Perelandra and the Beginning

Recently, I finished the second book of C.S. Lewis’s The Space Trilogy entitled Perelandra. A few weeks ago, I posted some thoughts as I had reached about the half-way point, but I wanted to share some final words now after completing the book. And, if you are interested, I also shared my thoughts on the first book of the series, Out of the Silent Planet.

This is my first time to read through this particular series. I did not grow up a Christian, so I would not have read books like The Space Trilogy nor others such as The Chronicles of Narnia. Therefore, in one sense, I am playing a little catch up on some of the classics of Christian fiction.

Perelandra, being the second book of the trilogy, is all about Ransom’s (the main character) visit to the planet Perelandra, which is known as Venus in our language. The first book, Out of the Silent Planet, is about Ransom’s visit to Malacandra (or Mars). Earth is known as Thulcandra in this series.

I wish I could think of such interesting names for a deeply-mythological fiction series.

Soon after Ransom’s arrival to the planet of Perelandra, the reader begins to realise that he is in a world that has not yet experienced sin. Or, in the traditional evangelical language, Perelandra exists in a ‘pre-Fall’ state. Yet Ransom’s old nemesis, Weston, soon arrives as a kind of serpent-like tempter. His main role is to bring down the Eve-like figure of Perelandra, she being known as the Green Lady.

Interestingly enough, Weston develops into quite the extraordinary evil character, and from then on he is referred to as the Un-man. Ransom sees himself as a provision to the Green Lady to assist her in not succumbing to the temptation of evil incarnate. As I mentioned in my previous article on this book, whereas on Earth the temptation was to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, here on Perelandra the temptation is to get the Green Lady to live upon the Fixed Land rather than the islands that float upon the water.

[Note: spoiler coming forth for the ending.]

In the end, Ransom is able to defeat Weston, the Un-man, and the first temptation of Perelandra is averted and, thus, disobedience and sin are kept at bay. With such a conquering victory, the book ends with a coronation ceremony of the man and woman of Perelandra becoming King and Queen.

All of the celestial beings – from the eldila (angelic beings) to the Oyéresu (plural of Oyarsa, which are presiding angels) – and the animals of Perelandra join in for this festive celebration. These words describe what has happened:

‘The world is born to-day,’ said [the Oyarsa of] Malacandra. ‘To-day for the first time two creatures of the low worlds, two images of Maleldil [Christ] that breathe and breed like the beasts, step up that step at which your parents fell, and sit in the throne of what they were meant to be. It was never seen before. Because it did not happen in your world a greater thing happened, but not this. Because the greater thing happened in Thulcandra [Earth], this and not the greater thing happens here.’

Now, don’t get the wrong idea. Lewis is not suggesting with the phrase, ‘the greater thing happened’, that it was good that sin entered our world. But he is recognising that redemption through Jesus Christ is quite a fantastic thing, even somehow a ‘greater’ thing. It was avoidable through resistance of the temptation. But, with sin and death entering in to our world through the disobedience of the first Adam, such an awesome thing as redemption has now taken place.

Oh, to imagine what it would have been like if sin and death had never entered our world. Oh, to ponder the possibility. Well, we are headed towards a day when it shall be as if sin had never taken place. All of creation will be redeemed, for it still cries out for such a day!

But here is what caught my attention the most from Perelandra.

As the book nears its conclusion, a conversation takes place between Ransom and the King, Tor. It goes something like this:

‘And that,’ said Ransom, ‘will be the end?’

Tor the King stared at him.

‘The end?’ he said. ‘Who spoke of an end?’

‘The end of your world, I mean,’ said Ransom.

‘Splendour of heaven!’ said Tor. ‘Your thoughts are unlike ours. About that time we shall be not far from the beginning of all things. But there will be one matter to settle before the beginning rightly begins.’

Tor goes on to explain that there will be a siege upon Thulcandra [Earth], led by Maleldil himself, to defeat the Dark Lord, the Black Oyarsa.

Tor goes on to exclaim:

‘I do not call it the beginning,’ said Tor the King. ‘It is but the wiping out of a false start in order that the world may then begin. As when a man lies down to sleep, if he finds a twisted root under his shoulder he will change his place – and after that his real sleep begins. Or as a man setting foot on an island, may make a false step. He steadies himself and after that his journey begins. You would not call that steadying of himself a last thing?’

One of the Oyarsa present at the coronation goes on to explain that this beginning will be entering into the Great Dance that has been going on for all eternity.

‘The Great Dance does not wait to be perfect until the peoples of the Low Worlds are gathered into it. We speak not of when it will begin. It has begun from before always. There was no time when we did not rejoice before His face as now. The dance which we dance is at the centre and for the dance all things were made. Blessed be He!’

This sounds a bit similar to some thoughts that come out of perichoresis theology, which looks at the inter-relational nature of the Trinity, specifically calling all of creation to join in the dance of the Father, Son and Spirit.

But, more than anything, to recognise that ‘the end’ is not really the end but the real beginning seems a much better approach with regards to our eschatology. For it is not about this earth being done away with, nor our physical bodies being completely put away so that we can be free ‘spiritual beings’. Rather this is all about the renewal and restoring of the created order. We taste of the new creation now. Jesus is even now making all things new. But one day all things will be completely and finally renewed, restored, made right. We will be part of a cosmos in which we were always intended to be a part of.

I think that is a healthy view of ‘last things’, or eschatology. Heaven and earth will collide and become one, bringing about a real and new physical earth in which righteousness will dwell forever. That brings hope, that stirs vision, that encourages patient endurance until that day is initiated at the return of Bridegroom.

Heaven and Eschatology

As I mentioned earlier this week, I am currently reading through N.T. Wright’s significant work, Surprised By Hope. In this treatise of his, Wright addresses particular topics such as the resurrection of Christ, the resurrection of believers, heaven, hell, paradise, purgatory, the second coming, and how this all practically should affect the mission of the church. Quite an interesting and stirring read.

For many a Christians, or what we might term as the ‘lay Christian’ (though I am not a fan of the term), there is a real lack of biblical understanding on the topic of eschatology. That word simply mean the study of last things. I find that literal definition much more helpful than utilising phrases like end times. I feel particular wordings bring up all sorts of unbiblical and/or scary images.

I’m not sure where we got off track on a lot of these things. I am not referring to discussions of when dispensationalism, a system of theology I don’t entirely agree with, become the major eschatology of so many Christians. I’m simply talking about the wrong understanding across the board on things like the kingdom of God, heaven, or the resurrection of the saints in the age to come. We’ve gone off track in a more gnostic, dualistic way that puts God’s kingdom rule ‘up there’, while also despising things like the physically created world, including our physical bodies.

Thus far of what I have read, Wright’s book stands as a strong corrective to much unbiblical theology on these matters.

So I wanted to lay out two quotes I recently read in Surprised By Hope that I believe are quite helpful and thought-provoking on the specific topic of heaven and the more general topic of eschatology. I hope, no pun intended, they stir us and get us thinking a little more in the right direction.

‘The early Christians, and their fellow first-century Jews, were not, as many moderns suppose, locked into thinking of a three-decker universe with heaven up in the sky and hell down beneath their feet [with earth sandwiched in between]. When they spoke of up and down like that they, like the Greeks in their different ways, were using metaphors that were so obvious they didn’t need spelling out. As some recent writers have pointed out, when a pupil at school moves “up” a grade, from (say) the tenth grade to the eleventh, it is unlikely that this means relocating to a classroom on the floor above. And though the move “up” from vice-chairman of the board to chairman of the board may indeed mean that at last you get an office in the penthouse suite, it would be quite wrong to think that “moving up” in this context meant merely being a few feet farther away from terra firma.’ (chapter 7)

Heaven is not ‘up’, per se. Heaven is consistent with the terms kingdom of God or kingdom of heaven. Heaven is first and foremost about the rule of God. Hence why Jesus strongly exhorted us to pray that God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). I share more on this here.

And with some later words, Wright gives these thoughts on the general topic of eschatology itself:

‘The word eschatology, which literally means “the study of the last things,” doesn’t just refer to death, judgment, heaven, and hell, as used to be thought (and as many dictionaries still define the word). It also refers to the strongly held belief of most first-century Jews, and virtually all early Christians, that history was going somewhere under the guidance of God and that where it was going was toward God’s new world of justice, healing, and hope. The transition from the present world to the new one would be a matter not of the destruction of the present space-time universe but of its radical healing. As we saw in the last chapter, the New Testament writers, particularly Paul, looked forward to this time and saw Jesus’s resurrection as the beginning, the firstfruits of it. So when I (and many others) use the word eschatology, we don’t simply mean the second coming, still less a particular theory about it; we mean, rather, the entire sense of God’s future for the world and the belief that that future has already begun to come forward to meet us in the present. This is what we find in Jesus himself and in the teaching of the early church.’ (chapter 7)

These words are a great summary reminder of what eschatology is first and foremost about, the reality of the kingdom rule of God breaking in with the reign of God’s Messiah. That eschaton (or end) has come into the present even now. For as Wright says, eschatology is about the entire sense of God’s future for the world and the belief that that future has already begun to come forward to meet us in the present. And as we move towards the final summation of all things in Christ, we must also be reminded of this great purpose, as Wright sets out: The transition from the present world to the new one would be a matter not of the destruction of the present space-time universe but of its radical healing.

Oh that we would develop a healthy, biblical view of eschatology, of the kingdom of God. For, in doing so, it will affect our lives now, our mission to the world, and our outlook of where we are headed.

Eschatology Resource

As most of you know, I have my leanings toward covenant theology and specifically an amillenial approach to eschatology. Eschatology simply means ‘a study of last things’. Amillenialism specifically teaches that we are in the milleniun, or thousand year reign of Christ (Revelation 20:4-6), right now. The number 1,000 is a figurative number standing for a long period of time. Thus, we have been in the midst of Christ’s reign from His first coming and will continue to be until His return.

Therefore, with the prefix ‘a-‘ meaning ‘without’, a better term for amillenialism would probably be realised millenialism. Hence, we are currently realising Christ’s reign. This is the specific position where I lean. I believe Christ is ruling now and has authority over all heaven and earth now (Matthew 28:18; Ephesians 1:19-23; etc), though every knee has not bowed and every tongue has not confessed yet. This will take place when all things are summed up in Him at the end of the age (1 Corinthians 15:23-25).

Therefore, I thought I would share an interesting resource with free MP3 teachings you can download. This is found at Kim Riddlebarger’s blog. Riddlebarger is one of the foremost teachers of the modern era on amillenialsim. His most famous book is The Case For Amillenialism, and he has also written Man of Sin – Uncovering the Truth About Antichrist.

Therefore, if you are interested in some healthy teachings on the topic of eschatology, visit his blog and keep your eye on the right side of his blog while scrolling down. There you will find MP3 audio files you can download with teachings on topics such as:

  • What Is Amillenialism
  • The Basic Elements of New Testament Eschatology
  • Interpreting Bible Prophecy
  • The Biblical Doctrine of Antichrist
  • The Dragon, the Beast and False Prophet of Revelation

There are also audio files containing other teachings.

To be honest, when most people address topics regarding eschatology, it is many times approached with a very sensational, doomsday projection, with a heavy dash of date prediction. But Riddlebarger will not go down that line. He will not try and guess when Christ will return or who the antichrist might be. Rather, his intent is to look at the Biblical text and overall theological concepts, which I believe is a more helpful and holistic approach.

So, I would encourage you that, if you are interested in studying eschatology, head on over to Riddlebarger’s blog. It will be a helpful tool as you study ‘last things’.

The Throne of David Today

I have spent quite a few articles looking at aspects of eschatology, that is, the study of last things. I think this will be my last one for a while with the intent of writing some more devotional blog entries over the next week or so.

I have already looked at these topics:

Whoa! That’s a lot of things to consider. I might revisit some things on eschatology down the road, but for now, this will be my last article. In this article I want to consider the throne of David and its prophetic fulfilment. Many people hold to a belief that says, not only will God have the Jews return to the land of Israel and rebuild a temple in Jerusalem, but the Lord will also have David’s throne set up again from which the Messiah will reign during a future millennium. So, let’s look at this a little more in depth at this topic of David’s throne.

In God’s covenant bond with David, the Lord tells him this:

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (2 Samuel 7:12-13)

Most will recognize that this was initially fulfilled as Solomon, David’s son and descendant, received the kingdom from his father (see 1 Kings 2:1-4).

Yet, as the story of 1 & 2 Kings unfolds, it becomes increasingly apparent that the descendants of David are not walking in the ways of Yahweh. After the reign of Solomon, the kingdom was divided into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah, and by 586 BC, both nations had been swept away into captivity. This was the judgment of God for their unfaithfulness to His covenant ways. Thus, the eternal establishment of David’s throne still lacked fulfilment.

‘Indeed, God chastened David’s sons according to the provisions of the covenant. But never did he remove his lovingkindness as he did from the house of Saul. Even as the last of David’s line languishes in prison [Zedekiah in 1 Kings 25:7], God does not forget his covenant mercies.’ (O. Palmer Robertson, Christ of the Covenants)

Here, once again, with the Davidic throne, Old Testament types and shadows point to greater things to come in Jesus Christ and the new covenant. Ezekiel prophesied that one day, ‘My servant David will be prince among them’ (Ezekiel 34:24), and, ‘My servant David will be king over them’ (Ezekiel 37:24). More and more, the Jews began to look with eager expectation for the coming Messiah, the Anointed One. Isaiah even prophesied that the coming One would sit on David’s throne:

Of the increase of his government and of peace  there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom,  to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness  from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:7)

Thus, you can see an expectation and desire to see the Messiah come and, once again, sit on a physical throne of David in the city of Jerusalem. But, if we stopped there, I believe we would miss the whole picture. For the prophets even foretold that, not only would this coming King rule over the land of Israel, but His ‘dominion will be from sea to sea, and from the River Euphrates to the ends of the earth’ (Zechariah 9:9-10). God’s rule was going to be established in all the earth…

Not only do we get this picture from the prophets of old, but again, we must remember that Christ and the New Testament are the ultimate interpreters of the words found in the Old Testament. And so, at the great Pentecost in Acts 2, we read these words of Peter:

Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. (Acts 2:29-33)

Peter proclaimed that, because David was a prophet, he knew that when God swore to seat one of his descendants of his throne, he was, in all reality, looking ahead to the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:30-31), and His subsequent ascension to the right hand of the Father. Therefore, when Jesus was ‘exalted to the right hand of God’ (Acts 2:33), He was seated on the greater throne of David.

Consider it this way: When one is seated on a physical throne in a specific nation, that ruler is only given authority over that one nation. But when one is seated on a heavenly throne, like that of Christ’s, then the declaration is that this one has authority over all heaven and earth. When we use the word heavenly, we don’t refer to some immaterial and ethereal entity. Rather, we refer to that which is of God’s kingdom rule.

As a prophet, David knew that the promises would ultimately be fulfilled in the coming of the Anointed One. And this is confirmed through Peter’s words that the promise to David has already been fulfilled. The Messiah sits on David’s throne, but it has happened in a much grander way than could have ever been imagined.

Christ has been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18), and He is now ‘far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named’ (Ephesians 1:20-23; see also 1 Corinthians 15:25; Hebrews 1:13). This is not something we await to take place in the future, for Christ is now able to establish the kingdom of God from ‘sea to sea’ (Zechariah 9:10) as He is seated on David’s greater throne at the right hand of the Father. Not every knee has bowed or every tongue confessed. But we know who is on the throne – the King above all kings! All the promises of God truly find their ‘Amen’ in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20)

The Land of Israel in the New Covenant

In my last article, I looked at what I believe is a healthy and Biblical understanding of the temple of God. My main thesis was that, in the new covenant, God is not so much interested in currently seeing another temple built of brick and stone. Rather, God’s Son incarnate was the great temple which housed the glory of God (John 2:19-22). And not only that, but God is now ultimately dedicated to the temple of His people being constructed as a beautiful masterpiece in which He could dwell by His Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:5).

No doubt the topic of the temple brings much debate with it. Yet, there is one that might cause even more debate – Who does the land of Israel belong to? This question is usually answered in one of two ways: 1) Jews or 2) Palestinians. And you might find someone every once in a while claiming it should be for both.

In Genesis 15:7, the LORD promised ‘this land’ to Abram [his name later changed to Abraham] as part of the covenant ceremony. And only a few verses later, He promises it ‘to your offspring’ (Genesis 15:18). Obviously, the land referred to in the passage is the land of Canaan. And because God promised it to Abraham and his descendants, it thus became known as the promised land.

In actuality, God had already promised the land of Canaan to Abraham before the actual covenant ceremony:

The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” (Genesis 13:14-17)

The promise of the land would be initially fulfilled 400 years later as the Israelites crossed over the Jordan River and began to conquer the land of Canaan, as described in the book of Joshua. And it would be David who would fully expand and establish the borders of the people of Israel, this being described in the first half of 2 Samuel.

As I acknowledged in my last article, many things in the Old Testament foreshadow a greater fulfillment to come in Christ and the new covenant. Or, as I also stated, it is the type that awaits the anti-type. Thus, as I recapped earlier, the temple in the Old Testament pointed to the greater temple of Christ and His body. Consequently, in regards to the land promised to Abraham and his descendants, I am convinced that it also pointed to and foreshadowed something greater to come in the new covenant.

So, what is that greater land now promised to the descendants of Abraham? I believe is the whole earth! The true descendants of Abraham, those Jews and Gentiles who have faith in Christ, are now promised the earth, as Jesus announced in the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)

More than likely, Jesus was referring back to Psalm 37:11, which said:

But the meek shall inherit the land.

Interestingly enough, Jesus took something from the context of the Old Testament that spoke about ‘the land’ and expanded the definition to ‘the earth’. The Greek word used in Matthew 5:5 is , which is usually translated as ‘earth’ (e.g., see Matthew 5:13; 5:18; Ephesians 1:10; Philippians 2:10; etc). And, considering Jesus’ statement, I believe it is God’s desire to give His Bride the whole earth. It is the poor in spirit that gain the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3); it is those who truly mourn over their sin that are comforted (Matthew 5:4); and it is the meek that receive the gift of the earth (Matthew 5:5); and, in Jesus’ discourse known as the Beatitudes, the blessings continue for those who are truly God’s (see Matthew 5:6-11).

To continue to see this great expansion in the promise of land for the people of God, we can consider John’s words near the end of his great vision:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. (Revelation 21:1-3)

Here we see the Bride, the people of God, inheriting a new heaven and new earth. And interestingly enough, the Greek word John used for ‘earth’ in Revelation 21:1 is also , as found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Just as God has always wanted a temple in which to dwell, God has also always wanted a land to give His people. And as we saw the greater temple of God being that of His Son and the body of Christ, I also believe God’s ultimate heart in the new covenant is not to grant His people a plot of land in the middle-east, but rather give them the greater gift of the whole earth. In the end, the land of Israel/Palestine pointed to the greater promised land of the new earth.

Many will point out that, in Genesis 17:8, God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham as an ‘everlasting covenant’. Thus, the land still belongs to the Jews. But, consider this: God also spoke to Abraham that circumcision was to be an ‘everlasting covenant’ for his descendants (see Genesis 17:13). But we have come to see through the New Testament that circumcision is really about being circumcised in heart (see Romans 2:28-29). It’s not that God has changed His mind about circumcision being part of an everlasting covenant. However, that everlasting covenant is now fulfilled in a much greater way through circumcision of the heart by the Spirit of God!

Thus, I believe the same stands true in regards to God’s everlasting covenant about the land promised to Abraham. This is not a political or national question. This still remains a Biblical question. God is maintaining His faithfulness to His covenant. Yet, the promise is to be fulfilled in a far greater way than Abraham could have imagined. It was beyond all that he could ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). The new covenant in Christ was ‘enacted on better promises’ (Hebrews 8:6). And one of those better promises is that God is now going to give His Bride a new heaven and new earth. Thus, God has kept His word to both Abraham and us! And, with Jesus, we cry, ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.’