“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.” (Isaiah 65:17)1
When my (Katelyn’s) mother passed away, it was a very difficult time for me. My sense of loss and longing was great. In addition, though, there was something bittersweet about her death. You see, within the metanarrative of the great controversy, death is indeed a tragic experience. But it is not intended to be the final experience. God has promised that He will make all things new, that He will restore all that has been. Even death cannot rule over His plans for us. This is the worldview I believe in my heart, not just my head. Michael Palmer writes, “When people embrace a worldview, they commit themselves not just intellectually but also emotionally and spiritually.”2 A worldview is embraced holistically. It is not just for debate of convictions and beliefs. This worldview that I cling to brings me comfort and hope even in the face of death. It helps me see and rise above the despair of the world around me, because I know that just as God created the world, He will restore everything to the way it was intended to be. This is the final act of the great controversy: re-creation.
LIVING FOR ETERNITY: ENJOYING GOD’S PRESENCE
A few questions that worldviews seek to answer include, Is there an afterlife? and, What hope is there when we are faced with the evil of the world? Within some worldviews, it is believed that when you die, you return to earth as a new creation; some worldviews say that your spirit continues forever; some believe that there is absolutely nothing beyond death. Some worldviews paint a picture of an end to earth, and some are convicted that life will forever continue as it always has. There are many different answers that have been given to these questions.
In Scripture, answers to these questions were given to John the Revelator. While imprisoned on the island of Patmos, John was shown what is to come in the future. In vision, he was taken to heaven and given a glimpse into the throne room of God, where he heard a wonderful declaration: “Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new’” (Rev 21:5a). This is the joyful decree of our Creator—the answer to what there is to experience after life and the answer to where hope is found in a sin-infested world. What we experience now is not the end. Everything will be made new. God has a plan to restore all that He has made, making everything “very good” (Gen 1:31) once more.
How long God has waited and yearned for this re-creation! The earth itself “eagerly waits” for its liberation from sin (Rom 8:19– 22). Generation after generation and millennia after millennia have passed since the fall. From the moment sin entered the world, Adam and Eve felt their communion with God severed, and ever since then, we have been separated from our Creator. Sin has run its course so long that despair has seemed to permeate every piece of the planet. But soon, all this will change. “But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you” (1 Pet 5:10). “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life” (John 3:36a). If we answer God’s call to glory, if we follow Him, we will get to experience the wonder of everlasting life and His restoration.
“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. . . . And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.’” (Rev 21:1a, 3). This beautiful vision given to John demonstrates just what God has in mind for the future. The suffering and curse of sin will vanish. The pain and tears we have known all our lives will be gone. Perhaps best of all, we will experience true communion with God.
As Adam and Eve communed with God, so shall we. At Jesus’ second coming, earth’s first humans will at last be reunited with their Creator, and we will too. In intimate relationship we will walk hand in hand with our Lord into eternity. Ellen G. White writes of this new intimacy in multiple places: “They will stand before the throne, accepted in the Beloved. All their sins have been blotted out, all their transgressions borne away. Now they can look upon the undimmed glory of the throne of God.”3 “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters.”4 At last we will be in true, full communion.
LIVING WITHOUT SIN: NO MORE DEATH, PAIN, OR SORROW
Not only will we have this full communion with God, but we will have no residual effect of sin whatsoever. When our Saviour returns to this world, sin’s grip will be released from each person. “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:4). The “former things” have all been “swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor 15:54).
How great our joy will be to have such pain and sorrow behind us, especially the pain of death. God has fashioned a beautiful plan to care for those who have already died. In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul writes of those who have died, saying that they have essentially fallen asleep (v. 13). When Christ returns at His second coming, His work of re-creation, which includes everything on earth and in the heavens, begins with His followers who have died. Before any other restoration of the universe takes place, Jesus will restore life to believers who fell asleep in Him (v. 16).
This view on death is quite unique compared to many other worldviews. For example, a naturalist worldview espouses that there is nothing beyond what can be touched, seen, and heard. Thus, there is nothing to experience beyond death. Philosopher Bertrand Russell states that “no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave.”5 Some other worldviews—such as those connected to Eastern religions and New Age beliefs—posit that all of humanity is spiritually a part of a larger soul, force, or consciousness. This means that death is seen more like a transition than an end. For example, in Hinduism the belief of reincarnation means that “a person’s present life was preceded by other lives and will likewise be followed by other lives . . . the way that life is lived in one lifetime determines the quality of the next incarnation.”6 Within a New Age perspective, “physical death is not the end of the self; under the experience of cosmic consciousness, the fear of death is removed. . . . We are not just our physical bodies, says the New Age. Human beings are a unit beyond the body.”7
In a biblical worldview, the love of God truly shines through even in humanity’s death. First, there is a hope of something after death: we are not left in darkness. “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live’” (John 11:25; see also Luke 20:35–36; 1 Cor 15:21; 2 Tim 2:11). We know that this life is not the end. In His love, God has something wonderful awaiting us even beyond death.
We also are not stripped of our identity after death. Ellen White writes that at the resurrection, “friends long separated by death are united, nevermore to part, and with songs of gladness ascend together to the City of God.”8 We will not be refreshed as completely different people; we will still recognize, know, and love the ones we knew on earth. After all, God has intentionally and lovingly crafted each one of us. “For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well” (Ps 139:13–14).
Finally, God will not allow death to be humanity’s perpetual experience. There will be an endpoint to death, a final death, so that it will no longer plague God’s universe of life. This final death, known as the second death, is reserved for Satan and his followers.
Although you and I may experience death on earth, if our faith is placed in Jesus, we will not experience the second, permanent death of sin. However, those who have chosen Satan over Christ will be given over to the second death, and with them all traces of sin shall be destroyed. “Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:14–15). Although this will be a dreadfully sorrowful event, this cleansing must take place for the universe to truly be free from sin. This will at last be God’s final triumph over evil. The universe will then be perfect and just as God intended.
“Every sinful tendency, every imperfection, that afflicts them here has been removed by the blood of Christ . . . and the moral beauty, the perfection of His character, shines through them, in worth far exceeding this outward splendor.”9 This is the picture of our lives without sin. God will bring complete restoration to the universe, paralleling His original perfect creation.
Healing, restoration, and a new start to life: this is what awaits us in Christ’s re-created kingdom. This is the blessed hope we have to hold on to, the hope to sustain us. With our hearts rooted in Christ and our eyes ever on Him, we will find that our attachment to the world grows less, and our attachment to God will grow more.
This is the last act of the great controversy. Within our biblical worldview, this is the ultimate answer and solution to all the sin and suffering in the world. God’s re-creation will leave the universe cleansed and whole, ready to live forevermore in joy and peace in God’s presence.
In that day the redeemed will shine forth in the glory of the Father and the Son. The angels, touching their golden harps, will welcome the King and His trophies of victory— those who have been washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. A song of triumph will peal forth, filling all heaven. Christ has conquered. He enters the heavenly courts, accompanied by His redeemed ones, the witnesses that His mission of suffering and sacrifice has not been in vain.10
Refashioning the world to the way it was intended to be—that is God’s plan. We were purposed to live this sort of life, and so God will re-create the world so that we are able to enjoy it as He long ago intended. This is the beautiful finale of the epic: God reunited forever with His people. With this story serving as the backdrop to everything we experience in the world, it equips us with a biblical worldview capable of satisfying the deepest questions of our hearts.
1 All biblical quotations are from the NKJV.
2 Michael D. Palmer, “Elements of a Christian Worldview,” in Elements of a Christian Worldview, ed. Michael D. Palmer (Springfield, MO: Legion Press, 2002), 53.
3 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1909), 9:285.
4 Ellen G. White, Heaven (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 2003), 148.
5 Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship,” in Why I Am Not a Christian (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957), 107.
6 Julia Mitchell Corbett, Religion in America (Upper Saddle, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990), 250.
7 James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1998), 157.
8 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1911), 644–645.
9 Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1892), 126.
10 White, Heaven, 81.
Joseph Kidder, DMin, is professor of Christian ministry and discipleship at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, MI, USA.
Katelyn Campbell Weakley is an MDiv and MSW student at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, MI, USA.