(Preached by David B. Curtis)
Today in our study of the Olivet Discourse, we come to verse 35 where Jesus tells His disciples that, "Heaven and earth will pass away." Peter talked about this same idea in 2 Peter 3:10-12. We know what Jesus and Peter said, but what did they mean? Were they talking about a time to come when the earth will be destroyed by fire? A time when the whole planet will explode and life, as we now know it, will end? It sure looks like that to us, doesn't it?
Think about what we have seen thus far in Matthew 24: Jesus taught that the destruction of Jerusalem would be a time of unprecedented tribulation, and a sign of His return (Matthew 24:21-22): But before this great holocaust that would not be surpassed occurred, Christians prayed for their Lord to return (1 Corinthians 16:22, Revelation 22:20). Now, according to the way his coming is commonly understood today, this would mean that they would be praying for an instantaneous fiery destruction of the "whole earth." That not only would far surpass the destruction of Jerusalem, it would wipe out "all flesh" on the earth.
The futurists today can't escape this ridiculous dilemma. In their view of the end, those first-century saints would be waiting for the fall-of-Jerusalem holocaust, being assured by Jesus that all flesh would not perish, while at the SAME TIME they would be waiting, watching, and praying for Christ to come in a destruction that wipes out EVERYBODY. No flesh would be spared. The one destruction would vindicate gospel faith, the other one would extinguish it from the earth. I doubt if the latter was that which the prophets had in mind when they spoke of a coming age, an everlasting age, wherein "all families of the earth" would be blessed.
The Bible is not a history of the planet from its creation to its ultimate destruction. The Bible is about spiritual truths made known through physical things. Genesis introduces spiritual death. Revelation tells how death is conquered. The theme of the Bible is the redemption of man, not the history of the planet. Please keep that in mind.
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. I thought that those passages were speaking of physical events. I thought that because I was thinking like a twentieth century American and not like a first century Jew. I didn't understand apocalyptic language. But Jesus' disciples and those living in the first century were very familiar with apocalyptic language. Remember what Jesus had been talking about in Matthew 24; he was telling his disciples of the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. That Old Covenant nation was going to pass away in their generation. Remember, this whole chapter is an answer to their question about when the temple was to be destroyed and the Jewish age would end.
John Brown (1853) said, " 'Heaven and earth passing,' understood literally, is the dissolution of the present system of the universe, and the period when that is to take place, is called the 'end of the world.' But a person at all familiar with the phraseology of the Old Testament Scriptures, knows that the dissolution of the Mosaic economy, and the establishment of the Christian, is often spoken of as the removing of the old earth and heavens, and the creation of a new earth and new heavens" (vol. 1, p. 170)
"It appears, then, that Scripture being the best interpreter of Scripture, we have in the Old Testament a key to the interpretation of the prophecies in the New. The same symbolism is found in both, and the imagery of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and the other prophets helps us to understand the imagery of St. Matthew, St. Peter, and St. John. As the dissolution of the material world is not necessary to the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, neither is it necessary to the accomplishment of the predictions of the New Testament." (vol. i. p.200).
One of the fundamentals of hermeneutics is to ask, "What did the passage mean to the recipients of the message?" Modern prophetic interpreters would tell you that these passages meant little or nothing to the hearers because the text dealt with matters that would take place 2,000 years later. That is, God really intended these prophecies for us and not for the people to whom they were spoken or written.
But is this what the Bible teaches? What does God reveal about the timing of these events? We saw last week in our study, in verse 34, Christ states specifically, "Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place" (Matt. 24:34). "This generation" refers to the time period to which Jesus was speaking. The Bible is clear, that Jesus was warning His generation of impending judgment.
If you want to know what a term means in the New Testament in relation to prophecy, you need to go back to the Old Testament and see what it meant there. If it was used a certain way in the Old Testament, wouldn't it make sense that Jesus and the New Testament writer would use those expressions in the same way? We must get our understanding of "heaven and earth" from the Old Testament.
In the song of Moses (Deuteronomy 31:30; 32:1) God is speaking to Israel. He calls them, "O heavens," and, "O earth." He is clearly not speaking to the physical heavens and earth, but to Israel. Notice what he says to them in Deuteronomy 32:22: God is not talking here about burning up the physical earth. God is using apocalyptic and symbolic language to warn Israel of judgment that He will bring upon them. When Israel is finally destroyed, it is as though heaven and earth are burned up.
In biblical apocalyptic language, "heavens" refers to governments and rulers, and "earth" refers to the nation of people. This can be seen in the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 1:1-2, 10). God is still talking to Israel and He calls them, "Sodom and Gomorrah." The literal Sodom and Gomorrah had been destroyed for some time. Here we see "rulers" used for "heavens" in verse 2, and "people" used for "earth." So the terms, "heaven and earth" are used to speak of rulers and people of a nation.
In Isaiah 34:4-5 we have a description of the fall of Edom; notice the language that is used. This is Biblical language to describe the fall of a nation. It should be clear that it is not to be taken literally. God says that, "His sword will be bathed in heaven," then explains what He means by saying "It shall come down on Edom." So, God speaks of His sword being bathed in heaven, meaning the nation Edom, not the literal heaven. Edom shall be rolled up like a scroll.
The time of planting the heavens and laying the foundation of the earth that is referred to in Isaiah 51:13-16 was performed by God when He divided the sea (ver. 15) and gave the law (ver.16), and said to Zion, "Thou art my people"; that is, when He took the children of Israel out of Egypt, and formed them in the wilderness into a covenant nation. He planted the heavens and laid the foundation of the earth: that is, brought forth order, and government.
If the destruction of heaven and earth were to be taken literally in all of the Old Testament passages, it would mean that heaven and earth were destroyed a bunch of times. This language is clearly not literal, but figurative and apocalyptic.
Gary DeMar (1996) said, "Jesus does not change subjects when He assures the disciples that "heaven and earth will pass away." Rather, He merely affirms His prior predictions, which are recorded in Matthew 24:29n31. Verse 36 is a summary and confirmation statement of these verses.(6) Keep in mind that the central focus of the Olivet Discourse is the desolation of the "house" and "world" of apostate Israel (23:36). The old world of Judaism, represented by the earthly temple, is taken apart stone by stone (24:2). James Jordan writes, "each time God brought judgment on His people during the Old Covenant, there was a sense in which an old heavens and earth was replaced with a new one: New rulers were set up, a new symbolic world model was built (Tabernacle, Temple), and so forth."(7) The New Covenant replaces the Old Covenant with new leaders, a new priesthood, new sacraments, a new sacrifice, a new tabernacle (John 1:14), and a new temple (John 2:19; 1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:21). In essence, a new heaven and earth.
The darkening of the sun and moon and the falling of the stars, coupled with the shaking of the heavens (24:29), are more descriptive ways of saying that "heaven and earth will pass away" (24:35). In other contexts, when stars fall, they fall to the earth, a sure sign of temporal judgment (Isaiah 14:12; Daniel 8:10; Revelation 6:13; 9:1; 12:4). So then, the "passing away of heaven and earth" is the passing away of the old covenant world of Judaism led and upheld by those who "crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Corinthians 2:8). " The Hebrew people understood this kind of language.
So in Matthew 24:35, Jesus is talking about the passing away of Israel when He speaks of heaven and earth passing away. This is what the whole chapter is about, the destruction and passing away of the nation Israel. Nowhere do the Scriptures teach that the physical creation will be destroyed. Notice what God said after the flood of Noah's day (Genesis 8:21). 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?
Now, some of you Bible students might say, "What about Psalm 102:25-28, that predicts the destruction of the physical planet- doesn't it?" Let's look at it: This prophecy of David sure sounds like it is referring to the physical earth, doesn't it? As always, the New Testament gives us insight and illumination to the Old Testament. In Hebrews 1, we find the writer quoting this prophecy word for word (Hebrews 1:10-12). The writer of Hebrews tells us that the fulfillment of these is related to the establishment of the eternal kingdom of Christ (Hebrews 1:8-9). The heavens and the earth (Old Covenant Israel) would perish, but Christ and his throne would remain for ever and ever. The superiority of Christ over angels is shown in that he created the world wherein they were ministering spirits (Hebrews 1:7; 2:1-5. Verse 2 speaks of the Sinaic covenant which was given by angels and compares it to the New covenant salvation that Christ brings. In Hebrews 2:5, the world to come would not be in subjection to angels, in contrast to the world that then was, which would pass away).
How is the world or the heavens and earth of old going to perish? David said they shall, "wax old like a garment," and then they would be "changed." Is it just a coincidence that the Bible speaks of the passing away of the old covenant using the same language (Hebrews 8:13)? The same Greek word gerasko, (ghay-ras'-ko) is translated "waxeth" in Hebrews 1:11 and 8:13. The writer here says that the old covenant is about to pass away. Not many years later, it did in the destruction of Jerusalem.
Jesus predicted the end of the Jewish age in Matthew 24, and said it would happen in His generation. David said the heavens and earth would perish, but Christ would remain, and this is exactly what Christ taught in Matthew 24:35.
The Bible does not speak of "the end of time." The expression "the end time" or the "time of the end" is found in Scripture, but nowhere in the Bible can we find the expression "the end of time." The expression "the end time" or the "time of the end" speaks of the end of an age, but the end of an age is not the end of time. Scripture does not indicate that God has any plan to destroy this created world that we enjoy.
Peter connects the destruction of heaven and earth with the "day of the Lord" (2 Peter 3:10): What is the day of the Lord? Peter connects "his coming" (verse 4) with "the day of the Lord" (verse 10), to the destruction of the heavens and earth (verse 10 &12). The "day of the Lord" is an expression also taken from the Old Testament, and was used many times as regards to the judgments and destruction of various nations. It usually meant a time when God Himself would punish or judge people by the means of armies of other people. The invading armies of other nations brought judgment and destruction upon various nations, and these times were each called "the day of the Lord" when they were proclaimed of the Lord.
While the various references to "the day of the Lord" in the old Testament referred to various nations, the reference in all such expressions in the New Testament are to that "day of the Lord" in AD 70, when the nation Israel was destroyed. What is it that causes heaven and earth to pass away? Many today would say it is a nuclear holocaust. But the Bible tells us that the old heaven and earth flees from the face of the Lord (Revelation 20:11). The word "face" is used in Scripture to denote the arrival or full presence of a person. The old covenant age fled from the face of Christ at His parousia. He came in judgment on Israel.
Well, what was to happen when heaven and earth passed away? In our text in Matthew 24:35, Jesus doesn't tell us but Peter does (2 Peter 3:13). According to His promise, where do you find the promise of a New heaven and new earth? In Isaiah 65:17 and Isaiah 66:22. Let's look at the context of these verses in Isaiah 65: Isaiah 65:1 is speaking of the Gentiles who would behold the Lord, those who had not been called by His name. But notice what it says about Israel (Isaiah 65:2-7): God will destroy disobedient Israel, but He would preserve a remnant (Isaiah 65:8-10): Here he talks of an "heir" coming out of Judah who will be his elect. In Isaiah 65:11-16, we see the fleshly Israel contrasted to the spiritual Israel, the elect. God is going to slay that fleshly nation of Israel and take a new people, the church. This is the context of verse 17!
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. The new heaven and earth stands in contrast to the Jewish world, not this present material world.
Peter doesn't tell us much about this New Heaven and earth except that it is a place where righteousness dwells, just as it does in the New Covenant (2 Corinthians 3:9). Daniel tells us in chapter 9, that at the end of the seventy weeks after "the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary" (a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem) that "everlasting righteousness shall be brought in." The Scriptures all bear this out; the old covenant nation is destroyed and the new covenant is fully consummated. It is an eternal covenant of righteousness.
If you want to know more about the new heaven and earth, you have to look to John in Revelation 21:1. Here we see what happens after the old Heaven and earth are destroyed. We see the New Heaven and earth (Revelation 21:2). Who is this bride and what is this holy city? Verse 9 tells us who the bride is: The bride is the Lamb's wife. We know from Ephesians 5, that the bride is the church. The bride of Christ is the totality of God's elect.
The book of Revelation is concerned about two women. One woman is the wife of Jehovah. She was a harlot, so God divorced her. Babylon is a picture of Israel who is this unfaithful wife of Jehovah. The other woman is the bride, the wife of Jesus Christ, the New Jerusalem. She comes down out of heaven indicating that she originates in heaven, not on earth (Revelation 21:10).
Revelation is also concerned about two cities. The old Jerusalem, which was physical Israel, and the new Jerusalem, which is the bride of Christ. The old city was destroyed but the new city that takes its place is that city which is the bride of Jesus Christ. Revelation is dealing with two Israel's of God, as presented in Paul's allegory in Galatians 4:21-31. In that allegory we have two women who are also said to be two cities, and they derive their origin from two covenants, giving birth to two kinds of children. The first is Hagar, answering to literal Jerusalem, unto whom is born a nation after the flesh. The second is Sarah, answering to new Jerusalem, unto whom is born a nation after the Spirit. These two nations, or Israel's, are the theme of Old Testament prophecy, the gospels, the epistles, and finally the Revelation message.
We're often taught that after this life is over, with all its misery and heartache, that we are going to walk on streets of gold in heaven. It does say that this city will have streets of gold, but we must remember that Revelation was written in figurative or apocalyptic language. God is not describing a materialistic city. He is describing His church, His people who are going to live and be with him forever. Let me ask you a question; seriously, would you rather walk on streets of gold or ride a Harley down a country road? The walls of jasper and gates of pearl speak of the blessedness of the new covenant.
There is no temple in this city (Revelation 21:22). Why? The temple represented the presence of God. In the New Jerusalem, we are in the presence of God, we need no temple (Revelation 21:3). This age in which we now live is the New covenant age. We are the New Jerusalem, God's holy bride. The saved of the nations walk in the light of this holy city (Revelation 21:24). We are the light of the world today, a city set on a hill. What does Revelation 21:25 mean? Look at Isaiah 60:11: Here we see the reason that these gates are never shut; that men may bring into it the wealth of the Gentiles, and their kings in procession. This is a reference to the power of the gospel. The next verse tells us that only the elect enter it (Revelation 21:27). Salvation is always available, the gates are always open to this city. Look at Revelation 22:1-2. Here the river of the water of life flows forth from the temple to the nations of the world. The tree of life is there for the healing of the nations. The river of the water of life was predicted in the Old Testament in Ezekiel 47:1-12.
This river comes forth from the New Jerusalem in Revelation 22:1-2, the church, the bride of Christ. We are to be involved in taking the water of life to the nations. What is the water of life (Revelation 22:17)? This is a call to salvation! If the new heavens and the new earth are supposed to be the eternal state, why is the invitation to salvation still going out? The new heaven and earth is the New Covenant, the church. And from the church go forth the water of life for the healing of the nations.
Look at what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman in John 4:10-14: This water is springing up in the person. In Ezekiel, the water flows out from the temple. What is the temple? We are the temple. We are the dwelling place of God. What Scripture predicted John 7:37-38? Ezekiel 47!
We are now living in the new heaven and earth (John 4:14; 7:39). We are the new Jerusalem, which is the bride of Christ. Jesus Christ and His Father are among us and we need no temple, we need none of the rituals and ceremonies of the old heaven and the old earth. We are in God's presence now and forevermore.
C.H. Spurgeon(1865) said, "Did you ever regret the absence of the burnt-offering, or the red heifer, or 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 we now 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." (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. xxxvii, p. 354).
The old heavens and earth of Judaism have passed away, and we now live in the new heavens and new earth of the New covenant. May God help us to fully understand and appreciate our position in the new heaven and earth where righteousness dwells, and where God dwells with His people.
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