The biblical story reaches all the way from creation to new creation. In between, the fall corresponds to redemption in Christ. The Bible does not reveal a large amount of information about heaven and the new creation, but we do find a scintillating vision of the new heaven and the new earth in the final two chapters of Revelation. In what follows, we will seek to answer three questions: (1) How should we think of the new heavens and the new earth? (2) What will precede the establishment of the new heavens and the new earth? (3) What does the new creation mean with regard to our mission?
How should we think of the new heavens and the new earth?
We should think of God’s new creation in the following ways.
- Heaven and earth will be replaced, not merely renewed.
- Isa 65:17-18 speaks of new creation (cf. Isa 43:19). There will be a qualitatively new kind of existence.
- Matthew 5:18 and Mark 13:31 record Jesus as saying that “heaven and earth will pass away.”
- 1 Cor 7:31 records Paul saying that “the present form of this world is passing away”
- 2 Pet 3:10-11 speaks graphically of the destruction of the heaven and earth: “the heavens will pass away with a roar and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be …?”
- Heaven and earth will be united as one; there will be no more separation.
- Rev 21:3 says, “the dwelling placeof God is with man. He will dwell with them…”
- God’s purpose is not only to redeem his creation but to make a new creation.
- Things are not merely going back to the way things were.
- Life started in a garden; it’ll end up in a city.
- It started with only Adam and Eve; it’ll end with a multitude from every tribe and nation worshiping God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Heaven will mark the fulfillment of the new covenant.
- Rev 21:3 alludes to Jer 31:33b: “They will be his people. He will be … their God.”
- Heaven, in a sense, has already begun.
- We are already a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17).
- Heaven is exclusive.
- Rev 21:8 includes a warning that “the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars” will be cast into the lake of fire.
- This has important implications:
- For how we view our material possessions
- For how we view our stewardship of this earth in relation to evangelism and mission
- For how we view Christian social action over against gospel preaching
What will precede the establishment of the new heavens and new earth?
Our hope is that one day at the end of time Jesus will return in great power (Second Coming; Revelation 19). He will reign for 1,000-years (the Millennium; Revelation 20). After one great final battle (Armageddon), Jesus will cast the devil and his demons into hell. He will judge all people (the Great White Throne judgment): those who trusted him in this life will go to heaven and those who didn’t will go to hell.
What does the new creation mean with regard to our mission?
- Right now, mission is primary; mission helps move human history toward the new creation
At the beginning, at creation, there was no need for mission; now, after the fall, and after redemption, we’re called to join Jesus on his mission. He’s already accomplished redemption; all that’s left is to proclaim it, so people can know and respond. That’s all part of creation moving toward its original God-intended purpose.
- In heaven, the primary activity will be worship
Like creation in Genesis 1-2 prior to the fall, we’re hardly able to comprehend the worship scenes in Revelation 5 and to conceive what life in heaven according to Revelation 21 will be like. We live in the period between Jesus’ first and second comings, and are called to proclaim the gospel to those who haven’t heard.
What are the implications?
- God is God of all the nations
- All people will have to give an account to God
- Not only is heaven real, hell is real as well (contra annihilationism, conditional immortality, etc.): we must preach the gospel
- We need to be anchored in the story of Scripture so we can live the way God wants us to (mission)
- As John Piper says, “mission exists because worship doesn’t”; so let’s spread the gospel to the ends of the globe!
Heaven (Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson, eds.)