Introduction. When I was preaching on a regular basis, one of my customs was to begin each year with one or more sermons that gave some kind of overview of the entire Bible. And there are a number of overarching themes, figures and other things we can use to accomplish that. We can show the fulfillment of God’s threefold promise to Abraham in Genesis 12. We can look specifically at the various covenants that God has made with man throughout history. There are references running through Scripture to God’s dwelling with man, or to the city of God. Perhaps one of my favorite images to use in showing God’s plan is that of the tree of life as it appears or is referenced from Genesis to Revelation.

On a similar thought to these last pictures (and we may still talk about some of them), I want to draw our attention to what is the first recurring image given to us in Scripture. Genesis 1.1 is well-known by virtue of it being the first verse of Scripture, and it sets up a motif that is repeated in various ways. Its opening words, “in the beginning,” are repeated at the start of John’s gospel to connect Jesus to the creation by way of His being God, but I want to draw our attention to the rest of that verse, that in the beginning, “God created the heavens and the earth.” While the heavens and the earth are used as a way to refer to the entirety of creation, they are also used as a way of describing the unfolding of God’s plan as He brings about “a new heavens and a new earth.”

  1. The Physical Heavens and Earth
    1. The first heavens and earth inaugurated with creation (Gen 1.1)
    2. It was under the physical heavens and earth that God created His covenant with Abraham and his descendents. As a result of this, they have a strong connection to physical things.
      1. The covenant of circumcision (Gen 17)
        1. Given to Abraham as a sign of the covenant for him and his descendents.
        2. Incorporated into the law of Moses, both by direct command (Lev 12.3) and by virtue of Genesis being the first book of Moses.
      2. The covenant given at Mount Sinai (Exo 19–20)
        1. Came to a physical mountain, where God’s presence was manifested physically.
        2. Ultimately written on tablets of stone, which were to be kept in the Ark of the Covenant as a physical reminder to the people of that covenant.
      3. A physical focal point in the tabernacle and later the temple.
  2. The Spiritual Heavens and Earth
    1. While we normally associate the expression “a new heavens and a new earth” with Revelation (and we’ll get there), it appears first in Isaiah 65.17.
      1. Some associate this with a millennial reign of Jesus, but context (and N.T. commentary on this chapter) tells us that it is a reference to something else.
      2. Beginning of chapter quoted in Romans 10.20–21.
      3. The first portion of Isaiah 65 indicts the Jews and promises something better.
      4. Thus the new heavens and earth is a reference to what God will do in the church.
    2. But what is this “new heavens and new earth”?
      1. The earth we stand on now is the same earth that the Jews stood on under the Law.
      2. Speaks to a completely different nature: spiritual vs. physical
        1. A circumcision without hands (Col 2.11)
        2. God’s word written on hearts (2 Cor 3.3)
        3. A spiritual gathering (Heb 12.18–24)
      3. It speaks to what has always been intended as a spiritual kingdom
        1. A kingdom not made with hands (Dan 2.44–45)
        2. A kingdom not of this world (John 19.36)
        3. A kingdom based not on physical lineage, but on a blessing to all nations (Gal 3.8)
    3. Some look at the church as merely a continuation of the covenant given to Israel, amended to provide admittance for the Gentiles, etc., but that’s not what we see.
      1. “The former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.”
      2. This idea of a hard transition (out with the old, in with the new) is seen in the New Testament (particularly Hebrews 8.13)
      3. Fundamental incompatibilities between O.T. and N.T.
        1. Priesthood, etc. (Heb 7.13–16)
        2. Perspective (relative direction to coming of Christ)
        3. All this necessitated a complete change (Heb 7.12)
    4. The significance of partaking in a “new heavens and earth” for us
      1. While the new heavens and earth speaks to the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant, it also speaks to the transition from our old way of life to a new one.
      2. We still inhabit the same physical body, but yet we are a “new creation” (2 Cor 5.14–17)
      3. “The former things shall not be remembered”
        1. Difference between forgetting and not remembering
        2. We died to sin and the old man; don’t bring him back to life! (Rom 6)
    5. But yet, in spite of this better heavens and earth, there is stil something that remains.
  3. The Eternal Heavens and Earth
    1. The use of “new heavens and earth” in the N.T., particularly in Revelation 21, is a reference back to and an extension of Isaiah 65.
      1. The new heavens and earth of Isaiah 65 looked forward to a creation of a different kind.
      2. The new heavens and earth of Revelation 21 (and 2 Pet 3) speaks of a complete replacement of physical creation with something different.
      3. This “new new” heavens and earth shares some attributes with the one spoken of in Isaiah 65, but the spiritual focus will be coupled together with an entirely different “physical” reality.
    2. The nature of the new heavens and earth
      1. Described by Peter as a place “in which righteousness dwells.”
      2. Peter’s statement explained by the imagery of Revlation 21.3 of God dwelling with man.
      3. This is portrayed as the ultimate state for “the one who conquers.”
      4. “The former things have passed away.” Whatever may have happened in this existence, will pale in comparison to what we experience there.
      5. Much of what we could say about this existence must be tempered by the fact that we’re dealing with images and figurative language that serve to describe how great it will be to dwell with God, and how terrible it will be to be cast out of God’s presence for eternity.
    3. Our longing for this new heavens and earth
      1. 2 Peter 3.13: “But according to his promise we are waiting…”
      2. Consider John 14.2–3 in view of God dwelling with man and this promise.
      3. 2 Cor 5.1–9: Our desire to be “at home with the Lord.”

Conclusion. Perhaps you have not yet taken part in the new heavens and earth found in Christ and in His church. Without that, there is no hope of the eternal heavens and earth. If you are part of the Lord’s church, are the former things staying not remembered? Is your hope of the new heavens and earth motivating you to leave all else behind. Is it provoking us to persuade others? (2 Cor 5.10–11a)