“When I think that God, his Son not sparing, sent him to die, I scarce can take it in.” That about sums up Lent—or as I like to call it, Lentviticus.
When we are entrusted with something for a long time, we gradually begin to feel like we own it. We’ve used it so long that we think it belongs to us. In Leviticus 25, God reminds people that “the land is mine” (25:23). In fact, the entire “earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Ps 24:1).
But creation is “subjected to futility” because of humanity’s corruption (Rom 8:20-21). Who will save the world and all who live in it? As we have seen in Leviticus, animal sacrifices can’t. Only Jesus could! Being fully human in every way, he suffered death for everyone (Heb 2:9, 17).
Yet there was another representative at Calvary: the crucifixion tree! It represented creation (cf. Col 1:15-17; Gal 3:13; Acts 5:30; 10:39; 1 Pet 2:24). When Christ hung on a tree, he took on the cursed status of humanity and creation and redeemed them both. Humanity and creation are included in redemption. We see in the cross of Christ the future of the very earth on which it stands.
So, why did Jesus say, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed!” (Luke 12:49-50)? Here Jesus tells us that what happened at the cross will ultimately set the whole world ablaze and cleanse the cosmos of evil in preparation for the new earth! Like the flood in Noah’s day, Christ’s refining fire will not destroy creation; it will simply purge it from evil (2 Pet 3:6-7).
The key text is 2 Peter 3:10. The present heavens will “pass away” (kind of like Grandma when she died)—which means that heaven will change when it merges with the new earth. “The elements” (stoicheia)—which refer to dark spiritual forces (cf. Gal 4:3, 8-9; Col 2:8, 20)— “will be burned up and dissolved,” that is, evil will be eradicated; “and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” Peter sums it up well: “On that day, [Christ] will set the heavens on fire, and the elements (the dark forces of evil) will melt away in the flames” (2 Pet 3:12). So, “we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth … a world filled with God’s righteousness” (2 Pet 3:13).
Christ’s redemption of the heavens and the earth allows creation to be returned to its divine Owner. The Age to Come will be a perpetual Jubilee that bears witness to God’s covenant faithfulness to his creation (cf. Lev 25:2; Ex 23:11; 24:19-20). No longer the playing field of a cosmic conflict, the renewed earth will be an eternal “resting place” for all that is good (cf. Isa 66:1; Ps 104).
The meek will inherit the new earth and reclaim what’s been lost (Lev 25:8ff.). The corrupt rulers will be displaced by the redeemed, glorified sons of God “and the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom” (Dan 7:27; Ps 82).
“I scarce can take it in,” can you? “When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation, and take me home” to the new earth, “what joy shall fill my heart!” “How great Thou art, how great Thou art!” That, my friends, is what Lent is all about.
*The metaphorical refining effects of fire are alluded to throughout scripture (e.g., Isa 4:4; 26:11; 29:6; Matt 3:11; 1 Cor 3:13-15; 1 Pet 1:7).