John at Patmos, Gustave Dore (1832-1883) | Source: Dore Bible Gallery Felix Just S.J. Ph.D.
Rev 21:1 KJV And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.
Catastrophic or Covenantal
Many scholars today teach the ‘new heaven and a new earth’ will literally replace the existing heaven and earth after its catastrophic destruction.
I will attempt to explain why the term does not refer to the end of time or the end of the world, but to the end of Old Covenant Israel at the great and terrible day of the Lord in AD 70.
Peter and the Day of the Lord
2Pe 3:10 KJV But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements (stoicheion) shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
‘the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night’ Peter described the second coming of Christ. Jesus and Paul also used ‘the thief’ illustration to describe this event… Matthew 24:43; 1Thessalonians 5:2
Isa 13:7 KJV Therefore shall all hands be faint, and every man’s heart shall melt:
Isa 19:1 KJV The burden of Egypt. Behold, the LORD rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it.
Peter used apocalyptic language similar to Isaiah when he described the end of the ‘elements’ of the Old Covenant world. My article ‘The Great and the Terrible Day of the Lord’ explains in detail.
‘the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements (stoicheion) shall melt with fervent heat’ The visible evidence was the fiery destruction of the temple and Jerusalem at Christ’s return in judgement In AD 70. Covenantal change took place when the Old Covenant polity past away with the establishment of the New Covenant.
Mat 24-34-35 KJV Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. 35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
At His return, Jesus fulfilled all the Law and the prophets concerning the establishment of the New Covenant, the Kingdom of God, the New Heavens and New Earth, and New Jerusalem. Consequently, sacrificial offerings for the forgiveness of sins on behalf of Old Covenant Israel came to a devastating end.
Mat 26:28 KJV For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sin.
In the New Covenant Age, only by faith in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross can mankind find atonement for sin, whether Jew or Gentile.
According to Dispensationalism, the millennium reign begins at Christ’s second coming, the existing heavens and earth not being destroyed until the end of the 1000 years reign of Christ.
The following quote is a typical example of Dispensationalism’s interpretation of 2nd Peter 3:10-13.
A Quote from Got Questions.org
Question: “What does the Bible say about the end of the world?”
Answer: ‘The timing of this event, according to most Bible scholars, is at the end of the 1000-year period called the millennium…The Bible tells us several things about this event. First, it will be cataclysmic in scope. The “heavens” refers to the physical universe – the stars, planets, and galaxies—which will be consumed by some kind of tremendous explosion, possibly a nuclear or atomic reaction that will consume and obliterate all matter as we know it. All the elements that make up the universe will be melted in the “fervent heat” (2 Peter 3:12). This will also be a noisy event, described in different Bible versions as a “roar” (NIV), a “great noise” (KJV), a “loud noise” (CEV), and a “thunderous crash” (AMP). There will be no doubt as to what is happening. Everyone will see and hear it because we are also told that “the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.”’
Got Questions answered by promoting Dispensationalism’s view of the ‘end times’, the timeline being after the millennium, but then proceeded to misquote 2 Peter 3:12 in support. The dilemma is that the context of 2 Peter 3 is the second coming of Christ, not the end of the 1000 years.
A Quote from John Lightfoot’s Hebrew and Talmudical Exercitations
‘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. 2Pet 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, Col 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).(March 29, 1602 – December 6, 1675)’
‘the Elements Shall Melt With Fervent Heat’
2Pe 3:12 KJV Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements ‘stoicheion’ shall melt with fervent heat?
The Greek ‘stoicheion’ means elements, rudiments and principles. It was translated ‘elements’ in 2nd Peter.
In 2nd Peter, most scholars interpret ‘stoicheion’ as this present, material and physical world. However, it is inconsistent to do so. Close examination reveals ‘stoicheion’ invariably referred to the Law of Moses and the elements, rudiments, principles of the Jewish religion and polity.
Galatians 4:3 and ‘stoicheion’
Gal 4:3 KJV Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements (stoicheion) of the world:
The Galatians were previously in bondage to the elements, rudiments or principles of the world.
A Quote from Adam Clarke’s Commentary of the Bible
Galatians 4:3 ‘The elements of the world – A mere Jewish phrase, éñåãé òåìí äæä yesodey olam hazzeh, “the principles of this world;” that is, the rudiments or principles of the Jewish religion.’
Galatians 4:9 and ‘stoicheion’
Gal 4:9 KJV But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements (stoicheion) whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?
Paul warned the Galatians not to return to the elements, rudiments and principles of bondage.
A Quote from Adam Clarke’s Commentary of the Bible
Galatians 4:9 ‘Now, after that ye have known God – After having been brought to the knowledge of God as your Savior. Or rather are known of God – Are approved of him, having received the adoption of sons. To the weak and beggarly elements – After receiving all this, will ye turn again to the ineffectual rites and ceremonies of the Mosaic law – rites too weak to counteract your sinful habits, and too poor to purchase pardon and eternal life for you? If the Galatians were turning again to them, it is evident that they had been once addicted to them. And this they might have been, allowing that they had become converts from heathenism to Judaism, and from Judaism to Christianity. This makes the sense consistent between the 8th and 9th verses.’
Colossians 2:8 and ‘stoicheion’
Col 2:8 KJV Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments (stoicheion) of the world, and not after Christ.
Paul warned the Colossians against those who ‘spoil’ by philosophy and vain deceit after the elements, rudiments or principles of the world.
Colossians 2:20 and ‘stoicheion’
Col 2:20 KJV Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments (stoicheion) of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,
The Colossians in Christ were dead to the elements, rudiments or principles of the world.
A Quote from the People’s New Testament
Colossians 2:20 ‘Wherefore. Ye died with Christ, died to the world, and to its rudiments, or fleshly ordinances. See note on Col_2:8 and Col_2:12. Why, then, as though belonging to the world, should you be subject to obsolete Jewish ordinances?’
Hebrews 5:12 and ‘stoicheion’
Heb 5:12 KJV For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles (stoicheion) of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
The Hebrew writer admonished believers for their lack of maturity in the Scriptures. The solution was a return to the first elements, rudiments, or principles of the oracles of God.
A Quote from John Owen on the New Heavens and Earth 2 Peter 3:13
‘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; for which I shall offer these two reasons, of many that might be insisted on from the text:-
(1.) Because whatever is here mentioned was to have its peculiar influence on the men of that generation. He speaks of that wherein both the profane scoffers and those scoffed at were concerned, and that as Jews, some of them believing, others opposing, the faith. Now there was no particular concernment of that generation, nor in that sin, nor in that scoffing, as to the day of judgment in general ; but there was a peculiar relief for the one and a peculiar dread for the other at hand, in the destruction of the Jewish nation ; and, besides, an ample testimony both to the one and the other of the power and dominion of the Lord Jesus Christ, which was the thing in question between them.
(2.) Peter tells them, that after the destruction and judgment that he speaks of (vers. 7-13), ” We, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth,’ etc. They had this expectation. But what is that promise? Where may we find it? Why, we have it in the very words and letter, Isa. lxv. 17. Now, when shall this be that God shall 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 chap. lxvi. 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 for ever. The same thing is so expressed Heb. xii. 26-28.
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.’
Tabernacle in the Wilderness
Josephus was a Jewish historian who recorded his eyewitness account of the destruction of the temple, Jerusalem, and the dispersion of the Jews in AD 70.
He also provided insight into the 1st century Jewish understanding of the phrase ‘heaven and earth’. The Jews considered the tabernacle and latterly the temple as heaven and earth.
Quotes from Josephus’ Jewish Antiquities
Book 3, Chapter 6, Paragraph 4, Section 123 ‘However, this proportion of the measures of the tabernacle proved to be an imitation of the system of the world: for that third part thereof which was within the four pillars, to which the priests were not admitted, is, as it were, a Heaven peculiar to God…’
Book 3, Chapter 7, Paragraph 7, Section 181 ‘When Moses distinguished the tabernacle into three parts, and allowed two of them to the priests as a place accessible to the common, he denoted the land and the sea, these being of general access to all; but he set apart the third division for God, because heaven is inaccessible to men.’
The temple was where heaven and earth came together; the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies was the most sacred place on earth, it was the symbol of God dwelling amongst His covenant people.
Isaiah and the New Heavens and a New Earth
Isa 65:17-18 KJV For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. 18 But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.
Isaiah proclaimed the Lord would ‘create new heavens and a new earth’, when he described the New Covenant.
Isa 65:1 KJV I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name.
Rom 10:20 KJV But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me.
A Quote from Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible
Romans 10:20 ‘But Esaias (the Greek orthography for Isaiah) is very bold – Speaks out in the fullest manner and plainest language, Isa_65:1, notwithstanding the danger to which such a declaration exposed him, among a crooked, perverse, and dangerous people: I was found of them that sought me not; I put my salvation in the way of those (the Gentiles) who were not seeking for it, and knew nothing of it: thus, the Gentiles which followed not after righteousness have attained to the law of righteousness, Rom_9:30, and they have found that redemption which the Jews have rejected.’
Paul wrote that the gospel he preached to the Gentiles was the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 65.
Jeremiah and the New Covenant Age
Jer 31:31-33 KJV Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: 32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: 33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
A Quote from Alert Barnes Notes on the Bible
Jeremiah 31:31 ‘A time is foretold which shall be to the nation as marked an epoch as was the Exodus. God at Sinai made a covenant with His people, of which the sanctions were material, or (where spiritual) materially understood. Necessarily therefore the Mosaic Church was temporary, but the sanctions of Jeremiah’s Church are spiritual – written in the heart – and therefore it must take the place of the former covenant Heb_8:13, and must last forever. The prophecy was fulfilled when those Jews who accepted Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, expanded the Jewish into the Christian Church.’
The Writer to the Hebrews and the New Covenant Age
Heb 10:16-19 KJV This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; 17 And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. 18 Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. 19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,
The theme of the Epistle to the Hebrews is covenantal change. By alluding to Jeremiah 31, the writer declared the fulfilment of prophecy in Christ the Mediator of the New Covenant.
Haggai and the Shaking of the Heavens and the Earth
Hag 2:5-7 KJV According to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so my spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not. 6 For thus saith the LORD of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; 7 And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts.
The Lord shook the heavens and the earth when He gave Moses the Old Covenant Law at Mount Sinai… Exodus 19:18
Hag 2:21 KJV Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I will shake the heavens and the earth;
Haggai prophesied the Lord would shake the heavens and the earth when replacing the Old Covenant with the New.
The Writer to the Hebrews and the Shaking Not the Earth Only, but also Heaven
Heb 12:26-28 KJV Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. 27 And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:
A Quote from Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible
Hebrews 12:26 ‘Whose voice then shook the earth – Namely, at the giving of the law on Mount Sinai; and from this it seems that it was the voice of Jesus that then shook the earth, and that it was he who came down on the mount. But others refer this simply to God the Father giving the law. Not the earth only, but also heaven – Probably referring to the approaching destruction of Jerusalem, and the total abolition of the political and ecclesiastical constitution of the Jews; the one being signified by the earth, the other by heaven; for the Jewish state and worship are frequently thus termed in the prophetic writings. And this seems to be the apostle’s meaning, as he evidently refers to Hag_2:6, where this event is predicted. It may also remotely refer to the final dissolution of all things.’
The writer to the Hebrews encouraged his readers by quoting from Haggai and declared there was only one more shaking after the time of Haggai, and it would be in their generation.
Mat 24:29 KJV Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
Mat 24:34-35 KJV Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. 35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
The Scriptures are clear as to the timing of this event, Jesus’ generation!
Heb 8:13 YLT in the saying `new,’ He hath made the first old, and what doth become obsolete and is old is nigh disappearing.
‘old is nigh disappearing’ This was a reference to the ministrations of the Old Covenant. Not only was it a material, but also a moral and spiritual event. This transition began at Christ’s advent and continued until His parousia in AD 70, with the removal of the ‘Old’ that was temporal, only Christ’s Eternal Kingdom remained.
Jesus and Till Heaven and Earth Pass
Mat 5:18 KJV For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
‘Till heaven and earth pass’ If Jesus referred to physical heaven and earth, which obviously has not passed away, then the Old Covenant Law of Moses would still be in effect. Consequently, New Covenant salvation would still be on hold. Fortunately, when Jesus said ‘Till heaven and earth pass’, He was talking about covenant change from Old Covenant to New. All was fulfilled when the Old Covenant passed away at Christ’s return. However, many scholars today teach that salvation is still incomplete until a future return of Christ.
‘Till all be fulfilled. “Till,” says Dr. Schaff, “implies that after the great events of Christ’s life, and the establishment of his kingdom, the old dispensation, as a dispensation of the letter and yoke of bondage, as a system of types and shadows, will pass away, and has passed away (Eph_2:15; Col_2:14; Heb_8:13); while the spirit and substance of the law, i. e., love to God and man, will last forever.’ — The People’s New Testament
The Revelation and the New Heaven and a New Earth
Rev 21:1-3 KJV And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. 2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
John alluded to Jeremiah 31:33.
‘and there was no more sea’ Personally, I believe this phrase referred to the end of separation between Jew and Gentile. All believers now enjoy fellowship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The establishment of the ‘new heaven and a new earth’ is a past event and synonymous with the arrival of the New Covenant Age.
Joh 4:21-26 KJV Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. 24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. 25 The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things. 26 Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he.
Jesus said 2000 years ago, ‘the hour cometh, and now is’, yet many scholars continue to project this time statement into the future. The new heavens and new earth is not a future material replacement for the present heaven and earth.
The new heavens and new earth is synonymous with the New Covenant and encompasses life in the Spirit, new principles, new ordinances, true worship, and of course, restoration and fellowship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
What do you think?