New Heavens And A New Earth
“But we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
The promise refers to a new social environment of dwelling. In the Old Testament era, Isaiah looked forward to a “new heavens and a new earth” (Is 65:17; 66:22). The fulfillment of this prophecy was realized in the establishment of a spiritual kingdom reign of Jesus that is within the hearts of people (Lk 17:20,21). Those within the universal kingdom reign of Jesus who submit to King Jesus in obedience to the gospel, become His body, the church. When the will of the Father is done on earth in the hearts of the obedient as it is done in heaven, then kingdom reign is established on earth in the hearts of men (See Mt 6:10; Lk 17:20,21). Those who submit to the kingdom reign of Jesus have their names enrolled in heaven (Ph 4:3). Paul wrote, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Ph 3:20). The new heavens and earth for those who are living the gospel is presently in the body of Christ. This is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah. But Peter possibly refers to another new heavens and earth that is yet to come.
As opposed to the kingdom relationship that Israel had with the Father, Christians now enjoy a “new heavens and earth” with Jesus as He reigns in our hearts. The church is a spiritual dwelling, a spiritual environment on earth where the kingdom reign of Jesus is seen in the hearts of men by their gospel living (See Rm 5:17). This was the thought that Jesus tried to communicate to Pilate when he said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn 18:36).
In other words, there is no such thing as nationalism in reference to the kingdom of Jesus. The church is the body of obedient subjects of the universal kingdom of Jesus. And contrary to the behavior of the nationalistic Jews among whom his readers lived, the obedient subjects of Jesus must never consider the thought of taking up swords to defend the church (See Jn 18:36; Rm 13:4).
Peter, however, is directing our minds to another dwelling. It is an environment “in which righteousness dwells.” Isaiah contrasted the kingdom relationship of Israel with the Father to the present kingdom relationship that Christians have with Jesus through His body. Peter then moves our thinking into the future. He seems to be using the same figure (new heavens and new earth) to compare the present kingdom relationship that Christians now have with Jesus to another new kingdom relationship that is yet to come.
The physical earth is not under consideration in reference to the new heavens and new earth that are to come. As Isaiah did not bring into consideration the physical world when he revealed the new heavens and new earth in the church, so Peter is not considering the physical world when comparing the present “new heavens and new earth” (the church) of Isaiah’s prophecy with the future new heavens and new earth in eternal glory. Peter was simply directing us to a new environment as opposed to this one of persecution, ridicule, mockery and scoffing by unbelievers. The one to come will be a dwelling place of righteousness.
We must keep in mind that the bodily resurrected Christian will not be a “floating spirit” in an environment of space. In the context, Peter was possibly emphasizing the “location” wherein dwells the “righteous saints.” This interpretation would be affirmed by viewing the new heavens and new earth in contrast to the present heaven and earth that are being “kept in store” by the word of God (See 2 Pt 3:7). Could it be that as the world and heavens were changed by the global flood of Noah’s day, so this present natural environment of the world will be “restructured” by “fire” that will destroy this world as we know it?
As “the world that then existed perished” (2 Pt 3:6), so this present world that exists will also perish. The world certainly did not disintegrate after the flood. It was only drastically changed. Peter seems to suggest the same in reference to the present environment in which we now live. However, we must keep in mind that the flood of Noah’s day is the best illustration of the destruction of this present world that the Holy Spirit could use to help us metaphorically to understand that which is to come. Simply because the world was not completely destroyed in the flood does not necessarily mean that it will not be at the end of time.
However, the heavens and the earth were radically changed by the flood of Noah’s day. The heavens that was a universal covering (firmament) before the flood was brought down to earth in a forty-day rain (Gn 7:4). The face of the earth itself was drastically changed by the hydraulic forces of the waters that went to and fro upon the face of the earth.
When the flood was over, Noah and his family indeed stepped out of the ark into a new heavens and new earth. Imagine being able to see the moon and stars for the first time because they had previously been obscured by the firmament of waters above the earth. Imagine experiencing rain for the first time and seeing a rainbow. Before the flood, rain was not needed because a mist came up from the earth in order to water all vegetation (Gn 2:6). But it was all new and different for Noah and his family after the flood. In like manner it will be after the consummation of all that we now experience in this world.
Whatever will transpire in the future, we look forward to a new heavens and earth wherein only the righteous will exist. Therefore, we are “looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Pt 3:12). What this new environment will be for the righteous, we do not speculate. We simply believe that our resurrected and changed bodies will dwell in an environment that is suitable for a body that has put on incorruption and immortality. These are things about which we wonder. They are things for which we also hope.
[Next in series: Sept. 5]