A New Heaven and a New Earth
In my early twenties, I had a severe back problem. Initially, the doctors tried to handle things with physical therapy, medicines, and other noninvasive actions. Unfortunately, over the months, things just got worse and worse—to the point where there was some paralysis in my leg. For almost a full year, I struggled with significant pain, lack of mobility, the inability to sleep well, and the loss of an active lifestyle. Eventually, the only option available was surgery. The doctors warned of the surgical dangers and the difficult recovery process, but we ultimately determined that moving forward with the procedure was the only viable option. One morning in the early fall, a wonderful team of doctors operated on my back, repairing the damage that was present there. And, immediately upon awakening… I felt like a new man!
Literally. I felt brand-new. For so long I had struggled with the pain and limitations of my back, and the difficulties impacted so much of my life, that coming out of the surgery, I immediately felt such relief, that the only way to describe it was… like I was made new!
Now, to be clear, there wasn’t really anything “new” about me—save for some stitches and the like. I wasn’t really “new” in the sense that something was present that wasn’t present beforehand. The “new” feeling came rather from the sense of being “re-newed.” After the surgery, I was restored to the way I was intended to be, that the brokenness in my back had limited so much so, that I felt “new” when I was fixed. Again, not that something original came into existence. Rather, what was originally intended was able to be in its fullness again. The “newness” was a “renewed-ness,” a change which resulted in an ability to live life the way I was intended to live. The “old me,” the pain-filled body, was no more—the “new” had come!
The Bible frequently speaks of “a new Heaven and a new Earth,” and of the old heaven and earth passing away (Revelations 21; 2 Peter 3; Isaiah 65 and 66; Mark 13). In recent centuries this has become in people’s minds, the destruction of what is presently this world, and the total creation from nothing of a brand new reality. This world will be eliminated, and replaced by an entirely other creation. The motive for such a thought is that this world is so saturated with sin, evil, and wickedness, that the only recourse is for God to start all over again—to take His people from this wrecked world, and insert them into a newly fashioned-from-nothing heaven and earth.
But this view—that the new heaven and new earth is a brand-new creation, that the old is destroyed in such a way as to cease to exist—is hard to square with other Scriptures. In Romans 8, we are told that all creation groans in bondage as it awaits the liberation from sin (vs. 18-25). It is, after all, Satan’s goal to destroy God’s creation. God’s plan is different—not destruction, but liberation, restoration, and redemption. Yes, this world is broken, infected by a dreadful, rebellious sin, a wickedness and evil which is anti-God in every way. But, this describes, not just the world, but you and me as well! And, God’s response to us and our sin? Is it not our destruction, but our restoration - Christ’s own sacrifice destroys sin in every way, but it restores us to our created purpose, God’s original intent for humanity.
In much the same way, God’s work of bringing about a new creation, a new heaven and new earth, is not so much a “new” one in the sense of new-in-origin, new-in-creation, but rather a “new-ness” in character, a new-ness that reflects the vast transformation that occurs when all sin is gone. The new heaven and new earth that awaits us all at the end of time, is a new-ness that exists because of the finality, the totality, of God’s redemptive work in Jesus Christ. What does the new heaven and earth look like? It looks like this world… but so, SO different! This world restored, redeemed, sin-free! That is what awaits us—the world as God intended it to be.
This week as you prepare for worship, read Revelation 21.
1. What image stands out the most from this description of the end times? Why does this grab you?
2. What does it mean for a bride to be prepared for her husband? What is behind that picture? What does the author want us to see about the church here?
3. What is the dominant feature of this new heaven and new earth? What is most important to the author to stress?
4. In verse 5, God says He is making all things new. What might this mean if the word “new” is taken as “brand-new, newly created” versus “renewed, restored to original purpose?”
5. What connections can you see here between the old earth that passes away and the new earth that God brings?