Bibliano and Amigo: Discussions on Eschatology (Lesson #3, New Heaven and New Earth)

AMIGO: I’m excited about the coming New Heaven and New Earth.

BIBLIANO: Just what do you think the New Heaven and New Earth is, my friend? There are several different ideas about this.

AMIGO: Well, I don’t really know. Maybe it’s heaven. Maybe it is a reconstituted planet earth during the millennium. Gosh, I never gave it much thought except the preacher says it’s going to be sweet.

BIBLIANO: Ha! Maybe we ought to see what the Bible says about this. But first, I’ve got a few questions for you. If God resides in heaven, why do we need a new heaven?

AMIGO: Ouch. You got me on that one. I never even thought about that.

BIBLIANO: Do you realize that the Bible says that the earth “will abide forever” (Ecclesiastes 1:4; Psalm 78:69, Psalm 104:5)? These statements about the earth abiding forever are most likely figurative, comparative, or in reference to the everlasting nature of God’s dominion—rather than about cosmology. But it gets a bit more complicated than most Christians suppose.

AMIGO: Tell me more.

BIBLIANO: In Matthew 5:17-18, Jesus tied the passing of heaven and earth with the passing of the Law. Indeed, He prophesied that UNTIL HEAVEN AND EARTH WOULD PASS AWAY, NOT A JOT OR TITTLE OF THE LAW WOULD PASS AWAY. So, if you think the Law has been replaced by the gospel of grace, we must be in the new heaven and earth NOW! So this phrase has to be about the new covenant order, and not about a literal physical new heaven and earth. Remember, the visible fabric of the old covenant dispensation passed away in AD 70 when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed.

AMIGO: I’m blown away by that. I’ll have to let this sink in. But, what about Isaiah 65-66? This is about the final “end-times” judgment and “new heaven and new earth.” How does this fit your thesis?

BIBLIANO: Several points. In our previous discussion, we showed conclusively that the so-called “end times/last days” in the Bible are consistently about the end of the Old Covenant Age, not the end of the planet.

AMIGO: OK. I remember, and you were very convincing on that point.

BIBLIANO: In Isaiah 65-66 we do not see the universe as dissolved, like many Christians think. In Isaiah 65:17f we see that there are births, deaths, house building, and so forth in the new heavens and new earth. In Isaiah 66:15f, we see that God’s enemies are killed, but regular human history continues. Indeed survivors would be sent out toevangelize those who never heard of God. So there are still people who never heard of God.

AMIGO: I am shocked, I tell ya’. But there it is, in black and white. I guess I wrongly assumed that the earth would be melted and all sin would be literally removed in the new heaven and new earth—you know, end of the planet. I’ll have to re-think my presuppositions.

BIBLIANO: The biblical writers were not looking for a shiny new planet. The good folks today who rely on Isaiah 65-66 to prove a new heaven and new earth at the destruction of the cosmos need to go back to the drawing board.

AMIGO: OK, but what about the utopian language such as the wolf and the lamb feeding together?

BIBLIANO: The best conclusion is that this language is symbolic. The sense in which Isaiah 65 describes a new created order is similar to the sense in which Paul describes a Christian upon conversion as a totally NEW CREATION (2 Corinthians 5:17).

AMIGO: Alright. That makes reasonable sense, given the anticipation Isaiah foresaw of the new covenant world that the Messiah would bring. But wait. I think I gotcha on this: What about 2 Peter 3 and Revelation 21? Aren’t the new heaven and new earth mentioned there too?

BIBLIANO: Yes, they are. We will cover those in future discussions. But suffice it to say that scholars generally accept that these New Testament passages look back to Isaiah to define the term “new heaven and new earth” in their own works, so they could not be about a different concept.

AMIGO: I can see how this makes biblical sense. It all must be consistent.

BIBLIANO: My friend, there is a lot more we could consider. But the best fit for the “new heaven and new earth” is a reference to the new covenantal order ushered in at Jesus’ first advent, then in finality at his coming (Greek, Parousia) IN JUDGMENT in AD 70. The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple was what Jesus predicted over and over in the New Testament—to happen in his generation. Everything ties neatly to AD 70. This is important because no longer could people think that temple sacrifices were the way to forgiveness of sin. Rather, Jesus is the new temple, the new source of salvation. Here’s an interesting note. In the Jewish mind, the temple was where heaven and earth came together. Josephus, for example, spoke of this in his writings. Instead of looking at Scripture through the lens of our modern presuppositions, we need to see it through the lens of the writers and their ancient Jewish audience.

My friend, this is really good news. We are not waiting for the destruction of the planet. Christ has made all things new. We are in the new heaven and new earth NOW, in which the righteousness of Christ dwells.

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