New Heaven?

Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on April 10, 2002 under Ask the Pastor | Be the First to Comment

Question: Can you give some insight into the Bible’s teaching about “the new heaven and the new earth”? Some groups teach that the 144,000 mentioned in the Book of Revelation will be the only ones in the new heaven; and that everyone else will be in the new earth. What is the new heaven and the new earth? Are these two different places? Who will be in them?

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Dear Friend,

The Bible teaches us that God is the creator of the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). But it also teaches us that this present creation – the present heavens and the present earth – are temporary in nature. Peter writes that God spoke the heavens and earth into being; “But the present heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition [or destruction] of ungodly men” (1 Peter 3:7). Peter elaborates on this when he writes, “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (v. 10). Peter speaks of the destruction of the present heavens and earth as something literal: “Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be devolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?” (vv. 11-12). And he adds, “Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (v. 13).

The most explicit description of the new heavens and the new earth we have in the Bible is found in its last two chapters, in Revelation 21-22. This passage begins with these words: “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away …” (Rev. 21:1). As beautiful as this present creation is, the future creation – as it’s described for us in these passages – is beautiful and glorious beyond conception! Its centerpiece will be “New Jerusalem”; a glorious city in which we will forever dwell with the literal presence of Jesus (Rev. 21:2-3).

The Bible doesn’t present the new heavens and the new earth as if they were two separate, distinct places – as if the new heavens were one place with only one specific population, and the new earth another place with a completely different population. Nor does the Bible mention them apart from one another. Since they replace the “old creation”, I believe it’s best to see them as simply two aspects of the one “new creation” – and to see them mentioned together as a way to express the wholeness of the new creation.

It’s true that the Bible mentions other nations that surround this New Jerusalem. We’re told “And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it” (v. 24). And the mention of “nations” and “kings” surrounding New Jerusalem have led some cult groups to teach that they will be the distinct occupants of this glorious, heavenly city – with everyone else outside-looking-in. But the Bible tells us that all unsaved, unredeemed people, whose names have not been written in the Lambs Book of Life will have been cast forever in a distinct place called “the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:11-15). There will not be any “outsiders” and “insiders” in the new creation. All its occupants will be “insiders” only (21:27). Apparently, then, there will be surrounding nations and kingdoms of redeemed, glorified people that will retain some sense of distinction; but all will be subject to King Jesus, and will worship Him at His throne in New Jerusalem – bringing “the glory and the honor of the nations into it” (v. 26). I take it, then, that all who wish to may dwell in the New Jerusalem. No specific group will be awarded this honor above another, because all those who dwell in the new creation will be “written in the Lamb’s Book of Life”.

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This leads to the question of who the 144,000 are. They’re mentioned in two places in the Bible. The first time they’re found is in Revelation 7:4-8. In this first passage, they’re introduced to us during an intermission between the opening of the sixth and the seventh seal; the seventh introducing a dreadful outpouring of God’s wrath upon an unbelieving and unrepentant world. There we read that this group is “sealed” by God, and that it is very specifically composed of those from the twelve tribes of Israel. They are even very specifically numbered as 12,000 from each specific tribe.

Revelation 14:1-5 mentions them again, and gives us some specific details about them. We read, “Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpist playing their harps. They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth. These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. And in there mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God.”

Many cult groups are eager to identify themselves as this elite group. The details that are given about the 144,000, however, appear to be literal descriptions; and when taken as such, none of these cult groups could possibly fulfill the qualifications. The 144,000 are specifically from the twelve literal tribes of Israel – and none of these cult groups can make a claim to being anything like that – except by interpreting this passage symbolically. (By the way; God has successfully preserved the Jewish people as a distinct group upon the earth to this very day. And so He is – I’m sure you’ll agree – more than able to preserve twelve-thousand from these twelve distinct tribes for this future “sealing” if He so wishes – even if they don’t know who they are.) These also are specifically “virgins” (and I haven’t heard anyone who says they’re in this group make THAT claim yet – except again, of course, “symbolically”.). These cult groups make the claim to be the 144,000 now; and yet, the 144,000 aren’t even identified until a specific time during the period of Great Tribulation – that is between the sixth and seventh seals. Nor can those who claim to be the 144,000 in the new heavens be what they claim to be; because the Bible describes the 144,000 as “standing on Mount Zion”. Nowhere in the Bible are they presented to us as a distinct group in the new heavens.

I note that the introduction of this group of 144,000 Jews is followed by a description of “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Rev. 7:9-10). We’re told that this great multitude is composed of those who “come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb” (v. 14). This great multitude (as distinct from the 144,000) are very manifestly in heavenly glory. So I offer this as my interpretation: I take it that the 144,000 are redeemed Jewish men that God will rise up at a date in the future, and who will be used by God as mighty “evangelists” for the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the result of whose ministry during the great tribulation will be the salvation of a great multitude before the outpouring of God’s wrath upon the earth.

Pastor Greg

(All Scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version.)

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