New Heavens and New Earth
We read in Genesis 6 how God destroyed “the world that then existed” (II Pet. 3:6) with a global flood. The reason for this cataclysmic judgment was because “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). But God, in His grace, chose to save Noah and his family so that He might continue to work out His plan for man’s redemption.
Following the flood of Noah’s day, God promised that He would never again destroy the earth with a flood of water (Gen. 9:11). However, the heavens and earth that existed after the flood, which are the same heavens and earth that exist today, “are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men” (II Pet. 3:7). The wickedness of man continued after the flood, and continues to grow worse day by day (II Tim. 3). There will come a time in the future when the current heavens and earth will be judged and destroyed by fire.
“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.” (II Pet. 3:10)
We need to distinguish what is meant here by the expression “the heavens.” The Scriptures speak of at least three different heavens: (1) the atmospheric heaven which surrounds the earth and contains the air we breath (2) the stellar heaven which contains the sun, moon, stars, and planets and (3) the heaven which is the dwelling place of God. The “heavens” that will pass away refers to the atmospheric and stellar heavens, which are associated with the earth. The heavens and the earth will pass away because of their contamination by sin. The heaven which is the dwelling place of God, needs no purging or cleansing from sin.
Following this fiery judgment upon the existing heavens and earth, God will create “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (II Pet. 3:13). These new heavens and new earth are described in Revelation 21.
“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.” (Rev. 21:1)
John’s vision of these new heavens and earth is of a wonderful new world. A world that is not just “new” as to time, but “new” as to kind and quality. It will be a better world for two reasons: (1) the presence of God and (2) the absence of sin. God Himself will dwell with His people in this new world (Rev. 21:3). There will be no more tears, death, sorrow, crying, or pain, for all the former things will have passed away (Rev. 21:4). God declares, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5). There will be no cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, or liars, for all of these will have already received their portion in the lake of fire, which is the second death (Rev. 21:8).
Isaiah 65:17 declares that the former heavens and earth “shall not be remembered or come to mind.” Isaiah 66:22 assures us that the new heavens and earth “shall remain” before the Lord. The new heavens and earth will be the eternal state for God’s people.
At this point, we need to ask the question, “Who will live in these new heavens and earth?” Oftentimes, people try to assign the church of this age to these new heavens and new earth, but remember, that these new heavens do not refer to the dwelling place of God, but to the atmospheric and stellar heavens that are associated with the earth.
The church, the body of Christ, which consists of all people saved during this current dispensation of grace, finds its position and sphere of blessing in “the heavenly places” or, more literally, “the heavenlies.” The Lord Jesus Christ is currently seated in the heavenlies, as Head over all things to His church (Eph. 1:20-23). Our position as believers is “in Christ,” thus Paul declares that we have been seated together with Him in the heavenlies “in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). Furthermore, we are told that our blessings, which are spiritual, are also in the sphere of “the heavenlies in Christ” (Eph. 1:3).
If we look at the context of the book of the Revelation, this book describes the fulfillment of God’s promises and prophecies concerning His earthly people, Israel (1:1,6 with Exo. 19:6). God’s plans and purposes for Israel have always been tied to this earth. Abraham, the father of this nation, was promised a specific land for an everlasting possession. The patriarch David was promised a house, a throne, and a kingdom to be established forever upon the earth.
When we come to the description of the new heavens and earth, once again the emphasis seems to be upon God’s relationship to His earthly people, Israel. Notice the words in Revelation 21that are used to describe this new world. Verse 3 says that “the tabernacle of God” will be with men, and that God shall “dwell with” “His people.” Numerous times throughout this book, as well as throughout the Old Testament Scriptures, God refers to Israel as “His people.” He goes on in this verse to say, “they shall be His people” and “God Himself will be with them and be their God.” Compare this expression to the New Covenant promises made to Israel in Jeremiah 31:33and you will find they are very similar.
We see also that these new heavens and earth were the subject of Old Testament prophecy (Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22), whereas God’s plan and purpose for the church, the body of Christ, was a mystery kept secret from past ages (Col. 1:24-26).
Another interesting thing about these new heavens and new earth is that there is a city associated with them,
“Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Rev. 21:2)
A detailed description of this city is given in Revelation 21:9 through 22:5.
Not the Millennial Kingdom
Some believe that the New Jerusalem is a picture of the millennial kingdom, but there are numerous problems with this viewpoint. To begin with, Revelation 21:2 and 10 state that the New Jerusalem is a city, not a kingdom. It is a real city that descends from God out of heaven. It has gates, walls, and foundations that are specifically described as to size and number. There is no indication that these are merely symbolic of things in the kingdom. The language is literal.
The events of Revelation 19-22 are given in chronological order. The Lord Jesus Christ will return and set His feet upon the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4). Is this a mount upon the new earth or the existing earth? Surely it is the same Mount of Olives that exists today. When Jesus ascended into heaven, the angels who were there spoke to the apostles and said, “This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). He will return to the same Mount of Olives. He will judge and make war and establish His kingdom upon the same earth that exists today. There is no indication that the first earth will pass away before the kingdom is established. This judgment upon the existing heavens and earth will not occur until after the millennial kingdom is complete and Satan’s final rebellion has occurred and been overthrown (Rev. 20:7-9).
If we look at the description of the New Jerusalem, there are several key differences between it and the millennial kingdom. For instance, Revelation 21:22, states that there will be no temple in the New Jerusalem, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb will be its temple. But when we look at the prophecies of Zechariah 14 and Ezekiel 37-40, there will be a temple during the millennial kingdom. The Jews will come to Jerusalem, just as they did in the past, to keep the feasts and to worship the Lord.
In addition, Revelation 21:23-25 states that there will be no sun or moon in the New Jerusalem and that there will be no night there, for the Lamb will be its light. But as we look at the descriptions of the millennial kingdom throughout the Scriptures, there is every indication that days and nights proceed just as they have done in the past for the full thousand years.
Finally, Revelation 21:27 indicates that nothing that defiles or causes an abomination or a lie will enter into the New Jerusalem, for only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life will be there. Yet, in Psalm 2:6-12, we read that the Lord Jesus will rule during the kingdom with a “rod of iron” (Rev. 19:15). Why, if there is nothing that defiles, causes abomination, or lies? By the time the New Jerusalem is inhabited, there will be no more sin (Rev. 21:8), for Satan, his angels, and all unbelievers from all ages will already have been judged and cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10-15).
Not the Church
Others believe that the New Jerusalem is the church, the body of Christ. The primary reason for this is because it is called “the bride, the Lamb’s wife” (Rev. 21:9). Based on passages such as Ephesians 5:22-33, many believe that the church is the bride of Christ. If this passage is carefully examined, the church is described as the body of Christ, not the bride. The love of Christ for the church, His body, is the pattern for a man’s love for his wife, not because the church is the bride, but in keeping with the statement in verse 28, “so husbands out to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.”
Please notice that Revelation 21 never makes reference to the bride of Christ, but to “the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” In fact, the expression, “bride of Christ,” is not found in the Scriptures at all. When we look at the word “bride”in the New Testament, the first time it is found is in John 3:29, where John the Baptist mentions it in reference to the bridegroom, which is the Lamb of God. It is interesting that the next mention of the word “bride” in the New Testament is found in the book of the Revelation (18:23). The apostle Paul does not use the word at all, nor does he use the word “Lamb.”
The wife of the Lord is the subject of Old Testament prophecy (cf. Isa. 54:1- 5, Hosea 2:14-23) and refers to the nation of Israel. In contrast, the church, the body of Christ, was not the subject of prophecy, but was a mystery, hidden in God until it was revealed to the apostle Paul (Eph. 3:1-5).
If you look at the language used to describe this city, it is associated, not with the church, but with the nation of Israel. It is called New Jerusalem, the name of the Jew’s capital city. It is stamped all over with the number twelve, which is the number associated, again, with Israel. It has twelve gates, on which are written the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel (Rev. 21:12). It has twelve foundations, on which are the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (Rev. 21:14). When all of this is taken into consideration, where does the church, the body of Christ come in? Where is the name of the apostle Paul? It certainly isn’t written on, or connected with this city at all.
When you mention the word “heaven,” many people think of a beautiful city with streets and mansions of gold. Where do they get this idea? Actually, this is a description of the New Jerusalem, not of heaven. How could the New Jerusalem be heaven? Notice the description in Revelation 21:10, “… the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.” First, it is called a “city.” Second, it could not be heaven, for it is seen “descending out of heaven.” How could heaven descend out of heaven?
Where does the city descend to? The Scriptures do not actually say, but most likely it descends to the earth. Some have a problem with this because of the huge size of this city, about 1500 miles in length, breadth, and height (Some believe it will be shaped like a cube, others believe it will be a pyramid). They question that a city of this size would logically fit on an earth that is only 8000 miles in diameter. But keep in mind that the earth this city will descend to is not the existing earth, but the new earth. Who says that the new earth will have the same dimensions as the old earth?
Abraham’s Promised City
We have looked at what the New Jerusalem is not, but what is it? The answer to this question may be found in Hebrews, chapter 11, where we read that Abraham,
“… waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (Heb. 11:10)
We read further in verses 13-16, that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, never actually possessed that city, but they were assured of the promise of it. What type of city was it? Verse 16 says,
“But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” (Heb. 11:16)
When we compare these passages with the city described in Revelation 21, it seems that the New Jerusalem is the city that Abraham looked for; a city with foundations; a city (and a country or homeland) that was of “heavenly” origin.
No More Curse
When God created the heavens and the earth, as recorded in Genesis 1-2, they were perfect. There was no sin, and there was no curse upon the earth. When sin entered the world, there in the garden of Eden, the earth was cursed and God barred man’s access to the tree of life. In the new heavens, new earth, and new Jerusalem, the beauty and perfection of God’s original creation will be seen once again (Rev. 22:1-5). The water of life will proceed from God’s throne (vs. 1). The tree of life will be there for the healing of the nations (vs. 2). There will be no more curse for the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in its midst (vs. 3). His servants will serve Him and they will see His face (vs. 4). What a wonderful place this will be, a place where God’s people, both Israel and the nations, will dwell and reign with Him forever and ever (vs. 5).
“These words are faithful and true.” (Rev. 22:6)