By Larry White
(Originally delivered in Boise, Id. August 31, 2003)

 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.
Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “
Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people. God himself will be with them and be their God.
4  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
5  Then he who sat on the throne said,
“Behold, I make all things new.” And he said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”
6  And he said to me,
“It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.
7  He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be my son.
8  But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

I.) Time and Nature
    When we consider what the new heavens and the new earth are, we must be aware of a fundamental question of interpretation. Does the time of the fulfillment determine the nature of the fulfillment or does the nature determine the time?
    For instance, premillennialist have not seen what they expect to see, according to their view of the nature of the new heavens and earth (i.e. physically) so they adjust the time factor to be yet future. It is their only option.
    But if we take the view that the time factor determines the nature of the new heavens and earth, then we get a whole different set of options. Like when we consider the coming of the kingdom. I can show the futurist plain statements in scripture that the kingdom was coming soon and even exiting then in the 1st century. If so, then the nature of the kingdom must be spiritual and not physical.   

II.) Imminency Statements
There are imminency statements throughout the scriptures that we must not gloss over that makes time determine the nature of prophesy. The first followers of Jesus were convinced that he would return and fulfill all things within their life times. And you really cannot blame them. Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself how you would have understood these words:
 - The end of all things is at hand. (1Pet.4:7)
 - ... the fullness of time has come. (Gal.4:4)
 - ... the fulfillment of the ages has come. (1Cor.10:11) [the ends of the ages]
 - ... for these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. (Lk.21:22)
 - I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. (Mt.24:34)
 - The time is short. (1Cor.7:29)
 - ... for the world in its present form is passing away. (1Cor.7:31)
 - ... in these last days. (Heb.1:2)
 - This is how we know it is the last hour... (1Jno.2:18)
 - The coming of the Lord is at hand ... the judge is standing [just outside] the door. (Jam.5:8-9)
 - The night is far spent, the day is at hand. (Rom.13:12)
 - He who is coming will come and will not delay. (Heb.10:37)
 - ... things which must shortly come to pass. (Rev.1:1; 22:6)
 - Blessed is he who reads and they who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is short. (Rev.1:3; 22:7)
 - Do not seal up the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand. (Rev.22:10)

    These first century pronouncements are some of the most profound time, imminency and conclusion statements in the Bible. They are not contradictory, vague or ambiguous.  They were said or written in plain normal language to real people living then and there. They all express a sense of imminence and urgency. They make a lot of sense when left in their first century context.

III.) 1st Century Context
Let's get a first century context to John's New Heavens and New Earth. (These will be numbered from easy to hard.)

    1.) Jesus tied the passing away of heaven and earth to the passing away of the Law of Moses.

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.

    So when the Law of Moses passed away, then two things would have happened:
        a) Heaven and Earth would have passed away.
        b) All would have been fulfilled.
    We know that the Law of Moses ended and has not been practiced for a little over 2000 years. Whatever heaven and earth Jesus was referring to back then, cannot now exist. If it is the physical universe and the terra firma earth which has not passed away - then everything has not yet been fulfilled and the Law of Moses is still in effect.
    But we know better, Right? That means that time determines the nature, and heaven and earth here are figurative of a spiritual reality and are not physical.

    2.) The Bible has both literal and figurative uses of Heaven and Earth. Instead of making this long-winded, I've chosen one passage that has both usages for an example.

And you forget Jehovah your maker,
        Who stretched out the heavens
        And laid the foundations of the earth;
        You have feared continually every day
        Because of the fury of the oppressor,
        When he has prepared to destroy.
        And where is the fury of the oppressor?

    Notice the past tenses, so that time determines nature. These are the physical heavens and earth.
    But then look at vv.14-16

        The captive exile hastens, that he may be loosed,
        That he should not die in the pit,
        And that his bread should not fail.
        But I am Jehovah your God,
        Who divided the sea whose waves roared--
        Jehovah of hosts is his name.
        And I have put my words in your mouth;
        I have covered you with the shadow of my hand,
        That I may plant the heavens,
        Lay the foundations of the earth,
        And say to Zion, "You are my people."'

    It is a totally different meaning. God gave them a covenant and a law to establish a theocratic "heavens and earth". He gave his revelation to Israel to create their "world of Judaism". This is the background and framework that lets us perceive Jesus' meaning when he says that heaven and earth would pass away with the Law. It also harmonizes with Paul saying that his world it its present form is passing away. (1Cor.7:31)

    3.) Shaking once more.

whose voice then shook the earth; but now he has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.”

Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.
For our God is a consuming fire.

    Shaking means destroying here and he quotes from (Hag.2:6) which was after the Babylonian exile. The first shaking was the Medo-Persians coming against Babylon in the great day of the Lord.

Wail, for the day of Jehovah is at hand!
        It will come as destruction from the Almighty.
     7  Therefore all hands will be limp,
        Every man's heart will melt,
     8  And they will be afraid.
        Pangs and sorrows will take hold of them;
        They will be in pain as a woman in childbirth;
        They will be amazed at one another;
        Their faces will be like flames.

     9  Behold, the day of Jehovah comes,
        Cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger,
        To lay the land desolate;
        And he will destroy its sinners from it.
   10  For the stars of heaven and their constellations
        Will not give their light;
        The sun will be darkened in its going forth,
        And the moon will not cause its light to shine.

   11  "I will punish the world for its evil,
        And the wicked for their iniquity;
        I will halt the arrogance of the proud,
        And will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.
   12  I will make a mortal more rare than fine gold,
        A man more than the golden wedge of Ophir.
   13  Therefore I will shake the heavens,
        And the earth will move out of her place,
        In the wrath of Jehovah of hosts
        And in the day of his fierce anger.

    God's shaking and removing Babylon was to serve as the precedent and type for that future "once more" shaking and ending of the O.T. Israel.
    A massive judgement was coming. God was not only going to shake and remove the Judaic heavens and earth but he was never going to bring them back. Instead he promised to supercede them by that which cannot be shaken.
    And what was that? The writer of Hebrews explains that it would be a new kingdom of God not made with hands, i.e. spiritual, that would last forever. So, it happened. God removed the Jewish world (heaven and earth) in AD 70. Its institutions were shaken to the ground and totally removed, never to rise again, just as Daniel had prophesied would happen at the time of the end, when the power of the holy people would be finally broken and all things would be completed. (Dan. 12)

    4.) Isaiah's prophecy of new heavens and a new earth is coupled with a new Jerusalem.

            "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;
        And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.
           But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create;
        For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing,
        And her people a joy.

"For as the new heavens and the new earth
        Which I will make shall remain before me," says Jehovah,
        "So shall your descendants and your name remain.
           And it shall come to pass
        That from one New Moon to another,
        And from one Sabbath to another,
        All flesh shall come to worship before me," says Jehovah.

    We all know already what the new Jerusalem is, since we are in the church. The church is the heavenly Jerusalem to which we have come.

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

    New Jerusalem is Christ's church and the new heavens and new earth is the age or "world" of the everlasting kingdom of God wherein dwells righteousness. Most of us believe that we can eat of the tree of life now and drink the water of life now. Well, both are found in the new Jerusalem. (Rev.22:1-2) 
    So the New Jerusalem is a present reality. Jesus entered into the Old Covenant (heaven and earth) world of Judaism. He returned in AD 70 to complete the Old Covenant and bring the consummation of the promised "new heavens and new earth" within the New Covenant world. The dual use of "heaven and earth" language indicates a continuity of thought and identity. Both were determined by covenant. Covenantal change is the key to understanding all Bible end-time prophecy.

5.) Peter uses the same vivid description of the destruction of the heavens and the earth.

  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.
11  Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness,
12  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?
13  Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

    Here are some suggestions to understand Peter. (This is the hardest example that needs a lot of study)

    a.) Peter is consistent. He writes in (1Pet.4:7) that the end of all things is at hand. In (1Pet.4:17) the time is come for judgement to begin at the house of God. Now in the second letter he reminds his readers that he is writing on the same theme.

Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder)

    b.) Elements are burned up. The word used is stoiceion,  stoicheion which means something orderly in arrangement, an elementary principle or a rudiment. The word is nowhere else used in the Bible to refer to the material creation.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.

Col.2:8, 20
  Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.
20  Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations – 

    Rudiments, rudimentary and elemental teachings, elementary principles or truths and first or basic principles, is how the translators give the word in the KJV, AMP, NASB and the NIV. Paul didn't mean that the O.T. Jews were in bondage to the physical substance or the periodic table of the elements of the material creation, but to the Law system, its institutions, its priesthood and its sacrificial rituals.
    This is probably what Peter is referring to, the elementary principles or the rudiments of Judaism. John said that the Jews had a choice. They could either be baptized with the Holy Spirit by their Messiah, or they would suffer a baptism of fire by that same Messiah at his return. It would all be burned up. That is why the writer of Hebrews said, "For our God is a consuming fire." The shaking of the heavens and the earth was going to be by fire.

    c.) Peter gives a clue in how he is going to be speaking by referring to the prophets.

...that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior...

    So Peter could be referring to 3 different heavens and earths. The Physical one in verse 5, the Old Covenant one in verse 7, and the New or spiritual one in verse 13.

    d.) Peter speaks of the imminency of this destruction happening.

  Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness,
12  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?
13  Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
14  Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by him in peace, without spot and blameless;
15  and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation – as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you,
16  as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the scriptures.
17  You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked...

    e.) Peter defines the nature of the new heaven and earth and therefore its time.

Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Compare with Isa.51:5-8

       5  My righteousness is near,
        My salvation has gone forth,
        And my arms will judge the peoples;
        The coastlands will wait upon me,
        And on my arm they will trust.
     6  Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
        And look on the earth beneath.
        For the heavens will vanish away like smoke,
        The earth will grow old like a garment,
        And those who dwell in it will die in like manner;
        But my salvation will be forever,
        And my righteousness will not be abolished.

     7  "Listen to me, you who know righteousness,
        You people in whose heart is my law:
        Do not fear the reproach of men,
        Nor be afraid of their insults.
     8  For the moth will eat them up like a garment,
        And the worm will eat them like wool;
        But my righteousness will be forever,
        And my salvation from generation to generation."

    The Old heaven and earth will vanish like smoke and be rolled up like a garment. But his salvation and his righteousness would never be abolished or go away. Christ is to us salvation and righteousness. (1Cor.1:30-31)
    The heaven and earth we have now is one in which righteousness dwells. Not the terrestrial globe, but the kingdom of God in the new age that has come.

~ Invitation ~