Tuesday, October 2, 2012

No more water but the fire next time . . . 

God gave Noah the rainbow sign, don't you see
God gave Noah the rainbow sign, don't you see
God gave Noah the rainbow sign
No more water but the fire next time

This refrain can be attributed to either a Negro spiritual or an Appalachian melody - or both.  To me it is quite familiar, but I am finding that many others have never heard it.

Regardless of the origin of the tune, I believe it incorporates a commonly held belief especially among we evangelicals.  Recently I heard: “Well, God is just going to destroy all of this.” (A comment such as this cannot help being encumbered with a certain amount of disdain for the work of God via His Word.) Yet, is it correct?  What was God’s covenant promise to Noah?
The LORD smelled the soothing aroma (of the covenantal sacrifice); and the LORD said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done.” Genesis 8:21

God said to Himself!

This was not just a promise to Noah - God said to Himself!  Where else do we hear such language?  “For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, . . . so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.”  Hebrews 6:13, 18  And we could add: “The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.” Isaiah 40:8

So how do we reconcile God’s promise to Himself and our commonly held interpretations of such passage as: But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. 2 Peter 3:10 Likewise we have: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” Mark 13:31

Before we go further, I would like to interpose another passage containing similar language: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Cor 5:17 ESV Indeed, the Greek is exactly the same in all three instances.  Yet, in this passage the individual does not go away. God has not destroyed His creation - that which He said was good.  The object of His grace is transformed.

Annihilation or Restoration?

Is the fire then unto destruction - annihilation?  Or is it to purification - restoration!  “If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” 1 Cor 3:15 That which serves as a type of the essence of God - gold, silver, precious stones - is purified by fire.  That which is a type of the efforts of man (to attain a god-like status - Genesis 3:5) - wood, hay, straw - will be annihilated indeed. The purpose being: “That no flesh should glory in his presence.” 1 Corinthians 1:29 KJV Fire and glory are both attributes of His goodness - When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the LORD on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, "For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever." 2 Chronicles 7:3 ESV

The fiery passion of God is not to be feared with dread–it is to be embraced.  It will consume the chaff or our lives, our communities - and this present age - so that which is capable of bearing fruit will remain to produce after its kind. “and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the barn; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”  Matthew 3:12 KJ2000 The chaff and the kernel are of the same essence, but it is only the kernel that remains - the chaff having served its purpose passes away.
The commentator Albert Barnes has a clarifying insight on this subject. “The idea contained in the word ‘dissolved,’ (destroyed - 2 Peter 3:11-12) is, properly, only the change which heat produces. Heat changes the forms of things; dissolves them into their elements; dissipates those which were solid by driving them off into gases, and produces new compounds, but it annihilates nothing. It could not be demonstrated from this phrase that the world would be annihilated by fire; it could be proved only that it will undergo important changes. So far as the action of fire is concerned, the form of the earth may pass away, and its aspect be changed; but unless the direct power which created it interposes to annihilate it, the matter which now composes it will still be in existence.”
An Imperishable Hope

After what seems to be such a dire prediction by Peter, his stylus points the believer to an imperishable hope.  “But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” 2 Peter 3:13 

Adam Clarke - a contemporary of the Wesleys notes: It does appear, from these promises, that the apostle says here, and what is said Revelation 21:27; Revelation 22:14-15, that the present earth, though destined to be burned up, will not be destroyed, but be renewed and refined, purged from all moral and natural imperfection, and made the endless abode of blessed spirits.

Concerning this everlasting state we read in the Book of the Revelation: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, . . . ” 21:1 Once again we encounter that word passed - and once again it is the same Greek word as used by Paul and Peter.  Since our premise is that this is not unto annihilation, but transformation - what might be meant here?  Let us consider this: the old has not ceased to exist, but it has passed out of sight for it has been eclipsed by the glory of the new.  “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” Revelation 21:23 ESV

Looking again to the commentators: in contrast to the destructive effects of the day of God stand its constructive effects. As the flood was the baptism of the earth, eventuating in a renovated earth, partially delivered from "the curse," so the baptism with fire shall purify the earth so as to be the renovated abode of regenerated man, wholly freed from the curse.  Jamieson-Fausset-Brown

I am hearing right now via internet radio:

This is my Fathers world,
The battle is not done.
Jesus, who died, shall be satisfied
And earth and heaven be one.

I have hardly ever heard a more succinct eschatological statement. Unless it is this: “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” Colossians 1:16 NIV    

So what!?
Is this just vain speculation, or is there eternal significance here? As Christians we are not wandering aimlessly–we are journeying along a path predetermined by the purpose of God (Ephesians 2:10).  The faith of Abraham is first demonstrated as the vision of God called him out of the land of Ur: “for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Hebrews 11:10 The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews goes on to address all of those for whom Abraham is our progenitor of faith: “But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.” 11:16

Proverbs tells us: “Where there is no vision, the people perish:” 29:18KJV The word perish can also be translated as “without restrain” or to “run wild.”  Without the revelation of God the people plunge ahead aimlessly squandering the resources entrusted to them.

Having said that, I want to take us to a mountaintop in the Southern Coalfields of West Virginia just a few days ago. A group of intercessors were gathered to a windswept plateau created by the mining of resources to fuel the economy of this nation.  Yet, they believed there was more - God was not finished, He was still at work.  They had come to join Him there for their mandate was: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness there of . . . ” Psalm 24:1.

As we joined our hearts in oneness, we were very aware of being part of His plan: creation being redeemed for Gospel purpose–the revealing of the sons of God.  We were being observed from a distance by a group of men.  As we prepared to leave one of them jumped into this pick-up so he could speak with our host Pastor Mitch Bias.  “I don’t go to church much,” he exclaimed, “but my wife does and keeps me in the loop.”  Continuing he said, “We were watching as you prayed and we could feel the Presence of God from where we stood.  I had cold chills running up my arms.”

Drawn Forward

It is this vision of the ultimate purpose of God that draws us forward. 

And here is what I mean.  My bookmobile - the UPS truck - brought me a newly released book: Finish The Mission by John Piper and David Mathis.  I just read these words in the introduction: Wielding the indomitable strength of his divinity, he is poised to guarantee–with absolute certainty–the fulfillment of Habakkuk 2:14: “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”  And then a tweet is quoted in a footnote: “If you hold the gospel up to your ear, you can hear the roaring waves of Hab. 2:14.”  If this does not compel and at the same time cause us to press on I cannot imagine what it would take.

In summary from the Anglican Philip E Hughes: “for God to discard or annihilate the present creation would testify to the failure of his purpose in bring it into being, and this in turn would contradict the doctrine of the being of God, whose purposes, by definition, are incapable of meeting with failure.  God’s purpose as Creator is seen in the fact that all things were created in the Son and through him and for him (Col. 1:16), and consequently all things have the purpose of their creation fulfilled in the Son, through whom God ‘reconciles to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, having made peace through the blood of his cross’ (Col. 1:20). Accordingly, by the new heaven and new earth we understand the realization of ‘the time of restoration of all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old’, as proclaimed by St. Peter (Acts 3:21) - or the achievement, in a word, of what Christ called the palingensia, the ‘rebirth’ or ‘regeneration’, ‘when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of his glory’ (Mt. 19:28).”

The Consummation

“And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” Genesis 1:31 We see the restoration of this in Acts 3:21 which is referenced by Hughes above: “whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things . . . ”  The word restoration used here is derived from the same Greek word for which we get apocalypse.  Unfortunately in the modern vernacular this has come to connotate destruction - it is much more akin to consummation or the returning to its original state or purpose.   

As much as I value the old commentators and hymn writers, here is a perspective from modern hymnists.

The bitter wars that rage
Are the birth pangs of a coming age
When He renews the land and sky
All heav’n will sing and earth reply
With one resplendent theme
The glories of our God and King!

As John writes of the Divine Logos Himself: All things came into being through (for) Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. John 1:3

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