The New Heavens and the New Earth
The resurrection of the dead at the coming of Christ may have been invisible, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a whopping big event. We see spectacles and extravaganzas in the physical realm. It should not surprise us, therefore, that there are occasions for hoopla in the spiritual realm. The Second Coming of Jesus Christ was the granddaddy of them all!
So magnificent, important, and significant was this event that it was called the creation of a new heavens and a new earth. Not since the original creation had change occurred on such a grand scale. Raising that many dead humans to new life in heaven would be a sight for angels to see, the likes of which none of them had seen since the beginning of the universe. To describe it in terms less grand than “a new heavens and new earth” would just not do it justice.
The term “new heavens and earth” was appropriate not just because of its grandness of expression, but also because of its accuracy of description. New heavens and a new earth actually did come into being, replacing the old. Not the physical, mind you. But a new spiritual heavens and earth came into being at that time.
Think about it from God’s point of view. You’ve built a house, and you’ve put living people on the ground floor. At death, they have to go down to the basement. There is a point in time where you are going to bring all the dead out of the basement to live with you on the upper floor. Some remodeling of the house is called for, isn’t it? Remodeling is just what God had to do. In order to bring about the resurrection of the dead, God had to re-order the spiritual side of creation.
There had never been anything wrong with the physical side of creation. There still isn’t. Look at it. Have you ever seen anything like it? (Figure of speech.) The mountains, the forests, the rivers, the oceans. There is nothing wrong with physical creation. It’s glorious! Rather, it’s the spiritual side of things where the problem has been. It’s in the unseen realm that a solution and re-creation were required.
Behind the Scenes
The whole point of the Bible is to get us to look at things spiritually. This means nothing more than looking at things from God’s point of view. God is spirit, so to look at things spiritually is to look at things from His point of view.
To look at things spiritually is to look behind the scenes. This physical creation is a veil behind which lies the spiritual creation. Your body is the veil of flesh which clothes the real and eternal you. In the same way, all physical creation clothes spiritual reality. The Bible opens our eyes to see through the veil where our audience sits…so that we can live accordingly. We don’t see everything behind the veil. Some things are none of our business. But we see enough of God, His love, and His value system, to make sense of life and to live with an awareness of His loving, watchful eye – that we might please Him in the process.
We have seen how the Bible shows us what happens behind the scenes of death. All we knew of death was what we saw in the physical realm; the Bible opened our eyes to what death meant in the spiritual realm. It meant descent below to a place called Sheol/Hades. Then it told us of how Jesus came and broke free from its grip and how He intended to raise all the dead to live with Him in heaven. It also told us that once He raised the dead to heaven, all those who died thereafter would no longer descend but rise immediately to be with all in heaven. But this new order of things entailed a reconstruction of the spiritual realm. Hence, a new heavens and a new earth.
Just as the prophets had promised a deliverance from death, they also promised a new creation:
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth…” Isaiah 65:17 NASB
“For just as the new heavens and the new earth
Which I make will endure before Me,” declares the LORD,
“So your offspring and your name will endure.” Isaiah 66:22 NASB
And Jesus Himself said,
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” Matthew 24:35 NASB
Of course, it is possible that we could take these expressions as referring to a new physical heavens and earth rather than a new spiritual heavens and earth. But we are about to see that as a road atlas would be useless in locating Sheol/Hades, it is equally useless in locating the new heavens and earth. Let’s focus on this new creation one level at a time, starting with the lower compartment.
Just before we do, though, let me caution you to buckle your seat belt. All the pictures the Bible has given us of the unseen realm so far will seem like still shots compared to the motion picture you are about to see. But if the Bible is going to describe how new heavens and earth take the place of the old, you would expect a certain amount of swirling and moving, wouldn’t you?
What Happened to the Sea?
The book of Revelation describes the coming of Christ. It is not something you could put on the easy reading list, but it culminates in a grand picture of the new spiritual universe that we simply cannot ignore. It should go without saying that the book of Revelation is describing the spiritual side of things. For when you describe Jesus as a lamb with seven eyes and seven horns you are obviously not wanting people to take you to be giving a physical description of Him.
It takes the apostle John several chapters to paint his closing scene, but let me quote just a portion of it:
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. Revelation 20:11 – 21:1 NASB
In this scene, we see the old heaven and earth passing away. Jesus had told us about that. We also see the new heavens and the new earth. Isaiah had told us about that. We see as well how, given this explanation, it is impossible to take Isaiah, Jesus, and John in any sense other than spiritual.
We are trying to focus on the lower compartment of the universe (Sheol/Hades). What has happened to it? First of all, it was required to give up all the dead who dwelt there. This would be the resurrection of the dead promised by the prophets and Jesus. And then in the new creation there is no sea. That is, there is no place for the dead below. But if, after the resurrection, all rise immediately at death you wouldn’t need a place below for the dead anymore, would you? A place for everything and everything in its place. This is the God of order who created all things.
I lived in St. Louis for fifteen years. Most of the homes there have basements. The winters are cold. Basements provide storage and recreational space which are of great practical value. I was raised in South Carolina where the winters are milder and far fewer homes have basements. My mother could hang clothes to dry on the line outside on all but the most uncomfortable winter days. We could get by okay without a basement. The original creation had a basement because it was needed. Satan had power in heaven and he wasn’t about to let any of us up there. If God wanted to keep us – which He did – He had to provide a place for us to be stored below until the time came when He could fix things. Jesus of Nazareth was that time. Once He established a climate in heaven that was friendly to us (we’ll see more about this in a minute when we examine how the heavens changed), there was no longer a need for a basement in the creation. That’s why the new heavens and earth don’t have one.
“The sea gave up the dead which were in it,” was how the apostle John described it in our passage from Revelation. This paints a picture in our minds of the spiritual region below giving up all the dead it held. And John confirms this by stating immediately that “death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them.” Some Greek minds may have sneered at the idea but it would have to be a thrill to anyone who had aunts or uncles down there. To hear of their liberation and escape to God’s own refuge of heaven would warm the heart of anyone who had lost a loved one. It is like the joy we feel when captives of a terrorist group are freed and returned to their loving families back home.
Long before John’s time, David had painted a similar picture. Let’s look at it.
God is to us a God of deliverances;
And to GOD the Lord belong escapes from death.
Surely God will shatter the head of His enemies,
The hairy crown of him who goes on in his guilty deeds.
The Lord said, “I will bring them back from Bashan.
I will bring them back from the depths of the sea; Psalm 68:20-22 NASB
The resurrection of the dead was a colossal “escape from death.” It was God bringing “them back from the depths of the sea.”
Jonah had foreshadowed it all so many centuries before. Sheol/Hades was in mind when God had the great sea monster swallow up, as it were, all who had fallen overboard. The resurrection of the dead was the vomiting up of all that the monster of Death had swallowed.
Isaiah, too, gave a picture that belongs in this album.
In that day the LORD will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent,
With His fierce and great and mighty sword,
Even Leviathan the twisted serpent;
And He will kill the dragon who lives in the sea. Isaiah 27:1 NASB
This monster had no desire to save people for God. He delighted only in keeping people from God. Once God established the new heavens and new earth, his services would no longer be required.
Not only was the monster of the sea killed, but also “there is no longer any sea.” God dried it up and made everything solid ground. This He had foreshadowed when He dried up the Red Sea for the Israelites to pass through. As this passage puts it:
Thus He rebuked the Red Sea and it dried up… Psalm 106:9 NASB
All God has to do is say the word and things this monumental happen. If He can dry up a physical sea then He is probably able to dry up a spiritual sea. He has done just that and this is why you and I will rise at death – because in the new creation that’s the only direction you can go. There is no longer any place to sink!
For this reason, Jesus’ walking on the water was more than a miraculous rescue mission for His disciples whom He loved. It symbolized His power over death. All men who walk on water sink. At least this has been my experience. I assume yours is similar. Jesus, however, defied the normal way of things and walked on it like it was dry land. This foreshadowed that He would defy death and not succumb to its power. And by the path He cut, we do the same thing. In the new creation, the sea of death is dried up. We walk across to God.
Even the promise of “new heavens and new earth” implies the absence of a sea. Otherwise, God might have had the prophets promise a new heavens and new earth and new sea. But praise be our Creator forevermore, we don’t need a new sea. A place has been made for us in heaven!
Goodbye forever, Sheol/Hades.
The New Heaven
Since the resurrection takes the dead to heaven, let’s go there next. This had been the exclusive domain of God and the angels. But not all the angels were good guys. As we have seen, Satan was a problem. A number of the angels followed him in his rebellious ways. We may not see all these things clear as crystal but the Bible makes it obvious that there was some evil in the heavenly realm. That much is certain.
We have already seen that the flame of evil on earth was lit from a spark in heaven. To be blunt about it, Eve of earth was tempted by Satan of heaven. If God punishes sin on the earth, would He let someone in heaven get away with it? No, though it might take a while to bring about complete justice – especially when you consider that God wouldn’t want to crush Satan while humanity was still in his grip. The new heavens and new earth marked the deliverance of Satan’s victims and the simultaneous punishment of Satan and his crew.
Let’s go back and view another scene from the book of Revelation:
… The dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. Revelation 12:7-10 NASB
You see that tempting us to do evil was only the beginning for Satan. He subsequently accused us before God. It is not a very fine person who provokes you to do wrong and then reports you to the authorities.
It is wrong for us to protest, “The devil made me do it.” But it would be equally wrong to say he had nothing to do with it. His desire is for unrighteousness just the same way that God’s desire is for righteousness. Though Satan’s power is great, you can see that it was not great enough for him to avoid being kicked out of heaven. He and the angels that followed him were being ejected to make room for the resurrection of the dead. Remember, the dead were going to be “like angels in heaven.”
The heavens had been fouled by the devil’s ways. The heavens therefore had to be cleansed of that evil. The new heavens are the result of that cleansing. Satan lost his exalted place. God made heaven the new home of resurrected humanity. If you and I had ever gone to the old heavens we would have had to share it with Satan. But he has no place in the new heavens. Jesus made sure of that. That’s why Jesus could say, just before He submitted to the crucifixion and all that followed, “I go to prepare a place for you.” He went to heaven to clear the place out. As He had run the money changers out of the temple, so He ran the devil and his crowd out of heaven. No longer would His Father’s house be a robbers’ den (Matthew 21:12-13 NASB).
The New Earth
The new earth was different alright. At least spiritually speaking. According to John’s picture, it had become a lake of fire. After the region below had been emptied out of humanity, what was left of it was thrown into this lake. This would refer to spiritual powers. And we just saw how the evil spiritual powers were thrown down out of heaven. They, too, ended up in this lake of fire that was consuming the earth. Therefore, all the evil forces that had been in heaven above or in the spiritual sea below were now on the earth.
The fire refers to wickedness (that is, sin or lawlessness) and to the judgment of God that deals with it. Here are some verses from the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel to show you what I mean:
For wickedness burns like a fire;
It consumes briars and thorns;
It even sets the thickets of the forest aflame
And they roll upward in a column of smoke. Isaiah 9:18 NASB
“Behold, My anger and My wrath will be poured out on this place, on man and on beast and on the trees of the field and on the fruit of the ground; and it will burn and not be quenched.” Jeremiah 7:20 NASB
“Behold, I am about to kindle a fire in you, and it will consume every green tree in you, as well as every dry tree; the blazing flame will not be quenched and the whole surface from south to north will be burned by it. All flesh will see that I, the LORD, have kindled it; it shall not be quenched.” Ezekiel 20:47-48 NASB
This is the way the prophets talked about the destruction of Israel that would come if the people did not repent. Their words were fulfilled in the destruction that led to Israel being exiled in the 6th Century B.C. from the land God Himself had given them almost a thousand years before.
The time of the Second Coming of Christ was a time like that. It was the latter part of the 1st Century A.D. Jerusalem had been destroyed again (70 A.D.) and the Jews had been exiled again. And this time, the whole world was ablaze with the sins of man and the judgments of God. It was a time called the great tribulation. But now watch what happens in this earth as we roll the picture from the point at which John left it as he described the new universe that had no sea:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” Revelation 21:1-8 NASB
This is the new earth. All the evil from above and below is added to whatever was already here on earth. The flames of sin and judgment are everywhere. But into its midst descends a beautiful place called Jerusalem. It is the place of trusting and obeying God. In this place, the flames of sin and judgment do not burn…or even leave the scent of smoke. I didn’t continue with John’s description but you can read it in your own Bible. This place of beauty and rest has twelve gates, three opening in every direction. Talk about accessible! In it, there is never any night time and the gates are never closed. Talk about convenient hours! In its center is a river of the water of life. And also the tree of life. The tree of life was last heard from in the story of Adam and Eve. After they had sinned, they were denied access to the tree and the garden altogether. But now God is opening gates in every direction and staying open 24 hours a day to encourage people to take from it. This is all a description, of course, of the kingdom of God. Eternal life. And it is eternally available in the new earth in which we now dwell.
God indeed has renewed His creation. He has wiped every tear from our eyes. Haven’t you felt Him wiping the tears of grief you’ve felt for your loved ones who’ve died? The mourning and crying and pain associated with death are things of the past. He has made all things new. Death is just a brief parting in the life span of eternity. Sure, there are a mess of problems here on earth, but God is here, too. He will be our Father; He will not leave us as orphans. This Jerusalem (the kingdom of God) is a spiritual city so it doesn’t matter whether you live in Tokyo, Japan or Tyler, Texas – it’s close by. There is no place below to fall and the only way to go when you die is up. Indeed, our God has made all things new.
A Whole New Ball Game
The new ball game that Jesus gives us puts us on equal footing with the devil. God has leveled the playing field and we have a fighting chance. Actually, God has tilted the field in our favor. Since death now leads directly to heaven, even when we lose we win. Maybe this is why Paul quoted this verse from the Psalms and then commented on it in this way:
Just as it is written, “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. Romans 8:36-37 NASB
Through the love of God, even losing can be turned into a winning proposition. Maybe this is why Jesus wants us to turn the other cheek. It will lead to ultimate victory.
The new heavens and new earth (that is, the new two-dimensional two-tiered universe) replace the old two-dimensional three-tiered universe. This change took place when the Lord Jesus came in His glory. And things have been that way ever since. And they will be that way forevermore. This is because the coming of the new heavens and earth represent the coming of the kingdom of God. All I have described to you is the coming of the kingdom of God. And the kingdom of God never ends. (For more, see the posts The Kingdom of God Is Here and Now , Seeking the Kingdom of God Instead of Church , It’s a Salvation of the Soul…Not Circumstances , or Practicing the Presence of God . If you’d like more explanation of the Second Coming itself, see either the summary Jesus Christ Has Already Come Again or the full biblical case which is laid out in Whatever Became of Jesus Christ? – a book about half the size of this one.) Now that death has been changed to lead directly to heaven you do not have to worry about this arrangement ever changing. It took God too long and cost too much blood to achieve this outcome. He made sure it would last an eternity.
Therefore, the motion sickness you may have felt as the Bible described the goings and comings of heavens and earth should ease off, and you can unbuckle your seat belt. We are back to a still shot. As Isaiah said,
“…the new heavens and the new earth which I make will endure before Me…” Isaiah 66:22 NASB
And because they endure, you and I can endure. And when you check your earth suit upon leaving this realm, another will be waiting for you to clothe you in your eternal home.
Lift up your eyes on high
And see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power,
Not one of them is missing. Isaiah 40:26 NASB
Given all that the Bible has said about death and resurrection, you would not think we would need any reinforcement of the idea that everyone is going to heaven. Yet it shows up again and again…as in the last line of this quote from Isaiah.
I know some of you have been wondering about hell, so let’s deal with that next.
End of Chapter Nine