The New Heavens And Earth: Literal or Figurative?

 In Revelation 21, the apostle John gives us a beautiful picture of a “new heaven and new earth,” upon which a new metropolis and center of divine worship, the New Jerusalem, descends.  For many centuries the church has interpreted John’s vision as relating to a future reality.  Most Christians today would agree.  They do not believe the vision is to be taken in any allegorical or mystical sense, but in a plain and literal sense. 

   However, not all concur with this opinion.  There are still a few Christians, most of them of the “Reformed” group, who insist that the “New Heavens and New Earth” are simply another name for “the Gospel administration;” and that the “curse” of Genesis 3 has been done away “in Christ“–a convenient phrase which may mean anything, or nothing at all, according as it is applied.

1. Typology of The Creation Account

 In order to find out the truth of the matter, it is suggested that we go back to the original creation account.  For what we have in Revelation is obviously an “antitype” of the “heaven and earth” mentioned in Genesis 1: 1: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”  As with the two resurrections in Revelation 20, we assume that if one is literal, the other is also literal.  If one is figurative, the other is figurative as well.  If the “new heaven and earth” of Revelation 21 is allegorical, then we may reasonably hold that the Genetic account is also an allegory.  For the one is the antitype of the other.

   Confusion ensues when the student fails to see that Revelation is the complement of Genesis.  Genesis is the book of beginnings.  Revelation is the book of the end.  In Genesis we have accounts of the creation of the earth, Satan’s first rebellion, the entrance of sin, and the curse.  In Revelation we are told of Satan’s final rebellion,  the abolition of sin, the passing away of the earth, and removal of the curse.  As death came upon all men through Adam’s transgression (Romans 5: 12), and as Christ will return to earth as the Second Adam (1 Cor. 15: 45), so His redemptive work must be worldwide in its effects.  Perhaps a closer look at the typology of creation will bring this out.

II. The Creative Ages

  In Genesis 1: 1-2, we read: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.  And the earth was (became) without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”  This describes the creation of the primal earth, and the chaos into which it subsequently fell.  We do not know how the earth became “tohu va bohu;” but our theory is that Satan was placed over the original earth, and apostasized by attempting to mimic God’s creative works.  His efforts resulted in a race of monsters (dinosaurs) whose existence brought on a global deluge, and so the earth became “without form and void.”  The antitype of this primal creation is the “new heaven and earth” of Revelation 21.

   Peter, writing of the last days scoffers, alludes to this original primal creation.  “For this they are willingly ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water, and in the water: whereby the world that then was (the primal creation), being overflowed with water, perished” (2 Peter 3: 5-6).  In Genesis 1-2, Moses records the restoration of this primal earth.  But Peter writes that the “heavens and earth which are now” (2 Peter 3: 7) are reserved unto fire.  This fiery deluge (referred to in Rev. 20: 11 and 21: 1) is the antitype of that deluge of water whereby the original earth became without form and void.

  The six-days’ work related in Gen. 1: 3-31 was not the creation of a new earth out of nothing, but the restoration of the earth to its original condition before it became submerged in water.  But after the fall of Adam the present earth fell into degeneration; and so it was cleansed with water.  It now awaits an additional cleansing by fire. This will precede the Millennium, that age in which the earth will be restored and blessed by God. Christ purchased the creation with His own blood (as evidenced by the crown of thorns); and His second coming, the antitype of the Noachian deluge, will not issue in the “new heaven and new earth” as described in Rev. 21, but in a restoration of the “heaven and earth which are now.”

   In light of the above, the “creative ages” (Alpha Ages) may be viewed as threefold and progressive, having a direct link to end-time antitypes.  The first phase was the creation of the original earth (Gen. 1: 1).  The second was a “chaotic earth” (Gen. 1: 2); while the third resulted in the “present earth” (Gen. 1: 3-2: 7).  The present earth was flooded by water in the days of Noah.  But it awaits its fiery baptism, which will occur when Jesus Christ returns from heaven to establish His Millennial reign. 

   The purging of the creation by fire, related in 2 Peter 3 and Revelation 20, does not refer to Christ’s second coming, but is the antitype of the watery baptism of the primal creation.  There are two water-baptisms and two fire baptisms.  One belongs to the “heaven and earth which are of old.”  The other belongs to the “heaven and earth which now are.”  Recognizing this principle is essential to “rightly dividing the word of truth” and understanding God’s plan and purpose to restore creation.  The Dispensational scheme of the Bible shows that this restoration will be brought about in inverse order to that of its ruin.  It is not accomplished all at once, but in stages and gradations.

III. The Creative Week & The Redemptive Week

  Wrapped up, as it were, in this typology of the creation, is a smaller typlogy of redemption.  The subordinate typology does not annul or “replace” the larger typlogy, but complements it, allowing us to understand, on a micro level, truths which are universal and comprehensive in their fulfillment.   The “creative week” of Genesis may be seen as a “type” of the “redemptive week” of man.  It is quite important that we bring this out.   

   The creative week occupies the seven days of creation (including the sabbath), and as such belongs to the “restoration” phase of the “Creative Ages.”  This typical week saw the creation and/or restoration of:– 1): Cosmic light (the first day); 2): the firmament (second day); 3): dry land and vegetation (third day); 4): solar light (fourth day); 5): fish and fowl (fifth day); 6): land animals & man (sixth day).  Since the perfection of the the creative week was marred by sin, the seventh day of the creative week was moved to the last day of the redemptive week.

  The redemptive week began upon Adam and Eve’s eviction from Eden, on the sixth day of the creative week.  The redemption wrought by Christ was typified by a slain animal, probably a lamb (see Genesis 3: 21); and thence a “day” became equivalent to “1000 years.”  Adam died on the day he ate of the fruit, living to be 930 years old (Gen. 5: 5).  Mercy was afforded him through the merits of the lamb’s blood, and he died within the first day of the redemptive week.  Notice that when the Dispensation of Innocence ended, God began “working” according to a different scale of time.

  From the Dispensation of Conscience to the close of the Legal Dispensation, all of God’s promises of redemption looked forward to the true sabbath, or seventh day–otherwise known as the Millennium.  However, during the Dispensation of Grace, an additional day is held forth, even the eighth day, in which all things will be restored under a permanent and eternal administration.  This will have its fulfillment in the New Heaven and New Earth. 

    It is doubtful whether the Old Testament prophets saw as far as the eighth day.  It is rather believed that they saw only as far as the Sabbath (Millennium), and that the prophet Isaiah’s “new heaven and new earth” (Isaiah 65: 17; 66: 22) is actually the “1000 years ” of Revelation 20, and not the “New heaven and new earth” of Revelation 21.  However, that is just an afterthought.

IV. Lack of Distinction Creates Confusion

  Due to failure to distinguish between the two typologies (creative and redemptive), allegorists see Revelation 21 as nothing more than a highly figurative account of Christian salvation.  Failure to “discern the things that differ” is the fountain and springhead of all errors concerning the exact meaning of the term, “new heaven and earth.”  However, the terminology itself points us back to the Genetic typology.  The “new heavens and earth” described by John is creative, and not redemptive, in nature.  The denizens of the new administration are described as already redeemed, and cannot enter the city unless they are fully sanctified (Rev. 21: 7-8, 24; 22: 14-15).

  On the other hand, when Paul says, “if any man be in Christ he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5: 17), he refers to a redemptive work, and not a creative work.  As you see, there is a difference.  No one would imagine that the “new creation” mentioned is identical to that of Revelation 21.   If the “new heaven and earth” seen by John represents realities in the redemptive sphere alone (and by this I mean personal redemption), then what does Genesis 1: 1-3 signify? It certainly has nothing to do with the Gospel.  Those verses speak of God’s creative works, which came about before man was even formed, or in need of salvation.  

   Therefore, the first two chapters of Genesis have nothing to do with personal redemption.  Moreover, if John’s vision of Revelation 21 can be demonstrated as having typological connection with the Genetic account, then that forever settles the question of whether or not the “new heaven and earth” is a literal future reality.  For the salvation of individuals is still ongoing in this dispensation.  If still ongoing, then it is incomplete, and Christ is still “working,” and remains in the holy place making intercession for our sins.  If this be so, then we are still in the “sixth day,” and have not yet been fully sanctified.  Therefore, Revelation 21 awaits a future fulfillment.  As such, it can have nothing to do with the present Dispensation.

V. A Properly Balanced View

  The New heaven and new earth are where God’s plan of redemption will have its perfect fulfillment. As stated above, when Adam and Eve sinned on the sixth day of the week, the creative week was marred; and so the sabbath, which came a day later, looked forward to something better.  Since the creation was subjected to vanity on account of man’s sin (Romans 8: 20), it too got packaged in God’s plan of redemption, and the sabbath of the creative week was moved to that of the redemptive week.  The seventh day is when the blessed jubilee will come; and we find its nature vividly described in the Old Testament (see Psalm 65: 7-13; Isa. 11: 6-8; 30: 23-26; Ezek. 47: 6-12; Joel 3: 18; Amos 9: 13).

  The Millennium, however, will only be the restoration of the restored earth (that third phase of the “creative ages”).  Its fulfillment does not take us back any farther than Genesis 1: 3.  There still remains the cleansing of the original heaven and earth, which were once deluged by water (as implied in Gen. 1: 2-3), but will, at the close of the seventh day, be deluged by fire.  

    As Satan’s first rebellion caused the flooding of primal creation, so Satan’s last rebellion, his being loosed for a “little season,” (see Rev. 20: 3, 7) will issue in the dissolution of the heaven and earth as graphically described by Peter. The result will be a “new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Peter 3: 13).  The reason why Peter overlooks the Millennium (the seventh day), and focuses exclusively on the eighth day, is probably because the glorified saints (the church of the first-born) will reign with Christ in the New Jerusalem during the Millennium, but while the New Jerusalem is still above the earth

   During the “1000 years,” the regenerated nation of Israel (the church of the second-born) will bear rule on earth from the rebuilt city of Jerusalem: not the New Jerusalem, but that described in the latter chapters of the book of Ezekiel (see Ezekiel 40-48).  Then, after the general judgment, the Israel of the Millennium will be resurrected into the New Jerusalem, and, the whole number of God’s elect being complete, the city will descend upon the new earth.  Then will God’s plan of redemption be fulfilled, and the “Perfect Age” will begin.

  From the facts above, it is obvious that any figurative view of the “new heavens and earth” would force us to overlook, not only the typology preserved in the Genetic account of creation, but also many of the most important prophetical truths set down for our edification and enlightenment.  Let us take this “sure word of prophecy” (2 Peter 1: 19) and embrace the promises that it holds forth.  For if the “new heavens and new earth” are figurative, then the connected promises may also be figurative.  But if they are literal, then we know that they are based on literal promises.  And every promise made by God will surely come to pass. 

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Hey Brian-

    I agree that the new heavens and new earth of Revelation are literal, restoring creation to God’s original intent. But I disagree about applying II Peter 3 to a flood other than the flood of Noah. Peter is using the same language in II Peter 3:5-6 as he did in II Peter 2:5. The “old world” is the same as “the heavens were of old and the earth”. There is also the reference to the present earth kept in store for a day of judgement against “ungodly men”, drawing the parallel of the “the world of the ungodly” in the days of Noah.

    I wonder if you read my post on the origin of Satan. If so, what did you think of my view that Satan did not fall until after the six days of creation?

    Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13

    -The Orange Mailman

  2. Hi Darrin,

    The main reason I hold that view is because there appears to be a correspondence between the aspects of creation and creation-fulfillment. I see two purgings by fire–one when the Lord returns in glory, and the other after the thousand years. Therefore, working backwards I find two floods. Incidentally, there’s a great chart that illustrates these things, but I can’t seem to find it anywhere online.

    In answer to your question, no I haven’t had the pleasure of reading your study. Can you please send me a link?

    Peace & Health,

    Brian

  3. Hey Brian-

    It’s on the main page of my blog right now, posted on 10-2-08. But to push back slightly, why would a progressive view of redemption require a progressive view of the fall?

    Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13

    -The Orange Mailman

  4. Hi Darrin,

    Thats a great article, BTW. I’ll think over the points you brought out. Although I tend to see Satan’s fall before the days of creation, it’s never too late for me to fine tune my theology. I can’t remember who it was, but another theologian held the same view as yours. It may have been one of the church fathers. I’ll have to see.

    On the other issue, I just see the reparation going on in stages and increments, so I assume that they have some typical meaning. For instance, my view would explain why Satan must be loosed for a “little season” after the Millennium. Because the ‘little season’ is an antitype of the short time when he rebelled at the beginning, making the world “without form and void.” I wouldn’t make my view a test of orthodoxy, though. I know most Christians would disagree with me on that issue.

    Peace & Health,

    Brian

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