A New Heavens and a New Earth
By Jonathan Mitchell
The title of this article is a phrase that speaks different things to different people. We will look at these words in their Scriptural contexts, and endeavor to understand what they meant to the people to whom they were written, so that we can see what they should mean to us.
This phrase was spoken by John as he described a vision which he saw, and then related to the called-out communities (aka, churches) in 1st. century Asia, via the canonical text called Revelation (or: An Unveiling), Chapter 21. Let us examine the first eight verses of this chapter:
1. Then I saw “a new (new in nature; different from the usual; better than the old; superior in value and attraction; new in quality) atmosphere (or: sky; or: heaven) and a new Land (or: earth)” [Isa. 65:17; 66:22], for you see, actually, the first (former; preceding; earlier) atmosphere (or: heaven) and the first (former, preceding) Land (or: earth) went away (or: passed away), and the sea does not exist any longer.
As noted in the text, this phrase comes from the prophecy in Isaiah. Isa. 64:10-12 describes the existing situation, prior to the prophecies of the next two chapters: the holy city (= Jerusalem) and Zion have become a wilderness and a curse; the temple has been burned and is in ruin; the Jews have been humbled.
So the question is, is this to be taken literally, or figuratively? John saw a whole new world. Consider what Paul says,
"Consequently, since someone [is] within Christ (or: if anyone [is] in union with [the] Anointed One), [there is] a new creation (or: [it is] a framing and founding of a different kind; [he or she is] an act of creation having a fresh character and a new quality): the original things (the beginning [situations]; the archaic and primitive [arrangements]) passed by (or: went to the side). Consider! New things have come into existence (have been birthed; or: It has become new things; or: He has been birthed and now exists being ones of a different kind, character and quality)" (2 Cor. 5:17).
This idea is usually connected with 2 Pet. 3:10,
So the day of the Lord [= Yahweh] will arrive as a thief [i.e., suddenly and without notice], in which [day] the heavens (or: atmospheres; or: skies) will pass by with the noise of sudden movement, but so rudimentary, elementary principles (or: basic component and parts of a system arranged in rows, or a grid; e.g., the elements and assumptions of a religious or intellectual system), being progressively heated as with a burning fever, will be loosed (unfastened; unbound; or: nullified; destroyed). And then land (or: soil; ground; earth; or: = a territory) – along with the things produced (or: actions; deeds; workmanships; accomplishments) [note: God's and/or man's] within the midst of it – will be found (or: discovered; found out) [p72 adds: being progressively loosed (or: destroyed); A reads: will be burned up]!
Note here that "rudimentary, elementary principles," or "basic component and parts of a system arranged in rows, or a grid," or "the elements and assumptions of a religious or intellectual system" are the things that are to be heated and then loosed and/or destroyed, along with that which people have produced. It is not speaking of the physical universe. It involves the same fire that Paul spoke of in 1 Cor. 3:9-15. Recall also that Paul says in 1 Cor. 7:31 that the "outward shape, fashion, form and appearance of this System (ordered world of culture, religion and society) is progressively passing by (= the present scene and scheme of things is changing and passing away)."
2. And then I saw the set-apart (or: holy) city, a new Jerusalem, continuously (or: progressively) descending from out of the atmosphere (or: presently stepping down out of the midst of the sky; or: steadily stepping in accord, forth from heaven), [coming] from God, being prepared (having been made ready) as a bride, being arranged (having been set in order; adorned; decorated) for (or: by) her man (husband; a male person of full age and stature).
Dr. Milton Terry, in Biblical Apocalyptics (1898), relates the phrase "holy city" to Isa. 48:2 and 52:1, and says that it is called "new" here to harmonize with the "new heaven and new earth" of vs. 1, above. He also cites Gal. 4:26 that speaks of "the Jerusalem which is above," and Eph. 5:25-32 which speaks of the called-out community as being in a metaphorical relationship as a bride to Christ, then cites Heb. 12:22-23,
But to the contrary, you folks have approached so that you are now at Mount Zion – even in a city of a continuously living God; in "Jerusalem upon heaven" (or: in a Jerusalem pertaining to and having the character and qualities of a superior, or added, heaven and atmosphere; or: in Jerusalem [situated] upon, and comparable to, the atmosphere) – also among ten-thousands (or: myriads) of agents and messengers: [that is] in (or: to) an assembly of an entire people (or: an assembly of all; a universal convocation) and in (or: to) a summoning forth (or: a called-out and gathered community) of firstborn folks having been copied (from-written, as from a pattern; or: enrolled; registered), within [the; or: various] atmospheres, (or: heavens), and in (or: to; with) God, a Judge (a Decider; a Separator) of all mankind, even among (or: to; with) spirits of just folks (or: breath-effects of those who are fair and equitable and in right relationship within the Way pointed out) having been brought to the goal (perfected; finished; matured; made complete)..."
So it should be obvious that here in Revelation, John's vision did not apply to the physical universe.
3. Next I heard a great voice from out of the throne [other MSS: atmosphere; heaven] saying, "Consider! God’s tent (the Tabernacle of God) [is] with mankind (the humans), ‘and He will live in a tent (dwell in a Tabernacle) with them, and they will be (will exist being) His people, and God Himself will be with them [some MSS add: their God].’ [Lev. 26:11-12; Isa. 7:14; 8:8, 10; Jer. 31:33; Ez. 37:27; 2 Chr. 6:18]
The tent/tabernacle is the early OT equivalent of the temple, and so this verse is speaking of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 3:17, etc.) This OT prophecy, quoted by the Voice, here, spoke of the new creation where people are His tabernacle, or, temple. This is a present situation and existence that came into being on the Day of Pentecost, when the called-out community became the new creation.
4. "And He will anoint (smear; or: wipe away) every tear from their eyes. And death will no longer exist (or: the death shall be no more) – neither will mourning (sadness; grief), nor an outcry, nor hard work (painful toil; misery) exist any longer ([they] will be no more), because the FIRST THINGS went (or: passed) away."
The anointing comes via His Spirit; death no longer exists in Christ, due to His resurrection; He takes away our mourning, as we abide in Him. The first creation and the first humanity, and the first covenant all passed away through the work of the cross.
In Christ, in the realm of spirit, God wipes away tears (figure of sorrow and grief), for we now have joy and expectation. In Him, joined to the Lord, death ceases to exist: John 11:26, "And further, everyone (or: all mankind) presently or continuing in living and trusting (or: progressively believing; regularly exercising faith) into Me can by no means (or: may under no circumstances) die-off on into the Age." And there is no more mourning for we see in Lu. 4:18 that He came to "heal the brokenhearted."
5. And then the One (or: He [who is]) continuously sitting upon the throne said, "Consider this! I am presently making all things new (or: habitually creating everything [to be] new and fresh; progressively forming the whole anew)!" Next He is saying [to me], "Write, because these words are faithful ones and true ones (ones full of faith and realities)."
Having seen that this is a book of signs and symbols, we should not start putting a literal interpretation on this vision. The figure of "the sea does not exist any longer" should be an immediate clue. What this is saying is that there is no longer a distinction between God's people and the great "sea of humanity" which had been the non-Israelites, or Gentiles. He has broken down the "middle wall" and made of the two "one new humanity" thus give peace to the tossing waves of the sea (Eph. 2:14, 15).
As all humanity was included in the first man, Adam, so all humanity is included in the Last Adam, the Second Man, the Lord from heaven (1 Cor. 15:45-47).
Terry points out that this verse is referring to the statement made in vs. 1, above. Bruce Metzger points out, "... the present tense also suggests that God is continually making things new here and now (compare 2 Cor. 3:8; 4:16-18; Col. 3:1-4)" (Breaking the Code).
6. Then He said to me, “They have come into being (been born; come to be) and stand accomplished (are produced) [Concordant Gr. Text reads, with Sinaiticus: I have become (been born)!; Griesbach reads gegone: It has been done; Rotherham simply says: Accomplished; Barclay, Young, Beck, NASB, NKJV, Amplified all read w/Griesbach; Weymouth, Williams, Wuest, Robertson & Vincent read w/the estle-Aland & Metzger Text, gegonan (3rd. per. pl.)]! I am the Alpha and the Omega: The Beginning (Origin) and The End (The Goal; Consummation; The Finished Product).
“To him who is continuously thirsty, I will give from out of the spring (fountain) of the Water of the Life, as an undeserved (free) gift (or: I will freely give...).
Notice the Greek present tense in vs. 5: it is an ongoing and progressive work of Christ. But now look at the verb tenses in vs. 6, "They have come into being (been born; come to be) and stand accomplished (are produced)!" Here we have the perfect tense; in Christ it stands a completed work and NOW EXISTS, referring to His people. The various other MSS read the verb is different persons (1st and 3rd), but they are all in the perfect tense. This does not refer to a future event.
Again we see a reference to Isaiah in the symbol "Alpha and Omega." See Isa. 41:4, 44:6 and 48:12 where Yahweh calls Himself the First and the Last (= the Beginning and the End, and I suggest this applies to the First/Last creation as well as the First/Last humanity).
Regarding "thirst," see Isa. 55:1, Zech. 14:8 (living waters going out from Jerusalem) and John 4:13; 6:35; and 7:37-38 (which refer to Jesus and His body). This situation and condition is also described in Rev. 7:16-17 (note where these folks are: in the temple, His body, vs. 15).
7. “The one habitually overcoming will inherit (acquire by lot) these things, and I will be a God for him (in him; to him) and he will be a son [Griesbach reads: the son] for Me (in Me; to Me).
Note here that He is speaking to the church, the called-out folks, for this is just like ch. 2:7, 11, 17, etc.
8. “But for the timid (cowardly) folks and for faithless ones (unbelieving people) and for abominable folks (detestable ones) and for murderers, and for prostitutes and for sorcerers (enchanters; users of drugs) and for idolaters and for all the liars (the false ones): their portion [of the inheritance?] [is] within the lake (or: basin; artificial pool; marshy area) continuously burning with Fire and Deity, which is the Second Death.”
Vs. 8 is an antithesis of vs. 7. There are two inheritances here: one is blessing (vs. 7), the other is judgment (vs. 8). The indictments of vs. 8 are stronger, but the comparison of these two verses to the scene described in Matt. 25:31-46 is, to me, obvious. Those described in vs. 8 receive the same penalty as those of Matt. 25:41 & 46a. Yet the "crimes" of those in Matt. 25, at first glance, seem much less serious – they are crimes of "omission." The kids failed to show love to Christ's family members.
These in vs. 8, however, are cowards, unbelievers, murderers, etc. Those in Matt. 25 were just immature and unaware. Do both "groups" receive the same judgment? Both are cast into Fire. But the nature of the judgment in Matt. 25:46 is "kolasin aionion," age-lasting pruning; pruning and correction of growth for an unspecified period of time. And what have we seen to be the nature of fire? It transforms, purifies and causes to ascend.
As here in ch. 21:7-8, so in Matt. 25: one group inherits the kingdom; the other inherits chastisement. And since both the kids and the sheep were part of the Shepherd's herd in Matt. 25, I suggest that vs. 8 here is a description of the Jews of the 1st century. Fire and Deity rained down upon them in AD 70. They were "children of Gehenna." Chilton quotes J.P.M. Sweet in regard to vs. 8, "'the list belongs, like similar lists in the epistles, to the context of baptism, the putting off of the "old man" and putting on of the new.' (cf. Gal. 5:19-26; Eph. 4:17-5:7; Col. 3:5-10; Tit. 3:3-8)." That in conclusion is what this baptism of Fire is all about.
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