At the second coming of Christ, the people of God will see the risen King in his power and great glory. They will be changed instantly into sinless persons who will be like their glorious King forever. In that likeness to Christ, their capacities for love — for delighting in what is truly great and beautiful and worthy — will be raised to unimagined heights as they share in the very love of the Father and the Son. And in that supreme, pure, perfected delight in God, the glory of God will shine.
At this point, we might (mistakenly) conclude that the fullness of the purposes of providence has been reached. But to many people’s surprise, God does not intend for our sight of glory, or our likeness to glory, or our praises of glory, to be physically invisible or inaudible. So it would be a mistake to think that these works of providence exhaust the fullness of God’s purpose. There is more. Another work of providence that grows out of the second coming is the resurrection of the body and the renovation of the universe.
God did not create the material universe, including our physical bodies, to be thrown away at the end of this age. That is not what we see in the Bible.
Renovation of the Universe
The created universe, and everything in it, is now and always will be (to an infinitely greater degree) a theater of God’s glory. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). That is true for the entire material world, from the smallest subatomic particle to the most distant galaxy. The minuteness of the human race within the vastness of the universe is not an incongruity. For the vastness of the universe is not about the greatness of man, but about the greatness of God. Man has his greatness, but it lies in his capacity to know and worship the God who calls the universe “the work of [his] fingers” (Psalm 8:3).
In his work of creation, God has woven a fabric of reality out of the material and the immaterial. He did this in such a way that their interconnectedness is mysterious, yet essential for the maximum display and enjoyment of his glory. By raising the human body from the dead and by renovating the universe for the habitation of those bodies, God’s providence brings into being the final goal of all things — the complete glorification of his people and the fullness of the display of his own greatness and beauty and worth.
Dying Natural Body, Coming Spiritual Body
At the second coming,
The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. (1 Thessalonians 4:16)
Paul describes those resurrected bodies:
What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42–44)
What is a spiritual body? We must be careful not to think of something ethereal or ghostlike. Paul said Christ would make our resurrection body like his own: “[He] will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:21). The risen Christ was not a ghost. He appeared to his disciples and said, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39). Then he ate a piece of fish to put it beyond doubt: a spiritual body is not a spirit (Luke 24:42–43).
Rather, a spiritual body is a body recreated in a form beyond our comprehension and experience. It is spiritual at least in the sense that it is now — not partially, but wholly — fitted for the indwelling of the Spirit of God. It now has Spirit-given capacities that it never had. How else could we look upon one another without being blinded, when each of us is shining like the sun (Matthew 13:43)?
New Universe Made for the New Humanity
To show that the universe exists for man, not man for the universe, something absolutely astonishing then happens. God remakes the universe precisely to accommodate the new humanity with their spiritual bodies.
The prophet Isaiah foresaw this day and spoke the word of God: “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind” (Isaiah 65:17). The apostle John saw it as well: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Revelation 21:1). And the apostle Peter described the emergence of the new heavens and the new earth through a cataclysmic purification:
The heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:12–13)
But what is astonishing beyond the unimaginable magnitude of this providence is the fact that the entire renovation is carried out so that the universe is adapted to the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Here are the breathtaking words from Paul:
The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:19–21)
The picture is not of man standing on tiptoe looking for a new creation. It’s the reverse: the creation is standing on tiptoe, looking for the day when the children of God will be glorified. When God subjected the creation to its fallen condition of futility and corruption, he had a future day of liberation in mind. That liberation was planned as a response to the glorification of God’s people. It was conceived as a participation in the freedom and glory of God’s redeemed children. “The creation itself will . . . obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).
Perfect Home for Perfect People
The children will receive new, free, glorious, spiritual bodies, and the whole creation will be transformed into a perfect habitation designed for this new humanity. This means that the original purpose of the creation — to declare the glory of God — will be elevated in proportion as the saints have elevated capacities to see and savor and show the glory of God.
Sin will be completely eliminated. Nothing unclean or immoral or spiritually half-hearted will be there. All thoughts will be true. All desires will be free of any self-exaltation. All feelings will be calm or intense in perfect proportion to the nature of the reality felt. All deeds will be done in the name of Jesus and for the glory of God. Every particle and movement and connection in the material world will communicate something of the wisdom and power and love of God.
And the capacity of the glorified minds and hearts and bodies of the saints will know and feel and act with no frustration, no confusion, no repression, no misgiving, no doubt, no regret, and no guilt. All our knowing — whatever we know — will include the knowledge of God. All our feeling — whatever we feel — will include the taste of the worth and beauty of God. All our acting — whatever we do — will comply in sweet satisfaction with the will of God.
Cost of Paradise
We will sing forever “the song of the Lamb” (Revelation 15:3) — the Lamb who was slain (Revelation 5:9) — which means we will never forget that every sight, every sound, every fragrance, every touch, and every taste in the new world was purchased by Christ for his undeserving people. This world — with all its joy — cost him his life (Romans 8:32; 2 Corinthians 1:20).
Every pleasure of every kind will intensify our thankfulness and love for Jesus. The new heavens and the new earth will never diminish but only increase our boast “in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). We will never forget that the recreated theater of wonders — this incomprehensible interweaving of spiritual and material beauty — has come into being through Christ and for Christ (Colossians 1:16).
God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — will behold the finished work of his providence and rejoice over it with singing (Zephaniah 3:17). The Father will rejoice over the excellence of the Son and his triumphant achievements (Matthew 17:5; Philippians 2:9–11). The Son, the bridegroom, will rejoice over his immaculate bride — the glorified church (Isaiah 62:5). And the joy of the Holy Spirit will fill the saints as the very joy of God in God (1 Thessalonians 1:6).