we do now. It affects the priority we place on culture, business, politics, science and so on.
In the passage we had read (2Pe 3) Peter writes:
1 Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking.
Wholesome thinking - thinking is important. How do we renew our minds? - part of the answer is given here: “I have written...”: the scriptures. We need to soak and marinade in the scriptures, then our minds can be renewed, become wholesome. Like a jazz musician we will then be able to improvise and develop ideas in the way they were intended to go.
Peter goes on in verse 2
2 I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.
There are 31,124 verses in the Old and New Testaments, and of these 8,352 are predictive prophecy, almost one third! In fact only four biblical books contain no predictive prophecies: Ruth, Song of Songs, Philemon and 3 John. The emphasis in the scriptures on prophecy is itself justification enough to study it and the end times.
When it comes to theology and eschatology in particular many Christians complain that there are too many terms to understand; and yet we can walk into the Coffee shop and order a coffee - what's going on? expresso, frappacino, baby cino, latte, americano, skinny, how many terms do we have to get our minds around to get a cup of coffee?
So, rather than look at coffee terms, most of which I suspect you will all know I want to look at some theological terms. If we order a coffee we can do theology.
There are four main views regarding theology. All centre around what’s been called the millennium - a period of a 1000 years mentioned in Rev 20.
2. Millennial views (see slides)
A key question is: What about culture? How much will make it in at the return of Jesus.
Does planting a tree now have any lasting influence when Jesus returns. Does it matter what job we do as long as we evangelise and practice singing in church for heaven?
What will be the fate of the earth? Will art, science, poetry, commerce make it into the new earth?
There are two apparently opposing views:
Annihilation or transformation
Discontinuity or continuity.
Renewal or destruction
There are a number of verses that suggest destruction and a number that suggest renewal.
In this passage Peter describes the return of Jesus as the earth being destroyed. The writer to the Hebrews, echoing the psalmist, talks about the earth and heavens perishing and being rolled up like a garment, and Jesus says that heaven and earth will pass away.”
On the other hand we have Romans 8 suggesting a liberation not a destruction.
19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
Acts 3: 19-21 restoration of all things apokatastastaseos panton suggest at Christ's return the creation will be restored to its original perfection.
He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.
How do we reconcile these conflicting accounts? Is it restoration or destruction?
In many ways the scriptures can sometimes be like those 3D images - to make the image 3D each eye must see something slightly different, when these are then re-focused a new image appears. We have to take these conflicting images and refocus them.
The first thing we need to remember is that these passages may not necessarily have to be taken literally; they may well be metaphors to describe the catastrophic and cataclysmic event the return of Jesus will be.
Let us examine three passages that talk about an apparent destruction of the earth.
(i) Matthew 24:35: ‘heavens and earth will pass away’ (cf Mk 13:31; Lk 21:33).
35Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
The Greek word ‘pass away’ is the same word that occurs in 2 Corinthians 5:17, where Paul describes the person in Christ as a new creation, saying ‘the old has gone’ (literally passed away). This implies not total destruction but transformation. Hence we could legitimately paraphrase Jesus as saying ‘heaven and earth will be transformed but my word never changes’.
(ii) Hebrews 1:12
"In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
11They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
12You will roll them up like a robe;
like a garment they will be changed.
But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.
The word translated as ‘changed’ in v12 is the same word is used in 1 Corinthians 15:51 and 52. Here the context is the resurrection of believers: ‘we will all be changed’. Yet again the meaning can be understood as transformation. When we receive resurrection bodies we shall not be destroyed but changed or transformed; in the same way the earth will be transformed.
Now we come to this tricky passage.
(iii) 2 Peter 3:10
The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
The KJV has “the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up
This was a translation of a word (katakaēsetai) from one particular manuscript (Textus Receptus) version of the passage- recent discoveries have found that a more accurate version of the original (Codex Sinaticus and Codex Vaticanus) comes from a different Greek word (heurethēsetai) meaning: ‘will be found’. The emphasis is not on destruction but on disclosure.
The context here is Noah’s flood. The water purified the earth, the water removed not Noah and his family but evil and the wicked. In the same way fire is used time and again in the scriptures to denote a purification. In fact the language used here is a metallurgical one - the purification of metals by fire. Fire doesn’t destroy the metal it purifies it. So, the new earth will be disclosed, transformed, purified and redeemed.
Jesus’ return then will mean some massive changes – there will be a judgment. However, the earth won’t be destroyed. It will be changed in a similar to which our bodies will be changed, but we will still be us and the earth will still be the earth, albeit a new and redeemed earth.
So, how does that affect what we do now? Should we be planting trees?
It’s interesting to note that in Rev 21 a brilliant description of the new heaven and earth. The imagery isn’t us going to heaven but heaven coming to earth. [Incidentally do you know how many times the phrase ‘going to heaven’ (or similar) is used in the scriptures? None!]
But in verse 24:
The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their spleandour into it. .. the glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it.
And in Is 60 – the imagery which Revelation has borrowed:
3 Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
9 Surely the islands look to me;
in the lead are the ships of Tarshish,
bringing your sons from afar,
with their silver and gold,
to the honor of the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendor.
10 "Foreigners will rebuild your walls,
and their kings will serve you.
Though in anger I struck you,
in favor I will show you compassion.
11 Your gates will always stand open,
they will never be shut, day or night,
so that men may bring you the wealth of the nations—
their kings led in triumphal procession.
What are these ships of Tarshish? They were large trading ships – why are they here in the holy city, the new Jerusalem?
They were the objects of God’s wrath in Is 23 and yet they appear here.
Richard Mouw writes:
My own impression is that the judgement that will visit the ships of Tarshish is of a purifying sort. We might think here of the ‘breaking’ of the ships of Tarshish as more like the breaking of a horse rather than the breaking of a vase. The judgment here is meant to tame, not destroy. The ships of Tarshish will be harnessed for service in the Holy city – a process that will require a ‘breaking’ of sorts.
The ships of Tarshish represent pagan commerce and yet they seem to under go a purging and appear in the new Jerusalem.
In the same way all our acts will also undergo a breaking, a purifying. Culture will be transformed and be a part of the new earth. What we do now has eternal consequences.
Some of you may be thinking: nothing matters but the kingdom – and by that you think of prayer, worship, Bible study, personal piety and so on. But God would say, because of the kingdom everything matters! Art, history, poetry, wiork, science, business – everything matters.
There was once an engineer – he wanted to be Christian in all that he did. He was accurate in all his measurements, he worked hard, never stole from work, even bought his own paperclips, when he photocopied his own things – he worked extra to cover the costs, he shared his faith with his co-workers. It wasn’t until later he realized he’d been helping build the Tower of Babel.
Nothing matter but the kingdom – but because of the kingdom everything matters.
So, if Jesus were to return tomorrow what would you do tonight? Let’s plant trees!
Trees of culture, commerce, politics, art, …. It matters.
Our original mandate was to fill the earth – that includes a cultural filling.
Jesus is coming – plant trees!