Does CMI deal with end times?
Well, both yes and no!
Published: 3 September 2019 (GMT+10)
Previously published in a CMI newsletter, February 2019
A lot of people write in asking for CMI’s position about end times. In most cases they want to find out if we agree with their particular view about when Christ is going to return, whether there will be a rapture, and the sequence of events. Of course, one’s view of end times is important—otherwise the Bible wouldn’t spend so much time telling us about it. In our experience, many who are passionate about eschatology and who have formed a definitive view, often use it as a type of litmus test for CMI’s orthodoxy, and other Christians in general. The mere fact that sincere, Bible-believing Christians can hold such a range of views should indicate how challenging it is to interpret these passages definitively—after all, with much of it we are dealing with the future and it hasn’t happened yet!
However, we feel that CMI’s mandate is to focus on providing the foundation for a biblical view of end times, which goes to the heart of what we hope for in eternity. For that we need to understand the Bible’s big picture of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. Get this big picture wrong and one will not be able to have any sound biblical view of end times. As we explain this, it will be important for you to look at the biblical references we cite, because these will be common elements that all Bible-based end times views share—and these elements are related to this big picture view.
This earth will pass away
Before the Fall described in Genesis 3, the earth was a perfect paradise with no death, disease, thorns, or carnivory. Adam’s sin brought death on not just his descendants (all of us), but also on the whole world. Today’s world is scarred by the global judgment of the Flood. Romans 8:22 tells us:
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (emphasis ours).
Peter says that the world will be judged again in the future—this time with fire, not water (2 Peter 3:10–14). Just like at the time of the global Flood, the entire earth will be destroyed. But this destruction will pave the way for the final restoration of the earth. This has to happen, because a sin-cursed earth that bears the marks of judgment is not a suitable home for resurrected, perfected people. To some this seems overly dramatic. But just think, as long as a fossil remains in the ground it is a reminder of death and sin, and also Satan’s legacy on the earth, so it has to be erased completely. Just as God raises our dead, destroyed bodies and restores them to be perfect bodies that will never sicken or die, God will completely restore the destroyed earth.
Even the phrase ‘new heavens and earth’ indicates the nature of the restoration we look forward to. The Bible uses the phrase ‘heavens and earth’ to talk about the entire physical universe in a comprehensive way (Genesis 1:1). So, when the Bible talks about a new heavens and earth (2 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21–22), even the term indicates that it is like the first heavens and earth—otherwise there would need to be a different term for it.
So ‘new heavens and earth’ means we should look to what God originally intended for the physical creation to understand what things will be like—what Eden was like before Adam sinned. Eden was a picture of the perfect paradise God created for people to live in. It was a place especially suited for humans to live comfortably and engage in easy, pleasant work (Genesis 2:15). In the well-watered garden with plentiful food, all their needs were provided for. Best of all, they enjoyed direct, intimate fellowship with God. There was no sin, no death, and no barrier between men and God. This has to happen again, and it is most certainly something we all look forward to. So the ‘new heavens and earth’ will be a restoration back to how things were before the Fall.
A ‘physical recreation’?
When people think of heaven and our resurrected state, many imagine an ethereal or ghost-like spiritual realm where we’ll all sit on clouds and play harps. However, that fails to appreciate God’s purpose in creating the earth to be a perfect home for humanity, and that fails to appreciate God’s plan to restore the original lost paradise.
Jesus’ mission was not a ‘Plan B’. God is not going to scrap this world for an ethereal, spiritual state that we can’t imagine, He’s going to restore it to a state even better than the initial creation, because there will never be the possibility of another Fall. There are many good aspects of creation that we can appreciate and enjoy even in this fallen world. And many of the things we love about this earth are things we’re still going to enjoy on the new, restored earth. We will have spiritual and physical bodies (we actually have those now), sensory experiences, and be able to appreciate the beauty of God’s creation as He always intended. That’s why the Resurrection of Christ is so important—He was raised with a glorified physical body—the same sort of body that we will receive (1 Corinthians 15).
What about the ‘spiritual body’?
Some people think that when Paul refers to a ‘spiritual body’ in 1 Corinthians 15:44, this means that we will have a non-physical body. However, this misunderstands what Paul means. When Paul talks about ‘earthly’ and ‘spiritual’ bodies, he isn’t referring to what the bodies are composed of, but of what motivates and drives the desires of the different bodies.
Will we experience time?
Another misconception some people have is that in the Resurrection we will not experience time. But as creatures, we have a beginning in time, and we will remain ‘time-bound’ even in the resurrection. Think about it—we will experience events one after another, so even though it’s not certain how we will measure time in the context of an eternal existence, we will experience time. Only God is outside of time. When we look forward to worshipping and singing to God, for example, music involves timekeeping. If we are walking from one gate to another in the New Jerusalem, it will take time to travel there.
God’s original plan cannot be thwarted
The restored earth must again be physical because if God does not restore the physical world and at least what was lost, then Satan would ‘win’ in a certain sense, because he would have foiled God’s original purpose in creating the earth. Instead, God will undo everything Satan did, and He will make creation even better than before. This is why the resurrection of Christ was so important. It gives us an inkling of what God will do when Christ returns. Only the Creator of the universe has the power over death.
The end of Revelation gives us a glimpse of what is to come. A world without sin, and where God is praised because of His mercy and grace, and Jesus is glorified as the Saviour of the nations. Those who have trusted in Christ are resurrected in glorious bodies that will never sicken or die, to live righteous lives in intimate fellowship with our Creator.
Compromise in Genesis causes problems for end times views
It is absolutely clear that Revelation 21–22 presents the New Heavens and Earth as the physical restoration of Edenic perfection. If God’s original design included millions of years of death and suffering so that evolution could progress, and God called that ‘very good’, then the idea of a ‘restoration’ is not really something to look forward to. Is He again going to use a process of millions of years of death and suffering? Revelation 21:1 says:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, “
How can a millions-of-years view be biblically consistent when God promised that there will be no more death or pain in the new heavens and earth? Even long agers and theistic evolutionists believe in this promise, but how can they be consistent if they think God used a process of death and suffering over millions of years to originally create?
God did it once before—He can do it again!
All these elements are common to all Christian views about eschatology. Scripture’s teaching about the future New Heavens and Earth only makes sense in light of the Bible’s big story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration, and most importantly starting with a literal, good creation. If God created a perfect world with no sin or death, it makes sense that the final goal would be its restoration to its pre-sin state.
The ‘yes and no’
So in a way, eschatology is core to CMI’s ministry in one sense—we absolutely assert that the goal of Jesus’ work was to restore not just believers, but the entire physical creation. And this will happen when He comes again. No matter what various people believe about the timing, or how to interpret various prophecies, getting the biblical foundations right means we all should look forward to the day when we stand on the restored earth with our resurrection bodies, in the presence of our incredible Creator.