7. The New Humanity
In the opening pages of the Bible, God appoints humans to rule the world on his behalf. But when they rebel, the biblical story leads us on a search for a new humanity that will be God’s faithful partners, forever. This is the plot conflict of the biblical story that leads to Jesus, and we explore it in this final and seventh episode of our Spiritual Being series.
Video on the New Humanity
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SERMON SIX: THE NEW HUMANITY
The story of the Bible begins with the creation of: “the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1) and ends with the creation of “a new heaven and the new earth” (Rev 21:1). Creation and new creation are the bookends of the Bible.
1. The garden of Eden is a place where heaven and earth overlaps and God dwells with humanity.
Genesis 1 begins with the creation of the heavens and the earth, but then narrows into a particular garden called “Eden.” This garden is where God dwells with his people on earth.
Adam and Eve were created to be God’s human partners inhabiting, cultivating and caring for earth as people having a spiritual as well as a physical existence.
Eden was meant to be the meeting place of God and humanity, the place from where He would fill everything with his glory, the place where heaven and earth overlapped.
That is why the word Eden is also used in the Bible as a description of heaven itself. We hear Jesus describing heaven as paradise (Luk 23:43). Paul describes heaven as paradise and actually visited it (2 Cor 12:3-4). As does John, also telling us about the tree of life that awaits us in paradise (Rev 2:7; 22:1-3).
Eden thus was an anticipation of heaven (Eden = paradise: 2 Esdras 3:6; Gen 2:15; Isa 51:3; Luk 23:43; 2 Cor 12:4; Rev 2:7).
Eden is like a temple
In the Ancient Near East, the home of a god was a temple, and Eden is presented in these terms. But it is a temple with a difference. It is not a static, lifeless building but a growing garden. God is not a lifeless statue within this temple, but he walks and talks within the garden (Gen 3:8). The images in the temple are not made of wood or stone, but are human flesh and blood named Adam and Eve (Gen 1:26-27).
All later tabernacles and temples within the history of the people of Israel are a reflection of Eden. The Garden of Eden is the exemplar of what it looks like when heaven and earth meet.
God’s image bearers are given a purpose within that temple. They are bestowed with authority to manage the development in God’s world, to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:28).
This is why humans were created. It goes to the core of our reason for existence.
2. Human beings had the high calling to rule the earth but revolted against God and were evicted with the serpent from Eden.
Human beings were made in the image of God.
Our destiny was to be God’s representatives on earth – inhabiting earth and cultivating and caring for God’s creation.
We were destined for the tree of life, immortality, partaking of God’s own nature.
Humans are obviously not spiritual beings. We are made of dirt. But we were also able to eat of the fruit of the tree of life. And that would have transformed our bodies to live in heaven and earth at the same time.
The serpent however, who was already part of a spiritual rebellion against God, tricked humans to disobey God as he did. The serpent lied to Adam and Eve and persuaded them that they can be like God on their own terms.
When humans fell for the temptation, and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they were cut off from the source of divine life itself.
Humans thus squandered their chance to rule the earth on God’s behalf and lost their access to this paradise because of their foolish rebellion against God’s will (Gen 3). We were driven out of Eden with cherubim guarding the entrance to this tree of life.
But, mercifully, with the fall of humanity into sin, this goal of God did not vanish, although Adam and Eve were banished from Eden. God just unfolded his previously drawn up plan (Eph 1:11) to save humanity through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ so that they could regain their place in Eden, in the new heavens and earth He would create (Isa 66:22).
God already promised at the fall of humankind that a human being will be born that will fulfil his will (Gen 3:15). God promised a seed, a man that would bridge the gap back to the glorious destiny God prepared for the human race, the God-man Jesus. He would transform us into a new self and a new humanity so that the tree of life could be offered to all who believed in Him at the great judgement day.
3. Jesus overcame evil to reunite heaven and earth so that a new humanity can partner with God.
This is the theme that is picked up by the NT in the story of Jesus who overcame evil, and in the process reunited heaven and earth, so that a new humanity can partner with God henceforth.
In Jesus God and humankind becomes one. That is what the devil wanted to avoid by tempting Jesus to forsake his mission to save humankind and instead rule on his own terms, without humans.
But Jesus rejected this temptation and gained the right to restore God’s image in us by his sacrifice on the cross. His death was a definitive battle against the evil one.
When He rose from the dead with a transformed body He earned the right for us to live in heaven and earth.
That is the truth that we announce to the whole world. We witness to eternal life that is a new relationship with God and a new beginning in the new heaven and earth.
The ultimate hope for the Christian is “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1) within which our resurrected bodies will live. But should we die prior to this, death will not be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:38–39). As we await the general resurrection, we will be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8).
Our bodies will also be raised in a way that will allow us to live in the new heavens and the new earth. We do not know all the details of what this will look like, but we know that “we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2).
How do we respond to this high calling?
In two ways. We respond on a personal level committing our lives to God. And we respond on a fellowship level committing our lives to the fellowship of believers across boundaries, past and present.
1. We put on the “new self”
Let us listen to Paul in Ephesians 4:
17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph 4:17-24)
We put off the old self, the former manner of life that is corrupt through deceitful desires, and:
put on the new “self”, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph 4:24)
The same idea is found in Paul’s letter to the Collosians. We:
have put on the new “self”, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Col 3:10)
By this we become part of what the NT calls a new humanity.
2. We become part of the new humanity
That is what Jesus did, Paul writes in Ephesians. He saved us from our sins and also from the boundaries that seperated us into Jewish and non-Jewish people:
“that he might create in himself one new ‘man’ in place of the two, so making peace … So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph 2:15,19-22)
This is God’s goal. A new humanity. Fellow citizens. Members of the household of God. A holy temple. A dwelling place for God.
This is eternal life, not only being saved to become a new person, but also saved te become part of a life with the new humanity God is creating as His dwellingplace.
What is the nature of eternal life?
Eternal life is on the one hand a triumph over death and decay which results in an infinitely extended life, a life that will never end (John 11:25-26). A life that will not be exposed to sickness and suffering ever again.
That is what John writes about in Revelations 21:3-4:
“He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
On the other hand eternal life is also a unique quality of life (John 10:10). It comes from the source of life itself, God, and consists of knowing God and enjoying his eternal blessings (John 17:3).
It is contrasted with the eternal judgment and rejection by God that unbelievers and workers of unrighteousness will experience (Dan 12:3; Matt 25:46), although interpreters differ whether this implies an experience that continues for ever, or is eternal in the sense of being irreversible (Dan 12:2; Matt 25:46; John 3:16)
Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9:
“when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.“
How do one get assurance that this eternal life is yours?
Well, it all begins and ends with Jesus. As Jesus said to Nicodemus:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:16-18)
Jesus’ promise is this:
36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36)
So, we have to accept Him as our Saviour, the One who saves us from the wrath of God:
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)
John drives this point home in his first letter:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God … Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:1,11-12)
John assures us that this is true also in terms of what we can ask of God on the basis that we are his children:
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. (1 John 5:13-15)
From Eden to Eden
The garden of Eden – that in essence is what eternal life is all about – thus stays the symbol of the new heavens and earth, a picture rooted in our remote past but also firmly established as the goal for our coming future, as Jesus wrote to the church in Ephesus:
7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (Rev 2:7).
BIBLE STUDY: THE NEW HUMANITY
- Begin with sharing what’s going on in your life.
- Pray and commit yourselves to the Lord.
- Watch the video The New Humanity – 65 MB. What strikes you? What questions come to mind?
- Share what touched you in Sunday’s sermon.
- Read Ephesians 4:17-24. What does it practically mean to put off the old self and put on the new self?
- Read Ephesians 2:11-22. What does it mean to become a new humanity? Discuss all the metaphors mentioned there (citizens, household, temple, dwellingplace) to understand what glorious fellowship we are called to.
- What will stay with you from this series on Spiritual Beings?
- Close in prayer.
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