Below is an excerpt on resurrection, final judgment and the restored creation from Christianity: Opium or Truth by Dr David Gooding and Dr John Lennox (free ebook, Link):
GOD’S PROGRAM FOR THE RESTORATION OF CREATION
But there is hope! Real solidly based hope! The Bible affirms that creation’s subjection to frustration is only temporary: one day creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption (Rom. 8:21).
Indeed, the restoration has already begun. For when man in his blindness murdered Jesus Christ, the Author of Life, the Son of God himself, God raised Jesus Christ bodily from the dead. That resurrection carries implications for the whole of creation.
The risen Christ, says the Bible, is the firstfruits of them that have fallen asleep (that is, have died). The harvest will comprise all the redeemed of every century from the beginning of time (1 Cor. 15:20-28). Creation itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption (Rom. 8:21). There shall eventually be a new heaven and a new earth (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1). And who knows how many further projects the God of All Ingenuity and Creative Power will embark on thereafter?
“But why do we have to wait so many centuries for this promised restoration to happen?” says someone. “Isn’t the real reason that the promise was never any thing more than the wishful thinking of religious people?”
Well, that’s certainly not the reason which the Bible itself gives for the delay. It says that what the restoration of creation is waiting for is the manifestation of the sons of God (Rom. 8:19). What use would it be for God to restore creation and then put it back into the hands of the same kind of weak and sinful human beings as before? In other words, creation is waiting for the completion of what we have earlier called Stage 2 of God’s project: for the production of children of God, and then their development into fully-grown up sons of God (Col. 1:28; 1 Jn. 3:1-2), fit to take over and run the administration of the new heavens and the new earth as Christ’s executive Body (Col. 1:13-20; Eph. 1:9-10; 19-23).
The first step in this process is, as we earlier saw, that human beings having been created by God, should then become children of God. When that happens it does not mean that they are thereafter exempt from the suffering that those who are not children of God normally experience. Ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption, the redemption of our body (Rom. 8:23), says the Bible. They may, in fact, find that becoming children of God additionally involves them in suffering persecution and even death for Christ’s sake (Jn. 15:18-16:4; 1 Jn. 3:13-16), as has happened so very often to Christians all down the centuries in totalitarian countries.
When it comes to the unjust suffering inflicted on them by evil men, they [believers] dare to rely on God’s promise, guaranteed by his character and affirmed by the resurrection of Christ, that there is going to be a Final Judgment where all wrongs shall be put right. Like the writer of Psalm 73 they consider the final end of evil men, and, in spite of the believers’ sufferings and the apparent prosperity of the wicked, believers would not even now change places with them for anything (Ps. 73:17ff).
Moreover Christians are not surprised when they find themselves suffering at the hands of evil men enormously more than ordinary citizens do—as happened in the USSR in the bad old days now happily gone by, and in many other countries still. For Christians know it from the start that they are called upon to follow the example left them by Christ who did no sin neither was guile found in his mouth; who when he was reviled, reviled not again, when he suffered he did not threaten, but committed himself to him who judges righteously (1 Pet. 2:21- 23).
Confident that at the Final Judgment God would see to it that justice was done, Christ accepted suffering from evil men: and more than that: he prayed for his executioners and suffered the penalty of sin at the hands of God for them that all might be saved, if they would.
Christians are therefore called in their turn to suffer for Christ their Saviour’s sake as they declare boldly their faith in him, and to suffer for their fellow men’s sake as they take God’s offer of peace and forgiveness to a world that at heart is hostile to God. But Christians do not find such suffering a cause for doubting God’s love or his justice: they find it a confirmation of Christ’s forewarning (Jn. 15:18-16:4) and an honour (Mt. 5:10-12; Acts 5:40-42; 1 Pet. 4:12-14).
- For more on the hope of the resurrection and new creation, I recommend: NT Wright, Surprised by Hope.