If our interpretation of the new heaven and earth is reflective of the biblical authors’ intent, we should expect to find an old heaven and earth passing away at the same time. Just as we looked at the coming of the new heavens and new earth, let’s take a look at the passing of the old to see if these passages make sense in a similar way.
First, there is Jesus’ discourse in Matthew 24, given in response to at least three questions asked by his disciples:
Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and his disciples came up to show him the buildings of the temple.
And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
Now as he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:1-3)
If we miss the meaning of this passage, we will almost certainly head down a wrong-headed path in our eschatology. A common, and generally accepted, application of verse 3 is to apply the question on the destruction of the temple to that generation, but extend the questions on the coming of Christ and the end of the world far beyond that age – even to a time yet to come – and with reference to the end of the space-time universe. But the context of the passage does not allow this kind of interpretation without considerable violence to the text – a violence that we would not tolerate of any other passage.
Most Christians do not allow the text to say what it means because they won’t give themselves permission to think, even for a moment, that Jesus was speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem exclusively, and not the end of the universe. The most obvious answer is rejected out of hand by almost everyone who reads this passage.
There is nothing in the entire chapter of Matthew 24 to suggest that a division in time of nearly 2,000 years or more is necessary or spoken of. The disciples ask three questions relating to the same event and the same time of fulfillment. When the temple is destroyed, the world ends. The ending of the world is the coming of Christ. The coming of Christ is the fall of Jerusalem, or the destruction of the temple. From Matthew 24:4-14, Jesus speaks of things to come before the end of the world – that is, the Old Covenant age. The gospel was to be preached in the entire world for a witness – and according to Paul this did, in fact, happen (See Colossians 1:6, 23; Romans 10:18). From Matthew 24:15-35, Jesus speaks of things to happen before and during his coming. The force of verse 34 is inescapable: “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” (Matthew 24:34)
All these things must refer to all of the things Jesus just mentioned, or he is guilty of a very strange use of language. Such a use of language falls outside any conventions of speech we know. It is clear from the New Testament writings that they took his words seriously: they anticipated fulfillment within their own generation.
Another attempt to support a conventional view of the second coming of Christ is to divide Matthew 24 between verses 34 and 35, and apply the latter portion of the chapter to some future time. This again is a strange use of language, or a strange way to compile Jesus’ teachings. Without a preconceived notion of the Second coming there is no coherent reason to divide this passage. Luke records the same teaching by Jesus but uses a different order. Luke was apparently unaware of more than one context for Jesus’ comments. See Luke 17 and compare Luke 17:37 with Matthew 24:28.
David wrote this concerning the passing of heaven and earth:
Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands.
They will perish, but You will endure; Yes, they will all grow old like a garment; Like a cloak You will change them, and they will be changed.
But You are the same, and Your years will have no end.
The children of Your servants will continue, and their descendants will be established before You
On the surface this passage might appear to be a reference to the material heaven and earth, but a closer examination will reveal otherwise: “Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands.” Laying the foundations of the earth is a common expression in Scripture, and seldom is it in reference to the temporal universe (See 1 Peter 1:20, 2 Timothy 1:9, Ephesians 1:4). The world in question is the Old Covenant world of the Law. David was speaking of a world formed after the calling of Abraham. “They will perish, but you will endure” (Psalm 102:26). This is similar to Hebrews 8:13: “…Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” David and the writer of Hebrews are in agreement here, and we must not take that agreement lightly. In fact, David’s prophecy is quoted word for word in Hebrews 1:10-12, and it is no strange coincidence that it appears in a context dealing with the coming in of Christ’s eternal kingdom, the theme of Hebrews 12:28.
Now look at the last verse, Psalm 102:28: “The children of Your servants will continue, And their descendants will be established before You.” After the old heavens and earth pass, Christ would remain, and his years would have no end (Ephesians 3:21). This was the substance of John’s message when he wrote these words:
And you know that he was manifested to take away our sins, and in him there is no sin.
Whoever abides in him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen him nor known him.
Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for his seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God (1 John 3:5-6, 9).
The Old Covenant Jew charged the New Covenant believer with sin, because he left the temporal system in accepting Christ. To the unbelieving Jew, this temporal system-departure entails a loss of identity with Abraham, placing one in a state of sin. But John answers these charges by showing that no sin is involved because his seed remains in him (Christ), and he who is in Christ has not been severed from the promised Abrahamic seed. Being born of God, therefore, or abiding in Christ where the seed now is, does not involve one in sin. This is further supported by Paul’s language in Galatians 3:29: “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
Join us next week as we see how Jew and Gentile alike – emblematic of all humanity – find their fulfillment in a New Covenant heaven’s and earth through the finished work of God in Christ.
Join us each Monday as we blog through The Spirit of Prophecy by Max King, where this post is drawn from. (And if you get impatient, of course, you can always get the book inspiring these posts here.) Stay tuned! And weigh in below.