By: Thomas Booher
What will life in the renewed creation be like? How similar will it be to life now? Is such a question even one we should be asking? True, to daydream of dwelling within the unmitigated presence of God in a spotless, perfected land is not what God calls Christians to do. Some may appeal to 1 John 3:2 and say believers should only concern themselves with being faithful to God now since God has not revealed what life in glory will be like, except that we will be holy like 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.” All Christians agree that eternal life will be spent praising and worshiping God for all that He is and has done, but how praising and worshiping expresses itself is debated, particularly in regards to work and our earthly activities. While it is true that nothing can be known with certainty beyond what Scripture reveals to us, what is revealed about life in the renewed creation enables believers to live more faithfully and purposefully now and thus should be discerned.
The bliss Adam and Eve enjoyed in the Garden of Eden does not compare to the glory that awaits the children of God, not because the two are completely dissimilar, but because the children of God have overcome sin, death, and the world in Christ, their heavenly groom, and receive the love of adopted children from God the Father. This is because in Christ believers have union with the Godhead, a privilege that transcends anything Adam and Eve experienced. Presently, however, believers still experience the curse of sin. Their bodies decay and die, are prone to evil, and along with the creation itself, groan under the curse of sin, awaiting redemption; this groaning and waiting occurs because one who is born again has tasted of heavenly life (Rom. 8:22-25) and longs for the fullness of it now. Paradise has been lost, but it will be regained, and eternal life is not disconnected from the earth and physical things, but rather unites the new heavens and new earth. Believers have the Spirit of Christ within them, which is the guarantee of the eternal inheritance into God’s kingdom in the new heavens and new earth (Eph. 1:14) and provides a foretaste of the future glory in the present. Romans 6 explains that the believer has been buried with Christ and has entered into His resurrected life already, one that is no longer a slave to sin but finds freedom in slavery to righteousness. There is even a sense in which we presently rule and reign with Christ, seated in the heavenly places in Him (Eph. 2:6). Geerhardus Vos said, “Only the predestined inhabitants of the eternal city know how to conduct themselves in a simple tent as kings and princes of God.” Already we are kings and princes of God, and yet how much more so will we be when the whole creation is redeemed from the curse and Christ comes down to tabernacle with us.
This ruling and reigning with Christ (2 Tim. 2:12) as kings and princes can lead to much theorizing. Randy Alcorn says Isaiah 9:7’s teaching of the endless expansion of God’s kingdom and government could occur by “expand[ing] into previously ungoverned territories. Another [way] is to create new territories. This could suggest new planets to govern or new realms under Christ's rulership, or perhaps even new creatures to inhabit new worlds!” While this may not be altogether unwarranted and is fascinating, it is speculation. What can be said with certitude is that the believers’ rule and reign will be righteous and just (Is. 32:1); it will be an environment where man and creation are in perfect harmony, for the wolf will lie down with the lamb, and a little child will lead them (Is. 11:6). This points back to the first creation, where Adam is given dominion over the animals and he names them. Adam and Eve were commissioned by God to fill the earth and subdue it. This dominion mandate has never been revoked and never will be, for it is what God created man for, and because believers have entered into resurrection life now they have been freed to exercise dominion as an act of worship to God presently. What Christians are doing now should be a reflection, a foretaste even, of what the saints will be doing for all eternity.
Thus we see continuity between the original creation and the renewed creation itself and life on the original creation and renewed creation. Sin has disrupted man’s image bearing of God, and before sin came man knew God only as Creator and Lord but not as Savior. Therefore, prior to the Fall man was to reflect God in His creativity and Lordship, which is why God commissioned Adam and Eve to cultivate the earth (being creative) and subdue it (exercising lordship). Those who claim the dominion mandate was made void due to the Fall or say that the dominion will be completed in heaven fail to realize that dominion by its very nature is something that is never completed because God never ceases to exercise dominion. Man will always be exercising dominion on God’s behalf, in sundry ways; to argue otherwise is to argue that sin has so corrupted the cosmos that it is wicked beyond repair. Which is to say rather than Christ redeeming the creation, He has destroyed it and started afresh.
So what does it mean to exercise dominion and cultivate the earth like God? To cultivate demonstrates creativity, to subdue demonstrates ownership, or lordship. David Bruce Hegeman illustrates this when he says,
As mankind came to understand the wisdom and order of God’s good creation, he would have performed his culturative activities in response to and as a reflection of God’s creative acts. Making and praising (ora et labora) were one and the same before the Fall.
Adam and Eve’s fall was forgetting (or denying) that they were image bearers of the one true Creator and were under His Lordship. They bucked against this, as did Satan, and in Adam all mankind has fallen. To understand this is crucial, since throughout church history and in the church today there are different denominations that emphasize social, political, and cultural activities in varying degrees because of their interpretation of the importance Scripture places on these things. Some believe the only message Christians ought to proclaim is the gospel, and that the church need not take up any other cause. Others want to wed social justice to the gospel, or even replace the gospel with social justice, making physical needs the church’s mission. Life in the renewed creation speaks to these issues, but how can that life be discerned? The answer to the dilemma is rooted in creation and comes to full bloom in eternity, meaning where man started and where he finishes in glory is the continuum one must look to to understand what life will be like in the renewed creation.
Why did God create man? Ultimately, it was for His glory. Specifically, it was to make a people for Himself and to provide a bride for His Son. God has made everything for Himself, and particularly to give His Son dominion and glory, the preeminence over the whole Creation as a man, the God-Man (Col. 1:13-18). It becomes clear in Christ the God-Man that God has privileged Him to be the hero of history, the true image bearer of God that will sacrificially set His bride free from her self-imposed slavery. The benefits provided by the cross for both Christ in His humanity and the believer spiritually are immeasurable. In becoming man, Christ gained glory as a man. United to Christ, believers become partakers of the divine nature, holy and spotless like God, having the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). Christ as the firstborn of all creation, taking on flesh and dying for His people to redeem them and gain glory and preeminence in His humanity is God’s greatest creative act and the focal point of His predestined plan for all things. It is His crowning achievement, if one can be so bold as to put it in such language. The world is Christ’s throne, His enemies His footstool. His people are His bride, His brothers and sisters, and His vicegerents. They worship Him not just as Lord and Creator, but now as Savior, Redeemer, and Friend, united to Him through the Holy Spirit. God chiefly calls His people to make much of Him for who He is and what He has done, for His power and purity as well as for the salvation He has graciously and mercifully provided them in Christ. G. K. Beale puts it well when he says,
Jesus’s life, trials, death for sinners, and especially resurrection by the Spirit have launched the fulfillment of the eschatological already-not yet new-creational reign, bestowed by grace through faith and resulting in worldwide commission to the faithful to advance this new-creational reign and resulting in judgment for the unbelieving, unto the triune God’s glory.
So then, the dominion mandate issued at the first creation sees its fullest expression in the work of Christ, who lived as a carpenter cultivating the earth, who submitted to God’s Lordship with perfect obedience, and took on the sin of the world to make all things His and all things new. This was the chief purpose of all God’s creative endeavors. Likewise, it is the aim of all of the Christian’s endeavors. Christ being a carpenter was essential and necessary for Him to fulfill His purpose in saving His people because exercising dominion over the Creation is part and parcel to God’s purposes for mankind. Life in the renewed creation can certainly include carpentry then, since Christ Himself worked as a man, and this work was part of His ruling and subduing His creation which leads to its renewal.
There is a sense in which believers foreshadow the work, praise, and glory of the renewed creation when they do all their working and praising for God’s glory now. The example is Christ, who worked as a carpenter perfectly, who worshiped God perfectly, and lived perfectly. Revelation 21:1-4, 22-27 gives us a glimpse of life in the New Jerusalem:
Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 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. 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.”
But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
These verses seem to indicate symmetry between life now and life in the coming kingdom. The differences are that there will be no more sin or wickedness of any kind, including the sorrow and death that comes with it, and the glory of the world will be Christ, who will replace the sun and be the light that always shines. Notice that the former things that are passing away relates to sorrow, pain, and death, things that came with sin. Work and creativity have been marred by sin, but they pre-existed sin. In the renewed creation then, work and creativity in the life of God’s people will be purified, set free from sin rather than abrogated. Work and creativity will once again be without sorrow, pain, and death, and will be purely worshipful.
Another interesting note in verses 24 and 26 above is that the glory and the honor of the nations shall be brought into the presence of the Lamb. Commenting on this, Dr. Vern Poythress says,
The nations represent redeemed humanity in all its cultural divisions. The distinctiveness of different cultures and peoples is not simply wiped out, but redeemed, in harmony with the picture in 1 Corinthians 12 of the unity and diversity in the body of Christ (see Isa. 60:3-12; Rev. 5:9). The nations bring in their splendor, that is, all the diversity of riches, whether material, intellectual, artistic, or spiritual (Isa. 60:3-5; Hag. 2:7-9).
Perhaps the wisemen who were attracted by the bright star to seek Jesus and shower Him with gifts, whether they were actually kings or not, is a picture of the kings and the nations streaming into the New Jerusalem and the presence of Christ to shower Him with gifts, praise, and adoration. The glory and the honor of the nations could be something akin to gold, frankincense, and myrrh, being inclusive enough to include music, writing, painting, poetry, and singing. Rather than live for the things of the world, or man’s own creativity with the world, the nations will produce great works of art and mine great riches to bring in to give and display before Christ. God specifically skilled Bezalel and Aholiab along with others to construct the temple ornately by displaying great artistic skill and extravagance (see Exodus 36). Since the whole cosmos is now God’s temple, then the whole cosmos will be developed to produce great and marvelous things on behalf of Christ forever. The unifying theme of all working endeavors will be who Christ is, and now after the drama of redemption has unfolded, what He has done. The labor will not be physically taxing or contradict the book of Hebrews teaching of the eternal Sabbath rest, for all pain and suffering was a result of sin, and work was never intended to be a chore but rather a delight and act of imaging God. This delighting in God will continue throughout eternity, where all of life will be a delighting in worshiping God in manifold forms and mediums, reflecting the creativity of the Creator as man was created to do from the beginning.
It is important that the impression is not given that working in a field or even composing a symphony can compare to the joy and glory of seeing the Lord and Savior. The beatific vision, to see Christ face to face, to bask in His unmitigated presence forever, is what the Christian most longs for. The knowledge of the Godhead as Lord, Savior, and Creator will increase, and believers will return worship and praise with awe and wonder forever. Christ did not die so that Christians can enjoy doing their favorite hobbies pain free. He died so that man could know Him as He is, and praise Him for it (John 17:3). He died so that believers could reflect God as perfectly as Christ Himself reflects God. This reflection, however, must have content. It must not be a purely theoretical or mental reflecting, but also a bodily reflection of the glory of God. This is why we will rule and reign with Christ, as an act of reflecting the Father and as an indication of our privileged status in Christ.
Yet one can take too literally the rule and reign of God as Him sitting on a white throne forever. Sabbath rest is not a rest from activity; it is a rest from sinning and toiling. Revelation 21 does picture symbolically the New Jerusalem as having streets paved with gold, of walls made with jasper, sapphire, emerald, and more. Some may argue from this that all man does is receive the new heavens and new earth, and since God has established its construction, it would only be devaluing to tamper with it. The renewed creation has moved from a garden to a fully crafted garden city, the darkness driven out by the perpetual light of the Lamb. Some undoubtedly conclude from this that the New Jerusalem is more of a monument or art gallery to be enjoyed and marveled at by man and not something man should interact with. This is partly true. The New Jerusalem will reveal the glory and splendor of God, even His beauty in the construction of the New Jerusalem. His people will worship Him because of it, love Him for it, and because of that, will also be inspired by it- inspired to create and work for God’s glory, to try and duplicate some of His creative genius as His image bearer. Freed from sin, adopted into God’s family with all the privileges of the Son, the bride can do this. This is not to say believers can improve upon what God has given, but that they can mix colors and create something a bit different. Not unlike the way that a diamond has many facets, each one reflecting its splendor, so God’s people will forever bring out slightly different angles of God’s glory in their praising Him, whether that be through music, poetry, dance, writing, acting, architecture, sports, or whatever. These things are the mediums which laud and magnify the story of redemptive history. What the nations bring in to the New Jerusalem will be fit for worship to God, otherwise it would not, could not, be brought in.
With such scant description of life in the renewed creation, it is significant that the bringing in of the glory and honor of the nations is listed in Revelation 21. This may be pressing the details too much, but if there is a literal bringing in of the glory and honor into the most centralized point of God’s presence in the New Jerusalem from all the nations, and if there is indeed a gate that is always open, we may have an indication of day to day activity for glorified believers. The spiritual as well as physical and artistic gifts that God has given believers does not dissolve or become an amorphous, identical mass in the New Jerusalem, but continues on, indicating that some in glory will be more suited to one craft or aspect of reflecting God’s glory than another. The saints will know what giftings they have been given, and will always happily labor in the areas of their giftings (never again will believers have to struggle over their calling or how they should be spending their time, for it will be plain to all). On the Lord’s Day, or something similar to it in the New Jerusalem, believers from all different nations will bring in their latest labors of pure love and joy, demonstrating their image bearing by the glory and honor that they bring in. It will be displayed as an act of worship to God and will thus edify and uplift other believers as well. God’s grace and mercy as well as His justice and wrath will be on display, for He is the God of each and all. Songs that praise His punishment of the wicked as well as His grace to His people will be composed and sung like never before; art will be displayed before Him that will transcend the beauty on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel; stories will be written of God that will depict His glory and honor more poignantly than Narnia or Lord of the Rings. This will not replace or undermine all that God has done in Christ on the cross, but rather will magnify it, will laud it, will echo it. Is this not what the best art and architecture strives to do now? Is this not why God commands we sing to Him a new song, play skillfully, and shout for joy (Psalm 33:3)? Is this not why we were made- to be the image bearers of God so that His glory could redound to Himself?
In conclusion then, the dominion mandate and the cross of Christ are intimately connected and show us the way to life in the renewed creation. The true story of the gospel, of Christ becoming man and dying for sinners, is the capstone of God’s creative activity and provides the content, the storyline, the shape and aim of the dominion mandate, which is to fill the earth and subdue it. Christ receives the pre-eminence over all, not only in His living and dying for sinners, but in His exercising dominion over all things as a man and image bearer of God. Thus, the whole creation is in subjection to Him. His bride enters into that subjection, that rule and reign with Him once they are born again, and consummately following Christ’s second coming. Therefore, understanding life in the renewed creation carries importance not just for the future, but for every believer in the present, since we are already ruling and reigning with Christ spiritually and should be laboring as such even now. There is great continuity between life now and life in the renewed creation, which encourages believers to live all of their lives now for God’s glory since every aspect of it truly counts forever.
Alcorn, Randy. Heaven. Carol Stream, ILL: Tyndale, 2004.
Beale, G.K. A New Testament Biblical Theology: the Unfolding of the Old Testament in
the New. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2011.
Ferguson, Sinclair B. Children of the Living God. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1989.
Hegeman, David Bruce. Plowing in Hope: Toward a Biblical Theology of Culture. 2nd
ed. Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2007
Poythress, Vern S. The Returning King: a Guide to the Book of Revelation. Phillipsburg,
N.J.: P & R Publishing, 2000.
Venema, Cornelis P. Promise of the Future. Castleton, NY: Banner of Truth, 2000.
Vos, Geerhardus. Grace and Glory. Grand Rapids: The Reformed Press, 1922.
Sinclair B. Ferguson, Children of the Living God (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1989), 47-50
 Cornelis P. Venema, Promise of the Future (Castleton, NY: Banner of Truth, 2000), 458-459
 Geerhardus Vos, Grace and Glory (Grand Rapids: The Reformed Press, 1922), 139-140
 Randy Alcorn, Heaven. (Carol Stream, ILL: Tyndale, 2004), 224
 Venema, The Promise of the Future, 459-461
 Ibid., 461
 David Bruce Hegeman, Plowing in Hope: Toward a Biblical Theology of Culture, 2nd ed. (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2007), 42
 G.K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: the Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2011), 958
 Vern S. Poythress, The Returning King: a Guide to the Book of Revelation (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Publishing, 2000), 191-192
 Ibid., 192