“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth are passed away, and the sea is no more…” (Rev. 21:1).
Some, even some brethren, see this passage as literal and conclude that the eternal dwelling place of the redeemed, resurrected souls will be planet earth. Before we accept this position as truth, it is needful that examination be made of what Bible writers meant by the expression “new heavens and a new earth,” for John is not the only biblical writer to use the phrase. Certainly, considering the nature of Revelation, one should be extremely cautious in making Revelation 21:1 literal when the expression is surrounded by highly symbolic language. To name just a few, John saw four horses in the first four seals of the seven seals (Rev. 6:1-8); the sealing of 12,000 out of each of the 12 tribes of Israel (Rev. 7:5-8); the plagues of the 7 trumpets (Revelation 8, 9); an angel who stood with one foot on the sea, the other on land (Rev. 10:2); the measuring of the temple (Rev. 11:1-2); the great red dragon who, with one sweep of his tail, brought 1/3 of the stars of heaven crashing onto the earth (Rev. 12:4). Who regards these visions as literal? One should do a second take on literalizing the phrase “new heavens and a new earth” when the book overall is so highly symbolic and figurative.
There are four passages in the Bible where the expression “new heavens and a new earth” is found. Two of these appear in the Old Testament in the writings of the prophet Isaiah (65:17; 66:22). Two other times the expression is found in New Testament writings (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1). It is clear that Isaiah’s promise of a “new heavens and a new earth” were not intended to be understood in a literal sense. Instead, the writer is promising, in the era of the Messiah, a new order of things: the church and salvation offered to all men without respect of persons. The church, God’s promised kingdom (Dan. 2:44), and the redemption one finds in Christ are Isaiah’s “new heavens and a new earth.” Isaiah’s “new heavens and a new earth” are here, but not literally so. The fact that Isaiah used the same expression as John and Peter (yet never intending to suggest a new literal earth) should cause men to question, “Since the expressions in Isaiah were figurative, is it not possible that the appearance of the expressions in both Peter and John’s writing is also figurative?”
In 2 Peter 3 Peter tells us that in the last days mockers would come and say, “Where is the promise of his coming, for from the days the fathers fell asleep all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (2 Pet. 3:3-4). These mockers questioned the veracity of the Lord’s words that He would come again, and Peter reminded them that they were willfully forgetting something. The heavens from old, and an earth, compacted out of water and amidst water by the word of God, was overflowed with water and perished — by the word of God. But the heavens that now are, and the earth by the same word, are stored up for fire, being reserved against the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men (2 Pet. 3:5-7).
Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that symbolism is here: that the world “perished” but wasn’t destroyed — it’s still here! And that’s what will happen when Jesus comes
again. That, although the world overflowed with water, didn’t perish. It was just cleansed and Noah and his family continued to live on it, and that in like manner, when the earth is “destroyed” at Jesus’ second coming, it will be purified and made suitable for God’s redeemed ones to live here — a new earth, so to speak. There is a huge problem with this explanation: Peter uses two words to speak of two different things, not one. Peter speaks of the world, then he speaks of the earth, but HE IS NOT USING TWO DIFFERENT WORDS TO DESCRIBE THE SAME THING. The “world” is the people of Noah’s day; the “earth” is our planet. True, the “earth” of Noah’s day is still here, but the “world” of Noah’s day is gone. IT DID PERISH.
Having discussed the “world” of Noah’s day, Peter next turned his attention to the “earth” of Noah’s day. What will happen to that earth? Let Peter tell us: “But the heavens that now are, and the earth, by the same word have been stored up for fire, being reserved against the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2 Pet. 3:7). And again, “… the day of the Lord will come as a thief; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (2 Pet. 3:10). Peter says, “… the earth is stored up for fire;” it will be “burned up” and “dissolved” (2 Pet. 3:11). Is this symbolism? If it is then the second coming of Christ is symbolism as well. The thrust of Peter’s argument is to show that God keeps His word. Scoffers had derided and denied it, but Peter showed that God keeps His word. The world came into existence BY THE WORD OF GOD. The world of Noah’s day perished BY THE WORD OF GOD. The heavens and earth created by the same word of God, and they are destined to be destroyed by the same word. There is no symbolism there. And if God does not burn up and dissolve the earth, then we cannot believe His word. God literally created the world by His word. He will literally burn up and dissolve the earth by his word. It’s that simple.
After admonishing his readers to live soberly and godly in view of the truth that the heavens and earth will be dissolved (2 Pet. 3:11), he then adds, “according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Pet. 3:13).
Jesus’ promise to return to the earth was mocked by scoffers, but God keeps His word, just as He will keep His promise to provide “new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.” But, where did Jesus ever mention a new heavens and a new earth? Read all the gospels and you will find no reference by Jesus anywhere to “new heavens and a new earth,” yet Peter said that “according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.”
Still, there is something you WILL find connected with the promise Jesus made about His coming again. In John 14:1-4 Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled: believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I come again, and will receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also … and whither I go, ye know the way.” Clearly Jesus did not intend to return to
the earth to remain; He intended to return to the earth to get those who served Him and then carry them with Him to His Father’s house. When Jesus prayed in John 17, He prayed to the Father that those whom the Father had given Him would be with Him where He was to behold His glory (John 17:24). Once again we see Jesus’ intent was not to come back to live on the earth with the redeemed. His intention was to carry those whom the Father gave Him to where He was going when He said in John 14 that He was going away. There are two things in John 14 we must not forget. There is the promise of Jesus’ return; the return the scoffers questioned. But coupled with that was Jesus’ promise that He was going to His Father’s house to prepare many mansions for His own. He does not mention in the passage “new heavens and a new earth,” but He does mention a new order of things: God’s children being carried to heaven. Friends, Peter said, “According to his promise we look for new heavens and new earth.” Jesus’ promise to go and prepare a place for His redeemed ones, then come back for them and carry them to that place so they can behold His glory IS THE NEW HEAVENS AND NEW EARTH — a wondrous new order of things!
Isaiah’s “new heavens and a new earth” in chapters 65 and 66 were not literal; they were the church that Jesus bought with His blood. Peter’s “new heavens and a new earth” are not literal either. He tells us that the first earth and heavens are dissolved and burned up. Our earth will be destroyed; it will not be “revamped” for the redeemed to dwell on. Who doubts that the new heavens and earth John wrote about are the same new heavens and earth Peter wrote about? Peter’s new heavens and earth are not literal and neither are the new heavens and earth of which John wrote. John, in symbolic language, described a new order of things: God’s redeemed, through all the ages, at home in heaven with Him.