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New Heavens and a New Earth

New Heavens and a New Earth

The idea of new heavens and a new earth is explicitly noted in Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2pe 3:13; and Revelation 21:1. The Old Testament has no term that directly translates as "universe"; the phrase "heavens and earth" was the Hebrew way of referring to the universe they knew. This imagery is set in prophetic-apocalyptic texts that hold forth future hope for a redeemed world that transcends the sinful world we know. It is especially noteworthy to observe how the closing chapters of Revelation reflect the motifs of Genesis 1-3. The world God originally created suffered the catastrophe of sin and all of its consequences but the future new world will be a perfect world in which the effects of sin are no longer present. The phrase in Revelation 21:1, "and there was no longer any sea, " illustrates this imagery of a new perfect environment. The sea is used in apocalyptic literature as a symbol of chaos and may symbolize evil. The beast came from the sea ( Rev 13:1 ). The great harlot sits on many waters ( Rev 17:1 ). The absence of the sea in the restored universe symbolizes that the deliverance for which the creation groans has been realized (cf. Rom 8:18-22 ; Rev 21:27 ).

The concept of new things is a major motif in redemptive history, especially in eschatological passages. The new heavens and earth in Revelation 21 is the consummation of many new things. The crescendo for redemptive history is stated in verse 5, "everything new"! The journey toward this climax includes a new covenant ( Jer 31:31 ), a new name ( Isa 62:2 ; cf. Rev 2:17 ; 3:12 ), a new song ( Isa 42:10 ; Rev 5:9 ; 14:3 ), a new spirit/heart ( Ezek 11:19 ; 18:31 ; 36:26 ), new wine ( Matt 9:17 ; Mark 2:22 ; Luke 5:37-38 ), and the new Jerusalem ( Rev 3:12 ; 21:2 ). The concept of newness and renewal is prominent in extrabiblical apocalyptic literature as well.

The primary new heavens and new earth texts yield a variety of contexts while still focusing upon the future restoration. Isaiah 65-66 provides comfort that the devastation Israel has observed in their history is not Yahweh's ultimate intention for his people. The use of bara [a'r'B] (to create) in 65:17 probably calls to mind the creation account of Genesis 1. The old and new creation thus become the terminal points of redemptive history. Second Peter 3:13, while in a context that addresses eschatological issues, is actually focused on ethics. The ethical dimension of Christian living is intensified by the prospect of the future renovation of heaven and earth. Second Peter 3:1, 11, 14, and 17 exhort godly living in light of the future. The final clause of 3:13 also highlights this nuance by noting that it will be an earth in which righteousness dwells. The call to ethics is a prominent theme in New Testament prophetic passages. The last reference is Revelation 21:1. Revelation 21-22 provides the crescendo to prophetic-apocalyptic biblical revelation. It is interesting that the imaging of eternity has humankind on a restored earth, not in God's heavenly realm. This is certainly the eternal state and not a millennial scene. The sea is gone from Revelation 21 but not from other millennial images. Human history climaxes where it all began: on the earth.

The manner in which the new heavens and earth come into existence is a matter of debate among biblical scholars. Are these descriptions purely apocalyptic genre, and thereby merely mythical symbols of an eschatological salvation without historical continuity? Or are these prophetic statements that utilize certain characteristics of apocalyptic imagery to describe the historical future? It seems wiser to speak in terms of the latter and call it prophetic-apocalyptic. Therefore, the question of the nature of bringing the new heavens and earth into existence is in regard to whether the new creation comes into existence by means of renewal (a renovation of the old) or replacement (a totally new act of creation). Such a question may be more influenced by our modern scientific curiosity than by textual indicators. The apostle John was more impressed with the fact and nature of the new order than by how it will come about. Yet part of exegesis and theology is to theorize these questions.

The replacement view claims 2 Peter 3:12b-13 as its key text. It is claimed that this tradition is reflected in Matthew 5:18 (cf. Mark 13:31 ; Luke 16:17 ) and 1 John 2:17. References in the Didache (10:6), 2 Clement (16:3), and 1 Enoch (72:1; 83:3-5; 91:15-16) are cited as reflecting a replacement view. Some would note that Isaiah 65:17 uses the same term as Genesis 1:1 (bara [a'r'B], as ex nihilo is contextually dependent and does not always apply as in Genesis 1 cf. Psalm 51:10 ).

The renewal (also called renovation) view is more widely represented in the literature on this subject. Second Peter 3:12b-13 is viewed as a purging of the old heaven and earth and forming it into the new. The catastrophe is comparable to Noah's flood, which was only a temporary fix. This provides a continuity and fulfillment of the purposes God began in the original creation and has now been brought to completion. There is a continuity of substance now given new form. Christ's incarnation and the believer's resurrection body provide analogies although in different realms. The term palingenesia [paliggenesiva], "renewal, " in Matthew 19:28, argues for renovation rather than replacement. The term kainos, [kainov"] "new, " in contrast to palaios [palaiov"], "old, " may mean new in character rather than substance (cf. 2 Cor 5:17 ; Heb 8:13 ).

Gary T. Meadors

See also New Creation; Renewal, Restoration

Bibliography. G. R. Beasley-Murray, Revelation; J. M. Ford, Revelation; W. J. Harrington, Revelation; P. E. Hughes, The Book of the Revelation; A. J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom; J. A. Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary; R. H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation; H. B. Swete, Commentary on Revelation; C. Westermann, Isaiah 40-66.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
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Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'New Heavens and a New Earth'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.