The New Earth

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The New Earth is an expression used in the Book of Isaiah (Is 65:17 & 66:22), 2 Peter (2 Peter 3:13), and Book of Revelation (Rev 21:1) in the Bible to describe the final state of redeemed humanity. It is one of the central doctrines of biblical eschatology and is referred to in the Nicene Creed as the world to come.

Biblical references[edit]

The twenty-first chapter of the Book of Revelation introduces the final state of perfection where, according to one commentator, "cosmic time has been turned into eternity."[1] In symbolic and visual language, God allows John to see the glory and beauty of the inheritance of His people. The first thing the reader notices about this vision is that it includes a "new heavens and a new earth" (21:1). To understand what the Bible teaches about eternity, the reader of the Apocalypse must understand the New Testament doctrine of the "New Heavens and the New Earth."[2]

The basic idea expressed in this doctrine is that God's people will inherit a New Earth.[3] The following quotes form the foundation of this teaching.

I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more (Revelation 21:1).[4]

I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind (Isaiah 65:17).

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 (Isaiah 66:22).

But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home (2 Peter 3:13).

The following sections address four areas in Christian theology that are directly related to or influenced by the doctrine of the New Earth.

Human nature[edit]

According to the Bible, humankind was created from the dust of the earth and from the breath of God.[5] In other words, human beings are a combination of the earthly and the heavenly. In the field of Systematic Theology, this is referred to as "anthropological dualism."[6] On the one hand, humans share with the animal world a corporal (animal) nature and, on the other hand, they share with the heavenly sphere a spiritual nature. According to biblical theology, these two natures make human beings different from any other of God's creatures. Humans are neither animals nor angels. Yet, they share a physical nature with the animals and a spiritual nature with the angels.

Anthropological dualism thus has a balanced view of the body as it relates to human nature as a whole. Materialistic monism makes the body everything. Trichotomy often debases the body and makes it next to nothing. Biblical dualism, though, sees man as a balanced combination of body and soul/spirit.[7]

The Bible does not teach that humans are to liberate themselves from the body in order to have a purely spiritual existence. This was a dominant belief of one of the most influential strains of Greek philosophy.[8] What the Bible teaches is resurrection of the dead and implicit in the doctrine of resurrection is the raising of a material body.[9] The Bible's concept of the eternal life has Christians with new bodies and with their feet firmly planted upon the New Earth.[citation needed]

Creation[edit]

The concept of a "New Earth" is clearly rooted in the biblical concept of the creation of the first earth. In Genesis 1:28, it is stated that God created man so that he would "exercise dominion" over the earth.

God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth' (Gen 1:28).

According to the text, human beings were created to care for and reign over the earth. The idea expressed in Genesis is that humankind was created from the dust of the earth and from the breath of God so that they would be ideally equipped to fellowship with God and to manage the earth.[citation needed]

This part of biblical teaching has been the brunt of much criticism on the basis that it has led to the abuse of the earth and has been the principal cause of environmental contamination.[10] Most biblical scholars would agree, however, that regardless of how accurate this historical assessment might be, it would certainly be a misapplication of what the Bible actually says.

Skeptics say this passage grants license to do with the earth whatever we wish. In fact, it was an invitation to live in and work the earth responsibly, thereby maintaining the essential harmony of God's creation.[11]

One point where the Bible does differ with pantheism (both modern and ancient) is that it does not view the current cosmos as existing in its natural state. The biblical view is that, because of sin, the earth has been placed under a curse. As a result, the earth does not yield its full potential in the hands of even the most skilled caretaker.[12] Instead, the earth produces "thorns and thistles" and man must earn his living "by the sweat of your face."

The Bible also portrays God purposing to redeem the earth and to invert the effects of the curse. "Jesus comes to end history, to raise the dead and judge the world, ... to impart to God's children their final glory, ... and to usher in a reconstructed universe."[13] To this effect, the Apostle Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, writes the following:

The creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now (Romans 8:20-22).

Prophecies about Restoration[edit]

The question addressed in this section is whether the Bible portrays the New Earth as something totally different from this current earth or more like a renovation of this current earth. The biblical data seems to support the latter idea.

In New Testament Greek, there were two words that are translated as "new" in the English Bible; one is NEOS and the other is KAINOS. One Greek resource states:

As distinct from néos, "new in time," kainós means "new in nature" (with an implication of "better"). Both words suggest "unfamiliar," "unexpected," "wonderful," and the distinction fades with time.[14]

That KAINOS should not be taken as something totally new can be seen in a passage like the following:

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Here the Apostle Paul uses KAINOS in the expression "new creation." Paul did not intend to convey the idea that this is a completely different individual. There is continuity between the old person and the new person to such an extent that it remains the same person, but renovated. The person is the same, but the quality of that person has been transformed.

In the same way, the biblical concept of the New Earth is one of renovation and restoration. This conclusion is supported by Peter's words in his public speech in the temple at Jerusalem.

Repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that he may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of the restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.[15]

This earth, however, will be cleansed by fire for the purpose of restoration as expressed in the following passage:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? (2 Peter 3:10-12)

The new Jerusalem[edit]

There is a city in the new earth: the New Jerusalem. Revelation says that in the New Jerusalem, God "will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God."[Rev 21:4] As a result, there is “no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” Nor is there a need for the sun to give its light, “for the glory of God illuminated it, and the Lamb is its light"[Rev 21:22-23]. The city will also be a place of great peace and joy, for "God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there will be no more pain, for the former things have passed away"[Rev 21:1-4].

The city itself has a large wall with twelve gates in it that are never shut, which have the names of the twelve tribes of Israel written on them. Each of the gates is made of a single pearl, and there is an angel standing in each one. The wall also has twelve foundations adorned with precious stones, and on the foundations are written the names of the twelve apostles. The gates (tribes of Israel) and foundations (apostles) are often interpreted as symbolizing Israel and the Church.[16]

The city has a river that proceeds "out of the throne of God and of the Lamb."[Rev 22:1] Next to the river is the tree of life, which bears twelve fruits and yields its fruit every month. The last time the tree of life was mentioned in the Bible was in connection with the Garden of Eden.[Gen 2:9] God drove Adam and Eve away from it because it bestowed eternal life and he did not want them to have it in their degraded state[Gen 3:22] In the New Jerusalem, the tree of life reappears, and everyone in the city has access to it. Genesis also tells us that the earth was cursed because of Adam's sin,[Gen 3:17] but John writes that in the New Jerusalem, "there will be no more curse."[Rev 22:3]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Book of Revelation (New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2001), 554.
  2. ^ Jack Cottrell, The Faith Once for All: Bible Doctrine for Today (Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub., 2002), 564–572; David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Church and the Last Things (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1998), 246–248; G. C. Berkouwer, The Return of Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 210-234.
  3. ^ Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; and 2 Peter 3:13.
  4. ^ The Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved.
  5. ^ Genesis 2:7
  6. ^ Cottrell, The Faith Once for All, 137-145.
  7. ^ Cottrell, The Faith Once for All, 145.
  8. ^ S. Marc Cohen, Patricia Curd, and C. D. C. Reeve, eds., Readings in Ancient Greek philosophy: from Thales to Aristotle (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing), 237.
  9. ^ Allen C. Myers, “Resurrection,” The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1987), 881.
  10. ^ See for example Lynn White, The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis. Available at [1].
  11. ^ J. Mark Lawson, “Romans 8:18-25 – The Hope of Creation,” Review & Expositor 91, 4 (Louisville, KY: Review and Expositor, 1994), 560.
  12. ^ Genesis 3:17-19
  13. ^ J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1995).
  14. ^ G. Kittel, G. Friedrich, G. W. Bromiley (1995, c1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Translation of: Theologisches Worterbuch zum Neuen Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans), 388.
  15. ^ Acts 3:19-21
  16. ^ E.g., Beale writes: “This city represents the whole people of God (21:9–10) in whose midst God and the Lamb dwell.” The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, MI: Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999. 417.

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