The Revelation: Chapter 21:1 (the first earth had passed away)

lion-dove-lamb-yeshuaAs a reminder, Rev 1:1 says,

(Rev. 21:1 ESV)  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.

This one, short verse is filled with mysteries. I interpret the passage to speak of a cleansing and renewing of the heavens and the earth, returning them to their pristine state before sin entered the world — except better — merging heaven with earth so that God lives among his children in a Temple built to his glory.

But that idea seems contradicted by the phrase “the first earth had passed away.” Doesn’t that mean the old world will be dead and replaced with a new, better world? No, it doesn’t.

“Passed away” translates aperchomai, meaning to leave — which, as in English, has a wide range of meanings, depending on the context. Unlike English, “passed way” is not usually used to mean “dead” in the Greek. The same word is used in —

(2 Cor. 5:17 ESV) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new [kainos] creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new [kainos] has come.

By now, it should be obvious that these are parallel passages and ideas. Both speak of a new creation out of an old creation — and both say that the old creation has passed away. But in neither case does the old creation become destroyed so that a new creation must be made from scratch. Rather, the old creation is transformed by God to become new again.

So the Jews speak of new heavens, as מחודשים, renewed ones, which are the secrets of sublime wisdom: and they sayp, that the holy blessed God will renew his world a thousand years, and that in the seventh millennium there will be new heavens and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; not those in ch. 20:11 but the heaven and the earth which were first made, which passed away, as Peter also says, adding, with a great noise; meaning not as to their substance, but as to their form, fashion, and qualities:

John Gill, An Exposition of the New Testament, The Baptist Commentary Series, (London: Mathews and Leigh, 1809), 3:855.

Yet this is not to be understood in terms of destroying the old or the obsolete in order to replace it with something completely different (neither Isaiah nor John use the language of destruction). Rather, John sees a profound renewal of that which is already there, a heaven and earth which have been judged, purged of those powers which threaten them, now destined to be transformed from the very depths of their being.

Ian Boxall, The Revelation of Saint John, Black’s New Testament Commentary, (London: Continuum, 2006), 293.

The Greek word for “new” (kainē) means new in quality, fresh, rather than recent or new in time (neos) (TDNT, 3:447). That it is a kainē heaven and earth and not a second heaven and earth suggests something of an endless succession of new heavens and earth. It is the newness of the endless eschatological ages (2:17; 3:12; 5:9; cf. Eph 2:7). What makes the new heaven and earth “new” is above all else the reality that now “the dwelling of God is with men, … They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” (v. 3). The heaven and earth are new because of the presence of a new community of people who are loyal to God and the Lamb in contrast to the former earth in which a community of idolaters lived.

Alan F. Johnson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, 1981, 12, 592–593.

For the first heaven and the first earth were passed away. They had passed away by being changed, and a renovated universe had taken their place.

Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: Revelation, ed. Robert Frew, (London: Blackie & Son, 1884–1885), 443.

Judaism also conceived of the new creation as a renewal or renovation of the old creation (see Jub. 1:29; 4:26; 1 En. 45:4–5; 2 Bar. 32:1–6; 57:2; 4 Ezra 7:75; Tg. Ps.-J. Deut. 32:1; Tg. Hab. 3:2).

G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007), 1150.

“for the first heaven and the first earth passed away” There will be a restored creation, no longer affected by sin (cf. II Baruch 37:6; 2 Pet. 3:10–12; Rev. 20:11).

Robert James Utley, Hope in Hard Times – The Final Curtain: Revelation, Study Guide Commentary Series, (Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International, 2001), Volume 12:145.

Many Jewish depictions of the age to come (e.g., in 1 Enoch, Jubilees and Pseudo-Philo) emphasized the new heavens and earth. Some Jewish texts spoke of the renewal of the first creation; others spoke of its replacement by a new creation; Revelation holds to the latter position. Many texts described the end time in terms of the beginning, as a renewal of paradise (see comment on 22:1-5); so here the new creation recalls the goodness of the first creation before sin marred it (Gen 1:1).

Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 815.

Commentators are not unanimous (on this or any other point in Revelation!), but the majority view is that the new heavens and new earth are the old heavens and earth transformed, purified, and renewed.

This may not seem like a point worth spending this much time on, but it matters — because —

  • It makes the NT say the same thing as the OT. In fact, contrary to much bad teaching over the last 150 years or so, we now see that the OT has a very well developed theology of the afterlife. We’ve not realized it because the OT does not speak of souls flying off to heaven but of God’s children being resurrected in glorious bodies in a renewed heavens and earth.
  • It makes Paul’s points about the Creation in Rom 8 make much better sense. We see why, at the conclusion of a discussion of the Spirit, Paul discusses the resurrection of God’s children and the renewal — freeing — of the Creation. We’ll receive renewed bodies from the Spirit. And he’s setting up the point he’ll soon make about God’s children being “glorified” by God. It’s Daniel and Isaiah come true.
  • It is the perfect conclusion to the narrative of all scripture, which begins with the “old” Creation and the Fall of Man. God finally fixes what was broken — both the fallen Creation and fallen humankind.
  • It adds depth and meaning to countless other passages. Now, when Paul describes our salvation as an “inheritance” — the Torah’s favorite word for the Promised Land — he’s speaking not just of Palestine but the entire planet — and the heavens that surround it. Indeed, this finally makes sense of “the meek shall inherit the earth.” (I used to wonder why the meek were being given something to be burned to a crisp rather than heaven.)
  • And, of course, it creates an understanding of the End Times that fits perfectly with Edward Fudge’s conditional immortality — and yet not a single commentator that I’ve quoted is a disciple of Fudge. (But it fits.)
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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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9 Responses to The Revelation: Chapter 21:1 (the first earth had passed away)

  1. laymond says:

    Jay,
    I know, and I know you know, that the two passages you have quoted here have nothing in common except the power of God to change what he does not like.
    Rev. 21:1 , referrs to physical change, and 2 Cor. 5:17
    refers to spiritual change.
    Rev 21:1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.

    2Co 5:17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
    (NLT This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! )

    I don’t believe, The Jay Quinn I first read many years ago would have made the following statement.
    “By now, it should be obvious that these are parallel passages and ideas. Both speak of a new creation out of an old creation — and both say that the old creation has passed away. But in neither case does the old creation become destroyed so that a new creation must be made from scratch. Rather, the old creation is transformed by God to become new again.”

    ” the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. ”
    If you truly believe what you have written, what happened to the sea?

    And surely you know at least one person who you believe died and went to heaven, your theory says when a Christian dies they are transported straight to the “general ressurection” and pass into heaven.
    So if the new is made from the old, there should be no remains in the grave of the true Christian.
    Jay said, ” But in neither case does the old creation become destroyed so that a new creation must be made from scratch. ”
    And as far as I know the earth has no spirit, so we must be speaking of bodies.

  2. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Laymond,

    I’m not sure I follow you. Following the general resurrection, there will be no Christian bodies in tombs. We are repeatedly told that our resurrection will be like that of Jesus — and he left an empty tomb and his body was somehow very different from his old body and yet somehow the same.

    Now, when we become a “new creation,” we receive the Holy Spirit and Spirit begins to change us to become like Jesus.

    (2 Cor. 3:18 ESV) 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

    Paul declares in 2 Cor 5:17 that the old has “passed away” and yet we aren’t reborn from scratch. We are changed, renewed, refreshed, restored. But not destroyed and recreated. The new heavens and new earth will not be created from nothing (ex nihilo) any more than we will be re-

    John uses identical language regarding the heavens and the earth. And if “passed away” and “new” refer to being changed, renewed, refreshed, and restored in one, it means the same in the other — just as Paul describes in detail in Rom 8.

    You are right, of course, that 2 Cor 5:17 is speaking of the beginning of a process that won’t be completed until Jesus returns, whereas Rev 21:1 is speaking of an instantaneous transition. Both are discussed by Paul in Rom 8 as two aspects of the same reality. The glory we have as sons of God won’t be revealed until the Second Coming, just as the glory of the Creation that will come when God makes everything new won’t be revealed until then, as well.

    Regarding the presence of the body between a Christian’s death and the resurrection, if my essence as a human (by whatever name called) moves from the moment of my death to the moment of my resurrection, why does the body have to be transported to the future? God has to do a rebuild in any event.

    Yes, we will have a renewed body just as the Creation will be renewed.

    It’s my opinion, and quite unprovable, that the Bible doesn’t give us a vocabulary to use to speak about the fate of humans between death and the general resurrection because that’s not the hope/inheritance we are supposed to concern ourselves with. Both OT and NT point our attention to the general resurrection. Jesus speaks repeatedly of the general resurrection. What happens between now and then is fun and interesting to speculate about, but clearly was not a major concern of the biblical authors.

    Regarding the sea, that’s for a future post.

  3. laymond says:

    Jay said, “I’m not sure I follow you. Following the general resurrection, there will be no Christian bodies in tombs.”

    I gave the example of a Christian dying, because of your theory of what happened after death to the body of a person . Unless I misunderstand your theory, the person is transported to the time of the general resurrection, and raised into the hands of God, to be judged. Just how long does one have to lay dead before this happens, as we know Jesus was dead three days, Lazarus was dead four days, some of the kings of Egypt have lain dead for centuries. and their bodies are still in the grave.
    You are right time means nothing to God, but time does have a toll on the human body whether alive or dead.
    I would like a little more on your theory of life after death, and how the body could be transported to the end of time, and somehow remain in the grave too.

    And now you have a theory that the earth is just remade out of the old earth, even though Peter said it would be burned up, even the elements melted. I know God does miraculous things but even God can’t destroy something totally, and then reuse it. either it is not destroyed or it is not usable.

  4. Ray Downen says:

    I like to agree with Jay. This time I think I must disagree. The prophecy has this entire universe destroyed and replaced by an entirely different universe. I think the destruction will be complete just as the prophecy says. Burned up. Gone. No further existence.

    But the judgment FOLLOWS the destruction of this universe. So obviously PEOPLE will exist in order to face the judgment, both those long dead and the newly-dead and all in between. People exist IN this universe. People will exist in the NEW HEAVEN AND NEW EARTH, the NEW JERUSALEM which is entirely different in every way to our present existence. The saved will be in the NEW JERUSALEM. The lost will be cast into burning furnaces, perhaps destroyed, perhaps to exist in torment.

    But the NEW will NOT be simply a remake of the OLD. The NEW JERUSALEM is described as cubic rather than round as the earth is. And the light doesn’t come from the sun and stars, but from the SON, perpetual light, no night there. I think Jay is suggesting something quite different from what is revealed. Everything will be in a different measurement, a different source of power and light. And we’ll again see our parents and grand-parents and their families through the ages. WE will be different, no longer needing rest and sleep. How strange it will seem!

    So I have to believe it’s far more than just a remake of our present existence.

  5. laymond says:

    Ray, I see things as Paul seems to describe, we will be raised in a spiritual body, and as you say spirits have no need for a bed to lye in, nor a house to shade the sun, nor to hide us from storms, snow or rain. I believe there will be a great difference between here and now, and then. God is a spirit and has no need of shelter, I believe any description of heaven was given the way it was, because that is what men understand. I doubt we all drive around on streets made of gold in our Cadillac, listening to Elvis. I believe there might be a lot of John’s imagination involved in John’s vision.

  6. Dwight says:

    There will be “no marriage or given in marriage”, so it doesn’t sound like we will have our present form bodies. The truth is that we have no idea in what form we will be raised and where we will ultimately live, as even heaven is not on my GPS.
    But no Elvis…blasphemy.

  7. Alabama John says:

    Dwight, that is the thinking and belief many of us regret happening when we die. There are a few things of this like we don’t want to lose.

    If we have had a great marriage like almost 54 years as I have, we want to be waiting on the other side of Jordans shore drawing pictures in the sand and when we see the other coming, run through the shallow water reaching for their hand. Pass through heavens gates together holding hands.
    No matter how you describe heaven, without the other, it will not be as good.
    God made us one, and I believe that oneness will remain somehow.

  8. Alabama John says:

    Interesting to discuss our beliefs in the life after this one, many opinions. Since no one can prove theirs is the only way, as there may be many, even one for each of us to make our individual heaven complete from our God.
    “Knowing you’ll be there makes it easier to go home” is the thought in a song we like. Listen and see if you agree.

  9. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Dwight,

    I was teaching Bible class and cover the passage on “no marriage or given in marriage” in the next age. I was preparing to try to explain the unexplainable when a student raised his hand. He said (to the middle-aged adult class), “It says no marriage in heaven. Doesn’t mean there won’t be any sex!”

    I totally lost control of the class. What could I say except, “Next verse …”?

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