Revelation 21:1

In the previous chapter, John was shown an ideal time on earth when Satan was bound and Christ and the saints ruled for one thousand years. As wonderful as the Millennial Kingdom will be with many of God’s promises regarding Israel, the earthly Jerusalem, and the renovated earth coming to fulfillment, it is not the ultimate plan of God. After the Millennial Kingdom and the final rebellion of Satan, John saw the original earth and heaven flee away. In the process the earth and sea gave up the dead who stood before God for judgment (Rev. Rev. 20:11-13+). During the Millennial Kingdom, sin and death had not yet been vanquished (Isa. Isa. 65:20; Rev. Rev. 20:9+). Now John sees the creation of a new heaven and earth which differs fundamentally from the old order. In a word, the new creation is perfect. There is no more sin or death. Those who populate the new earth enjoy full communion with God. The OT prophets saw glimpses of the eternal state. The Holy Spirit revealed through them that there would be a new heavens and a new earth (Isa. Isa. 65:17; Isa. 66:22) and that death would eventually be no more (Isa. Isa. 25:8; Hos. Hos. 13:14). But their visions of the eternal state were often intertwined with revelation concerning the Millennial Kingdom making it difficult to draw a clear distinction between the two (e.g., Isa. Isa. 65:17-20).1 Now, John is shown aspects of the eternal state which are markedly different from the Millennial Kingdom. Beginning with the first verse of this chapter, we are no longer in the Millennial Kingdom: there is no more sin, death, sea, or Temple.2

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth
The conjunction, now (καὶ [kai] ), connects what follows with the previous chapter. The creation of the new heaven and new earth is in response to the destruction of the previous heaven and earth which fled away and gave up the dead (Rev. Rev. 20:11+). New is καινὸν [kainon] : “in the sense that what is old has become obsolete, and should be replaced by what is new. In such a case the new is, as a rule, superior in kind to the old.”3

An earth which no longer smarts and smokes under the curse of sin,—an earth which needs no more to be torn with hooks and irons to make it yield its fruits,—an earth where thorns and thistles no longer infest the ground, nor serpents hiss among the flowers, nor savage beasts lay in ambush to devour,—an earth whose sod is never cut with graves, whose soil is never moistened with tears or saturated with human blood, whose fields are never blasted with unpropitious seasons, whose atmosphere never gives wings to the seeds of plague and death, whose ways are never lined with funeral processions, or blocked up with armed men on their way to war,—an earth whose hills ever flow with salvation, and whose valleys know only the sweetness of Jehovah’s smiles,—an earth from end to end, and from centre to utmost verge, clothed with the eternal blessedness of Paradise Restored!4

The restorative work prior to the Millennial Kingdom was a regeneration (Mtt. Mat. 19:28), not an entirely new created order as here. This is demonstrated by the fact that after the Millennial Kingdom (Rev. Rev. 20:4-6+), the earth and sea still contained all the unsaved dead of history. Although the millennial earth was renovated in order to recover from the judgments of the Tribulation and to restore Eden-like conditions, sin and death remained and the earth, in one sense, remained unclean . In the conflagration of the first heaven and earth, sin and death are completely purged from the created order (Rev. Rev. 20:14+). It was revealed to the OT prophets that the first heavens and earth would perish (Ps. Ps. 102:25-26; Isa. Isa. 51:6) and be replaced by a new heavens and earth:

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. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in My people; the voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her, nor the voice of crying. No more shall an infant from there live but a few days, nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days; for the child shall die one hundred years old, but the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed. (Isa. Isa. 65:17-20)

As we mentioned, the visions of the OT prophets often intermingled elements from both the Millennial Kingdom and the eternal state—the different elements sometimes being presented out of their chronological sequence. Isaiah saw the new heavens and earth, but went on to describe a blessed time which includes death and sin. These latter characteristics are incompatible with the eternal state:

Isaiah’s vision, while glimpsing the Kingdom age, the last ordered age in time, is projected into eternity. He saw the Millennium merging into the final state of bliss and having an everlasting feature to it, according to the Davidic Covenant (2S. 2S. 7:13, 2S. 7:16). So the prophecy employs language that although applicable to a degree to millennial conditions, will be fully realized on the regenerated earth, which will follow upon the postmillennial renovation by fire (2Pe. 2Pe. 3:10-13; Rev. Rev. 21:1+; cf. Heb. Heb. 12:26-28).5

The prophets sometimes saw future events not only together; but in expanding their description of these events, they seem occasionally to reverse the time sequence in their record of the vision. An example of this may be seen in Isa. Isa. 65:17-25 . . . It is apparent, therefore, that Isaiah saw together on the screen of prophecy both the Millennial Kingdom and the Eternal Kingdom; but he expands in detail the former because it is the “nearest coming” event and leaves the latter for fuller description in a later New Testament revelation [Rev. Rev. 21:1-8+].6

Some interpreters, insisting upon a strict chronological order for Isaiah’s vision, mistake the creation described as the regeneration of the earth prior to the Millennial Kingdom:

Most interpreters understand the new heaven and new earth to be postmillennial, as this description succeeds the account of the last judgment. It is necessary, however, in interpreting prophecy to take into account all that the rest of the prophets have written. If this is done, it will be seen that the new heaven and new earth are distinctly revealed to be premillennial in the only other passages which contain the prediction (Isa. Isa. 65:17-19. Isa. 66:22. 2Pe. 2Pe. 3:13). Every student of prophecy knows that there are numerous instances of prophecies given out of their chronological sequence.7

No matter whether the interpreter takes the creation described here to be before the Millennium or after, he is forced to accept a reversal in order between prophetic vision and historical chronology in some passage. Either Isaiah’s vision of the new heavens and earth preceding the Millennium is in chronological order or John’s vision of the new heaven and earth following the Millennium is chronological. They cannot both be true. Fortunately, God has not left us to guess at the answer. He has left us a key with which to solve this conundrum: the destruction of death. Since the destruction of the first earth results in all the dead being given up and Death itself cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. Rev. 20:14+), we can expect that death will be purged before the new earth is created. This is the chronological sequence of John’s vision: “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death . . . for the former things have passed away” (Rev. Rev. 21:4+). Since Isaiah’s vision included death (Isa. Isa. 65:20) after the new creation (Isa. Isa. 65:17), it cannot be in chronological order. Nor does it describe a renovation prior to the Millennial Kingdom:

But one objection may be made to the supposition, that the prophet is here depicting the state of things in the millennium; viz., that this description is preceded by an account of the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. The prophet appears, therefore, to refer to that Jerusalem, which is represented in the Apocalypse as coming down from heaven to earth after the transformation of the globe. But to this it may be replied, that the Old Testament prophet was not yet able to distinguish from one another the things which the author of the Apocalypse separates into distinct periods. From the Old Testament point of view generally, nothing was known of a state of blessedness beyond the grave. Hades lay beyond this present life; and nothing was known of a heaven in which men were blessed. Around the throne of God in heaven there were angels and not men. And, indeed, until the risen Saviour ascended to heaven, heaven itself was not open to men, and therefore there was no heavenly Jerusalem whose descent to earth could be anticipated then. Consequently in the prophecies of the Old Testament the eschatological idea of the new Cosmos does unquestionably coincide with the millennium. It is only in the New Testament that the new creation intervenes as a party-wall between this life and the life beyond; whereas the Old Testament prophecy brings down the new creation itself into the present life, and knows nothing of any Jerusalem of the blessed life to come, as distinct from the new Jerusalem of the millennium.8

We see the same mix of revelation concerning the Millennium and the eternal state in another passage in Isaiah which mentions the new heavens and earth:

“For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain before Me,” says the LORD, “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 the LORD. “And they shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” (Isa. Isa. 66:22-24)

There is nothing in this passage of Isaiah which states that the new heavens and earth must precede the Millennium. It merely states that as the new creation will endure before God, so shall the faithful of Israel continue.

the first heaven and the first earth had passed away
Since the previous heaven and earth which passed away were the first (πρῶτος [prōtos] ), this is the first and only true creation of heaven and earth since the original creation (Gen. Gen. 1:1). Therefore, the regeneration (παλιγγενεσίᾳ [palingenesia] , again genesis) spoken of by Jesus was a restoration of the original creation which occurred prior to the Millennial Kingdom. Since the heaven and earth of the Millennial Kingdom were the first , it is not possible to interpret the passages by Isaiah (Isa. Isa. 65:17; Isa. 66:22) and Peter (2Pe. 2Pe. 3:10-13) as describing a creation event before the Millennium. If that were so, this would have been the second heaven and earth that had passed away. Moreover, the earth of the Millennial Kingdom contained the dead of all history (Rev. Rev. 20:13+) and so cannot be a new creation as described by Isaiah, Peter, and John. An important aspect of the revelation given by Peter concerns the result of the conflagration of the first heaven and 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. 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. (2Pe. 2Pe. 3:10-13) [emphasis added]

Here is another evidence that Peter cannot be describing the renovation preceding the Millennial Kingdom. Peter informs us that the new heavens and new earth will be characterized by true righteousness. Unlike the millennial earth, there will be no sin or death. With the passing of the first heaven and earth, we find fulfillment of Jesus’ predictions concerning the permanence of God’s word:

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. (Mtt. Mat. 5:18 cf. Luke Luke 16:17)

Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. (Mtt. Mat. 24:35 cf. Mark Mark 13:30; Luke Luke 21:33)

The purpose of God, as set forth by His written word, extends not just beyond this life, but beyond this entire created order. His words are more certain than the physical reality around us. The temporal nature of this present world is to be a powerful motivator for the Christian to invest in heavenly priorities:

But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none, those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, and those who use this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is passing away. (1Cor. 1Cor. 7:29-31)

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. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless. (2Pe. 2Pe. 3:11-14)

no more sea
Some suggest the sea is omitted from the eternal state because of its negative connotation. It was the sea, overflowing with rain and the fountains of the deep, which judged the world at the flood (Gen. Gen. 7:11). The sea covered Pharaoh and his army at the Exodus (Ex. Ex. 14:28). Leviathan, the fleeing serpent who would be slain, made his home in the sea (Isa. Isa. 27:1). The wicked are compared to the troubled sea (Isa. Isa. 57:20). The four vicious Gentile powers seen by Daniel arose from the sea (Dan. Dan. 7:3). The final beastly ruler, the Antichrist arose out of the sea (Rev. Rev. 13:1+). Another possibility is that the sea represents the need of cleansing due to sin which will no longer be necessary in the eternal state.9 The lack of sea in the eternal state offers a helpful guide when interpreting the OT. In passages describing times of great blessing, if the sea is mentioned, then we know the passage cannot relate to the eternal state, but must describe conditions of the Millennial Kingdom.

Notes

1 See Millennial Passages where we discuss keys to identifying millennial passages from those which describe the eternal state.

2 There may also be that there is no more sun and moon (see commentary on Revelation 21:23).

3 Frederick William Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 394.

4 J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), 487-488.

5 Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002), Isa. 65:17-25.

6 Alva J. McClain, The Greatness Of The Kingdom (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1959), 138.

7 Jerome Smith, The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992), Rev. 21:1.

8 Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002), 7:624-625.

9 “Water, for example, was used for cleansing—hence, the laver in the tabernacle and the sea in the temple. There is no more need for cleansing in the new earth, however.”—Henry Morris, The Revelation Record (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1983), Rev. 15:3.

Read Revelation 21:1