The new creation is an important feature of biblical eschatology. In fact, it is the ultimate goal of history. However, most Christians have a very limited understanding of the new creation and therefore are not able to really appreciate its glory and significance.
This lack of understanding is related to the fact that oftentimes non-postmillennial eschatologies do not fully appreciate the tremendous redemptive-historical transformation that Christ initiates in his incarnation. Premillennial eschatologies (including historic premillennialism, and the various types of dispensationalism, such as pre-tribulationism, mid-tribulationism, post-tribulationism, hyper-dispensationalism, mid-Acts dispensationalism, Acts 28 dispensationalism, pre-wrath rapture dispensationalism, and the several other views — though not including progressive dispensationalism) tend to postpone the effects of redemption to the end of history, after the historically discontinuous coming of Christ — which in dispensationalism occurs twice: in the rapture before the great tribulation and in the second coming at the end of the great tribulation and just before the millennium. Of course, dispensationalism is torn over the question of when the rapture will occur, pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib.
Amillennial eschatology tends to remove the transformational blessings either to above or beyond history, either to heaven or to the consummational new earth.
Postmillennialism, however, expects Christ’s redemptive labor to have a transformational effect in time and on earth, continuous with present spiritual realities already set in motion by Christ.
The major passage setting forth this spiritual transformation is Isaiah 65:17–25. In that glorious scene Isaiah presents a dramatic image of the gospel economy’s historical impact. This economy will develop through “a multi-stage process that culminates at the final judgment.” This redemptive economy will gradually transform the world ethically and spiritually, so that it appears as a “new heavens and a new earth” of which “the former shall not be remembered or come to mind” (Isa 65:17).
Isaiah’s vision is the background of Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 5:17, which refers to contemporary spiritual realities: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” According to New Testament theology, the Second Adam, Christ, stands at the head of a new creation (Ro 5:14; 1Co 15:22, 45).
Calvin views Isaiah 65:17–25 as a new covenant blessing that results from a change in covenantal administration:
By these metaphors he promises a remarkable change of affairs; as if God had said that he has both the inclination and the power not only to restore his Church, but to restore it in such a manner that it shall appear to gain new life and to dwell in a new world. These are exaggerated modes of expression; but the greatness of such a blessing, which was to be manifested at the coming of Christ, could not be described in any other way. Nor does he mean only the first coming, but the whole reign, which must be extended as far as to the last coming.
The transformational effect of the gospel kingdom is such that those who are newly born of its power are thereby constituted new creatures: “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation” (Gal 6:15). The transforming power of the gospel creates a “new man” of two warring factions, Jew and Gentile (Eph 2:15–18). Gospel-transformed new creatures are to lay aside the old self and take on the new (Eph 4:22–23), which is “created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph 4:24; cf. Col 3:9–11). This is because they are “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10).
This glorious conception involves both a re-created “Jerusalem” and “people” (Isa 65:18–19). Interestingly, in Galatians 6 Paul speaks of the new creation in the context of a transformed “Israel of God” existing in his day: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. and as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, even upon the Israel of God” (Gal 6:15–16; cf. Ro 2:28–29). In that same epistle, he urges a commitment to the “Jerusalem above” (the heavenly Jerusalem, Heb 12:22) rather than to the cast out Jerusalem that now is (the historical capital city of Israel, Gal 4:25–26).
In the next article I will continue developing the biblical (postmillennial!) understanding of the new creation. Stay tuned. And don’t worry about the rapture foiling my plans.