THE PASSING OF THE NATURAL ORDER
by Given O. Blakely. Delivered at the 1998 Refreshing Waters Renewal, Crown Point, IN
The second appearing of Christ is the ultimate appearing, the grandest of all revelations, the most extensive of all confrontations, and the most thorough of all manifestations. The hope of the righteous will be brought to fruition at this time, and the expectation of the wicked dashed into pieces. Here is the pole star of the church, the appointed means through which the incentive for achieving personal purity is realized (Tit 2:11-3; 1 John 3:3). It is no wonder our adversary, the devil, has made every effort to totally obscure, or at least distort, its powerful presentation. The corruption of this teaching causes adverse effects among believers that can scarcely be equaled. A distorted view of our Lord's return impacts upon both thought and conduct. It modifies the manner in which we approach and ingest the Word of God. If inhibits the holy work of cleansing ourselves of all filthiness and flesh and spirit. It changes the way we look at Jesus, the Kingdom of God, and life itself.
THE NATURAL ORDER
When the Lord Jesus appears the next time, the entire natural order will pass away. This is the solemn declaration of Apostolic doctrine. "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3:10-13, NKJV). Regarding the end of all things, the words "pass away" were given to us by the Lord Jesus He. "Heaven and earth will pass away . . . " (Matt 24:35; Lk 21:33). Our text affirms "the heavens will pass away." The passing of the heavens and earth, however, will not be a silent and unimposing affair. They will go up in an unparallel conflagration.
I have used the term "natural order" to apply to everything that will "pass away" - excluding personalities, everything that is created, or had a genesis. The immensity of the natural realm is staggering. Man, with all of his wisdom and innovation, acknowledges he is only beginning to see the porch of the universe. Referring the created realm, Scripture refers to "the worlds," which were made by the pre-incarnate Redeemer (Heb 1:2). The expression used here is, in fact "the worlds" ( ), translated "the universe" by the NIV. The extensive nature of the created realm is also mentioned in Colossians 1:16-17. "For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist." To put it more precisely, the "natural order" is the composite of created realms in which personalities function, whether "of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth" (Phil 2:10).
This is the natural order to which I refer. I am affirming it will all pass away the next time Jesus "appears!" The duration of its existence is limited by the time Jesus remains at the right hand of the majesty in the heavens. The domain occupied by men will pass away. The realms occupied by Satan and his hosts will pass away. The area occupied by the dead, whether body or spirit, will also pass away. Everything created has a termination point.
When Jesus descends with a shout, the voice of the arch angel, and the trump of God (1 Thess 4:16), the natural order will no longer be sustained by Him. The word of His power will be withdrawn, and creation in its entirety will "pass away."
One observation in passing. Some conceive of Jesus was presently building a mansion for us in glory. They base this on His promise, "I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2-3). Our Lord, however, did not go to construct something for us. In the end, what we inherit will have been prepared "from the foundation of the world"-an "eternal inheritance," not a created one (Matt 25:34; Heb 9:15). The word "prepare," from µ, means "to make ready." It is the Lord's Presence and Intercession that is making the abode ready for His brethren. It is not a construction project. Whatever has had a beginning, with the exclusion of personalities, will also have an ending. It will occur at the appearing of Christ
The Original State
In its original state, the creation was very good. Thus it is written, "Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good" (Gen 1:31). In its original form, it was untainted, with no flaw or liability--"very good!" The need for its demise, then, is not inherent in creation, but is derived. It will not be destroyed because of intrinsic deficiency.
It Still Bears Witness
Because it is the result of Divine creativity, the creation bears witness to Him. He has the thumb print Deity upon it. Man, who bears the image of Deity, projects his person into whatever he makes. Paintings reflect the personality of their originator, as well as structures, speeches, and writings. So it is with the creation. Even now, nature, which is destined to pass away, bears witness to its Creator. "The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language Where their voice is not heard" (Psa 19:1-3). "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead" (Rom 1:20).
The Impact of Sin Upon Creation
Since sin, the voice of creation has been muffled. It is not because it speaks with less clarity, but because the cloud of sin has enveloped it. It has been defiled through its association with fallen humanity. Too, the "offspring of God." with the Divine image being marred by sin, has grown obtuse to the evidence of God seen in creation.
Because of this circumstance, the "things that are seen" are not appropriate objects of attention. As it is written, "We do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor 4:18).
The created realm is now an area of conflict. The blight of moral failure has penetrated the entire created order. Any personality in the realm of the seen is in a war zone-and there are no exceptions. Nature is, in fact, an area of competition. Whether it is astrology, the sciences, or the various forms of idolatry, man's inordinate attentiveness to creation tends to distract him from God. Like a defiling cloud, iniquity has covered all creation-the natural order.
Cursed Because of Man's Sin
Sin's corrupting influence constrained God to curse nature. It is as though sin had stained the once "very good" creation. Like a soiled garment, it must now be discarded, and replaced with "new heavens and new earth" (Isa 65:17; 66:22; 2 Pet 3:13). Thus the natural order was "cursed" by God, and that because of man. "Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return" (Gen 3:17-19, NKJV). A little over 1,500 years later, Lamech recalled this curse at the birth of his son Noah. "This one will comfort us concerning our work and the toil of our hands, because of the ground which the LORD has cursed" (Gen 5:29). Were this the end of the matter, it would appear as though Satan triumphed in his diabolical effort to overthrow the purpose of God. But this is not the end of the matter,
It Will be Renewed
God has purposed to renew the natural order. That renewal, or recreation, is what will occasion the passing of the present order. Man will be provided with a new environment, as well as a resurrection body, to match his regenerated spirit. There is a sense of this coming renewal resident in creation-the natural order. Apart from the revelation of God, this could not be known. This sense is not a casual one, but is an "anxious longing" (NIV) that dominates the natural order. In a marvelous delineation of this circumstance, the Spirit testifies. "For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now" (Rom 8:19-22).
The "revealing of the sons of God" will occur at the appearing of Christ Jesus. As it is written, "When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory" (Col 3:4). At that time, creation will be "delivered from the bondage of decay" (NIV). The liberation of the children of God will also occasion the liberation of the natural order. The "whole creation" groans and labors with anticipatory birth pangs for this glorious event.
There are two sides to making "all things new" (Rev 21:5). One is the introduction of the new order, and the other is the passing of the old order. Both are inherent in "the regeneration," when everything will be made new (Matt 19:28). As we will find, it is the coming of the new that requires the passing of the old. It is the glory of the new that will consume the corruption of the old.
God has made the whole creation subject to futility in order that he might make it new. It was through no fault of its own that this consignment took place. However, because mortality and immortality cannot exist simultaneously in either the personal or impersonal creation, the Lord cursed the natural order for the sake of man. Had the creation remained in an incorrupt state, while man was reduced to one of corruption, it would not have been possible for the race to continue. Thus, the purpose of God would have been thwarted, and "many sons" would not have been brought to glory.
THE PROMISED DESTRUCTION
The destruction of the entire natural order is repeatedly affirmed by the Holy Spirit. It is one of the primary pillars of spiritual reasoning. A reminder of these affirmations will suffice for this part of my dissertation. "Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed" (Psa 102:25-26). "The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it; and it shall fall, and not rise again" (Isa 24:20). "And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree" (Isa 34:4). "Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished" (Isa 51:6). "For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind" (Isa 65:17). "Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away" (Luke 21:33). "And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever" (1 John 2:17). "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness" (2 Pet 3:10-13).
The vain imaginations of the Preterists notwithstanding, the natural order will REALLY pass away. This is not symbolic language, but the depiction of ultimate reality. Just as "The Word" very literally "became flesh," and mortality very really flooded the universe after sin, so the heavens and earth that now exist will soon be no more. Those who affirm we are presently occupying the new heavens and new earth, that Jesus has come the second time, and that Satan not longer exists, have only displayed their ignorance. Were such the case, there would be no fight of faith-in fact, there would be no need for faith itself. We would, in such a case, not be running a race, and there would be no "hope." We are, however, currently in the realm of the curse, occupying a frail tabernacle. Both are evidence that the promise of God making everything new has not yet been brought to fruition. But it will be!
THE LOGIC OF THE DESTRUCTION
The Principle of Defilement
While the destruction of the natural order has been mandated, and thus is not to be questioned, there is a certain logic to the destruction. The "worlds" have been defiled by man's sin. The concept of defilement was introduced by God in the ceremonial Law. By "defilement," I mean an imputed condition-one in which in iniquity is not inherent. One such Law states the case well for us. "Command the children of Israel that they put out of the camp every leper, everyone who has a discharge, and whoever becomes defiled by a corpse. You shall put out both male and female; you shall put them outside the camp, that they may not defile their camps in the midst of which I dwell" (Num 5:2-3). In this case, the issue was not transgression, but a defiling condition that was not harmonious with the Divine nature. Being a leper, for example, was not a sin. Still, it was an evidence of a condition brought on by sin-a state of imperfection. The camps of the Israelites were thus contaminated by the presence of something unacceptable. Morally speaking, touching a dead body was not a transgression. Yet, it brought one into direct contact with the immediate effects of transgression.
A rather vivid portray of defilement is declared by the prophet Haggai. "If one carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and with the edge he touches bread or stew, wine or oil, or any food, will it become holy? Then the priests answered and said, 'No.' And Haggai said, If one who is unclean because of a dead body touches any of these, will it be unclean? So the priests answered and said, 'It shall be unclean.'" (Hag 2:12-13). From this we learn defilement cannot be corrected by being around some "holy," or undefiled. Conversely, an uncontaminated condition can become defiled by contact with contamination.
In our present consideration, the moral and spiritual pollution of humanity has touched the impersonal creation, thereby defiling it. The entirety of creation is affected by man's sin because it owes its origin to the creation of man. The universe was created an arena in which project humanity was to be completed. Apart from man, there is no revealed reason for "all creation." That is why it has been reduced to a state of corruption, along with humanity.
All Things Must be Made New
In Scripture, something that is "cursed" is rejected. Technically speaking, the curse cannot be reversed. That is why God must "make all things new" (Rev 21:5). Stated another way, both man and the universe must be born again, or recreated! For man, not only is bodily regeneration required (to be fulfilled in the resurrection), but moral regeneration must take place prior to the passing of the natural order (John 3:3-5). The "great salvation" of God is calculated to bring about moral and spiritual regeneration (Tit 3:5). The process of regeneration will be brought to its culmination when we realize "the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body" (Rom 8:23).
The same will occur to the impersonal creation-the natural order. It too will undergo regeneration. God declared, "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth" (Isa 65:17). In some way, the creation knows this, and anxiously awaits the time.
Especially in contemporary Restoration Movement circles, there is not much said about being born again. There is an inordinate promotion of proceduralized religion. As a consequence, much of the religion of our time is dominated by the cursed order-the things God has rejected. Acceptance with God, however, postulates the experience of new creatureship, wherein "old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Cor 5:17).
As It Stands, Nature is not Compatible with Eternal Purpose
In its present condition, "the whole creation" is incompatible with God's "eternal purpose." It is in a state of deterioration, and thus cannot blend with the eternal order. Jesus enunciated a principle that applies here. "No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse. Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved" (Matt 9:16-17).
Our Lord's immediate teaching was that new covenant life cannot be contained in old covenant procedures. The new creation cannot conduct itself by a moral code. You cannot place new place life from God in a lifeless container. Growth is circumscribed by a container incapable of expansion. Change cannot take place in a static environment.
So it is with the natural order. Because it has been reduced to a state of temporality, it is wholly unsuitable as an environment of those who are regenerated in "spirit, soul, and body." As long as there is anything temporal, the natural order will remain, for it too is temporal. However, when all things are made new, the universe itself will undergo transformation, that it might participate in "the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom 8:21).
New Order Demands the Removal of the Old
This is why the introduction of the new demands the removal of the old. "New" and "old," unregenerate and regenerate, are incompatible with one another. While, in time, they do exist simultaneously, they cannot dominate simultaneously. To live in the power of the "new man," one must put off the "old man" (Eph 4:22; Col 3:9). To live "soberly, righteously, and godly," one must "deny ungodliness and worldly lusts" (Tit 2:12). To experience the life of Christ, our "old man" must be "crucified with Him" (Rom 6:6). It is an inviolable Kingdom principle: When the new comes, the old must go!
So it is with the natural order. When, "in the regeneration," the new order comes, the old one must go. The affirmation of God's Word on this point should be sufficient. "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind" (Isa 65:17). Doubt it not: there will be a "new heavens and a new earth" (Isa 66:22; 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:3). When that glorious new order commences, the defiled realm will be destroyed.
DESTROYED AT THE LORD'S APPEARING
The natural order will be destroyed, or pass away, at the coming of the Lord-when He "appears the second time" (Heb 9:28). At that time, there will be no further need for the temporal order. The purpose for the present heavens and earth shall be consummated, and thus they will pass away.
He is Coming as a Thief
Our text states there is a "day" when Jesus will come "as a thief in the night." "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night" (2 Pet 3:10). That this is integral to "sound doctrine" is evident by the Spirit's word to the Thessalonians. "For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night" (1 Thess 5:2). This is a pivotal expression-a foundation for hope. It must not be clouded with the opinions of men and the delusions of the devil.
For some, "as a thief in the night" indicates secrecy-that the Lord will come in a manner undetected by the world. According to this imagination, His coming will only be detected, if it is at all, AFTER He has secretly removed the church from the realm of nature. This is not affirmed in Scripture, either directly or indirectly. Such a conclusion can only be reached by placing a theological template over the Word of God-a template developed by and for man.
The phrase "thief in the night" denotes suddenly and unexpectedly. The event of Christ's return is scheduled, but we have not been made privy to it. This truth is stated elsewhere in these words, "Behold, I come quickly" -suddenly, and without delay (Rev 3:11; 22:7,12,20). Further, this is related directly to the preparation of the saints in this world (Matt 24:42-43). The reasoning of the Spirit on this matter is too clear for confusion to be allowed into our hearts. "For when they say, 'Peace and safety!' then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober" (1 Thess 5:2-6). This is the very day in which the people of God will be gathered "from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven" (Matt 13:27).
Jesus is coming as a thief to snatch away temporal, or natural order. Notice how precisely the Spirit speaks. "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up" (2 Pet 3:10, NKJV). It should be obvious that such a thing cannot take place without being detected.
The Natural Order Removed by Glory
Peter affirms, "the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up . . . the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat" (2 Pet 3:10,12). In fact, "the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire" (2 Pet 3:7). How, then, shall all of this take place?
The glory that will attend the return of Christ is the means through which the passing of the natural order will be accomplished. Glory is always disruptive to nature. When the Law was given at Mount Sinai, there was a very abbreviated exposure to the glory of God. Yet, that introductory manifestation caused a violent disruption of the natural order. That occasion was accompanied by tempest, lightning, clouds, darkness, fire, and earthquake (Ex 12:16-19; Psa 97:2-5; Heb 12:18).
Think of the crucifixion of Jesus, an occurrence where the world was exposed to the wrath the Almighty. Darkness covered "the whole earth" as "the sun was darkened," the earth quaked, rocks split, and graves were opened (Matt Lk 23:44-45; 27:51-52). After Jesus was raised from the dead, an angel descended from heaven to roll away the impeding stone from the tomb. His descend, but a faint glimmer of the angelic order accompanying Christ's, was attended by "a great earthquake" (Matt 28:2). Glory is always disrupting to nature!
When Jesus comes again, He will be accompanied by unprecedented glory! The Gospel proclamation takes hold of our hearts and minds. "For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels . . . they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory . . . the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with Him . . . He comes in His own glory, and in His Father's, and of the holy angels" (Matt 16:27; 24:30; 25:31; Luke 9:26). The very idea that this could take place without detection is absurd. Jesus will come in ALL of His glory. He will come in the glory of the Father. He will come in the glory of ALL the holy angels. That is all the glory there is - and it will accompany Christ's return.
The glory will not be veiled as it was when he was born. It will not be introductory as it was during His earthly ministry. Nor, indeed, will it be partial, as in his transfiguration. No! This will be a thorough unveiling of the Son of God! God is going to show Him to the universe as He is-in all of His fulness. As it is written, " . . . our Lord Jesus Christ's appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen" (1 Tim 6:15-16). He will, as it were, bring the environment in which He is presently enthroned, with Him.
It is this glory that will effectuate the universal holocaust. This is the meaning of the expression found in Revelation 20:11. "Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from Whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them." Nature cannot abide when Divine glory is fully unveiled! In every sense of the word, "A fire goes before Him, And burns up His enemies round about. His lightnings light the world; The earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the LORD" (Psa 97:3-5). It is at this time-the return of the Lord Jesus-that violent disruption of all things will take place. This will be the fulfillment of the promise, "Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven. Now this, Yet once more, indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain" (Heb 12:26-27). Like a great scaffold, the natural order will be discarded, to be replaced by an eternal order-a "world without end" (Eph 3:21). When the invisible becomes visible, what is currently seen will have no further purpose.
SOME IMPLICATIONS OF THIS GLORIOUS TRUTH
I cannot close without commenting briefly on some implications of this glorious truth. When the natural order is decimated, everything connected to it will go also. Not only will the world "pass away," but the "lusts" that are associated with it (1 John 2:17). For the ungodly, this will be an introduction to hell itself. But for the righteous, this will be a deliverance from all temptation. Never again will we fell the tug of the flesh, or the downward proclivity of the soul! Too, for those in Christ Jesus, all conflict will be removed. For them, conflict is confined to the natural order. Never again will weakness be felt or experienced, for that too roots in the natural order. No child of God, will ever again have a handicap, a thorn in the flesh, or a law within that wars against the law of his mind. There will be no more jeopardy, no need for watchfulness, and no further need for the "whole armor of God." All of those things are the outgrowth of being in a cursed realm.
Ponder it with joy, the enemy of our souls will no longer occupy the realm in which we live! Principalities and powers, against which we currently "wrestle," will no longer be with us. For that matter, the last enemy--death itself-will go with the natural order, to which it belongs. Blessed day, indeed, when the natural order passes away at the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ!
AN OBVIOUS CONCLUSION
There is an obvious conclusion to these things, and we do well to take it into our hearts. "Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?" (2 Pet 3:11-12). Make no mistake about this, the perception of Christ's return and the conclusion of the natural order will have an impact on the way we conduct ourselves in the world. All sin is rooted in the natural order! All holiness is rooted in the eternal order!
The absence of holiness indicates a failure to take hold of the truth of Christ's return, as affirmed in the text with which we have dealt. Those who long for the return of Christ will set themselves to prepare for it. They will not anchor their hearts to the passing order, but to the eternal one. There are no exceptions to this rule. As it is written, "And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 John 3:3).
My prayer, and fervent desire, is that your heart will be uprooted from the natural order now! When this takes place, the coming of the Lord will be a most blessed occasion. You will be able to cross over into the eternal world without trauma or regret. However, if this is not the case, that will be the day in which everything you prefer will be destroyed-violently taken away in the blazing glory of the Lord. Because of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, you can escape the curse in every sense of the word, and lay hold of the blessing-in every sense of the word. That escape, however, must begin now by appropriating and keeping the redemption in Christ.Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!