We can’t read “new heavens and new earth” and not recall Genesis 1, where God created “the heavens and the earth.” Obviously, this phrase is intended to refer to a re-making of the first creation. Or is it a replacement of the old creation?
But the new heavens and new earth aren’t the only new creation spoken of in the Bible. There’s another important one we have to consider.
(2 Cor 5:17) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
(Gal 6:15) Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.
When we are saved, we become a “new creation.” The work God will complete in us at the end of time has already begun to such an extent that we are a “new creation” already. But we are still very much a part of this old, decaying creation (as amply evidenced by our old, decaying bodies).
This new creation is for a purpose —
(Eph 2:10) For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
God anticipates in us what he will finish at the End, in order that we will join him in his redemptive work. We are re-created so, like God, we’ll do the work of God.
(Eph 4:22-24) You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
And so, God has done a second act of creation already in adopting us as his children. Indeed, Paul declares in 2 Cor 5:17 that the old creation “has gone” parechomai — the same word Peter uses in 2 Pet 3:10 to refer to the fate of the old heavens: “the heavens will pass away [parechomai] with a great noise”!
God makes us into new creations in anticipation of making the heavens and the earth into new creations. Indeed, for us, it’s already happened, because God has already re-formed us by giving us his Spirit, making us into spiritual beings.
(Rom 8:20-23) For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
Paul says the present creation will be liberated from its bondage to decay joining Christians in “the glorious freedom of the children of God.” We already have the “firstfruits of the Spirit,” so that we’ve already begun to receive the re-creation that the rest of the heavens and earth are looking forward to.
This could only have happned because we’ve already died.
(Col 3:3-4) For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
But we weren’t annihilated. Rather, we are being transformed to be like Jesus.
(2 Cor 3:18) And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.