New Heavens and a New Earth
The Bible begins with the statement that God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1). In ancient thought, “heaven” and “earth” respectively refer to everything that is above, and everything that is below. The terms “heavens and earth,” are not technical descriptions of two different realms within creation, but rather an idiomatic way of speaking about the entire creation. Furthermore, the Bible not only affirms that God created everything, but that also that he stands outside the created order.
It’s almost like the created heavens and earth are merely furniture that God is arranging in His living room. If referring to heavens and earth as furniture sounds strange, remember that God himself said this! “‘Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest? For My hand made all these things, thus all these things came into being,’ declares the LORD.” (Isaiah 66:1-2).
The book of Isaiah ends with a promise for God to make a new heavens and a new earth. “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind” (Isa 65:17). Once again, the terms “heavens and earth” are an idiomatic way of speaking about everything. In this instance, God is saying that everything will be re-created. The second line of 65:17 states that the “former things” of the old creation will no longer be remembered. The preceding verse also states that, “the former troubles are forgotten, because they are hidden from My sight!” (65:16). Since the prior created order had been cursed by the evils of sin (Gen 3), it is not only necessary to create a new heavens and earth, but also to destroy the old one, in order to eliminate this corrupted order of reality.
Peter also saw the need for the destruction of the old order, when he wrote, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning and the elements will melt with intense heat!” (2 Pet. 3:10-12) In this passage, Peter not only emphasizes the destruction of the world by fire, but also the heavens themselves! Once again, heavens and earth are a way of speaking about everything that is created. Nothing is exempt from the coming day of destruction, since both heaven and earth are destroyed by fire. However, this destruction is not the end for the people of God! Peter goes on to say, “But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
Just as the Bible begins with the creation of the old heavens and earth (Gen 1:1-2:3), it ends with a promise of new heavens and a new earth. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea” (Rev 21:1). It is common to speak as if John’s final vision in Revelation 21-22 is about “heaven,” but strictly speaking, this is only half true! He mentions both a “new heavens and a new earth.” The point of Revelation 21-22 is not so much, “This is what heaven looks like,” as it is, “This is what the end result of God’s promises looks like.” The two chapters are a conglomeration of numerous OT promises about God’s future for His people, involving the elimination of all corruptions and separations, and the presence of God among His people, as was initially intended from the beginning.
Of course, there is a limited sense in which we are already participating in the new creation right now. Paul writes, “Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold new things have come” (2 Cor 5:16-17). However, the Bible affirms the new heavens and new earth as both a present reality and a future hope. Therefore, we ought to live in this present world in a way that is mindful of the future world. “For momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Cor 4:17-18)
Let us live in this creation in such a way that we might live in the next! If we remain faithful to the Lord, we will be family forever. “For just as the new heavens and the new earth which I make will endure before Me,” declares the LORD, “So your offspring and your name will endure” (Isaiah 66:22).