At the end of the service in the church where I had preached last Saturday, I was greeting the people at the door. An elderly man in a wheelchair held back and waited till he was the last person in line. When I wanted to simply greet him and then move on, he told me he had a question for me. I had told him, he said, that I did not believe in a literal six-day creation some 6.000 years ago. I vaguely remembered that a year or so ago I had also met him and he had asked me questions about this.
Here was his new question: ‘Do you believe that many people will be saved and will be resurrected when Jesus comes? Could there be billions of people who will be resurrected? Do you believe this can all happen in one day? You told me that you believe that a long time was needed to bring everything into existence. Or do you also believe that God will need a long time to bring us back from death and to make the new world that we are waiting for?
I assured him that I firmly believe that God is the Creator, even though I do not know how and when exactly he created, and that I also believe in a life after this life and in a new creation, even though I have no precise idea how God is going to do this.
My brother in the wheelchair quoted 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and 1 Corinthians 15:52.
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. . . .
In a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
So, what did I think of this? Are these texts not crystal clear? At first sight they seem straightforward but I must admit that I have many questions. How is this going to happen? OK, somehow God knows all those who are his, and somehow they will one day be re-created and live eternally in a totally new world. But what about those who do not belong to those who will “rise first”. According to Revelation 20 they rise a thousand years later. Is “thousand” here a symbolic number? What do the trumpet and the voice of the archangel stand for? And why does God want those who rejected him to rise before they are annihilated in a second death? And what does it mean that the saints will have a role in the divine judgment? And why do those who are saved first go to heaven before they return to this planet?
I must admit: just as I have tons of questions about the creation of our world and the origin of the human race, I also have lots of questions about the future new creation. But these questions no longer worry me. I do not know how and when God made everything, and how he may have used the evolutionary process, but he is the Creator and I am a creature who owes him worship and loyalty. To know that is enough is for me.
And even though I cannot visualize and conceptualize how God is going “to make all things new”, I believe that at a given point in time God will intervene in the affairs of this world through Christ’s second coming, and because of his love and omnipotence I can entrust myself to him. It is enough to know that he is my God and that he will somehow take care of me. Being saved, I am safe with him.
My interlocutor was not totally satisfied. He clearly reads the Bible in a more literal way than I do. I have difficulty understanding the various texts as they read, and in linking them together in such a way that I can even begin to understand how God will recreate the world and bring his children back to life. But in faith I want to hold on to assurance that there is eternal life and that somehow, by his grace, that is what God also has in store for me. That conviction should be enough for me.