A New Heaven and a New Earth
This Learning Activity is a continuation of the previous Learning Activity #35, which should be completed before working on this document.
Continuing our study of the 2 Peter 3:10–13 passage, verse twelve reads, “Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?” Aside from this being a great example of “prophetic language,” see Learning Activity #30, we must pay close attention to the Greek words that Peter uses as they are of utmost importance in understanding what it is he is saying. “Looking” is the word “prosdokao” which means fervent, expecting and anticipating, while the word “hasting” is “speudo” meaning speeding, or eagerness. Both of these words apply to the coming of the day of God (the Parousia or so-called Second Coming or advent of Christ) which is the Greek word “parousia” meaning presence, coming or advent (see Learning Activity #34). Peter uses “prosdokao” three times in this chapter in verses twelve, thirteen and fourteen. Peter is declaring that the believers to whom he was writing were looking (expecting) and hastening the day of the Lord in their lifetime, for the end of all Jewish things (the Old Covenant) was at hand! “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer” (1 Peter 4:7).
In 2 Peter 3:13 (part of our passage under consideration), Peter writes, “Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” Many of you who are reading this verse are more than likely thinking, O.K. explain your way out of that statement! There are two keys to understanding this verse. Peter is stating that the Christians to whom he is writing expected a new heaven and a new earth. But let us look closely at the Greek word he uses which is translated “new.”
There are two words translated “new” in the New Testament. Those words are “neos” and “kainos.” “Neos” means new in time, something that has never been before, or that which has recently come into existence/what has only just now arisen or appeared. “Kainos” means new in quality/nature, not in time, different from what is old/distinctive as compared with other things different from the usual, better than the old, superior in value or attraction. The word Peter uses in this verse is “kainos.” If Peter meant that God was going to physically destroy the physical heavens and earth and create a replacement, Peter would have used the word “neos!”
The new heavens and new earth Peter writes about are an echo from Isaiah sixty-five and sixty-six. In those chapters we read where God will pour out His wrath on Jerusalem (which fact happened in AD 70) and on His rebellious people before He creates (spiritually, not physically) the new heavens and new earth. In the New Jerusalem of the new heavens and new earth, physical death will remain (Isaiah 65:20; 66:24) home building and agriculture will continue (Isaiah 65:21–22) there will be descendants (Isaiah 65:23; 66:22), there will be a new priestly group (Isaiah 65:24 which is describing the believer church – which we believing Christians are! see 1 Peter 2:9). The new heavens and new earth is referring to the New Covenant, which is the eternal state while we are still in the physical realm in our earthly bodies. This is the kingdom of God where Christ indwells the believer (Colossians 1:26–27) a kingdom not made with hands (Daniel 2:44–45; Colossians 2:10–11).
A convincing record of the passing away of heaven and earth is found in the writings of Josephus, a Jewish historian who was actually present during the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, and afterward wrote of what had happened. His writing is quite an eye opener on the subject of heaven and earth as viewed by the Jews.
“However, this proportion of the measures of the tabernacle proved to be an imitation of the system of the world: for that third part thereof which was within the four pillars, to which the priests were not admitted, is, as it were, a Heaven peculiar to God…” Josephus, Antiquities, Book 3, Chapter 6, Paragraph 4, Section 123).
“When Moses distinguished the tabernacle into three parts, and allowed two of them to the priests as a place accessible to the common, he denoted the land and the sea, these being of general access to all; but he set apart the third division for God, because heaven is inaccessible to men” Josephus, Antiquities, Book 3, Chapter 7, Paragraph 7, Section 181).
Josephus is portraying the first century Jewish understanding of “heaven and earth” in these writings. He is describing how the Jews looked upon their place of worship in the Mosaic Tabernacle and later in the Temple as “a heaven and earth.” They believed that their Temple was at the very center of the earth, and saw it as the place where heaven and earth came together, and where God met man. In the quotes just made from Josephus, he calls the outer part of the tabernacle “an imitation of the system of the world” and the “sea and land, on which men live.” By contrast, the inner Holy of Holies he terms “heaven peculiar to God.” There was a fabric veil that separated these two compartments in the Tabernacle and the Temple, which he describes as being “very ornamental, and embroidered with all sorts of flowers which the earth produces.” This last quote is found in Antiquities, Book 3, Chapter 6, Paragraph 4, Section 126.
C.H. Spurgeon (1834–1892) in a message he once delivered (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Volume 37, Page 354), made the following statement about “heaven and earth” as used in the Scriptures: “Did you ever regret the absence of the burnt-offering, or the red heifer, of any one of the sacrifices and rites of the Jews? Did you ever pine for the feast of tabernacle, or the dedication? No, because, though these were like the old heavens and earth to the Jewish believers, they have passed away, and now we live under the new heavens and a new earth, so far as the dispensation of divine teaching is concerned. The substance is come, and the shadow has gone: and we do not remember it.”
Jessie E. Mills, Jr., Ph.D., writes in his work entitled, Revelation Survey and Research, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words shall not pass away,” Matthew 24:35. Thus the heaven and earth here represented the fall of Jewish power, so also in Matthew 24:29, where the symbols of the sun, moon, and stars is used to denote the rulers of Israel. Note this fall would occur at the advent of Christ.”
1. Matthew 24:35
2. Using the understanding of the above material and the previous Learning Activity, what do you think Jesus might be saying in the Matthew 24:35 scripture above?
There is even the possibility that as Jesus spoke the words above that His Jewish audience may have recalled what the prophet Isaiah had said about “heaven and earth.” They would have realized that it was the Temple itself, and the entire Jewish system that was to be destroyed!
3. Isaiah 51:6
4. Hebrews 8:13
5. What do you see Isaiah and the writer of Hebrews saying about the passing away of heaven and earth?
The biblical new heaven and earth, where righteousness dwells, does not describe some future utopian existence, or redeemed cosmos, or even heaven itself, but refers instead to the radically contrasted life of people, individually and corporately, in the New Covenant world of righteousness in Christ. Only by Christ indwelling His people, the church, can there be this kind of righteousness.
6. Isaiah 64:6
7. Romans 3:10
8. What do the scriptures in #6 and #7 above tell you about our own personal righteousness?
9. Romans 5:19
10. 1 Corinthians 1:30
11. What kind of righteousness is described in the scriptures in #9 and #10 above?
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