When I first came to see as truth the fact that the Lord had come in 70 AD and all prophecy had been fulfilled my first objection was, "This means we are living in the new heaven and the new earth!" My response to that was "Yea right! If this is the New heaven and earth we got ripped off!"
Why did I feel that way? It was because I was looking for a physical fulfillment of 2 Peter 3 and Revelation 21-22. I thought that those passages were speaking of physical truths, I now know differently, I didn't understand apocalyptic language. The thing that changed my mind was seeing how the Old Testament Scripture used the concept of heaven and earth. Lets look at how the scripture uses the concept of heaven and earth, I think you'll see that it is not always used physically.
The Teaching of Jesus
Question: Has heaven and earth passed away? Ridiculous you say? Let us ask another question: Do you believe the Old Covenant has been done away? I dare say you will say it has. Few believers in Jesus would deny he has established his New Covenant. If you believe the Old Covenant has passed away, then you must believe "heaven and earth" has passed away! Please read the words of Jesus:
"Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." (Matthew 5:17-18).
Did you notice that Jesus said heaven and earth had to pass away before the law could pass?!? Yes, he really did say it; please, get your scripture right now and read it for yourself! Has the heaven and earth passed away? Well, obviously, physical heaven and earth haven't been destroyed. But read the text again will you? Jesus DID say until heaven and earth pass away the Old Law could not pass. Our choices here are limited.
If we understand the "heaven and earth" as literal, physical heaven and earth then this means the Old Law is still in effect. Simply put the argument would go like this: If heaven and earth had to pass before the Old Law could pass; and if heaven and earth refers to literal, physical heaven and earth, then, since literal, physical heaven and earth still exist, [have not passed], it must be true that the Old Law has not passed.
A person could say the Law here is the Law of Jesus; but this will not work because Jesus had not yet died to confirm his New Covenant. He was living under the Old Law at the time also. The Jews standing there were not concerned with the passing of Jesus' law. They did not believe he even had one! They were concerned with the Old Law! Finally, if this is speaking about the passing of Christ's law it contradicts the verses in the New Testament that teach Jesus' word will never pass away in Matthew 24:35.
On the other hand, if we understand the "heaven and earth" as figurative language, referring not to physical creation, but to something else, it is possible that this "heaven and earth" could pass away, allowing for the passing of the Law.
We have Jesus' own words as to when all prophecy was to be fulfilled. In Luke 21:22 our Lord spoke of the destruction of Jerusalem and said "These be the days of vengeance in which all things that are written must be fulfilled." In verse 32 he emphatically said "this generation will not pass away until all things take place." Verse 33 contains Jesus' statement that "heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words will by no means pass away." In Luke 21:20-22. Jesus is speaking here of the destruction of Jerusalem, an event that was to occur forty years from the time that he spoke.
Luke 21 thus contains the identical elements of Matthew 5:17-18; the passing of heaven and earth, and the fulfillment of all prophecy emphatically placed within the context of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD! Note the perfect correlation of Daniel 9, Matthew 24, Revelation and Luke 21. They all tell of the time when all prophecy would be fulfilled; they all identify that time as the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD!
The Jewish idiom "the law and the prophets" in Matthew 5:17-18 means the totality of the Old Testament revelation. Jesus said he did not come to destroy it but fulfill it. Jesus is saying here, in Matthew 5, that the old law has to be fulfilled, every jot and every tittle has to be fulfilled, before it can pass away. If 2 Peter 3 is based upon the Old Testament prophets, and it is, and if 2 Peter 3 has not been fulfilled, then we are still under the Old Covenant law. That is quite simple. Do you believe that we are in the New Covenant? If we are then the Old Covenant must have passed away. And if the Old Covenant has passed then 2 Peter 3 has been fulfilled.
Let us explore the definition of the heaven and earth. Lets start by reading 2 Peter 3. Most Christians would say that this is the end of the world as we know it, the destruction of planet earth. It sure sounds that way doesn't it? That is how I had always seen it.
One of the major areas of difficulty in understanding correctly "heaven and earth" in the New Testament is the misunderstanding of how God referred to nations by this phrase in the Old Testament. Seeing the biblical concept of "heaven and earth" in the Old Testament will help us greatly in correctly understanding its use in New Testament passages. Rather than to assume that each time we encounter the phrase, we are to immediately think of this physical universe and its elements.
Heaven and Earth in the Old Testament Books
In Leviticus 26:14-20, God warns Israel that she must listen and obey Him in the commandments that He has given them. God uses various terms and expressions in describing what it will be like if they despise His statutes, but notice particularly verse 19: "and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass." Compare Genesis 1:1 with Leviticus 26:19, are the terms "heaven and earth" to be understood in the same way? They clearly do not mean the same thing in each verse. Notice how the character of Israel's disposition in God's view is personalized, "your heaven" and "your earth." So the terms "heaven" and "earth" belong or relate to Israel, they evidently constitute a "heaven" and "earth."
Who is God speaking to in Isaiah 1:1-2, "…Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth." The physical creation? No, he is speaking to Israel. And who is the witness in Deuteronomy 4:26, "I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day"? Physical creation or Old Covenant Israel?
Another example of "heaven and earth" being referred to the Covenant World of Israel, and not literal creation, is Isaiah 51:16, "And 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." Notice that God is speaking to Israel. He says he gave them his law, the Old Covenant, the same law Jesus is speaking about in Matthew 5:17-18, to establish heaven and lay the foundation of the earth! Clearly God is not saying he gave the Old Covenant to Israel to create literal heaven and earth! Material creation existed long before Israel was ever given the Old Covenant.
The meaning of this verse is that God gave his covenant with Israel to create their world--a covenant world with God! God created Israel's "heaven and earth" by giving them his Covenant. Now if he destroyed that Old Covenant heaven and earth and gave a New Covenant, would he not thereby be creating a New heaven and earth? This is precisely the thought in the New Covenant Scriptures!
This idea is seen more clearly as we look at other passages where mention is made of the destruction of a state and government using language which seems to set forth the end of the world, as the collapse of heaven and earth. In Isaiah 13:1-13, this is not an oracle against the universe or world, but against the nation of Babylon. Notice verse 13, "Therefore I will shake the heavens, And the earth will move out of her place."
Now remember, he is speaking about the destruction of Babylon, but it sounds like world wide destruction. The terminology of a context cannot be expanded beyond the scope of the subject under discussion. The spectrum of language surely cannot go outside the land of Babylon. If you were a Babylonian and Babylon was destroyed would it seem like the world was destroyed? Yes! Your world would be destroyed.
This is an historical event that took place in 539 BC. When the Medes destroyed Babylon (Isaiah 13:17), the Babylonian world came to an end. This destruction is said in verse 6 to be from the Almighty, and the Medes constitute the means that God uses to accomplish this task. The physical heaven and earth were still in tact, but for Babylon they had collapsed. This is apocalyptic language. This is the way the scripture discusses the fall of a nation. This is obviously figurative language.
In Isaiah 24-27 we see the invasion of Israel by Nebuchadnezzar. He carries them away to captivity. Notice the language that he uses in Isaiah 24:3-6 and Isaiah 24:19-20. What I want you to see in these verses is how God refers to Israel as the earth. He says the earth is "utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly...the earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it; and it shall fall, and not rise again" (Verses 1,3,4,19,20). Notice how many times God referred to Israel as the "earth." This is apocalyptic language speaking of the destruction of the people of Israel.
In Isaiah 34:3-5, we have a description of the fall of Edom, notice the language that is used. "...and the mountains shall be melted with their blood. And 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...For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment." This is Biblical language to describe the fall of a nation. It should be clear that it is not to be taken literally.
In Nahum 1:1-5, the subject of this judgment is Nineveh, not the physical world. "The burden of Nineveh...the LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. He rebuketh the sea, and maketh it dry, and drieth up all the rivers...The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence, yea, the world, and all that dwell therein." This is the way God describes the fall of a nation. If this language describes the judgment of God on nations, why, when we come to the New Testament, do we make it be the destruction of the universe? It is only because we do not understand how the scripture uses this apocalyptic language.
In Daniel 9:24-27 (and Dan.12:11), Daniel was told that 70 weeks had been determined on his people and city, i.e. Jerusalem. Daniel's prophecy then tells of the time when all prophecy would be fulfilled. When would this be? The end of Daniel's vision was the destruction of Jerusalem that occurred in 70 AD. See Daniel 9:27 and compare it with Matthew 24:15ff where Jesus said the Abomination of Desolation and his coming would occur in his generation (vs.34). Compare Matthew 24:15-19 with Luke 21:20-23; this parallel passage explains this desolation as the destruction of Jerusalem, which occurred in 70AD.
Heaven and Earth in the New Testament Books
Hebrews 12:26-28 is another text that speaks of the passing of the Old Covenant World under the imagery of the passing of heaven and earth. "Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:"
The writer alludes to the giving of the Law at Sinai, [remember Isaiah 51], as the shaking of earth. He says God promised to shake not only earth, but heaven also. This shaking signified removing them; therefore, God was promising to remove heaven and earth. Why? So that something that could not be removed would remain. Now notice in verse 28 he says they were, at that time, receiving (they had not already completely received it) a kingdom "that cannot be shaken." Reader, if they were receiving an unshakable kingdom, this of necessity means the "heaven and earth" was being removed! [Remember Jesus' words in Matthew 24:35 about the "heaven and earth" passing but his word not passing? Jesus' world then is unshakable. Hebrews is discussing the shaking of one world and receiving of another unshakable kingdom. See the comparison?].
In Matthew 24, Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. This Temple was the very center of the Jewish world. This is where the sacrifices for sin were offered by the genealogically confirmed Levitical priests. For Jesus to predict the utter desolation of this temple was the same as saying their world was about to come crashing down around their ears!
The last book in the scripture confirms that all prophecy was to be fulfilled at the fall of Jerusalem. This book is the story of the fall of the great city, Babylon. Many differing interpretations have been offered to identify this city and yet the most obvious interpretation of all has been ignored. Revelation specifically identifies Babylon--it is the great city "where our Lord was crucified" (Revelation 11:8). Reader, Jesus was not crucified in Rome; he was not crucified "in" the Roman Catholic church, he was not crucified "in" apostate Christianity. Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem!
Our point is this, John predicted the fall of Babylon, the city where our Lord was crucified. He expressed this under the imagery of the passing of heaven and earth. He said all this was to "shortly take place." See the correlation with Daniel 9, Matthew 5 and Matthew 24? Such beautiful harmony is no accident!
2 Peter 3
With this understanding of how "heaven and earth" is used in the scripture, let's look at 2 Peter 3. This was, by far, the text that I struggled with the most. I could not understand how we were in the New heavens and the New earth. As you read different commentaries you will read things like, "this is by far the strongest passage to prove the consummation of time, the termination of the earth as we know it." But what is so inherently different about 2 Peter 3 (the earth and its works burnt up) and Deut 32:22 (fire consumes the earth and its yield)?
In 2 Peter 3:1-2, Peter is reminding us of what has already been said. The New Testament does not contain brand new prophecies that just dropped out of the sky containing new information. 2 Peter 3 is just a reiteration of what has already been written by the prophets that spoke before. Peter gives us a key to interpretation. That key is that what he is saying has been written by the Old Testament prophets. Keep that in mind.
In 2 Peter 3:3-4, Peter said that these scoffers would come in the last days, when are the last days? Micah 4:1 says that God's kingdom will be established in the last days. According to Peter in Acts 2:14-20, the last days began at Pentecost and these last days included and ended with the great and awesome day of the Lord.
In Hebrews 1:1-2, the "last days" refers to the last days of the house of Israel, the last days of the Old Covenant. The last days are the period from 30 AD to 70 AD. Isn't it interesting that during that time the scoffers were already asking, "where is the promise of His coming?" If they were questioning His coming then, about 35 years after his death, what would they be saying today, two thousand years later? They knew that his coming was to be soon, sometime within the first century.
Now, some use the argument from 2 Peter 3:5-7 that the world was destroyed in Noah's day and the world will be destroyed again. Lets consider that argument.
Peter says that the world consisted of heaven and earth, and that they were destroyed by water and perished. We know that the substance of neither heaven or earth was destroyed, but it was the evil men that were destroyed, God brought "the flood upon the world of the ungodly" (2 Peter 2:5). Peter makes a distinction between the heaven and earth of Noah's day which were destroyed, and the heaven and earth that existed then which were to be destroyed by fire. The literal visible fabric of heaven and earth were the same after the flood as they were before the flood. Lets remember what we saw in the Old Testament as to the apocalyptic use of heaven and earth. The destruction of heaven and earth refers to the civil and religious state, and the men of them. What was it that really perished in the flood? Look at verse 6 – "Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished." It was the world that perished, right? Now what does the word "world" mean? It is the orderly arrangement of society, it wasn't the dirt. Now how do you go from an ungodly society that was destroyed to the destruction of the entire universe? The literal earth was not destroyed. What is to be destroyed is the ungodly nation of Israel. Nowhere do the Scriptures teach that the physical creation will be destroyed. Notice what God said after the flood of Noah's day in Genesis 8:21.
Genesis 8:21, "And the LORD smelled a sweet savour; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done."
Now, folks will say that the Lord destroyed the earth by water one time and He'll destroy it by fire the next time. Is God's promise here to just change his method of destroying everything? Is there comfort in being destroyed by fire instead of water? Or is he promising not to destroy the earth again?
God said the literal heaven (Psalm 148:4-6) and the literal earth (Psalm 104:5) will never pass away. Psalms 78:69, "...the earth which he hath established for ever." In Genesis 8:21, God said he would never again destroy every living thing. God can be trusted, He keeps his word. "…the earth abideth for ever" (Ecclesiastes 1:4). And remember Isaiah 9:7, "Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end." If the earth is to be destroyed, then that would be the end of the increase of Christ's government.
2 Peter 3:8-9 is simply saying that God keeps his promises. In 2 Peter 3:10, what is "the day of the Lord"? It is a time of judgment on Israel, it is the end of the Old Covenant age. We have a parallel passage in Matthew 24:42-44. Peter is talking about Jesus second coming at the end of the Jewish age. When the Lord comes, the heaven and earth of the Old Covenant age will pass away. Let me give you a question here to think about -- where is the millennium in Peters discussion? Peter is talking about the Lord coming and when He does we go right into the New heaven and earth.
When we read the word "elements" in 2 Peter 3:10,12, we think of the scientific idea of the elements of matter, all the atoms of the universe burning up. But is this what the word "elements" means? The Greek word for elements is stoicheia, it is only used seven times in the New Testament.
Galatians 4:3, "Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:"
Galatians 4:9, "But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?"
Colossians 2:8, "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ."
Colossians 2:20,22, "Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances… after the commandments and doctrines of men?"
Hebrews 5:12, "For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat."
In other words, this is the elements of religious training, or the ceremonial precepts that are common to the worship of Jews and of Gentiles. Obviously, this stoicheia is not about atoms or destruction of the universe.
What is being dissolved in 2 Peter 3:11-13? The Old Covenant system is being dissolved, not the universe. Where do we have a promise about a new heaven and earth? Peter was surly thinking of the book of Isaiah, chapters 65 and 66 (read Isaiah 65:17).
If you read Isaiah 65 and 66, you will notice that, before God creates the new heavens and a new earth, God predicted that Israel would fill the measure of her sin (65:7); he would destroy them (65:8-15; 66:3-6,15-18,24); create a new people with a new name (65:15-16); then create a new heaven and earth with a new Jerusalem (65:17-19). When God created the new heavens and earth, notice that physical death will remain (Isa. 65:20, 66:24), home construction and agriculture will continue (Isa. 65:21-22), we will have descendants (Isa. 65:23, 66:22), the Lord will hear their prayers (Isa. 65:24), there will still be sin (Isa. 65:20, Mat.12:32, Rev.22:15 ), and it is depicted as a time of evangelism when the Jew and Gentile will be brought together under the banner of God (66:19). The new heavens and earth, therefore, cannot be referring to the eternal state; it must be referring to a period in man's history. This is the period of the Kingdom of God which Christ rules in the hearts of the believers. The Kingdom of God is made without hands (spiritual - Dan. 2:34, 44-45; c.f. Col. 2:10-11). If we take the statements from the scriptures at face value, then we should conclude that the first heavens and the first earth passed away and was replaced by the glorious reign of the Lord Jesus Christ, the kingdom without end. Notice that in this New Heaven and Earth, righteousness dwells, as it does in the New Covenant (2 Corinthians 3:9).
There are three heaven and earth time periods in 2 Peter 3, and the change from one epoch of time to another was referred to as a passing of heaven and earth. The object of that expression was to show a change in God's dealings with man rather than a change in the literal, material constitution of the world itself.
Futurists teach that the new heaven and earth of Revelation 21 and the new Jerusalem of Revelation 22 is the saved of all ages, the bride of Christ at the end of the millennium, when all things have ended and we have embarked into eternity: They have entered eternity; sin, death, hades and Satan have all been cast into the lake of fire. Remember that all evil has been disposed of, God has healed the Church of her ills, sin has been finally purged from her so that only a grandiose description of her can truly tell of her beauty. The futurists teach that the earth will be a physical paradise at this time, but is that what the Scriptures say?
When we look at Revelation 22:1-2, a question immediately comes to mind: why would the nations need healing? They have entered eternity; sin, death, Hades and Satan have all been cast into the lake of fire. Why would they need healing if they are now in eternal bliss? Remember that all evil has been disposed of, God has healed the Church of her ills, sin has been finally purged If one adopts the futurist view, then one is at pains to explain this tree. Why would the gates of this city be left open if everything outside this city is destroyed (Rev.21:25)? If everyone outside these gates were burned up, and there is nobody left alive outside these gates, why are there people still entering through the gates into the city after the New Jerusalem comes down from Heaven (Rev.22:14)? If one adopts the preterist view, the explanations are quite easy. Does the New Covenant gospel age end, or is it truly an everlasting covenant as Hebrews 13:20 says? It is obviously a never ending age. The new age, or the new world, will never end (Isa.45:17 Eph.3:21, Ecc.1:4).
His plan for us is an ever-deepening experience of Christ's presence, and an unfolding realization of his sovereignty over all things. God called Israel to be a light to the nations, to lead all people into a covenant relationship with the Father. His purpose for his church, the "Israel of God," is the same. We are to be calling the world to drink of the living water of the gospel. Let's be faithful to our calling.
Revelation 22:17, "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely."
Full preterists see the scripture not as the history of man, but as the history of Old Covenant Israel, and that all the prophecies in the Old Covenant concerning the future of Israel are fulfilled in Christ, and are spiritual in nature. Just as there was a 40 year period of wandering between the giving of the Old Covenant and the entering of the physical promised land, so also there was a 40-year wandering period of the church in between the giving of the New Covenant and the entering in of the spiritual promised land. In other words, it's all about shadows versus substance:
2 Corinthians 4:18: "While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal."
The book of Revelation deals with the final consummation of all biblical prophecy. In Revelation, we see the dissolution and uprooting of Old Covenant Israel out of her land and the vindication and planting of New Covenant Israel into her land.
A further proof that "heaven and earth" refers to the covenants are the following verses. Everyone agrees that Hebrews 8:13 is speaking of the change from the old covenant to the new covenant. Now, compare the wording of this verse with two others. The wording is almost identical, except the term "covenant" is replaced with the terms "heaven and earth".
Hebrews 8:13, "In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away."
Hebrews 1:10-11, "And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment;"
Isaiah 51:6, "Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment,"
Also, the term "heaven and earth" can be seen to refer to the religious and civil state of Israel in Revelation 12:1-5, which speaks about the birth of Jesus Christ in literal Israel.
Revelation 12:1-5: "And there appeared a great wonder in heaven (religious state of Israel); a woman (Mary)…and upon her head a crown of twelve stars (referring to the twelve tribes of Israel): And she being with child (Jesus) cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon…And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth (civil state of Israel): and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born (in Matthew 2:16, the civil government tried to slay baby Jesus). And she brought forth a man child (Jesus Christ), who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne (the ascension in Acts 1:2)."
A good verse to see that the New Heaven and Earth refers to the New Jerusalem (implying the Old Heaven and Earth refers to the Old Jerusalem) is by comparing these two verses:
Isaiah 65:17, "For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth:"Now, just substitute the word "Jerusalem" where "heaven and earth" appear!!
Isaiah 65:18, "...for, behold, I create Jerusalem."Therefore, the New Jerusalem (Revelation 3:12; 21:2) is synonymous with the New Heaven and Earth!
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