Bible Prophecy in Chronology series (post #26)
This post brings our series on Bible prophecy to a close. The events we will cover this time are downright stupefying, but they won’t be happening anytime soon. If the Rapture happened today, they wouldn’t take place for 1,007 years. That’s the seven years of the tribulation period plus the thousand years of Christ’s millennial reign. We should also keep in mind that at this point in the prophetic timeline only the “saved” are involved. The “lost” made their last appearance at The Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15) in the previous post as they were cast resurrected body and soul into Gehenna (the lake of fire). Satan and the other fallen angels were cast in there as well. So now let’s find out what becomes of the “saved.”
In Revelation 21:1, John says, “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea” (N.K.J.V.). Wow!!! If there is a more shocking verse in all the Bible, I don’t know what it is. A new heaven? A new earth? The first heaven passed away? The first earth passed away? And no more sea? You talk about saying a lot in a short space!
Let me begin by talking about the new heaven. At the risk of stating the obvious, you can’t have a “new” heaven without first having an “old” one. And it’s this “old” heaven that is in play right now. Christian, if you died today, your soul would go to the heaven that is receiving souls right now. This is the heaven where God the Father is currently sitting upon His throne (2 Chronicles 19:18) and Jesus is currently seated at His right hand (Hebrews 1:3).
The Bible’s lengthiest description of this current heaven is found in Revelation 4:1-11, but we catch other glimpses of it in: Isaiah 6:1-3; Acts 7:55-56; Hebrews 8:1-2; 9:24-28; Revelation 8:1-5; 11:15-19; 14:17-18; 15:1-8; 16:1; and 19:1-10. By gleaning bits and pieces of information from all of these passages we learn the following things about this heaven:
- The focal point of the place is the throne upon which God sits. (Isaiah 6:1; Revelation 4:2-3)
- God’s throne has an emerald rainbow around it. (Revelation 4:3)
- There is a sea of glass, like crystal, before God’s throne. (Revelation 4:6)
- Angelic beings stand around God’s throne and unceasingly worship Him. (Isaiah 6:1-3; Revelation 4:6-8; 19:4)
- There is a golden altar that sits before God’s throne. (Revelation 8:3; 14:18)
- There is a heavenly sanctuary (tabernacle/temple). (Hebrews 8:1-2; Revelation 11:19; 14:17; 15:5-6; 16:1)
- There is a “holy of holies” (the “most holy place”) room inside the heavenly sanctuary. (Hebrews 9:11-12; 9:24-28)
- Inside the heavenly “holy of holies” room there is a heavenly Ark of the Covenant. (Revelation 11:19)
I’m mentioning all of this because I want you to better understand what the current heaven is really like. The best way to envision it is to think of it as the “real deal” version of Israel’s Old Testament temple. That temple – and the tabernacle that served the same purpose before it – was meant to serve as an earthly model of heaven’s sanctuary. That’s why God told Moses to build everything about the tabernacle “according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain (Sinai)” (Exodus 26:40). The earthly tabernacle, and later on the temple, served as “the copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5).
But John tells us that this heaven is destined to pass away, and that a new heaven is destined to be ushered in. Not only that, but the earth that exists now – even the high-grade version of it that will be on display in Christ’s millennial reign – is destined to give way to a new earth. This statement from John is so astounding that we might try to explain it away if it wasn’t for all the other passages that speak of the same event. Consider the following (all from the N.K.J.V.):
- Psalm 102:25-26 says of God: “Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Your hands. They will perish, but You will endure; yes, they will all grow old like a garment; like a cloak You will change them, and they will be changed.”
- In Isaiah 65:17, the prophet Isaiah prophesies of this event by speaking for God: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.”
- In Isaiah 66:22, Isaiah speaks for God again in talking about: “…the new heavens and the new earth which I will make…”
- Jesus mentions the event when He says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Matthew 24:35, Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33).
- Jesus also says, “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18).
We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t read these passages and not wonder, “How will all this happen?” Fortunately, the Bible gives us the answer. In 2 Peter 3:7, 10-13, we read:
But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men…..But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (N.K.J.V.)
If you know the story of Noah’s ark, you know that God promised to never again destroy the earth by way of water (Genesis 9:8-17). But He didn’t make any promises about fire, did He? And did you catch the fact that whereas John speaks of a new “heaven” (singular), both Isaiah and Peter speak of new “heavens” (plural)? What’s the difference? That’s a good question.
The word “heavens” covers everything that isn’t “earth.” Paul called the heaven that exists now “the third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2). By implication, this means that earth’s immediate atmosphere (our blue sky) is “the first heaven” and the blackness of space is “the second heaven.” According to Isaiah and Peter, all three of these “heavens” will pass away with a great noise, and all the elements that comprise them will melt with fervent heat. We can’t even fathom the incalculable power it will take to create such a level of heat. As the song says, “Our God is an AWESOME God.”
But it won’t just be the heavens that will get incinerated; it will also be the earth. Peter says, “…both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.” I am not anti-environmentalism, but we should always keep a balanced perspective on that subject. Frankly, some people are more interested in saving this planet than God is. After all, He’s the one who will eventually cause the earth and everything in it to be set ablaze for the purpose of watching it all dissolve in the immeasurable heat. We often hear worries about mankind blowing up the earth via nuclear weapons. Well, I can assure you that despite whatever weapons of warfare mankind ever detonates, it will not cause this old earth to pass away. God is the one who will ultimately do that.
The fact is, though, that there is a debate as to precisely what the terms “pass away” and “new” mean. Basically, there are two possible interpretations. I’ll present both of them, and you can consider the arguments for yourself. Then I’ll offer my opinion on the subject with the understanding that my opinion might be wrong.
Option #1 is that “pass away” describes the total annihilation of the current heaven and earth, and “new” describes freshly created entities that will be completely different replacements. This interpretation is granted credence by the Isaiah 65:17 verse that I cited earlier. That verse quotes God as saying, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.” The Hebrew word translated there as “create” is bara, and it specifically describes creating something out of nothing as opposed to forming something from existing materials or merely refashioning an existing thing. For example, Genesis 1:1 uses bara in saying: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
Furthermore, the Isaiah 65:17 verse says of the current heavens and earth: “the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.” That certainly can be taken to mean that they become disappeared things of the forgotten past. Lastly, 2 Peter 3:11 uses the word “dissolved” to describe what is going to happen to the current heaven and earth. All this makes for a pretty compelling case that “pass away” refers to the total annihilation of the current heaven and earth, and that “new” refers to completely different replacements.
Option #2 is that “pass away” refers to the current heaven and earth remaining but being made “new” by being purified from the taint of sin by the fiery cleansing. This interpretation is granted credence by 2 Corinthians 5:17, which uses the same Greek wording for “new” and “passed away” in saying: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (N.K.J.V.).
You see, when a person is made “new” in this way, the person doesn’t get replaced by a completely different individual. For this reason, some excellent students of the Bible interpret the new heaven and the new earth to be the current ones purified by fire. For example, Kenneth Wuest, in his The New Testament: An Expanded Translation, even translates Revelation 21:1 as: “And I saw a heaven new in quality and an earth new in quality, for the first heaven and the first earth passed away.”
As for me, when I first started preaching prophecy years ago, I favored the interpretation of “pass away” as referring to total obliteration, and “new” referring to completely different entities. Over the years, though, I have changed my mind and switched to the second interpretation. But it wasn’t the Old Testament Hebrew or the New Testament Greek that caused me to change my mind. It was, instead, an Old Testament promise that God made to Abraham. In Genesis 13:14-15, we read the following about Abraham and the land of Canaan:
And the Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: “Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are – northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever.” (N.K.J.V.)
To me, that word “forever” cannot be overstated. As I see it, you can’t have a piece of earthly property “forever” if there is a day coming when the earth upon which that property stands will be completely annihilated and replaced with a different model. That’s why I believe the new heaven and the new earth will be the current heaven and the current earth purified through fire. Israel’s land of Canaan will still be in its place upon this new earth, but it will be cleansed by fire just like the rest of the earth and the heavens.
Another piece of evidence to support this interpretation is the fact that God never actually does away with anything or anyone. For example, when He resurrects a body, He doesn’t replace that body with a completely different model. Instead, He resurrects that exact same body and deals with it.
Of course, a good question to ask here is, “But why would the heaven that exists now need to be purged, cleansed, and made new through fire? It hasn’t been tainted by sin, has it?” Actually, it has. Remember that the fall of Satan and the other rebellious angels actually started in heaven. Therefore, not only did their fall taint all of creation, it even tainted heaven itself to some degree. Even now, if you could be transported to heaven and talk to God, He could show you the exact places in heaven where the angelic coup attempt played out so long ago.
But why does John say of this new earth, “And there was no more sea”? No explanation is given, but some commentators point out that oceans divide land masses and, thus, divide people. Therefore, if the oceans are eliminated, so are the divisions. Imagine an earth that is one big unified land mass upon which everybody lives in perfect harmony. The new earth will be such a place.
On the other hand, the elimination of the sea in the new earth might also have something to do with practical matters of biology and science. Along these lines, Henry M. Morris, in his book The Revelation Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Prophetic Book of the End Times, suggests an interesting possibility. He writes:
There will, in fact, be no need for a sea on the new earth. The present sea is needed…as a basic reservoir for the maintenance of the hydrologic cycle and the water-based ecology and physiology of the animal and human inhabitants of the earth. In the new earth, however, there will be no animals at all, and presumably all the men and women who live there will have glorified bodies with no more need of water. Their resurrected bodies will be composed, like that of the Lord Jesus, of flesh and bone (Luke 24:39; Philippians 3:21) but apparently with no need of blood (1 Corinthians 15:50) to serve as a cleanser and restorer of the body’s flesh as at present. This, in turn, eliminates the major need for water on the earth (blood is about 90 percent water, and present-day human flesh about 65 percent water).
Chuck Smith, in his commentary What the World Is Coming To, also touches upon the biological and scientific implications of “no more sea.” He writes:
The purpose of the sea and its salts is to collect and neutralize the pollutants so that the earth is habitable for man. Where there are no pollutants, as in the new earth, seas are not necessary. And if you happen to love sailing, God will have something much better for you!
And so it is with all this foundational information in mind that we now come to the last primary subject of the book of The Revelation. That subject is the holy city called New Jerusalem, and its description covers virtually all of chapter 21 and a good deal of chapter 22. John kicks off the description by saying, “Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2).
Unfortunately, there is a ton of confusion – even among Christians – concerning this holy city of New Jerusalem. Contrary to popular belief, this city is NOT the heaven that exists now. I don’t mean to offend anyone or hurt any feelings, but there hasn’t been a single saved soul yet who has passed through the “pearly gates” to walk the “streets of gold.” Just as Gehenna (the final, eternal abode of the “lost”) is currently unoccupied and won’t come into play until much later on God’s schedule of prophecy, the same holds true for the city of New Jerusalem (the final, eternal abode of the “saved”).
As you might guess, it would take an entire series to do a thorough job of explaining all the specifics and minute details of the city of New Jerusalem. While that’s a series that would be worth doing, it’s not one that I feel led to launch into right now. So, let me just give you the basics about this city that will be the eternal abode of all of history’s “saved” people. Those basics are as follows:
- John describes the city as “coming down out of heaven” (Revelation 21:2) and “descending down out of heaven” (Revelation 21:10). The ongoing tense of this description – as opposed to him saying the city “came down out of heaven” – leads some to believe that the city will be a satellite city that will continually orbit the new earth without ever actually touching down upon it. Others, however, including myself, believe the city will come down and rest upon the new earth.
- The city has a wall made of jasper that encircles it (Revelation 21:12,18).
- This wall is 144 cubits high (Revelation 21:17), which equates to 216 feet high. This would be a high wall for a typical city, but the New Jerusalem is so massive and so tall that the wall is really just decorative. After all, it’s not like the city will need any defense system.
- The wall has 12 foundations to it (Revelation 21:14), and these foundations are adorned with 12 kinds of precious jewels, evidently one jewel per foundation (Revelation 21:19-20).
- The names of the 12 apostles are written upon these foundations, evidently one name per foundation (Revelation 21:14).
- Built into the wall are 12 gates (Revelation 21:12) that are never shut (Revelation 21:25). There are three gates on the eastern side, three gates on the northern side, three gates on the southern side, and three gates on the western side (Revelation 21:13).
- Each gate is made from one giant pearl, one pearl per gate (Revelation 21:21). These are the famous “pearly gates” people talk about.
- The names of the 12 tribes of Israel are written upon the gates, evidently one name per gate (Revelation 21:12).
- An angel is stationed at each gate (Revelation 12:12).
- The city itself (behind the walls) is laid out as a square (Revelation 21:16).
- The city’s length, breadth, and height are equal, each one being 12,000 furlongs (Revelation 21:16). This gives the city the overall shape of a either a cube or a pyramid. The description could be taken either way. Some very fine prophecy experts (Clarence Larkin, Harry Ironside, etc.) have taught that the city will be shaped like a pyramid. Other equally fine experts go with the cube interpretation. While I can appreciate both sides of the debate, I tend to favor the cube interpretation. This shape reminds us of the “holy of holies” room inside the earthly temple. That room was also shaped like a cube: 20 cubits square (2 Chronicles 3:8).
- Since a furlong is equal to 582 feet, 12,000 furlongs adds up to 1,342 miles. Students of prophecy usually round this number up to 1,500 miles and say the city will run approximately 1,500 miles in all directions (including upward). It will be staggering in its sheer size and scope. If we do all the math, it adds up to over 3 billion cubic miles. If this city was placed down upon the United States, it would reach from Maine to Florida (running north to south) and from the Atlantic seaboard to 600 miles past the Mississippi River (running east to west). In other words, its perimeter would cover more than half of the United States. And keep in mind that the city is as tall as it is long or wide! Obviously, the city will provide plenty of room for all of history’s saved.
- The city has a street (singular) that is pure gold. This gold is so pure that it has the appearance of transparent glass (Revelation 21:21).
- In the middle of the street stands the tree of life, which bears 12 different kinds of fruit (Revelation 22:2).
- The city has a river that emanates from the throne of God and carries the water of life out to the city (Revelation 22:1, 21:6).
- The entire city has the glory of God about it (Revelation 21:11), and this glory illuminates it so that it has no need for a sun or a moon (Revelation 21:23; 22:5).
- The city’s light is as clear as crystal (Revelation 21:11,24).
- There is no night in the city (Revelation 21:25; 22:5).
- There is no temple in the city because God the Father and God the Son (Jesus, the Lamb) dwell there with their people (Revelation 21:3, 22).
- Certain things and certain types of people will not be in the city. These include: tears, death, sorrow, crying, pain, the cowardly, the unbelieving, the abominable, murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and liars (Revelation 21:4-8).
Now, as I reach the conclusion of not only this post but also this series, I want to point you to Jesus Christ’s last words as they are found in the Bible. The verse is Revelation 22:20, and the quote from Jesus is this: “Surely I am coming quickly.” That word “quickly” means that the Rapture could happen at any moment. This is a promise from Jesus, and Jesus always keeps His promises.
So, tell me, do these standing words from Jesus thrill you or frighten you? If they frighten you, you need to ask yourself why. Even more than that, you need to make the necessary changes to get you to a place where the promise of Christ’s coming thrills you.
The issue is two-fold. First, have you placed your belief in Christ as your personal Savior? And, second, are you living each day in full submission to His lordship? As long as your life comes up short in either one or both of those departments, you’ll never be able to get very excited about Jesus coming. You’ll never be able to be like ole’ John, the writer of The Revelation. He answered Christ’s quote, “Surely I am coming quickly” by responding, “Even so, COME, Lord Jesus!” Friend, that’s the kind of expectancy and enthusiasm we need, because, again, Jesus could come with the Rapture at any moment, and when that happens it will set God’s chronological time line of prophetic events into motion. I, for one, am ready for all of it to happen. The question is: Are you?