Troublesome Topic: What Brings A “New Heaven and a New Earth?” Is it Destruction or Renewal?

Revelation 21:1


Then I saw a new heaven

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and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away

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and there was

no longer any sea,

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Then I saw a new sky and a new earth, for the first arrangement of sky and earth had passed away, and there was

no longer any death,

Could the phrase “a new heaven and a new earth” be symbolism?

I doubt that the words “new heaven and new earth” are imagery or symbolism. However, they are surrounded by images which add considerable richness to what is being said.

While there is agreement that all things will be made new, there is a major disagreement on whether that will involve the destruction of this world, or its renewal. There are passages throughout the Bible which emphasize dreadful destruction (e.g. see II Peter 3:3-13

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and Revelation 6:13 and Revelation 8:12), and there are passages which emphasize renewal and restoration (e.g. see Is 65:17-25)

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The Bible holds both these ideas in a healthy tension. Those passages do not explain exactly how the heavens and the earth will pass away, nor how things will be renewed. Many have assumed that the destruction will come first, and the renewal will come later. But that is an assumption. God did destroy this earth once with water, but the earth was still around. The same earth He had created was able to be renewed. That may be what happens at the end of this age as well. But it is still an assumption.

Usually the differences between destruction and renewal are explained by saying that these passages refer to different eras, different times. That does remove the tension, but does the Bible intend for us to remove the tension or to live with it as a healthy tension?

Is the answer to the tension found in the rapture?

The solution that many have given to this tension is that the righteous will be whisked out of here early (called the rapture) and then the evil will be punished. This idea, though very popular, has its own set of problems. Allow me to address just a few of them that pertain to various aspects of this study.

1.  There is no 7-year tribulation to be found in Revelation (refer back to Revelation chapter 11 and my comments there).

2. The believers are repeatedly called to persevere.  We should not expect to be snatched up just before things get really tough.

3. The imagery is wrong. In those days if a king or important person came to your house you would go out to meet him and then accompany him back into your house.

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It was considered rude to wait at your door for him to come to you. Every Jew of John’s day would tell you that when the New Testament speaks of us meeting Jesus in the air, we are meeting Him as He comes to earth, He is not meeting us as we are going to heaven. The popular notion of Him meeting us in the clouds and then taking us to heaven makes us the more important ones and Jesus our servant! It is impossible that the imagery used means what modern westerners say it means.

So the answer to the question above is: No, a rapture does not solve the problem of the timing of the destruction this earth. Instead the rapture theory creates new problems.

So, how will things work out?

We don’t know.

Is it likely that God would use nuclear bombs to destroy the earth?

NO! It is the height of arrogance to think that God would use our demonstrations of power to show His power! He does not need our inventions. When He demonstrates His power it will make our atomic bombs look like play toys. Also it is most unlikely that God would use the weapons we employ against one another for political reasons to execute judgment against sinners. It is much more likely that He will use some method that has His signature all over it, something that only God can do. We can make big booms and kill lots of people, but we cannot make the stars disappear out of the sky. Only God can do that, and it appears from II Peter 3 that this might be one of the signs God uses to show His power. When He does something on that level, He will have everyone’s attention.

Here are some of the word-pictures that are associated with the new heaven and new earth:

1. Consider Rev 21:1-4, as well as Rev 22:1-5. In the new or renewed setting described in this passage there will be no death Revelation 21:3 Revelation 21:4, and no curse (singular) Revelation 22:3. These go together. The curse is the curse that fell upon the human race after Adam and Eve sinned. Death is the curse; the curse is death. This means there will be no more sin. There will no longer be anything that separates us from God.

2.  There will also be healing for the nations Revelation 22:2, i.e., healing of conflicts and strife between the nations. This means all the nations will submit to His authority. We don’t know how God’s judgment will play out, nor do we know exactly what the balance of God’s mercy and his judgment will look like. But we know that harmony will characterize that which God creates in contrast to what we know now in this sin-filled world. This can also mean that there will be spiritual healing for people from every nation. The entire world population has the opportunity to receive the spiritual health God offers.

3.  His servants will see His face Revelation 22:4, this means they will know God more fully, understand who God really is. No human, while on earth, apart from Adam and Eve before sin, has been able to see God’s face and live. We would be blown away if God revealed all of Himself to us at one time. But in the new heaven and new earth we will actually see God’s face. We will know God on a much deeper level.

4.  His name will be on our foreheads Revelation 22:4. This means we will identify openly with Him. We will be fully His. This also means that He will be before our eyes always; He will be our focus, our priority.

We have not been getting good answers out of the book of Revelation because we have been asking the wrong questions.

There is judgment in the book of Revelation, and there is restoration and renewal. We should not focus on one to the exclusion of the other. For instance, notice that the wedding supper of the Lamb is mentioned in the context of the destruction of Babylon; there is blessing for some and punishment for others. Some things will be done away with and some things will be made new. When something is done away with or removed, it will be for a specific purpose. Unlike the movies from Hollywood, the vision of Revelation does not contain gratuitous violence. Things will be removed to show God’s great power, to give one more chance for repentance, to separate the just from the unjust, or to show that His judgments are just and right.

It appears God wanted there to be a tension between his destructive acts of judgment and His acts of renewing the heavens and the earth. Why? In the end a “new heaven and a new earth” are more about obedience than about destruction. This phrase is a lesson to us to be on the right team. God continually protects His faithful ones, and he will one day deal harshly with the rebellious. So make sure you are on His team. In the phrase “new heavens and a new earth” there is a call to obedience and responding to that call is the most important thing.

The next lesson is: An Army of 200 Million


1: “A new heaven”

Since the word can mean either heaven or sky, context helps us determine which meaning fits best. In this case, being tied to the physical earth, sky seems to be more appropriate.


The fact that the earth and sky had “passed away” seems to point to a totally new arrangement, a new system. What was, is no longer, it has been replaced by something new. The fact that both earth and sky are mentioned seems to mean that everything is replaced, it is all new. I say “seems to” because there is more to the picture than this. Read my longer note after this verse to see what I mean.

3: “No longer any sea”

Special care is taken to make the point that death will no longer part of our reality. The curse, the singularly greatest consequence of sin, will not be present in this new arrangement. Here John witnessed the elimination of the sea altogether, meaning no more death! The primary consequence of sin will be vanquished, and Christ’s victory will be complete.


From II Peter 3:7-13 it appears that everything will be removed out of sight so that nothing will be left except the earth itself and the acts of men that await judgment. “Everything will be removed so that humanity will stand naked before God.”

Rev 6:13 and 8:12 mention the power of God being demonstrated in acts that damage the stars. One reason why God may remove the stars even though He created them as demonstrations of His great power is that man has not seen in them what God intended. Instead man has turned them into gods and worshipped the stars for many centuries. Modern man may not worship the stars but neither does he see in them a demonstration of God’s glory, rather he finds in them supposed proof of a “big bang.” So God will remove them in some fashion and that removal itself will be a demonstration of His power; it will be something only He can do.


Is 65:17-25 is a wonderful passage that is entirely dedicated to a description of “the new heavens and the new earth” (65:17). There the prophet paints a picture of joy and gladness, where “never [again] shall there be in it an infant that lives only a few days, nor an old man that does not fulfill [all] his days” (65:20), and “they will not labor in vain” (65:23), and many other happy details.


George Eldon Ladd, The Blessed Hope, p. 91.