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Encyclopedia of The Bible – New Heavens (and New Earth)
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New Heavens (and New Earth)

HEAVENS, NEW (AND EARTH, NEW). A technical term in the eschatological language of the Bible to define and describe the final, perfected state of the created universe.

The conception of a re-created universe has its origin in the Biblical account of creation: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). Here the term “the heavens and the earth” is meant to embrace the whole of the created universe (cf. John 1:2, 3). The creation of the universe may be defined further as a creation out of nothing (ex nihilo), and as accomplished by divine commandment. “Heavens” in the primitive world view was meant to describe all that is above the earth—the sky with its heavenly bodies—and therefore should be distinguished from heaven that is the dwelling place of God and outside the realm of the created universe. The promise of a re-creation of the heavens and the earth arises not out of some inherent lack or evil in the material universe, but because of man’s sin and God’s subsequent curse: “Cursed is the ground because of you” (Gen 3:17).

The idea of a renewed or re-created universe is present in substance in many passages: Isaiah 51:16; Matthew 19:28; 24:29-31, 35; Mark 13:24-27, 31; Romans 8:19-23; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Hebrews 12:26-28. Specific mention of “the new heavens and a new earth” is found in these passages: Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1. The above Scripture suggests the following points of interest:

1. God is the source of this new universe. “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth” (Isa 65:17; cf. 66:22). The hope for a renewed human life and society is rooted in a new world which will be purified in a radical way by God.

2. God will bring the new universe into existence in the end of history. It will be the product of a purely eschatological activity and will be directly related to degeneracy in human ethical and religious life (Mark 13:24-27; cf. Rom 8:19-23; 2 Pet 3:3-13) as well as accomplishment of the evangelistic task of the Church (Matt 24:14). It will be the result of catastrophic events in the created universe, which are designed not to annihilate but to cleanse and purify (Mark 13:24-27 parallels 2 Pet 3:3-13). It will be brought about by a radical renovation but not by a new ex nihilo creation. Thus, Jesus spoke of the method to be used as “regeneration” KJV (παλιγγενεσίᾳ, Matt 19:28). Likewise Peter speaks of “the restitution (ἀποκατάστασις, G640) of all things” (Acts 3:21 KJV), which will be in a way similar to the cleansing of the world with the flood—the world will be purged by fire (2 Pet 3:6, 7).

3. The divine revelation concerning the new heaven and new earth is closely related to the theme of the new Jerusalem(Rev 21:2-22:5), which contains the motif of a new Garden of Eden (Rev 22:2).

The continuity between the present universe and the new universe is underscored in the light of the rabbinic teaching that the new heavens and new earth were created at the end of creation week of Genesis 1 (cf. Midrash Rabbah, Genesis I, p. 12.)

Bibliography G. Vos, “Heavens, New (and Earth, New),” ISBE, II (1929), 1353f.; Midrash Rabbah, Genesis I, I. Epstein, ed. (1939), 12; K. Schilder, Heaven, What Is It? (1950), 69-71, 113-118; U. Simon, Heaven in the Christian Tradition (1958), 46-51, 221-227; J. C. DeYoung, Jerusalem in the New Testament (1960), 152ff.