What is God up to in this world? What is his grand plan? Following my teacher, Graham Cole, I would suggest that the missio dei is to secure God's people in God's place under God's rule living God's way in God's holy and loving presence as worshippers. While we won't look at every single element of the missio dei, I want to use it as a guide for breaking up the discussion. In this post we will look at the relationship between judgment and 'God's place,' which is where we experience God's presence. This may not be the most intuitive place to start, but hopefully it will make sense by the end of the series (if not sooner).
First, though, we need to recognize that what we are doing in this sequence of posts is looking at how God's rule relates to all of the other elements of the God's plan. One of the key roles of a king is to judge. And judge God does, over and over in Scripture. I remember when I first put together a list of significant passages on judgment to try to incorporate into my paper, I had more than 50. Those were just the big ones! So, part of what we hope to gain from this exercise is a better understanding of God in one of the primary ways in which we are to relate to him, as our Lord.
Judgment has always been linked to the both the place where God's people live and how it is that the people get there. In fact the very first time that judgment appears in Scripture is in its neutral sense, where God is judging that his creation is good (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31, ). Within this creation, was a special area, the Garden of Eden, in which God put his people to live in his presence. Adam and Eve mess it up, though, through their sin. As a result, the ground, part of God's good creation, is judged and cursed (Gen. 3:17-19). Our sin has marred God's good creation.
That is not to say that all of creation is now 'bad' in God's eyes. The promised land of Canaan was also deemed by God to be good, 'So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey' (Ex. 3:8a - TNIV). The land of Israel was a good land in which the people were to live in the presence of God, with him as their king. Even though it lacks the splendor of creation prior to the fall, the land does possess relative goodness.
While God's people do not collectively reside in one land anymore, we do have a good place to look forward to. The new heavens and the new earth, the future place that God's people will possess, are never explicitly called good in Revelation 21-22, but they certainly are. The author of Revelation tries to show that the new heavens and new earth are a restoration of God's creation that if anything surpasses the original (there are at least a dozen allusions in Revelation 21-22 to Genesis 1-3). God will give us a good place where we can live enjoying his presence as his bride, in the process undoing all of the damage incurred on his creation through humanity's fall.
The key which ties this all together is the notion of the sacred space of a temple. Eden and the new heavens and the new earth are sacred spaces, the Garden of Eden is a temple (see Greg Beale's important book, The Temple and the Church's Mission). The land of Israel is the place where God builds his temple, which in its architecture and adornment harks back to Eden. The new heavens and new earth do not have a temple, 'because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple' (Rev 21:22b). Thus, tied up in the goodness of the place is God's presence. It was not coincidental that God gave the people a good land and that he had his temple built there. It is not only that God is creator that made Eden good. God's presence in them make them good and God's presence in them make them good for his people.
In the next post we will look at the theme of 'living God's way' and judgment and how that relationship affects being 'in God's place' and 'in God's holy and loving presence.'