The Christian Community and the Earthly Hope
BY HAL FLEMINGS
Some individuals who formerly associated with Jehovah's Witnesses feel quite strongly that no True Christian is destined to live on the earth forever. For them, the Bible's comments about a "new earth" apply to faithful Pre-Christians like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Hezekiah. They are not at cross purposes with Jehovah's Witnesses on the issue of two classes, a heavenly class and an earthly class; they differ on who constitute those two classes. Moreover, they would argue that this difference can not be trivialize since if their position is correct every Christian should be partaking of the Memorial emblems, a significant affair.
On the heels of this stand, some of them say that the "other sheep" of John 10:16 are not the members of the earthly class but represent Gentile Christians who were invited into the Christian Church after the invitation went out to Jewry first. We will address both issues.
SCRIPTURAL EVIDENCES OF A CHRISTIAN EARTHLY CLASS
A revealing set of information is found at Isaiah 66:19-24 that helps resolve the problem at hand. We read:
"and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Put, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands afar off, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the nations. And they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as an offering to the LORD, upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the LORD, just as the Israelites bring their cereal offering in a clean vessel to the house of the LORD. And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the LORD. For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain before me, says the LORD; so shall your descendants and your name remain. From new moon to new moon, and from sabbath to sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, says the LORD. And they shall go forth and look on the dead bodies of the men that have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh." - REVISED STANDARD VERSION
Now, at 2 Peter 3:13,14 the Apostle Peter gives this Isaian prophecy a Christian application. There the Apostle says:
"But ACCORDING TO HIS PROMISE we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you wait for these, be zealous to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace."--REVISED STANDARD VERSION.
What can be extrapolated from Isaiah's words that would be helpful?
Since the context of the passage places us in a period in which the faithful are 'declaring God's glory among the nations' leading up to the destruction of the wicked and the establishment of the promised 'new heaven and new earth,' we are not jumping to conclusions in stating that it involves the Biblical "end times."
The text specifically states that among those gathered to God's side 'SOME will be taken for priests and Levites.' That ipso facto means that the OTHERS would not fall into that category. The New Testament associates the Christian heavenly class with the new priesthood. Revelation 20:6 declares: "Blessed and holy is he who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be PRIESTS of God and of Christ, and they shall reign with him a thousand years." The "others" in Isaiah 66 are not seen in this role. What else is available to them besides ruling with Christ as kings, judges and PRIESTS? Does not this give us a Christian 'new earth class'? To further emphasize this point, the Isaian prophecy shows that after the wicked are destroyed survivors in the "FLESH" will view their dead bodies and carry on worshipping God from week to week [sabbath to sabbath] and month to month [new moon to new moon] in the 'FLESH' and the setting is clearly here on the earth. . This clearly excludes them from being members of the heavenly class of whom Paul explicitly states will be serving God as spirit beings. (I Corinthians 15: 42-55)
Revelation 14: 1-5 is also helpful in settling this dispute. John writes:
"Then I looked, and lo on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him a hundred and forty four thousand who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads. And, I heard a voice from heaven like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder; the voice I heard was like the sound of harpers playing on their harps, and they sing a new song before the throne and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who had been redeemed from earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are chaste; it is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes; these have been redeemed from mankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are spotless."--REVISED STANDARD VERSION.
The text is absolutely clear that just 144,000 are redeemed from the earth to be with Jesus on heavenly Mount Zion. (See Hebrews 12:22-24) Then, given that fact, who are the saved souls in Revelation 7:9 who live through the Great Tribulation? If they are not pictured in the heavenly tableau of Revelation 14:1-5---and do not know the new song mentioned there, who are they? And, where do they wind up in a saved state? There are only two venues: a new heavens and a new earth. Revelation 14 does not list them in the heavens with Christ. This delivers to us another evidence of a Christian "new earth" class.
The end time vision at Revelation 19:11-21 was clearly foreshadowed by the highly metaphoric Ezekiel 39:1-21. If so, we are provided clear evidence of survivors of the Armageddon experience who continue to live on the earth, cleaning things up after the destruction. That would have to mean a surviving group of Christians who will not spend eternity in heaven but on the earth.
Yes, the passage at John 10:16 is usually understood by non-Witnesses to be discussing Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians rather than a new heavens class and a new earth class. In a way, the material seems open to either interpretation or application. If the former view is correct it would seem to correspond with Paul's discussion at Ephesians 2:11-22. If the latter view is correct, it would certainly correspond with the arguments we have presented above. But, however John 10:16 is to be understood, it does not remove the clear evidence of a Christian earthly class and Christian heavenly class.