On the new earth, in which righteousness dwells, God will provide an eternal home for the redeemed and a perfect environment for everlasting life, love, joy, and learning in His presence. For here God Himself will dwell with His people, and suffering and death will have passed away. The great controversy will be ended, and sin will be no more. All things, animate and inanimate, will declare that God is love; and He shall reign forever. Amen. (Isa. 35; 65:17-25; Matt. 5:5; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 11:15; 21:1-7; 22:1-5.) (2 Pet. 3:13; Isa. 35; 65:17-25; Matt. 5:5; Rev. 11:15; 21:1-7; 22:1-5.)
There were no changes in this fundamental, other than the usual rearrangement of Bible texts. Revelation 21-22 are the key chapters behind this fundamental. These chapters build very strongly on a number of Old Testament contexts; Genesis 1-2, the Hebrew sanctuary, the historical accounts of the original Jerusalem and Ezekiel 47. This fundamental focuses on the conclusion of the Great Controversy story when “sin and sinners will be no more.” One of the mysterious things promised in these chapters is the “healing of the nations” (Rev 22:2). This is not so much a reference to the healing of human bodies and minds, but rather healing between peoples and nations. But as a part of this prophecy, it is a call for readers to anticipate the New Jerusalem by seeking social justice on this earth now.
There are a couple of other beautiful promises in Revelation 22:1-4. It is said that the saved will “see His face.” It is not clear if the “His” refers to “God” or the “Lamb” (Jesus Christ). Face to face contact with God was extremely limited in Old Testament times but became real on earth with the incarnation of Jesus Christ (John 1:1, 14). The ultimate privilege of human existence is to be face to face with God, but without any fear (unlike Genesis 3:10).
Both the Bible and this fundamental belief indicate that death itself will have passed away. That makes sense on the large-scale human perspective. But does that cover all forms of death? Cell death and replacement are an important piece of healthy existence as we know it. The death and decay of plants provides nutrients for the soil. The human process of eating involves the extinction of plants and their fruits. So how literally are we to take the “no more death” (Rev 21:1-4)? Death itself is literal, but some death is necessary for life, at least as we experience it. Since the Bible was not written in the distant past to provide modern scientific information, we should probably be cautious as to how far we take this assertion.
Also, what does it mean that suffering will have passed away? Will we never stub a toe? Bump heads accidentally? Some suggest that true enjoyment is enhanced when you have something else to compare it to. In The Matrix it was argued that the complete absence of suffering would not be a desirable state for human beings. It is contended that suffering at some level is necessary for paradise and true happiness to exist. So FB 28 is clear in practical terms, but doesn’t answer all the questions that could be asked. When it comes to eternity, our ignorance exceeds our knowledge.
The statement talks about a “perfect environment.” This suggests a new ecological order, one that is symbiotic (where creatures co-operate with each other in meeting their daily needs) rather than predatory. Such a return to the original order of things is forecast in texts like Isaiah 11:6-9, where predators and prey are on genial terms with each other. The new earth signals the end of predation. Ethicists speak of moral evil, natural evil and ecological evil. God’s new order will overcome all three.
God’s willingness to dwell with His people is amazing, given the size and scope of the universe as we have come to know it through astronomical science. While not stated explicitly, this reality implies a divine commitment to human well-being that exceeds all other divine/creature relationships. God chooses to be with humanity on earth in eternity, to permanently share His life with us. The promise of special relationship that is experienced in the Sabbath will fill the whole of eternity.
While the new earth will be real, it would probably not be wise to make too much of the details (streets of gold, gates of pearl). These are imaginative visions couched in the language of the ancient world and the historical context of God’s people as chronicled in the Old Testament. The details of such prophecies are tied more closely to the traditions of the past than to some movie of the future. This is evident, for example, in Isaiah 11, which was referenced above. Verses 15 and 16 are a prophecy of the exile to Babylon and the return. This picture of the future is grounded in the Exodus and in Isaiah’s own context. According to the chapter, Israel will come out of Assyria when a wind from God dries up the Euphrates so Israel can escape on foot through the dry river bed. Not one detail this prophecy is fulfilled as written. It is Judah that escapes Babylon, not Israel that escapes from Assyria. Why the discrepancy? Because Babylon as an empire did not exist in Isaiah’s day, it was assumed under the Assyrian Empire. And Israel had not yet been destroyed. Isaiah met people where they were at the time of the prophecy. In reality the Euphrates was not dried up by a wind from God either but through the efforts of Cyrus’ engineers. And the people of God crossed the river on bridges not the river bed. Why the discrepancy? Because the Exodus was the model for the prophecy. God projected the future in the language of Israel’s past.
With the above in mind we can say that until a prophecy is fully fulfilled, it is unwise to project every detail in advance. When God gives a vision to a prophet, that vision views the End as a natural extention of the prophet’s time and place. When the fulfillment comes, all will be clear (John 13:19; 14:29). But until then, we don’t get to decide just how the prophecy will be fulfilled. Our job is to study, pray, and wait.
While the previous paragraph may disappoint some, it is important to remember the purpose of prophecy. Prophecy was not given to satisfy our curiosity about the future, but to teach us how to live today. These texts are much more powerful than the details of their picture of the future. They are designed to change who you are. They are in the form of stories that teach principles and shape people. They give clues to the future in order to shape who we are today. Getting the details right is less important than being transformed by the vision of the prophet.
Daily healing and transformation is what Loma Linda University Health is all about. Something similar can be said about the 28 Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists. They have been carefully crafted and each line is important. But unless we allow these ideas to transform our lives they are but “sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1). While they can help to shape our ideas, what really counts is whether we allow them to shape our lives, to change who we are. As we conclude this series on the 28 Fundamentals, I invite you to do just that.