The contrast of worlds in the Scripture is not a contrast of the space-time universe with some future re-creation. Instead, it is a contrast of the Old Covenant world of the Jewish people with the New Covenant world in Christ (which the Jewish people would inherit along with the Gentiles). Seeing this, we can take a look at other passages describing heaven(s) and earth(s) and, if we are correct, they will make sense in light of this interpretation.
Consider, for example, the prophecy of Isaiah 65:
For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing, and her people a joy.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in My people; The voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her, Nor the voice of crying (Isaiah 65:17-19).
Parallel to this prophecy is Isaiah 66:22; “For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain before Me, says the Lord, So shall your descendants and your name remain.”
These prophetic passages advanced the hope of a new world in some future time. Involved in this new creation would be a New Jerusalem, where joy would prevail and weeping would be heard no more. To what time and creation do these prophecies refer? Is this a creation destined to follow the end of this material universe? It is possible, perhaps, but a careful study of the context of these chapters shows that the prophet was looking to the end of a covenantal era, with a vision of the messianic blessings that spiritual Israel would inherit.
The New Jerusalem of Isaiah 65:18 corresponds to the New Jerusalem of Galatians 4:26 and Hebrews 12:22. The new heaven and earth corresponds to the heavenly country of Hebrews 11:16. This was the world promised to Abraham (Romans 4:13), which his seed looked for. Nevertheless we, according to His promise, Peter writes in 2 Peter 3:13, “…look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” Peter was looking for the promise because Ishmael would soon be cast out, the end of all things is at hand, he also wrote in 1 Peter 4:7.
John, who was privileged to see this transition in his vision on Patmos, presents the new heaven and earth in Revelation 21:
Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.
Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Revelation 21:1-2).
This is the same heaven and earth of Isaiah 65:17, and the same New Jerusalem of Isaiah 65:18. It was a vision of the world promised to Abraham and his seed not of law-keeping, but of gospel abundance (Romans 4:13).
Many biblical scholars date Revelation around A.D. 96, during the reign of the Emperor Domitian, who persecuted Christians. This places the date of John’s letter nearly a quarter century after the destruction of Jerusalem. There are, however, several problems with this assumption.
One, the language of Revelation shares the sense of immanency that characterizes the New Testament. John was writing of things that must shortly come to pass (Revelation 1:1), because the time was at hand (Revelation 1:3). So near were the events envisioned in this book that John was given these instructions, “…Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand” (Revelation 22:10). By way of contrast, it is interesting to note that Daniel was told to seal the prophecy of his book because the time was yet future (Daniel 12:4, 9). If both Daniel and John were to wait thousands of years for their prophecies to come to pass, it makes little sense for one to be told to seal his prophecy and the other urged not to.
In Revelation 11, John is told to measure the temple. This is an unusual command if the temple had been reduced to a pile of rubble since A.D. 70. Yet no mention is made of a previous destruction. While John was obviously having a vision, he does not find it remarkable that the temple is standing.
Some, clinging to a late date for Revelation, identify Rome as Babylon, the “great whore.” This too has problems. Rome was never in covenant with God that she might become an adulterous. You cannot be unfaithful to someone you have never married. Only Jerusalem, representative of the Jewish people, can be said to be adulterous for breaking covenant with God. Identifying Rome as Babylon also fails to satisfy the immanency of Revelation. Rome would not fall for nearly three more centuries, hardly an event at hand in A.D. 96.
Less compelling, perhaps, but not insignificant, is the probable age of the apostle. Most scholars assume that John was probably close to the age of Jesus when he was called to be a disciple. The later the date of Revelation, the less likely it is that John was alive and enough in possession of his faculties to write the book detailing his vision. With God, of course, all things are possible, but this does not absolve us from using some common sense when speculating about the date of Revelation.
Join us each Monday as we blog through The Spirit of Prophecy by Max King. (And if you get impatient, of course, you can always get the book inspiring these posts here.) Stay tuned! And weigh in below.