“But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:13)
Many Christians look forward to a new earth and new heavens, expecting that one day this earth will be remade. Humanity will once again live in an Edenic paradise. But is this what is meant by the term, “New Heavens and New Earth?” If I were to tell you that the new heavens and earth are a present reality, you’d more than likely smack me upside the head with the “wolf” stamp – along with accusations of my being a full or hyper preterist. For the record, I’m not a full/hyper preterist, but I do believe the new heaven and earth are a present reality. It is important that we divide Scripture rightly. We must interpret Scripture with Scripture, and not traditions to which we have grown accustomed. Consider the following quotes concerning the term, “New Heavens and new earth.”
Bishop of Caesarea (c. 265 – 340)
Extract from the ‘Theophania’
“All authorities concur in the declaration that “when all these things should have been done” “The End” should come : that “the mystery of God should be finished as he had declared to His servants the prophets” : it should be completed : time should now be no more : the End of all things (so foretold) should be at hand, and be fully brought to pass : in these days should be fulfilled all that had been spoken of Christ (and of His church) by the prophets : or, in other words, when the gospel should have been preached in all the world for a testimony to all nations, and the power of the Holy People be scattered (abroad), then should the End come, then should all these things be finished. I need now only say, all these things have been done : the old and elementary system passed away with a great noise; all these predicted empires have actually fallen, and the new kingdom, the new heaven and earth, the new Jerusalem–all of which were to descend from God, to be formed by His power, have been realised on earth ; all these things have been done in the sight of all the nations ; God’s holy arm has been made bare in their sight: His judgments have prevailed, and they remain for an everlasting testimony to the whole world. His kingdom has come, as it was foretold it should, and His will has, so far, been done; His purposes have been finished; and, from that day to the extreme end of time, it will be the duty, as indeed it will be the great privilege of the Church, to gather into its bosom the Jew, the Greek, the Scythian, the Barbarian, bond and free; and to do this as the Apostles did in their days–in obedience, faith and hope.’ “
William Burkitt (1650-1703)
Commentary on Hebrews 12:26.
“As if the apostle had said, “The voice of God, at the promulging of the law on mount Sinai, shook the earth; but he promised after this to shake all nations, and that Christ, the expected Messias, the desire of all nations, should come, which is now fulfilled.”
Question. But what means our apostle by God’s shaking not the earth only, but also heaven?
Answer. He means thereby all the Mosaical worship, all the Judaical state, those were shaken at the coming of Christ, in order to the introduction of the immoveable gospel-state, which was perpetually to remain. Learn hence, That the coming of the Messias was to be the last dispensation of God for the salvation of mankind, and consequently was to be perpetual and unchangeable. The apostle argues from the words, once more, that the former dispensation should be removed to make way for that which should perpetually remain. Several things are here asserted by our apostle,
1. That there were some things which were intended by God to be shaken, namely, the Levitical priesthood, and all the Jewish sacrifices and services; these things were to be shaken, moved, yea, altogether removed out of the way.
2. That there were things that could not be shaken or removed, but remain; these were the gospel-state, the Christian religion, which shall continue until time shall be no more.
3. That the former things were removed, that the latter might be introduced and established; the law and the gospel were inconsistent; the legal and evangelical administration could not stand in force together, therefore there was a necessity for the nulling of the one, in order to the establishing of the other.
4. That the removal of the law, to bring the more perfect administration of the gospel, doth prove the stability and immutability of the gospel, that it stands fast forever; there shall be no more shaking, no farther alteration in matters of religion to the end of the world. For thus it follows.”
John Owen (1721)
Sermon on 2 Peter iii. 11, Works, folio, 1721.
The time when the work here mentioned, of planting the heavens, and laying the foundation of the earth, was performed by God, was when he “divided the sea” ([Isa. 51] v.15), and gave the law (v. 16), and said to Zion, “Thou art my people”—that is, when he took the children of Israel out of Egypt, and formed them in the wilderness into a congregation of believers and a civil state. Then he planted the heavens, and laid the foundation of the earth—made the new world; that is, brought forth order, and government, and beauty, from the confusion wherein before they were. This is the planting of the heavens, and laying the foundation of the earth in the world. And hence it is that when mention is made of the destruction of a state and its government, it is in that language that seems to set forth the end of the world. So Isaiah 34 which is the destruction of the state of Edom. The like is also affirmed of the Roman Empire (Rev. 6:14) which the Jews constantly affirm to be intended by Edom in the prophets. And in our Saviour Christ’s prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem, Matthew 24, he sets it out by expressions of the same importance. It is evident then, that, in the prophetical idiom and manner of speech, by “heavens” and “earth,” the civil and religious state and combination of men in the world, and the men of them, are often understood. So were the heavens and earth that world which was then destroyed by the flood.
4. On this foundation I affirm that the heavens and earth here intended in this prophecy of Peter, the coming of the Lord, the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men, mentioned in the destruction of that heaven and earth, do all of them relate, not to the last and final judgment of the world, but to that utter desolation and destruction that was to be made of the Judaical church and state.
First, There is the foundation of the apostle’s inference and exhortation, seeing that all these things, however precious they seem, or what value soever any put upon them, shall be dissolved, that is, destroyed; and that in that dreadful and fearful manner before mentioned, in a day of judgment, wrath, and vengeance, by fire and sword; let others mock at the threats of Christ’s coming: He will come- He will not tarry; and then the heavens and earth that God Himself planted, -the sun, moon, and stars of the Judaical polity and church, -the whole old world of worship and worshippers, that stand out in their obstinancy against the Lord Christ, shall be sensibly dissolved and destroyed: this we know shall be the end of these things, and that shortly.”
Jonathan Edwards (1739)
The Perpetuity and Change of the Sabbath: The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol 2
“We read, that “in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,” and the church of old were to commemorate that work. But when God creates a new heaven and a new earth, those that belong to this new heaven and new earth, by a like reason, are the commemorate the creation of their heaven and earth.
“The gospel-state is every where spoken of as a renewed state of things, wherein old things are passed away, and all things become new.”
“And the dissolution of the Jewish state was often spoken of in the Old Testament as the end of the world. But we who belong to the gospel-church, belong to the new creation; and therefore there seems to be at least as much reason, that we should commemorate the work of this creation, as that the members of the ancient Jewish church should commemorate the work of the old creation.”
John Brown (1853)
“‘Heaven and earth passing,’ understood literally, is the dissolution of the present system of the universe, and the period when that is to take place, is called the ‘end of the world.’ But a person at all familiar with the phraseology of the Old Testament Scriptures, knows that the dissolution of the Mosaic economy, and the establishment of the Christian, is often spoken of as the removing of the old earth and heavens, and the creation of a new earth and new heavens” (vol. 1, p. 170)
“It appears, then, that is Scripture be the best interpreter of Scripture, we have in the Old Testament a key to the interpretation of the prophecies in the New. The same symbolism is found in both, and the imagery of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and the other prophets helps us to understand the imagery of St. Matthew, St. Peter, and St. John. As the dissolution of the material world is not necessary to the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, neither is it necessary to the accomplishment of the predictions of the New Testament. But though symbols are metaphorical expressions, they are not unmeaning. It is not necessary to allegorise them, and find a corresponding equivalent for every trope; it is sufficient to regard the imagery as employed to heighten the sublimity of the prediction and to clothe it with impressiveness and grandeur. There are, at the same time, a true propriety and an underlying reality in the symbols of prophecy. The moral and spiritual facts which they represent, the social and ecumenical changes which they typify, could not be adequately set forth by language less majestic and sublime. There is reason for believing that an inadequate apprehension of the real grandeur and significance of such events as the destruction of Jerusalem and the abrogation of the Jewish economy lies at the root of that system of interpretation which maintains that nothing answering to the symbols of the New Testament prophecy has ever taken place. Hence the uncritical and unscriptural figments of double senses, and double, triple, and multiple fulfillments of prophecy. That physical disturbances in nature and extraordinary phenomena in the heavens and in the earth may have accompanied the expiring throes of the Jewish dispensation we are not prepared to deny. It seems to us highly probable that such things were. But the literal fulfillment of the symbols is not essential to the verification of prophecy, which is abundantly proved to be true by the recorded facts of history.” (vol. i. p.200).
John Lightfoot (1859)
“That the destruction of Jerusalem is very frequently expressed in Scripture as if it were the destruction of the whole world, Deut. 32:22; “A fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.’ Jer. 4:23; ‘I beheld the earth, and lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light,’ &c. The discourse there also is concerning the destruction of that nation, Isa. 65:17; ‘Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered,’ &c. And more passages of this sort among the prophets. According to this sense, Christ speaks in this place; and Peter speaks in his Second Epistle, third chapter; and John, in the sixth of the Revelation; and Paul, 2 Cor. 5:17, &c. (vol. 2, pp.18-19)
“With the same reference it is, that the times and state of things immediately following the destruction of Jerusalem are called ‘a new creation,’ new heavens,’ and ‘a new earth.’ When should that be? Read the whole chapter; and you will find the Jews rejected and cut off; and from that time is that new creation of the evangelical world among the Gentiles.
Compare 2 Cor. 5:17 and Rev. 21:1,2; where, the old Jerusalem being cut off and destroyed, a new one succeeds; and new heavens and a new earth are created.
2 Peter 3:13: ‘We, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth.’ The heaven and the earth of the Jewish church and commonwealth must be all on fire, and the Mosaic elements burnt up; but we, according to the promise made to us by Isaiah the prophet, when all these are consumed, look for the new creation of the evangelical state” (vol. 3, p.453)
“That the destruction of Jerusalem and the whole Jewish state is described as if the whole frame of the world were to be dissolved. Nor is it strange, when God destroyed his habitation and city, places once so dear to him, with so direful and sad an overthrow; his own people, whom he accounted of as much or more than the whole world beside, by so dreadful and amazing plagues. Matt. 24:29,30, ‘The sun shall be darkened &c. Then shall appear the ‘sign of the Son of man,’ &c; which yet are said to fall out within that generation, ver. 34. 2 Pet. 3:10, ‘The heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat,’ &c. Compare with this Deut. 32:22, Heb. 12:26: and observe that by elements are understood the Mosaic elements, Gal 4:9, Coloss. 2:20: and you will not doubt that St. Peter speaks only of the conflagration of Jerusalem, the destruction of the nation, and the abolishing the dispensation of Moses” (vol. 3, p. 452).
C.H. Spurgeon (1865)
Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. xxxvii, p. 354
“Did you ever regret the absence of the burnt-offering, or the red heifer, of any one of the sacrifices and rites of the Jews? Did you ever pine for the feast of tabernacle, or the dedication? No, because, though these were like the old heavens and earth to the Jewish believers, they have passed away, and we now live under a new heavens and a new earth, so far as the dispensation of divine teaching is concerned. The substance is come, and the shadow has gone: and we do not remember it.”
J. Marcellus Kik (1971)
“But what about the new heaven and the new earth? Will there not be a renovated material heaven and earth? When the Scriptures speak of a new heaven and new earth it is not a material concept, but a spiritual concept.”
“Just a little reflection will show that to take Revelation 21 and 22 in a literal way is to make utter foolishness of that which John revealed. In that figurative passage you cannot say that the “new heaven and new earth” is a material concept while the rest is to be taken in a figurative way. The “new heaven and new earth” is but the same as “the holy city” and “the Lamb’s bride.” (An Eschatology Of Victory, p. 254-256)
David Chilton (1996)
Looking For New Heavens and a New Earth
“Continuing his analysis, John Owen cites 2 Peter 3:13: “But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” Owen asks: “What is that promise? Where may we find it?” Good question. Do you know the answer? Where in the Old Testament does God promise a New Heaven and Earth? Incidentally, this raises a wider, fascinating issue: When the New Testament quotes or cites an Old Testament text, it’s often a good idea to hunt down the original citation, see what it meant in its original context, and then see the “spin” the New Testament writer places on it. (For example, Isaiah’s prophecy of a gigantic highway-construction project [Isa. 40:3–5] is not interpreted literally in the New Testament, but metaphorically, of the preaching ministry of John the Baptist [Luke 3:4–6]. And Isaiah’s prophecy of a “golden age” when the wolf dwells peaceably with the lamb [Isa. 11:1–10] is condensed and cited by St. Paul as a present fulfillment, in the New Covenant age [Rom. 15:12])! But John Owen, this Puritan scholar, knows his Bible better than most of the rest of us, and he tells us exactly where the Old Testament foretells a “new heaven and earth”:
What is that promise? Where may we find it? Why, we have it in the very words and letter, Isaiah 65:17. Now, when shall this be that God will create these “new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness”? Saith Peter, It shall be after the coming of the Lord, after that judgment and destruction of ungodly men, who obey not the gospel, that I foretell. But now it is evident, from this place of Isaiah, with chapter 66:21–22, that this is a prophecy of gospel times only; and that the planting of these new heavens is nothing but the creation of gospel ordinances, to endure forever. The same thing is so expressed in Hebrews 12:26–28.
Owen is right on target, asking the question that so many expositors fail to ask: Where had God promised to bring “new heavens and a new earth”? The answer, as Owen correctly states, is only in Isaiah 65 and 66—passages which clearly prophesy the period of the Gospel, brought in by the work of Christ. According to Isaiah himself, this “New Creation” cannot possibly be the eternal state, since it contains birth and death, building and planting (65:20–23). The “new heavens and earth” promised to the Church comprise the age of the New Covenant—the Gospel’s triumph, when all mankind will come to bow down before the Lord (66:22–23). John Bray writes: “This passage is a grand description of the gospel age after Christ came in judgment in 70 A.D. and took away the old heavens and the old earth. We now have the new heavens and the new earth of the gospel age.” St. Peter’s encouragement to the Church of his day was to be patient, to wait for God’s judgment to destroy those who were persecuting the faith and impeding its progress. “The end of all things is at hand,” he had written earlier (1 Pet. 4:7). John Brown commented:
“The end of all things” here is the entire end of the Jewish economy in the destruction of the temple and city of Jerusalem, and the dispersal of the holy people. That was at hand; for this epistle seems to have been written a very short while before these events took place. . . . It is quite plain that in our Lord’s predictions, the expressions “the end” and probably “the end of the world” are used in reference to the entire dissolution of the Jewish economy (cf. Matt. 24:3, 6, 14, 34; Rom. 13:11–12; James 5:8–9).
Once the Lord came to destroy the scaffolding of the Old Covenant structure, the New Covenant Temple would be left in its place, and the victorious march of the Church would be unstoppable.”
Gary Demar (1999)
“Because of what may be called the ‘collapsing universe’ terminology used in this passage, many have assumed that St. Peter is speaking of the final end of the physical heaven and earth, rather than the dissolution of the Old Covenant world order.” (Last Days Madness, p. 540)
“Jesus does not change subjects when He assures the disciples that “heaven and earth will pass away.” Rather, He merely affirms His prior predictions, which are recorded in Matthew 24:2931. Verse 36 is a summary and confirmation statement of these verses. Keep in mind that the central focus of the Olivet Discourse is the desolation of the “house” and “world” of apostate Israel (23:36). The old world of Judaism, represented by the earthly temple, is taken apart stone by stone (24:2). James Jordan writes, “each time God brought judgment on His people during the Old Covenant, there was a sense in which an old heavens and earth was replaced with a new one: New rulers were set up, a new symbolic world model was built (Tabernacle, Temple), and so forth.”(7) The New Covenant replaces the Old Covenant with new leaders, a new priesthood, new sacraments, a new sacrifice, a new tabernacle (John 1:14), and a new temple (John 2:19; 1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:21). In essence, a new heaven and earth.
The darkening of the sun and moon and the falling of the stars, coupled with the shaking of the heavens (24:29), are more descriptive ways of saying that “heaven and earth will pass away” (24:35). In other contexts, when stars fall, they fall to the earth, a sure sign of temporal judgment (Isaiah 14:12; Daniel 8:10; Revelation 6:13; 9:1; 12:4). So then, the “passing away of heaven and earth” is the passing away of the old covenant world of Judaism led and upheld by those who “crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8).” (The Passing Away of Heaven and Earth).