The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Eschatology (Page 1 of 3)

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.

A New Heaven & A New Earth Part 7: Sin’s Consequences and Remedy

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

Last week, we looked at some New Testament texts that point to the idea of cosmic redemption—when Jesus returns, it’s not just faithful men and women who are going to be “saved”; in some sense, the redemptive work of Jesus reaches beyond humanity to the rest of creation as well. We looked at several passages that are frequently overlooked, but together, they present a fairly consistent message: God’s salvation is restorative and holistic. It is restorative in that it fixes what went wrong with creation, and it is holistic in that God intends to restore “all things” in heaven and on earth, including our bodies and creation itself.[1]

In this post, we are going to look at a similar idea, but we’re going to go about it in a different way: we’re going to examine how Genesis 3 describes the far-reaching consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin, and then look at what God is going to do to address those consequences. 

Here is the basic premise, the underlying questions that we want to consider:

  • Do we believe that God, through Jesus, is going to overcome and defeat sin?
  • If so, shouldn’t that mean that whatever God does to overcome and defeat sin should address all of the different types of consequences that sin produces?



Sin’s Far-Reaching Consequences

Genesis 3 is going to be central for our thinking in this post, but really, we shouldn’t just drop down into Genesis 3, because the story actually begins in Genesis 1. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and we have an account of what was created on each day. On the sixth day, God creates humanity. And everything God creates He calls good.

Humanity is special: God creates humans, male and female, in His own image, and gives them a task. Humans are supposed to rule over and take care of creation. This was the plan: God has created this wonderful place where humans can live, and where God can also dwell in relationship with them.

But things go badly very quickly.

Adam and Eve are placed in a garden paradise to live with only one prohibition: they are not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2.16-17). But then, the crafty serpent (elsewhere in the Bible identified as Satan[2]) comes along and entices Eve to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit. Eve shares the fruit with her husband and Adam violates the command of God as well.

Usually, when we talk about this event, we focus on it in a couple of predictable ways: the disobedient act of eating the fruit represents the first human sin, and as a result, the spiritual relationship between humanity and God is ruptured, and physical death comes to mankind as a result.

Both of those things—the disruption of our relationship with God and our mortality—are important, and are certainly presented as results of Adam and Eve’s sin in Genesis 3. But the consequences of sin don’t stop there; they are widespread, and affect all areas of life. To put it in other words, sin breaks everything, and as a result, we live in a broken world.

Genesis 3 indicates that sin has theological, personal, sociological, ecological, and physical consequences:[3]

  • Genesis 3.8-10: Adam and Eve hide from God because they are afraid (theological effects).
  • Genesis 3.10-11: Adam and Eve realize they are naked and are ashamed (personal effects).
  • Genesis 3.12-13, 16: Adam and Eve refuse to take responsibility and their relationship is changed (sociological effects).
  • Genesis 3.17-19: Creation itself becomes cursed (ecological effects).
  • Genesis 3.22-24: Adam and Eve are kicked out of the garden and separated from the tree of life (physical effects).

We will look at each of these categories individually in order to see how the Bible portrays sin as an incredibly serious problem. Sin is all-destroying.

The Theological Consequences of Sin

This category probably won’t require as much commentary as some of the others, since this (along with physical effects) tends to be the area we hone in on.

Simply put, what I mean by “theological consequences” is that sin affects our relationship with God. Just as Adam and Eve hide from the presence of God when they hear Him walking in the garden after they have eaten the forbidden fruit, so we too are unfit to stand in the presence of a holy God. Scripture repeatedly affirms that our sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59.2; Romans 3.23), and this is a big deal, because we were specifically created to live in relationship with God. With that intended relationship destroyed, people desperately seek out all sorts of ways of living out their desires in order to find meaning and fulfillment in life.

In the process, we become enslaved to sin (John 8.34; Romans 6), which is a powerful and disturbing image—the very desires that we chase after in hopes of finding fulfillment become our masters, and on our own, we are powerless to escape their bondage! It’s a desperate situation to be in, and in large part accounts for a society where there are so many people who are completely lost without any hope or direction in life.

Sin destroys our relationship with God.

The Personal Consequences of Sin

Genesis 3 also describes personal consequences of sin (which, as we shall see, are closely related to the theological consequences). This aspect of sin’s destructiveness is hinted at in Genesis 3.7, 10-11 where Adam and Eve realize they are naked, sew together fig leaves to make loincloths and then, because of their nakedness, hide from God when He enters the garden.

What was so bad about Adam and Eve being naked? After all, it was the way God had created them, so clearly He had no problem with it! The problem came from Adam and Eve themselves: after they sin by eating the forbidden fruit, they become self-conscious and immediately feel that there is something wrong with them, and they are ashamed.[4] Ever since then, men and women have felt the same way: we exist in a state of inner conflict, lacking the self-confidence and self-acceptance that we should have as God’s image-bearers.

Basically, the process looks something like this:

  1. Humans were created for the purpose of living in relationship with God.
  2. Sin distorts and destroys that relationship.
  3. Without a relationship with God, we are inherently unfulfilled, because we are not living out the purpose for which we were created.
  4. We feel bad about ourselves and follow all sorts of false avenues looking for fulfillment.

Just consider our world today. People desperately want to feel happy or significant or fulfilled, so they are willing to try anything: fame, fortune, career accomplishment, relationships, children, sex, drugs, sports, etc. Why do you think the self-help industry generates billions of dollars each year? It is because deep down, we all feel like there is something wrong with us. We struggle with self-confidence and self-image, and we are convinced that we are deeply flawed.

And, biblically speaking, people are messed up; we are deeply flawed. But flatter abs, a more secure retirement, or a better relationship with your boyfriend won’t provide the answer. Oh sure, these things might make you feel a little better about yourself for a while, but it won’t last. We were created to live in relationship with God, and only in the context of that relationship can we find the solution to our deep flaws.

Sin destroys the way we look at ourselves.

The Sociological Consequences of Sin

Returning to our text in Genesis 3, we can see the sociological dimension of sin clearly played out in verses 11-13:

11 “[God] said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.””

People were created to live in community with one another. Specifically, Eve was created to be the perfect counterpart for Adam (Genesis 2.18-25). But when God confronts Adam and Eve with their sin, something very significant (and unfortunate) happens: the unity that had previously existed between Adam and Eve is disrupted as Adam immediately blames his wife for the sin that they had committed together.

This brings a conflict and disharmony between them that would be passed down and magnified over time (v.16), and we can see it unfold in the pages of Genesis—Cain’s murder of his brother Abel, the continually evil humanity of Genesis 6, the depraved society of Sodom and Gomorrah, the broken relationships between Sarah and Hagar, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, and more. But the problems don’t stop there—this same conflict and disharmony continues to darken and distort our world today.

Our world is deeply flawed by sin, and this manifests itself everyday sociologically, as we treat one another in a wide array of horrible, messed up ways:

  • On an international level, nations wage war and kill because of conflict over ideology or resources.
  • Systemic evils such as poverty, abortion, racism, sex trafficking, government corruption, lotteries, and more stem from our exploitation of our neighbors in order that we might obtain our own selfish desires.
  • Horrific acts of incomprehensible violence fill our news cycles. Mass shootings at elementary schools, the use of passenger airliners as terrorist missiles, and bombings at marathon finish lines shock and dismay us and cause us to weep.
  • Our interpersonal relationships are a mess. Dishonesty, reckless ambition, and violence abound. The (supposedly) lifelong bonds of marriage are broken on a whim.

And the sum result: our society as a whole stagnates and decays, as people live lives marked by self-interest and fear of one another. The community for which we were created is broken.

Sin destroys our relationships with one another.

The Ecological Consequences of Sin

As mentioned above, we tend to focus on the theological and personal consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin while ignoring some of the other areas. I think the most ignored of those other areas is the ecological consequences associated with the sin in the Garden of Eden (at least, in the Christian circles in which I reside).[5]

Men and women were created to live in relationship with God and with one another, and, in a sense, with creation as well. This is clear in the early chapters of Genesis. Genesis 1.26-30 recounts how Adam and Eve were to have dominion over creation, and Genesis 2.15 mentions that they were to work it and keep it. So in effect, Adam and Eve were to rule over creation, but to do so as stewards who would take care of what God had made.

But, following their disobedience to God’s command to not eat of the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3, the ecological consequence is evident, as a curse is placed on creation in Genesis 3.17-19:

17 “And to Adam he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’”

This curse makes it clear that the relationship between man and creation has been damaged as well. And that’s pretty easy to see, right? Rather than embrace our role as stewards of God’s earth, we tend to exploit creation to satisfy our own selfish desires. There are countless examples of companies that have carelessly polluted in order to cut corners and maximize profits, carelessness and consumptive greed leads to the extinction of plant and animal species, and even “little” problems like widespread littering show a basic lack of respect for the home God has created for us.

Furthermore, there is significant indication in Scripture that the problem isn’t all one-sided: creation itself doesn’t operate the way it was intended to. In Romans 8.20-22 (a text that we considered last week), Paul makes this point, speaking of creation in personified terms:

20 “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”

A creation that is subjected to futility, bound to corruption and groans in the pains of childbirth seems distinctly different from the creation that God made and called “good.” I suppose this is ultimately unprovable, but my personal opinion is that the natural disasters that plague our lives—tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and, yes, global pandemics—are symptomatic of the problems Paul refers to, as creation lives out a cursed existence different from the one for which it was intended.[6]

It’s worth pointing out that there was a degree of chaos in creation from the beginning (creation was “good,” not “perfect,” the serpent was present along with his temptation toward evil, and the Garden of Eden needed to be tended and kept), but it does seem clear that that chaos was intensified following Adam and Eve’s sin by the curse that was placed on creation.[7] Adam and Eve are ultimately expelled from Eden, and outside of the Garden, creation is less than the good and hospitable home for humanity which it was created to be, and we fail to care for it as we should.

Sin destroys our relationship with creation.

The Physical Consequences of Sin

As I mentioned earlier, when we talk about sin in the Garden and the Fall of Man, we tend to focus on the theological and physical consequences. We began by examining the theological fallout from Adam and Eve’s fateful actions, and we will conclude by looking at the physical ramifications.

God had told Adam and Eve that if they ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they “would surely die” (Genesis 2.16-17; 3.3), and although they didn’t drop dead as soon as the fruit passed their lips, physical death did ultimately result as they were expelled from the Garden of Eden and deprived of access to the Tree of Life (Genesis 3.22-23).

This development should provide some clarity to our thinking on death. Often, we talk about death being a “natural part of life,” but although death is a universal experience to humans, theologically, it is not “natural.” God created us as mortals with access to immortality in the Garden. Because of sin, that access was taken away and the reality of death came to be fundamental to human existence. No wonder that Paul can talk of death as an “enemy” in 1 Corinthians 15.26: death is not a part of the existence that God desired for us! It is a result of sin and it belongs to the realm of Satan.

Outside of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve (and all of their descendants) are subjected to the futility of mortality. We have mutations in our DNA that lead to horrible diseases, we get sick because our immune systems don’t perfectly protect us, we grow old and weak, and ultimately, we die.

Sin leads to physical death.

The Remedy to Sin’s Consequences

As you can see, sin is like a pervasive cancer, a sickness spreading throughout the world that causes damage and devastation in all sorts of ways. The consequences of sin certainly include separation from God and physical death, but they are much more widespread and far-reaching than just that.

Going back to something I said at the beginning:

  • Do we believe that God, through Jesus, is going to overcome and defeat sin?
  • If so, shouldn’t that mean that whatever God does to overcome and defeat sin should address all of the different types of consequences that sin produces?

And thus, the main point of this post: if sin is this widespread, then the remedy for sin must also be this widespread.

Otherwise, sin is not overcome. God does not defeat it. God does not win.

Now, I don’t think we always do a good job talking about all these different consequences of sin, and we  also struggle to talk about how God, through Christ, fully and systematically defeats sin. But the Bible actually gives us a picture of how, in the end, all of these consequences of sin are undone:

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

(Revelation 21.1-5)

Revelation 21.1-5 (and really, all of Revelation 21-22) is a major passage that reinforces the NHNE perspective that we have been examining in this series. We are not going to examine it in detail in the post, and we will continue to touch on it in coming weeks, but you will notice in the few verses above that there are several ideas present that we have discussed previously:

  • The language of “a new heaven and a new earth”; our eternal location is not described as “heaven”
  • The holy city, new Jerusalem comes down out of heaven
  • It is described as “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (remember, “I go to prepare a place for you”)
  • God will dwell/tabernacle with His people, as He has done throughout the biblical story
  • The One on the throne says, “Behold, I am making all things new.” He doesn’t say, “Behold, I am making all new things.” See the difference?

But what does this passage and the wider context of Revelation 21-22 have to say about the defeat of sin? If we look closely, we can see that this portrayal of the New Heaven and New Earth clearly announces a solution to the widespread effects of sin.

The Remedy to the Theological Consequences

3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.

(Revelation 21.3)

22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

(Revelation 21. 22-27)

The relationship between God and humanity has been restored. God dwells eternally with His people.

The Remedy to the Personal Consequences

4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

(Revelation 21.4)

No longer will we feel shame and revulsion about ourselves. The crying and the pain will have passed away.

The Remedy to the Sociological Consequences

1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

(Revelation 22.1-2)

The removal of our crying and pain (21.4) obviously has implications for our sociological strife as well, but 22.1-2 goes even further: the leaves of the Tree of Life are for the healing of the nations. No longer will nation war against nation, or brother against brother.

The Remedy to the Ecological Consequences

3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.

(Revelation 22.3)

After a discussion of the new creation, with the river of the water of life and the tree of life with its fruit and healing leaves (22.1-2), we are told that there will no longer be anything accursed. The curse that set creation in bondage is no more. Creation has been redeemed, and has obtained “the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Romans 8).

The Remedy to the Physical Consequences

5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

(Revelation 22.5)

Death has been removed from existence. God’s people will live and reign with Him eternally.

Conclusion: Does God Defeat Sin…Or Not?

The biblical narrative describes a pervasive sin problem that affects every aspect of existence, but it also provides a conclusion to the story where every consequence of sin has been overcome, including the curse placed upon creation.

Renewed eschatology adequately addresses all of the different consequences of sin that Scripture describes, but on the other hand, I simply do not see how the traditional understanding, where God’s good creation is destroyed and thrown away, does. If sin damages creation itself, then the remedy for sin must fix creation; it cannot simply destroy it.

A creation that is destroyed is simply not what the biblical story anticipates. It is a result that allows the power of sin to remain unvanquished.

But, thankfully, Scripture assures us of a different outcome: God does win, sin is defeated, and all of its consequences are put to rights. Our relationship with God is restored, our shame is taken away, we are enabled to live in harmony with one another, creation is renewed, and we dwell with our Creator for eternity.

Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.


[1]Or, to put it in terms we hear frequently, salvation is not just about saving human “souls.”

[2]See Revelation 12.9. Some argue that when Satan is identified as the “ancient serpent” in Revelation 12.9, this is a reference to Leviathan, the chaos monster of various Ancient Near Eastern texts (including the Book of Job), rather than the serpent of Genesis 3, who (according to this view) is just another of God’s animal creations.

I struggle with this argument. While not denying the importance of the chaos monster in ANE thought, I am not convinced that this archetype would be more prevalent in the minds of John’s first-century audience than the serpent of Genesis 3. Furthermore, the serpent of Genesis 3 is clearly an element of chaos! He brings disruption and distortion into God’s good creation. With that in mind, it seems possible to me that this is a case of both/and rather than either/or: Satan is a chaotic, malevolent force that seeks to disrupt the order that God built into His creation. We see this in Genesis 3.

[3]These thoughts on the widespread devastation of sin are based in considerable part on the lectures of Dr. Mark Powell in his Systematic Theology class which I took at Harding School of Theology.

[4]It is important to note that, according to the biblical account, Adam and Eve are ashamed of their nakedness, not of their sin (it should have been the other way around). Sin had fundamentally changed the way they viewed themselves.

[5]It is probably more accurate to say that different segments of Christianity emphasize these various types of consequences to different degrees. For example, more progressive Christians spend a great deal of energy addressing issues like racism and the environment (sociological and ecological consequences), while more conservative Christians tend to focus less on such issues. On the other hand, conservative Christians are more likely to focus on sinful behaviors (theological consequences) than their progressive counterparts.

From where I sit, we would all do well to acknowledge the widespread devastation of sin, and seek to address it in all of its forms. 

Speaking as a theologically conservative Christian, I think the general neglect of the ecological consequences of sin is itself evidence of the distorted relationship we have with creation. The sad reality is that, all too often, discussion of creation care is dismissed as a political idea (specifically a politically liberal idea), despite the fact that environmental stewardship is a clear biblical principle! We must do better.

[6]If my thinking on this is correct, then it also stands in judgment against the hurtful things that some religious people say in very public ways following a natural disaster such as “Hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment against the wickedness of New Orleans”.

God is sovereign and can bring judgment in any way He chooses, but it is incredibly presumptuous for humans to proclaim what God is doing when such has not been revealed. Natural disasters are a condition of our broken world, and while God can use these events to accomplish His purposes, it is theological malpractice to rush in when such an event occurs to declare why God supposedly brought it about.

[7] For more on this, see “Creation, Chaos, and Suffering”, in which I interact with the views of Terence E. Fretheim in Creation Untamed: The Bible, God, and Natural Disasters.

A New Heaven & A New Earth Part 6: The Redemption of All Things

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

We have spent the last few posts examining passages that supposedly contradict the renewed earth perspective, and have seen that these texts don’t actually oppose that perspective. Indeed, they fit better with the NHNE view than with the traditional idea that this earth will be destroyed and that when Jesus comes, we will leave this earth and return to heaven with Him.

Today marks a shift in this series, as we begin to make positive arguments for the renewed earth perspective. In this post, in particular, we are going to be looking at several texts that teach cosmic redemption: God intends to redeem and restore all of creation, not just humans. 

The content and line of argumentation employed in this post rely significantly on J. Richard Middleton’s A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology.[1] We are going to look at several New Testament passages[2] that all describe God’s salvation in some sense, and with each passage, we are going to ask two questions:

  • How is salvation described in this passage?
  • What is the object or recipient of God’s salvation in this passage? Who or what gets saved?



Acts 3.19-21

Here, in context, Peter is preaching the Gospel outside the temple. He has told his audience (“Men of Israel”) that the God of their fathers has raised Jesus from the dead following HIs crucifixion, and that this was foretold by the mouths of the prophets.

19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.

There is not a lot of detail in this passage and it is somewhat cryptic, but looking at our two questions, we can see the answers.

How is salvation described in this passage? Who or what gets saved?

Depending on your translation, Acts 3.21 says something like “universal restoration” or “restoring all the things.”[3] According to Peter, salvation is restorative in that it fixes what sin has broken, and it is also holistic in that it affects everything.[4]

Peter also says that God has talked about this through the mouth of the prophets. Later in this series, we will track the notion of cosmic redemption throughout Scripture, but it is worth keeping in mind that Peter says universal restoration is something that has been prophesied.

This is a brief text and perhaps a murky one, but I think it becomes clearer when it is placed beside some other statements in the New Testament.

Ephesians 1.3-10

Here, Paul discusses God’s plan of salvation and the spiritual blessings we have in Christ:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

This passage talks about our adoption into God’s family and the redemption and forgiveness we have made possible through Jesus Christ. And then, look specifically at verses 9-10: how is salvation described in this passage? Who or what gets saved?

“Here salvation (God’s plan for the fullness of time) is understood as gathering up or unifying in Christ that which has been fragmented (or perhaps alienated) through sin.”[5]

So again, we see salvation described in restorative terms, and it is also holistic, because what will be saved? Paul is as explicit as he can be: “all things…things in heaven and on earth.” If you think back to the first post in this series, we talked about heaven and earth as the biblical pairing that we see over and over again in Scripture (cf. Genesis 1.1).

Salvation will be as widespread as creation.

Colossians 1.15-20

This has been one of my favorite texts in the New Testament for several years. It is a magisterial text that elevates Jesus Christ as the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. But it wasn’t until I considered it more closely that I saw how it also teaches cosmic redemption.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Look at verse 19-20 specifically: how is salvation described in this passage? Who or what gets saved?

Salvation is described in terms of reconciliation, making peace between those who are at enmity with one another by removing the cause of the enmity between them: sin. So, again, we see salvation as restorative. 

As Christians, we tend to think of this in very individualistic terms: Jesus died for me. While that is certainly true, it’s not what this text emphasizes: the reconciliation made possible by Jesus is applied to “all things, whether on earth or in heaven.”

This clearly refers to more than just humans:

  • Colossians 1.16: “all things…in heaven and on earth” were created through Jesus. 
  • Colossians 1.17: “all things” hold together in Him. 
  • Colossians 1.20: “All things, whether on earth or in heaven” will be reconciled in Him.

The same language is used in all three instances: what Jesus created, He also sustains and will redeem. Salvation is holistic. It is as wide as creation; it is cosmic in scope.

Romans 8.18-23

I like this passage a lot; I think it is really neat, and also weird. After talking about how those who are led by the Spirit are sons of God and fellow heirs with Christ, Paul launches into a series of thoughts about future glory:

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

The background of this passage lies in the Fall of Man in Genesis 3 and the fact that a curse is placed on Creation itself because of human sin (v. 20; cf. Genesis 3.17-19). Because of human sin, creation has been “subjected to futility” and is under “bondage to decay”. Both the “whole creation” and “we ourselves” long for redemption.

How is salvation described in this passage? Who or what gets saved?

Salvation is described here as liberation—being set free from bondage—and also as redemption.  Again, this is restorative language. Furthermore, creation itself[6] is longing to be liberated, and we ourselves long for the redemption of our own bodies.[7] Salvation is about more than just us; it is holistic.

2 Peter 3.10-13

We will not spend much time on this passage because we covered it at length in a previous post. In context, Peter is giving a warning to those who scoff and think that judgment won’t come, and he tells them that indeed it will. Here, near the end of 2 Peter 3, he talks about how we should live lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for the coming day of God (and of course, this is when “salvation” comes):

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

How is salvation described in this passage? Who or what gets saved?

We have studied this already: there is a process where “the earth and the works in it” will be disclosed or laid bare, and we talked about the idea of refining or purification by fire. Again, salvation is restorative.

Then, Peter says, a new heavens and a new earth will come about—not brand new, but a new version of what was before—salvation is holistic.

Putting It All Together

Here is a summary of what we have seen in the passages we have discussed:[8]

So, tying all this together, what can we conclude? In the words of Middleton:

“First, salvation is conceived not as God doing something completely new, but rather as redoing something, fixing or repairing what went wrong; this point is expressed in the language of restoration, reconciliation, renewal, and redemption found in these tests. Second, this restorative work is applied as holistically and comprehensively as possible, to all things in heaven and on earth, where the phrase “heaven and earth” is how Scripture typically designates the entire created order (with the earth understood as the distinctively human realm [Ps. 115:16]). The point is that the final salvific state envisioned in these five texts clearly contradicts an understanding of an immaterial, supramundane “heaven” as the ultimate dwelling place of the redeemed.”[9]

Scripture describes redemption in cosmic terms. It is restorative and holistic.


[1]J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014): 155-63.

[2]I am not attempting in this post (or even in this entire series) to examine every passage in Scripture that supports the notion of a renewed creation. In this post, we are looking at a certain kind of text that supports this idea of cosmic redemption. In future posts, we will trace this theme through Scripture in different ways, but there are some passages that we will not get to.

For example, in Matthew 5.5 Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Although this passage was not central to my own development on this topic, it is a verse that is frequently referenced in support of NHNE. For an excellent discussion of this passage, see Jacob Rutledge, “The Christian and Creation, Chapter 4: Jesus and the Restoration of All Things.”

[3]BDAG, 112, glosses this word, apokatastasis/αποκαταστασις as “restoration”, and suggests a meaning of “restoring everything to perfection or, as of stars in their orbits, to their starting points.”

As Middleton, 157 n.5, points out, this term does not refer to the ultimate salvation of all people. Cosmic redemption is not universalism. While Scripture teaches that God loves and will ultimately redeem His creation, it also teaches that God honors the choices of humans who reject His love and offer of redemption. Middleton, 207-09, covers this in more detail.

[4]The word here is the common Greek word, panta/παντα, which means “all”. Here, it appears in the neuter gender, which is what provides the translation “things.” So, “all things” is the more literal translation; “universal” is more interpretive, but seems sound.

[5]Middleton, 158.

[6]The Greek word for “creation” in this passage is ktisis/κτισις and refers simply to something that is created. Those seeking a different interpretation than what I offer above will occasionally try to argue that in this text, ktisis is referring to humans rather than other forms of creation (animals, plants, rocks, etc.). This interpretation cannot be correct.

BDAG, 573, acknowledges the dispute over the meaning of the word in this passage, but does state that it is usually “taken to mean the waiting of the whole creation below the human level (animate and inanimate).”

Jimmy Allen, Survey of Romans (Searcy, AR: 1973): 79, presses further, helpfully laying out why ktisis cannot refer to humans in this passage. First, it cannot refer to those who are in Christ, because a clear distinction is made between believers and ktisis in Romans 8.23 (“not only the creation, but we ourselves…”). Second, it cannot refer to those who are outside of Christ, because “unbelievers do not look forward to the revealing of God’s sons in glory nor will they obtain the glorious liberty of God’s children.”

[7]This is a reference to the resurrection and the glorious transformation of our bodies, which we will discuss at length in a later post.

[8] This chart is adapted from Middleton, 163.

[9] Ibid.

A New Heaven & A New Earth Part 5: “Problem” Texts–John 14.1-3

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

Today’s post is the third focused specifically on dealing with “problem” passages that are frequently brought up as evidence that the Bible does not teach that creation will be renewed when Jesus returns. My contention is that these texts are really not “problems” after all—when properly understood, they either argue for the NHNE perspective, or at least, do not argue against it.

Previously, we have discussed 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18 and 2 Peter 3.1-13, and today, we will look at John 14.1-3. There are, certainly, other texts that people use to argue against the NHNE perspective, but these are the “Big 3” in my experience, and next week, we will move on and begin looking at various arguments for the renewed creation perspective.[1]

I will be clear up front: I do not believe that John 14.1-3 clearly teaches the NHNE position, but neither do I believe that it is a problem for that position.

Here is the passage in question:

1 Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

Why is this text considered to be a “problem”? Frequently, this passage is read to mean that Jesus is preparing a place for us in heaven and so when He returns, He will take us back with Him to heaven. 

Is this the only way to read it? Well, certainly not. Let’s take a closer look.



The Harmony of Scripture

First off, at this point, it is helpful for us to remember some of what we have studied in previous posts, because it is important for us to consider these passages in relation to one another.

I do not believe that the New Testament presents a bunch of contradictory ideas about what happens when Jesus returns (or anything else, for that matter), where one text presents a certain idea and another text says something completely different. Instead, I believe the teaching of Scripture is consistent and unified and that various passages harmonize with one another to provide a fuller picture on a given subject.

So, if we have 1 Thessalonians 4 in mind, we know from the historical background and use of imperial language in that passage that we are going to meet Jesus and then return here (whatever “here” is like at that point). Thus, we should already be skeptical about any interpretation of John 14 that indicates that when Jesus returns we will leave here to go somewhere else with Him.

Looking at the Passage in Context

In context, what is Jesus trying to do in this passage? John 14.1 gives us the answer as Jesus tells His disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” Jesus is providing comfort to His disciples.

If we go up a few verses (remember, chapter additions were added much later; this is all part of Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse”), we see that there is plenty that Jesus has told them that would have been distressing to them: one of the disciples will betray Him, Jesus will not be with them much longer, and Peter will deny Jesus repeatedly. With all of this in their minds, it makes sense that the disciples would be troubled!

But Jesus tells them not to be troubled, but to trust in God and in Himself. We then have the famous verse, “In my Father’s house are many rooms” (v.2).

Rooms

I want to look at the two crucial words/phrases in this verse—“Father’s house” and “rooms”—in reverse order.

The word translated as “rooms” or “dwelling places” is the Greek word μοναι/monai, which can mean something like “temporary lodging place”.[2] Because of this, it has been argued that this is a reference to the intermediate state and that Jesus is preparing an interim resting place for His disciples when they die,  prior to the return of Jesus and the resurrection of the dead.

This seems unlikely, though, because John 14.3 focuses on when Jesus comes again and not on when the disciples will die.[3]

Father’s House

Generally speaking, “Father’s house” is temple language. Think of the story of Jesus as a boy when His parents find Him in the temple and He says, “Did you not now that I must be in My Father’s house?” (Luke 2.49), or Jesus cleansing the temple in John 2.16 and saying, “Do not make my Father’s house a den of trade.”[4]

When Jesus talks about His Father’s house in John 14.2, He isn’t referring to the literal temple, but rather, is using this language as a shorthand for “where God is”—in ancient understanding, temples were places where God dwells, and we see this throughout the story of Scripture. 

We referenced this idea when we discussed the relationship between Heaven and Earth in the first post of this series. Heaven is God’s domain, the earth is humanity’s domain, and we see throughout the biblical story that there are times and places where heaven and earth overlap[5]—where God dwells with humanity in a special way:

  • At creation, God constructed a cosmic temple[6] where God was able to dwell with humans and walked with them in the garden.
  • With the tabernacle (and later, its more permanent counterpart, the temple), God created a means to dwell within the midst of the nation of Israel.
  • In the incarnation, the Word became flesh and “tabernacled” among us. Jesus Himself was a walking temple, as God dwelt among us in an unprecedented way. 
  • Through the giving of the Spirit, God’s presence was multiplied exponentially. God’s Spirit lives within believers, and Paul says that we are temples of God’s Spirit, individually (1 Corinthians 3.16) and collectively (1 Corinthians 6.19-20).
  • In eternity, God will make His dwelling (tabernacle) with humanity in the new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21.1-5).

Throughout Scripture, we can see how temple language is used to indicate spaces where God’s presence can dwell with humanity. Here, in John 14, when Jesus talks about His “Father’s house”, this is the background against which we need to hear His statement. And the emphasis of what Jesus says here is not the where of His Father’s house, but its expansiveness: there is plenty of room for everyone: many dwelling places. Remember, this is a passage of comfort.

Jesus will go and prepare a place for His disciples in His Father’s house, and will come again so they can dwell together.

But When Will This Happen?

In my discussion of the Greek word μοναι/monai above, I argued that this passage can’t really be a reference to the intermediate state, because the emphasis is on when Jesus comes again, not on when the disciples themselves die. So, what does Jesus mean when He says, “I will come again”? When will this happen?

It is easy for us to read these words and immediately think of the Second Coming, but I am not sure that does justice to the context of this passage. This is the night that Jesus is betrayed. In a matter of hours, Jesus will “go away”. He will be forcibly removed from their presence, tried, scourged, and crucified, ultimately leaving them at His death. He would then “come again” to be with them following His resurrection. 

Thus, in one sense, I think we can say that the most straightforward way of reading this passage is in light of what was about to happen to Jesus and the disciples. This reading makes sense from a theological perspective as well: when Jesus “goes away” to be crucified, He absorbs the sins of the world upon Himself and makes it possible for all people to have a relationship with the Father. 

A little later in John 14.23, Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” The word “home” in this passage is μονὴν/monen, the same word Jesus used in 14.2, and I think we see this happening in a powerful way at Pentecost, with the sending of God’s Spirit to live among God’s people and make his home among us.[7]

However, once we have acknowledged the immediate context of Jesus’ words in John 14.1-3, I think there is also a fuller meaning to which this passage points, just as the current indwelling of the Spirit is a guarantee or down payment that points to our future inheritance (2 Corinthians 1.22, 5.5; Ephesians 1.13-14).[8] As Jesus’ work on the cross and His defeat of sin and death make it possible for the Spirit to come and dwell among us, so also it makes possible God’s ultimate dwelling with His people in the new creation—He prepares this for us.

When Jesus returns, we will go to be with Him (1 Thessalonians 4.17; John 14.3).[9] Revelation 21.2 describes that time of God’s ultimate dwelling with His people by saying that “the holy city, new Jerusalem” will come “down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband”, and the word “prepared” is the same word that Jesus uses in John 14.3.

Or, as Hicks, Valentine, and Wilson describe it in Embracing Creation:

“Jesus goes away to complete the construction (preparation) of God’s new house, the new creation. When Jesus returns, the heavenly Jerusalem will descend—with Jesus—to the new earth under the new heavens. Jesus will receive us, and we will dwell with Jesus within the Father’s house forever.”[10]

With all of that in mind, I think there is a two-fold answer to the question of when the things that Jesus describes in John 14.1-3 will happen. First, Jesus is going away to be crucified, but He will return to His disciples after the resurrection, and what He accomplishes in the meantime will change everything and will make it possible for God to dwell with His people in an unprecedented way. But beyond that, this points ahead to eternity, where Jesus will return again take us to Himself, and the Father will fully and eternally dwell with us in His house—a new heaven and a new earth.

Conclusion

It is important to remember that the focus of John 14.1-3 is really not on what happens when Jesus returns; it is that Jesus’ disciples can be comforted in the knowledge that when He returns, they can be with Him forever (wherever that may be). 

Thus, this passage doesn’t really come down on the NHNE issue one way or the other. It does, however, fit nicely with other texts such as 1 Thessalonians 4 and Revelation 21 in a way that the traditional view does not.


[1]J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014): 179-237, has an excellent, lengthy discussion of various texts that could be construed as presenting a perspective contrary to renewed eschatology.

[2]The King James Version erroneously translates this word as “mansions,” which is the source of old songs like “Mansion Over the Hilltop” and “An Empty Mansion.” The theological point of this verse is the comfort of dwelling with God, not on the magnificent opulence of that dwelling.

[3]Middleton, 228-29; Ian Paul, “Jesus’ farewell discourse in John 14”, https://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/jesus-farewell-discourse-in-john-14/

[4]Technically, the word for “house” does not occur in the Greek of the Luke 2 passage, but the fact that Jesus is in the temple and that it is widely translated this way illustrates the point I am making: “Father’s house” is temple language.

[5]See Timothy Mackie and Jonathan Collins, When Heaven Meets Earth: A 12-Part Biblical Study on Heaven (Portland: The Bible Project, 2017). This resource is available for download on The Bible Project website here.

[6]The notion that God is depicted as creating a cosmic temple and setting it in order in Genesis 1-2 and setting it in order is a widespread understanding in biblical studies. For helpful summaries of this, see John Mark Hicks, Bobby Valentine, and Mark Wilson, Embracing Creation: God’s Forgotten Mission, (Abilene, TX: Leafwood: 2016): 33-45; Middleton, 46-49, 163-65, 168-72.

[7] I am indebted to Stephen Scaggs for his thoughts in helping me to understand this reading of the text. 

Embracing Creation, 195: “In one sense, Jesus comes even now in the presence of the Spirit to live within us and make his home among us. This is his promise in John 14:23, the only place where Jesus uses this word other than John 14:2. In the coming of the Spirit, the Father and Son, Jesus said, will “make our home [dwelling place] with them.”

See also Middleton, 229.

[8]Embracing Creation, 196, discusses the “fuller experience” to which this passage refers beyond the immediate context. 

[9]To me, the language of 1 Thessalonians 4.17 and John 14. 3 are strikingly similar. In 1 Thessalonians 4.17, we will be “caught up” to meet the Lord in the air; in John 14.3, Jesus says, “I will take you to myself.” These are forceful actions, initiated by Jesus, that result in our dwelling with Him.

[10]Embracing Creation, 196.

A New Heaven & A New Earth Part 4: “Problem” Texts–2 Peter 3.1-13

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

Last week’s post was about our first “problem” text, 1 Thessalonians 4.13-17. In that post, I argued that, when properly understood in its historical context, paying close attention to the specific Greek words that Paul uses, this passage isn’t actually a “problem” for the NHNE perspective at all; it actually supports renewed eschatology.

For me, the “problem” passage we are going to look at today was even more important in my own journey, because this was the passage that to me most seemed to refute the notion that God would renew and redeem creation when Jesus returned. I am talking about 2 Peter 3.1-13, which is another “problem” in the sense that it supposedly opposes renewed eschatology. When properly understood, I don’t think it does, and I think it actually fits quite well with the NHNE perspective.

There is a lot going on in this passage that we will need to consider, and even in what I am sure will be a very long post, we won’t be able to fully do it justice.

Let’s start by taking a look at the passage itself (I have the verse that people tend to focus on in bold):

1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.



Different Translations

When I taught through this passage in Bible class, I made sure that we read from several different Bible translations, paying close attention to the different ways that 2 Peter 3.10 is translated. Above, I quoted from the ESV. Here is verse 10 again:

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Here is the same verse in the KJV: 

10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

The NKJV:

10 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.

And also, the NASB:

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.

Lest you think that the ESV is the oddball and that all other translations say that the earth will be “burned up” in v. 10, here is the NIV:

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

And, finally, the NRSV:

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.

Obviously, we have a translation issue here: one group of translations says that, in this context, the earth and its works will be “burned up”, while the other translations say the earth and its works will be “exposed”, “laid bare”, or “disclosed”. We will get into the details of this textual problem later, but for the moment, we will just acknowledge why this appears to be problematic for the idea of a renewed cosmos when Jesus comes: if you are reading from the NJKV or a similar translation, this verse makes it seem like the earth is going to be destroyed or annihilated by fire. Thus, we will either (1) go off to heaven with Jesus (which works well if paired with a faulty interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4), or (2) live in a “new heavens and a new earth” (v.13) that is completely distinct from our current system.[1]

In other words, the idea that our current earth will in some way be renewed, redeemed, transformed—the perspective I am presenting in this series—is dismissed, because it sounds like it’s going to be burned up.

Is this the best way to read this passage? In this post, we’re going to take a closer look. I will confess that this is a challenging passage, but I think we can bring some clarity to it.

Context

First, let’s look at the point of what Peter is trying to say in context. In this section, Peter is talking about sinful people who scoff at the notion of judgment. They say things like, “You say judgment is going to happen, but everything just continues as it always has!” (v.4), but Peter points out that judgment came upon the earth before when God judged the world by a flood (v.5-6). In the same way, “the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and the destruction of the ungodly” (v.7).

This knowledge—God’s impending judgment upon evil—should encourage the wicked to repent.

When the day of the Lord comes, the heavenly bodies[2] will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be…burned up? exposed? (This is the verse that we looked at in multiple translations; we’ll get to it in a few minutes.)

Because of all this, Peter says that we should be motivated to live lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for the coming day of God, and anticipating “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (v.13).

So, to keep things in perspective, whatever v.10 is talking about, what is the main point of this passage? Judgment upon evil has happened before (flood), judgment upon evil is going to happen again (fire), and the knowledge of this should motivate us to live holy lives.

Interpreting the Passage: Important Ideas to Consider

Three Worlds, and the Comparison to Noah: 

In 2 Peter 3.1-13, Peter refers to three different habitable worlds:[3]

  • Past: The original “heavens” and “earth” that emerged from and through water by the command of God. This world “perished” in the flood of Noah (2 Peter 3.5-6)
  • Present: The “heavens and earth that now exist” that are “stored up for fire” at the command of God (2 Peter 3.7,10,12)
  • Future: The future “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” according to the promise of God (2 Peter 3.13)

Keeping these three worlds in mind is helpful as we consider the comparison that is made to the days of Noah: whatever is going to happen with fire in this present world, Peter compares to the judgment that God brought on the world through the flood.

Did the flood of Noah destroy the world? Well, yes…and no.

Certainly, the world as it had previously been was no more, but it’s not like the earth ceased to exist. The flood brought judgment upon the sins of the world and it certainly changed things. In some ways, it reset the system and perhaps even instituted a new system of existence (kind of like reformatting the hard drive of a computer after it crashes).

The flood of Noah washed the earth clean, preparing it to be a new sort of world (the “Present” world, as described above). But the earth was not annihilated.

Biblical Use of Fiery Judgment

The notion of fiery judgment upon the earth that Peter uses in this passage has a background in the Hebrew prophets, where it is a repeated motif.

One example of this is Malachi 4.1 (though, see also Malachi 3.1-4, Isaiah 34.4, Isaiah 64.1, and Zephaniah 3.8, among others):

1 “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.”

This is common judgment language, but in Malachi 4, who is the focus of it? Who will actually be burned up? The arrogant and all evildoers. Compare that to 2 Peter 3.7, which says that this fire is being stored up to bring destruction on the ungodly. The emphasis here, and in the entire passage, is not on destroying all that has been created, but a judgment of destruction upon the wicked.[4]

“The earth and the works that are done on it will be __________.”

We noted this problem at the beginning of the post, that different translations render 2 Peter 3.10 in very different ways, and one of those ways indicates that the earth will be “burned up.”

This is not a translation problem, but a textual one. As you probably know, we have thousands and thousands of hand-copied New Testament manuscripts, and, as you can imagine if you were responsible for copying the entire New Testament by hand, no matter how hard you tried, you would make some mistakes. Textual criticism is the academic study of comparing manuscripts with one another to determine which is more accurate and reflects the original reading.

Textual criticism is a complex field, and I do not pretend to be an expert, but here are two major rules of textual criticism:

  • Older manuscripts are considered to be more reliable than recent ones. This makes a lot of sense if you think about it: since you are trying to figure out what the original copy said, it would be more likely that manuscripts that are closer chronologically to the original would be closer in content as well, because there would be less time and fewer iterations for mistakes to accumulate.
  • When you have two textual variants (a disagreement between two manuscripts), the more difficult reading is considered more likely to be authentic. This one might seem counterintuitive, but also makes sense when you think about it. A scribe copying a manuscript is unlikely to change a word or passage that reads satisfactorily into something that is less clear; he is much more likely to smooth out passages that seem difficult to make them understandable.

In 2 Peter 3.10, different manuscript traditions have different words. Some have the Greek word heurethesetai/εύρεθησεται (will be found, will be exposed, will be laid bare), while others have the word katakaesetai/κατακαησεται (will be burned up, will be consumed).

  • The older, more reliable manuscripts (Vaticanus, Sinaiticus) have heurethesetai (will be found, will be exposed, will be laid bare) in v. 10.[5]
  • This is also the more difficult reading and thus, preferred. If you are a scribe copying this text, based on the language earlier in this passage (that talks about fire and destruction), it would be easy to lose your place or make an assumption and think that katakaesetai fits here. It is much more difficult to explain why a scribe would insert the word heurethesetai in this context. 

To sum up, going back to our rules for textual criticism: “exposed/laid bare” is the older reading, and it is the more difficult reading as well. So even though we have different translations of the Bible that have different readings here, our best guess is that the Greek text originally said heurethesetai. This is what my Greek New Testament has as well.[6]

So, the idea here is that when this fiery judgment comes, it will work in such a way as to expose the things that have been done on earth, not destroy the earth. It is like a refining or purifying fire—God’s judgment determines what is pure and what is not.[7]

What Are the “Elements” or “Heavenly Bodies” of v.10,12?

Unlike the textual issue we have been discussing, this is a translation issue. The Greek word stoicheia/στοιχεια can be translated in different ways in English, and each of those English renderings has multiple possible meanings:[8]

  • Stoicheia could refer to Elements, like the basic building blocks of the physical universe. As modern readers, we hear this word and probably think of things like carbon, hydrogen, etc. that we would find on the Periodic Table of Elements. Obviously, this would have been unknown to Peter’s audience, and cannot be what he was referring to. There is evidence in the ancient world that stoicheia was used to refer to the “elements” of earth, air, fire, and water, but interpreting the word in this way would mean that the earth is included in the meltdown, whereas 2 Peter 3 doesn’t say that the earth will be destroyed or burned up, as already explained above. Thus, this meaning seems untenable.
  • Stoicheia could refer to Elements, in the sense of “elementary teachings” or false teaching. It is used in that way elsewhere in the New Testament (Colossians 2.8,20), so the idea could be that these false teachings will be destroyed, and the false teachers themselves will be exposed and subject to judgment.
  • Stoicheia could refer to Heavenly Bodies, like the sun, moon, and stars. If this is correct, perhaps what this passage is referring to is that the “top layer” of the world will be removed (see Isaiah 34.4), so that what lies beneath on the world can be exposed and judged.
  • Stoicheia could refer to Heavenly Bodies, as a reference to angelic powers, beings that Paul describes as powers, principalities, etc. This would make sense in that it could be talking about God bringing judgment upon spiritual forces that are in rebellion to God, paralleling the humans who are in rebellion to God and are going to be judged as well. So, first, the heavenly bodies are judged and destroyed, then the earth is laid bare/exposed, and finally the ungodly are next in line for God’s judgment.

Ultimately, I am not sure which of these understandings is correct, but I lean toward “heavenly bodies” being the better translation.

“New heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells”

When all of this happens, when the present world is judged, when evil is exposed and destroyed and the world is changed (“destroyed” through a refining process), 2 Peter 3.13 describes the future world as a “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”[9]

There are multiple Greek words for “new”, which have overlapping but somewhat distinct meanings:

  • Neos/νεος: the primary usage of this word in the New Testament refers to something that has been in existence for a relatively short time. Something that is “fresh” or “brand new.”[10]
  • Kainos/καινος: this word can be used similarly to neos, but also can refer to that which is recent in contrast to something old in the sense that what is old has become obsolete. It is a newer and better version of what has been.[11]

It is interesting to note that kainos is the word used here. On its own, this doesn’t prove anything, but it does give additional evidence to the idea that the new heavens and new earth is a refined, purified, restored, recreated heavens and earth rather than a brand new replacement for something that has been destroyed. It is a newer and better version of what has been.

Conclusion

Putting all of this together, 2 Peter 3 is not about the annihilation of the earth; it is about a fiery judgment upon sin, analogous to the watery judgment on sin through the flood. This judgment will expose all that has been done, and wickedness will be judged and destroyed in some sense. 

The fallout from all of this is that everything will be changed. Just as things were dramatically different after the flood of Noah brought about a new world, this instance of fiery judgment will purify and refine God’s creation and will bring about a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. As Christians, this is what we look forward to, and our hope, as well as our sober acknowledgment of the certainty of judgment, motivates us to live in a certain way.[12]

Far from refuting the notion of a renewed earth, 2 Peter 3 actually teaches it.


[1]Most people who hold to (1) would probably acknowledge the existence of “new heavens and a new earth” because 2 Peter 3.13 mentions it, but would just equate that with heaven. This interpretation is perplexing to me (talking about “new heavens and a new earth” seems like a really confusing way of talking about “heaven as it already is”), but I wanted to acknowledge that these people, though mistaken in my view, are not ignoring 2 Peter 3.13.

[2]Depending on your translation, “heavenly bodies” is instead rendered as “elements.” We will discuss this later.

[3]This listing is based significantly on John Mark Hicks, Bobby Valentine, and Mark Wilson, Embracing Creation: God’s Forgotten Mission, (Abilene, TX: Leafwood: 2016): 197, but altered to fit a different translation.

[4]This is just one example to show the common biblical practice of using language fiery destruction to talk about God’s judgment upon sin. J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014): 109-28, discusses at length the ways in which biblical authors depict God coming in judgment upon the world, how storms, earthquakes, and fire are a part of this imagery, and how the effects of God’s judgment are cosmic in scope.

It is also worth pointing out that this is apocalyptic language, commonly used in biblical prophecy, and not always intended to be pressed literally. For example, in Acts 2, Peter describes the events of the Day of Pentecost as fulfilling the prophecy of Joel: “And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood…” (Acts 2.19-20, quoting from Joel 2.30-31). Obviously, these things did not literally happen on that Day of Pentecost. I am indebted to Mark Wilson for pointing this out.

[5]Middleton, 160-62, overviews the text-critical issue and explains in greater detail why heurethesetai/εύρεθησεται is the preferred reading.

[6]The UBS Greek New Testament: Reader’s Edition with Textual Notes (Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2010). 

I have heard that more recent versions of the Greek New Testament have a negative rendering of heurethesetai/εύρεθησεται (“not found”), but have not confirmed this. Regardless, Hicks, Valentine, and Wilson, Embracing Creation, 198, address this: “The addition of the negative (“not found”), favored by some textual critics, lacks support from any Greek manuscripts, and it cannot explain the origin of the more difficult reading (“found” rather than “not found”).

[7]I am indebted to Andrew Gass, preacher at the West Oaks church of Christ in Columbus, Texas, for pointing out that Peter himself uses the imagery of fire as a refining and purifying force in 1 Peter 1.7.

Middleton, 194, “…the image of judgment by fire in 2 Peter 3 is not purely destructive, but instead may be understood as a smelting process by which the dross of human sinfulness is burned off, so that “found means something like “standing the test” or “showing one’s mettle.” John C. Nugent, Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2016), 38n1, “In [2 Peter 3:10] the earth is disclosed or revealed, whereas only heavenly elements are burned. Together they convey a refining of God’s good creation. The impurities are burned off so the true essence will shine forth all the more brilliantly.”

[8]Middleton, 190-93; 198-200.

[9]In this discussion, it is easy to focus on the language of “new heavens and a new earth” in 2 Peter 3.13 and overlook the second part, “in which righteousness dwells,” but the second part is essential: the context of this passage is directly about the judgment on and destruction of evil; once evil is dealt with, the future world that is brought about is a place characterized by righteousness.

[10]Walter Bauer,  A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd rev. ed., ed. Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 669.

[11]BDAG, 496-97.

[12]How does this fit with the 1 Thessalonians 4 passage that we discussed last week? Because I am hesitant to speculate, I have relegated this to a footnote, but let me offer a hypothetical reconstruction of how these may fit together: Jesus returns with the sound of a trumpet as the heavenly bodies are destroyed, we meet Him in the air as this earth is laid bare, the evil works are exposed and destroyed, our world is refined/renewed/recreated, and then we escort him back here, to live with God eternally in a New Heaven and New Earth.

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