“New Heavens and a New Earth”

“There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.” —Luke 21:25,26

IN PAUL’S second letter to Timothy he admonished him to rightly divide the Word of truth. (II Tim. 2:15) It is essential that we be guided by this admonition in our study of the promises and prophecies of the Bible, else they will seem in many respects to be contradictory. This is particularly true of the Bible’s testimony concerning the “heavens” and the “earth.” (II Pet. 3:7,13) One of the fundamental teachings of the Bible is that God created the earth to be man’s everlasting home. This means that the sun and the moon and the stars were also created for eternity, since these are essential for the perpetuation of life on the earth. We read, “Thus saith the Lord that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the Lord; and there is none else.” (Isa. 45:18) This is quite in keeping with the Genesis record of creation in which we are informed that man was created in the image of God and commissioned to multiply and to fill the earth, and subdue it.—Gen. 1:27,28

True, a test of obedience was placed upon our first parents, and they failed. This brought upon them the penalty of death, and expulsion from Eden. Many have supposed that this set aside the original divine purpose concerning God’s human creation. But not so, for in the divine plan of redemption provision was made for the recovery of man from his lost condition, and the restoration of all the willing and obedient to that which was lost. Thus we read, that “as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (I Cor. 15:21,22) Provision was made for this by Jesus’ death at his first advent, and the actual restoration of the human race to life on the earth will be accomplished during Christ’s second presence.

The Apostle Peter spoke of “the heaven” receiving Christ “until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” (Acts 3:19-21) This means that all the holy prophets of God gave testimony of a great truth of the divine plan which could not be true at all if the earth and the heavens are one day to be destroyed, for if these are to be destroyed how can the human race be restored—as implied by the word restitution—to life upon the earth?

Symbolic Language

However, the Bible does speak of the destruction of the heavens and the earth. (II Pet. 3:10) Is the Bible contradictory? No! Here we have a situation in which we must give heed to Paul’s admonition to rightly divide the Word of truth. In this case, the division must be made between literal and symbolic language. Since the Creator’s purpose in the creation of man calls for the continued existence of the literal heavens and earth, then prophecies of the Bible referring to the destruction of the heavens and earth must be using these expressions in a symbolic and not a literal sense.

Many of the created things of God are used pictorially in the Bible to help us grasp the various great truths of the divine plan. Sheep; goats; wheat; tares; vine and branches; oceans and rivers, are among the earthly objects which are used symbolically in the Scriptures. Storms, wind, earthquakes, fire, are also used pictorially to convey certain lessons which otherwise might be quite obscure in meaning. The same is true of the sun, moon, and stars, and also the earth itself.

The symbolic language of the Bible is fixed, whereas mere words often change somewhat in meaning from century to century. The characteristics of a sheep are the same today as they were in Bible times. The characteristics of the ocean have not changed. Certainly the earth is the same now as it was when employed as a symbol in the Word of God; and the same is true of the sun and the moon and the stars. In every case, the lessons taught by these created things of God are in keeping with their natural characteristics.

Students of the Bible, and even those who may read it only casually, recognize some of its picture language. When they read, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters,” they do not think of themselves as literally being sheep, but grasp the higher lesson of the Creator’s tender watch-care over his people. (Ps. 23) But strange though it may seem, many otherwise close students of the Bible, when reading of the destruction of the heavens and the earth, insist that one day these prophecies will be fulfilled literally, that the whole planetary system will break up in chaos, and that the literal earth will be reduced to a cinder.

Just a brief look at some of the prophecies should be sufficient to alert the student against this literal interpretation. For example, the Apostle Peter informs us that a world or heavens and earth perished at the time of the Flood. (II Pet. 3:5,6) We are living on the same earth today that Noah lived on before the Flood; and our climatic conditions and seasons are being governed by the same sun and moon. These did not perish in the Flood. Manifestly, then, it was a symbolic heavens and earth that perished in the Deluge.

The Symbolic Earth and Heavens

We suggest that the earth is used by the Lord to symbolize the associations of men upon the earth, national, political, religious, and otherwise, which we refer to as a social order. Note some of the symbolic uses of the earth in the sacred Word: “Let all the earth fear the Lord.” (Ps. 33:8) “All the earth shall worship thee, and shall sing unto thee; they shall sing to thy name.” (Ps. 66:4) “His lightnings enlightened the world: the earth saw, and trembled.” (Ps. 97:4) “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth.” (Isa. 1:2) “O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord.” (Jer. 22:29) Manifestly the literal earth cannot fear the Lord, nor worship him. Nor can the literal earth sing unto the Lord. Neither can the literal heavens and earth hear the ‘word of the Lord. Obviously, these texts refer to the associations of people living on the earth.

That the heavens are used symbolically in connection with the earth reminds us of the close relationship which exists between the two. And this relationship is very meaningful in the consideration of these combined symbols. The climate, the tides, the seasons, and therefore even life itself on the earth, are subject to the influences exerted upon it by the sun, moon, and stars, particularly the sun and moon. In other words, life on the earth is not independent of the influences of the higher powers.

From the very beginning of human life, associations of people have also been more or less subject to higher powers, or spiritual influences. So far as the world of mankind as a whole is concerned, these higher powers have been basically evil. Jesus referred to Satan as “the prince” of this world. (John 12:31) Paul referred to him as “the god” of this world. (II Cor. 4:4) Paul also described Satan as “the prince of the power of the air.” We quote: “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit [being] that now worketh in the children of disobedience.”—Eph. 2:2

Satan’s influence in the world has been exerted largely through false religion. Generally speaking, his emissaries on the earth have not been aware of the source of the influences being exerted upon and through them, for they have been deceived by this great adversary. (Rev. 20:2,3) These false systems would be Satan’s principal means of contact with humanity, so they are closely associated with the higher power, the symbolic heavens, by which the human race throughout the reign of sin and death has been dominated.

We suggest, therefore, that when the Bible speaks of the destruction of the heavens and earth the references are to the setting aside of this Satan-controlled social order, that in its place might be established the kingdom of Christ, which is symbolically described as the “new heavens and a new earth” which the Lord promised to create. (Isa. 65:17-22; II Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1-4) This is of vital importance to the Christian at the present time, for the Scriptures reveal that the disintegration of Satan’s heaven and earth would be one of the evidences of the second presence of Christ, and the near establishment of his kingdom.

Heavens Shaken

The disciples asked Jesus about the signs of his second presence, mistranslated “coming” in the King James Version. (Matt. 24:3) It was in response to this question that Jesus outlined the signs noted in our text. (Luke 21:25,26) Jesus mentions signs in the sun, moon, and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations with perplexity. Thus he refers to trouble in both the symbolic heavens and the symbolic earth.

Let us consider first the materialistic aspect of this prophecy; that is, the distress of nations, with perplexity. Jesus indicated that this would be like the roaring of the sea and the waves. He might well have taken this illustration from Isaiah 17:12,13, which reads, “Woe to the multitude of many people, which make a noise like the noise of the seas; and to the rushing of nations, that make a rushing like the rushing of mighty waters! The nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters: but God shall rebuke them, and they shall flee far off, and shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like a rolling thing [Margin, thistle-down] before the whirlwind.”

In Daniel’s prophecy of the destruction of the kingdoms of this world, based on the dissolution of the human-like image which King Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream, he notes that after the image falls it is ground to powder, and the wind blows away the fragments like chaff from “the summer threshing floors.” Apparently Isaiah’s prophecy describes the same events. Of a truth we can know that the unrighteous kingdoms of this world will all be removed ere the authority of the kingdom of Christ is established in the earth.—Dan. 2:34,35,44,45

And this brings much distress, much trouble, upon the inhabitants of the earth. It is not a localized trouble, but worldwide. It does not involve one nation only, but all nations. How accurately world conditions in our generation fulfill this picture! Daniel said that it would be a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation; and Jesus said that this trouble, or tribulation, would be so devastating that unless it was cut short no flesh would survive. (Dan. 12:1; Matt. 24:21,22) This very catastrophe is now threatening the human race.

This foretold trouble relates not only to the materialistic aspects of human society, but the religious life of the people in various nations is also affected. Jesus said that there would be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. These constitute what we refer to as the heavens, and Jesus explained what these signs would be when he said that “the powers of the heavens shall be shaken,” or weakened, and, of course, finally destroyed altogether.—Matt. 24:29

The Apostle Peter referred to this also as taking place after Christ’s return, and during the early years of his second presence. He wrote that in this “day of the Lord” the heavens would be on fire, and that the elements would melt with fervent heat. (II Pet. 3:10,12) Peter also wrote that the symbolic earth, and all the works that are therein, shall be burned up. Thus, in keeping with Jesus’ prophecy, we see that both the symbolic heavens and the symbolic earth, based upon sin and selfishness, must pass away.

The Present Situation

Does the present situation throughout the earth warrant us in believing that the prophecies which forecast a disintegrating world are now in process of fulfillment? We think so, but the weight of evidence along this line can be appreciated most by taking a long-range view, a view that takes into consideration the last hundred years, and even more. Indeed, to get the complete picture we need to look back to the beginning of the nineteenth century.

While we will not now present the Biblical evidence, it is a well-established fact that the prophetic period described in the Bible as “the time of the end” began in 1799, so the events from then onward are of particular interest to us, for the time of the end is the period in prophecy during which Satan’s world comes to an end, preparatory to the establishment of God’s righteous order.

Prior to 1799 the so-called civilized world was largely dominated by church-state governments; particularly the old Roman world. This meant that religion played a major role in the governing of the people. Even in America religion held a high position in governmental affairs, although no single denominational concept of Christianity was ever adopted as the official religion of the state. The background of America’s birth and growth precluded this, for many of the early settlers were men and women who came to these shores to escape the bondage and tyranny of church-state rulership in Europe.

Prior to 1799 the Pope crowned and uncrowned the kings of Europe, except those in countries which had adopted Protestant church-state systems of government. But this was suddenly brought to an end by Napoleon, who took the Pope a prisoner to France, and thus broke the back of the Papacy. Throughout the ages, religion has played an important role in controlling the people of all nations, but we are particularly concerned with what has occurred within professed Christian nations. And here Papacy has by far been the most dominant influence.

Other church-state systems continued in Europe throughout the nineteenth century, the most powerful of these being in Russia and Germany. But as a result of the First World War these have now passed off the scene. The ruling Queen of England is, theoretically, the head of both the civil and ecclesiastical government of that country, but this is in name only. We can say that now the ideology of church-state government throughout the world is impotent and unrecognized. Granting that this system of religious control constituted a part of the ecclesiastical heavens, it can truly be said that these heavens have been shaken.

Religion Waning

But even though the edicts of the churches could no longer be enforced by the civil powers, religion continued to wield a powerful influence in the affairs of men throughout much of the nineteenth century, and on into the twentieth century. However, during these years the groundwork was being laid in various quarters to undermine the people’s faith in religion, particularly in the moral code of the Bible. There came the teachings of evolution and higher criticism. Materialism began to replace the values of spirituality.

Meanwhile, the ravages of two world wars have helped further to destroy the religious leanings of the people, so that today we are living in a well-nigh godless world. This does not mean that the form of godliness has vanished. In describing this perilous time in which we are living, Paul said that the people would be lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God, and that while they would have a form of godliness, they would deny the power, or authority of God in their lives. (II Tim. 3:1-5) Is not this the situation throughout the world today?

It would be untrue to say that religion has no influence in the world today. We are merely calling attention to the fact that it is on the wane, which means again that the powers of the heavens are being shaken. A further evidence of this is in the breakdown of the world’s moral standards. Crime is on the increase. Corruption is rampant, not only in this country, but in other countries as well. Besides, powerful influences are at work to further remove the idea of religion from the people’s minds, in and out of the schools. Truly there have been world-shaking changes since the beginning of the time of the end.

The Future

God’s plan of the ages calls for the complete destruction of the symbolic heavens and earth. This is clearly shown in many prophecies, one of them being Isaiah 34:1-4. Here we are told that “the indignation of the Lord is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies”; also that he “hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter.” Thus the destruction of the symbolic earth is graphically foretold.

Then, verse four forecasts the same complete destruction of the symbolic heavens. It reads, “All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree.” Revelation 6:14 reads, “The heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain [kingdom] and island [republic] were moved out of their places.”

It has been suggested that the illustration of a scroll being rolled together might refer to efforts made by the various elements of the religious world to work more closely together for their own preservation. We know that such efforts are being made, but they will be to no avail. Just as the Revelator said, “The heaven departed as a scroll.” The basic thought is that they depart. Any rolling together is but an aspect of their departing, for, as Isaiah wrote, the host of heaven are falling down. They will not be able to remain in their places as governing influences in the affairs of men, for we are at the threshold of God’s new social order, even the kingdom of Christ.

The New Heavens and Earth

Isaiah 51:16 reads, “I have put my words in thy mouth, and I have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand, that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and say unto Zion, Thou art my people.” The reference here is to the new heavens and new earth which God promised to create. (Isa. 65:17) This promise of God indicates that his people here on earth, who throughout the ages were guided and trained by his Word, will be the personnel in his new governmental arrangements.

This is a blessed promise to the people of God—“I have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand.” The Lord’s people of all ages have needed this protection, for they have been subjects of attack by Satan, the invisible ruler of “this present evil world.” (Gal. 1:4) While the Lord has permitted them to be persecuted and to suffer, they have not been crushed, and their experiences have given them an opportunity to demonstrate their loyalty to him and to his Word.

Prior to the first advent of Jesus the Lord’s people did not have his Word in the form that we enjoy it today. Nevertheless, God did send them his prophets, and, when necessary, instructed them through the holy angels. He gave the Jewish nation his Law. Above all, through the promises of the “Seed” that was to bless all the families of the earth, God’s ancient people were given a hope, if they were faithful, of a “better resurrection,” when they would be made “perfect.”—Heb. 11:35,40

In the resurrection these are to be made “princes in all the earth.” (Ps. 45:16) Jesus said that the people from all parts of the world would see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom, and would sit down with them to be instructed. (Matt. 8:11; Luke 13:28,29) It seems clear that these will constitute the nucleus of the new symbolic earth which God has promised. And that new social order will expand as the people recognize the authority of the new kingdom and become obedient to it. Eventually it will encompass the whole earth, which will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord.—Isa. 11:9; Hab. 2:14

But the Ancient Worthies will be merely the representatives of the real kingdom authority in the messianic arrangement, for the actual power will be spiritual, and vested in the exalted Jesus and, together with him, his faithful followers of the Gospel Age. Together, these will constitute the new heavens which God promised to create. Even now, by faith, it is their privilege to dwell together with Jesus in the heavenlies. (Eph. 1:3; 2:6) In this favored position of faith, they can see Jesus highly exalted to the right hand of God, far above all principalities and powers; and inspired by the promises of God’s Word that if faithful to the conditions attached to those promises, they will, in the first resurrection, be exalted to live and reign with him. (Rev. 20:6) This is a glorious prospect, and the more so because of the divine purpose in the creating of this new heavens, which is the blessing of all the families of the earth.

We read that in that new heavens and new earth “there shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed.” (Isa. 65:20) This language is somewhat ambiguous, but the thought seems to be that those who then die will be mere infants compared to the length of life they may have obtained had they reformed and obeyed the laws of that new kingdom. They will die only because they continue to be sinners. In Revelation 21:1-4, where the promise of the new heavens and earth is restated, we are assured that eventually there shall be no more death at all, nor any pain and sorrow. Truly, the prospect for this sin-cursed and dying race is a glorious one!

As we have seen, it is for this that God created the earth, and despite man’s fall into sin and death, it was not created in vain, for all mankind will be restored to life during the reign of the new heavens and new earth. Even the dead will be awakened to enjoy the blessings of that new day. Should we not, then, rejoice to recognize the passing away of Satan’s world, and the assurance this gives us that the kingdom of the Lord is truly near at hand?

Dawn Bible Students Association
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