New Heaven and New Earth

This article is from Chapter 8 of my book Christian Hope through Fulfilled Prophecy.

Have you heard your pastor mention the term new heaven and new earth? In some churches you may have never heard that term mentioned. In other churches you may have heard it often. And depending on which church you attend the pastor may mean vastly different things by the term.

There is much confusion about the term new heaven(s) and new earth—a term that we find in both the Old Testament and New Testament. To some Christians it simply means heaven. To others, it suggests a future material cosmos after the coming of Christ. Some, namely Jehovah’s Witnesses and some dispensationalists, separate it in two and think that the eternal destiny for some believers is a “new earth” while other believers go to a “new heaven.”

Some Christians think it could mean different things depending on the context. Some admit that they don’t know what the term means. We will now attempt to shine some light on what is biblically correct, and will show that the new heaven and new earth is a covenantal/theological term rather than a physical universe term. Here are some significant places in the Bible where we find the term, or its approximate equivalent:

New Testament:

  • Jesus—Matthew 5:18; Matthew 24:35 (and parallel passages in Mark 13:3 and Luke 21:33)
  • Peter—2 Peter 3:7, 13
  • John—Revelation 21:1

Old Testament:

  • Isaiah—Isaiah 1:2-5; Isaiah 13:13; Isaiah 51:5-6, 15-16; Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22

We will consider how the term is used in each of these passages. First of all, the idea of a new heaven must not refer to a literal “new” heaven, since heaven is eternal. If God lives in heaven, why does it need to change?

As regards the earth, the Bible indicates that the earth will abide forever (Ecclesiastes 1:4; Psalm 78:69, and Psalm 104:5). These statements about the earth abiding forever are most likely in reference to the everlasting nature of God’s dominion—rather than about literal cosmology. But, the Bible is silent on when the physical universe might end. So, it gets more complicated than most Christians believe.

Another reason the new heaven and new earth cannot mean the replacement of the material creation is because of Jesus’ statement in the book of Matthew:

For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.  (Matthew 5:18)

Jesus tied the passing of “heaven and earth” to the fulfillment of the law. Unless in some sense heaven and earth have already passed away, every jot and tittle of the law of Moses are still in effect even today! We know that Jesus ushered in the New Covenant of grace, so why would every detail of the law still be in effect? Thus, the passing of the details of the law has already occurred and the passing of heaven and earth has already been fulfilled. We must be in the new heaven and earth now!

Christians, don’t let this just go by without thinking about it. The passing of heaven and earth is equated by Jesus to the passing of the Mosaic theocratic order inaugurated on Mt. Sinai. In other words, the concept of a new heaven and earth is a theological expression used by Jesus (and the biblical writers) that refers to the New Covenant world.

The language is covenantal language rather than physical world language. So, if a “new heaven and earth” was ushered in at the final consummation of the Old Covenant—when the long-held Jewish custom of sacrifices for sins ended, and when the temple was destroyed in AD 70— then Jesus’ statement makes perfect sense. It can be argued that most references to the heavens and earth are uses of Hebraic phraseology that refer to the religio-political government of a people group. The time frame is made clear in Matthew 24:29-35 of the Olivet Discourse (and parallel passages in Mark 13:24-31 and Luke 21:25-33), where Jesus put the context of the passing of heaven and earth (coincident with the Second Coming and national judgment upon Israel) in the generation that was then alive—his generation. Notice the connection:

Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away.  (Matthew 24:34-35)

Other New Testament writers expressed the same thing. For example, in Hebrews 12:22-29 we find the new covenant (12:24) explained in terms of the heavens and earth (12:26). The writer of Hebrews quotes the heaven and earth language of Haggai 2:6f as fulfilled in the 60’s AD. Peter’s second epistle contains a prominent prophecy of the passing of the old heaven and old earth and the ushering in of the new heaven and new earth. Peter most certainly expected to see an imminent fulfillment of the events prophesied in his epistles—including the Day of the Lord, the judgment, the new heavens and new earth, and the Second Coming. Let’s look again at the imminence context in key passages in his epistles. The first passage below contains the new heavens and new earth. Those that follow highlight the further imminence context of Peter’s epistles:

But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. . . . Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; (2 Peter 3:7, 11-14)

to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,  (1 Peter 1:4-7)

He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you  (1 Peter 1:20)

They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.  (1 Peter 4:5)

But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers.  (1 Peter 4:7)

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.  (1 Peter 4:12-13)

For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?  (1 Peter 4:17)

The imminence of the coming eschatological events in these passages cannot be missed. Peter warned that those reading his letters would see these things happen. Peter’s words are consistent with those of Jesus. The passing of heaven and earth must be referring to the end of the Jewish dispensation—the Old Covenant order—in AD 70.

In modern language, we use the idiom “move heaven and earth” to mean doing everything one can to achieve something. President Barack Obama, in a messianic moment, used this term in his third debate against Mitt Romney in 2012. He certainly did not mean to imply anything about the end of the world. It should not be surprising to us moderns that the ancients used similar terminology in theology to refer to something other than the physical world—and other than the heavenly residence of God. Thus, the phrase “new heaven and new earth” or simply “heaven and earth” can be biblical idioms that are not the same thing as “heaven” itself.

To fill out our knowledge about the biblical heavens and earth terminology, let’s turn to the book of Isaiah. This book contains language that futurists as well as preterists consider important in understanding the eschatological new heaven and earth. In the opening verses of Isaiah we see this:

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! . . . Alas, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a brood of evildoers, children who are corrupters!  (Isaiah 1:2a, 4a; cf. Deuteronomy 31:30-32:1)

This proclamation is apparently addressed to the children of Judah/Israel concerning their sins. (Some would say that the prophet is telling all creation about the sins of Israel, but it does not seem likely that anyone would be addressed here other than the offenders themselves.) So, it can at least be reasonably argued that “heavens and earth” here is Old Covenant Israel. Given this understanding, we can infer that the new heavens and earth refers to the New Covenant Church, the successor to Old Covenant Israel. Returning to Isaiah 13, we note this passage in which God is speaking:

Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth will move out of her place, in the wrath of the LORD of hosts and in the day of His fierce anger.  (Isaiah 13:13)

As we discussed in previous chapters regarding “the Day of the Lord,” Isaiah 13 is in the context of heavenly upheaval language—the sun and moon darkened, etc. It concerns the specific judgment that came upon historic Babylon. Christians agree that this prophecy has been fulfilled. So, Isaiah 13 uses the term in conjunction with the concept of judgment.

According to Paul T. Penley, “Jews did not always mean ‘the physical universe’ when they spoke of heaven and earth together. In Jewish literature, the Temple was a portal connecting heaven and earth. They called it the ‘navel of the earth’ and the ‘gateway to heaven’ (Jubilees 8:19; 1 Enoch 26:1). Just like the Mesopotamian Tower in Genesis 11, the Temple connected God’s realm to where humans lived.” [1] Josephus also explained in his writings that in the Jewish mind, heaven and earth came together in the temple.[2] Of course, the temple was destroyed in AD 70. The New Heavens and New Earth, we conclude, arrived in its fullest at that time.

Peter’s epistles certainly speak of a coming judgment, which we know accompanied the covenantal upheaval of AD 70. So, the concepts of Old Covenant Israel and judgment fit hand and glove with the different uses of heaven and earth terminology. There is often contextual overlap between the terms (new) heavens and earth and the Day of the Lord, the connection being judgment. Peter was undoubtedly repeating the new heaven and new earth terminology of Isaiah (especially Isaiah 65 and 66) which itself points to AD 70. Here is Isaiah 51, which adds the concept of salvation to our understanding of heaven and earth:

My righteousness is near, my salvation has gone forth, and my arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands will wait upon Me, and on my arm they will trust.  Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look on the earth beneath. For the heavens will vanish away like smoke, the earth will grow old like a garment, and those who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will not be abolished. . . .For the moth will eat them up like a garment, and the worm will eat them like wool; but my righteousness will be forever, and my salvation from generation to generation. . . .But I am the Lord your God, who divided the sea whose waves roared—the Lord of hosts is his name. And I have put my words in your mouth; I have covered you with the shadow of my hand, that I may plant the heavens, lay the foundations of the earth, and say to Zion, “You are my people.”  (Isaiah 51:5-6, 8, 15-16)

He is not speaking of the planets and stars here, as they had already been created. This is not the end of the universe. The “heavens” vanish like smoke and the “earth” waxes old, but generations of people live on (verse 8). Unlike Isaiah 13, nothing concrete in this passage ties it to a specific time of fulfillment. Many futurists—millennialists—think this passage is about a literal millennium spoken of in Revelation 20 and that it is still in our future. However, there are some clues that would seem to preclude a far distant fulfillment. Note that the prophet used the term near (verse 5). That would suggest that the farther into the future one expects the fulfillment to come, the less likely that interpretation is correct.

Notice also the term salvation, mentioned twice in this passage (verses 5, 6). Salvation here could mean salvation in a limited sense and apply to salvation from a specific judgment in Old Testament times. But since it mentions an enduring righteousness and eternal salvation (“forever,” verse 6), with accompanying judgment, the best fit would be the first century and the coming Savior. (For more on the salvation aspects of AD 70 see my article “Completed Redemption AD 70.”)

This passage is clearly covenantal. (“You are my people.”) Further confirmation comes from Isaiah 51 being sandwiched within four Messianic “Servant Songs”: Isaiah 42:1-9; 49:1-7; 50:4-11, and 52:13-53:12. The preterist interpretation is consistent with other passages we have already considered from the New Testament, and thus we think Isaiah 51 looks forward to Christ’s first and second advents in the first century.

Now Isaiah 65—an important eschatological section, which is titled in some Bibles, “New Heaven and a New Earth,” or in others, “The Glorious New Creation”:

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing, and her people a joy. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people; the voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her, nor the voice of crying. No more shall an infant from there live but a few days, nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days; for the child shall die one hundred years old, but the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them;they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for as the days of a tree, so shallbe the days of my people, and my elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, nor bring forth children for trouble; for they shall be the descendants of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them. It shall come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear.  The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the LORD.  (Isaiah 65:17-25)

This is an idyllic picture. There is to be no more weeping in Jerusalem. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together. Is this to be taken literally?

Many futurists think that it is indeed to be taken literally but disagree as to when this will occur. Amillennialists think that this is a picture of heaven and/or of earthly restoration at the end of the world. Premillennialists think this is a picture of a future millennial paradise on earth. Preterists believe that this passage uses figurative language that refers to the covenant curses we no longer suffer in the New Covenant Age. What view makes the most sense?

There may be certain challenges for each viewpoint. Preterists point out that critical problems are evident for those who take the passage literally. First of all, we again remember that Jesus stated in Luke 21:22 that all Old Testament prophecy—which obviously means all prophecy remaining unfulfilled when Jesus spoke—would be fulfilled in his generation. Peter in Acts 3:24 affirmed the same thing. This would certainly mean that Isaiah 65 has been fulfilled.

Various other reasons prompt us to reject the idea that this passage is about heaven (an amillennial view). It cannot be the eternal state since it contains birth, death, building of houses, and planting of vineyards. People don’t die in heaven. Particularly interesting is the mention of births and children. Jesus said in Matthew 22:23-33 that no marriage will take place in the resurrection. Amillennialists (and some others) believe this means heaven and tie it to Isaiah 65. If the amillennial view is correct, we will have to conclude that people will be having babies out of wedlock in heaven. Will there be conjugal relations in heaven? Will these children be illicit children? Or will these be virgin births?

Premillennialists don’t seem to fare any better. They apparently tie “the resurrection” of which Jesus speaks in Matthew 22 (and elsewhere) to the earthly millennium along with Isaiah 65—rather than in heaven as amillennialists do. But the same problem exists. If there is no marriage in the resurrection/millennium (per Jesus), will the births at that time be illegitimate, etc.? Also, premillennialists believe that death will be very rare or non-existent in the millennium, but Isaiah 65 speaks of death. And by what manner of interpretation should we consider the wolf and lamb feeding together, or the lion eating straw, as literal?

The main point for now is that the new heaven and earth in Isaiah 65 refers to the New Covenant Age. Here is a quote from partial preterist Andrew Corbett:

The context of the latter portion of Isaiah is the coming new covenant. Within this context the Lord speaks of creating a new heaven and a new earth. The expression “heavens and earth” seems to speak of God’s relationship with mankind. He is the God of the heavens and the earth (Genesis 14:19; Ezra 5:11). Actually, He is the God of the entire cosmos—but the expression “heaven and earth” emphasizes His connection to mankind. And the expression “heaven and earth” may well refer to the covenant God has with mankind. When the Lord speaks of a new heaven and a new earth there may be some merit in regarding this as Biblical language for a new covenant.[3]

That Isaiah 65 is covenantal is further supported by the terms found in verse 22 about “my people” and “my elect.” Don K. Preston sums up the preterist view thusly:

We believe the only view which does not pose such serious interpretative snafus is that which sees the New Creation [of Isaiah 65 and Revelation] as the consummated Kingdom of our Lord in which those who believe in Him do not die (John 8:51); in which there is peace (Philippians 4:4-9); there is eternal life (1 John 5:13); in which God’s new people (Ephesians 2:12ff), wearing his new name (Isaiah 65; 1 Peter 4), offer up spiritual sacrifices in the New Temple (1 Peter 2:5; Hebrews 13:15ff). This New World was consummated when God destroyed his old people, the Old Jerusalem (Isaiah 65:13ff), the Old Heavens and Earth of Judaism (Isaiah 51:15-16)—bringing to a close the Old World Age (Matthew 24:3) and bringing to glorious perfection (1 Corinthians 13:8-10), the New World. That time was when Jesus returned and destroyed the capital and hub of the Old World, Jerusalem, in AD 70.[4]

The apparent problem for preterists in Isaiah 65 is the utopian language such as the wolf and the lamb feeding together. I consider restorationism in Chapter 13 of my book, but all things considered, 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 described a Christian upon his conversion as a totally new creation, which we see here in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.  (2 Corinthians 5:17)

The next passage to be considered is from Isaiah 66, which is the final chapter in the book of Isaiah. It contains the same themes we have seen before. Here are some interesting excerpts from the chapter for your consideration:

The sound of noise from the city! A voice from the temple! The voice of the Lord, who fully repays his enemies! . . .“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her; rejoice for joy with her, all you who mourn for her; . . . Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream. . . .” For behold, the LORD will come with fire and with his chariots, like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire and by his sword the LORD will judge all flesh; and the slain of the LORD shall be many. “Those who sanctify themselves and purify themselves, to go to the gardens after an idol in the midst, eating swine’s flesh and the abomination and the mouse, shall be consumed [shall come to an end, English Standard Version] together,” says the Lord. “For I know their works and their thoughts. It shall be that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and see my glory. . . . For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain before Me,” says the LORD, “So shall your descendants and your name remain. And it shall come to pass that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all flesh shall come to worship before Me,” says the LORD. “And they shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”  (Isaiah 66:6, 10, 12, 15-18, 22-24)

No specific time-reference is found here, but there is not much that distinguishes this passage from the others we have considered. Isaiah chapters 65-66, considered together, speak of the destruction of God’s old covenant people and the full establishment of his new covenant people in the new heaven and new earth.

Isaiah 66 further speaks of the final judgment, the end of the elements of Old Testament law, and the gathering of all nations. These are themes consistent with Jesus’ Olivet Discourse. While AD 70 witnessed the horrors of God’s judgment, it ushered out the old and decaying old covenant world, while ushering in the new. In Romans, Paul implies that Isaiah 65-66 is contrasting old covenant Israel with God’s new covenant people (Roman 10:19-21; cf. Romans 9:21-33).[5]

In Isaiah 65-66 we see that God’s enemies are destroyed, but regular human history continues after the “final judgment.” The survivors of Armageddon evangelize those who never heard of God (Isaiah 66:19). Get that? There are people on earth who never heard of God in the new heaven and new earth! These people require evangelism. We also see that there is SIN in the new heaven and new earth per Revelation 22:15! This is not heaven or a utopian millennium. Only the preterism can explain this.

There is one particularly interesting thing in this passage—the Lord’s coming with chariots. Now, hold on to your hats. Josephus related a most spectacular event that occurred in AD 66:

Besides these [signs], a few days after that feast, on the one-and-twentieth day of the month Artemisius, [Jyar,] a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared; I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the] temple, as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, “Let us remove hence.” [6]

Perhaps we should take this with a grain of salt, but this is an astounding account of an event reportedly witnessed by many people. But other ancient writers also commented on it. It should not be discounted. It certainly lends strong support to the preterist view. More importantly, it supports the Bible—specifically the prophecies of Isaiah and Jesus. Note the cloud language. The sight of the soldiers and chariots in the clouds surrounding cities could be interpreted as the Second Coming.[7]

Okay. Now let’s move on to Revelation 21 to consider some additional interesting and important points. We have labored in earlier chapters to show the first century context of the book of Revelation. The new heaven and earth in Revelation 21 fits perfectly with other biblical references to the new heaven and earth—in support of the preterist view. But we should consider this in the context of other themes:

  • new heaven and new earth, New Jerusalem, no more death or crying or pain as the former things have passed away, Christ is seated on the throne and makes all things new (Revelation 21:1-27)

The New Jerusalem, of which Christians are citizens, is certainly the New Covenant church. It is the Israel of God (Romans 11; Galatians 4:22-31; Ephesians 2:19-22; Hebrews 11:10, 16; 12:18-24). Hebrews 12:22 states, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” The New Jerusalem was already becoming a reality for the first-century readers of Hebrews. The New Jerusalem is the bride (Revelation 21:2), which means the bride of Christ (John 3:29; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:22, 23, 31, 32; Revelation 19:7-8). Its foundations were the “twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:14; cf. Ephesians 2:19-22). The building/city motif is Pauline theology concerning the church (Ephesians 2:19-22).[8]

The picture that is painted for us by John is that Israel was a harlot (Revelation 17:1, 5, 15; 19:2). For her marital unfaithfulness, she received divorce and punishment. Then we see the new bride—the church—coming to take her place. Jerusalem is destroyed and replaced by the New Jerusalem of which first-century Christians were citizens. The church is the New Jerusalem that takes over for the old Jerusalem. The church no longer needs a temple because Christ brings the presence of God to his people (Revelation 21:22).

The text also says that God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there will be no more death, sorrow, or crying. This, at first glance, could be a problem for preterists, and the reader at this point may close our book in disgust. Obviously, we still suffer death, pain, and sadness.

The statement about no more death in Revelation 21:4 ties to the statement in Revelation 20:14, which tells us that death and hades were thrown into the lake of fire. But if Jesus has already returned, and death has been done away, why then do we still see death all around us? The answer is simple: the end of death applies only to Christians, who only appear to die as they are transferred into the heavenly realm when they expire. Put another way, Christians are transferred into the presence of Jesus when they die their earthly death. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26a) Michel Fenemore explained it thusly:

The book of Revelation was addressed to God’s servants. So, everything in the book must be understood from their perspective. Death has been destroyed for Christians, not unbelievers. Revelation was not intended for the masses who hate God. They might read it but will never understand it. God’s Old Testament servants died and went to Hades. This was necessary because Jesus had not yet been sacrificed for their sins. However, once the plan of salvation was complete, death and Hades became unnecessary for God’s people.[9]

Amillennialists believe that Revelation 21 is referring to heaven, or at least the afterlife in some way. Premillennialists believe it is referring to a literal utopian thousand years on earth. But full preterists believe that it refers to the life of the believer in Christ, ushered in with Christ’s first-century work, and that it corresponds to the same state depicted in Isaiah 65.

So, just as the individual believer is a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17), there is a present reality for the Christian that death has been abolished (John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:26, 55-57; 2 Timothy 1:10)! We were once dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13a) but are now alive in Christ (Romans 6:1-14; Ephesians 2:5-6; Colossians 2:11-14)! We do not “sorrow as others who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).  “No tears” refers to statements in the Bible about the long-awaited Messiah; Jesus has “borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4; cf. Isaiah 25:8; 35:10)! The Messianic promise of no more weeping of Isaiah 65 and Revelation 21 is fulfilled with Jesus in the context of his living water (John 4:10-15; Revelation 7:9-17; 21:5-7). The living water is not just meant for those who die physically. The water is here now and we no longer need to thirst or mourn. Indeed, for the Christian, “old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 3:18; 5:17; Revelation 21:5). 

With the emphasis on “all things,” the Christian is not simply given a ticket to heaven and a new set of religious rituals, but every area of life is targeted for renewal as the result of his participation in the new life.  How many times does Jesus have to make things new for it to be effective? All things are indeed new now! Revelation 21 is, we argue, referring to the new covenantal order ushered in once for all in AD 70. We must not forget that there are over two dozen passages at the beginning, middle, and end of Revelation that teach us that the events described MUST SHORTLY COME TO PASS (Revelation 1:1-3; 22:6, 12, 20)—that is, soon after the book was penned!

I began my book with an analysis of how to interpret the Bible. I proved the difficulty of interpreting prophecy literally, having discussed this at length. Related to the issue of “no more death” is the concept of “no more sin.” The Bible repeatedly says that Jesus has already put an end to sin and ushered in everlasting righteousness (Daniel 9:24-27; John 1:29; Romans 6:1-14; Colossians 1:22; Hebrews 9:26; 1 John 3:5). Did He fail?

Certainly, we see sin all around us today. So, these declarations must be taken in the sense that they were intended. It is about the blood of Jesus making his people sinless in God’s sight. So, when Revelation 21 says that death and tears will be vanquished at the Second Advent, and when 2 Peter 3:10-13 says that the Day of the Lord will usher in a new heaven and new earth in which righteousness dwells, preterists say that these statements must be cast in the same figurative light.

Terms such as “will wipe away every tear” or “wherein righteousness dwells” are statements about Jesus and his unprecedented accomplishments—and our new life in Him, on earth and in heaven. Duncan McKenzie elaborates for us on why Revelation 21 is not describing heaven:

The new heaven and earth in Revelation (and Isaiah) is not heaven. Notice, it still has unrighteous people in it, those outside the New (covenant) Jerusalem (Revelation 22:14-15). The new heaven and new earth is a symbolic representation of the post AD 70 spiritual order of this planet. The old covenant order (the old heaven and earth) flees and the new covenant order (the new heaven and earth) is established (Revelation 20:11; 21:1-2). One has to constantly remember that the truths of Revelation are communicated by way of symbols (Revelation 1:1). In the new heaven and earth those who are part of the New Jerusalem bride have access to the tree and water of life (Revelation 22:1-2); those outside of the new covenant city do not. The New Jerusalem is a picture of the bride of Christ (Revelation 21:9-10); only those who are in the Lamb’s Book of Life are part of her (Revelation 21:22-27). Those who are not part of the New Jerusalem are not part of the new covenant. There is no more death for those inside the city (Revelation 21:1-4); those outside the city are already dead (spiritually separated from God). Unless they turn to the Lord and become part of the new covenant bride, [they] will end up in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15; 21:7-8, 27; 22:14-15).[10]

Full preterist Dr. Kelly Nelson Birks, in a response to a challenge by postmillennialist Keith A. Mathison, said this:

The passage in Revelation 21: 4, “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. . . . “ is a passage that I’m sure Mr. Mathison would agree, must be interpreted according to its context. The fact of the matter is, that the descriptions of what is going on in the 21st and 22nd chapters of Revelation, have primarily to do with the spiritual facts of life in the church, the New Jerusalem, the Bride of Christ. It all speaks of the finishing up of the Old Covenant system, and the bringing in of the New Covenant in its fullness. This is our present experience NOW.  The phrase, “God will wipe away every tear from their (our) eyes,” is a reference to the fullness of personal relationship that each believer has with God. That He is personally attending to our pains and sorrows. No more death! That is, no more separation from God in the full spiritual realities of experiencing the present age.[11]

Premillennialists see all of this happening in the literal millennium that has not yet begun. They see the reign of Christ as wholly future. David Chilton had some particularly strong words about this: “The notion that the reign of Christ is something wholly future, to be brought in by some great social cataclysm, is not a Christian doctrine. It is an unorthodox teaching, generally espoused by heretical sects on the fringes of the Christian church.” [12] While Chilton is unnecessarily harsh, his point is that it really is blasphemous to say that Christ is not reigning today.

The ending chapters of Revelation describe a series of events that are consummated together: the new heaven and new earth and New Jerusalem, which are the New Covenant church order, the dissolution of hades, the final defeat of death and Satan, and the Parousia—marking the beginning of the established and victorious eternal reign of Christ. Repeating for emphasis, Satan was limited at the First Advent of Jesus, which Jesus proved by casting out demons (Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:17-20; Revelation 20:2). Satan was then crushed at the Second Coming (Romans 16:20; Revelation 20:10). The message of the New Testament is that Satan was absolutely defeated in the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and then finally at the Parousia of Jesus Christ (cf. Colossians 2:15; Hebrews 2:14-15). The reader might want to take the time to revisit these passages, especially Romans 16:20. Christ reigns victorious.

Amillennialists, postmillennialists, and preterists join on this point of Christ’s current reign and ruling authority against the premillennialists. But amillennialists and postmillennialists fail to connect the dots. If Christ is reigning today, then the Parousia and other events associated with it have already taken place. Only preterism offers assurance of Christ’s reign now.

In Chapter 11 of my book I discuss the biblical meaning of the death which overcame mankind at the Fall. In Chapter 13 I discuss the topic of Restoration. But here we continue in Revelation:

  • no temple, Jesus as the light, gates open to all nations, etc. (Revelation 21:22-27)—This section relates to Isaiah 60 which discusses the Gentiles (the “nations”) coming into the light, as well as to other passages about the Gentiles that we have already mentioned. Revelation 21:22-27 is a strong preterist passage—no physical temple, which is replaced by “the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb,” (a clear reflection of Jesus’ predictions in Matthew 24:2 and John 4:21, thus AD 70). The opening of the gates to the nations depicts the ushering in of the New Covenant world wherein Jews and Gentiles are now one people in Christ in the New Jerusalem.

As we leave Revelation 21 we come to the end of the book in Revelation 22. In this chapter, John reiterates the prophecy of the soon coming of Christ (events that must soon take place, Revelation 22:6, 12, 20). In the final words of the Bible—Revelation 22:19—we are warned not to take away from the words of his prophecy. Christians, let us heed that warning.



You are invited to see reviews and details of my book at Also, to learn more about apologetics, theology, and eschatology, check out my websites listed below.

Here’s a good article by Jonathan Welton:

And here’s another excellent article by Paul Penley about the biblical meaning of “heaven and earth”:



 [2] Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 3 (3.6.4, and 3.7.7). Available online at



[5] See this article by Duncan McKenzie:

[6] Flavius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Book 6 (6.5.3). Available online at

[7] In addition to Josephus, Tacitus, Eusebius, and the Jewish Talmud mentioned this phenomenon. See: Josephus Wars ( to 300), Tacitus Histories (Book 5), Eusebius Ecclesiastics History (Book 3, Chapter 8, Sections 1-6), Sepher Yosippon A Mediaeval History of Ancient Israel (Chapter 87, “Burning of the Temple”). See also Edward E. Stevens

[8] For a detailed discussion of this, see David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Tyler, Texas: Dominion Press, 1987), chapter 21.

 [9] Fenemore has also co-authored a book with Kurt M. Simmons: The Twilight of Postmillennialism: Fatal Errors in the Teaching of Keith A. Mathison, Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. et. al.

 [10] The bride of Christ (Revelation 21:2, 9-10) is elsewhere in the Bible described as the church (Matthew 9:15; John 3:29; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:22-23, etc.).


 [12] David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Tyler, Texas: Dominion Press, 1987), page 494, 502.

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