What Does The New Heaven and Earth Mean?
The Bible’s Prophetic Program Culminates With “A New Heaven and A New Earth”. What might this mean? What are the implications of this? Does it have bearing on how we live today?
The Bible culminates its pages with the announcement that there will one day be a “new heaven and a new earth”.
¶ Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
But what does this mean? The implications of how we understand this Bible prophecy are slightly enormous. I was recently discussing with another pastor some issue of concern we shared about a potential environmental hazzard. I ventured that we needed to take some action. He responded by expressing doubts that a pastor could achieve any change. Then he said, “…besides, this earth will soon pass away soon since the Bible says a ‘new earth’ is coming, so ultimately it doesn’t really matter!” How we understand what the Bible means when it refers to a ‘new heaven and a new earth‘ may well determine how we treat our ‘existing’ earth and the type of legacy we will leave for generations to come.
THE BIBLICAL EXPRESSION OF ‘HEAVEN & EARTH’…
¶ “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.”
The context of the latter portion of Isaiah is the coming new covenant. Within this context the Lord speaks of creating a new heaven and a new earth. The expression heavens and earth seems to speak of God’s relationship with mankind. He is the God of the heavens and the earth (Genesis 14:19; Ezra 5:11). Actually he is the God of the entire cosmos- but the expression heaven and earthemphasises His connection to mankind. And the expression heaven and earthmay well refer to the covenant God has with mankind. When the Lord speaks of a new heaven and a new earth there may be some merit in regarding this as Biblical language for a new covenant.
This suspicion is increased when we consider how Christ used this expression as well.
For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
Since Christ fulfilled the Law, was He right in stating that heaven and earth passed away? If we regard the expression ‘heaven and earth‘ as referring to God’s covenant with mankind, then this statement makes perfect sense. It seems that Christ was therefore saying that Once the Old Covenant is fulfilled it will be done away with and replaced by a new covenant.
Hebrews 8:13 says that the Old Covenant became obsolete at the Cross, but it was still to be done away with. Since we now know that the Book of Revelation was written around 64AD (just after the Epistle to the Hebrews, which referred to the Old Covenant as still being in existence – note Hebrews 8:13) Revelation’s announcement of a ‘new heaven and a new earth’ was perhaps announcing that a change in covenant-order was pending.
The closing announcement of the Bible of a coming new heaven and new earth does have some future implications. But if we are conditioned into thinking only in terms of geography we may completely miss the point of what being in covenant with God is all about. “Heaven” is not so much about a location as it is about a relationship! Dieing and going to heaven is not merely about a change in location but a blessing due to a covenant relationship with God. The most important thing you could do with your life now is not merely to prepare for heaven, but to ensure that you have entered into a relationship with God. It is a misrepresentation of Christianity to think that Christ died so that people could go to heaven- He died so that people could be forgiven of their sin and enter into a covenant relationship with God!
Could the picture of a new heaven and a new earth in the Book of Revelation be describing a coming new physical reality? Perhaps. But we have some Biblical precendent for regarding it as an expression of God’s covenant relationship with mankind. Reading this closing passage of the Bible reveals that a time is coming for God’s elect when nothing will hinder their relationship with God.
Therefore, while there may be future physical implications of this Biblical prophecy, there might not be. This is why those who regard other verses, such as Psalm 78:69, as speaking of God having creating the earth to last-
He built his sanctuary like the high heavens,
like the earth, which he has founded forever.
If God has created the earth to last ‘forever’ we might need to abandon our ‘disposable earth’ theology and have a rethink about how Christians can be stewards not just exploiters of our environment. That’s why our interpretation of this prophetic passage has such dire consequences if we get it wrong.