New creation and ‘Gnosticism’: à Brakel once more

a brakelAside from frustrations experienced when someone advocates a pretribulational rapture, I would consider myself someone who doesn’t get riled up about eschatology very easily. Christ will return, and the dead shall rise (1 Thess. 4:13-18). Christ will judge all, and God will bring creation out of its bondage to decay so that all those whose names are written in the book of life will dwell there with God forever (Rev. 20:11-15; 21-22). These are central to our Christian hope. Yet, there are still interesting questions to be discussed in the ambit of the main concerns.

In reading through à Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service, I came across his discussion of the nature of the new creation and paused for some reflection. Will this heaven and earth be purged of sin and death and restored by God, or will God annihilate the current creation and start over completely? According to à Brakel, respectable folk can disagree on this one, but he provides some compelling reasons to hold that the ‘structural edifice’ or ‘substance’ of the current heavens and the earth will remain and simply be purged and restored to a right condition.

These reasons include: (1) Peter expects restoration (apokatastasis) in Acts 3:21. (2) Paul’s reference to the ‘whole creation’ in Romans 8:18-25 is broader than the company of Christian believers, and the ‘whole creation’ is to be delivered, not annihilated. (3) The ‘folding up’ and ‘changing’ of creation in Psalm 102 and Hebrews 1 assumes that what is changed ‘continues to exist in essence’. (4) Peter (2 Pet. 3) likens the destruction of creation to the perishing of the old world in the flood of Noah, which was not an annihilation of all things (4:353-5). Because of Revelation 21:1, à Brakel is prepared to allow that the sea may be omitted from the new creation, but even here ‘[w]hether this refers to substance or characteristics, we shall leave unanswered’ (4:355). Indeed, there’s quite a lot that à Brakel is prepared to leave ‘unanswered’:

Man in his curiosity asks many questions about this, such as ‘Shall God create new persons, animals, trees, etc.? Will those persons fare better than Adam did and not sin, since it is stated that righteousness will dwell in that earth? Will there be animals? Will death among animals and vegetation also take place there? Will animals procreate?’ etc. We have no desire to answer these and similar foolish questions. It is certain that the continuation of heaven and earth will not be purposeless. They will exist to the glory of the Creator….We ought to aspire to be an heir of God and a fellow heir with Christ – to be quickened to a godly walk by the hope of inheritance, and leave the earth with all that is in it for the ungodly as their portion.

These are strong words, and merit some thought. However, my question is, How does such a view of the essential continuity between the old and new creations influence the (occasionally incendiary, typically cordial) discussions about the ‘millennium’? Sometimes premillennialists will assert that disavowal of a millennial age this side of the new creation is a matter of Gnostic denigration of physical life in the world. However, if the new creation is construed as it is by à Brakel, does this charge lose its bite? Is arguing for or against a premillennial view, in the end (no pun intended), strictly a matter of reading Revelation 20 in the context of the Apocalypse as a whole?

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