Bringing fears of anarchy, violence, and eroded morality, the pandemic that is changing our world is transfixing us with an anticipated sense of apocalypse or other form of lurking woe. Looking for someone to blame, political voices tell us that the rich are bad and explain why the poorest suffer so badly. Minority groups protest, while the entitled rich claim poverty would be eliminated if individuals were not so lazy. Anger has been stirred, and the beastly powers are being unmasked. We feel the polarization deepening among various “tribes,” threatening to divide us even further into adversarial mindsets. Is this the beginning of the end of the world—the order of things that we have grown used to? I do not mean an era of pain and loss abruptly taken over by doom and gloom nor that God must force His way into our state of affairs as a fighting, overpowering event. No, not that. I am imagining something different.
John’s description of the apocalypse at the end of the Bible provides an image that is so amazing that it dwarfs human expectations. The biblical “Day of the Lord” as described by the prophets and many of the New Testament writers is the day that God makes everything new and right again. Instead of fear of annihilation, think hope of deliverance. We may endure a time of darkness in which we experience fear and uncertainty, and the earth may receive a good shake before that time passes, but the last stop will feature God’s reconciling love. There is hope that around the bend is a better world, a finale that will fulfill our deepest longings and desires, the kingdom that we all seek. The New Testament connects such apocalyptic language to the appearance of God’s coming (2 Thessalonians 2:1–3, 7–8). This will be the glorious day when suffering is healed, oppression and violence end, lives are restored, and everybody has what they need to thrive.
Perhaps you hope for a better arrangement than the one we have settled for—the injustice and violence that characterizes human structures. Only when we let go of the strain and confusion of this caustic arrangement can we become convinced of the beauty of the life prepared for us. God has explained the future He has planned for us: “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Revelation 21:1, NKJV). The words “a new heaven and a new earth” evoke transformation, not destruction—a renewal, not a replacement. It is thus not something new but made new. We will face a whole new day.
Many embrace the idea of a burning earth destined for destruction, but God’s searching judgment will remove everything opposed to goodness—suffering, injustice, racism, and all other human sinfulness. The old order will be completely obliterated, not the earth. It will be purged of everything that should not be there, revealing a whole new heaven and earth in which righteousness is at home (Peter 3:10–13).
This world and the new one are connected. We too will be submitted to the fire of God’s love, but if we have built on the foundation of Jesus’ self-sacrificial love, it won’t destroy us but only remove the hay, wood, and stubble that can’t survive this definition of love. It will judge everything false, leaving only costly stones, silver and gold—that which is precious and pure—to satisfy our hearts. In the end, we will be renewed by God’s love and grace, just as the new creation is built upon it (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).
John’s apocalyptic depiction of the new heaven and earth also describes a city of people who are adorned as the Husband’s bride (Revelation 21:2). God does not seek people who offer seamless performance but a fully receptive bride. This bride is described as a bustling city in the midst of a garden paradise. It is beautiful but also actively engaged. A place where we might expect failure, crime, and violence is made beautiful. This shining city is full of life, beauty, holiness, community, and diversity.
The idea that this bride represents a community of people is not new. God’s mission is not only to restore individuals but to create a community of people who bring His light to all the world, so everyone who gazes upon it is overwhelmed. The bride is supposed to dress for this planned event, but today’s church holds an unused wedding gown. We don’t always see the beauty, a bride fully compatible with the groom. Modern men and women have only seen a performance of piety that belies the truth of the gospel—and it is devastating to our witness. We have lamented failures, but how fortunate we are to receive this wedding invitation despite these inadequacies. We shouldn’t feel bad about anticipating a better arrangement of divine origin because all creation is longing for this event (Romans 8:19).
Someday, we will be beautifully adorned, but these plans will not be fulfilled by God acting alone. The intimate metaphor of Husband and bride identifies God as both giving and receiving love. God requires our participation. I love when Peter speaks of “waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (Peter 3:12, ESV). On this day, the bride will don her beautiful garments in anticipation of the marriage—the union of heaven and earth. We are told that the “bride has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7). Someday, she will be ready to go all the way, “for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Ephesians 5:3, NKJV). What a magnificent event that will be; we will become beautiful like Him:
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure1 John 3:1–3, NKJV
When He is “revealed,” we shall be “like” Him. These words convey compatibility and are apocalyptic in the sense that we will be fully receptive and open. Our eyes will be made to see what is happening, the things once hidden from us will be revealed, and the things marked by goodness and grace will come into being. I anticipate a gasp from the crowd similar to that prompted by the first appearance of a bride adorned for her wedding, yet how can we maintain this beautiful vision without falling into the trap of pontificating about what we could be or will eventually become? Perhaps this achievement begins when we glimpse the true image of God.
I believe there are better days ahead if the bride cleans up not only its self-centeredness but also its cultural problems to better reflect the holiness and beauty to which it is called. Someday, the bride will ready herself for this planned event, becoming “clean and bright” in the beautiful garments of transformation (Isaiah 61:10; Revelation 19:6–8).
The virtues of goodness and love are not found in human merit but in what Jesus taught and how He loved—that’s righteousness. He is the one and only truly beautiful one. Preparing ourselves for what is truly beautiful requires intention. It requires embarking on the beautiful path that ends with heaven on earth in a beautiful new city. This vision of healing can and should impact our view of the here and now. When we pursue this beautiful way of life, we fulfill God’s just purposes for the world by living life His way. In the end, the things we do here on earth matter for the earth made new. We are all invited to share in this great and beautiful kingdom. In this world yet broken, I dream of that new day.
Craig Ashton Jr.