The online journal of Luke Dockery

A New Heaven & A New Earth Part 8: The Unified Story of Scripture

This post is part of an ongoing series. You can find links to all the posts here.

Some of the content of this post was anticipated in the previous one, when we looked at the consequences of sin as described in Genesis 3 and then saw how Revelation 21-22 show that, when Jesus returns, all of these consequences will be dealt with (including the curse that is placed on creation). Today, we are going to continue to spend time in these same areas of Scripture.

Before we do that, though, I want to reflect on the nature of Scripture itself: what is this book we have that we call “the Bible”? 

Well, first, we should probably point out that the Bible is not a book so much as it is a library of books. As we have it, it is a library of 66 books written over hundreds and hundreds of years by dozens of people.[1] Nevertheless, in the background, behind all of these human authors is the reality that Scripture is God-breathed:  in a way that we will never fully understand, the Holy Spirit worked in conjunction with humans to produce the Bible.



So, when I say that the Bible is a library of books, I don’t mean to say that because of that, it is hopelessly disjointed or contradictory; no: the Bible is a library of books all telling the same grand Story. 

And we need to come to that Story on its own terms.[2]

When asked what the Bible is, many Christians would say something about it being an instruction manual for how to go to heaven when we die (ever heard the B.I.B.L.E. = “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth mnemonic device?). As we discussed in an earlier post, not only does the phrase “go to heaven” not appear anywhere in the Bible in relation to death, this also just doesn’t seem to be the grand Story that Genesis is introducing. Genesis doesn’t talk about going to heaven when we die, and there are only minimal instructions. Instead, it introduces a story about a good God who lovingly created a good world. He created humanity in His image and tasked them with overseeing and stewarding His creation. When humans disobeyed God and betrayed His trust, they were sent into exile, sin reigned in the world, and creation was tainted, but God did not give up on His people or His creation. Instead, God set a plan in place to redeem and restore humanity, and, indeed, all of creation.[3]

This is what you would expect from reading the first book of the Bible, and it’s what you get when you read the last book of the Bible. Even though Genesis and Revelation were written hundreds of years apart by different authors in different languages, when compared to one another they provide fitting bookends to the Scripture library.

(It would be of great benefit to read Genesis 1-3 and Revelation 21-22 back-to-back before proceeding. Go ahead…I’ll wait.)

Creation and New Creation

Simply put, Genesis 1-3 describes the creation of the heavens and the earth, and Revelation 21-22 talks about the new creation of the new heavens and new earth.[4] In the description of the new heavens and new earth in Revelation 21-22, over and over again you have echoes of what occurred in the creation of the heavens and earth in Genesis 1-3:

  • In Genesis 1.4, there is a division of light and darkness; in Revelation 21.25, there is no night.
  • In Genesis 1.10, there is a division of land and sea; in Revelation 21.1, there is no more sea.
  • In Genesis 1.16, the rule of the sun and moon is described; in Revelation 21.23, we learn that there is no need for the sun or moon.
  • In Genesis 2.10, we are told about a river flowing out of the Garden of Eden; in Revelation 22.1, we are told about a river flowing from God’s throne.
  • Genesis 2.9 describes the Tree of Life in the midst of the garden; Revelation 22.2 describes the Tree of Life throughout the city.
  • Genesis 2.12 tells us that gold and precious stones are in the land; Revelation 21.19 tells us that gold and precious stones are throughout.
  • God walks in the garden, among His creation as described in Genesis 3.8; Revelation 21.3 states that God’s dwelling will be with His people.
  • Following Adam and Eve’s sin, Genesis 3.17 states that the ground itself will be cursed; in the New Creation, there will be no more curse (Revelation 22.3).
  • As a result of sin and the curse, life in creation is characterized by pain and sorrow (Genesis 3.17-19); in the new creation, there will be no more sorrow, pain, or tears (Revelation 21.1-4).
  • Additionally, the sin results in death, described as a returning to the dust (Genesis 3.19); in the New Heavens and New Earth, there is no more death (Revelation 21.4).
  • Adam and Eve are banished from the garden, and cherubim guard the entrance to it (Genesis 3.24); angels actively invite into the city in Revelation 21.9.

There are actually many more points of comparison that could be made, but I think these are sufficient to prove the point: in Revelation, John is clearly describing the eternity that God’s people will spend with Him in the New Heavens and New Earth in language that echoes back to the story of creation and fall in Genesis 1-3.

In making these connections between Revelation and Genesis, John is making a significant and profound theological point, and it is, in fact, the point of the Story of Scripture. God is going to redeem, recreate, and perfect the creation that was tainted by our sin. And when He does so, He will dwell with His people forever.


[1]When I say “as we have it,” I am not implying that there are missing books of the Bible or anything like that. Rather, this is a reflection of the fact the number 66 is a product of combining the New Testament to the Hebrew Bible, and counting the books of the Hebrew Bible differently (for example, originally, Ezra and Nehemiah were combined in one book, 1-2 Kings were one book, etc.).

[2]Beginning to read Scripture in this way, as a grand, overarching, and interconnected Story, was a game-changer for me. Rather than pulling verses (or even entire books!) out of context, they must be read in light of the Story that Scripture is telling. 

[3]See Wes McAdams, “7 Things I Noticed When I Read Genesis Today,” and “A Quick Summary of the Old Testament.” These posts come from a series in which Wes read entire books of the Bible in one sitting to better glean the broad themes and discern the Story that Scripture tells. I highly recommend the series and the book that came from it.

[4]Or, we could say, the “recreation of the renewed heavens and renewed earth.” This is not a theological point that I am simply asserting here; the whole series has pointed in this direction. And we see it here, in Revelation 21.5: Jesus does not say, “I am making all new things”; He says, “I am making all things new.” This is renewal language: the point of Revelation 21-22 is that God is performing an epic makeover. Certainly, absolutely, things are different, but there are clear and repeated points of continuity to what was before.

4 Comments

  1. Benjamin Hooten

    Luke, I do have to take issue with something you said. You state, “the phrase “go to heaven” [does] not appear anywhere in the Bible in relation to death.” In all fairness, I don’t know of a place in the Bible that says, “heaven is coming down to earth to me” either. Not even Rev. 21 has this quote in it. But Jesus got close to saying “go to heaven” when He told Peter in Jn. 13:36, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow me afterward.” Where was Jesus going? He was going to die by persecution, He would ascend, and He would go to His Father (Jn. 16:28, 20:17) who is in heaven (Matt. 6:9). Jesus tells Peter that he would later follow the same path, which would put Peter in heaven as well. Heaven is not stated in v. 36, but is heavily implied.
    The Most Holy Place typified heaven (Heb. 9:24). Our hope is in heaven, behind the veil, where Jesus has entered as our “forerunner” (Heb. 6:19-20). My name is registered in heaven (Heb. 12:23). Earth is not mentioned here. With these and other passages, it is not hard to see how one sees heaven as his final destination rather than earth.

  2. Luke

    Hey Benjamin, thanks for reading and for your comment—it gives me the opportunity to clarify what I am saying.

    I am not sure if you have read the entire series or not; I apologize if I repeat some ideas that have been mentioned earlier, but they are relevant to what you are taking issue with here.

    In pointing out that the Bible nowhere uses “go to heaven” in relation to our death, my point is not that neither Jesus nor ourselves ever go to heaven. Jesus is clearly in heaven at the right hand of God, and it seems quite possible to me that God’s people do go to heaven after death, in the intermediate state (for more, read here: http://lukedockery.com/2020/04/16/a-new-heaven-a-new-earth-part-2-distractions/ )

    Instead, my point was two-fold:

    (1) The Story of the Bible is, quite plainly, not about telling us how to live so that we can go to heaven after we die. That is simply not the focus of the Story that we have. The Hebrew Bible in particular does not focus on this, and I believe it does violence to the text to try to force this supposed theme upon it (or, just ignore significant portions of the OT because we don’t find that theme present there).

    What I am suggesting, instead, is that the Story is all about a good God who loves His creation, is saddened by its brokenness due to human sin, and is working to redeem it (including humans). When we let the Story speak for itself, this theme comes pouring out over and over again, from the beginning to the end (and this was the specific point of this particular post—if you haven’t read the other posts I mentioned in the footnote, I would recommend them).

    (2) Heaven (at least, as it currently is) is not our final destination.

    First, you reference John 13.36 and seem to suggest that this refers to Jesus dying and going to heaven. I addressed this passage in my post on John 14.1-3 (http://lukedockery.com/2020/05/08/a-new-heaven-a-new-earth-part-5-problem-texts-john-14-1-3/). It seems best to me, in context, to see this as a reference to Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection, and we know that Jesus didn’t go to heaven prior to His resurrection, because in John 20.17 (post-resurrection), He had not yet ascended to His Father.

    But, nevertheless, even if all the scriptures you reference mean that Jesus went to heaven after His resurrection and is there now (and I believe He is!), they do nothing to indicate that heaven is the “final destination rather than earth”. That would, perhaps, be a reasonable assumption to make if Jesus’ ascension to the Father was the last word that we had on the subject, but, indeed, it is not. And that’s what this series of posts has largely been about.

    We know that:

    –Jesus will return, the dead in Christ will rise, and those who are still alive will be caught up to meet Jesus in the air and escort Him back here (http://lukedockery.com/2020/04/23/a-new-heaven-a-new-earth-part-3-problem-texts-1-thessalonians-4-13-18/).
    –A day of judgment will come when the evil works on earth will be destroyed, and our present cosmos will be refined by fire, resulting in a new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells (http://lukedockery.com/2020/04/30/a-new-heaven-a-new-earth-part-3-problem-texts-2-peter-3-1-13/).
    –The NT repeatedly teaches that God’s salvation will be holistic (affecting all of creation) and redemptive (fixing what was broken by sin) (http://lukedockery.com/2020/05/14/a-new-heaven-a-new-earth-part-6-the-redemption-of-all-things/).
    –The Story of Scripture demands that the solution to sin address all of the consequences brought on by sin (http://lukedockery.com/2020/05/21/a-new-heaven-a-new-earth-part-7-sins-consequences-and-remedy/).

    To sum up:

    The Bible does not teach that “going to heaven when we die” is the point of the story, because it really doesn’t focus much on the intermediate state at all. The point, the telos, the end goal, is what happens when Jesus returns, and the Bible doesn’t teach that when He returns we will all ascend to heaven and that will be our final destination.

    You stated that the Bible also state that “heaven is coming down to earth to me”. I would certainly affirm that the “me” part is not emphasized in Scripture (in general, our readings tend to be far too individualistic: the Bible is certainly not about me), but it would be hard for the language of Revelation 21, considering its genre, to be more explicit than it already is!

    The holy city, New Jerusalem, comes down out of heaven from God, and the picture that is described repeatedly echoes the language of the creation account in Genesis 1-2. It is the marriage of heaven and earth. What sin drove asunder, God has now brought together, and this is where He will dwell with His people forever.

  3. Benjamin Hooten

    In John 14:1-3, Jesus said he was going and coming back. In Jn. 14:28, Jesus ties this with going to the Father. I don’t really see that this applies to His resurrection since, as you mentioned, in Jn. 20:17 he had resurrected, yet He had not ascended to His Father. Thus when Jesus said He was going away, He had to be talking about His ascension. That would mean He was talking about going to heaven. If Peter was to follow Christ in this manner (Jn. 13:36), this would be talking about dying, resurrecting, and going to heaven.

    I would agree with you that the Christian hope is connected with Christ’s return. There is one hope (Eph. 4:4), and that hope is intricately tied with the events of the Second Coming (Tit. 1:2, 2:13, Acts 23:6). Again, the Most Holy Place was typical of heaven (Heb. 9:24). Pointing to this type, the writer of Hebrews puts our hope in heaven (again tied to the second coming), behind the veil, where Jesus has entered as our “forerunner,” like a scout venturing ahead of our destination (Heb. 6:19-20). Heaven is mentioned here, not earth.

    One of the difficulties with accepting this idea of heaven on earth, at least to me and probably to others, is there are a number of passages that put the Christian’s focus on heaven without even mentioning the earth, some of which have to be talking about the second coming. For instance, I have a great reward in heaven (Matt. 5:12). I rejoice that my name is written, or enrolled, in heaven (Lk. 10:20, Phil. 4:3, Heb. 12:23). My hope is in heaven (Col. 1:5). I have a reservation, my inheritance, in heaven (1 Pet. 1:4). The Lord is preserving me for His heavenly kingdom which I will enter at His coming (2 Tim. 4:1, 18). My resurrected body is connected with heaven (2 Cor. 5:1-2). I do not find it hard to see how one might think he is “going to heaven.” There’s not even a “heaven-earth hybrid” mentioned here. In fact, sometimes heaven is contrasted to earth. A good example is Matt. 6:19-21 where Jesus discusses laying up treasure in heaven rather than earth and puts our hearts’ focus on heaven. As a Christian, I seek those things which are above instead of on this earth (Col. 3:2). My resurrected body is connected with the heavenly Man, not the earthy man (man of dust) (1 Cor. 15:46-49). Even Phil. 3:20, where Paul says our citizenship is in heaven, contrasts us with those who set their mind on earthly things (v. 19). As a Christian, I find my mind focused on heaven all of the time, longing for it.

    There are also a few passages that mention heaven and earth passing away, like Matt. 5:17-18. The Olivet Discourse contrasts the passing away of heaven and earth to the eternality of the words of Jesus (Matt. 24:35, Mk. 13:31, Lk. 21:33). In Rev. 20:11, at the great judgment scene, John records that “heaven and earth fled away. And there was no place found for them.” Although this is apocalyptic language, it would indicate the removal of heaven and earth. This does not sound like renewal language.

    Forgive me for responding to this late, but I have been busy this week. Your articles have been interesting, and I would like to discuss them, but this comment platform is too restrictive. I would not mind setting up an e-mail exchange to discuss in better detail. Luke, if you are interested, let me know. Thanks for hearing me out.

    • Luke

      Benjamin,

      Sure thing! I will send you an email.

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