Wow! How about that “first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star”? They already have official government fan art and everything. But seriously, that news is exciting. Could we see them someday? Maybe even travel there or colonize them?
But if people colonize the moon, Mars, or these planets, what happens when Jesus returns?
I first pondered this eschatological riddle during my teen years. But now that I’m older and have read many books about doctrine and the end times1, and can put away childish questions about such immature and fantastical notions, this challenge still baffles me.
Whatever your end-times view, all Christians believe Jesus will physically return to Earth. The problem is, these biblical texts are entirely Earth-focused. For example, John writes:
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.2
This concept already causes some difficulties when you consider time zones. The final3 Left Behind novel, Glorious Appearing, tried to solve this by hinting that believers on the other side of the world (opposite Israel, naturally) somehow saw a vision of Jesus returning over there.
But it causes even more difficulties to hypothetical residents of spheres that are not earth.
Can Jesus return in a sci-fi future?
Imagine it’s the year 2250 A.D. Several private space corporations working with Earth’s governments have founded a lunar colony. It’s primarily to support multiple consortiums active among relatively nearby asteroids. Meanwhile, a few human scientists populate a small research base on the planet Mars. And on Earth we get wars, rumors of wars, perhaps a creepy Devil-run Roman dictator sort, or whatever floats your end-times boat.4
Soon it’s a literal Battle of Armageddon, if that’s your thing. Everyone is fighting everyone else. Suddenly, krakoom. Heaven opens, “and behold, a white horse! … [Its Rider’s] eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. … From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron.”5
As prophecy foretold, “every eye will see him … and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him”6 What about the tribes not on Earth?
It sure sounds like a binary: you anticipate Jesus’ return, or you anticipate space colonies.
That’s a bit harsh on Christians who want to anticipate both, while putting first things first.
Isn’t SCIENCE AMAZING? Yeah, kinda
For my part, I want to love Jesus more than science or science fiction. Jesus is the Creator not only of Earth but of the entire universe.7 He also commands humans to steward the Earth,8 which led to the human invention of science.
Many early scientists professed Christianity. So did former German scientist Wernher von Braun, founder of modern rocketry.9 Even in years since, when other religions, such as progressivism and secularism, have dominated science, people may still struggle to keep their atheism when staring in awe at the stars.
(Perhaps this is why many astronomy articles and memes pull out all the worshipful adjectives: Isn’t SCIENCE great? Behold the wonder of SCIENCE! Rather, behold how stupid this verbal evasion! At least say behold creation, which is slightly closer to the real truth.)
But if you, like me, want science to succeed so we can observe and maybe even physically explore this marvelous universe, you’ve had an awful/beautiful week just based on these:
- SpaceX Launches 1st Private Rocket from Historic NASA Pad — Then Sticks a Landing, Space.com, Feb. 19. Wow! Privately owned SpaceX, working with NASA, lands a rocket back on Earth so you can save the equipment and make launches cheaper. Next, the capsule should dock with a space station sometime today.
- And of course, NASA Telescope Reveals Largest Batch of Earth-Size, Habitable-Zone Planets Around Single Star, NASA.gov, Feb. 22. Wow! New planets! Like Earth!
Then along comes some snoozer to say, for example, calm down about those “Earth-like planets.” No one took any photos. It’s all math, telescopes, and illustrations. And no one’s going to the Moon. And no one is going to Mars. Even though we could have done this years ago using today’s technology. Every big space news fizzles out these days. (Remember the Jan. 14, 2004 call by President George W. Bush for clearer space exploration goals? He called for human missions back to the moon by at least 2020. How’s that working out?)
And of course, then along comes some Christian, like me, to remind us all of a spiritual truth: that Jesus’s return doesn’t seem to jive well with space colonies.
Or does it?
Space travel in the New Earth
I checked. Even if my little argument is true—that Jesus can’t return if some people aren’t on Earth for the event—I read nothing against space travel after Jesus returns.
Jesus’s adopted daughters and sons are destined to rule under Him on New Heavens and New Earth. This is a physical paradise for physical, super-embodied (but embodied) people to live. New Earth is this planet, fire-purged of all sin, not replaced with some other existence mode, but renewed almost like our resurrected bodies will be renewed.10 And New Heavens will surely be this selfsame universe, melted down and made like new.
Why then wouldn’t we explore New Heavens for the glory of their Creator and Savior?
Why wouldn’t we use science and technology, good tools humans managed to create per God’s command in Genesis 1:28, to build better and faster ships and depart this Earth (only temporarily!) on journeys of wonder and discovery? Why not settle on the Moon? On Mars? Maybe even on other planets we could not survive on before?
And even assuming we get no “cheat codes” from the Creator of physical laws themselves, why couldn’t we also develop something like warp drive to reach those seven planets? Even without such technology, we would have eternity to wait for slow ships to reach them.
Either way, I’m sure the best space missions await in eternity. But I’d love to see more now, if for no other reason than to ensure we don’t forget the awesomeness of God’s creation.
- Including the Left Behind series, which still remains kind of awesome. ↩
- Revelation 1:7. ↩
- Yes, it’s final to me, though the first prequel was actually rather chilling. ↩
- Here is another problem: if the literal-seven-year tribulation idea is correct, any resident of Mars or the Moon can easily escape all the plagues, such as demon locusts and ocean curses. ↩
- Revelation 19: 11-12, 15. ↩
- Revelation 1:7. ↩
- “—and the stars,” Genesis 1:16 almost glibly notes as an afterthought about this astounding act of creation. ↩
- Genesis 1:28. ↩
- “Wernher Von Braun (1912–1977): Champion of Space Exploration,” Ann Lamont, Creation 16, no 2 (March 1994): 26-30. ↩
- Isaiah 65-66 explicitly promise New Heavens and New Earth, using language about creation. Romans 8 states “the creation itself,” this world, groans, awaiting a time of future freedom from sin, just as we do—and if our hope isn’t in vain, why would creation’s be? And texts such as 2 Peter 3:10, though often presumed to be about Earth being annihilated, speak of Earth being refined by fire that “lays bare” the planet rather than destroying it completely. ↩