The second coming of Jesus, which leads to the re-creation of this earth, is the culmination of the biblical story. Revelation 21 and 22 could be described as the ultimate “happy” ending. And in some sense, this is an accurate interpretation. From this perspective, the Second Coming and the new earth are the end of God’s mission. The end is an eternal life of happiness and joy with God. In another sense, this ending is not the “end” but the beginning, or continuation, of what God intended for humanity and for the earth, a beginning in which the redeemed deepen their understanding of God and His character throughout eternity.
It may be helpful to think of God’s revelation of Himself in three phases, with each phase requiring different definitions of “mission.” (1) The first phase comprises the world’s creation and God’s interaction with His created beings in Eden. Even in Eden, God’s mission was to reveal, through loving relationships, who He was. But sin altered this reality, leading to the world we dwell in, a world full of misery, pain, suffering, and death. (2) This great change required God’s mission to take on new elements, most specifically the need for the Incarnation, leading to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The Incarnation makes possible the future reality of the new earth. (3) The final phase of God’s mission reaches its climax at the Second Coming.
But the Second Coming is not the end of humanity or God’s story. Eternal life would be meaningless if the Second Coming heralded only the end of this earth’s history. Instead, eternity is a new beginning of infinite possibilities.
As Seventh-day Adventists, we rightfully emphasize the Second Coming in our churches and in our evangelism. The world desperately needs the message of hope that the Second Coming provides. Equally important is the biblical description of the new earth, which is not some heavenly realm in the clouds but rather a re-created earth that in many ways resembles our current world. The significant difference between the new earth and this earth is that there are no longer problems from sin and death.
From the time Adam and Eve chose to follow a path contrary to the loving way shown by God, humanity and the earth, as a whole, have faced suffering and death. Such a fate was not what God intended for humanity, but it was a possibility in a world of free will, which is required in order for love to exist. For us in the world today, we currently find ourselves in this phase of God’s mission. God’s mission has included revealing Himself in numerous ways to the people of the earth throughout history, as the Bible attests. The ultimate manifestation took place in the incarnation of Jesus, the Son of God, on earth (John 1:1–14). A crucial part of God’s mission was completed during the Incarnation, namely the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, which make eternal life possible for humanity.
Despite Jesus’ extraordinary act of love and redemption some 2,000 years ago, we still find ourselves mired in the horror of this world. God’s mission to lead us into eternal life in a re-created world is still in the future. The fulfillment of what God did through the Incarnation will find its most profound actualization in the resurrection of the faithful, who will be translated, along with the those who are living in relationship with God, when Jesus comes again (1 Cor. 15:12–34). Even this outcome is not the final fulfillment of God’s redemption. That event occurs when the earth is re-created, as described in Revelation 21, 22.
God’s mission is relationally centered, and it is in Revelation 21 and 22 that we, as readers, get a glimpse of God’s relational desire to be with us in a more tangible form for eternity. Revelation 21 and 22 speak about God dwelling with humans face-to-face on earth (Rev. 21:3, Rev. 22:4). This cohabitation of the divine with humanity is the end goal of God’s current mission related to us. It is beyond our imagination to feel and understand what living with God face-to-face will be like, but from the description in the Bible, it is something beautiful that should inspire those who read it to want a relationship with God now.
From this perspective, it could be argued that God’s mission is completed in the new earth. Indeed, the plan of Redemption has played itself out at this stage. And yet, at some level, it seems God’s mission continues beyond what we as humans can even fathom. Is the new earth the end or the beginning? In short, it is both.
As humans, we must keep in mind that we are created beings. As a result, we can never claim to be all-knowing as God is. Such a realization entails that humans will be eternal learners, constantly growing in understanding who God is and who we are in relation to God, one another, and the earth. Therefore, if we define the mission of God as being God’s desire to reveal His love to humanity and have that love creatively replicated, then God’s mission would have no end, but is, rather, an eternal, ongoing reality.
This understanding fits the biblical description of God more accurately, rather than claiming the new earth to be the end of His mission. Instead, the new earth is a new beginning that builds on what has come before but eternally changes toward deeper and more meaningful relational love. In this sense, God’s mission is an eternal activity in which we have the privilege of participating. Thus, the end of a particular phase of God’s mission occurs at the Second Coming. But this ending leads into the next phase of God’s mission. So, the new earth is not simply a completion; it also is a continuation.
The new earth phase of God’s mission also is a time of abundance and joy, fulfilling what John 10:10 claims is God’s purpose for humanity. The description of the new earth is one of diversity, with people from all different cultural backgrounds making up the population (Rev. 21:24). Under divine inspiration, John the revelator describes the redeemed joyfully eating and drinking together, partaking of the fruits of the tree of life and of the living water flowing from God’s throne (Rev. 21:6, Rev. 22:2). The new earth is a place that gives the impression of creativity beyond our wildest imagination. God will be there among humanity, interacting with us, creating new ideas, and showing love in new ways alongside us. No wonder, then, that John’s reaction was an urgent plea for God to come quickly (Rev. 22:20). The same desire inspires us today to share with others the good news of God’s plans for the redeemed in eternity.
Seventh-day Adventists pride themselves in having the message of the Second Coming front and center in their identity. This message is something for which we should be thankful and share with the broader world around us. There is no doubt that this message is one the world desperately needs to hear.
But the truth about the Second Coming goes beyond sharing a message. Humanity also needs to see what it means to live in the present with the hope of the Second Coming and of the new earth. Believing in the biblical description should lead to more than evangelistic sermons; there should be transformation to a radically different way of living in the present. Those who read Revelation 21 and 22 and understand the relational beauty it portrays should be drawn into this kind of life now. There are limits because of the impact of sin and death, but these constraints don’t preclude the possibility of sharing glimpses of the new earth. For those who have experienced the love of God firsthand and believe in the promises of Scripture, eternal life begins now.
When the hope of the Second Coming and the reality of the new earth become part of our way of living, we as believers will experience daily life from a perspective of hope in the midst of a world that can seem hopeless. This perspective can aid the believer in experiencing and sharing joy and peace, which will be manifested in kindness, patience, and gentleness toward others. Such a perspective also can inspire people to use their talents and gifts to creatively live out God’s love, as He intended for humanity from the beginning. Living such a life of love now demonstrates recognition on the part of the faithful follower of God that His way is a path toward abundant life. Moreover, this choice indicates that God’s followers would enjoy the experience of the new earth to its fullest.