As I mentioned at the beginning of the last post, it’s astonishing that any serious Bible student would attempt to interpret “the new heaven and new earth” without checking the OT passages that the language refers to.
We’ve briefly mentioned Gen 1:1, but we have to also consider Isaiah —
(Isa. 65:17-25 ESV) 17 “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. 19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. 20 No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed. 21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. 23 They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the LORD, and their descendants with them. 24 Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. 25 The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the LORD.
This is one of the most beautiful passages in all of human literature, and it, along with chapter 66 culminates Isaiah, particularly the Servant’s Song, which covers the last 20 or so chapters.
Notice, also, that this is one of the passages from which the NT authors get the “new Jerusalem,” promised in Gal, Heb, and Rev 21. The “holy mountain” of v. 25 is Mount Zion, on which the Temple in Jerusalem used to sit, but which is now in heaven, as part of the new Jerusalem.
The reference to the “former things” is not easy. It appears several times in Isaiah (40:20; 41:22; 42:9; 43:9, 18; 46:9; 48:3; 65:17) and the pops up again in Rev 21:4. So while we’re here —
The former world will be forgotten. This continues the development of previous ideas. In Isa. 43:18 God had told his people to forget the ways he had delivered in the past (“former things”). In the previous sentence here (v. 16), he has said that they would forget their former troubles. But now he says that everything associated with the old world will be forgotten. All the ways in which sin has stamped this world with its own deformed image will be wiped away, not only from reality but even from memory (cf. Rev. 21:4). They will not even come to mind.
John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 656–657.
Now, some worry that they’ll not remember their lives in this age — and can’t bear the thought of forgetting loved ones and wonderful experiences. Others worry that they’ll remember people they know to be damned. How can I be happy knowing that people I loved rejected Jesus? We all carry around memories we’d be happier without and memories that define us as people.
I don’t think Isaiah’s promises are that we’ll either remember nothing or everything. Rather, my reading is that God will expunge the memories that allow the sufferings of the former age to continue to haunt and harm us. We’ll be protected from our imperfect, fallen, broken pasts.
(Gal. 4:25-26 ESV) 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.
(Heb. 11:10 ESV) For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
(Heb. 11:16 ESV) But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
(Heb. 12:22 ESV) But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,
(Heb. 13:14 ESV) For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.
(Rev. 3:12 ESV) The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.
(Rev. 21:2-3 ESV) 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.
(Rev. 21:10 ESV) And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God,
The new heaven and new earth include the new Jerusalem, prophesied by Isaiah, among others. It appears repeatedly in the NT and so is an important image of the afterlife that we routinely overlook.
The image of an eschatological “Jerusalem above” is suggested in OT texts such as Isaiah 54:1 and Ezekiel 40:1–48 and more fully elaborated in later Jewish apocalyptic texts (e.g., 2 Esdr 7:26; 10:25–28; 13:36; 1 Enoch 90:28–29; 2 Apoc.Bar. 4:2–6). The same image appears also in Heb 12:22; 13:14; Rev 3:12; and in particularly clear form in Revelation 21:1. The metaphor of Jerusalem as “mother” is found, e.g., in Ps 86:5 LXX and 2 Esdr 10:7, and it is pervasively presupposed by the recurrent motif of Jerusalem as a barren woman ultimately to be restored and blessed by God with many children. All of this suggests that Paul is drawing on a well-established apocalyptic theme: The people of God, despite suffering and adversity in the present, are children of a heavenly Jerusalem that will be eschatologically revealed. The novelty is that he now includes his Gentile readers among the children of this heavenly Jerusalem.
Richard B. Hays, “The Letter to the Galatians,” in 2 Corinthians-Philemon (vol. 11 of New Interpreters Bible, Accordance electronic ed. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 304.
Now, why is Jerusalem so significant? Not because it was the capitol city of Israel. The Israelites were much more interested in the Temple than in politics. The point of Jerusalem being thought of as in heaven it that Jerusalem is the home of the Temple. And Hebrews, for example, is built on the idea of the Temple being in heaven.
Long-time readers will recall John Walton’s books explaining that Gen 1 is all about the dedication of God’s Creation as a temple of God. Thus, we come full circle. Rev 21 culminates the true story of scripture with a return to Creation — except better. It’s a new heaven and new earth — and it’s a renewed temple for the worship of God.
Obviously, the earlier chapters of Rev present heaven as the location of the heavenly Temple — where God is worshiped — but when the new Jerusalem descends to earth, the Creation itself is remade and returned to its original purpose: a Temple for YHWH.