New Heaven, New Earth
Several weeks ago in my Wednesday night Bible study class, I mentioned, in passing, that one of the doctrines of contention among some of our brethren was our eternal destiny: in heaven with God for all eternity, or on a renewed earth. We were concluding our study on the book of Hebrews, and when I asked what they would like to study next, this was their request. The first passage we would study would be 2 Peter 3:10–13, on which I’ll focus in a moment. However, when one follows the chronology of last things (eschatology), we notice in Revelation 20:15–21:1 a sequence of events: judgment and a new heaven and earth. Preceding judgment is the resurrection (Rev. 20:13), then once and for all death is put to death. Therefore, the order of last things, from this passage, would be the resurrection, judgment, and new heaven and earth.
What is favorable about the new heaven and earth doctrine, to me, is that it looks favorably upon God’s creation, acknowledging His original purpose for such. God made everything and it was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Every creature of God is good (1 Tim. 4:4–5), but man’s sin subjected creation to futility (Gen. 3:17–19; cf. 5:29). Humanity’s incessant disobedience to God is what defiles the earth (Is. 24:5–6). A key passage is Romans 8:18–25:
- Creation awaits the revealing of the sons of God (v. 19).
- It has been subjected to futility for the purpose of redemption (v. 20).
- It shall be delivered from corruption (v. 21).
- Creation currently groans within itself (v. 22).
- Like us, creation awaits the adoption and redemption of itself (v. 23).
The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross affected things on earth and also in heaven (Eph. 1:7–10), and Jesus is both the head of creation and of the new creation. His church is the source of the restoration and fulfillment of creation in Himself (Col. 1:15–20).
In the new creation of Revelation, God’s dwelling is once more with humanity as it was in Eden (Rev. 21:2). In the new heaven and earth, the curses no longer exist (Rev. 21:4). A study of God’s creation of the heavens and earth in Genesis yields the conclusion that He was fashioning for Himself a temple in which He could dwell with humanity. In the end, God is the temple of the new heaven and earth (Rev. 21:22). When you compare the first with the final, the first heaven and earth on which we now dwell had darkness, but the darkness is no more upon the creation of the new (Rev. 21:23–25). Though the heaven and earth on which we now dwell were capable of defilement, the new is not (Rev. 21:27). What Peter wrote doesn’t vary from this at all:
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. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons 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 dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:10–13)
Someone may reply that these passages teach about heaven and earth’s destruction. However, when you read the chapter as a whole, it doesn’t. A few verses earlier, Peter referenced the destruction of the earth by flood, and you and I concede that the earth was “cleansed,” but Peter refers to it having “perished” (2 Peter 3:5–6). If the earth was so judged and destroyed then, would not the destruction of the world in the future not be annihilation as we think, but “cleansed?” Some of the terms Peter uses may mislead us, not that they would have the audience then.
- “Pass away,” “melt,” and “burned up” (v. 10).
- “Dissolved” (vv. 11–12).
- “Melt” (v. 11).
This sounds like annihilation to me. Some may well protest that Scripture never depicts the Lord setting foot again on earth (cf. Matt. 26:64; 1 Thess. 4:16–17; Rev. 1:7). I agree with that point, but it doesn’t say that He won’t be on the new heaven and new earth and the Bible is clear about there being a new heaven and new earth (Is. 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21:1). As for the language used regarding the current heavens and earth, I stand by the position that with the comparison of God destroying the world by flood preceding this judgment, the manner would be similar.
What was Peter’s point overall? I believe it was that since the current heavens and earth will be destroyed, we should be holy and godly people (2 Peter 3:11) since the new heaven and earth is a place in which righteousness (“justice”) dwells (2 Peter 3:13). Here are a few quotes I’ve found from brethren of ours from earlier years who believed in the new heaven and new earth doctrine.
The Bible begins with the generations of the heavens and the earth; but the Christian revelations ends with the … new creation of the heavens and the earth. This the ancient promise of God confirmed to us by the Christian Apostles. The present elements are to be changed by fire. The old or antediluvian [pre-flood] earth was purified by water; but the present earth is reserved for fire, with all the works of man that are upon it. It shall be converted into a lake of liquid fire. But the dead in Christ will have been regenerated in body, before the old earth is regenerated by fire. The bodies of the saints will be as homogenous with the new earth and heavens as their present bodies are with the present heavens and earth. God recreates, regenerates, but annihilates nothing; and, therefore, the present earth is not to be annihilated. The best description we can give of this regeneration is in the words of the one who had a vision of it on the island of Patmos. He describes it as far as it is connected with the New Jerusalem, which is to stand upon the new earth, under the canopy of the new heaven. —Alexander Campbell, The Christian System, p. 303.
God is holy. As a pure and holy being, he cannot tolerate guilt and sin. The two cannot permanently dwell together in the universe. When sin came into the world, God left this world as a dwelling place. He cannot dwell in a defiled and sin-polluted temple. He has since dwelt on this earth only in sanctified altars and temples separated from the world and consecrated to his service. He will again make this earth his dwelling place, but it will be only when sin has been purged out and it has been consecrated anew as the new heaven and new earth in which dwelleth righteousness. — David Lipscomb, Salvation from Sin, pp. 35–36.
The earth is God’s nursery, his training grounds, made primarily for the occupancy of his children, for their education, development and training until they shall have reached their majority, until the end of the Messianic age has come; then it is to be purified a second time by a great washing, a mighty flood, but this time in a sea of fire. Then God will take up his abode himself with his great family upon this new, this renovated and purified earth. —James A. Harding, “What Are We Here For?” The Way 5, 1903, p. 1041.
Some reading this may think I’ve sold out with some of our other brethren who believe in this doctrine. Also, some may propose that I’ve taken up the doctrines of N. T. Wright. To be clear, I learned this doctrine, first, through reading the early church fathers and patristics, and only found Wright’s books on the topic some time afterward. I think that no matter what one believes, the point is that we shall be with the Lord for all eternity. Whether that means being in heaven with Him or on a new heaven and new earth doesn’t matter, as long as I’m with Him.