New Heavens and a New Earth

“Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” —II Peter 3:13

AS PEOPLE IN the world see the present millennium coming to a close and the new millennium approaching, they are also conjecturing about the future. Last year a book was published, entitled, “Future in Sight,” by Barry H. Minkin, a business consultant and writer who enlisted the opinions of prominent business men to predict trends in technology, finances, management, resources, politics, and marketing. Excerpts from the book were recently published in the news media, focusing on three areas:

  1. The role China will play in the future.
  2. The shift in population in the USA to the Sunbelt.
  3. The Urban explosion.

The predictions in each case pose more problems than solutions to those already in existence, and which Bible students know can only be solved by the blessings of Christ’s kingdom.

Here are some of the points made:

1. “China is the fastest growing economy in the world. The United States has possessed the world’s largest economy for over a century, but at the current rate, China will displace it in the first half of the next century, and become the number one economy in the world.” Thus, although predicting such rapid growth in China, the prediction also states, “The quality of life will remain poor due to inadequate housing, transportation, parks, museums, and home energy availability.”

2. “As the United States approaches the third millennium, its demographic center will gravitate increasingly toward the South and West. Sunbelt states will be, crammed by increased population in the first decade of the next century. Growth will be due to changes in births, slowing death rates, migration, and the fertility of a fast-rising immigrant population that continues to move into the Sunbelt states. The United States is the only nation that accepts hundreds of thousands of immigrants each year.”

The predictions go on to forecast what will happen to the USA, saying, “Despite recent restrictions, liberal US immigration policies will change American society dramatically. Sunbelt states like California, Florida, and Texas will become Third World states, with huge immigrant and black inner-city populations divided from white America by poverty, violence, education, and racial tension. Finding the right level of welfare support that will provide a safety net without undermining immigrant incentive to succeed will be particularly difficult.”

“By 2088, minority populations will become the US majority. California will have twice as many people in 2040 as it does now. No racial group will be able to claim majority status, but Hispanics will account for almost fifty percent of California’s population.” The prediction is made that “the loss of the traditional ‘American’ way of life, coupled with political impotence to reverse the trend, will spawn a conservative backlash over the next decade.”

3. Since population is expected to continue increasing, the prediction for the future is an “urban explosion.” Concerning this, the article says, “Big is the megatheme when you think about tomorrow’s cities. Urban centers suffering the consequences of the unadulterated pursuit of wealth—traffic congestion, air pollution, and inadequate sanitation and infrastructure—are being stretched to the breaking point by rapid growth. Moreover, there is an obvious spreading and melding of the rural, suburban and urban landscape over vast areas and, thus, the growth of ‘suburbania’ will continue.”

What are the implications? “The World Bank recently reported that many of Asia’s cities are degrading faster than the region’s robust economies are growing. Problems in the cities will slow economic development throughout the world.” “Unemployment will persist in the underclass areas of most cities in the world.”

It is not surprising, therefore, that this article, “A More Shocking Future,” as it looks into the future and reviews Minikin’s book, sees only Satan’s kingdom of selfishness continuing. A better life for anyone cannot be seen, and the problems of today are predicted as multiplying and becoming more insoluble in the tomorrow to come.

Bible students have access to a book that has been written about the future; and they, too, can write about what it portends. That future is in sight as well, and concerning its message it has been said that “the world’s hope for the future is as bright as the promises of God,” and those promises are very bright indeed. One of them is referred to in our text—a promise that God will establish a ‘new heavens’ and a ‘new earth’, in which righteousness instead of evil will prevail. This, of course, is highly symbolic language, but, in brief, it means that by divine authority Christ will set up a new and righteous government on this planet through which the Bible’s promise, “On earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14), will be gloriously fulfilled.

The opening word in our text is ‘nevertheless’. It is very significant. It indicates that the new heavens and new earth which the Lord has promised are in contrast with what Peter had been discussing, and turning back to see why he used the word ‘nevertheless’, the reason becomes very apparent, for he had been portraying a time of destruction and trouble—a ‘heavens’ and ‘earth’ passing away, and the “elements” melting with “fervent heat.”—vs. 10

But even this picture of destruction does not give us the full significance of Peter’s use of the word ‘nevertheless’. The full force of this word becomes apparent only when we read verses three and four, which are the introduction to the general lesson of the chapter. These two verses read, “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming [Greek, parousia, meaning ‘presence’]? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.”

In Acts 3:19-22 this same Apostle Peter is quoted as saying that following the second coming of Christ there would be “times of restitution of all things,” and that this glorious work of restoration had been foretold to the “fathers” by the mouth of “all God’s holy prophets.” And now, in II Peter 3:3,4, he informs us that when the Lord returned and his second presence became a reality some would scoff and say, ‘There is no evidence of his presence; all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation’.

Through the testimony of the prophets, the ‘fathers’ of Israel were led to believe that the coming of the Messiah would result in rich and lasting blessings of peace and health and life. One of the proof texts of this, which Peter quoted in his sermon, was the promise made to Abraham that through his ‘seed’ ‘all the families of the earth’ would be blessed. Those, therefore, who believe these promises, whether they are Jews or Gentiles, have a right to expect that the return of Christ should result in these promised blessings flowing out to the world.

It is with this viewpoint that Peter agrees when he uses the word, ‘nevertheless’, for he continues, ‘We, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness’. But before he gets to this point in his lesson, Peter reminds us that there are cataclysmic developments in world, affairs which precede and are in preparation for the blessings to be made available through the new heavens and new earth.

In presenting this information, Peter uses an illustration and language employed by Jesus in his great prophecy pertaining to the time of his return and the end of the present age. Jesus referred to the time of his second presence as the “days of the Son of man,” and said that in those days it would be as it was in the “days of Noah,” and in the “days of Lot.”—Luke 17:26-30

Referring to this, Peter says that those who say, “Where is the promise of his presence,” are “willingly ignorant,” for they should take into account these illustrations of destruction which Jesus had used. According to the Word of God, Peter reminds us, “the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished.”

Then the apostle follows up by giving us the meaning of this illustration which Jesus used, and informs us that in the “Day of the Lord [Jehovah]” the present “heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” (vs. 10) Thus the overall lesson which Peter presents is evident. Christ does return to establish his kingdom and to bless all the families of the earth, but in order to accomplish this the first result of his return must be the destruction of Satan’s world—“the heavens and earth, which are now.”—vs. 7


In our study of Peter’s prophecy it is important to realize that he uses the terms ‘heavens’, ‘earth’, and ‘elements’ as symbols of the various aspects of a social order. For example, he speaks of the world order—heavens and the earth—which passed away at the time of the Flood. The literal heavens and the literal earth did not then pass away. It was the social order that existed before the Flood which was destroyed in the Deluge. True, at that time, nearly all the people were also destroyed, but in the lesson Peter draws from that catastrophe, the important consideration is that “the world [kosmos, ‘order’] that then was, being overflowed with water, perished.”—vs. 6

Thousands of students of prophecy the world over are convinced that the present generation of the human race is witnessing the destruction of another ‘world’, or social order, and that what has been occurring throughout the earth for many years past is in fulfillment of the Bible’s prophecies pertaining to ‘the end of the world’. They believe the Bible’s testimony that the earth itself “abideth forever” (Eccles. 1:4), but see in the crumbling thrones of the old world, and in the chaos and general upheaval of society everywhere, the collapsing of what the Apostle Paul referred to as “this present evil world.”—Gal. 1:4

Jesus foretold that this would result in a time of “great tribulation,” so severe that unless terminated by divine intervention there would be “no flesh saved.” (Matt. 24:21,22) The Apostle Paul, identifying the same general period as the Day of the Lord, said that in this ‘day’ ‘sudden destruction’ would come upon the world “as travail upon a woman with child.”—I Thess. 5:1-3

These and other ‘end of the world’ prophecies aptly describe what students of the Bible discern taking place. The first spasm of destruction began in 1914, and resulted in the overthrow of nearly all of Europe’s hereditary rulers. The Second World War resulted in a further weakening of the fabric of civilization. And now the nations are sitting, as it were, over a smoking volcano which threatens to erupt at any time and destroy what is left of the pre-1914 social order.

And how true are Jesus’ words that unless these days be shortened, no flesh would be saved! Think of the destruction that would be wrought in the event of a full-scale nuclear war! Indeed, because of the destructive potential of these ghastly missiles, some are wondering if Peter’s reference to “fervent heat” which causes the “elements” of the present social order to melt, might not be also intended to convey the idea of literal fire. In a ‘time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation’ (II Pet. 3:10), there is sure to be much and widespread destruction, regardless of how it might be brought about. However, we think that Peter is speaking largely in symbolic language.


The symbolisms of the Bible are employed because of their aptness in illustrating the subject matter discussed. In every civilization established by man there have been two cardinal aspects which are fitly illustrated by the heavens and the earth. As we know, all life on the literal earth is subject in one way or another to the influences exerted over the earth by the heavens. Our seasons, our days, and our nights, etc., are all controlled by the heavens.

Because man was created in the image of God, he is by nature a being who reaches out in worship and dependency to a higher power. And although the human race has been, to a considerable extent, alienated from the true God, the Creator, the people have had respect for religious influences in their affairs. In heathendom this has been exercised through various types of gods, and in pagan countries the State has been set up as an object of veneration and worship.

It is this aspect of every civilization, or social order, that is symbolized in the Bible by the heavens, while the earth pictures organized society which is more or less subject to these symbolic heavens. It is this combination which Peter describes as a world, or kosmos, as it is stated in the Greek language. Thus when he speaks of the heavens and the earth passing away with a great noise, and the elements melting with fervent heat, he is not telling us that the literal sun, moon, stars, and the physical earth with all its elements, are to be destroyed. If this were to occur it would mean the destruction of the universe.

The word element, as used by Peter, gives us a clue to what he means. The Apostle Paul uses this same word when, in writing to the Christians in Galatia, he speaks of turning to the “weak and beggarly elements” (Gal. 4:9)—referring to the ordinances of the Law, from the bondage of which Christians are free. The point is that Paul used the word to describe religious forms and customs by which a people had once been governed, and Peter uses the term in the same manner.

Peter’s reference to the elements of the heavens and the earth, however, is much more comprehensive, for he is speaking of all the laws, customs, viewpoints, civil and religious, by which the present social order has been governed throughout the ages, and he tells us that in the Day of the Lord, these are to melt with fervent heat.

Without realizing it, men of the world who have insight into the significance of what has been occurring refer to these events as a ‘fire’. During the First World War, Woodrow Wilson said, “The world is on fire.” When the second global struggle began, another statesman referred to it as a “four-alarm fire.” And this symbolism is freely used in the prophecies which foretold the end of the present world.

Incidental to this symbolic melting of the elements there is, of course, much physical destruction. A great many of the cities of Europe, and many in Asia, were reduced to rubble during the second global struggle. But more significant than this in the fulfillment of prophecy was the melting of the elements of social and religious control, which for centuries had been so generally recognized and respected by the people. The cities have been rebuilt, but all efforts to restore the former European and Asiatic social orders have failed.

The horrors of the war, and the hardships which followed, left millions disillusioned as to the ability of their former leaders, using what they have come to look upon as outmoded laws, customs and viewpoints to provide the security and abundance which they consider theirs rightfully to enjoy. In Italy, for example, first the people voted out the old and established House of Savoy. They established a republic, and millions even voted against the party that is sympathetic to the religious powers of the nation. Think of the extent to which the former elements of Italy’s social order have already melted!

And when we turn to the pagan nations, we find that the same melting process is relentlessly destroying their former world also. In Japan the emperor is no longer a ‘god’ to be worshipped and obeyed. In fact, he now has little to say, even in the civil affairs of the nation. Like the royalty of England, he has been reduced to the status of a mere figurehead, the symbol of a passing era.


This present evil world, as Paul described it, is made up of many elements, both civil and religious. They are not all evil. To the extent that the ethical standards of the Bible have been upheld in the religious control of the people, they have benefited thereby—both the rulers and the ruled. When Paul speaks of it as an ‘evil world’ he means that in the overall picture, evil predominates.

In this ‘world’ there are the labor element, the capital element, the social element, the political element, the various religious elements—professed Christians and the present heavens—the business element, the financial element, and others. It requires no special discernment today to realize that damaging friction exists between these various elements, and that they have, to a considerable extent, lost their former cohesion for one another which, prior to 1914, held the world together.

Both internationally and nationally, in the communities, and in the homes of the people, there is a trend toward looseness in obedience to former restraints and laws. International law is flouted under the slightest pretext. National governments forget their promises and responsibilities, and this example of infidelity reaches into communities, causing the masses gradually to lose respect for the religious restraints and civil laws which once they gladly obeyed.

There are noble exceptions to this trend. We are merely describing the general developments, and these are following essentially the same pattern the world over. In this country and in Europe the churches, both Catholic and Protestant, are making strenuous efforts to hold back the tide of unbelief and godlessness, but on the whole, with meager results.


Among the many ‘signs’ which Jesus gave of the time of his return and the end of the age was that “the powers of heaven shall be shaken.” (Luke 21:24-26) He foretold that as a result of this, fear would fill the hearts of the people. How true this is proving to be! If the people of all nations today believed that the religious elements of society could, through wholesome religious guidance, settle the outstanding problems of the nations, how quickly their fears would be allayed!

But they know that this is not possible. They know, for example, that the former communistic world had no respect at all for the religious concepts of the free world, and even in their present conditions they are a law unto themselves and heed not the restraints of western religious ethics. As far as they are concerned, the powers of the symbolic heavens have indeed been shaken. To a lesser extent is this true elsewhere in the world.

Outstanding groups of churchmen and women pass resolutions indicating what they think the governments of their respective countries should do in various situations, but the governments pay little or no attention. In the United States a large percentage of the people belong to one or another church, but only a few attend church services with any degree of regularity In other countries, the situation is equally discouraging from the standpoint of the religious leaders.

We are calling attention to this dark picture, not to criticize, nor to condemn the churches for failure; we are merely calling attention to facts which are fulfilling the Bible’s prophecies of events which were to occur at the end of the age, immediately preceding the establishment of the divinely promised ‘new heavens and new earth’.

Since the development of nuclear weapons for the destruction of cities and nations, wonderful strides are being made in the constructive use of modern inventions. In the field of nuclear energy, for example, a way has been discovered by which this energy renews itself, thus becoming practically inexhaustible. However, it has not been made practical or economical. This might well be in preparation for the blessings God has in store for the people in his new social order.

Medical science has also made phenomenal progress. This, to some extent, is reflected in the greatly increased average length of human life. In America that average is now more than seventy years, whereas at the turn of the century it was just a little over thirty years. This does not mean that man will, by himself, find a way to live forever. The secret of life is held under divine control, and the blessing of everlasting life will reach the people only through the institution of the ‘new heavens and new earth’ which God has promised. But, we believe, the Lord is permitting man to some extent to prepare the way for these blessings.

And how manifold they will be! Peace—universal and everlasting—will be one of them. Jesus, the Ruler supreme in that new social order, died for his subjects in order that he might offer them health and life. He will rule, not over a dying race, but over a race which will be given an opportunity to be restored to perfection, mentally, morally, and physically, and to live forever.

But why, someone may ask, is that new kingdom, that new social order, described in the prophecies as a ‘new heavens and a new earth’? It is for the same reason that the world before the Flood and this present evil world are thus symbolically described, for God’s new world will also have its spiritual and material aspects. Christ and his church—who are promised that if they now suffer with him they will also reign with him—will be the spiritual rulers, the personnel in the new heavens—the source of religious control in that new world, for the blessing of all families of earth.

They will exercise their ruling authority through human representatives. These will be the resurrected ancient prophets, and other worthy ones of those past ages. (Hebrews, chapter 11) To begin with, these will be the ‘new earth’, as it were. But gradually all the willing and obedient of mankind will become associated with these ‘princes’ in a social order of peace and righteousness.—Ps. 45:16

As the psalmist explains, these princes are to be those who formerly were considered the ‘fathers’ in Israel. Concerning their position in God’s new world, Jesus said that the people would come from the east, west, north, and south, and would “sit down” with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets. (Luke 13:28,29) This indicates that these ‘princes’ will be recognized by all mankind as their teachers under Christ.

The spiritual and human phases of the kingdom of Christ—the new heavens and the new earth—are also symbolically described as ‘Zion’ and ‘Jerusalem’. The Prophet Isaiah uses this symbolism, saying, “Many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”—Isa. 2:3

It will be because these righteous laws will be made known to the people and enforced, that righteousness will predominate in the promised new heavens and new earth. Internationally, this will result in beating “swords” into “plowshares,” and “spears” into “pruninghooks,” for “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”—Isa. 2:4

Individually, it will mean that every man will sit “under his vine and under his fig tree,” and “none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it.” (Mic. 4:4) Dwelling under ‘vine’ and ‘fig tree’ suggests economic security and prosperity. Now the world is filled with fear of the future, but then none will be afraid, for all will realize that a new social order has been set up in which the divine Christ is the center, the Ruler, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.—Isa. 9:6,7

In our text, the Apostle Peter refers to God’s promise of a ‘new heavens and a new earth’. This promise is recorded by the Prophet Isaiah, and reads: “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. … 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. And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them. They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall make them long enjoy the work of their hands.”—Isa. 65:17-22, Marginal Translation in part

On the Isle of Patmos, the Apostle John saw the fulfillment of this promise, in vision. While the original promise declares that in the new heavens and new earth there shall be no more ‘an infant of days’, John was given a more comprehensive understanding of this by the assurance that “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”—Rev. 21:1-4

Let us, then, continue to look for the promised new heavens and new earth. It is this government, this kingdom, alone, that will solve the present perplexing problems of a sin-cursed and dying race. With this hope before us, we will understand the meaning of events which are causing the elements to melt with fervent heat, and we will not be alarmed over the outcome. Indeed, as Jesus admonished, we will lift up our heads, knowing our “redemption [deliverance] draweth nigh.”—Luke 21:28.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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