Renewal: New Heavens and New Earth

The Context

New heavens and a new earth are mentioned four times in Scripture: twice in the Old Testament (Isa 65:17; 66:22) and twice in the New (2Pe 3:13; Rev 21:1). On reading the two Isaiah verses in their context, we see that they are not speaking of the complete, permanent renewal after the dissolution of all things, but of the partial, temporary renewal that will take place at the Lord’s return to the earth. In those passages, Isaiah is describing conditions during the Millennium. For example, he writes of dying (65:20), building houses and planting vineyards (65:21), bearing children (65:23), and animals eating (65:25), which will not take place in the eternal state.

Thus, to consider our eternal home, we turn to the two New Testament references: “Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2Pe 3:13)1; “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea” (Rev 21:1). Because Peter uses  “heavens” (plural), whereas John uses “heaven” (singular), some have thought that Peter is writing of the material heavens, and John of “heaven itself,” God’s dwelling-place. However, while in everyday English this distinction is usually made between singular and plural uses of the word, in the Greek New Testament the singular and plural are both used of the material heavens. For example, in the phrase, “the earth and the heaven fled away” (Rev 20:11), “heaven” is singular, yet clearly the material heavens are in view. God’s dwelling-place will not flee away, nor will it need to be renewed. As always, it is vital to examine context and to compare Scripture with Scripture. So, in Revelation 21, as well as in 2 Peter 3, it is to the material heavens that reference is being made.

The Chronology

In 2 Peter 3, Peter describes the story of the heavens and the earth in three stages: first, “the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water” (v5); second, “the heavens and the earth, which are now” (v7); and third, “new heavens and a new earth” (v13). The first stage gave way to the second at the flood, when “the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished” (v6). The transition from the second to the third (and final) stage will also be by a divinely-caused cataclysm, not now by water but by fire: “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (v10).

This climactic conclusion of the history of the present heavens and earth will take place in connection with the Great White Throne judgment, for which the earth and even the sea will deliver up the bodies of the unsaved dead. John saw that “the earth and the heaven fled away” from the face of the One on the throne, “and there was found no place for them” (Rev 20:11-15). This is the dissolution of the present heavens and earth, which is followed in John’s record by “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1).

The Character

The pre-flood earth was destroyed because “GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth” (Gen 6:5). Similarly, the present heavens and earth “are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men” (2Pe 3:7). As we read these solemn things, what a relief it is to know that it will not be so in our eternal home, which forever will be characterised by righteousness: “We, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (v13). Currently, we are continually grieved by the unrighteousness all around us; how much more grievous it must be to a holy God. But there will be none of that in the new heavens and new earth.

The present post-flood earth bears the evidence of the sin and death in the previous one, for example, in the fossil record, but the new earth will not. Every trace of sin and its effects will have been eradicated by the dissolution of the old and formation of the new. In addition, whereas people continued to live in sinful bodies after the flood, the new earth will be populated by those who have been transformed to be like the Lord Jesus Christ (Php 3:20,21; 1Jn 3:2). Further, not only will sin be absent, but there will not even be the possibility of its coming in, unlike the first stage of earth’s history. So, never again will there be any need for a judgment. What a blessed, secure, happy home awaits us!

The Changes

“He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21:5). Since we can hardly even begin to envisage what such a place, where everything is new, must be like, it is not surprising that John draws our attention particularly to things that are now here, but which will not be there. He does so in terms both of material and non-material things, for each of which we read the two words “no more.”

As far as material things are concerned, there will be “no more sea” (v1). This is very different from the current earth, most of which is covered by water. The sea is crucial to the functioning of the current atmospheric heavens and the earth, so its absence points to radically different conditions. The fact that Scripture highlights this one change is undoubtedly of spiritual significance too, for the sea is used symbolically in Scripture in many ways, for example: “The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked” (Isa 57:20,21). At the very least, the absence of the sea is indicative of a state of perpetual peace, and the non-existence of wickedness and unrest.

Regarding things that are non-material but nonetheless real, there is also a blessed “no more”: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev 21:4). These simple, beautiful words require no explanation. Everything that causes us sorrow now will then be “the former things,” and will be “no more.” What a comfort!

The Communion

Our eternal home is described not only by its “negatives,” but a glorious “positive”: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (v3). The words “tabernacle” and “dwell” in this verse are different forms of the same word, so “he will dwell with them” could be rendered “he will tabernacle with them.” John uses the same word at the beginning of his Gospel: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt [tabernacled] among us” (Joh 1:14). Those who “beheld his glory” then were greatly privileged, yet they were relatively small in number, experienced it for a limited period of time, and their fallen nature put a limit on their appreciation of it. In contrast, in that eternal future all His people will be with Him and will enjoy unending communion with Him, in a glorified state! Surely that will be the greatest blessing of all in that place!

The Citizens

Verse 7 of Revelation 21 states that the one who “shall inherit all things” is “he that overcometh.” John states elsewhere that the overcomer is “he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God” (1Jn 5:5). Sadly, the only other eternal dwelling-place is “the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone,” and an eight-fold description is given of those who will be there eternally: “the fearful, and unbelieving …” (Rev 21:8). The stark difference between these final destinations ought to motivate us to reach sinners with the glorious gospel of salvation through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself that they might live eternally with Him. Indeed, anyone reading these words who has not yet responded to the invitation is urged, right now, to trust in the One who still holds out this blessed promise: “I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely” (v6).

The Consequences

Consideration of future events ought always to have practical consequences for us, in the present. In 2 Peter 3, the changes that will take place are directly coupled with exhortations, to which we must give earnest heed: “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness” (v11); “seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless” (v14); “seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen” (vv17,18).

1 Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV.