A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology

Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014. Pp. 336. $26.99, paper.9781441241382

In this book, J. Richard Middleton presents a fresh reading to the biblical teaching of new heaven and new earth with a purpose of laying out a coherent biblical theology of the eschatological vision of the redemption of creation. He explores some ethical implications of a biblically grounded holistic eschatology. He also surveys different trends of understanding the redemption of the earth in the history of Christian eschatology.

Part 1, “From Creation to Eschaton,” focuses on God’s original intent for humans to image him by developing the culture. He critiques the notion that man was created to worship God. For Middleton, man worships God by interacting with the earth to transform the environment into a complex sociocultural world. However, in different places the Scriptures teach that man was created to glorify God (cf. Ps 86:9; Isa 60:21; Rom 11:36; 1 Cor 6:20; Rev 4:11). Surely, worship is a form of glorifying God.

Middleton also believes that heaven was never part of God’s purposes for humanity. Rather, eschatological redemption takes place in the renewal of human cultural life on earth. Yet, the Bible clearly speaks of new Jerusalem that will come down out of heaven (Rev 21:2, 10). This heavenly Jerusalem ushers in the “new heavens and new earth;” a totally new order of things (2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1). This is not the result of human effort, nor is it simply a development of earthly culture and environment. This is the supernatural work of God in Christ who is making all things new (cf. Rev 21:5; cf. 2 Cor 5:1, 17; Heb 12:27).

Part 2, “Holistic Salvation in the Old Testament,” uncovers the Old Testament’s portrayal of God’s ongoing commitment to the flourishing of earthly life through the exodus event, Israel’s laws, wisdom traditions, prophetic oracles, and theophany’s texts.

Part 3, “The New Testament’s Vision of Cosmic Renewal,” explores the inner logic of the hope of resurrection and its connection to the restoration of human rule of the earth.

Part 4, “Problem Texts for Holistic Eschatology,” is where Middleton attempts to correct the misunderstanding of some New Testament texts that are misread as if they teach the destruction or annihilation of the cosmos at Christ’s return (e.g., Matt 24; Rev 6; 20–21; Heb 12).

While Middleton does not teach universal salvation, he denies the fact of eternal judgment, and believes in annihilation. He suggests that the final judgment is akin to cosmic disinheritance of the earth; a permanent exile from God’s creation. However, the Bible confirms eternal punishment to those sinful and guilty persons who rejected the work of Christ (cf. Isa 34:10; Matt 18:8; 25:41, 46; Jude 7; Rev 14:10–11; 19:3; 20:10).

Middleton also covers the New Testament texts that seem to promise an otherworldly destiny in heaven including the “rapture” texts and those that speak of the intermediate state between death and resurrection (e.g., Matt 24:40–41; 25:34; 2 Cor 5:1–5; 1 Thess 4:13–18; 1 Pet 1:3–5; Rev 6:9–10; 21:1–2; ). His main point is that these texts present an apocalyptic pattern of preparation in heaven followed by unveiling on earth. Middleton dismisses any view of heaven as a place to which the righteous go when they die.

The interim state, for Middleton, is simply “soul sleep” where one moves subjectively from death to resurrection, with no consciousness of the intermediate state. This applies, according to Middleton, to Jesus’s promise to the believing criminal on the cross (Luke 23:39–43). The theory of souls sleep does not really find biblical warrant and is nowhere taught in the Scriptures.

Part 5, “The Ethics of the Kingdom,” focuses on the holistic, this-worldly character of Jesus’s announcement of good news in the Nazareth synagogue (Luke 4:16–30), and addresses the ethical challenge of the kingdom that Jesus brings.

Comprehensive in its scope, this book is offers a holistic biblical worldview regarding the redemption of creation, including both physical cosmos and human culture and society. Middleton’s ethical implications of such a vision are noteworthy. Ultimately, what we desire and anticipate as the culmination of salvation is what truly affects how we attempt to live in the present. “Ethics is lived eschatology” (24). Middleton’s attempt to ground eschatology in the entire biblical story is another commendable aspect of this book.

What might cause some controversy is Middleton’s view on heaven as not being the hope for the Christians and their home afterlife. His alternative suggestion of soul sleep may not be well welcomed by many. While some would rightly agree with Middleton on his emphasis on the renewal of the world as the biblical vision for eschatology, this renewal is not a man-made effort that involves the flourishing of earthly culture and environment. Hugely influenced by N. T. Wright, Middleton’s consistent pursuit of eschatological notion that requires a this-worldly final state is highly questionable. In sum, this book is a welcome reminder of the biblical story of holistic salvation and God’s commitment to an integral and comprehensive restoration of the creation.

Rev. Dr. Sherif L. Gendy

Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery

G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd, Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery, Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014. Pp. 393. $27.00, paper. 51HeDSftSNL

In this book, G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd trace the occurrences of the term mystery to define it with its uses in the Old and New Testaments and to grasp its significance. They articulate biblical topics that are found in conjunction with the term mystery. Starting with the background of mystery in the book of Daniel, the authors unpack inner-biblical allusions and intertextual relationship between the Old and New Testaments, highlighting areas of continuity and discontinuity. They also look at how the concept of mystery is used in early Jewish writings. They define mystery as the revelation of God’s partially hidden wisdom, particularly as it concerns events occurring in the “latter days.”

The authors identify nine occurrences of mystery in the book of Daniel and twenty-eight in the New Testament. They discuss each occurrence and pay close attention to the surrounding allusions to unlock the content of the revealed mystery. Their study shows how the New Testament incorporates Old Testament themes but expresses them in new ways, though still retaining some continuity with the original context.

Though the authors start with the book of Daniel, other Old Testament texts where mystery plays an important role in redemptive history are not discussed. While the exact term is not used, the concept of mystery is found in places like the promise of the seed of the woman which is an eschatological mystery revealed in the coming of Christ (Gen 3:15).

Worthy of note in chapter 7 is the authors’ discussion of Paul’s prayer request for an opportunity to proclaim the mystery of Christ in Col 4:3, which is the welcoming of the Gentiles into end-time Israel through faith alone. The authors are certainly right that Gentiles are invited to Christ through the preaching of the gospel as they come by faith alone. However, their articulation of Paul’s conviction to preach a Torah-free gospel to the Gentiles (213) does not seem to be biblically justified. The gospel is rooted in the Torah as it is foretold in types, figures, and shadows. Moses wrote of Christ (John 5:46) and Abraham was preached the gospel (Gal 3:8). Indeed, the sacred writings, the Torah, are able to make one wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 3:15; cf. John 5:39).

The authors make a distinction between “temporary hiddenness;” that which is partially hidden but is undisclosed over a period of time and is eventually fully revealed, and “permanent hiddenness;” that which continues to be hidden only for intractable nonbelievers. Believers are able to understand the content of the revealed mystery. However, Scriptures talk about some mysteries that only God retains their significance and they remain hidden even to believers (Deut 29:29). Paul’s knowledge was in part as he declares that believers see in a mirror dimly, as in a αἰνίγματι “riddle” (1 Cor 13:12). When the disciples asked Jesus about the time he will restore the kingdom to Israel, Jesus replied, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority” (Acts 1:6–7). No one knows the hour of Christ’s return, not even the Son (Mark 13:32; cf. Job 36:26). Perhaps a third level of “utter hiddenness” is needed to describe those mysteries that remain undisclosed even to believers.

Hidden But Now Revealed is significant in its intertextual exegesis and hermeneutics for the sake of biblical theology. The authors demonstrate verbal and conceptual connections to show that an allusion is intended. Some are more convincing than others and minimalists may find a cumulative argument based on the sheer number of allusions sometimes does not ring true. In sum, serious Bible students will find helpful detailed intertextual analysis of the way in which mystery in the book of Daniel is interpreted, adapted, and revealed in the New Testament.

Rev. Dr. Sherif L. Gendy